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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Enemy (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Enemy is just a fantastic piece of television. The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation has maintained an impressive consistency up to this point, despite all the difficulties bubbling away behind the scenes. However, The Enemy is the point where everything seems to have finally settled down and the show is truly comfortable churning out episodes of this sort of quality.

It’s a very typical Star Trek plot, with one of our leads trapped on the planet surface and forced to team up with an enemy soldier in order to survive. It’s a very standard morality tale about how the enemy is not as different as we might like to think; it’s an exploration – in a very Star Trek style – of how two people can overcome their differences in order to survive  a suitably desperate situation.

The Enemy is a demonstration of just how well-oiled The Next Generation had become at this point in time, and how even the most standard of plots could be executed with considerable skill.

The show's quality is climbing...

The show’s quality is climbing…

Notably, The Enemy represents the début of British director David Carson. Carson would go on to make quite an impression, probably fuelled by his work on the second episode that he directed, Yesterday’s Enterprise. While never as prolific as Winrich Kolbe or Cliff Bole, Carson would become one of the franchise’s favoured mid-nineties directors. He was handed the task of directing the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot Emissary and the first of the Next Generation films, Star Trek: Generations.

Yesterday’s Enterprise is the strongest piece of Star Trek that Carson directed. However, his work on The Enemy is still quite striking. Carson’s strengths seem to lie in creating a sense of claustrophobia – of focusing tight on characters and creating a sense of pressure bearing down on them. The alternate universe scenes in Yesterday’s Enterprise are some of the most oppressive pieces of Star Trek ever produced. The scenes of the surface of Galorndon Core are similarly claustrophobic.

My enemy, my ally...

My enemy, my ally…

Although Star Trek tended to reuse the same sets and special effects for certain types of alien worlds (rocky and harsh), Galorndon Core seems a singularly inhospitable planet. From the moment that the away team beams down to the surface, the wind is howling and thunder is crackling in the background. It looks absolutely stunning remastered for high definition, and a lot of that is down to the choices made by Carson during filming.

Carson tends to keep the camera focused on the faces of his actors, keeping shots relatively tight. It helps create the impression that it’s only possible to see a few inches ahead on the surface of that desolate planet. There’s also a bit more movement in his work than was popular on Star Trek at the time, and The Enemy is a story that really benefits from a unique sense of atmosphere and place. And that style transfers the scenes that Carson shot on the Enterprise as well, which maintain that sense of tightness and pressure.

While Worf does have a bit of an advantage here, this may be the first real fight he's won in quite some time.

While Worf does have a bit of an advantage here, this may be the first real fight he’s won in quite some time.

Carson himself has argued that his approach to the show is rooted in his background as a British director, unlike most of the American directors working on the franchise:

How we do television and movies in England is different from how American television is made. We just use different kinds of blocking, different kinds of shots, different ways of interpreting things. I have this propensity for moving the camera, always moving the camera, which at that time wasn’t done so much on episodic American television. So when I directed TNG, when I did scenes on the bridge, I made them look different somehow. That was just by moving the camera and following the actors and being with them, being a little closer to them. The producers liked that style, that European style that I supposedly brought with me. It helped them to feel that they weren’t watching the same thing all the time, that they were getting an injection of something different. That’s how they explained it to me.

This is probably why Carson worked better on shows like The Enemy, Yesterday’s Enterprise and even Redemption, Part II than he did on Star Trek: Generations. Those were all episodes that benefited from that restrictive claustrophobic atmosphere. It was an atmosphere that didn’t translate well to the first movie starring The Next Generation cast.

It's practically Centurion City down there!

It’s practically Centurion City down there!

In terms of plotting, The Enemy is pretty straightforward. Geordi is trapped on a hostile planet with only a Romulan for company. It’s a fairly standard plot, one that isn’t even unique to science fiction. Actor LeVar Burton has compared it to The Defiant Ones, but there’s a whole host of other precedents in popular culture for that sort of “enemy mine” plot – including the Lee Marvin World War II film Hell in the Pacific, in which an American airman reluctantly teams up with a Japanese soldier to escape an island.

The story of befriending a previously hostile alien is something of a Star Trek staple, one of the more enduring expressions of the franchise’s optimism and humanism. It’s about the belief that if we all simply hung out together, we’d work out how to be friends with one another. And yet, despite the familiarity of the premise, The Enemy serves as an exceptional example of this standard Star Trek plot for a number of reasons.

Guess who Geordi is bringing to dinner...

Guess who Geordi is bringing to dinner…

The most obvious is Carson’s wonderfully oppressive direction, which creates a sense that the planet is hostile enough to force the duo’s temporary alliance. The second is the fact that LeVar Burton’s version of Geordi is – while still relatively under-developed – charming enough that we believe the Romulan wouldn’t kill him on sight, despite his misgivings. (“No wonder your race is weak,” Bochra observes of Geordi’s blindness. “You waste time and resources on defective children.”)

However, the most striking aspect of The Enemy, and one that allows the plot involving Geordi and Bochra to work so well, is the subplot involving Worf and the other survivor of the crashed Romulan ship. While Geordi and Bochra learn to get along with one another, Worf treats the other Romulan survivor with nothing short of contempt. When Worf is informed that his blood can save the Romulan’s life, Worf refuses. Despite pressure from Picard and Crusher, Worf stubbornly refuses to help save the survivor’s life.

Blood enemies...

Blood enemies…

And The Enemy doesn’t cop out. It doesn’t swerve to avoid the implications of Worf’s choice. The Romulan doesn’t miraculously survive anyway. The Romulan Warbird does not appear in time to save his life and let Worf off the hook. Doctor Crusher doesn’t come up with an ingenious techno-babble solution that allows everybody to end the episode completely satisfied. Worf’s blood could have saved the Romulan; Worf refuses to give it; as a result, the Romulan dies.

Unlike a lot of the first and second season episodes, there’s no tidy resolution to this plot line. It isn’t like Pen Pals, where the ethical dilemma is solved by magic future technology. While The Next Generation has not reached the point where internal continuity is strong enough for an event like this to alter Picard and Crusher’s perception of Worf, this is a decision that changes the way that the audience sees him. It has weight.

"A Romulan and a Starfleet officer walk onto a hellhole of planet..."

“A Romulan and a Starfleet officer walk onto a hellhole of planet…”

It is a very gutsy decision, and it’s worth noting that Michael Dorn was originally opposed to the idea:

It’s interesting, there was one time, I remember very specifically, where we captured a Romulan and the character, my character, had the blood that could save the Romulan because he needed a transfusion, and I read the script and at the end it says “Worf refuses and the guy dies.”

I went up to Rick Berman and, I wasn’t yelling, I just went, “Rick, are you sure you want to do this?”

And he goes, “Well, why?”

And I said, “Well, it’s Star Fleet and you kind of do stuff that, and it really would put him in a different light. I’m not sure how, but what do you think?”

And he said “Well, Michael, that’s why we want to do it. We want to show that he’s NOT a human being. And he’s not ordered to do it, but if he has a choice then, no, he’s not going to do it. And he’s fine with that.”

And I was like, “Okay, it’s your show.” And it was a great decision, it was a very wise decision.

It’s a moment that really allows Worf to make a decision unique to his character.

It's not easy, being green-blooded...

It’s not easy, being green-blooded…

This is not a decision that Picard would make; it’s not a decision that Riker would make. It is something that is very particular to Worf’s viewpoint and his life experience. It allows Worf to be Worf, rather than treating him as a generic cog in the ensemble, and it opens up all manner of storytelling opportunities for the character and the show. Indeed, it offers a rather powerful example of the conflict between Worf’s own heritage and the moral philosophy of Starfleet. “My Starfleet training tells me one thing, but everything I am tells me another,” he informs Picard.

More than that, though, it provides a compelling ethical and moral dilemma for the crew of the Enterprise. It isn’t just about Worf’s decision, it’s about how the crew reacts to that decision. It’s an exploration of the franchise’s moral philosophy when it comes to personal autonomy. (Indeed, blood transfusions were a focal point for discussions of moral relativity in the late eighties and nineties, concerning the right of Jehovah Witnesses to refuse transfusions for their children.) After all, tolerance does occasionally meaning being tolerant of decisions that you might not agree with.

Weathering the storm...

Weathering the storm…

This puts Picard in a complex position. He refuses to order Worf to give blood, even though Worf makes it clear that he would accept an order to donate blood. This is perfectly in keeping with what we know of Picard’s morality – a man who is sworn to uphold the values and virtues of the Federation, even when those values and virtues lead to uncomfortable conclusions. He was, after all, willing to leave Liko to die in Who Watches the Watchers?

In a way, this builds off the central philosophical point of The Measure of a Man, about the relationship that exists between the state and the individual, and how the state’s needs must always be balanced against the choice of the individual. Starfleet would want Worf to give blood, as it could prevent a war; just as they would want to crack open Data’s skull and poke around, as it could lead to more Datas. However, if the state is able to subsume the right of the individual so completely, doesn’t that subvert what the Federation is about?

Out of the frying pan...

Out of the frying pan…

“Lieutenant, sometimes the moral obligations of command are less than clear,” Picard tries to explain to Worf. “I have to weigh the good of the many against the needs of the individual, and try to balance them as realistically as possible.” In effect, he’s dealing with the same sort of dilemma that Kirk and Spock faced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The needs of the many weighed against the needs of the few. However, like The Measure of a Man, The Enemy adds a necessary addendum; the choice must be made by the few in that case, not by the many.

(And, once again, The Enemy demonstrates remarkable awareness of the ensemble. Worf seeks the counsel of Riker on his decision, who seems to be the member of the crew Worf considers as his closest friend. While Picard is keen to keep the discussion with Worf abstract, Crusher is less interested in moral dilemmas than in saving the life of her patient. She tries to force Worf to meet the man he would kill (a move that back fires horribly) and you get the sense that if she doesn’t share Picard’s skittishness about ordering Worf to give blood.)

This could be the start of a wonderful friendship...

This could be the start of a wonderful friendship…

The Enemy continues the portrayal of the Romulans as cold warriors with the Federation, as established in The Neutral Zone and Contagion. It’s an interesting anachronistic portrayal from The Next Generation, which was airing towards the end of the Cold War. As such, treating the Romulans as space!Russians seems a little out-dated. Then again, with the Klingons and the Federation at peace, the show did need a consistent antagonist. The Ferengi were a joke; the Borg were too powerful to use regularly. The Romulans were the next logical step.

Interestingly, the Romulans were never quite as well developed as the Klingons on The Next Generation and the spin-offs. The original Star Trek seemed more sympathetic and understanding towards Romulan culture and value systems in episodes like Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident than it towards the Klingons in episodes like Errand of Mercy and The Trouble with Tribbles. The classic series tended to portray the Romulans as honourable and noble, with the Klingons presented as savage and treacherous.

Riker's bedside manner leaves a little to be desired...

Riker’s bedside manner leaves a little to be desired…

The Next Generation inverted that dynamic a bit, most obviously during the show’s third season. The Enemy features the Romulans preparing for war with the Federation, engaging in espionage behind enemy lines. The Romulan Commander, Tomalak, is portrayed as two-faced and manipulative, a far cry from the honour of the Romulans in the classic Star Trek episodes. This trend would continue in the Romulans’ next appearance, The Defector, where Tomalak engages in treachery and deceit to lure the Enterprise into a trap.

The Romulans would become the least developed of the major races featured in Star Trek. They appeared frequently, but audiences never got the same insight into Romulan culture as they did with the Klingons or the Cardassians or the Ferengi or the Borg. They seemed to fit the mould of generically nebulously evil bad guys, a role that – appropriately enough – was defined by their appearance in this episode, named The Enemy.

This is what happens when you don't follow trip ad-VISOR...

This is what happens when you don’t follow trip ad-VISOR…

Interestingly, The Enemy also marks a shift in The Next Generation. Tomalak is the first recurring adversary to appear on The Next Generation since Q, and he will appear again in four episodes. The Defector arguably even marks a continuation of the story arc begun here, suggesting that there will be some measure of continuity in the portrayal of relations between the Federation and the Romulans.

While Sins of the Father really gets a lot of the credit for opening the door to serialised storytelling in Star Trek, The Enemy and The Defector did it earlier. The Next Generation would never embrace serialised storytelling to the same extent as Deep Space Nine, and the Romulans would frequently pop up whenever the show needed a convenient bad guy, but there was some semblance of continuity to their appearances starting with The Enemy. In fact, Tomalak even managed to earn his place in the show’s final episode, All Good Things…, three years after his last appearance.

"This would have been so much easier had you died in that crash... By the way, how do you miss a planet?"

“This would have been so much easier had you died in that crash… By the way, how do you miss a planet?”

While we don’t get to peer too far beneath Bochra’s shell, The Enemy is still very clearly informed by American views towards the end of the Cold War. Bochra is presented as a man swept up in the propaganda of his government. He assures Geordi that he is not afraid “to die in the service of my people.” When Geordi laughs this off, Bochra responds, “You can be sarcastic now, but in a few millennia, when humans are extinct and the Romulan Empire spans the galaxy…”

Given the less than flattering portrayal of Tomalak as a commander willing to leave Bochra to die in order in to save face, the Centurion’s patriotism is presented as foolishly naive. It’s a very sympathetic portrayal of a political adversary, if not necessarily a complex one. It plays to the stereotype of the brainwashed enemy civilian, their blind patriotism stoked by more cynical members of the ruling class.

Team-up time!

Team-up time!

There’s really nothing too radical about any of this, but The Enemy is an example how comfortable The Next Generation is at this stage in its life, that it can play with fairly conventional subject matter and produce something as clever and well-constructed as The Enemy. It makes it clear how far The Next Generation has come. Future writer and executive producer Brannon Braga has pointed to The Enemy as the episode that brought him back to The Next Generation:

I didn’t get into Star Trek until I watched The Next Generation when it first came out. I was one of those people who said, “You know what? Maybe, because I can get in on the ground floor for something I’ll try this Star Trek out.” And it wasn’t my bag again. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about The Next Generation. By the way, this is a story I think a lot of people will tell.

I didn’t quite get it; I wasn’t sure about Data, an android named Data, are you kidding me? It just seemed childish even to me, at age twenty-one. Then, a couple years went by. So I didn’t really… I watched the first episode with those aliens with the sticks… it just was like, “This isn’t good.” It confirmed my reservations about Star Trek.

But a couple years later, I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, and someone said, “You need to watch The Next Generation. It’s good.” And I suspect that was not an uncommon experience. And they were right. I started watching the show, and it was a stark difference. The writing was so good.

I can’t remember the first episode I actually watched… It was a Geordi episode, with Worf – he’s supposed to give part of his blood or something to a Romulan, and he refused. The guy dies, and Picard is pissed off… I’m like, “This is good stuff!” This was not like the Next Gen I first watched.

And then, when I got the internship on Next Generation, I was into it. I was into Next Gen. That was a long answer.

One suspects that Braga was not alone in his experience. The Next Generation had really and radically turned around in a phenomenally short space of time.

Galorndon Core does not make Riker's list of favourite galactic vacation spots...

Galorndon Core does not make Riker’s list of favourite galactic vacation spots…

The Next Generation is continuing its rapid improvement, moving towards a show where it can strive to be consistently superb, rather than occasionally very good. The Enemy is has a premise that could easily have been shuffled into the first or second season, but never would have been executed as well as it is here.

Read our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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6 Responses

  1. This was the episode that lured me into becoming a Trek-fan in the first place… beinig a 5 or 6 year old, watching television on a weekday/vacation morning, my mother having some stuff to do in the kitchen. The visuals fascinated me. The alienness of the Romulan and the planet and Geordi’s predicament, his vulnerability due to his blindness, made me shiver as a child.
    I find this accidental parallel to Braga quite funny. Thanks for providing that information!

    • Markus, you could be the next Brannon Braga! Ha!

      • If that would mean me producting and writing (or sometimes trying to write) Star Trek for two decades – so be it 😉

      • Ha! There are probably worse fates.

        But I don’t think I could take the internet abuse, to be honest.

    • By the way: “Worf’s blood could have saved the Romulan; Worf refuses to give it; as a result, the Romulan dies.”

      Yes, but it seems like Worf is really willing to reconsider his decision when confronted with the dying Romulan in sickbay. I always felt that his reluctance transformed into refusal after the Romulan told Worf he would rather die than be saved bis his blood.

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