Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.
There’s really very little to say about Sleeping Dogs. It’s not particularly good, it’s not particularly bad. Like Civilisation before it, it’s an episode of Star Trek constructed to a familiar formula. The ship in question answers a distress call from an alien ship. Our crew attempts a rescue mission, during which the away team end up stranded. Meanwhile, our captain tries to figure out how to communicate with an alien from a radically different culture, eventually coming to realise that he must address them on their terms.
These are all stock elements, and they are mixed into Sleeping Dogs with a minimum of fuss. The only real kink in Sleeping Dogs is that the aliens in question are Klingons. However, we’ve spent so much time with Klingons in the various other Star Trek spin-off shows that using them as a light seasoning in a fairly stock Star Trek plot doesn’t make for a particularly appetising combination.
There are a number of things to be said in defence of Sleeping Dogs. For one thing, the future seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise demonstrate that there are still some interesting things left to say about Klingons. Although Klingon culture has been thoroughly developed and explored on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, later episodes like Judgment and Affliction and Divergent feel like they offer a glimpse at Klingon culture from another angle.
As such, Klingons certainly aren’t exhausted as a Star Trek plot element at this point. There is definitely room for Sleeping Dogs to do something radical and exciting with them. It just doesn’t. Our characters meet a Klingon and wander around a Klingon ship. Archer learns to embrace the way of the warrior. This is much less exciting than episodes that have more thoroughly immersed our protagonists in Klingon culture, like Sins of the Father or Redemption.
In an interview with The Star Trek Communicator after end of the show’s first season, writer Mike Sussman confessed that there was really little point on focusing on the Klingons if Enterprise had nothing new to say about them:
“The staff has talked about showing their evolution into the ‘smooth headed’ and more cutthroat Klingons of the TOS era. I don’t know about the smooth foreheads, but I’d be interested in finding out why the Klingons never talked about honour in all the years Kirk dealt with them,” Sussman posits. “They really seemed much more interested in glory and treachery than honour in those days. Maybe they found the whole ‘honour’ thing wasn’t working for them. There are so many ways to go with the Klingons. I think the least interesting choice is to show them behaving in exactly the same way as they will in the 24th century, and I think we were a little guilty of that this season.”
While Enterprise never really explored the shift to the treacherous Klingons of Kirk’s era, except as a subplot in Divergence, the show would eventually figure out some new things to say about Klingons. However, Sleeping Dogs feels a bit too much like treading water.
Even the idea of touring a Klingon ship feels somewhat redundant. After all, Klingon ships are much more fun when populated with Klingons. Episodes like A Matter of Honour and Soldiers of the Empire offer a much more exciting glimpse at what day-to-day life must look like from inside an alien culture. Having the cast wander around atmospherically-lit sets and encounter computer-generated Targ hardly makes for a compelling hour of television.
Of course, you could argue that Enterprise has yet to properly do a “first contact” story featuring Klingons. Sure, Klingons have already appeared twice. However, in Broken Bow, the Klingons were little more than a hook, with a Klingon messenger serving as a macguffin. Archer got to visit the High Council, but had to leave relatively quickly. The Klingons pop up again in the final act of Unexpected, but the episode never bothers to do anything with them beyond using them as a convenient source of tension.
So Enterprise hasn’t yet had Archer confront a Klingon ship in a tense situation, engaging in a test of wills against the most iconic of the classic Star Trek aliens. There is something quite alluring about that. Given how iconic and popular the Klingons are, forcing Archer to face down a hostile Klingon ship could be considered a rite of passage. Every captain except Janeway has had to test their mettle against the Klingons, and it has always made for exciting television.
Besides, this might be a nice excuse to explore the “disastrous” first contact with the Klingons that Picard alluded to in First Contact. Sure, this is technically third contact, but the last two encounters were hardly sustained enough to count. Throwing Archer into a situation where he faces a truly horrific encounter with a race of warriors would make for some dramatic television. It would be exciting.
One of the biggest problems with the first season so far has been the sense that nothing feels risky or dangerous. Archer has made quite a few miscalculations in episodes like Fight or Flight or Strange New World, but he’s never had to face any genuinely horrific consequences for his mistakes. Archer has yet to lose a crewmember, for example, despite close calls in Strange New World and Silent Enemy.
The Klingons could certainly fix that, and having Archer make a massive mess-up here that actually has consequences would provide great fodder for character and plot development. It would also do a lot to distinguish Enterprise from the most recent spin-offs. The Klingons have been defined as (somewhat half-hearted) allies since the mid-eighties, so seeing them genuinely at odds with Starfleet would provide an effective contrast.
However, Sleeping Dogs doesn’t offer anything that ambitious. It’s an episode that could easily have been produced for any of the modern Star Trek spin-offs, with only a few slight changes. The Klingons could be substituted for just about any random race, but Sleeping Dogs doesn’t feel like it does enough to firmly define that Klingons that it would cause a problem. Just insert another generic warrior race into their space in the plot, and it would work just as well.
Indeed, even in the context of Klingons, this all feels too familiar. For example, Archer’s bad-ass boast to the commander of the Klingon vessel simply feels like a lame imitation of Sisko’s warning to Gowran in The Way of the Warrior. Archer warns, “You wouldn’t last ten seconds in a battle with us. You’ve got multiple hull breaches, your shields are down, and from what I’m told you’re fresh out of torpedoes. If I were you, I’d take what little honour I had left and go home.”
(The line it seems to be riffing off is “my shields are holding, your boarding parties are contained, and my reinforcements are closer than yours”, which gets a delightfully hammy reading from Avery Brooks. Then again, Brooks also benefits from a delightfully over-the-top reading from the underrated Robert O’Reilly as Gowran. “Captain, your shields have been weakened, your station boarded, and more Klingon ships are on their way.” Here all the anonymous Klingon commander does is snarl.)
Although, to be fair, it may be an issue with the actor being asked to read the lines. Scott Bakula has a great deal of all-American charm, but he lacks Avery Brooks’ fevered intensity. Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks were performers who could make a room shake while delivering a contemptuous monologue or serious threat. In contrast, Archer was better at channelling raw enthusiasm. It’s telling that when the third season does try to develop Archer’s dark side, it plays better quietly as opposed to theatrically.
Enterprise would work better when it played with unconventional Klingons. After all, the show gave us major Klingon lawyers and Klingon scientists, a rather major departure from the portrayal of Klingons in the surrounding Star Trek shows. Somewhat disappointingly, the two Klingons that we see here are nothing but familiar archetypes – proud warriors who do not respond to reason or diplomacy. Everything here is just too familiar, too rote.
The elements that exist at the edge of Sleeping Dogs are just as trite. It’s nice to get a show about how Hoshi is finding her “space legs”, particularly as a follow-up to Fight or Flight, but it all just feels too generic. We don’t learn anything essential about Hoshi here, and while it’s nice to get a little interaction between Hoshi and T’Pol, it doesn’t feel like either character is profoundly affected by their conversations. Hoshi freaks out, T’Pol helps her get it under control. T’Pol loosens up a bit. It’s nothing either character could not get from another member of the cast.
Similarly, the idea of a ship “sinking” into a gas giant is quite a nice hook. It’s always fun when Star Trek plays with interstellar phenomenon, acknowledging that space is more than just big empty nothingness inhabited by strange aliens. The idea that a starship could crushed by pressure inside a gas cloud is something quite intriguing, but Sleeping Dogs doesn’t do anything with the concept that Starship Down didn’t do. The episode doesn’t feel as tense or as high pressure as it needs to – the pressure outside the ship is never reflected inside the ship.
And then there’s Reed’s cold. It’s a rather absurd little plot point for a ship that has been in space for so long. One wonders why Reed hasn’t passed the cold on to other officers. Even ignoring that, Reed’s cold seems like another attempt to make the characters on Enterprise more relatable than their counterparts on other Star Trek shows, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a small, silly little detail that allows Dominic Keating to ham it up for a scene or two before it is forgotten. Then again, if the alternative is Angel One, maybe it’s a good thing that it doesn’t go anywhere.
This makes it sound like Sleeping Dogs is a bad episode. That’s not entirely fair. It’s functional, it is just very generic. It’s filler. Like Civilisation, it’s an episode that might be easily glossed over during a re-watch. Like Civilisation, it’s an episode that is fairly quickly forgotten, one unlikely to be counted among the “must watch” episodes of a given season. In many respects, it feels like something that fills space, occupying a slot in the show’s season order.
Of course, this sort of thing is inevitable in a twenty-six episode season. There are always going to be episodes that exist primarily to get the cast and crew one week closer to the season break. In some respects, this is an example of how Enterprise feels like something of a relic. For all that the show wants to put a new sheen on the Star Trek franchise, it is remarkably conservative for a piece of twenty-first century television. It is largely episodic. It has an ensemble is rigid and inflexible. Even episodes like Dear Doctor reflect an unwillingness to embrace narrative ambiguities.
Television seasons have – as a rule – been getting shorter. This is most obvious on cable channels, where shows like The Sopranos and Oz were happy to do about thirteen episodes a season. That would represent a pretty dramatic decrease in output for Enterprise, which produced twenty-six hours of television in its first season – more than the first season of any Star Trek spin-off since The Next Generation.
However, even the number of episodes in a standard broadcast season for a drama on a major network seemed to be decreasing. There are all manner of examples from the 2001-2002 season. The season order for the first season of 24 was obviously 24 episodes. In its second season, CSI produced 23 episodes. Law & Order‘s twelfth season produced 24 episodes. The eighth season of E.R. had 22 episodes. The third season of The West Wing had 22 episodes.
It’s obviously a long way off the current status quo where shows like Fringe or Hannibal or 24: Day Another Day can survive on major networks with thirteen episodes (or less) in a season. That status quo only really emerged after Enterprise had been cancelled. However, it does demonstrate the kind of pressure that Enterprise was under, and arguably that it was working off a rather outdated model.
This isn’t to suggest that Enterprise would have been better served to move to a thirteen-episode model or anything as radical as that. After all, while the first season of Enterprise may not have thirteen genuinely classic episodes of Star Trek, it has more than thirteen episodes that are worthwhile in some form or other – episodes that try to do worthwhile things, even if they don’t necessarily succeed.
Reducing the order count so dramatically might have given the writers freedom and space to tell stronger stories, but there’s a valid argument to be made that the longer season allowed the series room to work through some of its growing pains. A thirteen-episode season would look so radically different from the season as broadcast that it is pure conjecture to even contemplate it. Besides, such a dramatic reduction in the episode count would reduce the syndication prospects for the show, making it much harder to reach that lucrative one hundred episode mark.
While a thirteen episode season for Enterprise might be a flight of fancy, it is interesting to imagine what a 24- or even 22-episode season might look like. Reducing the order count by an episode or two might have given the cast and crew a bit more room to breathe. There are easily four episodes from this troubled first season that would not be missed, whether those are the genuinely terrible episodes (like Unexpected or Acquisition) or simply the mind-numbingly mediocre installments (like Sleeping Dogs or Civilisation).
Sleeping Dogs isn’t a bad episode of television. It’s just a crushingly mediocre one. While the first two seasons of Enterprise contain more than their fair share of truly terrible episodes, it’s episodes like Sleeping Dogs that actually do the most damage. They aren’t exciting, they aren’t engaging. They don’t provoke strong reactions. They are just sort of… there. And there’s a sense that there would be absolutely nothing lost if they weren’t.
- Broken Bow
- Fight or Flight
- Strange New World
- Terra Nova
- The Andorian Incident
- Breaking the Ice
- Fortunate Son
- Cold Front
- Silent Enemy
- Dear Doctor
- Sleeping Dogs
- Shadows of P’Jem
- Shuttlepod One
- Rogue Planet
- Vox Sola
- Fallen Hero
- Desert Crossing
- Two Days and Two Nights
- Shockwave, Part I