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Star Trek: Enterprise – Marauders (Review)

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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, it looks like Star Trek: Enterprise used up most (if not all) of its ambition for the second season.

The second season of Enterprise got off to a fairly decent start, Shockwave, Part II notwithstanding. Minefield and Dead Stop weren’t perfect, but they were taking the show in a direction that seemed promising. A Night in Sickbay may have been a pretty serious misfire, but it was still a very ambitious instalment of the series. However, it seemed like that ambition was not to last. The second season of Enterprise becomes fairly conventional from this point out – fairly relaxed and fairly generic.

"We don't like your kind around here..."

“We don’t like your kind around here…”

This is the type of approach that producers will frequently describe as “back to basics.” More cynical commentators might use the phrase “back to the well.” The goal seems to be to offer the audience more of what they’ve had before, to repeat what had worked in earlier episodes in earlier seasons in earlier shows. There’s a creeping sense of familiarity to the whole exercise, as if the writing staff are merely filing the numbers (and character names) off old scripts so that they can be recycled. It is very environmentally friendly.

Marauders starts the trend, offering viewers what amounts to The Magnificent Seven… in space, with Klingons!” It works quite well as a diversion or change of pace. It is significantly less satisfying as a direction for the rest of the season.

"Settlement this!"

“Settlement this!”

The first season of Enterprise had found itself torn between the familiar Star Trek trappings and something a bit more interesting and unique. Although of variable quality, episodes like Breaking the Ice, Dear Doctor, Shadows of P’Jem and Shuttlepod One had all suggested that Enterprise took place in a universe very different to any other Star Trek series. In contrast, episodes like Civilisation, Sleeping Dogs, Rogue Planet and Oasis all seemed to hark back to a familiar Star Trek formula.

The second season of Enterprise initially leaned in a novel direction for the franchise. Minefield and Dead Stop suggested a much tighter sense of continuity between episodes – that the ship and the crew would not magically recover off-screen between adventures. Carbon Creek had fun with the larger Star Trek mythos. Even A Night in Sickbay was an attempt to do something that the franchise had never really done before – talk about bottled-up sexual repression. The quality was variable, but the direction was experimental.

Fighting dirty...

Fighting dirty…

With Marauders, the show falls back into a generic and familiar pattern. It is easy enough to imagine this episode working on Star Trek: Voyager or even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a very neat forty-five minute episode of television that feels decidedly old-fashioned. Our wandering heroes stumble across a community under threat from an outside source, and then conspire to liberate the community from that threat.

Rather specifically, Marauders is very much Star Trek by way of The Magnificent Seven. The community is even a mining village, evoking all the expectations of a classic western story. The regular cast on Enterprise even consists of seven people, which means we’re spared the wonderful “assembling the gang” sequence that was such a joy the last time the franchise offered such a direct translation of that classic western, in The Magnificent Ferengi.

Enemy mine...

Enemy mine…

The original series borrowed a lot of its cues from the western genre. After all, it has been affectionately described as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” Although Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to play down that association with the pulpy (and mostly extinct) genre, the later series have all embraced it to one extent or another. Deep Space Nine was described as “The Rifleman… in space!” The early episodes of the first season of Voyager – particularly Caretaker and Emanations – traded on western iconography.

With Enterprise offering a very direct and literal connection to the franchise’s history, it made sense for the show to offer its own take on the “space western.” As such, Marauders feels like a conscious effort to get back in touch with that old-fashioned and romantic Star Trek aesthetic. The third season would see Enterprise offering another take on the space western genre with North Star, one that was even more overt in acknowledging its inspirations.

Archer will see that those Klingons get their just deserts...

Archer will see that those Klingons get their just deserts…

In an interview with TV Guide towards the end of the first season, Braga had firmly hinted at this “back to basics” approach:

We see Enterprise as being more like the original Star Trek than the other spin-offs, more true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision. It truly gets back to going “where no man has gone before.” It’s not clouded with the geopolitics that evolved with the spin-offs.

As such, there was a conscious effort to dial back the politicking and the world-building. The Suliban would never be as developed as the Klingons or the Cardassians.

Something fishy is afoot...

Something fishy is afoot…

Despite the fact that Broken Bow had seen Archer visiting the Klingon High Council, the show seemed less interested in Alpha (or Beta) Quadrant politics in its first few seasons than The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine had been. However, this feels an odd decision for a show that has gestured repeatedly towards the origin of the Federation in episodes like Dear Doctor or Cold Front or Shadows of P’Jem. After all, big alliances don’t generally just spring into being without some hint of geopolitics.

Still, Marauders is as simple a story as possible. A bunch of Klingon thugs are bullying a small mining community. Enterprise arrives. Archer discovers what is happening. The crew of the Enterprise decide to help this small community – which we’ve never met before and will never see again – to repel a these Klingon pirates. Archer concocts a clever plan with a solid moral. The Klingons are defeated. Everybody is happy. Marauders is episodic television 101, an episode that follows the path of least resistance.

Going around in circles...

Going around in circles…

Marauders begins a long run of generic and formulaic episodes running through to the next Klingon episode, Judgment. In Uncharted Territory, David A. Goodman – the writer of Judgment – acknowledged that the second season was largely conservative in tone and story:

The reason that we ended up doing so many rehashes of episodes was there was a point where Brannon – whether he was tired, or it was just the pressure of trying to get the show done – was not really willing to hear a variety of ideas. He would hone in on a story. Somebody would pitch a story, and then all of a sudden we’re breaking a story that’s very similar to a Deep Space Nine or  a Voyager. And the story ended up being fine, but it wasn’t fresh. And I think that ended up being… the thing that I always felt was being a creative freedom of “let’s explore this! let’s push this character to a place he’s never before!”… there was sort of a reticence to do that because – quite rightly – they’d had success doing the characters the way they’d been doing them and really getting into real conflict with our characters was not something Rick and Brannon were interested in. And that would be the one criticism, I would say, of them.

It is not that this stretch of the season is bad or terrible. For all its flaws, the second season of Enterprise has nowhere near the consistency lows of the first and second seasons of The Next Generation or the second season of Voyager. However, the season does feel a little over familiar – a little bit like reheated ingredients.

In a bit of a fix...

In a bit of a fix…

What is most striking about Marauders is how eager it is to jump to a solution that involves the crew of the Enterprise shooting Klingons. After all, that is what most people remember about Star Trek, right? None of that negotiation or talking stuff? There are points where characters in the episode suggest that defeating the Klingons may not be the solution, but that is quickly dismissed by the story.

After the away team witness the Klingons bullying the miners, a young boy tells Trip, “You could have fought the Klingons. Beaten them.” When Trip concedes “maybe”, the kid presses the issue. “Why didn’t you try?” Trip replies, “It’s not that simple.” Except that it is. Archer does the same hand-wringing with T’Pol for a scene. T’Pol observes, “However, short of killing the Klingons any action we take will only make the situation worse.” Archer reflects, “I just hate the idea of turning our backs.”

Shooting for the stars...

Shooting for the stars…

There is a sense of angsty insecure masculinity here, as the show’s two male leads struggle with their urge for violent retribution within the construct of a Star Trek episode. There is something just a tad reactionary about all this. There’s a sense that Archer and Trip are desperately wishing that they weren’t trapped by the rules associated with a Star Trek story. They both seem ready to just whip out their phaser rifles and shoot up some Klingons.

It is worth noting that the turn of the millennium was an interesting time for American masculinity in popular culture. Released in 1999, Fight Club told the bitter and ironic tale of listless masculine anger in contemporary society. In 2000, American Beauty offered a scathing look at Lester Burnham’s struggles with his own masculinity – sweeping the Academy Awards. The following year, the much less ironic and much more old-fashioned ode to masculinity in Gladiator was just as successful.

"C'mon! Kirk got to beat up Klingons all the time!"

“C’mon! Kirk got to beat up Klingons all the time!”

It has been suggested that modern masculinity was in crisis at the start of the millennium. In conversation with feminist Susan Faludi, Katharine Viner noted that modern men seemed a lot less comfortable in themselves:

So unlike his father, today’s man grew up with no honourable war to fight (no fascist-defeating second world war) and no frontiers to break (only the final frontier, space, which turned out to be nothing at all); he did not have a job for life, or even a useful sort of job; he couldn’t count on being a useful member of his family; even his local football team would reward his loyalty and commitment with high ticket prices which would keep him away from the players he loved.

All that is left then, says Faludi – if you can’t get your masculine confidence from work, family or having a place in your community – is the physical.

It seems like Marauders is very much framed as part of that same cultural moment. Archer and Trip are two white men struggling with their own feelings of impotence in a complex and multi-faceted universe.

The rifleman... in space... on a planet...

The rifleman… in space… on a planet…

As such, the two respond by embracing old narratives of masculinity. It is no coincidence that Archer’s plan to combat his feelings of inadequacy play themselves out in a western. As Carol MacCurdy noted in Masculinities and the Western:

The reason why this study proposes the western as a significant cultural construct for the analysis of manhood and its cyclical re-makings is twofold, one thematic, one historical. First, the genre is embedded with representations of manhood and male relationships: the western has almost exclusively pictured (white) men as protagonists, relegating women and other masculinities at the mar-gin. In the second place, the western gained momentous influence and popularity at the turn of the twentieth century, a privileged period for the study of masculinity dynamics as it perfectly shows how, in a moment of redefinition and apparent crisis, masculinity came out reinforced and restored. Given that masculinity was a crucial issue when the genre came to enjoy maximum popularity, and westerns were created for a male audience, the genre has always been ideologically linked to notions of masculinity. In this sense, the western can be considered one of the systems through which the production and the normalization of masculinity are possible.

There is something consciously regressive here, much like the decision to centre Enterprise around a mostly white (and mostly male) cast in the first place.

"The Klingons probably don't have their own version of Blazing Saddles, do they?"

“The Klingons probably don’t have their own version of Blazing Saddles, do they?”

There is possibly an uncomfortable racial subtext to Marauders. A lot of the studies and surveys of masculinity in crisis at the turn of the millennium have identified the crisis as unfolding within white heterosexuality masculinity. As Marita Sturken argues in When Paranoid Male Narratives Fail:

The contemporary version of masculinity in crisis has emerged hand in hand with several other distinct social trends: identity politics and paranoid narratives. The public discussion of white men as victims of feminism, affirmative action, queer politics, and multiculturalism has fuelled concerns of masculinity under siege.

As such, it seems a rather unfortunate choice that all the major characters at the settlement are all white; particularly given the fact that Klingon make-up tends to code the Klingons as “non-white.” (Even if Korok is played by white actor Robertson Dean.)

A rocky relationship...

A rocky relationship…

That said, there are a few interesting subversions to be found in Marauders. As much as Archer’s plan seems to draw from The Magnificent Seven, it relies on a plot element from Blazing Saddles. Ultimately, Archer defeats the Klingons by moving this frontier town ever so slightly, in a plot point that feels like an obvious shout-out to Mel Brooks’ classic western spoof. It almost seems like Marauders is gently mocking its own western sensibilities.

More than that, though, the episode repeatedly suggests that Korok and his renegade Klingons are really just a pathetic bunch of rag-tag misfits rather than a genuine threat to Archer or his crew. There is never any real threat in Marauders, with Archer informing T’Pol, “Malcolm tells me that Klingon ship isn’t much more than a freighter. I’d lay odds they’re no match for Enterprise.” In effect, Archer is really picking on Korok in the same way that Korok is picking on Maklii; picking on a weaker man to assert masculinity.

Fight or freight...

Fight or freight…

Indeed, Marauders seems to suggest that Korok is going through his own crisis of masculinity quite similar to that experienced by Archer. Korok is not a warrior; he does not command a battleship. He commands a “freighter.” Given how charged and competitive Klingon culture is, imagine how wounded Korok’s masculinity must be. After all, one imagines that freighter captains don’t get into sto vo kor that easily.

Korok seems to be over-compensating. Explaining why he keeps returning to this mining community, Korok confesses, “I can get deuterium anywhere. I come here because I like you, when you show me hospitality and respect.” While “respect” might be an overly generous description, there is a sense that Korok likes to bully these settlers because they make him feel like a real Klingon. They fear him, they tremble before him, they bow to his whims. For a freighter captain, that must feel pretty good.

Little did Archer truly appreciate that Korok and his men had built up a small-to-medium Klingon freight empire all of their own.

Either you Klingon, or you be gone.

Marauders never quite develops these threads – it never follows through on these intriguing and potentially subversive elements of what feels like a very conventional masculine power fantasy. The result is a very conventional western story with a few incongruous elements that float in the background. Korok is barely defined, so he doesn’t really get to exist as a foil to Archer. The moving of the town serves as background to a big phaser fire-fight.

Marauders doesn’t really work that well as a standard space western story. Most obviously, there’s a minimal amount of tension. At the climax, it never seems like Korok might act in a way that Archer hadn’t predicted. By the time that he realises something is wrong, Archer is ready to spring the trap. When Archer does have to adjust the plan slightly, it is presented in a rather non-nonsense way. It isn’t a crisis or a disaster; it’s a very small piece of elaboration or improvisation in a plan that is still in play.

Sticking it to the man...

Sticking it to the man…

It is also interesting to wonder why Korok doesn’t beam up at the first sign of trouble, or why he won’t bomb the site from orbit. After all, the miners have made it clear that they won’t deal with him. Given how much emphasis Korok places on “respect”, it seems unlikely that he would want stories told about this humiliating defeat. Given how volatile deuterium is, it seems strange that the Klingons would just tuck their tails between their legs and retreat.

After all, we are informed that Korok executed four members of the settlement the last time that the miners tried to stand up to him, unsuccessfully. Korok is clearly not a fan of the doctrine of proportionate response. While Marauders takes a great deal of pride in its moral about standing up to bullies, it does feel a little too neat and a little too tidy. Similarly, it does seem like the settlement might need more than four days of prep and pep talks to set them up properly in case Korok comes back.

Hey, at least Travis got to be in the montage! (And beaten up by T'Pol!)

Hey, at least Travis got to be in the montage! (And beaten up by T’Pol!)

Marauders has an interesting relationship to continuity. There are quite a few references to past episodes, even though they amount to very little in the context of the episode itself. At the start of the episode, Trip suggests that the ship is still recovering from the damage in Minefield, in a reference that starts the plot moving without being strictly necessary. At other points, it feels like Rick Berman and Brannon Braga simply told writer David Wilcox to watch “the Klingon episodes” from the first season.

There are quite a few (occasionally awkward and entirely pointless) references to Broken Bow. When discussing the situation with T’Pol, Archer suggests, “We could try to contact the Klingon High Council. We saved Klaang from the Suliban, we pulled one of their battle cruisers out of a gas giant. I say they owe us a favour.” Trying to inspire Maklii, Archer reflects, “We’d only been out of Spacedock for three days when we found ourselves in a full-fledged firefight with some pretty nasty characters called the Suliban.”

All fired up...

All fired up…

Along with the reference to the Klingon cruiser in the gas giant, Marauders contains another reference to Sleeping Dogs. While Reed is training the miners about using weaponry, Hoshi offers her own advice. “I can see your finger tensing on the trigger before you fire. It’s throwing off your aim. I used to make the same mistake.” There is a lovely shared glimpse between Reed and Hoshi, a nice subtle character reference to their training sequence in the cold open to Sleeping Dogs.

(That said, perhaps the strangest continuity references comes towards the end of the episode, as Korok and his Klingons are defeated. Trying to save face, Korok informs Maklii, “We can find deuterium anywhere. Yours isn’t fit for a garbage scow.” It feels like a somewhat heavy-handed shout-out to a similar garbage-scow-related insult in The Trouble With Tribbles. Given how hard Enterprise has tried to ignore the issues of classic-era Klingons to this point, it seems a little weird to include the reference here.)

The ball is in their court...

The ball is in their court…

However, despite all these small continuity references, Marauders is quite insistent that the show will be returning to a strictly episodic adventure-of-the-week format. After the tight continuity between Minefield and Dead Stop, the show is back into the classic “can air in syndication in any order” formula. There’s no sense of the crew carrying anything of actual importance to the plot into the episode, and no sense that any member of the cast might take anything of value away from it.

The script candidly acknowledges this in Trip’s final conversation with the youngest member of the settlement. “Yeah, that’s one of the tough things about my job,” Trip remarks. “Saying goodbye to people like you and your friends.” When the kid wonders if the ship might ever return, Trip doesn’t seem too enthused. That was this episode. Next episode, it’s secret agent Vulcans. After that, it’s a serious twist on the ending to A Piece of the Action. As far as Enterprise is concerned, it is a big universe, full of disconnected stories.

"I see some plot holes..."

“I see some plot holes…”

And, so, Marauders lays out a clear agenda for the season ahead. For better or for worse.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

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11 Responses

  1. Nice observation about the clash of mission statements. Do we go small or big? Is this an exploration show or a show about the Federation’s origins?

    Archer could just as easily learn about important Earth developments “through the grapevine”. Even better, the NX-01 could act as a microcosm of the fledgling Alpha Quadrant alliance.

    I think most of us would have settled for an exploration show — even set one in the past. There’s no reason why Archer has to be INSTRUMENTAL in founding the Federation, even if it’s a nice twist. It just screws up too much of Archer’s backstory; a back-biter who detests the political system. What has he ever gained from it? Moreover, what has Archer ever done for it? Again George W. Bush figures heavily into the character study of Captain Archer. He is THE least likely candidate for every role handed to him in the show: captain, president, diplomat, time agent. And somehow his ignorance about these matters is supposed to be a qualifier.

    • Yep. Archer is the Captain you’d want to have a beer with, in theory. He’s not a high-falutin’ big whig with grand ideas about the future of the universe; he just likes to get things done. Which usually means running head-first into situations he doesn’t understand, getting beaten up and taken hostage. While the third season doesn’t play to Bakula’s strengths, I kinda like that it does at least give the character an arc where he seems to move past that a little bit. It’s one thing to be romantic about the idea of being under-qualified for a crucial position. It is another to reject the idea that when you do things like this long enough, you have to either (a.) become qualified through experience or (b.) prove yourself completely inept.

  2. Marauders is about as complex as a typical episode of Saved By the Bell and features a life lesson which wouldn’t be out of place on that program.

    I do kinda wish that screen cap of the Klingon whispering sweet nothings in someone’s ear was followed by: “Don’t you think he looks tired?”

    • I think I’m too sympathetic to the difficulties of running Enterprise to be quite that mean-spirited! But only slightly!

      But, yes, Marauders pretty much sets the tone for this long stretch of soul-destroyingly bland episodes, most of which I’d completely forgotten about until I reviewed them. I remember that this was the point where I stopped watching Enterprise on a weekly basis and it became something I caught up on rather than something I watched religiously. I had a lot of love for the franchise. It took a lot to diminish that.

      • Oh, so say we all, I think. I bailed on Enterprise during this span and I say that as someone who never bailed on Voyager! It’s during mid-season 2 that Trek’s best reviewer, Tim Lynch, gave up on the series. I’m certain it was a trying time for all of us in Trek fandom.

      • Yep, it’s weird to think fandom could get through season two of Voyager and would balk at season two of Enterprise. I don’t even think – episode for episode – the second season of Enterprise is the worst season of Star Trek ever. The first season of TNG and the second season of VOY are a lot weaker. But the second season of Enterprise is just so bland.

  3. I haven’t seen The Magnificent Seven, so this episode wasn’t old hat to me. While I think in the real world, people like the Klingons wouldn’t run away so easily, I found it quite satisfying to see the crew of the Enterprise teach the settlers how to fight back.

    I especially loved the scenes where Hoshi shows us that she’s become a crack shot, and T’Pol demonstrates Vulcan martial arts. T’Pol is usually just used as eye candy, so it was nice to see her doing something other than giving Archer good advice that he won’t follow.

    I even liked it when Archer repeated the saying about giving a fish versus teaching TO fish; that felt like classic Trek to me.

    Of course, I was heavily bullied as a child, so I may be having a reaction to this episode that those without that experience wouldn’t have.

    • Oh, I was definitely bullied as a child, so I can empathise.

      And Marauders is not bad. It is competent. It moves. It has a Star Trek moral, even if it’s a little stereotypically macho. (And potentially shortsighted. A lot of the tricks Archer employs will only work once, and what’s to stop more Klingons coming back with more weapons or nuking the site from orbit?) But it also lacks the verve of a good Star Trek episode, at least for me. It’s far from the worst of the season, but it’s not particularly inspiring.

  4. This wasn’t a classic or anything, but there were things to enjoy. It was pretty well-directed all around, a few good shots, a few bold uses of color, a pretty good montage. I’ve never seen Enterprise before, so I’m not sure what to think about the season ahead.

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