Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Enterprise – The Seventh (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.

The Seventh broadcast in early November 2002.

However, production had wrapped on the episode on the 11th of September, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. After the crew finished working on the shoot, they paused to observe a moment of silence in honour of all the lives lost in that attack. That same evening, President George W. Bush would speak about those tragic events in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. It was a very tense and very delicate political and social climate. There was no distance from the atrocity yet.

Public enemy number one...

Public enemy number one…

In January 2002, the United States public still supported intervention in Afghanistan by an overwhelming majority. In October 2002, a survey by the Pew Research Centre would reveal that most Americans supported the idea of war with Iraq, a war that would launch in March 2003. Patriotism surged. In October 2001, the Patriot Act was enacted. In February 2002, the International Olympic Committee asked the Salt Lake Organising Committee to tone down the patriotism at the opening of the winter games.

This was the climate in which The Seventh was produced, an episode about a rogue Vulcan operative who must be tracked down and apprehended for the greater good.

Snow down!

Snow down!

There is something immediately odd about the character dynamics in The Seventh. The episode centres around the Vulcan High Command entrusting T’Pol to hunt down a former undercover operative who has gone native. Menos has buried himself in his cover, and refused to return to Vulcan for reintegration after his job was complete. The Seventh opens with T’Pol receiving a cryptic communication from the Vulcan High Command, at which point Enterprise is diverted on her secret assignment.

T’Pol recruits Archer to assist her with the mission. Archer is understandably upset about the way that his mission has been hijacked by the Vulcans for some covert purpose. After all, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. Fallen Hero started from a similar premise, with Archer being told to do something without being given all the pertinent information. As such, Archer is justifiably upset.

Archer plays ball...

Archer plays ball…

Archer is a character who has been critical of Vulcan policy in the past. He is the character who repeatedly questions the morality and authority of the Vulcan High Command. In The Andorian Incident, he unilaterally – and somewhat recklessly – decided to expose a Vulcan deception to the Andorian government. In Shadows of P’Jem, he discovered first-hand the consequences of Vulcan and Andorian interference in a less-advanced culture.

Here, T’Pol reveals to Archer that Vulcan intelligence has been engaging in large-scale cultural interference. “Agaron was a very corrupt world,” T’Pol tells Archer. “When their leaders were first trying to forge an alliance with Vulcan they asked for our assistance. That was nearly thirty years ago. Hundreds of our agents were surgically altered and sent to infiltrate the most criminal factions of Agaron society. Eventually, they were instrumental in the overthrow of those factions.”

Keeping an ear out for him...

Keeping an ear out for him…

That sounds like a very questionable practice for a more advanced species. Surely that disconcerts Archer. If the Vulcans could manipulate an entire planet to make them compatible with Vulcan culture and norms, how can Archer trust them in their dealings with Earth? Who are the Vulcans to decide which faction is the rightful leader of a given planet? One assumes that the Vulcan government decided logically, favouring their own interests?

With all of this in mind, one would expect Archer to be sceptical of the Vulcan High Command in this situation. Archer has accused the Vulcans of being close-minded and xenophobic. Confronted with Menos’ decision to remain a part of another culture, it would seem that Archer should at least consider the possibility. Instead, as T’Pol finds herself thrown into doubt, Archer is cast as the voice of absolute moral certainty. He urges T’Pol to work through her insecurities and to do the job that needs to be done.

Back when T'Pol was a young green operative...

Back when T’Pol was a young green operative…

“Why did you want me here?” Archer asks T’Pol at the climax. “Because I trust you,” she responds. Archer continues, “Then trust me. You were sent to apprehend him, not to judge him.” This seems a rather out-of-character moment for Archer, an instant where Archer is telling T’Pol not to question the policies of the Vulcan High Command; not to reach her own conclusions. Archer seems to be instructing T’Pol to be a good little soldier rather than an inquisitive science officer.

Much of The Seventh is a story about T’Pol questioning what she did in service of her government, and Archer assuring her that she was entirely in the right. When T’Pol recalls the death of Jossen, Archer is the first to leap to her defence – trying to silence her self-doubt. “Why would you feel guilty if this Jossen was about to fire at you?” he asks. T’Pol replies, “I suppose I was never certain what his intentions were.” Given what we see via flashback, it is clear the episode is on Archer’s side.

"Do it!"

“Do it!”

“Did Jossen reach for his weapon or not?” Archer demands as the debate comes to a head. “Is that what you remember, or what Menos wants you to remember?” When T’Pol asks what the difference might be, Archer responds, “There’s a big difference. He’s playing on your guilt.” Archer seems to take Menos’ guilt for granted, trusting that the Vulcans have a legitimate reason for wanting the former operative apprehended. He never seems to entertain an alternative agenda.

To be fair, Menos talks a good game. He makes a fairly convincing argument for why he would not want to return home. “They wanted to rehabilitate me, bring me home, flatten my forehead and re-point my ears,” Menos informs his captors. “They wanted to teach me to forget the life they had taught me so carefully how to live.” It is a situation that recalls Apocalypse Now, about a rogue operative who has “gone native.” Such stories are not confined to the realm of fiction – consider the case of Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Peterson.

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

For a little while, it seems like The Seventh might want to prompt questions about certain dark chapters of American foreign policy, where operatives had been engaged in similarly shady dealings and there had been a conscious effort to bury those dealings outside of the public eye. After all, the American government had trained and supported the Taliban when it suited their interests, so it is worth critically evaluating historical foreign policy.

There are moments when it seems like The Seventh might be willing to criticise this approach to intelligence gathering. T’Pol discovers that her memories have been repressed; that the monks at P’Jem helped to conceal the death of Jossen from her. Imagine a society that can teach its operatives to repress any hint of guilt or morality. That is a truly terrifying thought – a government that can just wipe guilt away with a mind meld and some meditation.

Sleeping uneasy...

Sleeping uneasy…

Instead, The Seventh ignores any hint of nuance entirely. It is suggested T’Pol consented to the mind-wipe, and she never seems too angry at the government for their part in it. It is pretty quickly hinted that Menos is not above board. He starts a fire in order to facilitate a possible escape. At the climax, he threatens Archer and Mayweather. As he flees, Mayweather reports that Menos is a smuggler dealing in “bio-toxins.” He is – in other words – an unequivocally bad guy.

The moral of The Seventh, as neatly summarised in the final scene between Archer and T’Pol, is not that people need to be wary of the things they do in service of the authorities. The moral is that people need to learn to move past ambiguity and forward into blind trust. “You do have a way of putting questionable actions behind you,” T’Pol reflects. “When you don’t have the ability to repress emotions, you learn to deal with them and move on,” Archer admits.

What's behind wall number one?

What’s behind wall number one?

There is no mention of learning from these experiences – no attempt to help integrate them into a personal identity. The events of The Seventh should really alter T’Pol as a character. They should dramatically alter her relationship with the Vulcan High Command, and even her relationship with logic. Instead, it seems like they end up neatly filed away at the end of the episode. They are promptly forgotten as the show moves forward to the next episode of the week. It moves on.

This is to say nothing of how convoluted the set-up is. It seems weird that T’Pol did not have a “stun” setting while tracking Menos and Jossen on Risa; if she did, there would be no plot. The way that T’Pol talks about “the despair of having taken a life” suggests that this was the only time that she ever killed. It seems strange that the Vulcan High Command would not have any operatives better suited to the task – particularly if the operative was not going to be equipped with a weapon that can stun.

Not phased in the slightest...

Not phased in the slightest…

It also seems a little strange that the Vulcans would assign T’Pol to track down Menos – particularly knowing how deeply the death of Jossen had affected her. T’Pol describes it as “a matter of honour”, but it seems like the type of decision that would have a significant impact on the mission’s probability of success. While it might be nice to prove T’Pol’s loyalty to the Vulcan High Command, it seems like a rather illogical risk.

The second season of Enterprise has entered a stage where it is rather freely recycling old ideas. This stretch of the second season is packed with episodes that feel very familiar. Marauders was very much “Enterprise does The Magnificent Seven, while The Communicator will riff on A Piece of the Action, Dawn will be Darmok meets Enemy Mine, Precious Cargo is Elaan of Troyius by The Perfect Mate, and several similar reliable story ideas.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

In a contemporary interview, Rick Berman compared The Seventh to La Femme Nikita:

“We have another episode with echoes of La Femme Nikita in which some repressed memories of events that took place many years ago in T’Pol’s [Jolene Blalock] life are jolted to the surface. The memories involve T’Pol retrieving some Vulcan fugitives who had been in undercover work and did not return. She and Archer [Scott Bakula] go to an Arctic moon to retrieve one of the people who went away, and some memories that she’s not aware of come to the surface. It’s a very exciting action adventure episode in which T’Pol becomes aware of a part of her life that had been repressed as a result of some work done by Vulcan elders.”

There are other influences at play, from The Manchurian Candidate to Apocalypse Now.

Archer enemy!

Archer enemy!

Indeed, The Seventh even borrows quite heavily from inside the franchise itself. T’Pol’s struggles with her own repressed memories after “fullara” echo the Doctor’s similar issues in Latent Image. There, the Doctor struggled with his guilt about causing the death of an innocent life after Janeway and the crew forcibly deleted his memories of the experience. Latent Image seems a bit more interested in character work than The Seventh, which also tries to work espionage and action into the plot as well.

The Seventh also struggles from a fairly weak b-plot featuring Trip taking command of the ship in the absence of T’Pol and Archer. This feels like a very weird thread. Surely Archer and T’Pol have both been off the ship at the same time before this, even if it didn’t occur on-screen? The whole “Trip struggles with the responsibilities of command” comedy subplot feels like something that should have been played out in the first half-dozen episodes or so, if it ever needed to be played out at all.

Don't Trip up!

Don’t Trip up!

There’s also the fact that subplot is really unfunny – it seems to exist to get the episode up to the requisite runtime. The subplot consists of Trip trying to eat some pasta, facing the fact that he may have “to be responsible for giving the crew the runs”, and then talking briefly with a Vulcan. It is a subplot that is almost as light as “O’Brien and Bashir have adventures in Quark’s” when it comes to padding out an episode – feeling consciously at odds with the heavier material in the episode’s primary plot.

One gets the impression that The Seventh might have been better served to give more time to T’Pol processing her guilt and conversations with Menos. Bruce Davison’s guest appearance as Menos is a highlight of the episode. Although the script doesn’t really flesh Menos out into a fully-formed character, Davison does great work at selling the character’s angst and pathos. Indeed, there’s a sense that Menos could be a multi-faceted character until Mayweather helpfully tells us about the bio-toxin.

A Brucie bonus!

A Brucie bonus!

The Seventh is not a bad episode, but it is not a particularly strong one either. It fumbles the ball a bit, ignoring obvious avenues for dramatic conflict or character development in favour of the path of least resistance.

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

Advertisements

5 Responses

  1. The words that keeps coming to my mind with these ENT reviews is passive aggression.

    Too much shadowboxing with Trek’s past, and not enough follow through. Either the Vulcans are bad dudes who need to stopped — even overthrown — or the writers needed to drop this angle.

    • Passive aggressive? Me? Or the show? (I hope the latter, but I’ll accept the charge.)

      The Seventh is just so bland and so weirdly driven by the mood immediately after 9/11. It’s something that recurs in the second season, building to The Expanse.

  2. Everybody feels out of character here. Archer is a blind order-follower, T’Pol is hesitant and self-doubting, and Trip has left his decisiveness in his other shirt. Wait, are we re-doing “The Enemy Within” or something? ‘Cause I would swear these are their alter egos, split off through a transporter accident or something…

    • Yep. “I know I’ve never trusted the Vulcan High Command, and openly stated my mistrust of the Vulcan High Command to you on several occasions, but you should totally trust the Vulcan High Command!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: