Phlox, deflate your face at once!
October 26, 2004
For years now, I’ve bitched loudly to anyone who’d listen (and many who wouldn’t) about the sad, slow, excruciating decline of Star Trek. As far as I’m concerned, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga took Trek as I knew and loved it and recited the self-destruct code.
Through seven seasons of Voyager, four abysmal feature films, and three seasons of Enterprise, I’ve sat on the sidelines and complained. Now I return to the fray. My vow is to watch Enterprise every week, give it an honest shot, and document my feelings as Trek either limps boldly into the future, or fades quietly into the abyss of cancellation and irrelevance.
Pray for me.
So Archer’s all broody over dead crewmen, the futility of war, and the hope he left somewhere in space. But what he really needs is to get LAID.
“Home” offers this laughable conclusion as the emotional closure on its main storyline, one of three strung throughout the episode. There’s the Archer story, where sex with a middle-aged starship captain cures all ills; the Phlox alien prejudice storyline, where locking yourself in the Enterprise to avoid confrontation cures all ills; and the Trip/T’Pol storyline, where an arranged nuptials cures all ills, unless you’re Trip, in which case you’d better hope the Vulcans don’t truck with marital fidelity.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by “Home,” mainly because I expected a barrage of bone-headed blunders and got instead an avalanche of missed opportunities. At least missed opportunities mean they did SOMETHING; it just wasn’t the BEST thing.
The story that fires on the most cylinders chronicles Trip and T’Pol’s visit to Vulcan, which is almost perfect. I say “almost” because I held out shameful fanboy hope until the last five minutes of the episode that we’d get some HOT Kal-If-Fee action between Trip and Koss, who is perhaps the hunkiest Vulcan I’ve ever seen. I don’t usually swing that way, but rrrowr! Bring on the pon farr, baby!
Anyway. In Trip and T’Pol returning to Vulcan, we see the quiet, smart, character-driven storytelling that has always made Star Trek unique among sci-fi franchises. The story moves at its own pace, no undue histrionics are conjured to give the proceedings an extra “juice,” and there’s actually a bittersweet ending. We’re pretty sure Trip and T’Pol’s horizontal mambo will continue unabated aboard the Enterprise, but the durn-tootin’ southern stud still has to watch his woman marry another dude. It was a terrific way to wrap up the episode, with a perfect final shot of Trip looking on helplessly as his girl gets hitched to a guy she doesn’t love. And the peck on the cheek! Made a Trip/T’Pol shipper outta me instantaneously.
The Archer and Phlox storylines fail mainly because they offer too much story. This leaves no room for character, which I would have thought was the point of an episode like “Home,” to get to know these people in some quieter moments between the planet hopping. Instead, we get lots of needless business that doesn’t lead us anywhere interesting enough. Archer pouts his way through a meeting that ends badly, then gets ordered to go mountain climbing, THEN meets up with an old flame, and then, ONLY then, do we finally find out what his major malfunction is, the aforementioned dead crew/battle scars/lack of hope riff. But even at that point, it’s not really clear which of these things bothers him the most; he says he left something out there in space, but it sounds like he left a couple things. Focusing on just one of these three perfectly serviceable haunting ideas would have lent his storyline some much-needed clarity. Instead, the writers pile on.
Even more packed is the Phlox storyline, which isn’t really about Phlox so much as it’s about how shitty us humans can be when seven million of our fellow carbon-based life forms are offed by an alien superpower. Really, there’s little to report except that we get to see Phlox’s face inflate, there’s a pretty decent bar fight, and the whole shebang gives Mayweather, Reed and Hoshi something to do. (Although Hoshi barely surfaces in the episode…if the whole “fucking is the answer” thing wasn’t their solution to Archer’s angst, maybe she would have made a better hiking companion.)
(And what is the deal with Hoshi, anyway? Is it par for the course that she gets about five lines a week and barely enough screen time to qualify her for SAG benefits? Or is this just a recent oversight? She seems relatively interesting; hell, she’s more compelling to me than Archer, who’s still pretty blank-slate in my book. Maybe it’s her hotness. Regardless, I hope we see more of her this season…and that seems like the kind of comment I’ll be making every week. Excuse me while I cut and paste this graph into my reviews for the rest of the season.)
Each of the bungled storylines represents one huge missed opportunity, with lots of little ones sprinkled throughout. The biggest gyp is that we lost the chance to see all of these characters in the same kind of thoughtful, revealing storyline that Trip and T’Pol got. Parts of the Phlox and Archer storylines were so limply written that I started meditating to the Vulcan gods, begging them to transport me back to their planet so I could see more of the one plot that worked. (Or maybe just so I could see Trip beat the shit out of that pulsing slab of Vulcan man meat. *Tsssss*! Sizzle!)
What they had going on, with the Joanna Cassidy and the conflicted T’Pol and the giant Vulcan statues that looked like renderings swiped from WETA’s hard drives, deserved its own episode. As it stands, I would’ve settled for a Phlox/Mayweather/Malcom/Hoshi road trip storyline to sprinkle some comic relief into the proceedings…that way, they could’ve revealed some character AND gotten their “prejudice is bad, kids” yayas out too.
Instead, I got about twenty minutes of really, really good Trek, and twenty-four minutes of weak to middling Trek. And I thought this show sucked hardcore! Boy, was I wrong.
Postscript: In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Scott Bakula saw fit to address the rantings and ravings of Trek fans unhappy with the current status of the franchise, specifically Berman and Braga’s destruction of it. “Why are you spending energy and time on Enterprise?” he asked. “Move on to other shows.”
I can’t speak for every disgruntled Trekkie in nerddom, but I know I’m spending energy and time becuase Star Trek is something I love dearly, and it makes me sad and angry to see its potential wasted by people who don’t understand what it was, what it is, or what it could be. I hold to no absolute view of what Trek means; I only know it doesn’t mean shitty storytelling. And in my opinion, that’s what Trek under Berman and Braga has delivered, consistently and without fail.
I’ll happily shout praise to the high heavens when Trek redeems itself. Until then, I’m gonna complain, whine, bitch and moan until my pointy ears fall off, because I’m a fan, and it’s my right.
Now shut the fuck up, Bakula. When it comes to Trek, I’ve been around a lot longer than you have.
Besides, your theme song still SUCKS BALLS, and mine doesn’t.