Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: Provocative enough to make me think, but far too mired in its
frustrating hypotheticals and manipulations.
Plot description: When an accident leaves Tucker gravely injured, Phlox uses
an unorthodox procedure to create a genetic clone whose tissues can provide
a donor match that could save Tucker's life.
Star Trek: Enterprise - "Similitude"
Airdate: 11/19/2003 (USA)
Written by Manny Coto
Directed by LeVar Burton
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **1/2
"This is a screwed-up situation." -- Sim, understatement of the year
I have little doubt there are people out there who will love "Similitude"
and think it's a standout hour of Star Trek. I will respect their viewpoint
but not agree with it.
This is an episode that, yes, deserves credit for trying something
audacious. But ultimately, it just doesn't work. In order to get where it's
going, "Similitude" resorts to the most blatant audience manipulation of the
year, turning the screws of plot in ways that don't quite seem fair. It does
not simply depict a can of worms unleashed, but reveals a script where the
sci-fi can of worms has been allowed to explode. Manny Coto, who has written
a complex and at times thoughtful script, ventures out on a limb, which
snaps. There are more questions than the script is able to deal with in a
meaningful way. Certainly the characters don't deal with the issues
Granted, I'd rather see this than a "Carpenter Street" exercise in
mediocrity. I like tough questions. But I do not buy this story. The entire
show is built on a foundation of unbelievable science, and then it stacks
one extreme (and unconvincing) situation upon another. If the episode's
theme is about the dangers of using science irresponsibly, then the episode
itself is an example of using science fiction irresponsibly. Part of me
admires Coto's willingness to plunge the characters into this moral
quagmire. Part of me hates that each new situation is based on what seems
like an absurd comedy of science errors. The episode is its own quagmire.
Here is the story. Trip is critically injured in a catastrophic accident in
engineering. He is left lying in a coma. The only way he can possibly
recover is if he has neural tissue transplanted to his brain from a matching
donor. There is no matching donor.
However, Phlox has in his medical inventory -- which I'm tempted to now call
Phlox's Convenient and Magical Chamber of Horrors -- a strange "mimetic
symbiont" that has the ability to exactly clone whatever organism's DNA is
injected into it. The clone lives out the full lifespan of whatever it
copies in the course of 15 days, and then dies. Phlox hesitantly proposes
that a clone be grown to Trip's age such that the transplant can be
performed and Trip can recover. Of course, this means the clone will be dead
within 15 days of being born.
Archer cautiously (although not cautiously enough) approves the plan despite
the ethical questions, citing the fact that Trip is a vital part of the crew
who is necessary to complete the mission. "Earth needs Enterprise.
Enterprise needs Trip," Archer reasons. Simple as that.
Well, I'm not a fan of this reasoning. The Enterprise had better be able to
function properly without the loss of one man -- even the chief engineer --
or there should be hell to pay. After all, this is a dangerous mission where
any or all of the crew could presumably be killed at any moment. If Trip's
function is so crucial, Archer should have competent personnel backups ready
to take his place. To have Archer quickly sidestep his ethical questions by
way of the increasingly catch-all excuse of We Must Save Earth At All Costs
is something that strikes me as slightly fraudulent as presented by the
story. The plot manipulates us into this spot where Archer's logic seems to
hold water in the interests of humanity's survival. I don't think so; if
that's the case, Trip should never be allowed to go on an away mission
again, because he's too valuable.
So Phlox clones Trip. Before you know it, the symbiont has grown into a
fetus, a baby, and an eight-year-old boy. Phlox names the child "Sim," which
is just a little bit disturbing. (Might as well name him "Clone" or "Copy"
or "Quad: Charles Tucker IV.")
The next revelation is that the child's memories are passed along
genetically. The older he gets, the more he remembers. He gradually
remembers everything from Trip's life, as well as everything from his own.
I'm honestly not sure what to make of this. It's weird and bizarre and
strikes me as, well, unlikely. Unless Sim's brain can process information
like a computer, this kid should be going insane from memory overload. He
gains new memories at, what, the rate of five years' worth every 24 hours? I
don't even want to question the biological aspects of this accelerated
growth, so I won't.
I have to admit that I didn't get much from any of the scenes of Sim as a
child. The drama exists in another universe, because in my universe I want
to comprehend this miracle of biology, while fighting every urge in my mind
to reject it outright. (I kept telling myself: This is sci-fi; it's *about*
accepting the impossible.)
But under the surface there's something about all this that somehow *feels*
phony. I could never accept Sim as a character because he was such a bizarre
sci-fi specimen and was obviously the object of a plot destined to kill him.
The story's science facts upstage the characters and all their choices, and
the script throws so many curveballs that some decisions come across as
There's the revelation that Phlox was wrong and he realizes Sim will die if
the neural tissue is extracted. This creates a new moral dilemma (while
hinting at gross negligence on Phlox's part), but on top of that there's
Sim's discovery that an experimental procedure could slow his accelerated
aging to that of a normal human. This experimental procedure is almost
certain to fail, Phlox says. But try explaining that to someone who wants to
live for more than a few more days. Basically, either Sim lives, or Trip
lives. But the catch is that even if Sim lives, Sim dies -- whereas if Trip
lives, Trip actually lives. Are we balancing scales here? Archer might be.
I didn't much care for the extreme swings in Archer's behavior. In one
scene, Archer is telling Sim, "We don't see it that way," when Sim believes
that he must sacrifice himself to save Trip. But then, a scene later, after
Sim expresses a desire to live, Archer pulls a 180 and confronts Sim,
basically telling him that he has no rights. Which is it? I would call
Archer a hypocrite, but the plot is so murky that even that may not apply.
The confrontation scene, by the way, is about as well acted as anything I've
seen this season on Enterprise, with Scott Bakula simultaneously conveying
about 10 different emotions in a situation that warrants nothing less than
that. Archer tells Sim that he intends to bring back Trip at all costs.
"Even if it means killing you." The delivery of that line is spectacular and
chilling, but the thing is, I didn't *believe* it as anything more than a
written line. It's so extreme as to be implausible, and opens ethical issues
the show doesn't begin to address.
What also bothers me about this scene is its lack of accountability. Archer
knowingly gave the order to allow Phlox to open the can of worms, and then
Archer shows a willingness to play God when the worms get away from him. Is
that the point? I'm not sure, because the writers let him off the hook by
having Sim make the sacrifice willingly -- a sacrifice that I guess makes
logical sense but also seems like an overly neat and simplistic resolution
to this mess.
I respect the ambition here, but I can't endorse the end result. Ultimately,
I think what bothers me most about "Similitude" is that I had no emotional
investment in it because of the endless sci-fi machinations. Intellectually
involved? Yes. Emotionally involved? No. And that's a problem. I didn't feel
like I was watching Sim make a sacrifice. I felt like I was watching a
superficially pithy solution to the ultimate hypothetical situation -- a
situation that had been compounded by every possible hypothetical
complication along the way.
I want to take that leap of logic and explore the underlying issues. But
there *are* no underlying issues here. The fact of the matter is that on a
fundamental level I simply refuse to believe Sim can be grown from something
off Phlox's shelf. The story obviously wants to draw parallels between its
hypothetical situation and real-life issues surrounding cloning or stem-cell
research. But the paralells are too far apart. They exist in separate
As for Sim, I find that I can't identify with his plight. His emerging
feelings for T'Pol pose a question to us: Is Sim feeling it, or do the
feelings really belong to Trip? To my amazement, I realized that I didn't
care. The show had worn me down with too many conditions, filling me with
too much resistance.
There's so much to ponder here that you might just call it ponderous. You
might also say that "Similitude" has too little verisimilitude.
And I don't even want to know what else Phlox has sitting on his shelf. The
cure to death, perhaps.
Next week: The Xindi go to Detroit to put a preemptive strike on Eminem's
Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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