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122[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Civilization"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Nov 21, 2001
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's
      "Civilization." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: A story about the negatives of interfering with alien cultures ...
      except without arriving at the conclusion that we shouldn't interfere with
      alien cultures.

      Plot description: Members of the Enterprise crew go undercover to explore
      the world of a pre-warp society, and Archer is drawn into an investigation
      involving an illness among their people.

      Enterprise: "Civilization"

      Airdate: 11/14/2001 (USA)
      Written by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman
      Directed by Mike Vejar

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "It's remote and sparsely populated. If you're exposed there's a reduced
      risk of cultural contamination."
      "This must be why aliens are always landing in cornfields."
      -- T'Pol and Archer discussing a shuttle landing site

      Maybe the Vulcans were right not to let humans go out into space for so
      long. From the evidence here, the issue of non-interference in alien
      cultures has barely entered anyone's minds, let alone the Starfleet

      Which would be okay if "Civilization" were actually about that very issue.
      Ultimately, though, it's not; it's a routine "adventure" outing that ends
      without the characters having learned much of anything. If we're going to
      sit through a story about the Prime Directive (non-interference) issue, we
      should at least have some sort of evidence that the characters in the show
      have learned something.

      Aside from having one of the most boring titles in recent memory,
      "Civilization" isn't a *bad* hour of television. But it's surprisingly
      nondescript and doesn't begin to exploit the potential of this series'
      concept. Let's face it -- what happens here could happen on any of the Trek
      series, or, for that matter, any non-Trek show set in space.

      One thing that's beginning to tire a bit is the automatic challenge of T'Pol
      whenever she mentions anything that represents erring on the side of
      caution, even if it's reasonable. When she expresses reluctance to interact
      with this society out of concern for cultural contamination, Archer is quick
      to fall back on the stock-issue human-and-proud-of-it "we were sent out here
      to explore" line. True enough, but you also didn't come out here to
      contaminate less advanced cultures by making contact with them. T'Pol
      seemingly is becoming a voice drowned out more often by cowboy bravado than

      Under makeup effects administered by Dr. Phlox, Archer & Co. go undercover
      to investigate the mystery of an anti-matter power source that this planet
      shouldn't have the technology to possess. Archer tracks the power source to
      inside a shop in the city. The investigation is interrupted by a woman named
      Riann (Diane DiLascio), a native scientist who tells Archer that she's also
      investigating a mystery about this shop. She takes Archer and T'Pol back to
      her house, where she has her own lab, and explains how she thinks deaths
      linked to the contamination of the local water supply are related to some
      sort of production from near or inside this shop.

      Like other episodes of Enterprise so far, "Civilization" proceeds at an
      initially slow pace. In particular, the scenes inside Riann's house seem
      overly padded out with long pauses and silences. Slow is not necessarily
      bad, but the slowness here seems unnecessary to the point that it's as if
      the characters are standing around trying to avoid turning into an awkward

      The next day, Archer returns to the shop, now open, where he finds that the
      shop owner, Garos (Wade Andrew Williams in a wooden performance), is
      actually an off-worlder himself, also undercover. But he's not a Good
      Undercover Infiltrator like Archer; he's a Bad Undercover Infiltrator who is
      exploiting this particular region to produce goods he ships off-world for
      profit. His anti-matter reactor is what's poisoning the water supply. Right
      there is your evidence that this episode could be about the problems of
      contaminating other cultures, but the episode has no real desire to follow
      it through with any sort of thought pattern or to any intelligent
      conclusion. It just sort of drops it in our lap and proceeds with the
      episode's superficial adventure and romance aspects.

      Yes, romance. No points for guessing that Archer will begin to fall for
      Riann (even if you hadn't already seen it in the trailer). It always kills
      me how two TV characters can fall instantly for each other, even though both
      have more pressing matters on their minds. There's a bit of goofiness here
      involving a malfunctioning universal translator, a misunderstanding Archer
      must cover up by "spontaneously" kissing Riann. I'm still not sure how those
      darn translator things work; it's maybe a better idea just to accept that
      they do and leave them off the screen.

      The best shot in the episode is an homage to alien abduction/conspiracy
      stories, in which cargo is lifted from the ground by a mysterious beam of
      light into a small spaceship that takes off. This would seem at home in "The
      X-Files" or some other alien conspiracy or UFO abduction premise, and seeing
      it on Trek is a somewhat new-seeming visual. Based on the activity of the
      Bad Undercover Infiltrators, this planet would undoubtedly have a high
      frequency of UFO sightings.

      Although not the slightest bit original, I also liked the concept of a
      hidden underground facility. The story includes a scene where Archer stares
      down through one of those glass windows in an operations room that allows
      one to observe the factory floor.

      One sequence that seemed a bit silly was the action cliche of Which Button
      to Press. Blue button or yellow button? One solves the plot's problems. The
      other sets of the alarm. The story has Archer press the first one to
      manufacture a crisis and some suspense, and has him press the second one to
      fix the crises. How very nice.

      The episode turns up the heat in the final act, which includes a phaser
      shootout on a crowded sidewalk and an attack on the Enterprise by the Bad
      Undercover Infiltrators' ship, which proves that this Starfleet vessel will
      have to outsmart its opponents since it definitely won't be outgunning them.
      The Enterprise doesn't even have shields; I wonder, how long can it last
      against enemies that do?

      The problem I'm having with "Civilization" is that there's precious little I
      can put forward in terms of useful analysis. The plot is straightforward and
      easily followed, but without any hints of depth or serious intentions. It's
      no more than the means for an action-oriented payoff. You're on your own if
      you bought into the romance; Riann is pretty and Diane DiLascio is an
      acceptably likable actress, but there's just nothing here in terms of
      substance. The romance is based on the whims of scriptwriters (perhaps
      fulfilling the opening stretch's Archer Must Kiss a Girl quota), not because
      of characterization or motivation.

      "Civilization" doesn't say anything new or interesting, or have anything
      that can be called a "point." It ends without asking any sort of question
      about the dangers of interfering with alien cultures, particularly those who
      don't have the technology or understanding to defend themselves from the
      social effects of a more advanced alien influence. The plot is stock-issue
      adventure with little in terms of compelling characters or debate. If
      Enterprise is going to be about the early lessons discovered by a new human
      crew in its early explorations, then the writers owe it to us to make the
      stories hinge on these ideas rather than ignoring them.

      Next week: Stop the presses -- Mayweather voices an opinion!

      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...