122[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Civilization"
- Nov 21, 2001Warning: 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
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.
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
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@...