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149[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Detained"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    May 7, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen
      the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Reasonable and relevant -- albeit not at all groundbreaking --
      social commentary.

      Plot description: Archer and Mayweather find themselves inside an alien
      internment facility where they realize innocent Suliban have been
      imprisoned without being charged with legitimate crimes.

      Enterprise: "Detained"

      Airdate: 4/24/2002 (USA)
      Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by David Livingston

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "The last thing we wanted to do was build these detention centers, but we
      had no choice. When the Cabal began their activities there was a great
      deal of fear among the Tandarans. There were instances of violence.
      Fourteen innocent Suliban were killed in one day alone. We had to find a
      way to keep them out of danger." -- Grat, undoubtedly revealing only part
      of the story

      You decide: "Detained" is either (1) a reasonable social commentary that
      sells out to superficial action by the end, or (2) an average action show
      elevated by an underlying foundation of social commentary. Is there a
      difference? Perhaps. It seems wrong to take relevant allegorical themes
      and wrap it all up with a safe and simplistic action conclusion -- whereas
      it seems almost admirable to create an action show that actually tries to
      insert relevant social points. It's all in how you look at it.

      I'm kind of torn. "Detained" goes to great lengths to make fairly obvious
      points and yet I don't feel it should be faulted for that. For the even
      remotely informed it will come as old news, revisited lessons. Of those
      people, how many will it make a real impression upon?

      Consider: Mere weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, "The West Wing" aired a
      reactionary drama, much of which played like an hour in Talking Down to
      the Audience. Among the messages: generalizing of people and cultures is
      bad, not being familiar with how the world works is a potentially
      dangerous form of ignorance, and in difficult times we might be tempted
      away from better judgment in favor of quick, comforting would-be fixes.
      Well, intelligent people already presumably know these things and ignorant
      people are not likely to be educated by the likes of Aaron Sorkin, so who
      exactly is the benefactor?

      Perhaps the point is simply to reinforce ideas that we should be thinking
      about in times when emotions are allowed to run rampant. I see no problem
      with such reinforcement. I also want to stress that "Detained" does little
      to break the mold. But it has Good Intentions and for the most part good
      execution, so that's probably all you need to know.

      That said, the writers have done a fairly interesting thing by tying this
      all back into the Suliban, who aren't all simply "bad guys" but are a
      nomadic people with a subset of Cabal operatives waging the temporal cold

      The never-veiled allegory is, of course, the current-day need to draw the
      distinction between Arabs and the much tinier subset of Arab terrorism.
      The issue of internment camps, of course, hearkens back to Japanese
      Americans being rounded up and held in the U.S. during World War II (a
      decidedly better choice for metaphor than the current-day situation of
      detainees in Camp X-Ray/Delta at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba -- a situation far
      too new and uncertain for me to comfortably draw conclusions about).

      Archer and Mayweather wake up in a holding cell in a detainee camp where
      Suliban prisoners are being held indefinitely by the Tandarans, with no
      charges pending. Right from the beginning the episode makes a point about
      assumptions when Archer makes an assumption and finds out he's quite
      wrong: These Suliban are not genetically engineered members of the Cabal
      and are not prisoners because they committed any crime. Their crime is
      that they happen to be Suliban.

      In charge of the detainee facility is Tandaran Colonel Grat (Dean
      Stockwell), who explains to Archer why he and Mayweather are here -- their
      shuttle wandered into Tandaran space and was captured as potentially
      hostile. Tandarans are not too forgiving toward trespassers, it would
      seem. Considering they are apparently on one of the fronts in the temporal
      cold war, perhaps their apprehension is justifiable.

      Grat is not a bad or unreasonable man; he's simply a product of his
      situation. That itself may serve as a warning statement, since he has come
      to accept that the Suliban may never again have rights in any real sense,
      and that they may live the rest of their lives as innocent prisoners. The
      line of thought going on here is that they're Suliban and that's
      unfortunate for them, but nonetheless necessary for Tandaran society to
      lock them away in the interests of safety.

      Interesting how Grat cites not just the safety of Tandarans but the safety
      of the Suliban. The Suliban no longer have a habitable homeworld (at
      least, not if one isn't genetically engineered to survive there), so they
      mostly live among other cultures. The Suliban who lived among the
      Tandarans were a part of their society until the temporal war broke out
      and they became automatic Cabal suspects. Tandaran citizens were quick to
      accuse the Suliban among them, leading to violence against the Suliban.
      The internment camps were seen as a temporary solution to curb this
      problem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or in this case,
      self-serving intentions have their own convenient built-in justifications.

      We see the Suliban point of view through a character named Sajen
      (Christopher Shea) a man with a daughter who is also in this facility and
      a wife who is in another facility far away, and whom he hasn't seen in
      years. Shea brings just the right balance of bitterness and personal
      defeat to the character, creating a believable and sympathetic figure who
      speaks in raspy whispers that nonetheless reveal a great amount of
      textured emotion.

      Grat, meanwhile, turns more sinister and self-serving every time Archer
      defies him, eventually believing Archer to be a resource as much as a
      troublemaker stirring up prison intrigue. Grat's intelligence reports
      reveal Archer's previous encounters with the Suliban. It's interesting and
      perhaps all too true how the question "What do you know?" becomes as much
      a grounds for being held as "What have you have done?" Especially
      frustrating and disturbing is the prospect of being held because you're a
      *potential* witness, not because you're suspected of having done anything

      As a matter of plot, I enjoyed the continuity references ("Have you ever
      been to Oklahoma?" Grat asks Archer suspiciously) to the Enterprise's
      previous Suliban run-ins in "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front" (strange and
      also kind of fun, seeing Bakula and Stockwell exhibit increasing tension
      here after their easy rapport in their years on "Quantum Leap").

      What perhaps seems too simplistic for this story, then, is turning it into
      a jailbreak concept where Archer, with the help of the orbiting
      Enterprise, decides he's going to help some of the innocent Suliban
      escape. This seems a little on the cavalier and short-sighted side,
      especially considering the lesson Archer learned in "Dear Doctor"
      concerning non-interference. Yes, there is an injustice here. Yes, the
      episode addresses Archer's previous decision in favor of non-interference
      and calls this case an "exception." But such exceptions are exactly the
      sort of thing likely to get Archer and Starfleet burned, and the exception
      made here gets generous assistance from tunnel vision.

      This leads to the typical action payoff, i.e., the phaser shootouts, a
      crew member in disguise (Reed as a Suliban), and even the episode
      resorting to use of the transporter, something that has been generally and
      thankfully avoided for most of the season save the first few episodes. The
      action seems to substitute for an ending that could've come to some sort
      of revelation or dramatic insight, but doesn't find it. It bothers me a
      bit. Fortunately, the episode seems to realize that it doesn't solve these
      Suliban individuals' problems so much as create further uncertainty for
      them, and for that I'm glad.

      But still -- this is the sort of ending that makes you mull the
      unconsidered consequences, like the kind of grilling Sajen's wife is
      likely going to be in for in the wake of her husband's escape from another
      detainee facility. What does she know? I can almost hear the Tandaran
      interrogators asking.

      I cannot cheer for the story's oversimplified solution to a complicated
      situation so much larger than Archer, this one prison, or this one
      society. Archer presumes to know everything he needs to know to interfere
      in an alien society. Does he know enough? Would it have been better to do
      nothing instead of something? I'm not sure. But it might've been nice for
      the episode to point out the possible consequences of all this action.
      Imagine how the U.S. government would respond if a foreign country managed
      a prison break at Camp Delta.

      Next week: First contact with a giant fungus?

      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...