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185[ENT] Jammer's Review: "The Breach"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    May 7, 2003
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: A nice hour of very traditional Star Trek.

      Plot description: Phlox tries to gain the trust of a deeply prejudiced
      patient whose society is a bitter enemy of the Denobulans.

      Enterprise: "The Breach"

      Airdate: 4/23/2003 (USA)
      Teleplay by Chris Black & John Shiban
      Story by Daniel McCarthy
      Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

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

      "If you don't start moving in the next five seconds, I'm going to take my
      phase pistol and shoot you in the ass. One, two..." -- no-nonsense Trip

      The feeling best captured by the early moments of "The Breach" is the
      feeling of futility -- the realization that no matter what you might feel or
      try to say, it won't be enough to communicate your good intentions to the
      other side that hates you. When feelings of long-held suspicion and a
      default position of hatred are stronger than a desire to judge a situation
      on the facts, it's gong to be a mountainous climb to reach the other side
      where understanding lies.

      Perhaps the most crucial aspect about Star Trek is that it believes that
      mountainous climbs are (a) possible, and (b) worth doing. No matter how
      cynical the problems in our society may sometimes make us feel, an episode
      like "The Breach" is here to remind us that good things are possible and
      that a decades-held (over even centuries-held) attitude can be carefully
      peeled away to reveal understanding, albeit guarded understanding.

      A nearby world has been taken over by an internal militant group that
      immediately expels all off-worlders from the planet. Enterprise is sent in
      to evacuate three Denobulans on a research mission. While in orbit of the
      planet, Enterprise comes to the aid of a damaged ship; among the ship's
      passengers is a man named Hudak who is in urgent need of treatment for
      radiation exposure. Phlox prepares for surgery.

      Hudak turns out to be an Antaran, who immediately and adamantly refuses to
      be treated by Phlox on the basis that Phlox is a Denobulan. Phlox must
      respect the patient's wishes in accordance with Denobulan medical ethics.
      Without treatment, Hudak will die in a matter of days.

      The bitterness here runs beyond deep. When Archer inquires about the
      situation, Phlox explains that the Antarans and the Denobulans were once,
      some three centuries ago, locked in a brutal war. The facts are left
      somewhat vague (Phlox is not particularly comfortable discussing it in
      detail), but it seems the Denobulans slaughtered millions of Antarans in the
      course of this war, using some especially ugly battle methods. "It wasn't
      our proudest moment," Phlox says quietly.

      After the war ended, there began a bitter divide between the Denobulans and
      the Antarans. The societies no longer had any sort of relationship or dialog
      between them, but each society would pass down its history and hatred for
      the other side -- from one generation to the next. Many of those feelings
      have survived to the present day, even though Denobulans and Antarans
      haven't encountered each other for six generations.

      The story is about the possibility of the healing process and whether
      healing can overcome centuries of learned prejudice. Hudak, being the guest
      character, represents the side that initially does not want to budge. Phlox,
      being a permanent resident of this series, represents the more comforting
      side of the situation: a man with an open mind who does not wish to judge
      those on the basis of ancient history. Can an understanding be reached
      between these two? (Well, I've already answered that question. The answer
      is, this is traditional Star Trek.)

      The early sense of frustration I mentioned is best shown in a scene where
      Phlox loses his self-control and uncorks his bottled feelings after Hudak
      persists in baselessly slandering his intentions. Phlox lets loose a brief
      tirade: "I have tried to treat you with respect, but I refuse to listen to
      these insults. You're the reason we haven't been able to put the past behind
      us. You've kept this hatred alive. No Denobulan would want to be in the same
      room with you!" It's a potent moment; the suddenness of Phlox exploding into
      this angry outburst comes across almost like an involuntary result of
      pent-up frustration. It felt very real and also worked as an attention
      grabber. John Billingsley shows a credible ability to turn on a dime from
      his usual affable nature to sullen and then emotional.

      After Phlox settles down, the story also settles down into a series of
      dialog scenes that gradually try to strike an understanding between these
      two characters. The story's (obvious) message is that prejudice is learned,
      and that it continues to survive because of those who are either unwilling
      or unable to challenge the assumptions that have been passed to them. This,
      of course, shows the dangers in passing along harmful ideas to your children
      when you have not taken the time to fully consider what those ideas stand
      for. (Hate is learned, people. The "default position" I mentioned earlier is
      made default only in lieu of being taught more tolerant points of view.)

      In a scene in the mess hall, Phlox tells T'Pol the story of one of his
      grandmothers, who passed these negative ideas along. Phlox ultimately
      rejected the antiquated prejudices, but he recalls an instance when his
      grandmother labeled an entire planet "tainted" merely because Antarans had
      once lived on it, years earlier. That's some deep, deep resentment. It's the
      sort of resentment that Hudak has held for Denobulans his entire life.

      Phlox also relates to Hudak (and us) the story of how he made every effort
      to teach his own children to accept others as individuals rather than
      viewing them in blanket terms. This material is all, of course, at the very
      heart of the most traditional Trekkian civics lessons. What also helps is
      that the storyline works as character development for Phlox, and as an
      interesting, if limited and nebulous, peek into Denobulan society, something
      we know very little about thus far.

      This is not only about Phlox trying to reach an understanding with Hudak,
      but also about old wounds that Phlox himself is still carrying.
      Specifically, one of Phlox's sons, Mettus, rejected his father's attempts to
      raise him free of prejudice against the Antarans. Mettus unfortunately
      accepted the views of other influences in his life. He chose to embrace the
      prejudices, and this drove a rift between Phlox and Mettus; the two haven't
      spoken in years. This gives the story a crucial personal meaning for its
      principal character: Phlox has carried the guilt for what he sees as a
      failure in his role as a parent. This idea is carried through to the final
      scene where Phlox sits down to compose a letter to Mettus -- the sort of
      detail that makes "The Breach" a character story as well as a message show.

      The story's subplot, where Mayweather, Tucker, and Reed go into underground
      caves on the planet to find the Denobulan researchers, ups the action
      quotient in an otherwise dialog-based show. Mayweather is apparently the
      Enterprise's resident expert on caving, although I found myself wondering
      how he acquired this experience considering he spent basically his whole
      life aboard a cargo vessel. (Perhaps he took the opportunity during his
      Starfleet years?)

      There's a literal cliffhanger sequence where the three officers almost
      plummet to their deaths in the brief moments before, during, and after a
      commercial break. Of this scene I have the following observations: (1) The
      setup effectively embodies the cliffhanger notion, by creating a seemingly
      impossible situation of jeopardy that makes you say to yourself, "Now how
      will they get out of THIS one?" (2) I have my doubts that Mayweather could
      hold the complete weight two men suspended from a rope, even if for only a
      brief time. (3) I almost hesitate to suggest this, but I'll do it anyway to
      continue my harping on the theme of the writers' apparent Conspiracy Against
      Mayweather: He's sidelined here with a broken ankle, requiring Tucker and
      Reed to continue without him, thereby reducing Travis' number of scenes in a
      storyline where he was allegedly the leader. (4) Director Robert Duncan
      McNeill effectively milks every inch out of what is undoubtedly a small cave
      set. From a technical standpoint, these cavern scenes are sold remarkably
      well and photographed in a way that makes them seem large and believable.

      This week's Ticking Clock [TM] is in the form of the impatient militant
      government, which has set a strict deadline with harsh consequences and is
      not prepared to move it for any reason, no matter how much sense Archer's
      requests make. This is predictably forced plotting, but it and the cave
      scenes work reasonably well as action unrelated to the main thrust of the

      As for that main thrust, it's ultimately cautiously optimistic about the
      possibilities of tolerance and abandoning long-held prejudices. It's
      certainly more optimistic than one might be about the real world we live in,
      where fierce tribalism, hatred, and notions of "ethnic cleansing" continue
      in parts of the world and do not seem likely to stop any time soon. I talked
      of this show's early scenes' ability to depict futility. I should probably
      also say that a cause for such feelings of futility is better found on any
      given installment of the evening news.

      Next week: Sci-fi properties write a new definition to the term "three-way."

      Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...