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199[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Impulse"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Oct 16, 2003
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Effective as atmosphere. Just don't look for much else.

      Plot description: An Enterprise away team on a rescue mission finds that the
      crew members of a missing Vulcan ship have all gone mad.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Impulse"

      Airdate: 10/8/2003 (USA)
      Teleplay by Jonathan Fernandez
      Story by Jonathan Fernandez & Terry Matalas
      Directed by David Livingston

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

      "Wait 'Til Next Year." -- Chicago Cubs fan mantra
      -----

      "Impulse" is a workable outing of style trumping substance, and of
      aggressive production design trumping sometimes-goofy action. Action shows
      like "The Xindi" or last week's "Rajiin" don't do a whole lot for me because
      they're mostly transparent exercises with no edge. "Impulse," it must be
      said, is also a transparent exercise, but at least it has an edge, with
      enough grit to be entertainingly disorienting. The story may be slight at
      best, but these sort of shows, if pulled off, don't necessarily require much
      story. Atmosphere -- not insight -- is the name of the game. If you're
      looking for more, you're going to be disappointed. You have been warned.

      In the couple hours before and during the time that I watched the tape of
      "Impulse," I drank a bottle of wine. I'm not sure whether that was a good
      idea or a bad one, but it did make the experience somewhat more ...
      sensory-driven. Not that I'm recommending alcohol consumption (or abuse) in
      the face of "Impulse," because as it is this is an episode that doesn't need
      any sensory enhancements. Watch it with the lights turned off. That ought to
      do the trick. An e-mail correspondent wrote to me, "I think I am on the
      verge of a seizure," after watching this episode. In that case, turn the
      lights back on (or drink a bottle of wine).

      The Enterprise receives a distress signal from the Vulcan ship Seleya (as in
      Mount Seleya?), which was pulled into the expanse some time ago. The last
      Vulcan ship to enter the expanse -- the one that we learned in "The Expanse"
      was destroyed after its crew went mad -- was the Vankaara, which was
      actually sent in to find the missing Seleya. The Enterprise discovers the
      Seleya adrift in an asteroid field that also happens to be rich with
      Trellium ore. The away team (Archer, T'Pol, Reed, and MACO Hawkins) boards
      the Seleya to rescue its crew, but instead they find a battered ship and a
      crew of Vulcans who have been infected in some manner that turns them into
      violent monsters. In a paranoid, zombie-like state, they attack the away
      team. It is not open to discussion.

      This is, I must admit, a plot somwhat reminiscent of the Andromeda episode
      "Dance of the Mayflies," a horrendous hour of action camp that in retrospect
      was a clear warning sign that I would not be an Andromeda viewer for much
      longer. The difference between "Mayflies" and "Impulse" is that "Mayflies"
      offered unwatchable camp while "Impulse" steers in the direction of
      respectably intense atmosphere. The show is just this side of plausible: The
      Vulcans may be implacable monsters who do not have the power of reason (so
      why have they not slaughtered each other, and why do they gang up on the
      away team, etc.?), but at least they aren't cartoon players. The action uses
      them within a semi-plausible physical world, in a horror-movie setting with
      unfriendly mise-en-scene rather than colorful bubble-gum flavors.

      The Vulcans seal off the corridors so the away team cannot get back to their
      shuttle, so they must now fight their way through another route. At stake
      here is T'Pol, who is afflicted by the same condition that has doomed the
      Seleya crew to terminal insanity. T'Pol begins her own slow descent into
      madness and paranoia, becoming more of a liability for the away team than an
      ally. There are some scenes that work reasonably as tension, like when T'Pol
      pulls a phaser on Archer, who must then try to appeal to T'Pol's rapidly
      fading sense of logic. Jolene Blalock is game for these scenes, although her
      loss of control feels a little too "acted" to be genuinely effective.

      Thinking too hard about any of this will only reveal the silliness of the
      plot. My advice: Don't. Okay, I will point out that it strikes me as
      unlikely that Vulcans whose emotions are allowed to run rampant would simply
      become perfect movie monsters interested only in killing everyone. I also
      find it a bit convenient that the Enterprise happens upon the Seleya at just
      the right time to find that the crew has gone insane but hasn't died of the
      illness or by their own hands.

      It turns out that poisoning from the Trellium in the asteroid field is the
      cause of the Vulcans' condition, because it breaks down the neural pathways
      that allow them to suppress their emotions (or something). This has an
      interesting implication, because the Trellium that Trip and Mayweather
      salvage from the asteroid field can't be used to protect the ship from
      anomalies because it would kill T'Pol. The episode's one iota of substance
      comes when T'Pol volunteers to leave the ship so Archer can install the
      Trellium, and Archer refuses because T'Pol is part of his crew. Moving, no.
      Palatable, yes.

      I also liked the pseudo-twist ending, where movie night segues into T'Pol's
      distressing nightmare. Psychological terror can make for some interesting
      imagery.

      About all I can say is that either you like the execution of all this or you
      don't. David Livingston has opted to shoot most of the scenes aboard the
      Seleya with a shortened film exposure that gives the motion a harsher
      look -- a trendy technique that Enterprise has been using much more of
      lately, but one that fits the material here. There are also lots of nifty
      special-effects shots depicting a convincing asteroid field where big rocks
      are constantly slamming into and pulverizing one other. And inside the
      confines of the Seleya are strobe lights. Lots of strobe lights. Visually,
      this works; the cumulative effect manages to boost the show's intensity.

      "Impulse" is sort of a guilty pleasure. It is entertaining solely for its
      superficial visual qualities -- hard metallic surfaces, gritty debris,
      stylized lighting, a cramped setting that manages to close in on the
      characters, horror-movie-inspired images that are about style rather than
      content. I can't commend this show on the basis of its substance, because
      there isn't any. But this is an episode that looks really good and works on
      its basic chosen level, which this week seems like enough for a qualified
      endorsement.

      --
      Next week: Hoshi. An alien. A big choice. (Hey, the preview didn't give me
      much to work with.)

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

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...