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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Strange New World"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Strange New World. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: A routine plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 17, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's "Strange
      New World." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: A routine plot elevated by good characterization and sustained
      tension.

      Plot description: Members of the crew find their resolve tested and their
      paranoia escalating when trapped on an alien world during a violent storm.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Strange New World"

      Airdate: 10/10/2001 (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: ***

      "Gimme your boot!"
      "What for?"
      "So I can squash it!"
      "Are we allowed to squash alien lifeforms!"
      "If they're inside your sleeping bag! ... Where'd you put the phase
      pistols?"
      "You want to shoot a bug?"
      "I'm just gonna stun it!"
      -- Tucker and Mayweather, a first contact for the ages
      -----

      There's nothing strange, new, or otherwise interesting about the world in
      "Strange New World." Like last week's "Fight or Flight," this is not an
      episode sold on an ingenious plot but instead on solid characterization.

      The oddity is that for a series that's ostensibly about capturing the
      essence of space exploration, Enterprise has thus far been pretty tepid.
      There is virtually no element of wonder in terms of what could be called
      "exploration" in the general Trek or sci-fi sense.

      At least, not from our perspective. Through the other series, we've been to
      many, many places these characters have not. So there's a certain charm, I
      guess, in watching Archer and his crew reveling in the exploration of their
      first uninhabited Earth-like alien planet. (Have I mentioned that I like the
      NX-01 landing party baseball hats?) Archer seems content to simply be
      stopping the starship in orbit in order to set a shuttle down on the surface
      and smell a few roses. Archer asks "Trip" Tucker to take a picture of him
      with T'Pol. "Smile!" Archer says. T'Pol does not.

      After employing some general "exploration," i.e., walking around some fields
      with scanners, five members of the crew set up camp while Archer heads back
      to the Enterprise. Soon a windstorm approaches and the landing party is
      forced to retreat into the caves, where dissension and paranoia begin to set
      in.

      That, my friends, is the plot -- very lean, I suppose one could say. There's
      absolutely nothing inspired or even particularly good about this plot, but
      the episode is a worthwhile exercise in characterization, where we can watch
      how the characters respond as they engage in some fairly routine actions,
      followed by some not-so-routine ones.

      For example, we have our crewmembers sitting around a campfire as Mayweather
      tells a ghost story. (The episode was co-written by Mike Sussman, who wrote
      Voyager's "The Haunting of Deck Twelve," where characters also sat around a
      campfire to hear a scary story.) In addition to Mayweather, on hand are
      Tucker, T'Pol, and two non-regulars, Elizabeth Cutler (Kellie Waymire) and
      Ethan Novakovich (Henri Lubatti). Here's hoping that on this series, unlike
      Voyager, we might actually get recurring characters as crewmen instead of an
      implausibly endless supply of unfamiliar nobodies.

      Odd Vulcan out is, of course, T'Pol, who is constantly told that the
      emotions she as a Vulcan lacks are exactly why we pesky humans find this
      adventure so much fun. She evidently would not be nearly as amused as I was
      with the incident involving the "scorpion thing" that ends up in Tucker's
      sleeping bag. In a funny exchange, Tucker announces his intentions to shoot
      it with a phase pistol.

      The story's actual crisis comes once the storm forces the landing party into
      the claustrophobic confines of the caves. To make a long story short, the
      crew members begin hallucinating because of their exposure to a toxic pollen
      that blows down from the mountains during the storm; the hallucinations lead
      to paranoia.

      Mayweather thinks he sees people outside the cave. Tucker goes along to
      check and concurs. Apparent LSD-like effects cause our characters to see
      shapes and movement in the rocks. Elizabeth hallucinates T'Pol talking to
      someone else in the caves, prompting Tucker to accuse T'Pol of conspiring
      with these "rock people." It must be the Vulcans hiding something from the
      humans again, he concludes.

      The core of the story exists in Tucker's distrust of Vulcans, pumped up here
      into a raving insanity that begins to snowball with each scene. Tucker is
      delusional, but there's a deep-rooted prejudice in his distrust, and we
      begin to see just how fragile the human/Vulcan relationship can be. There's
      a lot of resentment here -- long-standing resentment for having been bottled
      up by the Vulcans who were bent on keeping humans out of the interstellar
      community. While I'm still a little leery about the writers' hazy depiction
      of the Vulcans' motives, I do appreciate that we have some conflict built
      into this series.

      Tension like the kind found in this episode depends almost entirely on
      acting. Connor Trinner carries the last two acts with a strong performance
      that mounts in intensity, bringing urgency and conviction to scenes that
      very easily could've fallen flat in the hands of a lesser actor.

      I'm a little less enthused about Jolene Blalock. Don't get me wrong --
      Blalock isn't bad at all, but performing a Vulcan character is very
      difficult to pull off effectively. My main problem is that T'Pol is just
      *too* soft-spoken a lot of the time. Being calm is one thing, but T'Pol is
      quiet and unanimated almost to the point of creating audience boredom. It's
      almost a relief here when she's finally pushed to her limits, briefly loses
      control, and raises her voice.

      The story's crises are simple instead of elaborate, and I like that. The
      shuttle rescue attempt in the storm makes sense. It fails because of wind
      and not because of technobabble. Similarly, the threat to the crew is
      because of toxic exposure to a hallucinogenic pollen. Simple, effective, and
      to the point. Not incredibly exciting or interesting, but it serves the
      purpose of bringing out the characterization. And the emergency rescue of
      Ethan reveals a transporter failure that is enough to create doubt in
      transporters but without resorting to tragic extremes.

      I'm a little skeptical about the way Archer talks Tucker into lowering his
      weapon, concocting an elaborate story to convince him that some of his
      paranoia is warranted. Is all this necessary? Couldn't T'Pol have simply
      pulled the trigger and stunned Tucker with her phase pistol? I understand
      she had a deadly weapon pointed at her, but Archer's long-winded solution to
      this crisis seems impractical and a bit unbelievable.

      "Strange New World" is almost surprisingly tame and restrained. In a way,
      that's part of why it works. There is no real enemy, no unrealistic
      influences, no elaborate twists of the plot. The enemy comes from within
      Tucker's own prejudices, amplified by the symptoms of the hallucinogen. Is
      this character conflict of the truest kind? Perhaps not, since it requires
      drugs to bring it to the surface. But that itself is perhaps part of the
      issue. Tucker says things here that he normally wouldn't, but clearly he has
      a certain buried ill-will when it comes to Vulcans. And the interaction
      between the humans and Vulcans is an element on this series that seems to be
      somewhat important at this stage.

      Look, I'm not saying this is a thrilling, original, or deep episode. But
      it's an effective one thanks to the performances. It gets the job done and
      sustains the tension. I liked its understated nature, punctuated by moments
      of fiery acting.

      --
      Next week: Trip gets knocked up. Huh?

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

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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