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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Unexpected"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Unexpected. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Some good early
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 25, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's
      "Unexpected." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Some good early moments worthy of this series' nature of
      exploration, but then downhill from there. Uneven, frequently silly, and
      with little lasting impact.

      Plot description: Tucker visits an alien vessel during a bizarre away
      mission, and later learns upon returning to the Enterprise that he was
      unwittingly impregnated during his stay.

      Enterprise: "Unexpected"

      Airdate: 10/17/2001 (USA)
      Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Mike Vejar

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "I prefer air I can't see." -- Trip

      Why, oh why, do we need a holodeck in this episode? The episode features
      a first contact premise that's moving along nicely on its own terms when
      -- presto -- we get a holodeck, for which the audience's howls of
      familiarity will have far outweighed its story value. I'm thinking that
      holodecks on this series should be eschewed as a matter of principle.

      "Unexpected" is a good title, because this is an episode with some
      strange, weird, and, yes, unexpected encounters that should be wondrous
      and new -- and at first are -- but which turn shallow in a hurry before
      being reduced to a lame punch line. And when we get moments that shout
      "prequel!" by including elements from the Trek-universe future (e.g.,
      holodecks), we're more distracted than awed. The twist involving the
      appearance of the Klingons also turns out to be unexpected -- so much so
      that it doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story.

      The best part about "Unexpected" is its attempt to depict a truly alien
      encounter. The aliens are called the Xyrillians, and they need assistance
      in making repairs. (Why they need Trip's help to fix their own systems
      which he would presumably know less about is beyond me, but never mind.)
      The early passages document Trip's away mission to the Xyrillian vessel.
      The environment there is very different; this is the first Trek in a long
      while, maybe ever, that I can remember requiring a character to spend
      three hours in a decompression chamber before walking onto the alien
      ship. (Although I find myself asking, why not just have Trip visit the
      alien ship in an environmental suit rather than having him waste a total
      of six hours in a decompression chamber?)

      When he steps onto their ship, he experiences strange sensory effects,
      reminiscent of the time-slowing effect in the wormhole scene of "Star
      Trek: The Motion Picture." Trip teams up with their engineer, Ah'Len
      (Julianne Christie), to help make repairs.

      Visually, I found some of this to be pretty good work. The set design is
      unique, and Mike Vejar, one of the franchise's best current directors,
      does a nice job establishing Trip's initial disorientation, with a
      dreamy, eerie quality to the camerawork, as if we're trying to move
      underwater. This is mostly razzle-dazzle, yes, but it serves its purpose;
      Trip's initial sense of being overwhelmed is a story aspect that works.
      For once, something as "simple" as visiting an alien vessel is seen as
      complex and taxing, both mentally and physically.

      It's once the initial shock has passed that the story begins to lose its
      edge. For one, I began wondering exactly how Trip and the Xyrillians
      could even understand each other without an interpreter. It's established
      in the early scenes that a language barrier exists, but once Trip is on
      the Xyrillian vessel such problems immediately evaporate and take on the
      long-standing "invisible universal translator" solution that has
      characterized most of Trek. The concept of the universal translator has
      never made any real sense, but episodes of Enterprise had so far backed
      away from the device. That doesn't seem to be the case here; probably for
      logistic and acting reasons, the "everybody speaks English" shorthand is

      Indeed, I'm wondering if the technical progression on this series might
      be a fine line to walk. This week, all the language translating goes much
      easier than in "Fight or Flight." While it would be very tedious to have
      to go through those kinds of translation gyrations every week on this
      series, setting it aside also begs the question of how quickly this
      Enterprise will grow immune to the very issues that make the series what
      it is.

      Trip and Ah'Len develop a friendly rapport, and there's a scene that
      establishes a sensual curiosity between the two. The Xyrillians incite
      sparks wherever they touch someone or something; the visual effect is
      similar to one of those transparent globes with streamers you can buy in
      gift shops. "It's kinda nice," Trip notes.

      But then we get a scene that had me almost laughing in disbelief, in
      which Trip has first contact with a Xyrillian holodeck. Berman & Braga,
      what are you thinking? Given how reviled the holodeck as a cliche has
      become, couldn't you at least go the first season -- heck, the first
      *month* -- without hinting at the possible historic origins of the

      After Trip reports his holodeck adventure to other shipmates upon
      returning to the Enterprise, Reed comments, in what must've been intended
      as a writer's joke, "If we had one of those on board, I can only imagine
      what it'd be used for." Yeah, like hijacking the ship! (Too funny.) I'm
      sorry, but even hinting at a holodeck seems to me like a bad idea if
      you're trying to push the notion of Trek going in directions we haven't
      seen before. (This proves one point I've argued before -- that Enterprise
      faces the challenge of also having to be new to its viewers and do more
      than filtering old ideas through a crew that has yet to experience them.
      Yes, it may be new to them, but that doesn't necessarily make it fresh
      for us.)

      Not long after Trip returns to the Enterprise and the Xyrillians head on
      their way, Trip notices that he's growing nipples. "You're pregnant,"
      Phlox tells him. It apparently happened when Trip stuck his hands into a
      box full of granules at the same time as Ah'Len during a mental sharing
      process, permitting a Magical DNA Transfer [TM] of some kind.

      T'Pol quickly accuses Trip of being unable to restrain himself. Here I
      must object. She should know better than most that there are alien
      cultures out here with different reproductive methods. As someone from a
      society that has been in space much longer than humans, T'Pol should be
      smarter about certain things rather than jumping to knee-jerk
      conclusions. Her attitude here seems to emerge from a distrustful grudge
      with Trip rather than from reasoned logic. And besides, why would the
      human definition of sex result in *his* pregnancy anyway? (Note: That's a
      rhetorical question.)

      Much of the rest of the episode is played for mild laughs. It's not
      horribly unpleasant, but I can't say I was impressed. It's just sort of
      passive, content to follow Trip around as he complains about the prospect
      of possibly becoming the first human male to give birth to a child.
      Complains about the possibility of not finding the Xyrillian mother.
      Complains about having to possibly raise this kid and set aside his
      plans. Complains about thinking he's the laughingstock of the crew.
      Discovers his appetite increasing and plays out his unconscious paternal
      instincts in order to conform to the guidebook for Hilarious Pregnancy
      Cliches [TM]. For a series supposedly about exploring the human
      condition, this reveals pretty small thinking.

      When the Enterprise does finally track down the Xyrillian ship and Trip
      shows Ah'Len that he's carrying her child, what's her reaction? "I had no
      idea this could happen with another species!" Duh! By this logic, Trip
      could go sleeping around with non-human women and then claim surprise
      upon learning one or more of them was pregnant. Hello? What fool wrote
      the Xyrillian rulebook on contact with alien societies? I propose a new
      chapter for that rulebook: "Common Sense in Not Knocking Up Alien Men,
      Written Especially for the Common Senseless." Failure to observe this new
      chapter will result in immediately being locked into a torpedo tube and
      shot into space. It's nice to know humans aren't the stupidest people out
      here, but I hardly think the story intended Ah'Len or the Xyrillians to
      look so clueless.

      Frankly, this premise could've been envisioned as a completely different
      kind of story, treated much more seriously, about child custody and/or
      parenting issues, and the importance of alien first-contact procedures.
      Instead it's a low-substance show played on the most superficial levels.

      Before resolving Trip's baby storyline, the Klingons show up to provide a
      menacing tone that seems oddly out of place. While I appreciate the nod
      to "Broken Bow" and T'Pol speaking up on behalf of Archer possibly having
      saved the Klingons from civil war, I could've done without the
      excessively stubborn Klingon captain (Christopher Darga) who takes
      obstinacy to an extreme that plays like fingernails on a chalkboard. Yes,
      I suppose the Klingons are most definitely not the 24th century Klingons,
      but having an actor growl on about killing everybody is old hat.

      It's funny how Trip is able to negotiate a truce and save the Xyrillians
      by offering up their holodeck technology to the Klingons. You'd think the
      Klingons would be more interested in the Xyrillian's stealth technology.

      You know, I'm really going to have a long laugh if I find out that
      Starfleet later ends up acquiring holodeck technology from the Klingons.
      Perhaps such a transaction would be intended by the Klingons as a Trojan
      horse. There you go -- centuries of holodeck malfunctions explained.

      Next week: The mystery of the lost colony.

      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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