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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Silent Enemy"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Silent Enemy. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Quite average.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 27, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's "Silent
      Enemy." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Quite average. Moments of mild interest alternating with moments
      worth shrugging at.

      Plot description: When an alien ship refuses to acknowledge attempts at
      communication and begins a series of attacks on the Enterprise, the crew
      begins preparing a significant weapons upgrade.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Silent Enemy"

      Airdate: 1/16/2002 (USA)
      Written by Andre Bormanis
      Directed by Winrich Kolbe

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "You looking forward to seeing Earth?"
      "Sure. I just didn't think I'd be seeing it so soon."
      "This time we won't be leaving before we're ready."
      "Are your ears a little pointier than usual?"
      -- Archer and Tucker
      -----

      "Silent Enemy" might as well be called "The MacGuffin Enemy," because that's
      what the enemy here is -- a big MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is, of course, simply
      a device that could be anything or anyone, as long as it serves its purpose
      of propelling the characters into action through the story. The silent
      aliens here are an excellent example of a MacGuffin because they're, well,
      silent. By definition, there's no depth to them because they never say
      anything. Archer talks to them, but they're not listening.

      Eventually, they attack with no reason or warning, and after firing a few
      shots and damaging the Enterprise, they scurry off. Later they come back and
      attack again. They strike without provocation or any known motivation. This
      very silent enemy serves as a device to make Captain Archer realize that the
      Enterprise simply cannot adequately defend itself, which is a prudent
      realization considering recent encounters with better-armed foes like those
      in "Civilization" or "Fortunate Son." I for one am glad to see the matter
      directly acknowledged with dialog.

      One of the show's key moments is when Archer realizes that it's time for the
      Enterprise to turn around and head back to Jupiter Station, where the ship's
      weapons systems can be finished. Phase cannons were supposed to be installed
      before the Enterprise was launched, but apparently there was no time once
      the events of "Broken Bow" forced a quick departure of the ship.

      But hold on a second. Wasn't the ship finished and ready to go -- and in
      fact being held back by the Vulcans -- for some time before the incident at
      Broken Bow, Oklahoma, even happened? It would seem the writers are revising
      originally implied intentions for the benefit of the story at hand ...
      which, I concede, is a necessary thing in developing a television series. It
      just needs to be done carefully. I suppose this is just careful enough.

      Trip tells Archer that his engineering crew has the skill and manpower to
      install the phase cannons themselves. Archer permits the attempted in-house
      upgrade but still plans on heading for home for fine-tuning. Archer's
      attitude is a sensible one -- if we're going to be out here we should get it
      right -- which seems like a bit of a different attitude compared to what he
      might've done a few months back. Perhaps he's been learning the value of
      caution. Which is good; I like that.

      Of course, one logical question becomes just why Trip's engineering teams
      haven't been chipping away at the task of bringing the phase cannons online
      for weeks if not months already. They've been out here long enough to know
      what kinds of dangers they're up against. To suddenly realize here, "Uh-oh,
      we're really outgunned!" and finally starting to make upgrades only when
      seriously threatened seems awfully shortsighted, especially since the
      upgrades *aren't* presented as a jury-rigged solution but rather a plan all
      along.

      The issue of whether turning around is necessary is made moot by the fact
      that the silent enemy has a faster ship and pursues the Enterprise
      regardless of its retreat, attacking it again. They damage one of the warp
      nacelles, making it impossible for the Enterprise to run, and they board the
      ship (the aliens are portrayed through an intriguing CG design) for reasons
      that seem to extend beyond simple curiosity and come across with more
      sinister overtones. Archer chases them off with a phase-pistol blast, but it
      seems more like they leave voluntarily than because they feel threatened.

      I sort of liked the presentation of this mysterious, silent enemy -- in
      technique anyway. They have a very "alien" sense to them in the way they
      pounce and then inexplicably retreat. On the other hand, it's impossible to
      make anything of them; they are, in the end, MacGuffins with no hint of
      insight or meaning provided by the writers. That may be the point, but the
      writers also make no sense of their bizarre hit-and-run tactics. Their
      attack methods seem to be providing a convenient way for the writers to
      artificially regulate the story's pace. Did this bother me a lot? Not
      really, but I also didn't find the whole series of exercises all that
      interesting.

      The story's underlying message becomes one of old-fashioned persistence and
      hard work in the face of a challenging situation. Trip has his engineers
      working around the clock to get the phase-cannons working in preparation for
      the next assault. This leads to some scenes that I liked, such as the
      discussion between Archer and Trip about taking risks, which is then
      reflected in the interaction between Trip and Reed on how big a risk cutting
      technological corners can be.

      And speaking of Malcolm Reed, "Silent Enemy" finally tries to look at this
      guy in terms of character development. He's so far been very limited in what
      we know about him, and, indeed, Archer says exactly that to Trip, after
      realizing that nobody really knows much about Malcolm. The line almost plays
      like a shrewd acknowledgement on the part of the writers, as if to say, "We
      don't know anything about this guy either and it's time to tackle him."

      Alas, the writers think of nothing remotely approaching deep significance
      for him. Archer assigns Hoshi to find out what Reed's favorite food is so
      they can surprise him for his birthday -- not exactly the most compelling or
      hard-hitting idea ever hatched. Hoshi finds this assignment more difficult
      than initially thought, because Reed is something of a keep-to-himself
      loner -- pleasant but not at all outgoing, and a hard worker. Hoshi talks to
      Malcolm's parents on Earth, and to his old academy friends -- and finds out
      little that's useful because he isn't the type to have strongly voiced
      preferences.

      This is not unpleasant in any way, and I'm glad the writers tried to take a
      look at where this guy came from -- but it's just too lightweight,
      essentially telling us there's nothing interesting to find in Reed's past. I
      suppose the intention here is to reveal Reed as an everyman, a worker. But
      we don't actually learn much about him, and when shoehorned between more
      pressing scenes involving the mysterious alien attacks and the weapon
      upgrades, Reed's story quickly loses urgency and relevance. I found myself
      asking why in the world Hoshi was assigned to such a trivial research
      project with everything else that was going on.

      The "everything else" here is of more focus and ultimately hinges on a
      slightly botched weapons test that's akin to firing a gun and being shocked
      by the severity of the recoil. I liked Archer's steely resolve in not being
      intimidated by aliens who refuse to negotiate and insist on mind games. He
      tells them in no uncertain terms that the Enterprise will stand and fight if
      need be, and armed with the new cannons, the ship is more prepared to back
      up Archer's determination with action.

      The ending finds itself in a bit of a tricky situation involving how
      powerful the writers can permit these cannons to be. During the initial
      test, the powerful discharge was a malfunction that resulted in damage to
      the ship. When working properly as designed, these cannons are still not
      powerful enough to penetrate the enemy's energy shields, so Trip and Reed
      must find a way to overload them without damaging ship systems. I like the
      idea of an improvised solution, but the solution here is one of those
      dreaded technobabble contrivances that is heavy on meaningless jargon and
      lacking in real drama. A better ending might've figured out a way for the
      crew to get their big bang, but at an actual cost rather than with free
      magic.

      In the final analysis, I'm giving a thumbs-sideways to this episode, because
      there's nothing really about it that jumps out about it one way or the
      other. It held my attention and addressed the important issue of weapons
      upgrades. It took a character and dealt with him, even though there was
      little in terms of depth and the biggest question turned out to be, "What's
      his favorite food?" (The answer is pineapple for those keeping score.) I'm
      glad to see the supporting characters getting mixed into the Enterprise
      balance, but I think we need to ask much tougher questions than that.

      --
      Footnote: "Silent Enemy" was scored by Velton Ray Bunch, a new composer to
      the Trek franchise who previously did work for the Bakula-starring series
      "Quantum Leap." I haven't formed an opinion of his style as of yet, but some
      new blood on the composing tier is probably a good thing. Enterprise also
      continues to employ long-standing TV Trek composers Dennis McCarthy, Jay
      Chattaway, David Bell, and Paul Baillargeon.

      Next week: Phlox looks to be getting the spotlight with a pre-Prime
      Directive issue.

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

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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