Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen
the episode yet, beware.
In brief: Reasonable and relevant -- albeit not at all groundbreaking --
Plot description: Archer and Mayweather find themselves inside an alien
internment facility where they realize innocent Suliban have been
imprisoned without being charged with legitimate crimes.
Airdate: 4/24/2002 (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: ***
"The last thing we wanted to do was build these detention centers, but we
had no choice. When the Cabal began their activities there was a great
deal of fear among the Tandarans. There were instances of violence.
Fourteen innocent Suliban were killed in one day alone. We had to find a
way to keep them out of danger." -- Grat, undoubtedly revealing only part
of the story
You decide: "Detained" is either (1) a reasonable social commentary that
sells out to superficial action by the end, or (2) an average action show
elevated by an underlying foundation of social commentary. Is there a
difference? Perhaps. It seems wrong to take relevant allegorical themes
and wrap it all up with a safe and simplistic action conclusion -- whereas
it seems almost admirable to create an action show that actually tries to
insert relevant social points. It's all in how you look at it.
I'm kind of torn. "Detained" goes to great lengths to make fairly obvious
points and yet I don't feel it should be faulted for that. For the even
remotely informed it will come as old news, revisited lessons. Of those
people, how many will it make a real impression upon?
Consider: Mere weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, "The West Wing" aired a
reactionary drama, much of which played like an hour in Talking Down to
the Audience. Among the messages: generalizing of people and cultures is
bad, not being familiar with how the world works is a potentially
dangerous form of ignorance, and in difficult times we might be tempted
away from better judgment in favor of quick, comforting would-be fixes.
Well, intelligent people already presumably know these things and ignorant
people are not likely to be educated by the likes of Aaron Sorkin, so who
exactly is the benefactor?
Perhaps the point is simply to reinforce ideas that we should be thinking
about in times when emotions are allowed to run rampant. I see no problem
with such reinforcement. I also want to stress that "Detained" does little
to break the mold. But it has Good Intentions and for the most part good
execution, so that's probably all you need to know.
That said, the writers have done a fairly interesting thing by tying this
all back into the Suliban, who aren't all simply "bad guys" but are a
nomadic people with a subset of Cabal operatives waging the temporal cold
The never-veiled allegory is, of course, the current-day need to draw the
distinction between Arabs and the much tinier subset of Arab terrorism.
The issue of internment camps, of course, hearkens back to Japanese
Americans being rounded up and held in the U.S. during World War II (a
decidedly better choice for metaphor than the current-day situation of
detainees in Camp X-Ray/Delta at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba -- a situation far
too new and uncertain for me to comfortably draw conclusions about).
Archer and Mayweather wake up in a holding cell in a detainee camp where
Suliban prisoners are being held indefinitely by the Tandarans, with no
charges pending. Right from the beginning the episode makes a point about
assumptions when Archer makes an assumption and finds out he's quite
wrong: These Suliban are not genetically engineered members of the Cabal
and are not prisoners because they committed any crime. Their crime is
that they happen to be Suliban.
In charge of the detainee facility is Tandaran Colonel Grat (Dean
Stockwell), who explains to Archer why he and Mayweather are here -- their
shuttle wandered into Tandaran space and was captured as potentially
hostile. Tandarans are not too forgiving toward trespassers, it would
seem. Considering they are apparently on one of the fronts in the temporal
cold war, perhaps their apprehension is justifiable.
Grat is not a bad or unreasonable man; he's simply a product of his
situation. That itself may serve as a warning statement, since he has come
to accept that the Suliban may never again have rights in any real sense,
and that they may live the rest of their lives as innocent prisoners. The
line of thought going on here is that they're Suliban and that's
unfortunate for them, but nonetheless necessary for Tandaran society to
lock them away in the interests of safety.
Interesting how Grat cites not just the safety of Tandarans but the safety
of the Suliban. The Suliban no longer have a habitable homeworld (at
least, not if one isn't genetically engineered to survive there), so they
mostly live among other cultures. The Suliban who lived among the
Tandarans were a part of their society until the temporal war broke out
and they became automatic Cabal suspects. Tandaran citizens were quick to
accuse the Suliban among them, leading to violence against the Suliban.
The internment camps were seen as a temporary solution to curb this
problem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or in this case,
self-serving intentions have their own convenient built-in justifications.
We see the Suliban point of view through a character named Sajen
(Christopher Shea) a man with a daughter who is also in this facility and
a wife who is in another facility far away, and whom he hasn't seen in
years. Shea brings just the right balance of bitterness and personal
defeat to the character, creating a believable and sympathetic figure who
speaks in raspy whispers that nonetheless reveal a great amount of
Grat, meanwhile, turns more sinister and self-serving every time Archer
defies him, eventually believing Archer to be a resource as much as a
troublemaker stirring up prison intrigue. Grat's intelligence reports
reveal Archer's previous encounters with the Suliban. It's interesting and
perhaps all too true how the question "What do you know?" becomes as much
a grounds for being held as "What have you have done?" Especially
frustrating and disturbing is the prospect of being held because you're a
*potential* witness, not because you're suspected of having done anything
As a matter of plot, I enjoyed the continuity references ("Have you ever
been to Oklahoma?" Grat asks Archer suspiciously) to the Enterprise's
previous Suliban run-ins in "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front" (strange and
also kind of fun, seeing Bakula and Stockwell exhibit increasing tension
here after their easy rapport in their years on "Quantum Leap").
What perhaps seems too simplistic for this story, then, is turning it into
a jailbreak concept where Archer, with the help of the orbiting
Enterprise, decides he's going to help some of the innocent Suliban
escape. This seems a little on the cavalier and short-sighted side,
especially considering the lesson Archer learned in "Dear Doctor"
concerning non-interference. Yes, there is an injustice here. Yes, the
episode addresses Archer's previous decision in favor of non-interference
and calls this case an "exception." But such exceptions are exactly the
sort of thing likely to get Archer and Starfleet burned, and the exception
made here gets generous assistance from tunnel vision.
This leads to the typical action payoff, i.e., the phaser shootouts, a
crew member in disguise (Reed as a Suliban), and even the episode
resorting to use of the transporter, something that has been generally and
thankfully avoided for most of the season save the first few episodes. The
action seems to substitute for an ending that could've come to some sort
of revelation or dramatic insight, but doesn't find it. It bothers me a
bit. Fortunately, the episode seems to realize that it doesn't solve these
Suliban individuals' problems so much as create further uncertainty for
them, and for that I'm glad.
But still -- this is the sort of ending that makes you mull the
unconsidered consequences, like the kind of grilling Sajen's wife is
likely going to be in for in the wake of her husband's escape from another
detainee facility. What does she know? I can almost hear the Tandaran
I cannot cheer for the story's oversimplified solution to a complicated
situation so much larger than Archer, this one prison, or this one
society. Archer presumes to know everything he needs to know to interfere
in an alien society. Does he know enough? Would it have been better to do
nothing instead of something? I'm not sure. But it might've been nice for
the episode to point out the possible consequences of all this action.
Imagine how the U.S. government would respond if a foreign country managed
a prison break at Camp Delta.
Next week: First contact with a giant fungus?
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...