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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Dead Stop"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: A few missteps, but good continuity and plentiful
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 17, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: A few missteps, but good continuity and plentiful sci-fi weirdness
      that's for the most part intriguing.

      Plot description: Crippled with severe damage and having few options, the
      Enterprise docks at an automated repair station that works miracles but may
      be holding an ominous secret.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Dead Stop"

      Airdate: 10/9/2002 (USA)
      Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
      Directed by Roxann Dawson

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

      Reed: "It can't be ethical to cause a patient this much pain."
      Phlox: "It's unethical to harm a patient; I can inflict as much pain as I
      like."
      -----

      There can be something inherently disconcerting about artificial
      intelligence, particularly unfamiliar AIs with crude communication
      interfaces. I think it has to do with an underlying wariness that an AI is
      based on complex but ultimately uncompromising directives rather than
      flexible reasoning; when you don't know those directives you quickly develop
      the understanding that they could cause you harm rather than good. This kind
      of AI has no conscience; it does what it wants. Your benefit or harm is
      incidental.

      In "Dead Stop" we have an automated repair station with an elaborate
      computer system that's obviously complex enough to qualify as an artificial
      intelligence, albeit with a crude user interface. There's something about it
      all that's slightly ... unsettling. It offers hospitality and promises
      miracles in repairing the Enterprise's damage, but one almost senses an
      ulterior motive somewhere beneath the surface. The price quoted is awfully
      low considering the services it will be providing. Damage that would take
      months for the Enterprise crew to repair on their own will take this repair
      station only a day and a half. All it wants for compensation is 200 liters
      of warp plasma. "Those repairs are one hell of a bargain at 200 liters of
      warp plasma, don't you think?" Archer muses, mildly troubled and suspicious.
      I'm inclined to agree.

      "Dead Stop" is a good episode that benefits from genuine sci-fi weirdness.
      While artificial intelligence and the concept of a machine with its own
      implacable agenda are familiar elements, this episode employs them well and
      surrounds them with atmosphere. The repair station becomes a character of
      its own, simultaneously inviting and ominous.

      Its docking bay reconfigures itself specifically to fit the Enterprise, and
      the air inside is made human-ready. (Beforehand it was "270 degrees below
      zero." I'm assuming that's Celsius, which is 3 degrees above absolute zero;
      can any computer really function at that temperature?) Inside, the walls are
      all white; there's a long entrance corridor. There's an unmistakable sense
      that we should all be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kudos to the
      production designers, and the special-effects wizards who designed the CG
      model of the station; they succeed in giving this place a sterile yet creepy
      personality.

      Who built this place and why? Archer would like his questions answered, but
      the station's computer is not prepared to give him any. "Your inquiry was
      not recognized," it repeats uselessly. A computer this advanced and with
      such an ability to adapt should be able to recognize and answer Archer's
      questions with a more human touch; my only explanation is that perhaps it's
      being intentionally vague. (Although not credited, I'm 100 percent sure the
      station's computer voice is supplied by director Roxann Dawson -- a nice
      touch.)

      Still, Archer and the crew don't much feel like they can refuse this
      invitation. The Enterprise has fairly extensive damage -- borderline
      crippled -- and needs to be fixed. Let's talk for a moment about continuity.
      As I'm sure many could've predicted, I was practically ecstatic to see that
      the damage sustained in last week's "Minefield" was not miraculously gone by
      the time this week's show began. Far from it -- the gash to the hull has
      dire side effects. (I also liked the continuity surrounding the injury to
      Reed's leg; he's undergoing physical therapy at the beginning of the
      episode.)

      The next question is whether it's a cheat to have a "miracle repair station"
      that can fix all this damage (and Reed's leg) in a single episode. Well, yes
      and no. Yes, it's a somewhat-cheat in that the setup claims this damage is a
      Big Deal, and instead of having the crew struggle, the plot drops a miracle
      cure in their laps. No, it's not a cheat in that the miracle repair station
      is given the storytelling weight necessary to more than justify its
      presence.

      In the new-technology arena, the crew sees firsthand what in future Trek
      incarnations will be called a "replicator," capable of conjuring matter from
      energy. It's handy for scraping up a meal, or spare parts. Trip is
      particularly intrigued, and in what is clearly the show's stupidest action
      on behalf of the characters (but necessary to set up the plot's solution,
      alas), Trip convinces Reed to go sneaking through the station's crawl spaces
      to try to find the station's main computer. Reed points out this might not
      be such a good idea; the computer might not take kindly to trespassers.
      Trip's response: "I didn't see any no-trespassing signs." How brilliant.
      When the plan fails and the computer beams them back to the Enterprise, I
      was frankly glad Archer yelled at them. (Another nice little follow-up from
      last week: Archer, on Reed's case: "You've made it clear to me that you
      think discipline on board Enterprise has gotten a little too lax. I'm
      beginning to agree with you.")

      There's a plot "twist" that sets up the story's key revelation, and that's
      where I'm a little more skeptical about "Dead Stop." Mainly, my problem here
      is how the story decides to kill off a character in a way that,
      dramatically, doesn't work and smacks more of Trek cliche than anything.
      Ensign Mayweather is fooled by the station AI (using a faked simulation of
      Archer's voice) into going below decks into off-limits repair areas where
      he's zapped by an energy charge. This leads to Phlox finally getting to say,
      "He's dead, captain," followed by questions and frustration and autopsies
      and unexpected results and medical technobabble explanations and finally the
      conclusion that Mayweather is, in fact, not dead after all, but rather
      abducted after having been replaced with a dead clone. While there's some
      potential interest in seeing Archer's initial reaction to losing a crew
      member (after my discussion of said topic in last week's "Minefield"), this
      would-be death is probably more annoying than it's worth precisely because
      it's such a transparent plot twist.

      Problem #1: Okay, so they introduce the woefully underutilized Travis
      Mayweather into a plot where up to this point in the episode he's been a
      non-factor. What do the writers do? Give him good dialog? Character
      development? An active role in the story? Nope -- they "kill" him and have
      him lie on an autopsy table as a corpse. This indicates pure writer
      desperation in concern to this character. Have they no clue what to do with
      this guy?

      Problem #2: Okay, so they're going to kill a character. How many people in
      the audience *aren't* going to expect a resurrection of the character when
      he's a member of the principal cast? If you want this twist to interest us,
      either (a) kill off a red-shirt (such that we're genuinely surprised by the
      eventual resurrection), or (b) kill off one of the main characters who is
      *not* so woefully underdeveloped (such that dying is *not* the most
      significant thing they've gotten to do in nearly a year).

      I'm actually fine with where this setup eventually takes us -- to the
      discovery (albeit a foreseeable one) that this station abducts living beings
      so it can tie their brains into its computer network and expand its
      processing power. It's an adequately bizarre sci-fi-ey idea, and I liked
      that the story did not dwell on the particulars or try to offer unnecessary
      explanations for how this station evolved into an AI beast that kidnaps
      people. It's simply a Halloween mystery and the episode wisely leaves it at
      that.

      Under Dawson's direction, the show's pacing is dead-on. It begins slowly,
      quietly, mysteriously. As mysteries give way to revelation, however, the
      pace picks up and the camera moves with much more freedom. The Enterprise's
      escape from the station, accompanied by a crescendo of noise and explosions,
      is skillfully depicted, with good directing, editing, logical flow, and
      music.

      By the end, it feels like we've been taken for a brief trip through the
      Twilight Zone. The last shot is of the ruins of the repair station beginning
      repair work on itself. Like all living things governed by instinct, its
      mission is to continue surviving according to the logic of its existence --
      an intriguing statement, conveyed with a compelling image.

      "Dead Stop" is an episode I liked quite a bit. I might've liked it even
      better had its spell not been broken with Mayweather being cloned,
      kidnapped, and swapped with a corpse. Being manipulated as a plot device is
      about the last thing his character needs.

      --
      Next week: Judging by the trailer, Archer suffers from blue balls. Or
      something.

      -----
      Copyright 2002 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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