[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Dead Stop"
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...