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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "The Communicator"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: A good premise and decently executed action, but
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 20, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: A good premise and decently executed action, but with misguided
      character decisions and an obvious lesson.

      Plot description: Following a mishap on an away mission, Archer and Reed
      must retrieve a lost Starfleet communicator to avoid the cultural
      contamination of a world's pre-warp society.

      -----
      Enterprise: "The Communicator"

      Airdate: 11/13/2002 (USA)
      Teleplay by Andre Bormanis
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by James Contner

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

      "Improvisation isn't my strong point."
      -- Reed, demonstrating a drawback to this episode
      -----

      "The Communicator" is a straight-ahead serious take on The Original Series'
      "A Piece of the Action," which had a similar theme but a relentlessly
      non-serious comedic tone. The theme is one of not contaminating
      less-advanced alien cultures. It's treated as dead serious here, but one
      problem is that the characters have not thought out how they would face such
      a situation. The situation arises, and they're just barely on the other side
      of cluelessness.

      This is a decent story, decently executed, with decent ideas and dialog. The
      big picture, unfortunately, is undermined by the way its protagonists
      blunder their way through their difficult situation. By the time the closing
      dialog rolls around, the lesson is so obvious we shouldn't have to hear it
      put into words. But hear it we must, because the dialog is necessary to keep
      our captain from looking downright oblivious (a label he does not entirely
      avoid).

      The premise takes the final lines of "A Piece of the Action" and builds a
      storyline from there: The away team returns from an undercover study mission
      on a world that's on technological par with early to mid-20th century Earth,
      and Lt. Reed realizes he's missing his communicator. He apparently lost it
      on the planet surface; if found and examined, the technology could
      contaminate the planet's natural social evolution. Archer and Reed return to
      the planet to retrieve the missing communicator.

      Cultural contamination is an interesting Star Trek topic, and the story, as
      I've said, deals with it seriously. The characters react with a genuine
      concern and urgency, which is exactly how they should react. (Reed berates
      himself for losing his communicator, a character touch that very much rings
      true given previous examination of Reed.) Archer and Reed retrace their
      steps to a restaurant where they are able to pick up the communicator's
      signal. But they act too suspiciously, are confronted by military officials
      in the restaurant who think they are spies for the enemy "Alliance" (with
      whom this society is on the brink of war), and are quickly taken into
      custody. (As Archer and Reed think they are about to be confronted, they
      attempt escape via a sudden bar fight, going two on five. This seems rather
      foolish, all but guaranteeing their capture.)

      This presents a new problem. With Archer and Reed captured, not only does
      this alien military have possession of a Starfleet communicator, but now a
      second communicator, two scanners, a phase-pistol, and the two humans
      themselves. And what happens if they find the empty shuttlepod? The dilemma
      is an interesting one that has us wondering how our characters will get out
      of it. Too bad we're also wondering how they allowed themselves to get into
      it in the first place.

      The residents of this planet are not idiots. What's more, by being on the
      verge of war they are suspicious of enemy infiltration. Given these facts
      and the underlying premise that we don't want to contaminate their culture,
      the whole notion of the first away mission in this volatile region seems
      like, well, not a very good idea at all. And if it's not bad enough that the
      communicator went missing, Archer and Reed end up putting themselves in a
      very vulnerable situation with no backup, getting easily captured. This is
      one mission that should've been better researched from the outset, and a
      response to a crisis (the lost communicator) that should've been better
      prepared.

      "The Communicator" poses some intriguing questions about away missions. It
      isn't long before Archer and Reed are beaten for information about why they
      are spying. Reed starts bleeding, and one of the interrogators realizes in
      surprise, "His blood -- it's *red*." A medical examination is immediately
      ordered, where it's discovered that these two have impossible anatomies to
      go along with their impossibly advanced technology. The implication here is
      interesting: The very presence of a human on an away mission can contaminate
      a culture should the human's anatomy be investigated.

      But, again, I found myself wondering why preparations were not made to avoid
      exactly such discoveries at all costs. And also why more thought wasn't put
      into contingency plans for when such discoveries are made. Starfleet
      apparently had no rules for interacting with pre-warp alien cultures when
      the Enterprise set out on this mission, and Archer apparently set up no
      specific guidelines for these sort of foreseeable problems. Sure, getting
      captured is not exactly something you would hope would happen on an away
      mission, but you should be prepared for the possibility as best you can. You
      should have a cover story so you can explain yourself. Based on what happens
      here, that's not at all the case; Archer and Reed are improvising on cue ...
      and they're not improvising much that's in the best interests of themselves
      or in avoiding cultural contamination.

      The most obvious example is when the interrogators begin demanding answers
      about Archer and Reed's technology and anatomy. Archer initially tries to
      tell them nothing, but he eventually decides to fabricate lies rather than
      revealing the truth that he and Reed are, in fact, aliens from outer space.
      Archer says their devices are Alliance prototypes. Following Archer's lead,
      Reed chimes in that they are genetically engineered prototypes developed by
      the Alliance. Archer says the shuttlepod is not a space module but rather an
      advanced experimental aircraft the Alliance has constructed.

      Whoa, there.

      Of all the lies to tell these people, why in the world would you tell them
      *that*? These are lies of absolutely the most inflammatory kind, which is a
      good way of not only contaminating this society but doing so in a
      potentially violent way; it's likely to incite a war. Why not tell them
      nothing, and let them draw their own conclusions with evidence that on its
      own can't prove anything conclusively?

      Archer and Reed are ordered for prompt execution, a story development
      contrived mostly for an inflated dramatic countdown and which I don't
      totally buy. (I was reminded of a sarcastic line from the previous week's
      episode of "South Park": "That's called a ticking clock. Works great in the
      movies.") Wouldn't Archer and Reed be more useful to the military officials
      alive -- where they could potentially supply more information about the
      Alliance -- than dead?

      The crew aboard the Enterprise works the problem from the other end, trying
      to mount a rescue attempt. I again find myself wondering why the transporter
      is not so much as mentioned as a possibility. Given the gravity of the
      situation, it would be a logical choice, but there isn't even dialog here to
      rule it out. I'm thinking this series should simply have opted not to have a
      transporter at all, because the writers apparently would rather not depend
      on it -- a good thing *except* for the fact that the ship is obviously
      equipped with one.

      There's an unexpected plot development here when Trip decides a rescue
      attempt would be best served by employing the cloak-enabled Suliban pod
      captured in "Shockwave, Part II." I for one did not know that the crew had
      acquired this craft. The details at the end of "Shockwave II" implied that
      Silik was released while he was still unconscious. Unless I'm missing
      something, this new detail would imply that the crew left him floating in
      space.

      Nonetheless, I must admit that the Suliban pod is an effective and
      unexpected attention grabber, along with all the weirdness that comes along
      with it. There's a point where Trip get zapped while working to fix the
      cloaking device, and his entire forearm is rendered invisible. It's the sort
      of jarring detail that keeps the story from falling into routine patterns.

      The action in the final act is actually quite good as these things go.
      There's a desperately improvised descent in the Suliban pod (see "ticking
      clock" above), with the cloak only half-working and alien aircraft in
      pursuit. And the rescue of the prisoners -- about to be hanged -- and
      retrieval of the technology involves a shootout that actually makes
      reasonable logical sense. For once the shooting and movement of the action
      matches up with what needs to be accomplished on a plot level, a far better
      approach to action than simply having people stand behind objects and
      indiscriminately firing to gratuitously fill screen time.

      Indeed, what works best about "The Communicator" is its ability to
      confidently move the plot details forward and end with an effective action
      sequence. The story's progress and implementation is convincing even if its
      plot details raise questions.

      The lesson at the end is one I found too obvious, showcasing Archer as too
      slow to catch on. He talks with T'Pol about how the important goal was
      achieved -- that all the technology was recovered. Until T'Pol brings it up,
      Archer doesn't acknowledge how all this mayhem will likely impact the
      planet's sociopolitical scheme. Given everything else, I'm glad the issue
      was addressed in the episode's closing dialog. But I must also point out
      that the lesson had already occurred to me while Archer fabricating stories
      about the Alliance's would-be prototype technology.

      This episode shows exactly what can go wrong when interacting with alien
      cultures. On that level it's fairly effective. But the way it goes about it
      has me thinking that some forethought should've gone into this mission,
      rather than improvising solutions to a crisis that should never have been
      allowed to get so far out of hand. Archer needs to set some serious
      protocols to avoid these sort of situations.

      Better yet, let T'Pol set the protocols. She's less oblivious.

      --
      Next week: The crew is disabled en masse with disease-like symptoms. Sounds
      like Star Trek 101.

      -----
      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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