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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Singularity"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: A paper-thin, derivative plot, and yet reasonably
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 23, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: A paper-thin, derivative plot, and yet reasonably amusing as "crew
      driven insane" episodes go. Call it a near-miss.

      Plot description: While surveying a black hole, the effects of undetected
      radiation poisoning cause the crew to engage in erratic behavior.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Singularity"

      Airdate: 11/20/2002 (USA)
      Written by Chris Black
      Directed by Patrick Norris

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

      "And if I hear that alarm one more time, I may have you taken out and
      shot!" -- Archer to Reed
      -----

      There will be no points awarded for originality this week, seeing as
      "Singularity" came straight from the book of derivative staple sci-fi
      concepts. There also will be no points awarded for plot, since "Singularity"
      has minimal plot. If you're looking for plot or originality, you are
      strongly advised to look elsewhere; they are not to be found here.

      If, however, you want to see weird, nutty behavior -- behavior that's as
      amusing as it is ultimately meaningless -- you could do far worse than
      "Singularity," which has plenty of characters behaving weirdly, eventually
      to the point of bouncing off the walls.

      How many times has this basic idea been done on Trek? A dozen, perhaps? Tell
      me this doesn't sound blatantly familiar: The crew is gradually driven to
      bizarre behavior because of the initially undetected radiation from a black
      hole. The black hole is just the specific device du jour. In episodes past
      it has been alien pathogens ("Dramatis Personae," "The Naked Time," "The
      Naked Now"), spatial anomalies ("Bliss"), telepathic Betazoids
      ("Fascination"), or even telepathic obelisks ("Memorial"). Naturally, the
      phantom radiation here will eventually pose a health risk. If you guessed
      that "health risk" means "lethal," you have just won today's special
      prize -- half off the usual cover price of Jammer's Famous Reviews. This
      means you save $0.

      There's another cliche at work, which is that of "crew member tells story in
      flashback with occasional log narration." This is a pointless device here,
      added, I suspect, to manufacture "suspense" at the beginning or to provide a
      storytelling shortcut to account up front for the emerging weird behavior.

      The most redeeming quality of "Singularity" is that it's ... well, kinda
      funny. This is not an episode billed as a comedy, but it almost should be.
      Despite the fact the crew and ship are threatened, the tone suggests we are
      not to take any of this too seriously. The episode comes with a wink. When
      Hoshi starts fretting about her family's cooking reputation being on the
      line -- while demanding, "CARROTS!" -- how can we *not* assume there's a
      wink involved?

      In this episode, the pathology is exhibited by strange obsessions over
      mostly unimportant minutiae. The trivial task that begins the day for a
      given crew member eventually becomes their focus of monomania. At the
      beginning, Archer asks Trip to look into an important area of engineering:
      the issue of the captain's uncomfortable chair. By the time insanity has
      crept in and seized the crew, the subject of adjusting the captain's chair
      has become Trip's single-minded fixation. All other priorities are
      rescinded.

      And so it goes, with the captain fixating on writing the introduction to his
      father's biography, Reed on instituting new tactical procedures, Hoshi on
      getting her recipe just right, Phlox on diagnosing Mayweather, and
      Mayweather on not being demoted into an oblivion where he would have an even
      smaller impact on the Enterprise than he already does (if that's possible).
      There's a certain quirky amusement in watching these fixations (I was
      reminded of Sisko being obsessed with building a clock in "Dramatis
      Personae"). Eventually the whole situation takes on a colossal absurdity.
      The Enterprise is a chemistry lab of wacky characterization.

      That pretty much covers the broad strokes. The entertainment value is in the
      details. Details like Reed's need to revamp tactical protocols and be ready
      for hostile situations. This obviously is documenting the road that will end
      with the invention of "Red Alert" (which is kind of a fun piece of trivial
      lore to explore). Reed's alarm concepts are hilariously annoying. "They both
      sound like a bag full of cats," Trip notes. I am in agreement; shut off that
      noise at once.

      With everybody obsessing over their own thing, priorities come into conflict
      and the zaniness eventually crashes headlong into itself. Somewhat
      effectively depicted is how the loon factor begins subtly and escalates
      slowly. Well, for a little while, anyway; at some point the escalation
      accelerates spectacularly and the episode becomes a free-for-all. Finally we
      have characters shutting themselves into rooms, preparing unauthorized
      surgeries, shouting at each other, and even getting into shoving matches on
      the bridge.

      This works if you can suspend disbelief and grant that this particular form
      of madness would cause this particular type of behavior (all while no one
      really notices the weirdness they are witnessing and/or participating in).
      The interaction between the characters benefits from some acerbic wit and
      good individual lines. There are a number of chuckle-worthy moments. The
      performances are solid. The actors carefully navigate the line separating
      sincerity and satire; look carefully, for example, at the early scene
      between T'Pol and Reed where his fixation on tightening security is acted
      sincerely even as the story knows it's ridiculously exaggerated to the point
      of humor (Reed wants to assign everyone a security code in case they are
      replaced by shapeshifting impostors). Later in the episode when things turn
      more heated, the actors go for broke with hyper, anger-edged energy. These
      scenes also work.

      In the middle of the madness is T'Pol, a bastion of sanity in the face of
      absurdity spinning out of control around her. When Trip rants about being
      disturbed from fixing the chair, T'Pol doesn't react. There's something
      about her demeanor that I like; she's sizing up the situation and not
      responding to it, as if aware a response would be akin to gasoline on a
      fire. I think, however, she's a little slow to react to the larger
      situation. She doesn't do much of anything until the crew starts falling
      apart and the situation has become one of desperation. She notes odd
      behavior, but her slow reaction to it is motivated more by the story's needs
      to build a crisis than by T'Pol's need to prevent one.

      Eventually, only T'Pol remains awake, leaving it up to her to plot a course
      out of the radiation field. She can't do it alone, so she hauls Archer out
      of a deep sleep, throws him into the shower and explains the situation so he
      can pilot the ship. I liked the T'Pol/Archer scene in Archer's quarters; it
      highlights their professional relationship and developing friendship.

      Unfortunately, as a story, all of this adds up to jack squat. It's
      superficial -- essentially just an exercise in goofiness. As such, it's
      something of a guilty pleasure that I sort of liked on that level. I cannot
      argue in favor of the premise or the events that arise from it. I can argue
      in favor of crew weirdness depicted entertainingly. It is what it is, and I
      guess it's well enough on those terms.

      Just one last question: When do we get to meet Chef?

      --
      Next week: Transporter terror, in an episode that we absolutely cannot miss,
      by mandate of the trailer.

      -----
      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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