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

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Average. Nuff said. Plot description: The entire
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 30, 2003
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Average. 'Nuff said.

      Plot description: The entire crew must take refuge in a maintenance shaft in
      order to protect themselves from the deadly radiation of a violent storm in

      Enterprise: "The Catwalk"

      Airdate: 12/18/2002 (USA)
      Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
      Directed by Mike Vejar

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

      Reed: "You knew we'd be stuck in here for over a week. You might have given
      a little thought to making it tolerable."
      Tucker: "I only had four hours, Malcolm. You're lucky we've got a toilet."

      So, here I am, returning after nearly seven weeks of reviewing hiatus to run
      my critical eye over "The Catwalk," which itself aired some six weeks ago.
      One might wonder why I waited so long to review this episode. There really
      isn't any particular reason; it just worked out this way in the big
      procrastination machine that is (my) life. With so long to think about this
      episode, one might expect I'd have something major worth waiting all this
      time to unload.

      Well, I don't. "The Catwalk" is one of the worst types of episodes to write
      about, because there's so little I feel a need to discuss, for good or ill.
      I can't blast it with a paragraph full of pretentious and dismissive
      put-downs like "Precious Cargo," and I can't dig for character psychology or
      useful insight like with "Vanishing Point." "The Catwalk" is quite simply
      ... average. It's competent television, reasonably diverting, but not the
      slightest bit original or suspenseful. And it doesn't get to any crux of any
      issue that is at the heart of Star Trek.

      I'm beginning to wonder now if "average" is the biggest threat Enterprise as
      a series faces. I recently admitted to a magazine writer that Star Trek
      excites me far less now than it once did. Is that because the franchise has
      become older and more stale, or because I've simply moved on or become more
      jaded? Probably both. One of the problems, I suspect, is exhibited by the
      very fact that Star Trek is constantly referred to as a "franchise." As if
      to say: It's not about ideas; it's about marketing.

      Anyway, before this review becomes fodder for a cynical epitaph arguing the
      obsolescence of the Star Trek franchise, I will say that "The Catwalk" is
      fairly successful on its given terms -- those of narrow adventure scope. We
      have The Problem and then The Solution and then Some Aliens and then The
      Twist and then some Alien Invaders and then The Action, all of which are
      executed adequately.

      The Problem is that a violent storm "saturated with radiolytic isotopes"
      (ah, technobabble!) is approaching. I'm not so sure I believe in massive
      spatial storm systems that travel at high warp (with diameters that span
      lifetimes), but then I also don't believe in transporters -- or warp speed,
      for that matter. I just wonder why the crew can't land the ship on the
      planet, unless the planet is also going to be unprotected from the storm's
      radiation. If that's the case, I guess any life (or at least selective life,
      given later plot developments) on this planet is SOL. Somebody had better
      tell Earth to forget about tracking collision-potential asteroids in our
      solar system and start looking for violent radioactive -- I'm sorry --
      *radiolytic* storms moving through space at high warp.

      The Solution is that the crew will seal themselves into a maintenance area
      known as the catwalk, located along the warp nacelles and the only place on
      the ship that's both large enough to house the entire crew and also protect
      them from the deadly radiation levels. Meanwhile, Some Aliens -- three, to
      be precise, who warned Enterprise about the approaching storm -- inhabit the
      story's background and are obviously more than they appear to be.

      The early acts are arguably the best, content to watch the crew as they
      prepare for this eight-day hassle of cramming into a limited space with no
      amenities. I for one was glad that the show directly acknowledged the need
      to set up a latrine in this confined area; this is one of those times where
      pretending no one in Star Trek uses the bathroom would've come across as a
      glaring omission.

      I also liked the way a little tension gradually set in as the confinement
      period stretched on. There's a scene where Reed's annoyance with this
      situation becomes quite clear; when he gripes at Trip for not having
      installed a shower, I was in sympathy. I also liked Trip's response: "I only
      had four hours, Malcolm. You're lucky we've got a toilet."

      There's also some material of value between Archer and T'Pol, where T'Pol
      does her best to stay away from the other crew members. She admits she is
      not skilled at "fraternizing" with the crew. Archer would like her to emerge
      from her shell and learn to try bonding with the people around her. While
      this is hardly groundbreaking material -- and completely typical of Trek --
      it's a character sentiment that works, and the quiet exchanges between
      Bakula and Blalock are becoming a pleasant trademark of sorts.

      It's about here where we get The Twist, when some Alien Invaders show up,
      and the story abandons the "day in the life of an inconvenient situation"
      approach in favor of routine adventure plotting. Trip goes below decks in an
      EV-suit to fix a problem in engineering. While down there, he sees aliens
      walking the corridors of the ship. These alien invaders turn out to be of
      the same race as the aliens who are sealed in the catwalk with the
      Enterprise crew. (The Twist: The three friendly aliens were hiding
      something! But of course we knew that, unless we were temporarily brain
      dead.) The Invaders, who are searching for our three friendly aliens, are a
      part of a crooked military government; the friendly aliens are wanted
      deserters who refused to continue participating in the corruption and
      villainy of their military.

      One thing that's especially convenient in story terms is how the invading
      aliens are impervious to the toxic radiation that would kill the Enterprise
      crew. This gives the invading forces an advantage. But the Enterprise crew
      has their own advantage -- namely the element of surprise, since they are
      all hidden in the catwalk unbeknownst to the invaders. Eventually we get The
      Action, which involves a cat-and-mouse game with Archer running around the
      ship in an EV-suit and futilely trying to negotiate with the unyielding
      alien captain (Danny Goldring, effective in a stock-issue role). This leads
      to the requisite phaser shoot-outs, and then Archer's threat to destroy the
      ship by flying it into storm turbulence unless the invaders leave -- a
      threat that, notably, the crew seems prepared to carry out.

      This is all more or less by the book, with the conclusion never in doubt and
      the road to the conclusion pretty much taking every step you would expect it
      to take. Mike Vejar is perhaps the best of the Trek directors -- and he
      keeps the story's momentum going in the direction it needs to be going --
      but he can only do so much with the material at hand (as was the case with
      "Marauders"). The way this all plays out is clockwork routine, unsurprising,
      and sold on competent technique rather than fresh storytelling. It is, in a
      word, average.

      A little too average, if you ask me.

      Footnote: Chef appears on camera in this episode, but only from the chest
      down. This is likely the first of multiple gags where we encounter "the
      mysterious Chef," who never has an actual line and whose face we never see.

      Copyright 2003 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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