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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Horizon"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Not bad, but not particularly good or conclusive,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24 5:13 PM
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Not bad, but not particularly good or conclusive, either. Just
      simply "there."

      Plot description: When Mayweather returns to visit his family aboard the
      cargo ship he grew up on, he finds himself facing an unexpected family
      crisis.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Horizon"

      Airdate: 4/16/2003 (USA)
      Written by Andre Bormanis
      Directed by James A. Contner

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

      "To quote Dr. Frankenstein, it's alive." -- T'Pol
      -----

      Here's yet another episode of Enterprise for the fence-squatters among us:
      an episode that does some things and does them reasonably, while at the same
      time not reaching a satisfactory destination concerning the issues it has
      raised. It's a family crisis story that ends up having the impact of some
      very routine drama.

      Ensign Travis Mayweather, after nearly two seasons of Enterprise, looks
      right now to be this series' edition of the Harry Kim character, albeit for
      slightly different reasons. Harry annoyed me because through seven seasons
      of Voyager he didn't grow even one year's worth of experience. Travis
      doesn't annoy me the same way because he's scarcely given the chance to grow
      *or* to not grow; the writers have no idea who this guy is because they
      refuse to give him anything to do or any semblance of a personality. He's an
      empty shell of a character usually used as a tool of the plot.

      It does not help that Anthony Montgomery -- in his limited presence --
      usually plays Travis as a young, blank slate of a man, without a trace of
      insight or opinion. Bashir was young in the early days of DS9, but he had an
      amusing sense of brash, exuberant naivete, and opinions that could be
      revealed to himself as either right or wrong. Mayweather simply has no
      opinions, neither right nor wrong.

      So imagine my relief that "Horizon" would be a true Travis
      Mayweather-oriented character show, which makes it the first Travis-centric
      storyline (whether it be a main plot or subplot) since "Fortunate Son" aired
      some 17 months ago.

      The results here are mixed, giving us an hour of not-unpleasant storytelling
      and a few reasonable and relevant observations and details, but without
      being convincing at its emotional core. This needed to be an episode where
      we could feel Travis' plight and maybe walk in his shoes. Alas, I could not
      quite get there. There are barriers, the first being the script, which is
      incomplete in its arc from emotional crisis to resolution; and the other
      being Montgomery, whose performance is too wooden to draw us into the drama.

      The general idea here is that the Enterprise's course puts them close to the
      cargo vessel Horizon, giving Travis a chance to visit home. He grew up on
      the Horizon, where his father is captain and his mother serves a dual role
      as chief engineer and medic. His older brother also serves on the ship.
      Travis hasn't seen his family in four years, and learns here that his father
      passed away of an illness just a few weeks earlier; he hadn't yet received
      the message informing him of the news.

      This permits the story to explore some family dynamics aboard a cargo
      vessel, as Travis settles in for a rare visit that coincides with a family
      crisis. Naturally, lingering regret and guilt will find their way into the
      story, as Travis wonders whether joining Starfleet was tantamount to
      abandoning a family and ship that needed him.

      The family dynamics are relevant but pretty routine. We've seen all this
      before: Protagonist visits home after long time away; protagonist is
      confronted with feelings of guilt concerning unresolved family issues;
      protagonist is given mildly cold shoulder by older brother, who feels
      protagonist abandoned family in favor of idealistic dream; etc. The problem
      with the arc of this story is not that it has bad ideas, but that it doesn't
      dig very deep into its ideas. This is simply not very challenging material.

      Of course, even if not very challenging, it might've still worked by evoking
      our empathy for Travis' situation. In some ways it does, by supplying
      details of Travis' old home, taking him back to his old quarters on the
      Horizon, and introducing us to his mother (Joan Pringle).

      What I liked best about "Horizon" was the simplified feel of the cargo ship
      and the episode's ability to escape from the confines of the ever-familiar
      Starfleet setting. This episode feels civilian rather than military, more
      recognizably human, with a sort of blue-collar, everyone-pitches-in
      mentality. And Travis' mom in particular is believable in scenes like the
      one where she inquires about the myriad of dangerous conflicts Travis has
      apparently faced aboard the Enterprise. Travis knowingly and wisely
      downplays all the danger of those encounters.

      There's also the appearance of Nora (Nicole Forester), a young woman about
      Travis' age. The two apparently grew up almost like siblings, an apt detail
      for a story set in the confines of cargo ship (and which also made me
      curious about the onset of teenage sexual attraction in such confines). But
      the character has only the one scene and disappears after the initial visit.

      The story's primary conflict is between Travis and his older brother, Paul
      (Corey Mendell Parker). Paul has taken over as captain since the death of
      their father, and word around the ship is that Paul may not quite be ready.
      Paul also is a bit uneasy with Travis around, especially when Travis starts
      suggesting Starfleet weapons upgrades upon the appearance of the episode's
      threat of alien pirates. Eventually there's a scene where Paul accuses
      Travis of abandoning them for the wonders of exploration promised by
      Starfleet.

      These scenes constitute quiet character drama, but even on that level they
      don't quite come to life, and I think the reason for that is Montgomery's
      far-too-understated performance. He's too wooden. In the confrontation scene
      between Paul and Travis, for example, you can clearly see that Paul, as
      played by Parker, is the stronger screen presence. We can understand his
      emotions and point of view, even if they come across as forced under the
      circumstances (why not accept the weapons upgrades in a case where you
      clearly need them?). But I never felt that way with Montgomery's
      performances in these scenes. He needed to carry this show, but from what I
      see, most of the guest actors end up carrying him.

      I also felt the story's conflicts are left largely unresolved. Paul has a
      comment to Travis that I found interesting in its aggressive tone: "Our
      problem is Starfleet and people like you." A strong statement. But the
      episode never really deals with the state of these cargo runners in what
      will someday undoubtedly become a sprawling Starfleet space arena.
      "Fortunate Son" last season was better at looking at that question.

      Instead, we get another one of those action conclusions, which substitutes
      for an actual resolution between the two brothers and the issues between
      them. The pirates attack, and by working together Travis and Paul are able
      to fend off the threat. The story mistakes this resolution of
      action/jeopardy as a resolution for the rest of the character drama, which
      as a result is left unfinished. Does Paul understand why Travis went to
      Starfleet? Does he still hold resentment for it? Are cargo runners really
      part of a dying breed because pilots like Travis decide to join Starfleet
      instead? Is Travis really okay with the decisions he has made? The answers
      are perhaps implied with a happy ending of smiles and reassurance, but these
      are not answers of any depth.

      There's also a slight-at-best B-story involving T'Pol's reluctance to attend
      movie night, despite being specifically asked by both Trip and Archer. The
      movie: 1931's "Frankenstein." I thought this worked okay as lightweight
      filler material, but it doesn't really set out to accomplish much of
      anything. It certainly does not go out on a limb in any way, or try to build
      into an actual comedy on the concept of "Vulcan goes to horror movie." If
      there's a joke here, perhaps the punch line is "T'Pol becomes a movie
      critic," as she waxes analytical on the plight of Frankenstein's monster,
      comparing it to the plight of Vulcans among humans in the apparently
      tumultuous years following First Contact. Meanwhile, there's a visit to an
      uncharted planet that builds into ... well, nothing. I guess the plot
      revelation is that they chart it. This plot exists, I suspect, merely to
      give the story an excuse to cut back to the Enterprise.

      Which is perhaps too bad, because the story aboard the Horizon might've
      benefited from being fleshed out some more. An episode like "Horizon"
      reveals Enterprise as an almost amazingly low-key series that seems
      unwilling to break free of its low-key shackles. I have nothing against low
      key (in fact, I tend to prefer it over ultra-action or melodrama), but what
      we need are some energetic performances, conclusive arguments and ideas, and
      characters whose problems aren't so neatly resolved with generic action
      scenes. In short, we need more episodes like last week's "Judgment" --
      something that looks and feels like real drama. "Horizon" is relevant
      enough, but does not emerge as compelling.

      --
      Next week: Phlox refuses to treat a man on moral grounds. Now that could be
      interesting.

      -----
      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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