[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Horizon"
- 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
Plot description: When Mayweather returns to visit his family aboard the
cargo ship he grew up on, he finds himself facing an unexpected family
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
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
Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...