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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Anomaly"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Thankfully, the F-key the writers used this time
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2003
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Thankfully, the F-key the writers used this time around was F5 --

      Plot description: The Enterprise crew must retrieve stolen supplies from
      alien pirates, and along the way Archer learns these aliens might also hold
      some valuable information.

      Enterprise: "Anomaly"

      Airdate: 9/17/2003 (USA)
      Written by Mike Sussman
      Directed by David Straiton

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

      "All I'm saying is that this mission, whether it succeeds or not, is looking
      like a one-way ticket all the time." -- Tucker

      Good heavens, why in the world didn't they make *this* the season premiere?

      Last week's "Xindi," which mostly transplanted to the Delphic Expanse so
      many of the typical Enterprise cliches that are old and tired, ultimately
      arrived at a place where I mainly sensed a balloon (already) deflating. But
      with "Anomaly," Enterprise bounces back in a big way. This episode works for
      nearly every reason "The Xindi" did not.

      Here's an hour that, unlike last week's "Xindi," actually feels like the
      NX-01 is in uncharted waters -- physically, emotionally, environmentally,
      and morally. The crew makes some intriguing discoveries. Meanwhile, we
      discover just how determined Captain Archer has become to get answers.

      This episode, for starters, is proof that action-centric Trek can indeed
      work, and work well. After the meaningless paint-by-numbers action scenes of
      "The Xindi," the action of "Anomaly" is tightly focused and staged with a
      legitimate purpose. This is clearly one of the best efforts on Enterprise
      from an action standpoint, and one of the better Enterprise installments so
      far overall.

      "Anomaly" -- a title that proves to be the weakest aspect of the episode --
      begins as, yes, a series of anomalies bombard the ship and play havoc with
      the laws of physics. The bulkheads bend, meal trays go crashing to the
      ceiling, and Archer's coffee goes floating in midair. The funkiness of the
      physical laws also has a more serious consequence: Warp speed is impossible,
      leaving the Enterprise stranded in the region until Trip can find a

      About here is where the Enterprise happens upon a ship floating dead in
      space. The crew, along with members of the MACO team (who, in a goofy
      costuming choice, wear their backpacks even when running around their own
      ship), investigate the derelict and find its dead crew -- killed in a
      violent raid. This investigation scene at first seems like a redundant
      replay of "Fight or Flight" from two years ago (darkened corridors, corpses,
      etc.); the scene is brief, however, and the story keeps us moving forward
      toward answers, which is among the episode's strengths.

      Lest they be attacked by the perpetrators who raided the alien ship, Archer
      orders the Enterprise to get as far away from the derelict as limited speed
      will allow. But the Enterprise is quickly found and boarded by the alien
      assault team anyway, leading to a protracted action sequence that for once
      works, despite -- and perhaps even because of -- its drawn-out nature. The
      same sort of shootouts and fights that I complained about in "The Xindi" are
      effective here, because they are well-executed pieces in a puzzling
      situation, rather than well-executed pieces in a meaningless and obvious
      situation. Jay Chattaway unleashes an aggressive score of in-your-face
      drumbeats, which suggests that maybe the musical attitudes for TV Trek are
      being revised.

      The alien raiders are actually of a race called the Osaarians, whom Phlox
      recognizes as *not* indigenous to the expanse. Before being repelled and
      escaping in their ship, the Osaarians steal a bevy of supplies from the
      Enterprise, including all the fuel reserves, which introduces a dire
      situation in need of a swift answer. Also, one of Trip's engineers is killed
      in the raid, which I believe is the first crew fatality since the series

      One Osaarian raider (Robert Rusler) is captured and thrown in the brig.
      Archer wants information from this prisoner that may help the Enterprise
      find the Osaarian ship and recover the stolen supplies. The prisoner balks.
      Archer threatens. The prisoner looks Archer in the eye and tells him he is
      too "evolved" to resort to the kind of tactics he will need to in order to
      get answers -- at least, for now. After some time trapped in the expanse, he
      says, the Enterprise crew will learn to become ruthless predators in order
      to survive. (According to him, the expanse lets you in, but it doesn't let
      you out. It's an interstellar Roach Motel.)

      In some of its basic elements, this episode reminded me of Voyager's "The
      Void," in which Voyager became trapped in an area of space not unlike what
      is represented here by the Delphic Expanse, and was assaulted by supply
      thieves not unlike what is represented here by the Osaarians. If the basic
      premise of "Anomaly" reminds me of "The Void," where it goes from its
      starting point does not; "Anomaly" is sort of a "Void" in reverse. "Void"
      was about Janeway cooperating with others to find a mutual escape. There is
      no such hope of that notion here. If "Void" was the ultimate in idealism and
      optimism and unbending Trekkian values, then "Anomaly" is the ultimate in
      ruthless pragmatism and buying survival for whatever it might end up costing

      Although there's plenty else going on, the primary conflict in "Anomaly" is
      the showdown between Archer and the uncooperative prisoner, and the question
      of the lengths Archer will go, or not go, to get crucial information out of
      him. What is perhaps most striking about this episode is its focused
      single-mindedness. Once the plot is in motion, it doesn't let up or become
      distracted with irrelevancies. It becomes a series of clues and follow-ups,
      punctuated by bigger mysteries, action sequences, and Archer showing a
      determination that edges into obsession.

      Let's talk for a moment about Archer, a changed man compared to last season.
      Just like in "The Xindi," we have here an Archer who is utterly determined
      to complete his mission. He exhibits a steely resolve and an all-business
      demeanor, apparently born from the massive weight put upon him. He isn't
      unpleasant to his crew, but he isn't exactly friendly, either. He's got a
      darker and more decisive sensibility; he's terse, direct, serious. In his
      scenes with T'Pol, for example, he's quick to make up his mind and challenge
      anything that resembles inaction. In his mind, inaction will lead only to

      I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm ultimately going to like this new
      version of Archer, or whether it should've grown more gradually over the
      course of the season, but dramatically I do find him interesting so far, and
      Scott Bakula's performances make it worth watching. There's a scene where
      Archer opens a channel to the Osaarians and tersely says: "This is Captain
      Archer. Remember us?" -- a greeting that I found refreshing in its
      unwillingness to screw around and waste time with needless verbiage.

      I'm also not sure if this new Archer will make for a weaker T'Pol, who has
      here the thankless role of being the quiet Voice of Reason in a situation
      that seemingly demands far more impulse and guts than reason. When Archer
      proposes a plan to go up against the Osaarians, T'Pol quietly says, "They
      are heavily armed. Are you sure it's wise to engage them?" The way she says
      it -- virtually walking on eggshells -- is almost child-like, which could be
      a major pitfall for this character.

      The episode does its best to keep supporting characters alive. Trip offers a
      realist's voice that works because it doesn't venture too far into forced
      cynicism. In discussing with Reed the crewman who died in the Osaarian
      assault, Trip bleakly muses, "I doubt he'll be the last," and calls the
      Enterprise's mission a "one-way ticket." (I welcomed the weighty tone of
      this scene.) The episode also shows Trip as overworked and still unable to
      sleep, and I found myself interested in the idea that he could possibly
      become dependent on sedatives for sleeping, if Phlox were not barring them.

      The chase plot turns out to have a surprising amount of enticing material.
      The Enterprise follows the Osaarians' ion trail into a cloaking field that
      hides a massive spherical space station 19 kilometers in diameter, more than
      1,000 years old, and apparently capable of generating huge amounts of power.
      It might hold the key to some other Delphic Expanse mysteries, like the
      source of the strange anomalies that defy known physics.

      Visually, I was impressed by the straightforward clarity with which the
      cloaking field and the sphere are envisioned. The crew ventures inside the
      sphere (some more wonderful visuals) and finds that the Osaarians are using
      it as a storage base for their piracy operation. Here the crew is able to
      retrieve their stolen supplies and find information in an Osaarian inventory
      database, which leads to Hoshi's subsequent discovery of Xindi words printed
      on a looted item.

      That word, "Xindi," appears to be the word most likely to send Archer into
      Crazy Mofo mode. Archer Needs Answers Dammit and interrogates the Osaarian
      prisoner about what he knows about the Xindi. More balking prompts Archer to
      drag the prisoner into an airlock and vent the atmosphere. Archer makes
      demands while the prisoner begins to suffocate. This is a dramatically
      potent scene, made compelling by Archer's no-nonsense,
      bordering-on-obsessive single-mindedness; the moral questions; and the
      aggressive filming technique. Would Archer have actually let the guy die if
      he hadn't agreed to talk? I tend to doubt it, but the extent of the action
      speaks for itself -- this is an edgier Archer who may end up doing some
      questionable things in the interests of getting the job done.

      The final act provides a superb space battle that is an example of how
      action on this show *should* be done. For once, we get an action scene that
      employs an explicit goal (downloading a valuable Xindi database from the
      Osaarian ship's computer) while utilizing clever battle strategies with a
      logic we can follow.

      "Anomaly" is, simply put, entertaining. It works as sci-fi, as action, as
      mystery, as setup. It provides lots of nice details that can be built upon
      down the road. It is not perfect. It doesn't scrutinize Archer's actions as
      much as it probably could. (When released, the prisoner tells Archer, "So,
      you have let your morality get in the way after all." Not sure I buy that
      line, since Archer already got the information he wanted and had no reason
      to continue holding him. Seems more like the writers are trying to let
      Archer off the hook for the earlier torture scene.) If there's a larger
      comment on Archer's growing obsession, it's done without words, in the final
      shot, where he loads the database onto the screen. As the Xindi information
      fills the room, Archer's ever-serious expression says all that needs to be

      Next week: TNG's "Genesis" + DS9's "Children of Time" = ???

      Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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