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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Chosen Realm"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Allegory that starts okay before turning silly. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 30, 2004
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Allegory that starts okay before turning silly.

      Plot description: A group of religious extremists hijacks the Enterprise
      with the intention of using it to destroy their enemies in a century-long
      holy war.

      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Chosen Realm"

      Airdate: 1/14/2004 (USA)
      Written by Manny Coto
      Directed by Roxann Dawson

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "These people you're fighting: What makes them heretics?"
      "We believe the Makers created the Chosen Realm in nine days. They believe
      it took 10."
      --- Archer and Yarrick, reducing extremism (and, by extension, allegory)
      to blatant absurdity

      The problem with "Chosen Realm" is that it's conceived as a show about ideas
      but executed like a show about cliches. It's really hard to get into things
      when the last half of the show feels like it was inevitable. The action
      climax, by this point in this action-upped season of Enterprise, has become
      such a predictable punctuation mark that my brain had no choice but to
      automatically tune out. I am officially beyond caring about any scene
      featuring the MACOs, because they obviously were conceived as
      interchangeable action pawns rather than actual soldiers. At this point,
      call them the Mundane Action Choreography Omens.

      Granted, it makes logical sense to *use* them in a situation where the ship
      must be retaken, but therein lies the problem: Here's an episode that tries
      to tell a relevant and topical story, and then finds no avenue except a slew
      of Trek standbys. I feel like I've seen this story a dozen times. Maybe I'm
      old and jaded, or maybe Enterprise is tired and predictable. It's
      unfortunate, but "Chosen Realm" is lessened in part because it comes at a
      point in the season where the off-the-shelf pieces it's made of have long
      since lost their luster. Of course, it certainly doesn't help that the
      episode scuttles its own would-be allegory.

      The day religious fanatics killed 3,000 people by hijacking airliners and
      crashing them into office buildings was predated by, oh I dunno, maybe a
      hundred episodes where bad guys hijacked starships on Star Trek to use for
      whatever reason. The only difference with "Chosen Realm" is that now
      hijackings and terrorism are more urgently topical. But topical isn't
      enough. Topical also needs to be thoughtful, interesting, or with some sort
      of character theme. "Chosen Realm" doesn't get to the crux of extremism, but
      simply uses extremism as an action-framing device.

      Or perhaps that's my own cynical take on the matter. After all, one of the
      unavoidable truths of extremism is that, well, it's *extreme*, and not about
      mutual understanding but simply about blindly believing in something and
      being willing to forcefully impose it on others. Black and white. In this
      case, we have a group of aliens from a race called the Triannon, who believe
      the mysterious Delphic Expanse spheres are religious icons that were created
      by their gods, called the Makers. The Delphic Expanse they see as a holy
      ground known as the "Chosen Realm."

      What makes them extremists, or zealots, or whatever you want to call them,
      is that they're willing to go to war with any "heretic" that doesn't believe
      what they believe. The leader is a man named D'Jamat (Conor O'Farrell), who
      is a zealot, yes, but a well-spoken one who is not insane and shows a fa├žade
      of reasoned understanding. Of course, sanity isn't the issue here; like most
      zealots, the issue with D'Jamat is that he is absolutely, completely
      convinced he is right and is willing to destroy those who do not agree with
      him, because in his mind his cause is righteous.

      The writers do their best to have the Enterprise hijacked without making the
      crew look like clueless dolts in the process. This is achieved by having
      D'Jamat's followers carry organic explosives in their bloodstreams, turning
      them into the ultimate suicide bombers, a tactic that goes undetected
      because Phlox does not scan them on the account that medical scans go
      against their religious beliefs. Leave it to terrorists to have arbitrary
      rules that work in whatever way suits them: Medical scans go against the
      Makers, but filling your blood with explosives is perfectly okay, since
      you're doing it in their name. To show that he's serious, D'Jamat has one of
      his followers blow himself up, taking an Enterprise crew member along with

      What we have here is a relevant dilemma, although not groundbreaking.
      There's nothing really wrong with the first half of "Chosen Realm," aside
      from, I guess, that it just didn't really *grab* me. In and by itself,
      extremism isn't a particularly interesting issue. The problem is that it
      essentially boils down to: These guys think they're right, and they're going
      to kill everybody who disagrees. That doesn't leave much room for debate.
      (Sort of like watching a "debate" with Bill O'Reilly: He already "knows"
      he's right, the opposing viewpoint is already invalid, so what's the point
      of the conversation?)

      No, what makes extremism worth studying is in the analysis of the issues and
      politics and history that surrounds such people and points to the root
      causes. Because the Triannon are unknowns who exist apart from any society
      or belief structure this series has looked at, we're unaware of their point
      of view, and "Chosen Realm" is loath to give us much, especially in the way
      of the opposing Triannon viewpoints with which this group is at war. We know
      nothing about the enemies D'Jamat's group intends to destroy, aside from
      what D'Jamat tells us. Not exactly someone you'd call a reliable source.

      There are some dynamics that hint at potential conflict within D'Jamat's
      group. One of his followers, a man named Yarrick (Vince Grant) is conflicted
      over whether extending hostilities to a third party is right; D'Jamat
      responds with a speech that boils down to, "The Makers speak through me, so
      if you disagree, you are going against the Makers," which is about as
      self-righteous as you can get.

      The interest in this situation would theoretically come in how Archer and
      our crew react to this ideology. But given the threat level and the fact
      that D'Jamat has made his intentions (using the Enterprise to destroy his
      enemies) very clear, what choice does Archer have? He can't exactly allow
      his ship to be turned into a rogue WMD. He could blow it up (and probably,
      ultimately, should), but I think we all know that isn't going to happen.

      The episode doesn't take us far enough into the question of whether Triannon
      religion exists anywhere in a healthy form. Yarrick and his wife would seem
      to indicate that it does, or potentially does, but even with their doubts
      about killing they're still affiliated with a zealot like D'Jamat. What does
      that say? Perhaps that the desperate sometimes seek guidance through
      misguided leaders? Not in this story. It's little more than an avenue of
      plotting so Archer will have someone to turn against D'Jamat. (Though it
      might explain the last scene of vast destruction.)

      All the parties involved ultimately service a stultifying
      battle-for-control-of-the-ship situation. Archer is able to free himself by
      tricking D'Jamat into believing Archer is killed by dematerializing in a
      transporter beam. (This seems a little too cat-and-mouse-y for an allegory
      show, and I was left wondering how D'Jamat didn't know about the transporter
      if he had earlier been scouring Archer's logs.)

      Yarrick is obviously the guy who will be turned and will help Archer retake
      the ship. And, as I already mentioned, there's plenty of resulting boring
      corridor fighting/shooting involving Archer, Reed, and the MACOs. During
      these scenes, I could feel my eyes glazing over. My favorite part has to be
      when Archer and Reed have a terrorist in their crosshairs, tell him to stop,
      and then instead of shooting him they stand there and let him inject himself
      with the explosives igniter. *Then* they shoot him. Hello? (Yes, their plan
      had Phlox flood the air with a gas that disabled the explosives, but what if
      it had failed? The notion is so obviously staged for the audience's benefit
      that it comes off just looking stupid.)

      There's a moment in the episode where all hope for real-world depth is lost
      and replaced with a laughable point that reduces the episode to an exercise
      in absurdity -- nearly as absurd as TOS's lame "Let That Be Your Last
      Battlefield." Archer asks Yarrick, "These people you're fighting: What makes
      them heretics?" Yarrick responds, "We believe the Makers created the Chosen
      Realm in nine days. They believe it took 10." Um, yeah.

      What kills me is that the delivery of this line is such that Yarrick seems
      to be scoffing at it, as if even *he* doesn't believe it. Why, then, is he a
      part of D'Jamat's cause? I only hope this is not intended as an allegory for
      something in the real world like, say, Israel and Palestine. These days the
      Israeli/Palestinian conflict seems utterly hopeless, but there are contexts
      there involving major disputes rooted in history, sacred ground, and
      ideology. The "Chosen Realm" war is essentially one of silly semantics, a
      dispute given no realistic weight or reason. Is that the point? If so, it's
      a cheap one.

      A pity, because the first two acts aren't bad, and Conor O'Farrell brings a
      credibility to D'Jamat that makes him not simply a villain, but a dangerous

      But as Star Trek message shows go, "Chosen Realm" is ultimately a mediocre

      Next week: Shran and the Andorians are back, claiming they want to help
      Archer in his mission.

      Copyright 2004 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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