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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Harbinger"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: Glib characters, glib plot, glib everything. Plot description: En route to the colony where the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: Glib characters, glib plot, glib everything.

      Plot description: En route to the colony where the Xindi weapon is being
      constructed, the crew retrieves a mysterious alien from a strange vicinity
      of space.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Harbinger"

      Airdate: 2/11/2004 (USA)
      Teleplay by Manny Coto
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by David Livingston

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

      "The last thing I need is to hear that two of my senior officers have been
      admitted to sickbay because they suddenly regressed to the level of
      five-year-olds!"
      "Captain--"
      "Don't try to tell me who started it!"
      -- Archer, Reed
      -----

      "Harbinger" is like Star Trek for the Instant Gratification Generation.
      Watch it and maybe be amused by the crazy and goofy and silly things
      happening on the screen, but certainly do not to give them a moment's
      thought. Scratch the surface and there's a void beneath. Or endless cliches,
      maybe.

      In a disposable pop-culture society for people with terminal ADD,
      "Harbinger" is perhaps the Star Trek outing we deserve. It features trashy
      and superficially amusing character-based antics, and a general commitment
      to exploring the Xindi arc (albeit in its mostly nonsensical way). It has
      these things, but that's not to say it makes any sense of them.

      The show is like the ultimate passive-aggressive pissing contest that's just
      waiting to turn active-aggressive -- and then does.

      What can you say about an episode where two characters have sex that is
      apparently so meaningless as to be inexplicable, while two other characters
      beat the living crap out of each other in a scene that looks like it belongs
      in "48 Hrs."?

      One diagnosis could be that Enterprise has officially jumped the shark.
      Another could be that this was intended as silly fun gone over the top. I
      will do my best to argue some form of a middle ground, since the actors
      somehow manage not to embarrass themselves in this material.

      In Character Situation #1 (situation, not story), we have Lt. Reed and Major
      Hayes in an escalating conflict over the administration of the training
      regimen for the Starfleet personnel. Reed feels threatened by what he
      perceives as Hayes encroaching on his turf. A pissing contest ensues that is
      fueled by an ever-increasing level of testosterone and posturing. Reed,
      frankly, asks for it. Hayes is juvenile enough to take the bait. It all
      leads to a scene where the two pummel each other with the gloves off,
      literally.

      As male posturing for the "Fight Club" generation (I happen to love "Fight
      Club," by the way), this is kind of fun, and features some superb stunt
      coordination -- but is really, reeeeeally dumb. At least "Fight Club" knew
      it was ridiculous and had Intelligent Percolating Irony. Reed and Hayes, by
      contrast, are written like walking alpha male cliches. What does this add up
      to? Not much. It allows for an admittedly satisfying scene where Captain
      Archer reads them the riot act for their teenage-level behavior. Good for
      him. (The storyline is shallow but scores some points, I guess, for
      histrionics and general mayhem.)

      In Character Situation #2, we have a Love Triangle [TM]. Actually not,
      because there's nothing remotely so meaningful brewing here as love. No, we
      have a Would-Be Sex Triangle, with the vertices being Trip, T'Pol, and MACO
      Cpl. Amanda Cole (Noa Tishby). Trip has taken to giving Vulcan
      neuro-pressure to Amanda, which drives T'Pol into some form of Vulcan
      jealousy, which turns her into the ultimate passive-aggressive
      personality -- one who claims to be above the kind of behavior she is
      obviously engaging in.

      Since neuro-pressure is a Vulcan discipline Trip isn't skilled enough at
      performing, T'Pol insists on taking over the sessions with Amanda (to "undo
      the damage"), which she uses as a feeler to gauge Amanda's feelings for
      Trip. It turns out that Trip and Amanda have some things in common, like
      both being raised in Florida, etc. Certainly they have more in common than
      Trip and T'Pol do.

      My thinking is that Amanda and T'Pol should've just duked it out, winner
      gets Trip. You see, that way we'd have had plot parallelism with the
      Reed/Hayes story -- I mean, situation. In such an event, my money's on
      Amanda, because she's pretty athletic-looking. Catfight time!

      No such luck. Instead we get T'Pol turned into a muted passive-aggressive
      that is superbly performed by Jolene Blalock, but absolutely a wrongheaded
      characterization as written. Do we really want to see a Vulcan reduced to
      such shallow jealousy and such calculated, subtle verbal assaults, no matter
      how coolly delivered?

      Consider the scene where T'Pol asks Amanda about her interest in Trip. T'Pol
      essentially then uses this information to beat Amanda to the punch. One is
      tempted to wonder what Amanda might feel about such a violation of trust
      perpetrated by the ship's first officer, no less. Not to worry: The writers
      promptly discard Amanda as a character immediately after this scene, since
      she's served her purpose as a catalyst.

      And consider the scene where T'Pol makes the first move on Trip. It's a
      complete and utter contrivance, with no basis in human or Vulcan behavior.
      It has a basis only in sitcom one-liners. The tit-for-tat dialog between
      Trip and T'Pol may sound clever (or, more likely, corny), but it has zero
      psychological believability. They're like two pawns in a game of amusement
      for and by the writers. What is this supposed to be about? The writers are
      clueless. It's about *only* the fact that it happens, and not *why* it
      happens. If that's enough for you, then enjoy. Personally, I think it's BS.

      The next day, T'Pol dispassionately writes the whole thing off as a Vulcan
      lab experiment in human sexuality, something that's been on her list of
      things to try ever since resigning from the High Command. Uh-huh. (I wonder
      what else is on the list. Maybe "Get a tattoo.") All things considered, Trip
      takes it pretty well. If it were me, she'd have just lit a powder keg.

      In the past I've asked for risk-taking. I've asked for characters that have
      sex rather than engage in lame TV pseudo-sex. One could say "Harbinger" is
      the end result I deserve. But no, because "Harbinger" is reckless at the
      expense of all credibility. You can tell the writers didn't take any of this
      remotely seriously and aren't really expecting us to, either. It's the very
      definition of a glib payoff, delivered with a smirk.

      Anyway. I'd better get to the sci-fi plot here. It involves an alien found
      in a gravimetric field (or something) that looks like a growing expanse of
      bubble gum. The plot provides some interest by explaining that the field
      lies equidistant from five spheres. An alien with weird sci-fi properties is
      found in a small pod just inside the sci-fi field. Archer pulls the pod out;
      the Enterprise is nearly swallowed in the process.

      Given everything else that has happened in the Delphic Expanse, I must
      question the wisdom of Archer stopping to pull an unknown sci-fi alien out
      of a dangerous sci-fi field to ask a bunch of questions with no apparent
      sci-fi answers. Never mind the ethical issues of his interference; is it
      really worth the *risk* when you're already on course for the red giant
      where the Xindi weapon is supposedly being built?

      Of course the alien gets loose and threatens the ship with destruction.
      "He's disrupting systems as he goes. We can use that to track him." Yeah,
      sort of like tracking a tornado by watching the damage path! The alien,
      which looks kind of like a Suliban, finally tells Archer, with an evil
      smile, "When the Xindi destroy Earth, my people will prevail!" Then he
      vanishes to Never-Never Land or into the Temporal Cold War
      timeline/continuum or who-knows-where. Your guess is as good as mine.

      The problem with this aspect of "Harbinger" is that ... well, the Xindi arc
      already has too many friggin' harbingers. Everything is a harbinger that
      keeps us in the dark while portending ominous doom. There's only so far you
      can go with pseudo-clues before the audience begins demanding answers. To be
      fair, there are nods to continuity here -- the spheres, as I mentioned --
      but too much of the Xindi arc is based on facts in an incomprehensible void.
      Maybe I'm wrong and this will eventually make sense. One can hope. But for
      now I'm not particularly impressed, because anything can happen, there are
      no rules, and none of it has a need to matter. The alien here doesn't obey
      the laws of physics. Unfortunately, I have no idea why that is and, more
      importantly, I don't much care.

      There's a reason I quit watching "The X-Files," which was its general
      tendency to exist as a series that pretended the whole plot was only one or
      two or maybe 17 twists away from almost making half-sense.

      "Harbinger" is not boring, but at what cost to logic or understanding or
      characterization or plausibility or any sense that anything happens for a
      reason beyond the purely random assembly of characters and facts and
      behavior patterns and plot pieces?

      Argh.

      --
      Next week: The fate of the ship lies in Phlox's hands.

      -----
      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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