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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Borderland"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: Reasonably diverting, but it seems more like an easily discarded prologue than necessary
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: Reasonably diverting, but it seems more like an easily discarded
      prologue than necessary storytelling.

      Plot description: Captain Archer recruits Dr. Arik Soong -- a biologist sent
      to prison for birthing frozen embryos left over from the Eugenics Wars -- to
      help the Enterprise track down these genetically enhanced humans, now grown,
      who have incited tensions with the Klingons.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Borderland"

      Airdate: 10/29/2004 (USA)
      Written by Ken LaZebnik
      Directed by David Livingston

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

      "Jonathan Archer. What brings you here? They naming the prison after
      you?" -- Soong
      -----

      Sometimes I get painted into a corner with my star ratings, which seems to
      be the case with "Borderland," an episode I liked more than either of the
      "Storm Front" installments but which nevertheless feels sort of ...
      unnecessary. The episode is the first part of a three-episode storyline, and
      when it comes down to it, much of what happens here is incidental rather
      than crucial.

      That's not really a huge problem so much as an observation. This is a safe,
      brisk-paced, not-bad hour of Star Trek that invokes some fun classic-Trek
      references. But your brain is not going to break a sweat. Given the
      ethical/controversial underpinnings of the story -- centuries-later
      consequences from the Eugenics Wars -- that's kind of too bad. (But, yes, I
      know: There are still two more episodes in this arc to sort that out.)

      A small band of genetically enhanced humans takes over a Klingon ship. They
      have fight moves that might give Jackie Chan second thoughts, and they
      easily overpower the Klingon crew. As it happens, I watched TOS's "Space
      Seed" on DVD just last week, and these guys put Khan's fighting abilities to
      shame. (Stunt coordination and editing have come a long way. Then again,
      they'd better have, seeing as it's been nearly four decades.) The most
      puzzling aspect of this sequence is why J.G. Hertzler is cast as the
      commander of the Klingon ship in what is a complete throwaway role; he's
      killed before the opening titles.

      This deadly hijacking is an outrage that makes the Klingons Real Mad, to the
      point that, apparently, This Means War between Starfleet and the Klingon
      Empire. Archer is ordered to take the Enterprise and find the genetically
      enhanced humans (called "Augments") and bring them back to Earth. Why such
      an isolated criminal incident is impetus for the Klingons threatening
      all-out war is not a plot point that I really understand ... nor is why
      Starfleet thinks they can avert such a war merely by recapturing the
      Augments.

      Archer enlists the help of Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner), a brilliant
      biologist who has been incarcerated for the past 10 years because he stole
      19 Augment embryos from cold storage at a top-secret Starfleet research
      facility where he worked. The facility holds a stockpile of embryos left
      over from the Eugenics Wars.

      Soong saw the 19 stolen embryos through to birth, and then raised the
      children as his own until about the age of 10, around when he was caught and
      sent to prison. The children escaped and have been in hiding, until now --
      grown up, hijacking ships, and turning pretty much into terrorists with
      delusions of grandeur.

      Soong knows the territory of space where he believes his "children" might be
      roaming: a region where the Klingons regularly butt heads with the Orion
      Syndicate and their slave trade. The area is called the "Borderland," which
      sounds suspiciously like "Neutral Zone." The Enterprise has barely entered
      the Borderland when they are attacked by Orion slavers and nine members the
      Enterprise crew are kidnapped from the ship and promptly put up for slave
      auction on a nearby merchant world.

      With Soong as his guide, Archer beams down to retrieve the missing crew
      members. This leads to one of the show's most intriguing scenes, where we
      see an Orion slave auction. Rather than going for the obviousness of
      barbaric shouts and grunts and noise, the creators depict the auction in an
      almost geeky, worker-bee sort of way: There's the sight of dozens of slave
      buyers punching buttons on their data pads, while an electronic screen runs
      up tallies. It's one of the quirkier things I've seen on this series in a
      while.

      Indeed, I like the whole notion of the slave trade being played for its
      quirks and goofiness rather than more harrowing qualities. In a scene where
      T'Pol goes up for auction, a massive Orion played by WWE star Big Show lifts
      her up like a slab of beef for all the crowd to see. He then shakes her up a
      bit, satisfied with the price she has brought in. Later, all the doors on
      the prisoner cages become unlocked, resulting in a chaotic uprising. Soong
      attempts to escape in the confusion, which ends with a clever action gag
      involving his magnetic handcuffs and the on/off remote that Archer uses to
      control them.

      Much of which, you see, is irrelevant to the big picture involving Soong and
      the Augments. Fans will like the Orion Syndicate references, but those
      looking for story might be ready to get on with more substantive fare.

      The Augments themselves are something of a frustration, because the writers
      are mostly content to have them engage in the usual cliches of characters
      who are indignant because of their superiority. Here are people who are
      stronger, faster, smarter, and they know it. I'm not so sure about the
      smarter part -- at least not when it comes to common sense and assessing
      human nature. I guess unlimited hubris is an inevitable byproduct of genetic
      superiority. It's hard to get a feel for what the Augments think about their
      situation, because the background of Soong's teachings and philosophy are
      not completely clear, and the story is content to let the pack follow one
      predator.

      The predator, by the way, is Malik (Alec Newman), a Khan-like figure,
      power-drunk, but lacking the Khan-like charisma. There's a power struggle
      going on between Malik and Raakin (Joel West), who is the leader at the
      beginning of the episode but most definitely not by the end. In between them
      is Persis (Abby Brammell), who seems to support one, and then the other; she
      has a skill for manipulation and deception. Alas, these dynamics aren't
      interesting enough to transcend the overall shallowness of these characters.

      Fortunately, we do have Soong, who ends up escaping with the Augments on the
      Klingon ship. Soong -- well played by Spiner as a mix of canny instincts,
      human sympathy (he does, after all, have a sincere love for his children),
      and a mildly smug sense of humor -- keeps this storyline alive.

      Hopefully we'll get a better idea of what makes him and the Augments tick
      before this is all over.

      --
      Next week: Soong and his children attempt to release the rest of the
      Augments.

      -----
      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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