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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "The Augments"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: An unremarkable finale to a trilogy with more potential than the writers end up tapping. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: An unremarkable finale to a trilogy with more potential than the
      writers end up tapping.

      Plot description: As disagreements drive a wedge between Soong and Malik,
      the Enterprise must stop the Augments from launching an attack that could
      incite a war with the Klingons.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "The Augments"

      Airdate: 11/12/2004 (USA)
      Written by Mike Sussman
      Directed by LeVar Burton

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "How long can we sustain warp 5?"
      "As long as the captain wants it. Or until we blow up -- whichever comes
      first."
      -- Soong, Trip
      -----

      The problem with "The Augments" is the Augments. They just don't seem very
      bright. More specifically, their leader, Malik, doesn't seem very bright,
      and the rest of them are supplied no screen time, so they become faceless
      lemmings willing to follow Malik over a very obvious cliff. As Kirk once
      said, I'm laughing at the superior intellect.

      The lone exception is Persis, who has a conscience and is smart enough to
      think on her own, but not smart enough to stage her own power play by
      killing Malik and taking command over the other Augments. Based on what we
      see of the Augments, there's little reason to believe that they wouldn't be
      willing to follow Persis as blindly as they follow Malik.

      And that's the problem. The crux of the story is reduced to an unremarkable
      three-character power struggle that is supposed to be a microcosm for the
      trouble that comes with genetically engineered super-humans, but comes
      across instead as overly bland and tidy drama. On one hand we have Malik,
      the crazed lunatic who's willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. On
      the other hand we have Soong, who wants only to save his "children" and
      teach them right from wrong. And in the middle we have Persis, who wants to
      come to the right decision and do the right thing, but doesn't have the
      prudence to be proactive about it.

      Meanwhile, the Enterprise desperately hunts the Augments' Bird of Prey in
      order to supply the plot with the timeless story device of The Chase.

      All of the characters are wearing blinders in their own way (and in the case
      of Soong, that's the point), but the big problem is that Malik simply seems
      too stupid. He lashes out and is quick to look for the violent solution to a
      given problem. This is very obviously going to be his own undoing, but he's
      too blind to see that. When Soong suggests that the Augments lay low in the
      Briar Patch so Soong can birth the other Augment embryos, Malik suggests an
      alternative plan: launch a bio-attack on a Klingon colony that will kill
      millions of Klingons. His logic: Since humans will be to blame, the Klingons
      will launch a counterattack on Earth that will "keep Starfleet busy for
      years." In the meantime, the Augments will be safe from the Klingons and
      Starfleet.

      Please. I for one don't buy it -- not unless Starfleet and the Klingons are
      both equally as stupid as Malik's plan ... which I guess is what the script
      is betting on. In reality, both the Klingons and Starfleet, even *if* they
      went to war (which, by the way, is a completely contrived scenario on the
      plot's behalf), are still going to be looking for *the people who actually
      did it*.

      There was a reason Khan gave in to his emotions and threw logic and
      intelligence out the window: because it was personal. He was obsessed with
      Kirk and wanted to get even, period. Malik doesn't have that excuse, and his
      argument that his plan is the best chance of ensuring the Augments' survival
      is pure idiocy.

      Meanwhile, I kept waiting for Soong to just get it over with and throw Malik
      into a holding cell. Time after time, Malik disobeys Soong, and time after
      time, Soong lets him off with a sternly worded warning. It's obvious to
      everyone in the audience that Malik's power play is imminent, and yet Soong
      sits back and lets it happen. Part of this is admittedly the point; indeed,
      it's the arc of Soong's character -- he doesn't let himself believe Malik
      will actually take things to such extremes. But with all the warning signs,
      you'd think Soong would put his foot down once Malik starts whispering plans
      to murder millions of Klingons in order to incite a war that will kill still
      millions more.

      Eventually, Soong is thrown into a cell, with all the Augments backing Malik
      except Persis, who pretends to go along with Malik long enough to break
      Soong out of the cell and get him off the ship in an escape pod. The
      Enterprise finds and retrieves the pod, at which point Soong explains to
      Archer the details of Malik's deadly plan, which the Enterprise must now
      prevent, upping the ante in The Chase. In the midst of The Chase through
      Klingon space, the Enterprise runs into some Klingon patrols. One of these
      encounters ends with a rather weak con by Archer that shouldn't be fooling
      anybody; perhaps, based on this gullibility, the Klingons really *are* dumb
      enough to launch a war on Earth if the Augments destroy one of their
      colonies. In another showdown, Soong tries to reason with the Klingons by
      speaking in Klingon. I like how he speaks Klingon in an American accent. ("I
      tried," he says. Reminded me of high school Spanish class, where some of my
      classmates would use American pronunciation that bordered on laughable.)

      Back aboard the Augments' Bird of Prey, Malik suspects Persis of letting
      Soong out of the holding cell. But of course he should. The question is why
      Persis didn't anticipate Malik's suspicions and kill him right away, before
      he even knew Soong had been freed. Surely she had to know Malik would
      suspect her and probably kill her. If any of these characters were as smart
      as they're supposed to be, we wouldn't have to sit through so many
      transparently inevitable scenes. The scene in Malik's quarters that
      escalates from lazy pillow talk to Persis' death is one of those where you
      know simply from the demands of the script who must live and who must die,
      and yet the story goes through the motions as if there were actually any
      question about it.

      The actors do their best. The always reliable Brent Spiner delivers a good
      performance under the circumstances, considering he has to convince us that
      he never saw any of this coming. Abby Brammell is effective as Persis, able
      to look hard-edged in some scenes and vulnerable in others. Her scenes with
      Soong in particular reveal a humanity that is refreshing after all of
      Malik's annoying posturing. Alec Newman convincingly creates a character in
      Malik we dislike because of his arrogance; too bad that the overall dynamics
      aren't more interesting.

      The episode has some nice cross-references with the other Trek outings. My
      favorite is the way Malik, after the Enterprise's attack on his ship,
      stumbles out from under the rubble and confronts a control panel. The
      writers and director LeVar Burton successfully cite Khan's similar emergence
      from the rubble on the bridge of the Reliant; they do this using only visual
      cues.

      But the story ultimately fails to draw us in or understand the plight of the
      Augments. By making the show completely about Malik and his madness, we
      don't understand what motivates everyone else. And Soong's arc, while
      expected, doesn't have enough of the right notes of regret. The episode ends
      on a note of forced whimsy, in which he decides that cybernetics are the
      direction he should now apply his brilliant mind. (This, of course, explains
      how future generations of Soong will eventually invent Data.)

      Perhaps this story was simply content to show absolute power corrupting
      absolutely. Unfortunately, aside from Persis, none of the Augments stop to
      think about what they're doing or why, and the story of Malik is content to
      blandly repeat the story of Khan, but without the crucial personal motivator
      of revenge. I think the writers owed the material more than this.

      --
      Next week: A three-part story takes us deep into Vulcan culture.

      -----
      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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