The Breach

From: tlynch@alumnae.caltech.edu (Timothy W. Lynch)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.startrek.reviews,rec.arts.startrek.current,rec.arts.sf.tv
Subject: [ENT] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "The Breach"
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Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 22:31:29 +0000 (UTC)
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Keywords: ENT, Phlox, rock climbing, AAIEE!
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WARNING: Although this is a review of ENT's "The Breach", I refuse to use the obvious pun in the spoiler warning, Shakespearean or no.

In brief: The character plot: good. The "jeopardy" plot: not so great.

"The Breach"
Enterprise Season 2, Episode 21
Teleplay by Chris Black & John Shiban
Story by Daniel McCarthy
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Brief summary: While Trip, Reed, and Mayweather must travel through treacherous caves in order to find some lost Denobulans, Phlox finds himself facing a patient with a long-standing grudge against Phlox's own race.

"The Breach" is another oddly mixed bag.  Half of it is a story which
both lives up to the title and is a very well-performed character piece,
if a little on the predictable side.  The other half, however, seems to be
an exercise in ... well, in exercise, specifically rock climbing for most
of its strapping young male characters.

Both of them are spurred on by the same initial crisis: a somewhat nearby planet has just had a change of government, and the new regime is strongly xenophobic. They've given all off-worlders just a few days to leave before facing arrest and imprisonment (if not worse). A group of Denobulan geologists is working in some of that world's caverns (apparently a geological treasure trove), and they're out of communication. As Enterprise is the only friendly ship close enough to have a chance of pulling them out, Phlox asks Archer to do so on Denobula's behalf, and he agrees.

That's the A-plot, and unfortunately the premise above sums up pretty much all the interesting bits. It's plausible enough (even the idea of the scientists being foolish enough to stay out of communications range for weeks at a time ... I can't say that I know anyone personally in the scientific community who's quite that single-minded, but I know a few for whom it wouldn't be *that* much of a stretch), but the remainder of the storyline isn't really filled with psychological tension so much as tension in cables. Travis, Reed, and Trip head down into the caverns with lots of rock climbing gear, and most of the episode deals with the problems they face as they climb down in search of the scientists.

More than anything, the climbing half of the episode seems designed far more to show off the fact that Enterprise has a large per-episode budget than to show any adventure. I had the distinct sense that I was supposed to be marveling at how much climbing they were actually able to show -- a la "look, we're whizzes with set design!" If that's what keeps your interest, fine, more power to you -- but it all felt a bit sterile to me.

It didn't help that our putative expert, Travis Mayweather, was not exactly a model of good planning himself. When the other two need a break, he goes on ahead, but with no emergency plan in place in case something happens while he's the only one on the cliff. Similarly, the big accident that injures Travis and nearly kills all of them seems due far more to lousy forethought than to bad luck -- you're climbing down with two inexperienced people, the cliff face is fairly steep, and you only think to lock on *after* Reed says it's getting even steeper? Not bright there, Travis my boy. (As with other lapses on other characters' part, I don't mind the mistake, as everyone can make them. I object to no one seeing it as a lapse in judgment.) As such, during the big "everyone slides down the cliff face screaming" scene I was alternately laughing and groaning, not glued to my seat with concern and interest.

Fortunately, I was far more interested in the show's B-plot. While in orbit, the Enterprise comes to the aid of a crippled transport filled with off-worlders escaping for home. Phlox is keeping very busy in sickbay, until one particular patient is brought in. He sees that patient, and all but freezes -- he comes out of it quickly, but it's clear that he's shaken. Not much later, we discover why: the patient, Hudak, is an Antaran, whose species has fought several wars with the Denobulans, and the bitterness is still so strong that he would rather die rather than be treated by Phlox.

There's one basic plausibility question you need to overlook at this point, that being "Phlox has a staff, so can't one of THEM perform the cellular whatchamahoozit procedure?" Once you get past that, however, the story plays as very real and very personal for Phlox. He's not comfortable with Hudak's refusing treatment, but he understands it -- he heard enough horror stories about Antarans growing up that he's not entirely comfortable himself being around Hudak. Just as importantly, his medical ethics don't allow him to treat Hudak without his consent, and as such he feels there's nothing he can do about the situation.

That, of course, doesn't sit well with Archer, who explicitly orders Phlox to treat him. When Phlox refuses to do so without consent, Archer attempts to work the problem from the other side, talking to Hudak and trying to convince him that Phlox isn't the monster Hudak makes him out to be. Hudak, while respectful enough of Archer, will have none of it -- he cites millions of Antaran casualties and implies that many Denobulan doctors are somewhat less than innocent of atrocities themselves. To his credit, Archer doesn't try to argue that Hudak's view of the past is wrong (although frankly I wouldn't have been surprised if he had), but instead just tells him, "the Denobulans you're describing are not the people I've met. Don't sacrifice your life based on a preconception."

Preconceptions are really at the heart of this part of "The Breach," on both sides. The Denobulan-Antaran wars are long gone, but the bitterness remains, mostly because no one has ever tried to bridge the gap: Phlox and Hudak's meeting is the first Denobulan/Antaran meeting for each of them. At Archer's urging, Phlox attempts to reach out a bit -- but his attempt to find common ground in Hudak's scientific investigations utterly fails. I'm not surprised it fell flat, given the story, but I appreciated the fact that John Billingsley made the small talk so half-hearted that it was bound to. Phlox is himself a somewhat reluctant peacemaker here, and it doesn't take long for Hudak to bring some of Phlox's own grudges to the surface: in a rare burst of rage, Phlox accuses the Antarans of being the ones who've kept the enmity alive all this time, then storms out of his own sickbay.

More than anything, this show's very much an actor's story. There's not a lot of novelty here -- it's not that much of a surprise that both sides have ill will, for instance, and "judge people as themselves rather than preconceptions" is not exactly a shocking message to be sending either. What sells the story in this case is the acting: both Billingsley and Henry Stram (Hudak) give sufficiently compelling performances that their anger and grief feel quite real. (Billingsley has precisely one false note, that being his fit of rage: as was true earlier in the season, he smolders much better than he flames. The rest is golden.)

On the writing side, I also appreciated the manner in which Phlox does eventually break through. I'm not surprised he eventually succeeded, but it wasn't without facing a minor demon or two of his own. During a conversation with T'Pol, Phlox talks about his grandmother, who felt than Antarans could soil a planet just by having lived on it once, and how he took his own children to such a planet later in life to show them that it wasn't so. When T'Pol notes that Phlox's kids were "fortunate to have a father who taught them to embrace other cultures," however, Phlox gets more choked up than I think we've seen him in the entire series: he says almost under his breath, "I certainly tried," then refuses to say any more on the subject.

As he later tells Hudak, one of his children still buys into "archaic" attitudes about Antarans, and that bigotry has kept him and Phlox apart for many years. He tells Hudak that he knows what Metis would think about this conversation: "He would be happy to have me grant your request and let you die -- but that is not the example I tried to set for my children." Why not live, he asks -- and serve as an example for his own?

Under a lot of circumstances, it might well feel like a cheat to have Phlox's big problem be not a flaw in his own character, but in his son's -- but there's a lot of raw emotion in all the scenes which involve Phlox remembering Metis, enough so to make it feel as though Phlox has suffered greatly for this success. It's not scripting that's so good as to be actor-proof, but it *is* taking full advantage of your performers' strengths -- and that's just as important many times.

The strength of the Phlox scenes, unfortunately, stands in sharp contrast to a lot of the truly dreadful performances on display in the rest of the "rescue the scientists" sequence. After Travis is injured, Trip and Reed eventually find the group, who naturally enough refuse to leave their work behind, insisting that they'll be fine. Trip blusters and threatens, telling them that he'll stun 'em and carry them out by hand if he has to -- and eventually they acquiesce, no doubt to shut him up as much as anything else.

In part, I'm not thrilled with this scene because Trip is yet again doing the standard Enterprise trick of "we get to impose our will on you no matter what your wishes are." While that aligns with Archer's desire to simply treat Hudak regardless of consent, it also makes 22nd- century humans come off as arrogant and obnoxious rather than as protagonists worth cheering on and coming back for. In fairness, however, the main dislike I had of this particular bit is that the three Denobulans are *terrible* -- and those thin performances simply play up the thinness of that entire half of the episode. Ugh.

Other notes:

-- If Travis is the one with climbing experience, I completely understand sending him down, and you can probably make an argument for Reed that involves security reasons if the government gets even worse. But why send Trip? There are not likely to be many warp coils several hundred meters below ground, and I'd be surprised if you couldn't find at least *one* other person on board with extensive climbing experience. I understand the production need to involve all the actors, but it'd be nice to at least pretend there's an on- screen reason as well.

-- Those shoulder-mounted lights that the climbers had may not be overly practical, but they certainly look stylish. (The main practical problem, of course, is that they only help you if you're facing forwards -- if you face to the side, you can't see without turning your whole body.)

-- This makes the second time in a year that Travis has hurt himself rock climbing. I'd look for a new hobby.

-- I do have a minor problem with Phlox's attitude being cast as something utterly alien and foreign to Archer. Despite the implications of Phlox's "Hippocrates wasn't Denobulan," the Hippocratic oath says nothing about forcing doctors to treat an unwilling patient: in fact, if anything it sides with Phlox on the subject. I don't particularly like the image of a society where a doctor could do anything he/she wants to me whether I want it or not, and if I thought the writers were making an honest statement here it would worry me that they think such a society would be a good thing. I suspect, however, that it's just a minor detail not being thought through -- whether Phlox's attitude is unique to Denobulans or not is certainly incidental to the story.

-- Speaking of Archer, wouldn't Starfleet have something to say about his willingness to start a war without checking with *anyone*? He's not even conducting Earth business at the time, but doing the Denobulan government a favor. But of course, yet again it's all fine ... because humans know best. (I'd like to suspect he was bluffing and hoping that it'd be enough, but that's more wishful thinking than it is on-screen evidence.)

-- There's a cute bit of business in the teaser where we find out that Phlox is well acquainted with tribbles. It's a throwaway gag, but it works well enough -- and I do like the horror-stricken look on Hoshi's face when Phlox uses the tribble as food for his own pets.

-- Was there a reason for the Denobulans to be able to climb without gear other than goofy CGI?

That should do it. "The Breach" is a bit split-personality. The Phlox storyline is a bit low-key at times and not all that novel, but it's a very solid piece of drama. The caving storyline is pretty dull, however, and given about as much screen time as Phlox is. I keep hoping for more stories on the level of "Judgment" (or "Dead Stop" if you want something more action-oriented), but for the most part split- personality middle-of-the-road shows seem to be about where we are.

So, summing up:

OVERALL: There's enough strength in the Phlox/Hudak stuff to make this a 7, I think, but it's a near thing.

NEXT: And now for something completely different: a race with three buttocks ... er, *genders*.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu	<*>
"You wanted to know what my children would think if they were here
now.  I can tell you what Metis would think.  He would be happy to
have me grant your request, and let you die -- but that is not the
example I tried to set for my children.  Why not live -- and set an
example for yours?"
			-- Phlox
Copyright 2003, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
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-----

Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sun Aug 26 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28