[Yep, still late. A review of "Nemesis" will be along. Eventually. Perhaps even this weekend. Perhaps not. Time will tell. It always does. -- TWL]
WARNING: There is no truth to the rumor that spoilers for ENT's "The Catwalk" are protected by a horde of pouting supermodels.
In brief: A welcome uptick. "The Catwalk" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 12 Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong Directed by Mike Vejar
Brief summary: With the approach of a neutronic storm, the Enterprise crew is forced to take refuge in a maintenance shaft running along one nacelle.
After the last few episodes -- "Singularity," "Vanishing Point," and the illness-inducing "Precious Cargo," "The Catwalk" came as a great relief. There's no shortage of things I could point to and pick at, and in some cases I will ... but for the most part, "The Catwalk" stuck with fairly bare-bones aims and achieved them fairly well.
For starters, while the premise involved a bit of the usual technobabble hand-waving -- in this case, a "neutronic wavefront" bearing down on the ship -- it was basically used to set up a problem rather than existing as the sole problem itself. For the most part, the means used to stuff the crew in a cramped location for a week is somewhat unimportant to the drama, as long as it's at least vaguely plausible -- and writers Sussman and Strong took enough care in setting up the problem that I was more than willing to go along.
Of course, it helped that for once, there was a minor dose of *real* science as well. The "catwalk" in question, a maintenance shaft running along the warp nacelles, is apparently surrounded by an osmium alloy. Osmium, unlike most things mentioned in Trek these days, is a real element, and an awfully dense one to boot -- so it's not a bad choice for shielding material at all. It wasn't a big deal, but it's nice when the show does in fact take the few extra minutes to get something plausible- sounding. (It certainly made up for the "radiolytic isotopes" mentioned a sentence later...)
Even the care taken to set up the problem is meaningless, however, if the problem doesn't in and of itself lead to interesting material. For the most part, "The Catwalk" had elements that could appeal both to those watching for character moments and to those watching for pure adventure.
One example on the character level is that so far it appears that Sussman & Strong may be the only writing team particularly interested in using Travis Mayweather. He played a significant (albeit semi-dead) role in "Dead Stop," the team's other episode this season, and here he's the only person who's had experience with neutronic storms. His brief mention of it to Trip, and his rather somber reverie about his father realizing "we were in trouble" when things got bad, did a little something to make the storm seem more real, and a great deal to make Travis a bit more than an extension of the pilot's seat. Kudos.
I also appreciated that once the initial "everyone packs up and moves to the catwalk" migration was over and done with, the crew had very realistic, down-to-Earth problems both physical and emotional. Hoshi gets claustrophobic, Reed a bit motion sick. A nameless ensign works on crossword puzzles, some of the regulars play poker using desserts as stakes, and Archer tries to watch some water polo when he's off duty. If nothing else, "The Catwalk" had more natural behavior from the crew than I think we've seen in many a week -- and that helps a lot. (More episode like this are what's needed to make out-of-character behavior like that shown in "Singularity" even vaguely reasonable.)
There were a couple of things here and there that felt forced or unnecessary, though. Two of those items have to deal with the Vulcan ship that faced a similar storm a century ago and was ripped apart. On the technical side, it stretches credibility a bit to say that a storm which ripped a Vulcan ship apart is something this poor Earth ship can handle with just a little polarized hull plating. Far better to say that a Vulcan or Andorian ship could weather it fine, but we can't. On a character level, it seems a bit mystifying that T'Pol doesn't tell the truth about the ship's fate until Archer digs, especially since getting the true story is an obvious step for him to take and apparently trivial to do. Why reduce your own credibility by lying? This wouldn't have been a problem were it actually put to some good purpose, but T'Pol's white lie is brought up and then abandoned. Why bother?
The "adventure" side of the story involves the three aliens who initially warned Archer of the storm in the first place. They're aboard Enterprise to ride out the storm, and clearly lying a bit about what they do. Halfway through the episode, we find out why -- when Trip's mission to engineering to shut down an injector leads him to discover that Enterprise has been boarded.
This is one case where watching the previews was a distinctly mixed bag. On the one hand, I think Trip's discovery would have made for a far creepier scene had it not been made clear in the preview that Enterprise was going to be boarded by a hostile force at some point. (The music during his trip to and from engineering was far more effective than much of this season's music has been, for one thing.) On the other, given the preview I'd also been expecting almost from the outset that the aliens warned the Enterprise merely to sucker them into an ambush, rather than being, for the most part, truthful.
The truth, in this case, is that the three we'd seen earlier were deserters from the Tacrit Militia, a brutal quasi-military force which basically acts as pirates in this particular region, commandeering ships and taking what they can while slaughtering crews. The Militia wasn't looking for Enterprise in particular -- they were looking for their people, and detected the deserters' ship in the Enterprise launch bay. Not overwhelmingly original, perhaps, but decent enough.
Thus, Archer and company need to reclaim the ship at this point, with two very significant problems getting in the way. First, they're still in the neutronic storm, which means that even with EVA suits (of which they have three) they can only be outside the catwalk for 22 minutes -- and second, the bad guys have just started reactivating the warp drive, which will basically heat the crew up well past the boiling point in 20 minutes or so. There's not much time for strategic planning, which makes me as a viewer more willing to overlook logic gaps in the plan they come up with -- if you've only got a little bit of time to think things out, your plan clearly won't be idiot-proof.
That said, a few facets of the plan struck me as questionable. Sending T'Pol and Reed out to shut down the warp reactor is both fine and necessary, and I suppose it's reasonable in some way to send out Archer to create a diversion and keep attention away from Reed and T'Pol. Is there some reason why Archer had to contact the bridge, though? Don't say that he needed to make his threats known -- it was Travis's piloting that eventually drove the Tacrit off, not Archer's fearsome nature. I can't imagine that the gains he got from telling the Tacrit captain he was on board and prepared to destroy the ship would outweigh the losses he'd sustain by giving away his presence *and his location*. One lucky shot and he'd never live to see if he got the ship back. (Or worse -- if he'd even been stunned in the firefight, he couldn't have told Travis that "our friends are gone," and Enterprise would have wound up toasted for no good reason at all.) I think it's possible to put together logical reasons for Archer's side of things, but I also think the presentation didn't quite suggest them.
Archer's tone of voice during his confrontation was even stranger. Were these soldiers really more likely to be cowed by someone coming across as panting and semi-frantic rather than an implacable "Yes, I'm still here, you bastards, and I'm doing something about you as we speak"? The dialogue itself was fine, but I think the delivery was questionable -- whether that was a choice by Scott Bakula or director Mike Vejar, it's not one I'd have made.
All in all, however, the plan worked well enough. The time pressure was multifaceted and "real" enough that the tension seemed entirely legitimate -- okay, there's not much suspense in how it's going to turn out given the constraints of television, but that's as may be.
Some other minor points of note:
-- Just last week, I griped about the decon chamber only being used when it was convenient for showing skin. This time, at least, there's some sense that it's a necessary facet to bringing visitors on board. Good.
-- Another character point that worked well was Phlox's general ease in his cramped environment. "Reminds me of home," indeed.
-- Good Continuity Alert: T'Pol mentions the "kahs-wan" ritual she went through -- which is a long-standing tradition by the time Spock goes through it later. Coolness. (An even smaller touch is that T'Pol, the one from the hotter planet, has a blanket when sleeping where Archer doesn't. Me like.)
-- I could swear Trip said that the catwalk runs down *each* nacelle, which makes me wonder why it seems everyone's in a single corridor rather than two separate ones. Wouldn't that pretty much double the usable space? (There are plenty of easy explanations for this; I'm just curious.)
-- Obligatory MST: when T'Pol protests that "I am not skilled at fraternizing," it was almost impossible not to have Archer respond, "that's not what I heard last time I was in decon." (When Trip invites T'Pol to "movie night every Tuesday" at the end of the episode, I also added, "or if you want, Wednesdays are strip poker...")
-- Is there some particular reason that we see Chef (a) in a completely different outfit than everyone else, and (b) only from the elbows or so down? This strikes me as needlessly coy.
-- On the other hand, a big cheer for understanding the idea of *cumulative* exposure to radiation, and thus preventing Trip from making a second journey out of the catwalk. It's a good start.
All in all, "The Catwalk" succeeded a lot more than it failed. It wasn't so fantastic as to knock me out of my chair or make me marvel at how exceptional it was, but it took a simple story and made it work properly given the time period in which it's set. We could do a lot worse than to hit this level routinely.
So, wrapping up:
OVERALL: Let's call it a 7.5. Not quite "Dead Stop," but one of the stronger outings of the season to date.
NEXT: 2 weeks of reruns.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) email@example.com <*> "You're in my chair." -- Archer, to the Tacrit captain 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 author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28