Sickbay

[Sorry this is so late, all. Other obligations intruded. The "Sickbay" review should be along around the end of the week. -- TWL]

WARNING: The Enterprise may have come to a "Dead Stop," but the spoilers have not.

In brief: Despite a few cliches, another successful outing. "Dead Stop" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 4 Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong Directed by Roxann Dawson

Brief summary: The Enterprise, in desperate need of repair, comes aboard an automated space station that works miracles for a terrible price.

"Dead Stop," its title notwithstanding, got off to one hell of a beginning. There were a few goofy bits late in the episode that one can certainly criticize (and I will), but the episode did so many things right that I'm finding myself quite fond of it.

For starters, the sheer existence of the show, or at least the acknowledgement that such a show was needed, pleased me no end. You may remember that although I liked "Minefield" quite a bit, I worried that the extensive damage the ship took there might simply disappear without a trace by the beginning of the following episode, a la the many times "Voyager" pulled such a stunt (and most especially "Deadlock," at least among the episodes I watched). Now, people may well disagree with the way Enterprise was repaired here, but I don't think anyone can dispute that at least *requiring* the repair job is a serious plus -- and in my case, it certainly made me more willing to buy into the rest of the story.

(It also helped that the extent of the damage wasn't minimized. As Trip points out, in the ship's current state it's highly vulnerable, and the best they can do is about warp 2 -- which means that any Earthbound help is a decade away.)

That "rest of the story" quickly solves the search for repairs per se, when a Tellarite freighter steers Archer and company towards a repair station -- an automated station which, it turns out, can solve all their problems in about a day and a half, whereas Trip's engineers would take at least three months even with all the supplies. Archer has a few misgivings about this "gift" -- even with the station's request for compensation, it's still too good to be true -- but Trip feels they've got little choice. So, with a few handy repair visuals (which actually looked pretty spiffy), everything looks like it's going smoothly.

Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that not only was Enterprise's damage in "Minefield" acknowledged, but so was Reed's. When we first see him, he's still got another week or two before he can return to duty, and the distinct impression I got is that his leg would never completely heal. Phlox's techniques have merit, but they're not magical cures and they're not lightning-fast. I approve. (I also liked his response to Reed's griping about the pain: "It's unethical to harm a patient; I can inflict as much pain as I like.") It was obviously set up to make a nice contrast with the station's facilities healing Reed fully in the space of a few minutes, but I'm still pleased. (It does need to be consistent, though -- if Phlox can bring back the dead inside ten minutes at some point in the future, it won't be pretty.)

Naturally, however, these being 22nd-century humans, the crew can't accept this repair without screwing *something* up. In this case, Trip really wants to get a good look at the computer running the whole business, which seems entirely in keeping with his character. He then talks Reed into helping him with a little reconnaissance -- Reed objects a bit, both because the station might not appreciate the snooping and because his own sense of adventure was "left ... in a Romulan mine field," but in the end he comes along and helps.

What follows is one of the better character scenes of the show. Trip and Reed trip automated sensors and are beamed back to Enterprise, at which point Archer tears into them pretty firmly. I appreciated this for several reasons. First, it *was* an awfully stupid stunt of theirs, and it'd be easy enough for the station to demand the pair of them in payment or something. Second, it was nice to see Archer for *once* laying into someone for a good reason, given the number of times he's done so somewhat irrationally and then apologized later. Third, we actually get a sense that Archer heard what Reed said to him last week, when Archer notes that "you've made it clear that you think discipline aboard Enterprise has gotten a little too lax -- I'm beginning to agree with you." Granted, having Archer throw Reed's own opinions back in his face could be interpreted as a little bit petty, but it's also a devastatingly effective technique for him to use -- Reed's pretty stoic, but you can almost see him shrink back a bit.

Unfortunately, the pair's punishment is cut short when Archer's called to the launch bay, and it's here that we get a decent bit of misdirection. While Reed and Trip were crawling around maintenance shafts, we see Travis get a call, ostensibly from Archer, ordering him down to that launch bay, which is under repair and supposed to be off limits. We see him examining a seriously damaged panel ... and the next thing we know, Archer's called to the bay and Phlox is examining Travis's burnt corpse.

The misdirection isn't that Travis isn't really dead -- that much is obvious to anyone. The misdirection is that I took his "killing" (be it an actual killing that's reversible, an abduction, or what have you) to be the penalty imposed for Trip and Reed's snooping. While going that route could have been somewhat interesting, primarily due to the guilt it'd give the pair of them, I was surprised when it turned out that the station was going to take someone all along. Not a bad feint, really.

(Of course, I suppose that it's not actually *proven* the station was going to take someone regardless. Maybe it only takes from transgressors.)

Of course, the crew doesn't know any of this to start out, so we get to see everyone deal with the first on-board death of the series. I was impressed at the combination of emotion and professionalism at work here -- no one tossed it off as "ho hum, another death" the way I sometimes felt Kirk did, but no one fell to pieces so badly that it kept them from investigating, either. Reed comes off particularly well, but everyone's reactions seemed pretty realistic here.

(Incidentally, I'm not sure it's out of place for Kirk to be a little bit more accepting of death as commonplace than Archer. Space travel's a lot more common by Kirk's time, and there have also been some significant conflicts in the recent past. Kirk is very much a soldier; Archer isn't.)

One significant criticism I'd make here, though, is that I think making Travis the "target" of the station was a mistake. Given how much I've mentioned that Travis is underused, that may seem a bit contradictory, but in this case using him significantly detracted from the flow of the story. Had it been some nameless crewman drawn to the launch bay, we as viewers wouldn't have been able to dismiss the death as either faked or reversible, and things would have seemed more menacing. It's not as though we found much out about Travis as a result of these events, so in this case I'd have put someone in whose continued survival wasn't assured. (Fans of Anthony Montgomery can at least console themselves with a good chest shot of him, though. :-)

As I've said, it was no real surprise that the corpse wasn't really Travis, but I was pretty pleased with the way we found out about it. For starters, it looked as though something Phlox would have noticed in the postmortem *eventually*, but not something that was immediately obvious to anyone -- and more importantly, it fit really well from both dramatic and plausibility standpoints. It's also something that wouldn't have come up were it not for an action Phlox took a month earlier, which is a nice twist. One wonders if Phlox will suggest routinely injecting people with said vaccine just in case they need to check for exact duplicates again ... or better yet, if Reed will.

(Of course, our bodies are all so full of microorganisms anyway that one assumes Phlox would have noticed some sort of glitch later on even without the flu shot ... perhaps when the postmortem got to the gut flora or something. But I digress.)

Once the fake is noticed, the show descends into a few cliches -- not enough to keep the episode from being a winner overall, but certainly enough to detract a bit. Reed manages to get Archer and T'Pol past the same sensors that tripped him up earlier, the pair get to the computer core ... and find piles of bodies hooked into the machine, which is using their brains to enhance its own processing ability.

That's pretty much vintage horror-movie cliche from where I sit: I'm hard pressed to come up with any really obvious examples (other than noting some fairly general similarities to the Borg), but I was hoping for something a little more interesting than "Archer rips a few tubes off Travis and pulls him to safety." Similarly, while having Trip stall by playing the role of dissatisfied customer worked well enough from a plot standpoint, it seemed a little too obviously 2002 to me.

Even if those disappointed a bit, however, the general ending of "we have to get free and here's our best shot" held together reasonably well. Things were for the most part paced very well, for instance: I especially liked that within fifteen seconds of Travis being free, we're already seeing Archer returning to the Enterprise, handing Travis off to Phlox, and heading for the bridge. (Phlox's very concise, "Comm's down" as Archer comes aboard helped with this -- no wasted words or wasted shots.) The action didn't hold a lot of surprises, but it solved the problem at hand -- and here, as earlier, the visuals did a nice job of supporting everything. No real complaints.

I was a bit surprised that the only thing the station did when thwarted was refuse to let the Enterprise leave. I was half expecting to see it start methodically undoing all the repairs it had done, so that by the time our heroes got free there'd be a few days' worth of repairs yet to do. That might have been nice, actually -- as it is, we did get the "cure" more or less for free.

And the closing shot, of the station repairing itself? I'm sure that opinions are split here, but personally I more or less liked it. I've no objection to the station remaining a mystery that's left unsolved -- in fact, I'd prefer it remain such -- and there was so much magic-tech going on here as it was that one more bit felt like a good thematic addition. (Besides, as long-time fans of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, both Lisa and I had a lyric from "The Lamia" in our heads as that played out: "The lights are dimmed, and once again the stage is set for you...")

Other thoughts:

-- If anyone out there is saying "hmm, wonder if this station really *is* connected to the Borg somehow" ... shush. Don't give anyone ideas. (Seriously, I don't see any need to connect Archer to *every* race that comes into the Trek universe later, and would strongly disagree with such a move in this case.)

-- Does anyone else wonder if the static-shrouded part of the Tellarite message had some sort of warning about the station, or at least a further explanation? ("By the way, leave your helmsman at the door - - we've heard he's expendable.")

-- When the Enterprise is flying around early on looking as if someone had taken a bite out of the saucer, I can't have been the only fan of "The Tick" hoping to see a "CHA" surreptitiously placed somewhere.

-- If the previous atmosphere was liquid helium, where are the helium- breathers among that room full of bodies?

-- Was I the only one expecting to see Dave Bowman appear when we first boarded the station? The Kubrick estate should definitely take a look at this...

-- I think we may be seeing John Shiban's influence at work here a bit -- not only was the threat very "X-Files"-ish in many ways, but we got to see Phlox start a postmortem. All we need are flashlights and we're all set. :-) (Actually, I thought the postmortem sounded awfully good so far as it went.)

-- Even after everything he's been through, one of Travis's first concerns is all the other bodies he was stored with. That fits with his "we have to all work together" boomer mentality -- I'd like to see more of it.

All in all, then, "Dead Stop" worked surprisingly well given some of its ultimate conclusions. Apart from the outcome of repairing the ship, it's not going to be one of the more significant episodes of the season -- but in terms of the journey the episode took, I'm happy.

So, let's sum up:

OVERALL: Parts of the last act and a half knock it down to about an 8, but still well worth the time.

NEXT WEEK: Archer faces a long night, and Tim's new-found optimism faces its greatest challenge.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "We're explorers. Where's your spirit of adventure?" "I left it in a Romulan mine field." -- Trip and Reed Copyright 2002, 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.

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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28