WARNING: Spoilers for the latest Enterprise episode are visible over the "Horizon."

In brief: A very mixed bag. "Horizon" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 20 Written by Andre Bormanis Directed by James Contner

Brief summary: Travis Mayweather returns home to his parents' ship, the Horizon, only to find that things have changed in his absence.

"Horizon" is definitely out of the ordinary as _Enterprise_ episodes go. It's not concerned all that much with life-or-death struggles or strange new races -- for the most part, in fact, it's a character piece. Good character pieces can make for just as much drama as action- oriented shows can -- look no further than TNG's "Family" for an example of that, or even last season's "Dear Doctor," though that's a somewhat different example.

The difficulty with character pieces, I think, is that the mood is in many ways all-important. In the middle of something heavy on action and foreboding, you can have the occasional bit of silliness or gallows humor as a way to blow off steam (both the characters' and the viewers'). That's somewhat harder to do in a character piece -- if you're snapped out of the emotional connection, it's not easy to get back.

That's one of the major things that gets in the way of "Horizon" being a truly strong episode. I like Travis Mayweather (a sentiment which I suspect puts me in the minority of viewers), and I like the few glimpses of "boomer" culture we've been shown up to this point. As such, the idea of Travis going back to deal with a family tragedy is something that's got a lot of meat, since he personalizes the clash of cultures that's happening as boomers deal with the new reality of space travel. Unfortunately, at the same time we get a B-plot that's ... well, for want of a better word, dreadful in its attempt to lighten the mood. It really winds up just killing whatever momentum the episode's built up to that point.

The setup for the show is simple, if somewhat difficult to swallow. The Enterprise is asked to reverse course to investigate a planet undergoing neat geological effects. Since that reversal of course will put the Enterprise fairly near Travis's old ship, the Horizon, he asks for a few days' leave to go visit his family: he hasn't seen them in a few years, and would like to. Archer agrees.

The only plausibility problem I have here is that the planet's mentioned as being 30 light-years behind their current position. On the one hand, that's a *huge* detour just for a cute geological phenomenon -- probably a month's journey or more even at warp 5. On the other, that still puts them awfully far out from Earth, which makes it difficult to believe that a warp-2 ship like the Horizon would be out that far. It's not a story-killing problem by any means, but it bugged me. (It would've been a lot easier if Travis's bad news had been the catalyst for the trip and Starfleet were to respond with something like, "oh, if you're headed back that way how about checking out that planet over yonder?")

That said, however, Travis gets bad news while the ship is backtracking. His father, who's been ill for some time, apparently died a few weeks back -- his mother had sent him the news, but it never reached him. As his father was captain of the Horizon, then, the ship's likely to be in some turmoil -- but Travis is going through a fair bit of turmoil himself, especially since his father disagreed with his decision to join Starfleet. Archer tries to cheer him up as best as he can by telling him how proud Travis's father was of his abilities, even if he disagreed with some of his choices.

I quite liked that scene -- the "sweet spot" bit is neutral, but Archer chose a good counseling approach. I've had many difficulties with Scott Bakula's portrayal of Archer from time to time, but he does quite well playing a lot of the softer scenes, and this was a textbook case. Both actors did well, and the idea of Archer contacting the CO's of possible helm officers makes a good deal of sense. Kudos.

The real story begins when we reach the Horizon. Travis heads aboard, talks to his mother about a few of his adventures, and begins to settle in. Everyone seems glad to see him, but when it comes to his brother Paul there's also a clear undercurrent of tension. Paul's acting captain now, and while he's happy to see Travis, he's also going out of his way *not* to ask him for any help. His stated reason is that since Travis is on leave, he doesn't want to "put him to work," but one gets the distinct sense that there's more to it than that. Paul also suggests that before dinner, Travis change out of his Starfleet outfit into "something a little less conspicuous." One's left to wonder -- is there a lot of anti-Starfleet sentiment on the ship?

At this point, there are many possible explanations for Paul's concern. One is that he's worried Travis will want the captain's chair for himself, especially since he's been groomed for it. Another is that he blames Travis for his father's death somehow, and a third is that he's got some agenda of his own that he's worried Travis is going to stumble on. (Anyone who doesn't think that's likely, go watch DS9's "Prodigal Daughter" again -- but I'm not paying for the therapy bills.) All three are fairly common reasons for shows like this, but the first two are common because they're *real* -- many people would have emotions in at least one if not both of those categories under similar circumstances, and so I think Paul's problems being a mixture of the two make sense.

Travis, unfortunately, doesn't really clue into much of this for a while. He starts making upgrades and talking about all the great improvements he's learned from Trip and other folks on board Enterprise, heedless about what that's looking like to his old shipmates. Paul calls him on it after one particular upgrade, asking him what happens if they break down after "you're back on your Starfleet ship out of comm range," but there's a distinct undercurrent of "gee, thank you for bringing all your wonderful toys to impress the rubes, but we were fine before you came back and will be fine after you leave."

To make matters worse, later on Travis is visited by Nora, an old friend (and possibly more?). After various small talk, she lets on that morale isn't great: they've fallen behind on cargo runs, are low on deuterium, and there's a lot of worry that Paul's just not quite ready for the job. Travis reassures her that he just needs some time, but it's clearly a source of concern for him as well ...

... and then the ship falls under attack. It's random pirates, but they give the ship a proper rattling, then leave behind a beacon attached to the hull. Word from another ship is that this group's M.O. is to leave behind that beacon (which isn't removable), then come back a day later and demand all the cargo.

Despite their low-power weapons, Travis thinks he might be able to upgrade them enough to have a good chance of disabling the cruiser's engines, which has a design he's beaten before. Paul, however, considers that far too big a risk, and decides to jettison a little bit of cargo, increase to top speed and hope they reach their destination in time. If not, he'll give them what they want.

To some extent, the episode's chief flaw here is that once this is established, you know that he's going to wind up needing Travis's help later, and that it'll serve as a way to bridge the gap between them, at least partially. "Horizon" did in fact do exactly that, but for the most part all the reactions felt real -- people aren't so much acting stupid as acting realistically single-minded and slightly oblivious to how their own actions are perceived. That's much more natural than, say, people spontaneously losing brain cells in "Canamar."

In this case, Travis tries to make the upgrades himself surreptitiously, only to have Paul catch him at it and threaten to confine him to quarters. What comes out, however, is that Paul feels Travis has no business claiming he's doing things for the benefit of the whole group, because he's no longer *in* that group any more. He barely talked to his father for years, people like him are making it difficult for cargo ships to find willing crews, and he wasn't even around when his father died. (I very much liked Travis's quiet "that's not fair" in response to the last -- rather than get loud, this argument got quiet and icy. I've had "discussions" like that myself, albeit not in such a life-and-death situation.)

After those accusations, Travis begins questioning his own choices, enough that he considers requesting an extended leave to spend time on the Horizon for "as long as [he's] needed." His mother, who has only a few scenes but is fairly key, convinces him otherwise: Paul's no greener than their father was when he started, she notes, and everyone on the ship is so proud of what he's already done that turning back now makes no sense. Not a lot of particularly revelatory statements, no -- but honest and realistic, which can be just as important.

In the end, of course, Travis winds up being right: the ship not only comes back early, but demands the Horizon itself rather than just the cargo. Paul quickly reactivates Travis's upgrades, and thanks to some fancy flying and good shooting, the pirates are disabled. Paul and Travis are reconciled, at least enough -- it's telling, I think, that they part on a handshake rather than a hug.

As I said -- the show's not breaking a lot of ground or giving us many surprises. It's also, however, avoiding a lot of cliches a story like this can often run into (among other things, the two brothers never get into a fistfight, which I'd expected almost from the moment we met Paul), and giving us more of a sense of where Travis came from. As one of the seven people who truly enjoyed the look into boomer culture we got in "Fortunate Son" last year, I appreciated the return visit this year, and would like to see a bit more about how this society adapts in the face of faster and easier space travel.

And now, the bad sides.

Within the main plot, my big issue is that many people on board Enterprise seem to be taking insensitivity lessons. When Travis asks for leave, for instance, he and Archer get into a conversation about how many jobs his mother holds on board. Archer comes out with, "guess needs to wear a lot of hats in order to keep those old ships going." Gee, Jon, couldja be any *more* condescending? I don't think Travis feels sufficiently inferior yet. (And yes, I realize that Travis unconsciously carries some of that with him over to the Horizon, which is nice -- but it would be nice if he bristled a bit here, or realized how much superiority he'd already assumed.) Later on, just as he's leaving for the Horizon, Trip keeps badgering him about wanting to see the engines. Yo, Trip, the man's just lost his father -- could we keep an eye on the bigger picture for a moment?

That insensitivity wasn't just in the main plot, however. What passes for the B plot this time involves movie night: since observing this planet is going to be a lengthy and automated process, Trip's finagled it so that every night is movie night for a while, and wants T'Pol to start getting acquainted with horror films. Specifically, "Frankenstein" is showing shortly, and he badgers her repeatedly into going. (In another truly sensitive moment, he says it'll be right up T'Pol's alley: "Reanimated life-forms and science run amok." Yay.)

For the most part, the B plot's oppressively dumb rather than actively annoying -- I don't think we need to see T'Pol looking for a medical excuse for avoiding the film, for instance, or to have Trip shoot down her idea of a dramatic reading of the book rather than something more passive like a film. The one particularly offensive bit, however, comes when Archer gets in on the act: in an attempt to persuade her to come, he suggests that "we make a night of it. Dinner in the captain's mess, then the movie. You'll be my date."

Um. Pardon me, Archer, but given that you've already implied you're attracted to her, *and* you're her superior officer, that's harassment - - in a big way, especially since you imply "no" is not a valid answer. I don't care how much you joke about "being a perfect gentleman," it's an exceptionally stupid thing to say. It soured me on the whole subplot.

The one thing about the B story I did like was T'Pol's final analysis of the film. Rather than focusing on Dr. Frankenstein himself, she focuses on his creation, and concludes the film's an interesting depiction of how humans fear what is different. She feels that it in some way predicted humanity's response to the arrival of the Vulcans, and decides to recommend the film to Soval. *That*'s fairly entertaining (especially if followed up), and had we dealt more on her reaction to the film than on everyone conspiring to get her to movie night, I'd have been a lot happier. As it is, the phrase "too little, too late" comes to mind. (I also could have done without T'Pol saying, "to quote Dr. Frankenstein, 'it's alive.'" when they discover some life forms on the planet below. That's not her style.)

As I said at the outset, then, "Horizon" is a mixed bag. The A-plot's a bit slow in parts, but generally engaging and quite realistic. The B- plot's mostly a waste of time and serves mostly to make everyone on the Horizon that much *more* likable by comparison.

Other notes:

-- Science nitpick: so the planet's core is superheating because of the two gas giants' gravitational pull? I'm having difficulty with the wording here -- I think Bormanis was probably thinking of Jupiter's moon Io, which undergoes a lot of tidal heating due to Jupiter, but "superheating" is not a phrase I'd use. Not a big deal -- just a comment.

-- If anyone ever doubted that "hull plating" is just the new buzzword for shields, there's this gem: "divert all power to the hull plating." It's really tempting to shoot back, "okay, we just did. It melted. Any other bright ideas?"

-- So this planet's about to become a sea of active volcanoes. T'Pol discovers that there's microbial life on it. Does anyone worry about saving it or somehow keeping an eye on it? Not really -- Archer wants to learn about it, but is clearly more intrigued by "the show." Ack.

-- The Reed/Travis conversation about "we really should have families on starships / well, if so, we'll need a psychologist as well" seemed written with way too much of a knowing wink. It's a fair enough sentiment, but there was too much of a smirk to it for my tastes.

-- There's a certain ambiguity about Travis and Nora -- were they just childhood buddies, or was there a romantic component to their relationship at one point? There's a lot of obvious warmth between them, but we're not really told what their past was -- and I don't think we needed to know either. I like it.

That pretty much wraps it up, I think. "Horizon" could have been more than it was -- I wouldn't have minded more of a sense of the boomers' day-to-day life, for instance, or heard a bit more about what prompted Travis to join up with Starfleet in the first place -- but it was more than serviceable.

So, summing up:

OVERALL: A 6.5, I think -- would've been in the 7's, except for that B plot.

NEXT WEEK: Phlox faces an unwilling patient.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "If you want to be an effective captain, you've got to set your personal feelings aside, and listen to what other people have to say." "More words of wisdom from Starfleet?" "No. Your father." -- the brothers Mayweather 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 <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Mon Apr 28 23:08:29 2003 Stardate: [-29]0204.40