Thursday, May 26, 2022

Enterprise Season 1: Terra Nova

 Enterprise, Season 1
"Terra Nova"
Airdate: October 24, 2001
5 of 97 Produced
5 of 97 Aired

Introduction

Enterprise investigates the disappearance of an early human space colony, discovering that the humans haven't so much disappeared as they have changed altogether.

 

"Allamaraine!"

 

 

Writing

Kevin: Today in "What Episodes is This Startlingly Similar To?", I think I see notes of TOS' "Miri" and Voyager's "Natural Law" with a dash of Voyager's "Nemesis" for the "language" but more on that later. The basic idea of the lost colony is certainly a fertile one, and I'm not even bothered that we've done it many times before at this point. The core philosophical question is a fun one. At what point does the time and distance mean the colony is its own distinct culture from its metropole (your fancypants word of the day). Seventy years is certainly enough time for no contact to create some rifts, but I don't think the way they built it here really comes off. Having all the adults die but the children survive is just a little too neat and really just exists to accelerate the transition of Earth to the semi-mythical bad guy. I mean...if these kids were young enough to not retain "We are descended from humans from Earth," how the hell did they even survive? Even the hostility referenced at the top of the episode seems absurd. Why would the colonists be mad that more people wanted to come live there? It means the work they are doing is working. The idea that later groups of settlers would come would theoretically be built right into the mission plan. Also, there were a few hundred people alone on this planet with no interstellar craft. They could plop the next two hundred on the opposite side of the planet without them knowing without them doing anything about it. They reference the Logan guy who didn't want new settlers would attack any landing ship. If they have the ability to attack a ship in orbit, they should theoretically also be able to tell the difference between a bomb and an asteroid. The core idea is good but the setups were just too neat to set up this conflict. It's entirely possible that over 70-100 years, a human colony in full contact with a distant Earth would still branch off in a way that made them their own people, and exploring that would be super fun.

Matthew: I agree that the mechanics of the plot were under-baked. Too much time was spent having people chase each other and shoot at each other, and not enough time was spent on world-building. How could this have been done better? I think I would have preferred the idea of this colony leader creating a sort of cult of personality that weakened the ability of the colonists to discern truth from fiction - which then a disaster leaving only children alive would reasonably create this sort of cognitive and knowledge deficit. Anyway, yeah, this is basically just "Miri" set at the Roanoke colony. Another way to break this story would be to have the colonists changed by genetic engineering to deal with a hostile environment, in such a way as to make them different qualitatively from the humans we know.

Kevin: The most annoying part of the episode far and away is the pseudo-language the Novans speak. Much like every other attempt to reverse engineer a patois for technologically unsophisticated people, it sounds silly and crashes dialogue to a halt, and as ever, it seems really inconsistently used. If I ever hear the word "shale" again, it will be too soon. That said, I generally liked Archer's attempts to connect to these people and wrestle with their fate. It reminded me, in a good way, of TNG's Homeward. Is destroying this people's culture worse than letting them physically die? There's a good debate to be had in there. The cheesy dialogue, however, in addition to being annoying just aesthetically really made it hard to care about the Novans or see the story from their point of view. Freed of the gibberish, it might have actually been a really great episode.

Matthew: The scene with T'Pol and Archer elevated the episode for me a bit. I really liked her harsh realism, and the ultimate conclusion that the Novans were a unique culture that was worth leaving undisturbed. I would have liked if the episode had focused on that debate for a bit more time instead of on cave rescues and firefights. There are so many interesting positions to suss out there, and the various shows in classic Trek would each likely take different positions. Kirk would be all "these people are backward and we will educate them by force if necessary," and so on. As far as the language goes, I don't think it was anywhere near as egregious as some of Classic Trek's worst offenders. "Shale" was overused, to be sure. But this is like 10% or less of VOY "Nemesis," or even "Move Along Home's" "Shaps" and "Allamaraines".

Kevin: And only because I know where it's going, I'm tagging here the blossoming problem of giving Travis nothing to do. The episode pointed to him as having a particular interest in the colony in the teaser than pretty much forgot about him until the last scene. At least make him the one the colonists take to give him some time to engage the story of the colony. Having him realize and explain the colony's true history would have given his character something to actually do and give the revelation some teeth for the Novans.

Matthew: I agree it is bizarre to not hold Travis hostage, and have him suss out the colony's fate. Then you could have Reed agitating for an armed raid.

Acting

Kevin: I don't know, but this episode is a bit of a misfire. Everyone seemed really shouty, and I don't think scenes like the conference scene after Malcolm was captured felt stilted. It still feels to me like the cast is finding itself a little, both in terms of gelling as a cast and in getting their arms around the technobabble. It's not bad, but it's not good either, for me. 

Matthew: Jolene Blalock was the best for me here. She has a way of delivering the flat, Vulcan affect with latent meaning that I really enjoy. I'm with you though on Bakula. Something about his halting delivery blunted the meaning of line readings.

Kevin: Erik Avari is just a workhorse of a character actor. He is really trying with this dialogue while wearing what appears to be a literal mud mask. Mary Carver was less effective as Nadet. She was a television character actress with a pretty long resume, so I'm going to assume that it was more the writing, but I just didn't really connect to her connecting to the picture.

Matthew: I think both Avari and Carver elevated their material way above its value on the page alone. As under-developed as the Novan culture was in the story, they almost got me there with their acting.

Production Values

Kevin: The cave set is a...cave set. Maybe it's just too soon on the heels of Strange New World, but it feels like we've spent a lot of time in caves recently. The design of the Novans was...meh. It was just standard faux-Neolithic décor. Plus a bone flute. Sure. It just felt like they raided a closet full of caveman movie props.

Matthew: I am on record numerous times with regard to cave sets. It's just a bad choice from a visual design standpoint. There are basically three good caves in Star Trek: Roger Korby's cave in "What Are Little Girls Made Of," Zarabeth's cave in "All Our Yesterdays," and the Genesis Cave in TWOK. The rest are dark, boring, mushy plot bogs. Basically, you have to just be OK with not making a cave realistic, and lighting it like a TV show.

Conclusion

Kevin: I am between a 2 and 3 and I'm trying not to be a curmudgeon, but it's not easy. The basic ideas are certainly sound enough for a 3. But the execution, both visually and for the language alone, is a 2. I think I'm also slightly annoyed that this is episode four in a row where humans not knowing enough about what is really going on in the galaxy is a real impediment to their safety or success. I get it's supposed to be exploring on the edge, but we need an episode where they get a win soon, or I'm going to start really agreeing with T'Pol, and Archer and Trip yell at T'Pol too much to make that a viable way forward for the series. I'm giving it a 2, but I reserve the right to edit that score later if I change my mind when I look back at this episode at the end of the season.

Matthew: I'm at a 3 on this for a total of 5.  The episode still asked some interesting questions, even while it did not provide enough background to make discussion of those questions as worthwhile as it could be. Future episodes of ENT will do a better job on this. But this episode was inoffensively mediocre.

1 comment:

  1. The arc of Archer and Trip getting to trust T'Pol reminds me of Thorin learning to trust Bilbo in the Hobbit movies: It just keeps happening, but for whatever reason it doesn't seem to stick.

    They'll get over it eventually, but in the meantime...

    Agree with everything you point out here. I'm a little less inherently annoyed at the language, maybe because English is not my first language. It doesn't throw me out of the episode, but any time I stop to think about it, it doesn't seem to make much sense.

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