Monday, August 22, 2022

Enterprise, Season 2: The Communicator

 Enterprise, Season 2
"The Communicator"
Airdate: November 13, 2002
33 of 97 produced
33 of 97 aired


A planetary observation goes awry when Lt. Reed discovers that his communicator has been left behind with a pre-warp civilization.

This wasn't how I envisioned this mission would go.



Kevin: This episode obviously hearkens back to TOS' "A Piece of the Action." We liked that episode back when we reviewed it, though agreed that it was obviously more of a comedy episode. According to the notes, this was a conscious picking up of the thread of McCoy leaving his communicator behind, but with a more serious tone. To think of the more serious exploration of this issue, I think about TNG's Who Watches the Watchers. I think the episode fails to generate the drama that Watchers does, and it leaves it the weakest of these stories, being neither the fun romp or seriously philosophical exploration. I think the first problem is this episode again makes the crew look a little silly. McCoy screwing up is defused by the obvious punchline, but making it a real plot point, it makes the crew look a little incompetent. There isn't a protocol for this, even absent the Prime Directive? You can't just brick the phone remotely? Why even come here like this?

Matthew: The episode this has me most in the mind of is "First Contact" -  a 20th-21st century level industrial society with paranoia and militarism dealing with the potential of an alien invasion. This episode is sort of like if there were only Krolas on that world. And indeed, I really just sort of wondered whey they couldn't have beamed the thing up to the ship - it couldn't have been that hard to locate it (Hoshi said within 3 blocks was the best they could do). But then I suppose the episode would be over.

Kevin: I think the real reason this episode is a misfire is the locals just aren't that interesting or sympathetic. Watchers is such a runaway success because the Mintakans are instantly and successfully portrayed as a varied and vibrant people. Liko's grief or Nuria's sense of duty help color in the idea of a people I care about surviving intact. The people on this world just seem mean. I get we're only getting a slice, but eesh, what a slice. Even something like the fear in TNG's "First Contact" felt more sympathetic. These guys were just itching to do a vivisection. I kind of don't care if they annihilate themselves.

Matthew: I think this was closer to good than you do in that respect -  I understood the political and cultural motives of the aliens because they were close enough to ours. I think the episode would have benefited from actually meeting this Chancellor Kultaray and hearing one of his speeches, or some sort of dialogue with the natives about their world's politics. So that wasn't here, and the episode does suffer for it. But I didn't hate the natives, I just wanted to know more about them.

Kevin: Even the resolution feels half-baked. In trying to pretend to be foreign operatives, they have both left these people (Do they get named? I forget, which says something...) with the advanced technology and the belief they are losing as arms race with a nuclear neighbor. Copping to being benign if stupid aliens will cause less long term damage than mutually assured destruction. We've already done the prime directive stories in the pre-directive era, and this is definitely the weakest of them so far.

Matthew: If I'm trying to imagine how I wanted the episode to go, I guess (prepare yourself, Kevin) I would say that the way the Strange New Worlds pilot episode went would be the direction I want - a dialogue with those people that reflects on our own issues. The problem with that episode is that they spent sooooo much time on main characters and their secret angst that it took away from the political plot, which was pretty interesting. This episode took a lot of time on interrogations and searches, which could have been better spent on having interesting conversations with the natives about the perils of nationalism, propaganda and jingoism, and of demonizing one's enemies (which were quite current at the time), and so on. It needn't have been a big public display, but this episode needed its Nuria or Mirasta Yale.  


Kevin: I suppose it's as much the writing, but I just wasn't connecting to any of the performances. Bakula's performance tips into grouchy so easily for me, and it does so here as well. Trinneer was fun enough in his deception, but even that felt pretty empty, the off-brand attempt at Piller Filler.

Matthew: I think Bakula turned in a good performance here. The look he gave when he became resigned to execution in service of the public good was quite effective. The native military men did a fine job, with Francis Guinan (the leader) and Brian Reddy (the doctor) being the standouts. Either one could have handled the sort of scenes interacting with our crew that I was hoping for.

Production Values

Kevin: Despite being more advanced than the Renaissance Faire aliens from Civilization, the sets still felt very much the same. I would positively kill for a setting that isn't beige or gray or trapped in perpetual twilight. TOS and TNG could occasionally go cheesy in its set design, but I would take colorful cheese over this brown smear any day. Not to rag too much, but take Watchers again, set in a dessert, the episode felt more colorful, incorporating the deep blue sky and red rocks rather than just being bone white washed out. So, it's not just me being tired of Southern California. I just want some pizzazz.

Matthew: Perhaps it's because this comes after "The Seventh," but at least it was well lit, and contained more than one setting (prison and bar). I was yearning for one more setting, some sort of public square with a few buildings, and non-military extras. I wanted to see some of the propaganda they mentioned. Just an aside, the ship shots looked really nice this episode. I think the CGI might be improving a bit.


Kevin: Even without the comparison to the lighter "A Piece of the Action" or the more thoughtful "Who Watches the Watchers?", this episode would still be pretty low energy and unsatisfying for me. The crew looks vaguely incompetent, and the story was populated by grim people only deciding what degree of violence to commit, not whether to commit violence at all, and that's always a bum note in Trek. This is a solid 2 for me.

Matthew: I thought the pacing was fairly decent, and I was more involved in the native perspective and Archer's response to it. But I agree they handled themselves poorly the episode had too many "why don't they do this" questions, and the story didn't do enough to draw allegorical parallels with humans today. This is a real borderline case. I think, because an overall rating of 5 makes sense to me, I'm going to go with a 3.

1 comment:

  1. I remember thinking on second viewing that the scene where the crew first come back is rather off in some way. They are interested, elated, and at least a little tired. Like you are after a day visiting a nice tourist city and feeling footsore and looking forward to an excellent meal and talking about the day. But they're also fully aware that these people could go to war at any moment. Where is the concern, or the pensive sadness?

    But then, these people seem like war is pretty much what they want, so...