Thursday, November 24, 2022

Enterprise. Season 3: Similitude

 Enterprise, Season 3
Airdate: November 19, 2003
61 of 97 produced
61 of 97 aired


When Trip is gravely injured by a warp engine malfunction, Captain Archer has a difficult decision to make that calls into question his ethics, and the value of a sapient life.

 "No, Sim, I haven't shaved recently. That shows how SERIOUS this is!!!"



Kevin: This was apparently Manny Coto's first script on the show, and my jaw is still on the floor from reading that. I appreciate that this episode tries to take a big swing on an ethical issue. I do. But, boy howdy, does it miss. I don't want to be mean here, but this almost feels like a screenwriting class where the professor showed the students a few classic episodes and the assignment was write a spec script. The core question, is it ethical to create and kill sentient beings to save another, is there, and that is a very Star Trek question. But the poor student missed the point that debate is whether we should do it, not do it then shout about it a lot. Even if Phlox were right that the surgery would not further shorten this creature's life, Phlox is still a monster. He created a human with human awareness that by design would only live a week. Once it's revealed that the procedure will kill him sooner, Phlox, normally the voice of ethics, goes full on 19th century eugenicist. The fact that Sim will only live a week does not make murdering him and harvesting his organs okay. If that were the case, you could start euthanizing cancer patients against their will for parts. I think there was a way to blur the lines about what is and is not acceptable to save a life, but this episode skips right over it. And instead of getting a debate, we largely get Archer just yelling about a decision he made. At least when Janeway put Tuvix in the transporter, there was a solid argument that Tuvok and Neelix had prior and superior claim to their existences that Tuvix only had because of an accident. She didn't willfully create Tuvix on a whim then decided to get rid of him. And this is another example of the 'indispensable man' theory that seems to be coloring a lot of these debates. I get that you need an engineer, but if Earth depends on this specific engineer never getting hurt or killed on a very dangerous mission, then Earth is kind of fucked. There is a deputy in charge when Trip is asleep and he becomes the engineer and we keep going. It's not a blanket excuse to skip a moral debate.

Matthew: Well, the philosophy professor within me is tickled by this episode, while I can still see its flaws. Clearly Mr. Coto is straining to make a Big Ethical Point. In the main, the ethical quandary here is a fine one - can one sapient being be sacrificed for the good of hundreds or millions of others - but it gets bogged down in execution details. I agree that one of the major ones is how indispensable Trip seems to be. I think the episode was trying to make the region they were in an added issue that required Trip's presence, but that just sort of kicks the can down the road. Surely there was another engineer or science officer who could solve the various problems facing the ship. I suppose they could have gone the "cure for cancer" route, in which Person X has discovered but not yet completed some major breakthrough which will improve the lives or fortunes of millions - this person becomes so valuable that others might (the argument goes) be justifiably sacrificed to allow them to complete their work. But the story was already creaking under the weight of the 15-day lifespan, the hypothetical cure for the 15-day lifespan, the Trip/T'Pol romance... so yeah. The lines of conflict were not super clearly drawn.

Kevin: Even if they had landed the ethical debate, the mechanics of this strain even my suspension of disbelief. I can believe you invented a box that circumvents the Heisenberg Principle and a different box that circumvents general relativity. That is just fine. But this magic clone worm will make a magic clone in less than a week and not even leave a mess behind for you to deal with. If the infant were going to grow to full adult size in a week, you should practically be able to see it grow before your eyes and the clone should be in pretty much constant agony since its bones are constantly growing out of their body. I know it's just a show and we've made some big leaps before, but the effective ones have either internal consistency or a patina of plausibility, ideally both. This is just nonsense carefully reverse engineered to create the ethical debate that they skipped having. And that clone will somehow have all the memories of the host dumped into his brain at the relative developmental moment? That was just there so T'Pol wasn't putting the moves on an infant. It was just too neat, and as much as I love Phlox, his little menagerie is just become a lazy crutch. I'm surprised he doesn't have a bird named Deus Ex Machina at this point. Also, I didn't like the way Phlox was cooing over the baby. It made the fact that you made this think to die quickly even creepier.

Matthew: Yeah,t his is the area that drags me out of the story the most. Having a mimetic clone blob in your lab just because is arbitrary and dumb. Thinking of a radical rewrite here, I think the better way to approach this story is to have the cloners be an alien of the week, have them offer the technology to the Enterprise crew, which they refuse out of sniffy moral high-groundedness, but then have them come back to it when their important crew member becomes sick. That way you can examine a society that is organized around this technology, and explore how tempting it might be in a pinch. Anyhow, I didn't mind the Doctor's cooing over the baby, which fits with his "provide care now" ethos. I also didn't sweat the details of Sim's development - the human brain is great at forgetting things to maintain health, so I can easily imagine it would be great at selectively remembering things at a rate that would allow the creature to persist. I found the switcheroo of "we can perform the operation harmlessly" to "the operation will kill him" to be very annoying. I think the far better story is to simply know that this sapient being is sentenced to a 15-day life, with the full knowledge of what that means existentially. What would you do with 15 days? Would your psyche hold up under the strain? These are far more interesting questions that were hinted at but not fully explored.

Kevin: A fairly recurring refrain of mine is that the reset button hand waving can be made acceptable if a we learn something or there is some, even small, change to the status quo as a result, because that's interesting storytelling. The attempt they made here was to reveal T'Pol's attraction to Tripp...and it doesn't work. If T'Pol actually has these feelings, the person she has them for is in what is very likely a fatal coma. I don't buy that she would transfer those feelings to a lookalike in less than a week. If this were an alternate universe twin thing that went on for a while? Maaaaaaybe? But as written, it was just the writers wanted to make them kiss, so they kissed.

Matthew: Yup.


Kevin: As annoyed as I am at this episode, and believe me, gentle reader, I am very annoyed, I find that I cannot fault the actors. They read their lines like they almost believed them, around the board. Bakula slipped a little too into shouty at points, but, as surprising as it is to say, while basically threatening to force Sim to sickbay, I bought that Archer was having a tough time with this. It falls on the writing that this character didn't consider that before creating a human being to harvest, but that's not on Bakula personally. Trinneer even did as good a job as was possible coloring in a different version of his character. I hated the way they had Phlox act in a parental role for the baby, but I can't deny Billingsley is a master at giving you the performance you asked for. 

Matthew: Connor Trinneer really keeps proving he's more than just a pretty beefcake, doesn't he? He shaded Sim as a different being, and effectively conveyed the strangeness or experiencing memories that did not belong to him. I bought his desire for T'Pol (admittedly not the greatest acting stretch) and his righteous indignance at being asked to die. Speaking of T'Pol, Jolene Blalock sold her part of responding to her own deep-seated feelings towards Trip.

Production Values

Kevin:  I don't think there was much here. Aside from some explosions, this was a pretty low key episode effects-wise. I'm not mad, but it makes for a brief section to discuss.

Matthew: The major effects and props here were the crud on the hull of the ship, which was just so-so; and the blob in sickbay, which was also decidedly so-so. The real "effect" here is casting - we got two younger versions of Trip (one who had been featured in a flashback previously) and they were both pretty good, especially the younger version. The older young adult Trip was a little too "linebacker" to read as Trip for me (Trip's more of a running back or wide receiver).


Kevin: This episode is more dumb than Threshold and nowhere near as much fun. It skips over the obvious and horrifying ethical implications to try to do a soap opera story with T'Pol. The actors turned in solid work, but then so did Robert Duncan MacNeil in his sickbay scenes and that wasn't enough to salvage that episode. When I sat down to write this, I was expecting a nice fat two, but the longer I think about it, the more I actively dislike this episode. They literally made a fully formed sentient human to harvest for parts and didn't stop to think about the ethics of that before they did it. It should be obvious to characters in the story and the writers in the room that that's a big no-no, and none of the story they told made it an interesting debate. The hamfisted attempt at progressing the T'Pol/Tripp relationship doesn't elevate this either. I think I've successfully talked myself into a 1. Maybe I'll come back and change my score after a few days when I have some more distance, but yikes, I really did not like this story at all.

Matthew: I disagree that this is more dumb than Threshold (an episode that I have come to enjoy in the "So Bad It's Good" Oeuvre of Trek episodes). Threshold displayed such an abysmal understanding of evolution that it forever places itself in the Annals of Dumb. This episode is more arbitrary than dumb. Trip just happens to enter an extremely convenient permanent coma with a very specific cure. Phlox just happens to have a clone worm. The clone just happens to need to die when the story demands it. With that said, I was emotionally and intellectually engaged by the questions presented. I cared about Sim's lived experience, and wanted a deeper exploration of it. The acting was pretty excellent all around, and while I disliked the writing choice of T'Pol kissing Sim, the actors sold the heck out of it. I think this was a rewrite or two away from being very good. It's a good faith attempt to craft a classic Ethical Trek Tale, I think it's hampered by its flaws and lands in the mushy middle as a result. This makes it a 3 from me, for a total of 4.


  1. Not much to add. But I'll say the 'weird clone with 15 days to live their entire life' is not such a bad idea for a story. Maybe not with Trip, as we've seen him think he will die soon a few times, and he seems content with his life lived. But someone like, oh, Sato or Mayweather? What would they want to do?

    1. They'd want to be featured in an episode of Enterprise ;-)