Friday, January 27, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Cold Station 12

Enterprise, Season 4
"Cold Station 12"
Airdate: November 5, 2004
80 of 97 produced
80 of 97 aired


Soong and the Augments invade Cold Station 12, a Starfleet base that contains the remaining genetically engineered Augment embryos.

"I can't believe we're actually here."
"Totally. It's amazing."
"No, I mean I literally can't believe we're here. My visual system won't allow my brain to do it."




Matthew:  I think this installment of the Augment arc works better than the first, and the main reason is characterization. The Augments themselves have a greater variety of characterization, Soong becomes open to doubts, which is more dramatically interesting, and a sympathetic Augment character is introduced in Smike. On the first point - it was really beneficial to the story to have the tension between Soong's preferred reduced violence approach and the augments themselves. Where last episode it seemed like Soong was oblivious to their violent tendencies, here there is tension. It was good for Persis and Malik to disagree on whether or not to obey Soong. It's just a much more interesting and relatable conflict than the prior episode, which seemed to be about which Dudebro got the pretty girl (yuck) and whether to leave their planet (duh). Soong is given dialogue and scenes in which he clearly is starting to have second thoughts about the Augments, which makes him far less oblivious and/or transparently evil than last episode.

Kevin: Having finished the three parts recently, I agree this is the strongest of the trio. I fully believe it could have been trimmed to a two parter, and the more I think about it, with some concise edits, even to this standalone episode. This has the sharpest sense of stakes, both for the main characters and the guest. Soong trying and failing to control the Augments is more interest than him blindly abetting them. The escalation of tension and violence was well done as well, overall. Little touches like revealing that the doctor is Phlox's longtime correspondent also really work at tying the story and stakes to the main cast in an organic way.

Matthew: Smike is an interesting character, and represents something I wish had been explored further - genetic variation within the Augment population. One of the problems of this kind of sci-fi story is that it seems to take on faith the idea that genetics are destiny. And maybe this represents an early aughts understanding of genetics, but we know now (and many suspected then) that environmental factors and something called epigenetics (biological factors outside of the chromosomes themselves) can have a drastic impact on how these genes are expressed. Anyway, Smike's characterization was really solid. He had the feel of a skeptical cult victim - not wanting to betray his "family," but still very clearly suspicious of the way he was treated. I liked the scene of Archer making a connection with him and showing him his parents' information. If anything, I wanted much more on Smike and his experience, and a discussion of how having Olympian physicist parents doesn't mean a child will develop one way or another, and a more explicit contrast between how the other augments turned out (self-absorbed, violent twats) and how someone who suffered bullying and self doubt did.

Kevin: I agree with your discussion of the flat understanding of genetics, and I will add that I find "Smike" to be a terrible name, largely for reason of onomatopoeia. It's too close to Smeagol, the pre-ring form of Gollum. That admittedly petty complaint aside, I agree that the idea that this is a better version of internal dissension than the weird aggro fight the 'brothers' engages in last week. It also provided an in for that most classic of Trek solutions: talking about stuff. 

Matthew: The Cold Station 12 scenes were exciting and interesting. They provided a solid dramatization of the conflict between Soong and Malik, and the storage of dangerous diseases is certainly something a viewer today can find scary.  The torture scenes were effective without being needlessly grotesque, and the cliffhanger of Archer needing to stop the release of the pathogens was effective. About the only thing I really disliked was Malik killing Smike. I suppose it underscores his lack of regard for life, but it wastes a good character who could have played a key role in the resolution of the story.

Kevin: I have a bunch of low level complaints, but nothing too serious. What is that booth for when it's not being used as a torture device? Why are the habitat and storage areas even on the same air system? Why isn't there just a failsafe to torch the whole facility in the event of hostile action? There should just be a dead man switch for flooding the facility with superheated bleach or something. But these are the tiny logic errors that allow drama to unfold, so I don't get too exercised. I agree the decision to kill Smike felt gratuitous, since we already knew Malik would kill. Those quibbles aside, the tension built well and I believed Lucas' arc from resistance to capitulation in a really satisfying way.


Matthew:  I was much higher on Brent Spiner's acting here, because he was given better things to do besides sneering and being oblivious. I thought he portrayed the inner conflict of his character very well both in dialogue and in subtle expressive choices. I liked his flashback and "video" footage of raising the children as well. His arguments with Alec Newman's Malik (who also did a better job this episode) were engaging viewing.

Kevin: The writing supported better stories all around, I agree. Spiner did a good job balancing the affection for but shock at the Augments. He really did a good job of portraying a man who let the genie out of the bottle.

Matthew: Scott Bakula got to break out of Angry Dad mode and was able to play more "Supportive Dad" here. I really liked his dining scene with Kaj-Erik Eriksen's Smike. Eriksen really nailed the feeling of Smike's trepidation and lack of trust in authority figures, but played off of Bakula very tenderly as well.

Kevin: Richard Riehle is just a fabulous character actor. From his concern for his colleagues to his concern for Phlox, he just does a great job of acting like a person who existed before and after this story.

Production Values

Matthew:  So, we get Cold Station 12's asteroid exterior, which was very video-game CGI. With that said, yet again the ship shots were excellent. The Klingon Bird-of-Prey is a really nice "early" version of the ship, and the pursuit and firefights were choreographed well. Enterprise's CG ship models have really hit "better than videogame" status pretty solidly now. Having said that, we are treated to another badly light matched CGI background of the embryo chamber. The chamber itself was fine enough (though I think it would have been more realistic to have the "embryos" be not much more than fertilized eggs), but boy oh boy, were the actors clearly not really there. There was a greenish halo around each of them, and the lighting on them was obviously and "uncannily" not correct.

Kevin: Yeah, the asteroid setting for the station was well done. Some of those interiors were....not. I don't want to belabor the point since we're covering a lot of the same ground episode to episode, but the ships continue to generally be good, both in terms of design and execution.

Matthew: The interior sets were pretty nice, effectively conveying "laboratory" without going too Captain Proton (although the blinky light tube thing was in the background, though this time with green bars!). The makeup on the disease victim was upsetting but not over-the-top horrific, and the bloody smear on the tube interior was good light horror. 

Kevin: Yeah, I agree. It was horrifying without breaking the tone of the show generally. The only moment that truly pulled me out was the kick that spun the guy around, which is just not how kicks works.


Matthew: This is above average, the question is just how far above. Thinking about our scale, I think this is not top 10% Star Trek, because it doesn't go deep into the science and ethics of the ideas at play. But it is a roundly engaging character drama, and I was never bored even once during the run time. That sounds like a 4 to me.

Kevin: I agree. This is a nice strong 4 from me as well, for a well deserved 8. The character work and plot tension is good, and everyone gets a nice clear point of view and the action flows from the natural clashes of those points of view. I think to get the 5, the episode would have to find a way to make me side, if only for an instant, with the Augments. Short of that, this is still a very well done episode.

1 comment:

  1. Why, I agree! :D

    One thing I particularly credit this episode and this mini arc with is how well it fits (or is fitted) into the universe. We get to see Dr. Lucas, augments are long established in canon, there are some Klingon bits (spoiler alert) to be set up to explain the facial ridges of TOS, the diseases mentioned are picked from stuff we've heard about, the design of the Klingon ship... This is the sort of subtle fanservice I like! This feels like Star Trek, and it fits quite snugly into the world, and at the same time it expands it.

    Well done, writers!