Thursday, March 30, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Affliction

Enterprise, Season 4
Airdate: February 18, 2005
90 of 97 produced
90 of 97 aired


The Enterprise crew runs into some kidnaping trouble back home on Earth. Trip gets accustomed to his new ship and T'Pol feels his absence. Malcolm experiences a conflict of interest.

 "The first rule of forehead ridges is we do not talk about forehead ridges."



Matthew: This episode definitely has a "grab bag" feel to it, like there's a lot of things the show runners want to introduce for the remainder of the season, and this is just sort of where they have to do it. The A story seems to be the Klingons kidnapping Phlox in order to help with their "affliction." Spoiler alert - it turns out that the smooth-headed Klingons are the result of an attempt to cross augment DNA with Klingon to create super soldiers. On the one hand, I don't think this was a story that needed to be told. The Motion Picture had budget for bumpy heads while TOS did not, and that's that. On the other hand, I appreciate the desire to make things fit into a seamless continuity. Manny Coto inherited a prequel, which was an ill-advised enterprise to undertake for reasons we have already explored. So either he can ignore continuity to try to make it fit. I prefer the latter approach, as opposed to, say, turning the Klingons into Xenomorphs, or making everyone related to a Spock regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Coto's approach to this point has given us a credible origin for the Federation and hints at the Romulan War. Anyway, however superfluous this plot line is, the way it gives Phlox interesting choices (should he go against his better instincts with respect to genetic engineering in order to save millions?) works pretty well. I cared about his dilemma and found the augment connection to be clever, if not wholly satisfying (it doesn't do much to explain why every single Klingon depicted in TOS was smooth headed).

Kevin: I remember being annoyed at even reading the episode summary back in the day of this one, because the smooth Klingon foreheads did not need an explanation. Worf's joke "We do not discuss it with outsiders" from Trials and Tribbleations is the far superior response. It acknowledges the difference when there isn't any way to avoid it, and makes a good joke out of it. The only other path was an inverse joke where Worf or Dax commented on how cool Koloth's ridges were, ones they could see but we could not. It doesn't actually need an in-world explanation, so this was belaboring something that was best left alone. It also, calls into question natural design changes over series to a higher degree. Do other people notice that the Ferengi look way more like orcs now? Anyway... I agree the Phlox story is sound at its core. Two of Phlox's ethical values are placed in conflict. Drama will ensue.

Matthew:  So then we have Section 31. I am on record saying how carefully I think Section 31 needs to be used, and this  use was on the borderline. Now, it's not the fault of Enterprise that Section 31 members are wearing black leather uniforms. DS9 is responsible for that bit of silliness. But the way things were handled otherwise was pretty solid - Section 31 is acting appropriately behind the scenes, as opposed to, say, having a whole fleet of ships and officers with their own special merit badges that they wear publicly. And I liked the spot it put Malcolm in in conflict with his loyalty to Archer and the Enterprise. If anything, I think we could have gotten a bit more of it - erasing the recording device was nice and I liked the brig scenes, but I would have enjoyed a scene of Malcolm pushing back against his handler and having the debate that was just implied in these scenes.

Kevin: The episode itself is fine, it's the lack of deeper characterization prior to this point that undercuts it a little. We've only taken the most timid, newborn fawn-like steps, toward giving Malcom an interior life, and it makes the conflict a little less meaningful. I honestly, don't think they even need 31 explicitly. He's the security officer. He would naturally have interacted with Starfleet Security, and one of their higher ups is going off the rails a bit to do what he subjectively believes is in the best interests of Earth. And this isn't even the post-Federation utopia Earth yet, so I don't mind the cloak and dagger as much.

Matthew: So Trip and T'Pol are psychically connected. Um, OK. Vulcans have magic powers, so it's fine, I guess, as it allows two characters I like and two actors who work well together to share scenes. I enjoyed Trip's scenes with Captain Hernandez as well - she is a wonderfully drawn character, sensitive to emotions and unspoken truths, but direct and commanding as well. She's the best Starfleet woman commander since Janeway. I do think Commander Kelby was made out to be too much of an ineffectual twerp, though. How could he have risen to this level without a greater baseline level of competence? I would have preferred the "different command style" story to this one. With that said, I liked making Trip the Jellico-style hardass on the Columbia - it makes sense for him to be taking out his frustrations on his subordinates to some degree.

Kevin: I agree fully on Hernandez. She's a Starfleet captain in the mold of early TOS and that all works. I agree the internal workings of the engineering staff leave something to be desired. I just never like it when anyone, even a main character is treated as the only competent one. My only real regret here is we only have one more episode with this bunch, and it would have been fun to get a longer glimpse of another crew.


Matthew: Dominic Keating isn't asked to stretch too much here (uncomfortable English guy is right in his wheelhouse), but when he is in the brig later in the episode, I really liked his sense of desperation and despair.  I wish he had been given juicier scenes with his handler, who was well played by Eric Pierpoint, who seems perfectly suited to "Officious/Slimy Boomer" roles. His scenes with Scott Bakula also really spoke to the character's inner conflict, though Bakula's choice to be physically aggressive didn't work well for me.

Kevin: This is where the lack of deeper relationship undercuts the acting a little. I'm being told about the depth of betrayal rather than experiencing it, since there isn't that much meat on the bone of them being close. Mutually respectful colleagues? Sure. But this isn't Trip. I agree physical anger isn't Bakula's strong suit.

Matthew: Ada Maris is terrific as Captain Hernandez, and her interplay with Connor Trinneer made for a really enjoyable set of scenes. I totally and completely believe her as a commanding officer with deep knowledge and concern for her crew and ship. Trinneer and Jolene Blalock also had a nice "daydream" scene together, and Blalock played her emotions a bit more submerged, which I liked. 

Kevin: To go down a 90s rabbit hole, I recognized Maris from Nurses, an NBC sitcom that was a spinoff of Empty Nest, which was a spinoff of Golden Girls, where she played a....unsurprising for the time stereotypical Latina nurse. It's nice to see she eventually gets more to do. Her last appearance at the top of the season and her appearance here really make me want to see more of her character. I bought her relationship with Archer when they went hiking, and I buy that she is the captain of this crew. One of the best compliments I can give a guest actor is that they don't act like they only a supporting character in someone else's story. She could carry an arc on her own. If they ever dust off Bryan Fuller's original idea for Discovery of an anthology based series, I would absolutely enjoy a few episodes on what Columbia got up to. Also, please take as read our standing list of compliments to Mr. Billingsley.

Production Values

Matthew: There was a nice use of existing locations to stand in for San Francisco, including a fun Chinese restaurant facade and a suitably foggy alley. The Klingon vessel exterior and interiors looked nice. The Columbia bridge... yeah. It didn't work for me. The pulsating doodads in the back and the incongruous monitor facing the view screen just both seem like "blinky crap that people would trip on in an emergency."

Kevin: It was the running lights on those pillars that took me out. They were like having someone with their high beams on drive down the bridge every few seconds. And, as you say, they clearly don't serve a purpose beyond blinking.


Matthew: There is an inherent silliness to the Klingon forehead explanation that this episode doesn't really surmount. Nonetheless, several characters get interesting choices and scenes. So this lands in the fat part of the bell curve for me with a 3. 

Kevin: Between the foreheads and invoking Section 31, this is a little too much fan service for fan service's sake. I'm also just not that thrilled to see Klingon versions of the Augments. I wasn't super in love with the story earlier in the season, and didn't really need to revisit it. Still, as a self contained piece of entertainment, it moved well, and Phlox can carry most stories. I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.


  1. Agreed entirely on getting a glimpse of the Columbia and her crew. I'd definitely want to watch a series with Hernandez in the captain's chair. I think I'd be more comfortable under her command than under Archer's. So I suppose they would have to invent a flaw for her. She seems a blend of Janeway's insightful kindness and Picard's principled stoicism. They happen to be my favourite captains.

    I really didn't like the psychic connection. As in 'dropping my head on the table in front of me if I'd had one' first time I watched. I'm not too wild about the 'opposites attract' trope, I'm annoyed that T'Pol is put in a romantic relationship at all, and it was really poorly written earlier on. Now it's the 'will they or won't they' trope, which may work on first viewing, but loses energy after. And then the touch-telepath powers an inter-stellar video call. *sigh*
    These actors are capable of serious heavy lifting, but to me they just can't get all this groaning dead weight off the ground.

    I consider the highlight of this two-parter to be Phlox getting to do stuff. I don't particularly care about the ridges one way or the other, but it is something that came up in nerd conversation. Running out of ideas in season 7, maybe they would have tried tacking the colour of Klingon blood? X)

    Trying to do something with Malcolm is also very welcome. He's basically all about loyalty, so it makes sense to put two of his loyalties at odds, and it does show a bit of growth that he ends up picking Archer over the black-clothed dude.

  2. An explanation of pink vs red blood... Don't give Kurtzman any ideas....