Friday, March 3, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Observer Effect

Enterprise, Season 4
"Observer Effect"
Airdate: January 21, 2005
86 of 97 produced
86 of 97 aired


Two strangers inhabit the bodies of the Enterprise crew during a crisis.

Hoshi Sato, looking the way I feel after an episode of "Picard"


Matthew: So there are two main threads to the story - an "outbreak" sci-fi narrative, and a classic Trek trope - the non-corporeal species with "elevated morality." As an Outbreak story, I think this worked pretty well. I believed that the illness was serious and that the crew was taking it seriously. I think putting Trip and Hoshi in decon quarantine was effective emotionally for we the viewers, who not too long ago lived through something similar (albeit more typically in larger domiciles). I thought Phlox also got some nice scenes as a professional Doctor. So all in all, this thread was pretty entertaining.

Kevin: The progression of the outbreak was really well done. The disease was scary and they built the symptoms and the technobabble well. The crew responded intelligently. It helped that they didn't have to make 'mistakes' to keep the threat urgent. The fear for Hoshi and Tucker built well, and Archer's grief at their loss worked, even knowing it would shortly be reversed, no small feat.

Matthew: Now for the Organians. Firstly, it didn't have to be the Organians. We've discussed the problems of prequels ad nauseam, but they are present here. Of course they Organians can erase their presence from the crew's minds. But there isn't any indication in TOS that this would be the kind of observation mission they would undertake. So it could just as well have been the Schmorganians.  The presentation of their body swapping and their style of observation was creepy and effective (though I think the writers missed an opportunity to make T'Pol the emotional Organian and Archer the cold one). I do think the criteria of their observation, and its potential outcomes, could have been made clearer. Just what is "rational intelligence" in response to an outbreak?  The "logical" Organian seems to veer between chastising corporeal beings for killing their sick, and viewing such actions as the more rational. Which is it? The scenes of them animating the corpses of Trip and Hoshi were eerie and well done.

Kevin: The scenes of them inhabiting the dead bodies worked really well. It was creepy and effective. The problem is that, as you say, this didn't need to be the Organians. It was just fan service, and not particularly effective. It doesn't jibe with the TOS portrayal. I will also say the moral debate they were having wasn't super well sketched out. I'm not sure how useful this is a test of intelligence. It may reveal their moral priorities, and you can decide if that's someone you want to invite over for board games and hot cocoa. As much as I love Star Trek's philosophical musings, they are occasionally fast and loose with their terminology.

Matthew: The third "Piller Filler" style mini-thread is the Hoshi/Trip conversations in quarantine. I think these were in the main effective, although Hoshi's story about running a Poker game feels a bit out of Left Field. Nonetheless, both characters are developed, get further fleshing out of back story, and get some nice scenes together, in an unorthodox pairing.  

Kevin: I will say that the back story of Hoshi running an illegal poker game and breaking a dude's arm does her prior characterization, but I suppose I'm happy she's getting whole chunks of dialogue that is not translating things. It is nice to see normal, human conversations though.


Matthew: All of the actors who played Organians did a nice job of modulating their voices and postures in order to seem "out of character." The teaser scene with Dominic Keating and Anthony Montgomery was a great reveal of the weirdness afoot, and this is a credit to the actors. They also made the compassionate Organian's conversion work. I enjoyed their flat affect delivery. Similarly, Bakula, Blalock, Trinneer, and Park all delivered as well. Bakula was also particularly effective as the concerned captain. He really sold his "Sacrifice" at the end, and his communication with T'Pol was a credit to both actors.

Kevin: The transitions were good, and a real step up from the similar set up in Season 2 misfire "The Crossing." Trinneer and Park had a nice vibe in the decon room. They weren't suddenly professing love (thank god), and they weren't suddenly best friends, but they just portrayed a nice rapport.

Production Values

Matthew: This was a bottle show, designed to save on budgets for the season. The main "new-ish" set we got was the extended decon quarantine space. Otherwise, this was filmed on sets that were entirely used prior to this episode - and with no new actors or costumes. It just goes to show how effective storytelling is more important than any cool-looking gewgaw or effect. The sick makeup for Trip and Hoshi was very good.

Kevin: The makeup job for them being dead really worked, and camera and sound choices really just let it all breathe, so to speak. They really nailed a body horror element that managed to land without derailing the main plot.


Matthew: I'm somewhere between a 3 and 4 on this. It's a self contained story with a novel angle and some good scenes. But I can easily pinpoint areas that might have been improved. I think, though, combined with the good acting on display, that this hits slightly above average, and I will go with a 4.

Kevin: I think the weak fan service and flabby moral analysis of the Organians holds this back from a 4. It is a hearty 3 for me. This is a nice, solid, middle of the road episode that combines a solid (if not perfectly executed) idea and some lovely character work all around. It is actually really enjoyable to watch a standalone story populated by good acting and a solid understanding of emotional beats. It seeks to entertain me for 45 minutes and it did with ease. That makes a total of 7.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad to have Montgomery and Park do stuff (even if we see little of Mayweather as Mayweather). Yes, we do run into the 'no characterization trap'. But as you point out, better to try and fail than not to try at all. And on that note, I'm glad they're putting the crew into different constellations than usual.

    I was also very happy to have Phlox rip into the two observers for their behaviour, giving a voice to what I was feeling. He realizes what's going on and is thoroughly creeped out; then grabbed onto the situation intellectually; and then realized he only had moments before his mind was wiped, and tore into them with dignity. Have I mentioned lately that Billingsley is a rare jewel?

    The Organians came across to me as wearing the blue-and-orange morality trope. I think they conflate morality with technological capability. It is more moral to be more capable, and so be able to save your crew. But I admit, it's just an impression.
    And I barely remember them from TOS at all, so I don't get the continuity bumps. Maybe it's time to go revisit, though I'm worried I won't love it as much with older eyes.