Sunday, October 2, 2022

Enterprise, Season 2: Horizon

 Enterprise, Season 2
"Horizon"
April 16, 2003
45 of 97 produced
45 of 97 aired

Introduction

Travis visits his family's cargo ship only to find it suffering from pirate attacks, and needing his assistance.

 

The crew relieves their boredom with the A plot by watching something completely different.

 

 

 

Writing

Kevin: This is not a good episode. It's not a bad episode either, I suppose. This episode is just kind of there. The story has mass, but somehow no inertia. It just doesn't seem to keep moving on its own. I think the first major issue is that, except for the change of being Mayweather's family directly rather than people very like his family with whom he talks about his family, this is pretty much beat for beat Season 1's "Fortunate Son." We see a group of cargo haulers dealing with the threat of piracy. That's been a story as long as people with things have moved on foot, animal, wheel or boat from where they are to somewhere else. I just don't think they crack the nut of making this story anything other than a ticking a checklist of a pirate story. I think part of my problem is that we don't really have a sense of the world these people inhabit. On Earth, the ships hauling things to and from the New World and the pirates who attacked them had actual agendas beyond merely moving things or stealing them. Indeed, many pirates were in the pay, formally or informally, of some of the governments doing the trading. We're already transitioning to the Earth that is somehow beyond commerce, so it's harder to picture why people would still do this. If the raw materials they haul are vital to the tech that grants that communist paradise, then that would make sense, and of course the pirates and the worlds they come from would want a piece of that action. It's also not clear why these ships aren't protected. If whatever they have is worth hauling it for two years, it's worth having an escort. The Enterprise has the only Warp 5 engine, but there's got to be some Warp 2 engines we can turn into the space equivalent of a corvette. I'm just spitballing, but I just want there to be a little more to this story. Travis' brother at one point says Starfleet is the problem, and I think that's supposed to read as "Fortunate Son's" critique that the faster engines will obsolesce this lifestyle, but it doesn't really go anywhere. I want Ron D. Moore and maybe Ira Steven Behr to just give a gloss of paint to this story to give it a little credibility to the macro politics of the situation.

Matthew: Obviously, this episode is going to be compared to Fortunate Son. I do think it is better than "Fortunate Son," but indeed not for the reasons you elucidate here. The space piracy idea is under-developed and has lots of holes. I think they took one aspect of the idea and ran with it - using slower warp engines results in longer term travel, but they fail to extrapolate interesting questions or provide obvious answers. I think the one that irks me most is that they only have two little pea shooters as weapons. Why? Clearly, this piracy has been an issue for some time. Wouldn't the operators of these vessels seek more weaponry just for sheer survival? One would think there would be an arms race of sorts, which could be a very interesting story angle.

Kevin: The other part of the main story is Travis' family. I think my hackles were raised when Travis' father dies just before Travis decides to visit. After nine Star Wars films and countless other stories, I find dead parents to be a cheap form of storytelling. I would much rather watch that relationship than hear about it. The family dynamics we got also weren't particularly scintillating. I think the problem is something I identified some episodes back as 'confusing having a character trait with having a character.'* All, I think literally all, of the interactions Travis has with his family are about whether his brother is up to the task of replacing his father as captain. There's nothing under those interactions. I just didn't get a sense this was a real family with a history. They were just talking about the thing the script told them to talk about. Even for Mayweather himself, the only thing, literally the only thing we know about him is that he is the child of cargo haulers and grew up on this vessel. There's no other element of his personality that feels influenced by or in conflict with that fact, so it still falls flat. Even for the other members of the Horizon crew, it just never gels. I think they whiffed on an opportunity again to really sketch out "boomers' as a unique culture that would develop on these long haul trips. It would help give the conflict with other cultures and a desire to protect it outside of its economic viability some teeth. 

Matthew: The family angle is the reason I think this episode works better than "Fortunate Son." That episode featured Travis visiting a cargo ship that is threatened by pirates, reminiscing about family, and being chastised for leaving. This episode features all of these things as well, but it is at least happening with his actual family. I do agree that the relationships were not explored to the degree I would like. A good brother story is always going to speak to me - and this is not one. Paul (coincidentally also the name of my brother) just comes off as pointlessly incompetent and intransigent (for a contrasting example, consider Robert Picard in TNG "Family"). The mother character had some interesting lines, but we didn't delve very deeply. Heck, even the cute woman who comes to Travis' quarters could have gone somewhere, but nope. So there was not a whole lot of change or growth, which lends a certain inert feeling to the proceedings.

Kevin: The B plot on the Enteprise was...fine. I feel like we're treading a lot of the same ground with Archer and Trip trying to get T'Pol to loosen up. The Frankenstein hook was cute enough, but the literal point of the book is that Dr. Frankenstein and not his creation is the monster. It's just weird that that was treated as some kind outr√© take on the movie. Also, they haven't threaded the needle of encouraging T'Pol to interact with the crew without coming off...weird and pushy about it. The idea of a planet changing orbit is fun and well-used in the past (THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!!!), but it just went nowhere. All the observations were done automatically, and 'on autopilot' is a good way to describe this story.

Matthew: I think what annoys me most is that everyone is in the mess hall on a completely level floor. Why would anybody sit in the back of this improvised theater space? I'd be like "eff it, I'll watch it in my quarters." Ultimately, this story thread was slightly more interesting than the A plot, and I would have been happy to watch an episode about T'Pol learning about humanity through cinema (I know that such a show would obviously be prohibited by licensing expenses). 

Acting

Kevin: Everyone was fine. No one was J.G. Hertzler forcibly wresting a bravura performance from mediocre material, but I can't fault anyone. The material was bland, so the acting was kind of bland. I didn't really buy chemistry from anyone with anyone else. I will say as flat as I found the B-plot, I liked T'Pol's line reading essentially comparing humans to torch-wielding villagers. She's really come into her own on the arid brand of Vulcan humor.

Matthew: I think Corey Mendell Parker was a misfire as Paul Mayweather. He was completely unlikable, to the point that the story would have made more sense if Travis had say that was the reason he had stayed away.Jolene Blalock was the highlight for me, too. She plays a Vulcan, with the character's requisite blend of curiosity and annoyance, really well.

Production Values

Kevin: I will acknowledge they did do work to help make the Horizon feel like a real place. We got the bridge, some quarters, the mess, and some hallways. My only problem is that they were all pretty bland. I think this was a missed opportunity to really sketch out life on one of these J-Class ships. You know what I would let my kids do if we were stuck on a cargo freighter for two years? Draw on any non-radioactive surface. The ship was kind of bland and grey, which I understand from a practical, and even in-story sense. But I just wish there was more there.

Matthew: the Horizon looked too much like the Enterprise in the interior sets like the bridge, mess hall, and crew quarters. I will grant credit for going to the effort of creating new spaces to make this ship feel real, but some gets taken away when the result is bland and derivative. It's a missed opportunity to show a crew that is on multi-year missions really decorating their ship with an eye towards variety and comfort.

Conclusion

Kevin: Over the course of seven hundred or so things we have reviewed thus far, I've given out a lot of 3s for episode that were boring but committed no egregious sin. I just can't muster it this time though. This episode is not bad, but it is boring, and Enterprise to this point has burned my good will on letting a boring, filler episode slide. This is not them having an off week. This is their main work product for season 2, and absent that goodwill, this is a 2 for me.

Matthew: "Better than Fortunate Son" isn't a ringing endorsement, and I agree on the lack of verve in this narrative.  So I will have to go with a 2 as well.

* I'm writing this outside the main review because it's a little off topic, but I have some thoughts I want to share on this point to illustrate what I'm talking about. Take Counselor Troi. She is not the most well-developed character on TNG, sadly, but there's still a lot of there there. One of her character traits is that she likes chocolate. But she doesn't just eat chocolate when she's onscreen. She luxuriates in treating herself to a sundae. She orders it when she is feeling stressed about her job or her mother. This specific trait, liking chocolate, is used to illustrate aspects of her character rather than just be her character. She is a person who cares about her relationships with her friends and family. She cares about doing a good job. She is a sensual (in the literal, non-romantic sense, though that too) person who enjoys taking care of herself. It's a repeated hook that Deanna Troi loves her some chocolate, but there is enough other portrayal and sketching out of her character to make that trait something that interacts with with her character and help us understand it, rather than merely substituting for it. And therefore, even when Deanna is not eating or talking about eating chocolate, I am left with a clear picture of who Deanna is.

Contrast with Harry Kim. He is green and awkward with women. Aside from just lack of attention, the main problem for Harry's character is they never give him an actual personality. The only time he really talks about himself, it's about either his inexperience or his awkwardness with women. I don't really have a sense of who Harry is beyond those things, and I think it's part of why the writers never move him past it. Without those traits, who is he? If Harry figured out he's actually good at his job or learned how to flirt effectively, what's left? If Deanna decided she didn't like chocolate anymore, as odd that might be, I trust that she would love something else with equal vigor and would still be an engaging character.

To tie this back to Mayweather, we only have this one data point, 'raised on a cargo hauler,' and we have not gotten, and sadly will never get, anything else to give us a character to care about. There's no underlying personality to have feelings about that fact or make choices based on it. I know I'm shooting fish in a barrel in saying Harry Kim and Travis Mayweather are underdeveloped, but I think identifying the reason for the problem is useful. The writers never gave them personalities not contained in the blurb of the audition notice.

Thanks for indulging me. :)

 ---Kevin

Matthew: I think Harry Kim is practically Tyrion Lannister compared to Travis Mayweather. That said, I have no further objections.

1 comment:

  1. At least poor Harry has different relationships with most of his crewmates.

    Agreed, agreed, and agreed. And very good elucidation on how lack of character is a trap. Look how much work they had to put into Seven before she became accepted as more than the Borg Hottie. We'll never know if Mayweather could have had a saving development in a later season, like Neelix did.

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