Saturday, May 20, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Demons

Enterprise, Season 4
Airdate: May 6, 2005
95 of 97 produced
95 of 97 aired


The crew of the Enterprise discovers a group of violent Xenophobes who seek to drive all alien migrants off of the planet Earth.


Could a man with such a high-buttoned suit jacket really be all bad?




Kevin: I think this episode is the core of a good, even great idea, and one that is quintessentially Star Trek: the conflict of human ideals and human prejudices. I think this is the more interesting post-9/11 story than even the Xindi arc, because it has the potential to be so grounded in human story telling. This is more complicated, in a way, than the Xindi weapon story. That's about acceptable tactics in the face of an existential threat. There's a lot there, and the show found a decent amount of it, but these stories have the potential to be more personal and relationship-focused. Rational or not, humans might feel that their entry into the broader galactic community has only made them targets and coupled with legitimate annoyance at Vulcan paternalism, you have a recipe for some pretty dark thoughts. How Earth got from that point to the philosopher kings of TOS and TNG would be a great season long arc, and a pretty daring one in the early aughts. Cramming this into the home stretch doesn't do this story any favors.

Matthew: I agree this idea could have stood longer-term development. There is a callback to the run-in with racist goons during their last trip to Earth, and that isn't nothing. But I find the Terra Prime movement to be pretty interesting, for much the reasons you lay out, so I would have been thrilled to get more hints of their activities and the people who are recruited by them in prior Season 4 episodes. Ultimately, that's not really the fault of this particular episode, so I am not going to penalize it for that.

Kevin: I think my main problem, much like the barfight earlier in the season is that episode chooses to manifest this xenophobia in the most literal knuckle-dragging way possible. I'm certainly not saying I want a sympathetic depiction of racists, but to truly sell the threat they pose, I need to see the work of them cloaking themselves in moderate language that pretends to address real problems. Instead of giving us a suave, plausible demagogue, we get the unmistakably EEEEVIL Peter Weller and a plot that's too complicated by half. I'll address this more in the next episode where it gets more discussion but I'm still not really clear on why the hybrid child exists. Setting that aside, the "Enormous Laser on the Moon" is such a corny James Bond plot that Austin Powers had parodied it. It's just too ridiculous a plot, and one that wasn't necessary. Again, I'm having trouble connecting the dots of cause to effect. Wouldn't threatening a bunch of humans turn off enough of the moderate middle to take this movement out at the knees? Wouldn't some more targeted threat just at the aliens be more effective, or even some kind of false flag blaming Vulcans or something (though we did just have a false flag with Vulcans earlier in the season). It's just all too moustache twirly and it robs the threat Terra Prime presents of any real teeth. 

Matthew: I disagree here on the EEEVIL of it all. John Frederick Paxton (why do all the worst honkies use three names) is the hero of his own story, and has crafted a plausible self narrative that justifies his actions. But what makes it all the more believable is the diversity among the followers of Terra Prime. Xenophobia and racism appeal to a lot of people, especially when they are frightened. So showing us miners, reporters, diplomats, and more who have been touched by this rhetoric lends a quality of verisimilitude to the narrative. For whatever its flaws (and there are a few), this is soooo much better developed as an allegory about racism and anti-immigrant sentiment than the whole of Picard Seasons 1 and 2. I do agree on the space laser, though. That's silly. Did they need the laser and the baby? It seems like just one would do.

Kevin: My last hang up is what this does to Trip and T'Pol. We have precious little time left (spoiler alert: even less for Tucker, zing!) and the magical appearance of a shared child is just too much too fast. They haven't really sealed the deal on being a couple so this serves to not stress test an extant couple, it serves to prevent them actually getting to be one. Even with the sexism and gratuitous nudity aside, this pairing hasn't gotten the airtime that Tom and B'Elanna, or even Worf and Jadzia did. Tom and B'Elanna were such a well portrayed couple because we got so much of them navigating the nuts and bolts of relationships. Even the most sci-fi ideas, like B'Elanna customizing their fetus, is still basically anchored in a very human idea. She was traumatized by her father's absence and that understandably creates trust issues for her adult relationships. Tom is and should be understanding, but not infinitely so. If and how this relationship can now work is understandable and relatable, and made more complex by the sci-fi story elements. The sci-fi elements are not doing the heavy lifting of giving them a relationship. This coupling has been carried almost exclusively on the back of the actors' chemistry, not the writers' words, and this Shocking Twist is just the lately example. 

Matthew: Yeah, this was a bit of a left field sort of twist, and I don't think their reactions to it are given enough time to breathe - it's down to the actors to convince us of their feelings. I also think this story thread would have benefited from making the resumption of their relationship more clear since Trip's return to the ship.  Speaking of random relationships, Gannet (ho ho) and Travis  was written just on the happy side of Okay-ish, but I couldn't find much of a reason to invest in it before she was revealed as a Space Racism sympathizer.


Kevin: I was not a fan of Peter Weller's Paxton, and I mean that beyond the extent I was supposed to dislike the character for his politics. He's just so Creepy and Obviously Evil that I wonder how he wooed anyone to his cause. This may be a better outing for him than Into Darkness, but whoo boy is that the faintest of praise. Patrick Fischler's Mercer was more successful. You hire a character actor like him to be vaguely nervous at everyone, and he delivered.

Matthew:  I disagree, and this is probably why our experiences of this episode differ. I thought Peter Weller delivered the sort of monomaniacal, sociopathic, but rhetorically effective Space Racist that the story needed. There are plenty of real life villains who seem so obviously evil that no one should stoop to following them... but hey, here we are, with a whole coterie of shitty douchebags dominating various cable networks and political parties (I'll leave it to the reader to guess which ones). Agreed on Fischler's slightly creepy doctor.

Kevin: I wish Harry Groener's Mayor of Sunnydale Minster Samuels got more to do and with some more complexity. As fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recall, he's great at being genuinely warm and genuinely terrifying at the same time, and I think they chickened out by having him disclaim his former prejudice so quickly. Focusing the story more on that kind of casual, but more pervasive and insidious racism would have been a more interesting exploration of the issue, and Groener absolutely could have carried it.

Matthew: Definitely, his best stuff was during the Espresso scene, in which Archer challenges Samuels' youthful indiscretions.  Either way, Groener more than made up for the somewhat annoying Tam Elbrun here, and delivered a character with intellectual nuance and diplomatic charm.

Production Values

Kevin: Congrats to the prop person who has to glue things to a baby. You earned that union paycheck today, my friend. The moon caverns were a little styrofoamy, but I don't have much else in the way of critique. There were a bunch of new sets which was fun, though a few of the wide shots continue to look awkward. The Orpheus facility was still pretty 00s video game cutscene, but it was well designed for what it was.

Matthew: I am almost certain that the Vulcan ears on the baby were CGI additions, not physical props. And they looked pretty good. Apparently, the diplomatic conference was held in the lobby of Paramount's on-site screening room - and it sort of looked lobby-ish. I think the mine and Orpheus interiors did a pretty good job of making a world feel big without a whole lot of material. The CGI of the exteriors was pretty hokey, though. The standout ridiculous set was the bizarrely dorced-perspective San Francisco alleyway with an utterly fake-looking city backdrop. I've been to SF... I don't think there are a whole lot of straight up 45 degree inclines.


Kevin: This is a solid 3 from me. We raise some interesting issues, but we explore them through the most bland action movie lens we can think of. There's a more interesting story about how easy it is to sway self-identified 'nice' people into supporting some pretty hideous policies. They were such villains from the start that there is no way to be surprised by anything they do, and no way you could buy any non-villain not seeing right through it. Add to that, their plan is standard Bond villainy, and the result is story whose stakes I never quite buy. The acting and effects are fine overall, they just don't elevate the writing on this one. The finished result is still solid enough, more than enough to merit a 3 from me.

Matthew: I'm at a 4, and it verged on a 5 but for some scattershot plot threads. This hits me right in the sci-fi allegory center of my brain (a bundle of neurons long nurtured by years of TNG-DS9-VOY), and watching it now after the completely ham-fisted attempts of Kurtzman Trek to ape this sort of storytelling increases it in my estimation. But it's not a 5, because of the threadbare romantic subplots and dorky supervillain plan. So that puts this at a total of 7.


  1. I'm with Matt on Paxton and Peter Weller's portrait of him. He reminded me of Cheney's 'dark side' quote, and how a deadly crisis will see this mindset come out of the human woodwork. But I'm also with Kevin in wanting to see more than the brush with xenophobia that Samuels had in his youth. We could use someone in between the two extremes, like perhaps the nurse who changed her mind, whom we never got to know.

    Was there a quote about the space laser having been down for maintenance, or am I making that up? Because that thing might have been useful when the Xindi came.

  2. I was really glad to see Hoshi in command of the Enterprise, and that she handled it with aplomb. As usual I find myself wondering what would have happened next with her.

    Just now I realized that there's probably intent in putting the Mirror episodes just before this two-parter. Terra Prime may be less cartoonishly, backstabbingly evil than the Terran Empire, but their aims are very similar.

    1. Whoops, wrong episode, my bad. That one was supposed to go under 'Terra Prime'.