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‘Enterprise’ regains energy

REVIEW: After a sloppy second episode, the new series returns to form in ‘Strange New World’

It’s amazing what just a little bit of time, like a week, can do for a series. Especially when it’s one like “Enterprise.”

It was just two weeks ago that the world was introduced to the fifth incarnation of Star Trek when “Broken Bow” hit the small screen of UPN with rave reviews, and impressive ratings. But things went downhill from there after a poor outing with blood-sucking aliens in “Fight or Flight.” However, things might be back on pace with “Strange New World” that not only reintroduced the energy that was first offered in “Broken Bow,” but created some tense moments that was seriously lacking in “Fight or Flight.”

In “Strange New World,” Enterprise is diverted from a nebula study after coming across an M-Class planet, which T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) describes as “Minshara Class.” That would be quite fascinating if “Minshara,” if I’m even spelling it correctly, is actually the basis for the “M” classification that has become so famous in previous incarnations of Trek to identify Earth-like planets.

We still haven’t found anyone to talk to on these planets, but unlike the odyssey of Sluggo in “Fight or Flight,” we are more attuned to what an early away mission would be like.

Capt. Archer (Scott Bakula) joins the small team in the shuttlepod, as does his dog, Porthos. I loved the surprise of seeing his dog jump out of the pod ahead of everyone else, excited to finally get a chance to run around somewhere that isn’t going millions of kilometers per second.

Through the course of the away mission, which ends up being an overnight campout complete with tents and ghost stories, a hurricane-force storm moves in, and the team is forced to flee to nearby caves. However, the crew was exposed to some kind of flower pollen that is causing them to hallucinate, and all hell breaks loose when paranoia sets in and Cmdr. Trip Tucker (Connor Trineer) gets a little trigger happy with his phase pistol.

First of all, just let me say that I really did enjoy this episode. I watched it real late in the evening because of other plans I had Wednesday night, and I almost wanted to drift off, but that was more because I was exhausted and had nothing to do with the movement of this episode.

Instead of getting the standard Enterprise entering planet orbit shots to introduce a new habitat, we get to see the new planet with the perspective of the lower officers from the mess hall, right down to the reflection of the planet on their faces. That combined with the awe in their eyes reminds us that visiting planets is not business as usual for this early Starfleet crew.

But, for some reason, the writers (or the director) is still having trouble finding a good spot to jump from the opening teaser to the opening credits, and the way we ended the teaser sequence here didn’t exactly have me anticipating what would come up after Russell Watson’s ballad. It almost seemed like someone forgot to write the tease, so they just decided to cut it at the first sign one of the characters took a breath.

We never really got to see crews of past Star Treks camp out while on an away mission, and this campout seemed highly natural and quite enjoyable. It would be nice, however, if writers someday resisted the need to tell a ghost story while surrounded around the fire. Yes, Mayweather’s (Anthony Montgomery) story about the escape pod and the ghost was better than many other stories heard in this overused plot device, it still made me roll my eyes. OK, OK, so I didn’t totally dislike it … Mayweather’s “beep … beep … beep” of the escape pod’s distress call had me laughing.

Another thing that was missing from “Fight or Flight” that we got to see return in this episode was the sweeping camera angles that helped differentiate this new series from the static shots always found in “Star Trek: Voyager” and other incarnations. Each sweep was quite precise, and made me hit the rewind button several times just to sit in awe of the techniques used (yes, I’m a film technical junkie … so sue me).

There were some inconsistencies I was concerned about in this episode, namely how ship-to-surface communications work. Now, if I remember right, if you are to establish a communication from the ship to the away team, you would have to go through the bridge. The toggle speakers on the ship are for intra-ship communication otherwise, and Archer technically shouldn’t be able to flip a switch in his quarters and suddenly have instant communication with T’Pol on the surface.

I have not been a fan of Trip Tucker since the beginning of this series (all three episodes of it), and I haven’t made that a secret. But it seems that by this episode, Trineer has settled into his role better, and his lines were not forced at all, and were actually quite realistic. His building paranoia was perfectly executed, and the glimpses of the hallucinations was well done.

I think the most touching moment was when Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) nearly lost his patient, who was brought back to Enterprise in a botched emergency transport. He had missed a step in his treatment of the crewmember, and unlike The Doctor from “Voyager,” or even Bashir on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” or Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Phlox actually appeared quite shakened up by what happened. It was definitely a departure from how we’ve seen Neelix in the past on “Voyager” as well, so that might end some comparisons being drawn between the two characters.

And instead of having Phlox only be upset for that one scene, they allowed it to naturally continue even into the scene where he is at the transporter pad preparing the pollen antidote. That’s the kind of human emotionalism that fans have been asking for from Star Trek, and that’s exactly what was delivered from the most unlikely of sources … and that made the whole sequence of events even better.

Well, this episode proves that the powers that be are paying attention to what worked best with the pilot, and let’s hope that with their success rate two out of three (in my opinion), that the disaster we saw last week was just a fluke.

Michael Hinman is the news editor and co-owner of Airlock Alpha. He lives in Tampa, Fla.


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