Enterprise‘s “Strange New World” in Review
Enterprise continues with an adventure to an uncharted planet that is, as promised, strange. It gives the show’s writing staff an opportunity to introduce us to more of the crew. The Earth-like (or, as the Vulcans call it, “Minshara-class”) planet provides opportunity for some much-needed shore leave. Of course, any veteran Trek viewer can guess this doesn’t quite go as planned.
In the teaser, we meet crewmen Elizabeth Cutler and Ethan Novakovich. We get a nice callback to The Original Series, as Cutler is enjoying a bowl of plomeek broth. She has decided to introduce herself to Vulcan cuisine and later attempts to engage T’Pol in a conversation concerning her interest. T’Pol seems unimpressed with Cutler’s attempt to connect with Vulcan culture, but as we know, this too is part of her nature. It’s a nice way to introduce a new, hopefully recurring character.
Predictably, Cutler and Novakovich are chosen to join Archer, T’Pol, Tucker, Reed, and Mayweather (not to mention Porthos!) on an away mission to explore the aforementioned unexplored planet. The beautiful landscapes bring back memories of a similarly themed episode of The Original Series, “Shore Leave”. Porthos seems excited to be able to run around on grass, and Archer okays Commander Tucker asking for himself and Ensign Mayweather to remain with the survey crewmembers, as they’ve earned a little shore leave. Reed, Archer and Porthos return to Enterprise, and this is when things start to turn south.
Amongst the regular characters, it seems Travis and Trip are chosen, this time out, to get some of the focus. We don’t see much of Phlox or Hoshi, both of whom featured heavily in the previous adventure.
This episode’s tales of life as a “Boomer” (boy, that term sure has different connotations today!) from Mayweather take the form of a ghost story that foreshadows the troubles ahead for the away team. After retiring to their respective tents, Tucker is uncharacteristically panicked by what appears to be a local scorpion. A windstorm forces the crew to relocate to a cave which T’Pol discovered earlier that day.
In the cave, the away team’s behavior becomes highly erratic. Connor Trinneer, as Tucker, does a good job of gradually acting more paranoid, and the makeup enhances this metamorphosis as his hair becomes more and more unkempt. Mayweather returns to the campsite to retrieve some left-behind food and sees some unidentified humanoids. Novakovich notices some movement in the back of the cave. When he runs out in a panic. Trip and Mayweather follow him, and T’Pol goes further into the cave to investigate. Cutler follows T’Pol and witnesses her conferring with more aliens, causing her paranoia to grow.
Circumstances now get even more out of control. Archer orders the crew to meet at the cave entrance, but due to the storm, he’s unable to land a shuttlepod on the planet’s surface. Novakovich is still unaccounted for, and accusations that T’Pol is conspiring with the unidentified creatures are taking hold. Trinneer’s acting goes from subtly paranoid to over-the-top as it becomes clear that the away team has been hallucinating their visions of various threats.
Archer uses the still-experimental transporter to retrieve Novakovich but accidentally merges his pattern with some of the local flora. Although Phlox manages to separate the plant bits, he discovers that Novakovich was exposed to a high dose of toxic pollen and his condition is failing. This pollen also seems to be causing the hallucinations and paranoia. It gives John Billingsley, as Phlox, a chance to show a more serious side, without the humor that dominated his characterization in previous installments.
The situation on the planet has reached a crisis point. Even T’Pol is affected by the condition, now speaking only Vulcan. She and Trip are threatening each other with their phase pistols, while Cutler and Mayweather are barely conscious.
Phlox has his moment to shine, developing an antidote that can save Novakovich as well as the away team. Archer beams down a vial of the antidote, but in his paranoia, Tucker refuses to take it. Hoshi has her moment, communicating with T’Pol in Vulcan and coordinating an effort to play on Tucker’s illusions, which helps T’Pol overpower him. She proceeds to administer the antidote to the away team.
This is an episode akin to TOS: “The Naked Time”, The Next Generation’s “The Naked Now”, and the recently-released Strange New Worlds’ “Ghosts of Illyria”. Here, as in those episodes, the crew isn’t threatened by a hostile force but by themselves, under the influence of a condition that causes erratic behavior. It’s an enjoyable, if not particularly memorable, adventure. The writers miss out on an opportunity to give Travis Mayweather more depth and character, but Connor Trinneer does shine as a paranoid Trip Tucker.
As the series continues, I would like to see some new facets of our regular characters’ personalities. Each episode gives us examples of their established character traits, but they’re starting to feel one note. Apart from Phlox’s serious moments and Tucker’s toxin-influenced mania, they’re still hammering the same points home. It’s as if the writers are following notes from the series bible instead of exploring ideas on what motivates these behaviors.