In the ninth episode of the first season of Enterprise, the crew tries to make first contact with a civilization, only to discover they were beat to it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
You know, this isn’t a bad episode, per se. It’s a cool story that engages with the idea of exploration prior to the Prime Directive, but it’s got a plot twist that, upon reflection, feels a whole lot like “The Andorian Incident.” You know, the whole “hidden facility underneath a building” bit. While this is used in a different context – the Malurians are actively exploiting the Akaali and stealing their natural resources – it still came off as being a little too familiar for my tastes.
That’s a similar motif for most of “Civilization.” Every time I got hopeful that this show was going in a new direction, the story took a turn that wasn’t as exciting as the potential. Let’s start at the beginning, for example: I honestly believed that Hoshi was going on her first solo away mission, and the very idea of that was so thrilling, y’all. Look, after “Fight or Flight,” I loved the possibility that she would be able to prove herself on a mission again, especially one where she’d have to use her skills as a translator.
Yet minutes later, this potential is squandered when the story suddenly switches to be a group away mission and Hoshi disappears into the background. She has a couple lines here and there, but you could remove her from this script and it wouldn’t change the story at all. Instead, “Civilization” focuses on Archer, which isn’t bad all by itself. Within the context of the episode, though, it’s just… meh? I’ve just watched four whole Star Trek series in which people fall for aliens and then never see them again. I don’t know if Archer’s brief dalliance with Riann counts as him “falling” for someone, but the point still stands: this isn’t original at all. It’s not as if this episode tries to explore why romantic relationships in this context are bad, either! Riann and Archer never once address this at all. Instead, he helps guide her to discovery. She is the only person in the whole city who seems to have figured out that Garos is not who he says he is, that he’s doing something to make others sick.
Here’s what’s frustrating about all this: the script for this episode repeatedly confirms that Riann is brilliant, that her way of approaching science is way more advanced than probably any single person on her planet. Dr. Phlox is impressed, as is T’Pol. T’POL IS IMPRESSED. THAT IS A RINGING ENDORSEMENT IF I’VE EVER HEARD ONE. Yet despite monitoring Garos for months, it takes Archer to bring her investigation to the next level. For the sake of stating it, the “next level” here is that he recommends they follow one of Garos’s men. It is so bewilderingly simple that it ends up making Riann look like an utter fool. Are you telling me that she never once thought to follow the crates that were taken out of Garos’s shop? NOT ONCE??? That seemed such a bizarre writing choice to me!
The solution to the Malurians’ exploitation of the Akaali was a lot bolder than I expected, and I’ll give this episode that. Blowing up their power source felt like a concrete solution that perhaps wouldn’t have been considered by other captains. Watching T’Pol execute this as temporary captain was a lot of fun, too, though it helps that like Hoshi, she stands out in the cast as one of the most intriguing characters. Archer… not as much. And certainly not here. His romance has no real chemistry, and it’s so typical of Trek at this point that the show really has to come up with something revolutionary to get me to feel excited about it.
The video for “Civilization” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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