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timelinks review

"CARPENTER STREET"
  STAR TREK ENTERPRISE S03E11 (2003 Nov 26)

4
Carpenter Street (26 Nov. 2003) on IMDb
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Unexplained instantaneous insertion and extraction across light-years and centuries
History is already 'changed' in the 22nd Century;
Archer & T'Pol prevent a different disastrous change in 2004

 
Review by Chris Adams. 2003.11.28.
It's an old legend among trekkies that "Spock's Brain" was really a joke script Gene L. Coon passed around for laughs, since it has every cliche of bad SF writing imaginable– but the Original Series' third season was so desperate for scripts it got shot anyway.

"Carpenter Street" is this season's "Spock's Brain". It's worse, really, because its faults are all joyless and oppressive.

For the first seven minutes or more, we follow the tawdry life of one Loomis (Leland Orser) a slimewad in 2004 Detroit, who kidnaps people for money. We (but not he) discover his employers are reptilian Xindi, but apart from that, all we're treated to is a long, slow scene of Loomis slouching his way through his abuse and theft of a young streetwalker's remaining freedom.

Then it's time to get the time travel over with. Archer is foreshadowingly feeding cheese to his dog when Daniels appears. Daniels spends five screen minutes unloading so much time-travel-Trekspeak, weaving a tale of time-woe so absurd, as to make you wish Archer would just eject him and the contents of his cabin into deep space. Here's the lowdown:

  • The reptilian Xindi have gone to 2004 Detroit to make a bioweapon.
  • The "ripple" they've created hasn't reached Daniels' 31st Century. (So hurry, Cap'n Archer!)
  • He only got "permission" to visit Archer– who is already deeply engaged in events that "weren't meant to happen"– in order to...
  • Ask Archer to go back in time and space to handle it. With one companion.

title/poster

All it takes for illogic to triumph is for logical men to do nothing.
 

So Archer chooses to risk bringing another alien to pre-First Contact Earth: T'Pol!  As if to rub her nose in the whole stinky beagle-pile of illogic. Even Dr. Phlox would have been a more logical choice, since they're facing an alien bioweapon. And Phlox disguised in 'hood threads and trying to hang with the 8 Mile crowd could have injected the humor this diseased episode was starved for.

T'Pol voices skepticism, not over time travel itself, but over the means and consequences. Doesn't Daniels have "all the time in the world" to fix the problem? (And how about having to fight a wider time war with the Xindi?) Archer has no useful explanation apart from the fact Daniels gave him some retrieval dots a la Time TRAX which will bring themselves, and any other anachronistic stuff they find, out of there.

Quarter of the way into the show, and it's clear that on the issue of time travel, the writer/execs Berman and Braga have punted. The attitude seems to be that once they stamp "time travel" on an ep, they no longer have to care what the viewer thinks they're doing with it. An episode stamped "time travel" assures good ratings for no brainpower.

Archer and T'Pol ready themselves, then step through a door on the Enterprise, and out onto a Detroit street at night. A nice clean segue, but now our heroes are out solving a run-of-the-mill procedural, and are just time police.

...Or make that time secret police, since their first acts are to callously steal money and a car in pursuit of their 'greater good'. This is not the Star Trek I grew up on, where a transgression against the innocent (like Edith Keeler) made for a core of dramatic tension; today, the best we're given is a demonstration of interrogation torture as fodder for a stupid laugh. (Archer captures Loomis at one point, but has him untied in order to punch him, explaining that it otherwise wouldn't "feel right". After the beating under this false chivalry, he's tied up once more. The moment Loomis prevaricates again, Archer barks, "Untie him!" eliciting cooperation from Loomis and an unwelcome snicker from the audience at the psy-ops of the fallen show.)

Perhaps Berman and Braga and the rest working up these garbage-ethic scripts think it's just a darker take on the formula– the Captain and his Vulcan go back in time and fight the bad guys. Kirk and Spock stole clothes in "City on the Edge of Forever," didn't they? Much has been made of the new "darker tone" on Enterprise, but simply switching the hero from the one being tortured to the one torturing is the antithesis of everything Trek has ever stood for.

Worst of all, the episode passed everyone's final checklist of necessary elements (Budget-saver script? Check. Inserts featuring the PAs? Check. Stamped "time travel"? Check.) But no one noticed (or dared point out?) that the plot and story are a minefield of senseless actions and dialogue. Here's a short list of pain that has nothing to do with travelling time:

  • Loomis drives to pick up a specific streetwalker with a specific blood type he needs to deliver to the Xindi. He asks for her in particular, and she recognizes him from the blood bank she was at earlier that day– but he acts like it's a strange coincidence they should meet again. He may have the home addresses of all his victims from their files, but how does he know where she makes her rounds, unless she told him? Hookers don't list their professions on forms.
     
  • Archer's choosing to run off with T'Pol deprives Enterprise of her top two officers. (Though this is a hallowed goof on Trek.)
     
  • Archer and T'Pol steal an SUV, but use it to slowly patrol Detroit, scanning for Xindi. Their tech allows them to defeat lojack and alarms, but there is still the issue of the license plate. No chance of their being discovered by the cops?
     
  • The Xindi have been paying Loomis $5000/victim– but then suddenly fail to pay him after a drop. They promise him double for "the last three" but only if he acts faster, and waits till the job is complete. What? They can't steal from ATMs like Archer? Afraid of going broke before killing humanity? Despite threats, there is no reason Loomis should agree to this deal, and it serves no real purpose to the plot. Instead of fostering mistrust, if they want him to hurry they should simply throw the doomed human more cash.
     
  • While tied up by Archer, Loomis explains that he would never have helped kidnap people if he knew his employers were terrorists. While he is upbraided by the other characters, this is just about as stupid a line as has ever been written. Just Say No to Terror? Is kidnapping ever not conducive of terror?
     
  • This also brings into question what Loomis really thinks he's doing. If he thinks his employers will actually let his victims go, he should have plans for fleeing the country (he seems pretty sedentary). Otherwise the thought "accessory to murder" should have crossed his mind, and he... should have plans for fleeing the country.
     
  • After a chase scene, one Xindi has the bioweapon and is standing right next to a convenient air vent he could drop it into, thus setting it loose on Earth. Then he's fired upon. Against all sense, he carefully sets the WMD down, and walks several paces away from it before returning fire, instead of chucking it in.
     
  • Archer is able to sneak up on this Xindi as T'Pol keeps shooting. But he risks all mankind by walking past the weapon to exchange words with his foe, who only now decides to try to get the weapon into the vent. The non-climax has Archer scramble back and catch it, of course. Sigh.

Trek has been able to handle suspense and mystery plots in the past. "Carpenter Street" shows no professional interest in either, and comes off as an exercise in attention deficit disorder.

Maybe that's the only message to come from Enterprise: Don't even try to figure anything out. Silence your intellect and your beliefs. Just buy the merch, kids, and forget why you bought it, then buy it again. Perhaps a "franchise" shouldn't be expected to stand for anything.

It becomes more apparent with every season that the world Berman, Braga and company are building for Archer will only lead to one where Spock wears a goatee.

 
 
 
 
 

 


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