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The Trek Nation - Detained

Detained

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 25, 2002 - 12:28 PM GMT

See Also: 'Detained' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Mayweather and Archer wake in an alien prison complex where all the other captives appear to be Suliban. A guard takes them to Tandaran Colonel Grat, who apologizes for detaining them. He accepts their explanation that they hadn't realized their shuttlepod had entered a Tandaran military zone when it was captured, but says he cannot return them to Enterprise until they've gone through the formality of a hearing with a magistrate. Until their transport from the detention facility to Tandar Prime, Grat suggests that they keep to themselves and avoid contact with the dangerous Suliban.

Archer learns from one of the prisoners that these imprisoned Suliban have not been genetically altered. They are civilians who made their homes in Tandaran space until the Cabal's actions triggered anti-Suliban prejudice, which drove the Tandarans to incarcerate all Suliban in detention camps, ostensibly for their own safety from angry mobs. Archer doesn't believe this explanation for their captivity any more than the Suliban do -- particularly after Grat interrogates him about the Suliban in Oklahoma and on Rigel. Since Archer refuses to answer Grat's questions, the colonel postpones his and Mayweather's transport to the magistrate. When Grat informs Enterprise of the delay, Sato traces the signal to the detention area so that Tucker and T'Pol can prepare a rescue mission.

Archer suggests a prison break to the Suliban, but many are initially fearful, and at least one believes that Archer and Mayweather (who look Tandaran) may have been planted among the Suliban to stir up a rebellion that would give the guards an excuse to kill them all. When T'Pol beams Archer a communicator to signal Enterprise's readiness to beam him aboard, the captain tells her of his plan to help the unjustly imprisoned Suliban. Grat's guards detect energy readings from the communicator and put Archer in isolation, but Enterprise has already hatched a plan to disguise Reed as a Suliban and sabotage the prison.

T'Pol distracts Grat with diplomatic talk while jamming his frequencies so he won't detect a shuttlepod launch. As Enterprise evades Tandaran patrol ships, Tucker blows up the camp's weapons and Reed blasts a hole in the prison wall. Then he finds Archer, but Grat tries to stop them from escaping, telling Archer that he hasn't freed the Suliban but condemned them -- because they're desperate, they will join the Cabal and become genetically altered killers. Archer insists that he knows the Suliban better than Grat does, but once he has escaped and is safe on the shuttlepod, he can't answer Reed's question about whether the Suliban will be all right once they've left Tandaran space.


Analysis: Enterprise could hardly have done a more timely episode than 'Detained,' which brings to mind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the post-September 11 abuse of Arab-Americans in parts of the U.S., and the fate of Afghan nomads under a government whose name rhymes with 'Suliban.' Though the episode directly references the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, one can draw parallels to the Holocaust, the Inquisition, the maltreatment of Native Americans by the fledgling U.S. Army, the crackdowns on Chinese democracy in the name of protecting the citizens...unfortunately, there are numerous historical precedents here on Earth.

'Detained' doesn't have the moral complexity of Voyager's 'Remember' nor Deep Space Nine's 'Duet,' but this is not a moment when subtlety seems to be in demand. There are good guys and bad guys in this episode, though the bad guys look human while the good guys have the same appearance as deadly villains who will violate the timeline to promote their agenda. The simple message about not judging a man by his species comes through loud and clear, amplified by the fact that we see not a single Tandaran we wouldn't want to spit on. Tucker's raid on the prison kills numerous guards -- surely not all of whom are fascists like Grat, no matter what they look like in uniform -- but nobody worries about or even mentions them as a concern. They're chess pieces, as are the Suliban -- the black side, the white side.

As atrocious as those internment camps appear from our current perspective, there were specific historical reasons why they were constructed each time, often with the support of many common citizens. It's too simple to say that paranoia and fear of difference are essential human (or Tandaran) nature. Archer has no idea what role the Cabal -- or non-altered Suliban who support the Cabal -- may have played in Tandaran society. He has no idea whether Tandaran culture is generally democratic or whether thousands of other citizens of various races are being held in other internment camps. He has no idea whether these freed Suliban will set out to free others, perhaps non-Suliban prisoners, perhaps even Cabal members. He is operating out of an extremely limited knowledge of regional history, trusting the word of a single Suliban and his gut instincts.

Don't misunderstand me -- they're good instincts, with a refreshing lack of cynicism or detachment. We're supposed to admire them. In theory, this is a man who would not stand by while ethnic cleansing or ritual mutilation was going on. He's got no Prime Directive to answer to. But he forgets he's only playing on a tiny fragment of the chessboard, and he flies off at precisely the moment he could make the most difference. In 'Detained,' having knocked down the prison walls, Archer then ducks away from responsibility for what the Suliban may do with their freedom, without paying any attention to the root of the problem, let alone issues like whether they might raid neutral neighboring systems just to feed themselves, fuel themselves, protect themselves. When U.S. envoys take stands in global conflicts under similar circumstances -- uninformed, angry, certain that their own values will apply in every situation -- total disaster often follows.

For better or worse, Enterprise can't be original Star Trek, which filmed on the soundstage next to that other great fantasy of American global justice, Mission: Impossible. The direct political relevance of 'Detained' is also its downfall, though it's gutsy of the producers to try to make any sort of statement in this climate. For true viewer engagement, there must be some sort of quandary. We're not going to examine our own values from a storyline this preachy. If only it were a little less absolute, a little messier...a little more real. Although I can't fault the dramatic pacing, the restrained use of visual violence, the deepening of our understanding of Enterprise's villains, I can't help feeling that this would have been a much more interesting episode with much graver implications had we seen a single Suliban who was, in fact, genetically altered. Especially if he claimed not to be involved with the Cabal.

For many viewers, the pleasure of watching this episode has little to do with the plot and everything to do with watching Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell share the screen. They're wonderful together, particularly when Grat goes berserk at the end and slams Archer into the wall. It's always a little strange, though, when the villain outshines all the good guys, who in this case are painfully bland. Being hidden under all that Suliban makeup can't help the actors any (though I'm a bit puzzled -- I thought the mottled skin was supposed to be a function of the genetic alteration, so how come these un-altered folk look so similar to the Cabal?) It's easier to root for the sullen, distrustful Suliban than the one with the wife-and-kid sob story, just because the darker emotions play so much more convincingly. I'd love to have seen these actors play more dimensional characters.

Mayweather gets the most interesting role, because he's evidently not comfortable around Suliban even though he knows it's an unfair prejudice; Montgomery does a really nice job playing that ambivalence. Unfortunately he's the captain's yes-man for most of the episode, though previously he's been the only junior officer consistently to demand that Archer explain his moral reasoning before following orders. Maybe that's bad news in a military officer, but in a situation where the abusers and the abused seem so obvious to define, it's important dramatically as well as ethically.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.