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The Trek Nation - Affliction

Affliction

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 19, 2005 - 4:54 AM GMT

See Also: 'Affliction' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A Klingon whose death sentence was commuted is forced to take part in a medical experiment. Initially he looks stronger, then he has trouble breathing and his forehead ridges begin to change. Meanwhile at Earth, Tucker departs for Columbia after telling T'Pol that he wants to help Captain Hernandez and Sato takes Phlox to a Chinese restaurant, near which they are assaulted by disguised assailants. Phlox is abducted and Sato's recollections are hazy when she comes to. Archer asks T'Pol to perform a mind-meld to see whether she can jog the other woman's memories. Reed tries to access the satellite logs and finds the data missing, but when he contacts Starfleet operations for assistance, he is greeted by a man in black who orders Reed to meet him in an hour at a location on Earth. T'Pol discovers from Sato that the kidnappers spoke Rigellian, and Reed is told that the only way to save Phlox is by obeying the mysterious operative's instructions.

At a laboratory in a Klingon colony, Phlox is greeted by K'Vagh and Antaak, a Klingon general and a doctor who once saw him at a conference. They tell him that millions of Klingons are infected by a virus that will exterminate them if they cannot treat it. Antaak, an expert in mutagenic research, says that kidnapping Phlox was not his idea but millions of lives are at risk, and Phlox reluctantly begins to work with him, discovering that the virus is a mutated form of a flu. Soon he recognizes the base pair sequences and realizes that they come from Augment DNA. He learns that the Klingons believe humans had continued genetic engineering experiments after they were officially banned, and used Augment embryos found when the stolen Klingon cruiser was destroyed to create their own Augments. But strong, intelligent human-looking Klingons eventually suffered neural pathway degeneration, and one subject with the flu caused the modified DNA to become airborne, altering and killing thousands in an experiment that has become a plague. The Klingons suggest that he help them perfect Klingon Augments before the Klingon fleet arrives to exterminate millions of infected individuals, but Phlox refuses even when threatened with death.

Enterprise discovers that the Rigellian ship that left Earth carrying Phlox has been destroyed, though there is no Denobulan DNA in the wreckage. On the orders of his mysterious superior, Reed lies to Archer, though he knows the Klingons were responsible. Reed protests to his contact that he is being compromised, but the conversation is interrupted when Enterprise is attacked by Klingon vessels, one of which beams modified Klingons without forehead ridges aboard Enterprise. They sabotage ship's systems and prepare to beam out, though one Klingon is shot in a corridor and abandoned. When Archer orders a pursuit course after the Klingons leave, Mayweather reports that the helm is not responding and Reed looks guilty. The crew makes two other disturbing discoveries: that their human-looking captive is genetically Klingon, and that the black box from the Rigellian ship has been erased. Archer asks Sato and T'Pol to work on reconstructing its data; they discover that it was erased by a device found in a storage locker last accessed by Reed.

Archer confronts his tactical officer, who respectfully refuses to answer questions. In the brig, Archer questions Reed further, demanding to know if Reed knows where Phlox has been taken; Reed says that he does not but insists that there are obligations beyond those he has made to Archer and the Enterprise crew. The modified Klingon is put in the brig with Reed, coughing; Reed asks him for help, saying that they both want a cure, but the Klingon tells both Reed and Archer that he is a soldier of the Empire prepared to die for it. T'Pol discovers that the sabotage has compromised the warp matrix. To alleviate pressure on the injectors, Archer orders the ship to travel at warp 5.2, but he is warned that the ship can't keep up that speed for long and T'Pol warns that a breach is imminent if the pressure builds. The only seemingly good news is that Columbia, under Tucker's engineering supervision, finally leaves spacedock to test its warp engines.


Analysis: There may be flaws in "Affliction" but I can't think immediately what they were: in terms of pacing, action, achieving a balance among the many different locales and plot elements, characterization and intra-series if not inter-series continuity, it's a rollicking good ride. How clever of the writers to tie the changes in Klingon appearance to the Augments, as it's plausible that the Klingons would try to modify their genes if they thought humans were doing the same (though why they'd use a prototype developed by a human is a little unclear; I'd expect Klingons to believe that crossing their DNA with that of humans would inherently weaken them). Thus do we get the Klingons of Kirk's era, though they haven't yet developed the shorter sleeker hairstyles (and I'm going to be most curious how Kang, Koloth et al get their ridges back in old age for their fun aboard Deep Space Nine). Hmm, I seem to be interjecting a lot of questions; I guess there are a significant number of problems not really addressed in "Affliction", but it's such fun to watch that I prefer to believe that all will be resolved next week rather than getting upset prematurely about things that at the moment don't make a lot of sense.

Like Reed's being an agent of what would seem to be an early incarnation of Section 31. It's not that I find it impossible to believe, personality-wise, that Malcolm would be drawn to such a group; it's that I wonder why we've seen absolutely no evidence of this connection before. If they picked this week of all weeks to talk to him, I'd expect it to be to find out more about what he saw on that Romulan drone ship, not because they need someone to hide a secret Klingon agenda from Archer, whom the Klingons seem to expect to be dead momentarily anyway. If we find out that this is all some parallel to the attempt to exterminate the Founders on Deep Space Nine, where the secret agents set up the incident with the Augments all along, I am going to be terribly disappointed, but until we see what's actually going on I'm just hoping for more substantial background, like when and why Reed got involved with these people, why they didn't contact him once during the conflict with the Suliban and the Xindi that we know of and why Reed thought he wasn't under their jurisdiction anymore.

Dominic Keating gives a good performance, looking guilty when it seems appropriate and appearing genuinely distressed at Archer's contempt, but I'd really appreciate more context before I know how I should feel about Malcolm Reed. Despite his obvious suffering, I can't feel sorry for him at all. He's trusting a Sloan-type over the Captain who has saved his life more than once, and who - despite what the Sloan-type says - has not followed Forrest's successor with anything resembling slavish devotion. Archer smartly brings up Reed's father's commitment to the Royal Navy and how he would feel about his son being court-martialed, but we don't get any response other than Malcolm looking agonized, begging to be allowed to take his tactical post without giving Archer one iota of a reason to trust him. I'm going to be pretty irked at Archer if Reed ends up forgiven for this no matter what Reed has been told is at stake.

Archer has a pretty good episode overall, having to make decisions in several instances without all the information and having to roll with it when he discovers that there's something enormous he couldn't have predicted, like an officer who may be a traitor and like that Klingon computer virus at the end. I'm shocked at how easy he went on Reed, frankly; I suppose that since Earth isn't at risk, only Phlox, he isn't going to resort to airlock interrogations, but when he knows he's taking his ship and all his crew into enemy territory where they may very well be killed, I'd still expect more threats than murmurs of a court-martial. His ship has been sabotaged not only by Klingon invaders but by a crewmember who might have known that those invaders were coming and actively worked to cover up that fact. Every single person on board could die, and as far as Archer knows it's entirely Reed's fault.

Last week Tucker decided that he was too distracted to work on Enterprise; he's pulled up his roots, gone over to Columbia and gotten the ship ready to fly in amazing time. Hernandez appears to like him at least enough to see if his methods work when some of her crewmembers start to protest; I was sort of hoping for the story of her fling with Archer to come out and for Tucker to rethink his belief that he can't work with T'Pol while he's so biased, but they don't really know each other well enough yet for those to be the sorts of stories about his former XO that she wants to exchange. I can't decide at this point whether we're seeing Tucker in denial only to everyone else, or to himself as well; he doesn't say the things in his "daydream" that I would expect him to test out saying to T'Pol when he thinks it's only in his head. (I expect him to save Enterprise next week by telepathically giving her advice, and can't decide how I feel about this; Kirk and Spock never communicated across these sorts of distances, nor any Vulcan romantic pairing I can think of!)

T'Pol agrees awfully quickly to attempt a mind-meld under Archer's tutelage, which rather astonishes me considering that she's been studying Surak. She knows from personal experience the damage that can be done during a mind-meld even to another Vulcan; for her to leap into such a task with a human, without even trying to get in touch with T'Pau or someone else who could tell her more about what to expect and what to watch out for, seems quite reckless to me. But it works, justifying the device retroactively, and it's really neat to see the scene by the restaurant replayed in imagination with T'Pol included, talking to Sato as she experiences it all over again. Later, when Sato reveals that she had an erotic dream about Tucker, she seems to be inviting T'Pol to open up, but T'Pol appears unwilling to analyze her experiences. I don't understand how she can be so brave about a mind-meld yet so afraid when it comes to asking herself the same kinds of questions she asks Tucker before he leaves.

Given that Phlox is the catalyst for the entire plot, he doesn't get a lot of screen time, yet the scenes that he's in are the most memorable of the episode. We get to see both his instinct to heal and the limits of that sensibility, when he tells the Klingons that they can kill him but he won't be a party to trying to make Klingon Augments. He's also involved in one of the funniest exchanges all season, wondering aloud why the Klingons didn't abduct Soong, only to be told that they tried but they couldn't get at him! John Billingsley is often very strong with only a few lines but he particularly excels here, in the dim light of the Klingon ship, reflecting Phlox's horror at the treatment of the sick and his bemusement at a pet Targ in a medical laboratory. He has a pleasant enough working relationship with Antaak that he feels sincerely betrayed at not having been told about the Augments from the beginning, as if he feels he's been tested while lives have been lost.

There are a million small details in this episode that I love: Tucker's having to change the patch on his uniform, Phlox's wives mentioned, Antaak's description of himself in disguise at a medical conference, Tucker's replacement being afraid to do what we saw Tucker do routinely with the engines (and Archer forgetting his name), the wriggly Klingon forehead ridges, the sneaky attempt to get Phlox to help create Klingon Augments...okay, Klingon "euthanasia" was a little much in a family hour. And the ending is perfect, just the way a Part One should end. Now to see if Part Two can give us all that this setup requires.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.