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The Trek Nation - Canamar

Canamar

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 27, 2003 - 5:38 AM GMT

See Also: 'Canamar' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: On the way back to Enterprise from the Enolian home world, Archer and Tucker are forced from their shuttle onto a prison transport headed for the penitentiary at Canamara. When Enterprise finds the damaged, abandoned shuttle, T'Pol requests information from the Enolians and learns that the captain and engineer were probably mistakenly detained for smuggling. The Enolians order their officers to release the humans, but before the patrol ships can intercept the transport, an Enolian and a Nausicaan stage an uprising that injures the pilot and puts them in control of the prison ship.

The leader of the revolt, Kuroda, does not believe that Archer is an innocent man and Archer plays along to win the alien's trust, pretending to be a rogue smuggler. He agrees to pilot the transport to a system where Kuroda plans to rendezvous with accomplices who will help him escape -- and, presumably, where the rest of the prisoners will be freed. When Enolian patrol ships catch up with the transport, Archer and Tucker help Kuroda and the Nausicaan disable them, though Archer is disturbed to realize that Kuroda would just as soon have killed everyone on the pursuing vessels. Then he learns that after arriving at the planet where Kuroda plans to meet his contacts, the alien intends to leave the transport with his allies, leaving the other prisoners to die and the ship to burn up in the atmosphere of the planet in order to bury all evidence of his revolt.

Archer refuses to allow the other prisoners to die, conspiring with Tucker to knock out the Nausicaan so that the two of them can take over the ship. Kuroda catches them and starts shooting, but when he thinks his allies have arrived, it turns out to be a rescue mission from Enterprise, which received a coded message sent by Archer. The transport's orbit is decaying so Tucker and Reed quickly evacuate the prisoners. But Kuroda refuses to leave the ship, believing at first that Archer can fly it to safety and, after Archer fights to escape, that he can stop its orbit from decaying. Kuroda fails and dies when the ship burns up in the atmosphere. After the rescue, when the Enolians ask for a report, a furious Archer informs them that their patrol ships arrest people on false charges and many of the other prisoners are probably as innocent as he was.


Analysis: Archer gets to show off his muscle in this action episode, but in the end, the action turns out to be the point of 'Canamar.' This isn't 'Detained,' a serious story about prisoners detained by corrupt authorities; we never find out why the Enolians are so paranoid about smuggling that they arrest dozens of seemingly innocent travelers in their space, nor even whether most of the other prisoners are, in fact, as guiltless as they claim. This is a story with a Good Guy and a Bad Guy, and if there's a teeny bit of ambiguity regarding the Enolian authorities themselves, they also only get a teeny bit of screen time.

Despite a plot that feels like a merger of Next Gen's 'Gambit' and Voyager's 'The Chute,' the action is well-paced and engrossing, thanks largely to good guest performances and excellent directing in the claustrophobic space of the prison transport. Enterprise's bridge looks enormous this episode; I'm not sure whether that's because it looks empty without Archer and Tucker or if it's filmed specifically to contrast with the dark cockpit where Kuroda sits practically on top of Archer as he attempts to fly the alien craft and find out his adversary's motives at the same time. A different alien provides comic relief, playing a prison movie stereotype -- the overly chatty, relentlessly chipper cellmate, in this case strapped down next to an unusually antisocial Tucker.

There's no moral to this story -- no broader emphasis on humane treatment of prisoners, no suggestion of the obligation of free people to defend the unfairly detained, no image of a horrific penal colony that might spark a discussion of the best way to rehabilitate those who have turned to crime because life offered them few positive options. It's all about how Archer and to a lesser degree Tucker make themselves fit in with a group of angry misfits, alternately trying to relate to them and trying to distance themselves from them. Archer starts to bond with Kuroda, who had a difficult youth and has made a living flouting conservative laws the way Archer himself sometimes does, before realizing that the guy's a selfish, sociopathic grifter who'd as soon kill other unfortunates as the people who've made his life miserable. In a switch from TNG's anti-Nausicaan attitudes, the one in 'Canamar' is actually a fairly articulate, trusting lackey. We're supposed to feel marginally sorry for him and the other prisoners, while we're apparently supposed to slowly grow to hate Kuroda enough that it doesn't really trouble us when he burns up with his ship.

I get the distinct impression that the equivalent of the money shot for this episode -- the fiery destruction of the transport -- was cut to avoid reminders of the Columbia tragedy, for we never actually see it go down, for which I'm very grateful as I was anticipating it with a knot in my stomach. Yet it's still a nasty end for a character who didn't need to be nearly as two-dimensional as he became in the end. We'd still have been rooting for Archer to take him in a fistfight. The fact that he turns out to be a dangerous criminal makes the Enolian habit of arresting first and sorting out the innocent later seem less unreasonable. And I don't like it when I'm encouraged to root for a character to die. Kirk and Janeway both would have tried to beam the guy out of there after escaping from his clutches; Archer didn't have that option because the transporters wouldn’t work through the transport shielding, but it still seems like a needless death.

Love the agonizer cuffs that eventually get used in the climactic battle (make me think of the collars from The Gamesters of Triskelion), hate the seeming incompetence of everyone who fires a laser weapon except Enterprise crewmembers at critical moments. Were the Enolians wearing recycled Devore uniforms from Voyager or did it just look that way? Not only bridge prop Mayweather but Phlox, Sato and Reed get very little to do in this storyline, and although I love Tucker and think he should be front and center as often as possible, I really am wondering why it wouldn't have been Mayweather -- he must know enough engineering to help Archer weasel his way past Kuroda's attention, and we'd have gotten to see the little things that humanize characters had it been one of the others in the prison, whereas we really learned nothing new about Tucker except that his patience has a very forgivable end.

I don't think there's a lot else to say about this episode. It's not offering much subtextual commentary on prison movies, not moving in a new direction in terms of Trek's social agenda, not breaking new Enterprise ground in terms of showing the gritty sides of main characters. It's a decent action hour, and then it's over.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.