RSS iconTwitter iconFacebook icon

TrekToday title image

The Trek Nation - Civilization

Civilization

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 15, 2001 - 4:36 AM GMT

See Also: 'Civilization' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Enterprise travels near a planet very much like pre-industrial Earth, with a single anomalous element: neutrino readings that indicate an antimatter reactor. When T'Pol expresses concern about cultural contamination, Archer has himself, the first officer, Tucker and Sato surgically disguised to look like the natives of the planet. While Sato works on translating the myriad languages, Archer and Tucker break into the antique shop that seems to be the source of the neutrino emissions. A local woman catches them and accuses them of collaborating with the owner, Garos, whom she blames for the mysterious illness ravaging the city.

When Archer questions Riann, who is an apothecary, he pretends to be an investigator from another city. He and Tucker return to question Garos, whose DNA does not match any other life form on the planet. Garos claims to have been a Mallurian explorer who decided to settle and kept his antimatter reactor to replicate food and clothing. Privately, Tucker and Archer wonder why he would need a reactor powerful enough to feed and clothe half the continent. Accompanying Archer to visit Riann, T'Pol takes samples and discovers that an industrial lubricant has contaminated the city's water. That night Archer and Riann see a man taking crates from the shop, which are hauled away by a small spaceship.

Archer manages to break into the reactor chamber, where he finds a large underground mining operation using drill bits coated with the lubricant poisoning the local water. When he tries to disable the dampening field, he alerts the Mallurians to his presence. Garos' ship threatens Enterprise. Garon claims Archer is dead, but the captain escapes with Riann and orders Enterprise to beam away the reactor. T'Pol destroys it in space, damaging the Mallurian ship in the process. With Riann's help Archer defeats Garos on the planet and orders him to leave, promising that the Vulcans will check to see that he doesn't come back. He suggests that Riann keep the story to herself, but she doubts that anyone would believe it anyway.


Analysis: Advertised alternately as a proto-Prime Directive episode and Archer's first Alien Babe of the Week, 'Civilization' actually proves to be a predictable fable of alien interference which was saved for me only by the heroines -- Riann on the planet and T'Pol on the ship. Much about this episode will remind Trek fans of Next Gen's "Thine Own Self," in which Data accidentally exposes a primitive culture to radiation and they accuse him of causing a plague. The revelation of the underground base has much more recent antecedents -- the scene looks a lot like the uncovering of the Vulcan base from "The Andorian Incident." Though the antique shop is visually engaging and it's nice to see the crew out of uniform, 'Civilization' gets no marks for originality.

It's such a foregone conclusion that Garos must be exploiting the natives that one longs for a nasty plot twist. We'd miss the moral about only meddling with pre-warp civilizations when we're the good guys, but we might have more fun learning that Riann's tea really caused the plague. The crew seems to be doing everything within their power to expose their origins, anyway. T'Pol, the one crewmember with anomalous pointed ears, is also the one crewmember who does not initially wear a hood on the away mission, for no better reason than to let the audience admire Jolene Blalock with her hair down. Archer has no fibs prepared when asked about his origins, and he and Tucker are so careless breaking into the shop that T'Pol feels it necessary to stun Riann just to cover their tracks. As she warns, they're recognized as outsiders despite the little bumpy forehead alterations.

To her credit, Riann isn't fooled by Archer for a minute, though it takes her somewhat longer to realize that he's from further away than a different province. She prefers his refusal to answer her questions to outright lies, and manages to keep her sense of humor when he reveals to her the existence of phase pistols and the presence of lizard-skinned aliens wearing masks. T'Pol and Phlox both admire her skills as an apothecary. Archer initially kisses her so he can make emergency adjustments to his universal translator, but he ends up enjoying himself, and in the end he seems to concede that she must have known what he was up to because he says he can't understand a word she's saying.

The romance is sweet and low-key, a great improvement on Kirk and Shahna from 'The Gamesters of Triskelion' though I still hoped Riann would teach Archer something that would save the mission and spare us the Starfleet-knows-best smugness that inevitably permeates pre-warp first-contact stories. She originally guesses the right color button to press on the alien console, then gives in to Archer's greater wisdom and they end up getting trapped! Guest star Diane DiLascio resembles Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and plays her character with the same plucky intelligence. She's what Scully could have been like on The X-Files if Mulder had introduced her to some friendly aliens before providing proof of the existence of extraterrestrial body-snatchers.

Speaking of X-Files, T'Pol gets in a smart comment about how an away mission would be a bad idea given how many years humans spent fearing extraterrestrial infections, and gives Archer the key to realizing why aliens always land in cornfields. Though she's barely been civil sharing food on Enterprise, she's practically friendly to Riann and compliments her apothecary facility, telling Archer to enjoy his tea with the alien woman. But she doesn't really hit her stride till she gets back to the ship -- and then she rocks!

Though Tucker makes the expected squawks of protest and tries to undermine her authority when she orders the helm to prepare to break orbit, she's already a step ahead, informing him that she has no intention of abandoning the captain dead or alive. Then she muses aloud, 'If they want the reactor so badly perhaps we should give it to them,' and defeats the Mallurian vessel using their own reactor as an explosive. It's a smart, tough move, like shooting Riann because the woman had a weapon trained on the captain -- not necessarily Vulcan-like but not illogical either. Sadly, Tucker never gives her the apology she deserves -- since I doubt he'll get court-martialed for trying to incite a mutiny in the middle of a space battle, he owes her some more pie, at least. Sorry 'shippers, no T'Pol/Tucker romance this week.

Archer does not have one of his more commanding episodes even though he figures out Garos' scheme almost as quickly as the audience does. If he's going to meddle, he'd better be ready to meddle with aplomb like Kirk or to talk his way out of situations like Picard. Otherwise he's going to get himself killed for real by some more experienced meddler like Garos or Shran.

As for Reed and Mayweather -- who are they again? Oh yeah, the former is the weapons guy who depends on orders from Trip, and the latter is the guy who flies the ship around in between episodes. Not that I missed them. (Next week Mayweather finally gets something to do; apparently it's to infuriate Archer.) I wish we had gotten to see Sato working and interacting with Riann's people a bit more, since her job is a lot more complex than any previous communications officer we've known. She actually has to translate, and enjoys the work, yet doesn't let anyone forget that she wouldn't mind skipping the away missions to write papers instead. I feel like we know her a lot better than the other minor characters, even though we've not seen much more of her than the one Sato-heavy episode which didn't showcase her strengths.

So what have we learned about interference in the days before the Prime Directive? Well, not much, because 'Civilization' stacks its deck by having nasty, exploitative aliens beat humans to this planet. All of T'Pol's initial concerns remain valid, but since Riann and her people would have continued to suffer and die had Archer not decided to beam down a team, the moral seems to be that the potential benefits of meddling outweigh the risks. I suppose that's necessary for a show like Enterprise to succeed -- we can't very well have the ship coming across planets every week and then deciding to observe only from space (though that viewscreen looks very impressive -- it can pick out faces from space even though the sensors can't clarify non-native life signs).

Still, the subject deserves several far more carefully plotted episodes than this one. Archer is lucky in that he hooks up with a woman who doesn't call the authorities or the tabloids and who seems to consider her relationship with him reason enough to trust his alien friends. But if I'd just uncovered an actual, provable alien conspiracy in my backyard, I doubt assurances of Vulcan patronage would stop me from trying to defend my people in more concrete ways, and I bet a lot of backward, pre-warp people think like me and all those cornfield-chasers. It might have been more realistic and ultimately more meaningful had Riann assumed that Archer -- who lied to her a number of times -- might be involved in the conspiracy, or at least might have motives he wasn't telling her beyond those of a sociable explorer. That's what Garos also claimed to be.


Discuss this reviews at Trek BBS!
XML Add TrekToday RSS feed to your news reader or My Yahoo!
Also a Desperate Housewives fan? Then visit GetDesperate.com!

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 television reviews, interviews and other features for magazines and sites such as Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.