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The Trek Nation - Extinction

Extinction

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 25, 2003 - 3:41 AM GMT

See Also: 'Extinction' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A containment team exterminates a humanoid on a jungle planet. Soon after, Enterprise visits the same planet when Archer discovers from the Xindi database that the ship attacked by the Osaarians had visited it weeks before. They find a prolific ecosystem and evidence of a downed Xindi ship, but the pilot has been killed, and as soon as the Enterprise crewmembers arrive, they begin to transform into the same kind of humanoids as the one killed previously. T'Pol does not change much, but Archer, Sato and Reed all begin to speak a different language and are driven to find a place called Urquat. Using Sato's translator, T'Pol is able to communicate with them, but they do not trust her.

Phlox tries to convince Tucker not to send a search party, for they cannot read the three humans on any of their scans and he believes they have been altered. Tucker sends a team in bio-suits, who manage to recover a transformed Reed and put him in a decontamination chamber. But Enterprise is contacted by a containment team of a different species, who reveal that the mutations have been caused by an untreatable mutagenic virus developed by extinct aliens who had become sterile and had no other way to reproduce. The containment ships plan to exterminate everyone infected, including Archer, Sato and Reed, though they are willing to let Tucker and Phlox try to find T'Pol, whose Vulcan K-cells give her resistance.

T'Pol follows Archer and Sato to the ruins of Urquat, a city of architectural splendor now uninhabited and in ruins. There are recently-dead bodies, killed by containment teams like the one that comes down to try to eradicate Archer and Sato and which ends up destroying one of its own members when his skin makes contact with the air. Forced to use the transporter to escape detection by the containment vessels, Tucker beams down to rescue his crewmembers and flees at warp once he has retrieved them and the shuttlepod. Archer does not want to leave, but T'Pol convinces him that he'll be safe on Enterprise.

When the containment ships catch up, Tucker reveals that Phlox has created an anti-virus and has restored Archer, Sato and Reed to their previous forms. He promises to share the formula if the aliens forego destroying Enterprise. Phlox reduces the mutagenic virus to a laboratory sample which he plans to destroy, but Archer orders him to keep it in stasis instead, for it is all that is left of an entire species. Since they came to the Expanse to stop the Xindi from destroying humanity, he refuses to help destroy another race in the process.


Analysis: From last week's emotionally charged, allegorically relevant "Anomaly", Enterprise heads into familiar science fiction territory with a "crewmembers transform into scary aliens" episode. They're not as dramatic-looking as the creatures Picard's crew transformed into in "Masks" or "Genesis", but they're not as preposterous as the beings Janeway and Paris evolved into in "Threshold", though I got a little confused about what the Xindi were doing on their planet in the first place and why their database didn't have a big "BAD! STAY AWAY FROM NOW ON!" notation. I guess it's safe to say that "Extinction" is entertaining, but ultimately it seems rather slow and pointless, despite beautiful visuals and superb makeup effects.

Aside from its similarity to previous series' shows, this episode puts a screeching halt on the arc's momentum by failing to tie the story into the bigger picture. Last week, Archer stuck a living, breathing alien into an airlock and nearly murdered him. This week, Archer made a speech about not wanting to be the bad guy and wipe out the last remnants of a civilization. But how are the extinct species, creators of a brutal disease designed for the express purpose of turning living beings into automatons, any better than the Borg?

In the original series cautionary tale "Miri", aliens who tried to prolong their lives end up killing themselves off with a deadly disease that the crew catches; their children survive but will be raised by Federation teachers and diplomats, so their culture will be lost, and we're not led to feel terribly sorry for them after what they did. In Voyager's cautionary tale "Memorial", Janeway decides to restore a monument that forces the memories of a holocaust into the minds of visitors to the planet, though she also places a warning beacon in orbit. In this tale, we never even learn why the developers of the virus died off, whether it was a war or pollution or invasion; I expected a twist whereby the containment dudes would reveal that an ancient attack on their part made the planet's original inhabitants sterile in the first place.

Instead this story is just sort of there, like T'Pol's neuropressure with Tucker for a very long and boring first few minutes is just sort of there. He brings her peaches, she snarks that he finked out of their last meeting, we discover that his feet are ticklish, but we're not seeing substantive character development or relationship development, just Trip with his shirt off and T'Pol in her PJs. I know this is supposed to be sexy and titillating, but hey, folks, if this is the best you can do, save it for the end of the episodes so people don't tune out before the storyline gets going. In this episode T'Pol has better chemistry with Twist-And-Shout-Virus Archer, who sniffs her and tries to feed her maggots and makes long, dramatic eye contact with her, and she with him, to the extent that I was getting downright irked that she didn't even try to communicate with Sato, the onetime communications officer.

Which is not to say that Linda Park doesn't give a marvelous performance, shifting sinuously and demonstrating her character's fear and distrust while speaking barely at all. Scott Bakula's quite good as well, demonstrating Archer's primate-form skill at leaping up trees and cracking open maggoty eggs with obvious glee. Why the aliens programmed these skills, rather than the ability to create sophisticated mutagenic matrixes, into their viral offspring is something of a mystery to me, though if Archer inherited their medical know-how along with their facial characteristics and desire to live in Urquat, he might have been able to help Phlox cure them all.

Jolene Blalock once again gives the memorable performance of the episode, treading the fine line between overemotionalism and necessary pathos, particularly when T'Pol is trying to remind Archer of who and what he is. Considering the number of thankless scenes she is given — back-rubs for Tucker, tied up by Archer, sniffed and pawed and thrown to the ground — Blalock really does an admirable job keeping T'Pol credible and sympathetic.

The city of Urquat itself is stunning, both in Archer's dream where he envisions it in its glory, with pyramids and turrets and vases in display cases, and in shattered ruins; the alien makeup is marvelous, creating an Archer, Reed and Sato who look like distorted versions of themselves, wilder, in opposition to the rigid extermination squads who look like someone stuck daggers in their foreheads. The blowtorch weapons are a nifty concept though I got very squeamish both times they were turned on living beings, particularly with my children watching.

I feel like I should have more praise for "Extinction", which held my interest from the time Enterprise arrived at the planet to the beginning of Archer's speech in sickbay, but it feels disconnected and irrelevant. That superfluous, sanctimonious ending makes me feel vaguely dirty, like humans are being analogized with these parasitic dead aliens who really have earned no right to continued existence even in a test tube; their civilization is gone, it would be sad if it were forgotten, but instead of trying to find their literature or learn their values, Archer wants to keep the worst aspects of their DNA enshrined in stasis forever. What's the point of it all?


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.