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The Trek Nation - Harbinger

Harbinger

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 12, 2004 - 3:42 AM GMT

See Also: 'Harbinger' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: En route to Azati Prime and the Xindi weapon, Archer orders Reed to have his people work with Hayes and the MACOs on advanced training drills. While Reed and Hayes bicker over who has seniority in setting up the drills, Enterprise detects a spatial anomaly and goes to investigate. The ship retrieves a life pod from inside a volatile cloud of ammonium sulfide that damages many systems. Inside the pod is a dying alien who demands that Archer return him to his ship.

Tucker has been giving neuropressure to a MACO named Amanda Cole, who goes to Phlox complaining of headaches. Phlox reports to T'Pol on this amateur use of the technique, which inspires a displeased T'Pol to warn Tucker that he could cause nerve damage if he applies the technique incorrectly. While they discuss the situation, T'Pol discovers that the hull of the life pod is made of precisely the same alloys as the Expanse spheres, suggesting that there may be some truth to the Triannon belief that the Expanse was manufactured by powerful beings to transform the region of space.

T'Pol offers neuropressure to Cole to reverse any damage Tucker might have done, discovering during conversation that Cole has a great deal in common with Tucker and is very fond of him. Meanwhile Reed and Hayes continue to compete as Hayes demonstrates that he can outshoot Reed in a simulation. Afterwards, in the mess, Tucker and Reed discuss the latter's fear of losing control of ship's security and Tucker's disgust that people are spreading rumors about both himself and T'Pol and himself and Cole, both of whom he claims are "just friends."

The alien in sickbay claims that he was a prisoner who volunteered for an experiment, but when Archer refuses to let him go back to his ship, he attacks Phlox and flees through the ship. Meanwhile Tucker interrupts a neuropressure session to ask whether T'Pol is jealous of his relationship with Cole, which she denies, insisting that he is attracted to her rather than the other way around. The two banter and T'Pol kisses him, dropping her robe. Reed and Hayes practice training maneuvers together and end up getting into a fistfight which is broken up by a tactical alert about the escaped alien, whose fluctuating body is disrupting systems all over the ship.

After Tucker is wounded in engineering, Reed and Hayes work together to recapture the alien. Later Archer orders Reed and Hayes to resolve their differences before he is called away by Phlox. Tucker tries to talk to T'Pol about their intimacy but she insists that it was part of her exploration of human sexuality and agrees that they should pretend it never happened. Finally, in sickbay, the dying alien tells Archer that his people will take over after the Xindi have destroyed Earth.


Analysis: I want to apologize if the summary above is full of jarring, confusing transitions. It's hard to explain what happened, in an episode with three distinct plot threads, none of which meld together very well in terms of plot, theme or resolution. The significant storyline, the alien who may be one of the fabled Makers of the Expanse, got the short shrift by far in exchange for crewmembers punching each other and doing the nasty. Yes, I know sex is not supposed to be nasty, but a beautiful expression of desire between people; in this case, however, there was nothing beautiful about it, unless beautiful bodies are supposed to make the sex beautiful, but with the butt shot trimmed, even that's a letdown.

The "Previously on Enterprise" segment that kicks off "Harbinger" is long and complex, featuring the Xindi, the spheres, the Triannon, the arrival of the MACOs, the coordinates of Azati Prime, Sim, Degra and just about everything else that happened this season. With such a lead-in, one rather expects a story that will start pulling these elements together rather than an installment that adds dribs and drabs here and there with no real advancement to any of the above.

Let's take the plots one at a time. The alien storyline may be the most important, but it barely touches on anything else going on aboard Enterprise, other than to give Sato her requisite three lines and to open up the possibility that Species 8472 or similar transdimensional beings might have somehow provoked the Xindi attack at Earth. Enterprise is frantically en route to the Xindi weapon, decides to take one of its typical "but WHY?" diversions to investigate the anomaly and rescue the pod...and all we know conclusively at the end of the episode is that the little ship was probably built by the makers of the spheres, that the alien inside it doesn't think much of humans, and that, whatever the truth about his mission might be, he can't withstand the combined kick-ass power of Reed and Hayes. In a less-cluttered episode the being might have spent less time unconscious and more time playing interesting mind-games with Archer, or leading the crew on a scary chase around the ship, but in "Harbinger" we merely get teased with yet another mysterious Expanse threat.

Then there's the Reed-Hayes storyline, which for me was actually the most engrossing of the plots because it felt very real, if obvious. Of course Malcolm would feel threatened at having a group of highly trained specialists brought in to bring his people up to speed; of course that resentment would turn personal, forced to deal with someone whose tactics and personality are as inflexible as his own; and of course the situation would boil over after one too many of Hayes' smarmy backhanded compliments. The writing is rather over-the-top and Dominic Keating does well to restrain his performance, which can't be easy given the amount of physical hostility he's expected to show.

Tying this storyline to The Love Connection is Amanda Cole's role as tough chick of the MACO unit; she can outshoot even Hayes on a good day in the simulator. I really like Cole. Her bonding with Trip seems unforced and comfortable; she's quite touching describing their common childhoods in Florida and how close she came to losing as much as he did in the attack; she's pleasant and open with T'Pol even while being interrogated on her feelings for the engineer; in short, she seems smart, strong, witty and very comfortable with her emotions and desires, which makes it that much more annoying that we're set up to root against her as The Other Woman in the Tucker/T'Pol romance.

Did I say romance? I'm sorry, I mean adolescent sexual encounter, and it starts out so nicely, too, with snappy dialogue reminiscent of old Hepburn-Grant movies. But boom, they go straight from the repartee into sweaty naked bed-wrestling (and I can only hope Starfleet officers of Archer's era have better contraception than Kirk apparently did). In the morning T'Pol takes the very mature step of suggesting that the encounter was just an experiment with human sexuality and shames Trip into pretending it meant nothing to him, either, even though he seems happy and ready to discuss the relationship as, well, a relationship.

If the fling had happened between any other two characters, I would say, okay, it's possible, it's plausible; people get jealous, people go to bed with one another for trivial reasons like horniness and proximity, people have one-night stands and then have second thoughts and make incredibly silly excuses for their behavior. The problem is that this fling didn't happen between "people" -- it happened between a human and a Vulcan. T'Pol clearly isn't in pon farr and doesn't appear to be a victim of that disease that once brought her emotions to the fore (if she still has that disease, and the writers haven't conveniently made it go away). And this, this, is the first Vulcan in Starfleet. At the risk of sounding like a cliche, where's the logic in that? Where's the logic in T'Pol's giving in to her itch for Tucker, even assuming it's normal for a Vulcan to have such an urge -- she's already lectured him on sex within the chain of command, she's worked hard to establish the boundaries between neuropressure and intimacy. Even forgetting the immature sexual politics of its conclusion, the whole fling makes her look bad; she's a Vulcan acting not only like a human, but like a bimbo.

Now, I did see some serious relationship development in this episode, but I don't think it's where the writers meant for me to be looking. Still, I wonder if they realize the irony of showing Reed's and Tucker's obsession with one another in an episode that's ostensibly about their interactions with other crewmembers. Trip's got a girlfriend, Malcolm's got an enemy, yet all they can think about is each other. Tucker spends his first neuropressure session with Cole talking about Reed. Reed forgets his impulse to best Hayes as soon as he sees Tucker's been injured and needs assistance. He also snipes enviously about Trip's two ladies in the mess, while Tucker tries to sweet-talk him into being nicer to Hayes. The best part about that mess scene is that Trip and Malcolm end up exchanging dialogue, saying one another's previous lines...just like Tucker and T'Pol do right before she jumps on him!

You'll have to excuse me if I find the potential for homoerotic subtext much more interesting than either the boys' school posturing of Reed and Hayes (broken up by Archer in the role of Dad) or the high school dating tactics of Tucker and T'Pol (broken up by T'Pol in the role of Joey from Dawson's Creek). What's the point of having clever dialogue if you're just going to end up with fistfights and meaningless sex? What's the point of having a potentially fascinating new alien if you're only going to give him ten minutes of screen time? I guess what I'm asking is...what's the point of this episode? And I haven't got an answer. I hope it's not a harbinger of things to come on this series.

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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.