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The Trek Nation - Observer Effect

Observer Effect

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 22, 2005 - 3:54 AM GMT

See Also: 'Observer Effect' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Mayweather and Reed play chess and have a very strange discussion of the away team missions on the planet Enterprise is orbiting. Mayweather asks whether their hosts will die that night, and Reed says he has seen entire crews die. Meanwhile, on a shuttlepod returning to the ship, Tucker and then Sato become ill. They are put into the decontamination chamber and found to have a silicon-based virus, which Phlox can only guess at how to treat. Meanwhile "Reed" and "Mayweather" - whose bodies have clearly been inhabited by someone or something else - discuss the fact that Klingons and Cardassians who visited this planet and contracted the same illness abandoned or killed their infected crewmembers. In the 800 years that "Reed" has observed humanoid species, he has never seen a different reaction to such a contagion.

While Tucker and Sato try to keep one another calm by swapping life stories, Phlox attempts to come up with a scheme to irradiate the pathogen without having to use a lethal dose of radiation on the infected crewmembers. "Reed" and "Mayweather" expect the crew to begin to panic and look for ways to be rid of the diseased crewmembers but Archer is adamant that a cure will be found and keeps asking Phlox for updates. When Tucker and Sato refuse to talk to "Mayweather" about their experience of illness, he suggests to "Reed" that they trade those bodies for T'Pol and Phlox's so that they can observe the illness progressing up close, but Tucker and Sato still wonder why they're being observed when the ship's doctor and science officer should logically be working to cure them. Sato fears that the crew has given up hope, and breaks out of quarantine, babbling in foreign languages, apparently with a plan of throwing herself out an airlock, but Tucker fights her and gets her back into the decontamination chamber.

"Mayweather" thinks that Archer's efforts are unprecedented, but "Reed" insists that he just doesn't understand how hopeless the situation is. Phlox insists that both Sato and Tucker take a sedative so that neither one can attempt to escape again and risk infecting the rest of the crew. Believing that they can talk unobserved in the decon chamber, the aliens in Reed and Mayweather take over Sato and Tucker's bodies, but Phlox monitors their waking state and monitors a conversation about the human capacity for violence. Once they realize they have been overheard, the aliens take over the bodies of Archer and T'Pol, who tell Phlox that they are only observers and that he will not remember the conversation any more than he remembers having his body used by one of them earlier. Realizing that they could save Tucker and Sato but won't get involved, Phlox calls their behavior appalling.

In environmental suits, Archer and Phlox attempt to get Sato and Tucker ready for the experimental radiation procedure, but Sato dies before they can start, and Archer is exposed to the pathogen when he tries to resuscitate her. The attempt to cure Tucker is unsuccessful. Archer puts T'Pol in command and orders Phlox to the bridge, afraid that the doctor might become contaminated if he remains in the infectious sickbay. He touches Tucker's chest to feel his heartbeat and witnesses his death, but a moment later one of the aliens speaks through him, explaining that he/she/it is an Organian - a non-physical life form. The other alien sits up in Sato's body and says that when they leave, the crewmembers will once again be dead. Furious, Archer says that if they wanted to learn about humans they should talk to them, and that if they want to understand compassion they should try practicing it. The alien inhabiting Tucker, which was previously in Phlox and Mayweather and has expressed reservations all along about Organian policy toward other species, pressures the alien who has been in Reed, T'Pol and now Sato to save the crewmembers.

Minutes later, Phlox declares Sato, Tucker and Archer completely free of the virus, though he has no explanation how. Archer remembers nothing of his conversation with the Organians, but he agrees that a beacon should be left in orbit to warn other species of what happened to Enterprise's crew. Back inside Reed, the more experienced Organian says that they will never be able to observe another species dealing with the silicon virus, but Mayweather is delighted and says they should prepare for a first encounter with the evolving humans.


Analysis: Dear Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Manny Coto, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga,

To produce a Star Trek that audiences will want to keep watching, it is not enough simply to steal plots and aliens from previous series. You must come up with original stories for Enterprise, which incorporate similar themes and recognizable species yet do not simply retread places where Star Trek has gone before. Last week, your show ripped off TOS's "The Ultimate Computer," TNG's "Silicon Avatar" and VOY's "Jetrel," among others; this week it's TOS's "The Empath," TNG's "Homeward" and VOY's "Scientific Method," among others. I realize that you figure half of your dwindling audience is made up of die-hard Trekkies who may be nostalgic for these older shows while the other half are young whippersnappers who've never watched anything before Enterprise and so won't notice the theft, but I have to tell you: both the 30+year Trek fans and the Trek-deprived under-13s in my household found "Observer Effect" clichéd, predictable and boring.

The problems with this episode are myriad and varied, so I will start with the single point in your favor: You have a very talented cast to work with. There was never the slightest problem with recognizing the distinct alien personalities, even though several actors played each Organian within the different host bodies. Jolene Blalock in particular was chilling picking up on Dominic Keating's portrayal of the same alien when it moved from Reed's body to T'Pol's. Connor Trinneer also did a nice job picking up on Anthony Montgomery's vocal inflections when possessed by the more open-minded Organian. This is one of the best possessed-by-aliens episodes that Star Trek has ever done, in terms of the regular cast's performances; these were subtle, strong in continuity and fun to watch. And isn't that lucky for you considering how one-dimensional the aliens were: the opening scene, for instance, in which Mayweather and Reed sound so normal before they start talking about how everyone is going to die!

Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell when we're seeing crewmembers who are not possessed by aliens, because there's so much insane out-of-character behavior among the regulars. My husband thought aloud that Sato must have been possessed by an alien when she started going on about the poker ring she used to run, and I agreed. What happened to the isolated goody-two-shoes Sato of "Exile"? It's not that I object to finding out that she ran a little wild in college, which lots of people do after an upbringing of tutors and studying, but I'd expect some mention of that transition in her conversation with Tucker, some attempt to ameliorate her story of how she wound up on probation before joining Enterprise. This isn't so much character development as, "Whee! Look, we can make Hoshi into someone much more fun just by having her say she's that chick!" This is a rampant example of telling rather than showing in character development. If Sato is this fun rebel, let us see that!

And have Billingsley and Scott Bakula both been channeling Captain Kirk's "Have you no compassion?" speeches? I realize that William Shatner has been garnering free publicity for Star Trek with every Emmy and Golden Globe he's collected in the past year, but two original series-type lectures stolen from "The Empath," "The Gamesters of Triskelion," etc. in one episode is a little much. I realize you were dealing with a very classic Trek setup - powerful aliens butt into humanoid affairs, not even so much like the ones from the end of "Errand of Mercy" as the ones from "The Apple," "Day of the Dove," "Catspaw," "The Squire of Gothos," etc. Okay, I do prefer this to Picard's behavior in "Homeward" when he acted more like the alien possessing Reed ("Let 'em all die, otherwise it's interference!") while Worf's human brother played the guy who wanted to intervene and save them, but it really sounds clichéd.

What would have made this episode really interesting is an injection of a little realism: a crewmember who did let down the side, and panic, and say, maybe we should think about getting these people off the ship before we all die. It wouldn't have had to be a human, if the aliens were specifically studying human behavior: T'Pol might very logically have made the suggestion, or Phlox, who must be concerned about having over 100 deaths on his hands rather than just two, considering that he seems pessimistic all along about whether he knows enough to save anyone exposed to a silicon-based virus like nothing anyone carbon-based has ever caught before. Perhaps the rest of the crew has been misled about the seriousness of the contagion, but in that case I'd expect the Organians to judge Archer's control over the crew: whether they have freedom of expression, whether he's a censor, whether he's honest. So I must assume that the crew is aware of the extreme danger and they're just a group of exemplary humans in which no one ever thinks about panicking...in which case the aliens have hardly been given a fair view of humanity as a whole.

Which brings up the biggest problem with the episode: these super-bright aliens only interact with the best of the best, the senior command crew. They don't take over the body of some ensign doing a grunt job cleaning the plasma manifolds, who might hate the way Tucker runs engineering and be secretly gleeful that he's sick. They don't take over some security officer who fears he might be sent to get Hoshi and Trip if they escape. Maybe there are no other crewmembers on the ship, given the incredible stupidity of the captain accompanying the doctor to perform the super-sensitive radiation procedure on Sato and Tucker: there isn't one assistant medico, one nurse, one scientific crewmember who'd be more useful and more qualified than Archer running around looking for the cardiostimulator, and who would make it unnecessary for the ship's captain risk a swift and painful death?

This is silliness, Messrs. Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Coto, Berman and Braga. If an ensign we'd never seen before had become infected along with Tucker and Sato, if there was the possibility that someone might actually die and stay dead, this might have been a chilling episode in which Archer's decisions and speeches would have consequence. Instead he sticks his neck out to save two people we know full well are going to be just fine, anyway, given that they signed contracts for the entire season. Okay, so the original series made similar stupid choices by killing off Scotty in "The Changeling" and McCoy in "Shore Leave" but you don't have to emulate everything done on Shatner's show, you know?

I see that next week you're beginning your journey To Babel. I sincerely hope that the episode it has more to offer than quarrelsome Andorians and Tellarites, frustrated Vulcans and humans, and an unexpected alien interfering with everyone; I seem to remember having seen that one before.


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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.