Precious CargoBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 12, 2002 - 9:54 AM GMT
See Also: 'Precious Cargo' Episode Guide
Plot Summary: The alien captain of a cargo vessel requests assistance repairing the stasis pod of a passenger in suspended animation for the duration of his ship's long journey. Archer sends over Tucker and offers the alien officers Goff and Plinn hospitality on Enterprise, but they are reluctant to accept more than a bath and a meal. After the beautiful young woman awakens from stasis during repairs to her pod, Tucker insists on releasing her before she suffocates, but Goff knocks him out as soon as he does so. Then Goff's ship shoots some particles to blind Enterprise and takes off with Tucker and the woman aboard, but without Plinn. Thus Archer finds himself with an uncooperative person along for the ride and no trace of his engineer.
When Tucker comes to, the female passenger initially attacks him, but he earns her trust by protecting her from Goff and by using Sato's universal translator to communicate with her. The woman introduces herself as Kaitaama, a diplomat who is soon to be the First Monarch of her world; she explains that she is not a passenger but a hostage on Goff's ship being held for ransom. Tucker wants to take her and flee to an escape pod, but she insists that the aliens will not harm her, for she's too valuable to them. But when Tucker tells her that it's fine with him if she'd rather remain tied up in a cargo hold, she decides to accompany him to one of the ship's escape pods.
Tucker finds a nearby system where they can hide from Kaitaama's abductors, but he must make adjustments to the escape pod to reach it. She complains about everything he does from his escape plans to his touching her in the close quarters of the pod. They crash in a swamp on a mostly oceanic planet. Despite assurances from Tucker that he won't make a pass at her, a frustrated Kaitaama kisses the engineer, and they end up rolling in the mud together. Unfortunately they don't notice that the escape pod has a homing beacon until it has already sent a signal.
Meanwhile Archer has Plinn brought in for 'interrogation,' pretending that T'Pol is a strict prosecutor who will sentence him to death without benefit of a tribunal. Under pressure, Plinn tells Archer the warp frequency of his vessel, so Archer's away team can arrive at the planet where Tucker and Kaitaama have stranded themselves just after the two refugees knock out Goff. Enterprise eventually meets up with a battlecruiser from Kaitaama's home world; before she leaves, she suggests that she will invite Tucker to visit her after she has gained the power of her new office.
Analysis: The bad news: 'Precious Cargo' rips off TOS's 'Elaan of Troyius' and TNG's 'The Perfect Mate,' offering no plot twists that the viewer can't see coming. The good news: in spite of this, 'Precious Cargo' manages to be quite entertaining. Ninety-five percent of the credit should be given to Connor Trinneer, who gamely pulls off his half of what I suspect the writers think is Hepburn-Tracy type repartee (note to writers: if you want Hepburn-Tracy repartee, you have got to give your actress stronger dialogue). The other five percent of the credit goes to Scott Bakula for the only Enterprise scene that has ever left me holding my sides howling in laughter.
To be fair to Padma Lakshmi, who plays the stuffy, dimensionless Kaitaama, she gives an excellent performance in the scenes before Tucker can understand what she's actually saying. Her gestures and tone of voice while using a very clunky fake alien language make Kaitaama's meanings very clear. Only after she begins to speak English and play out the forced griping-which-is-really-flirtation does Lakshmi start to look stiff, particularly in groan-inducing scenes like when Tucker has to catch her when she jumps down from an access corridor and when she has to rip her dress so she can climb into the escape pod. She also doesn't particularly look like she wants to kiss Tucker right after hitting him, but I can only applaud her for resisting such a noxious romantic cliché.
The unwashed Cardassian-looking aliens come across as such cardboard bad guys that it's impossible to fear them, and the kidnapping plot scarcely receives any development. How the slimeballs seized Kaitaama, what happened to her guards, and how they expect to escape with the ransom are not issues we're supposed to think about; we're supposed to be looking at the hot chick in the ripped clingy dress and the hot guy sweating in his underwear. Character development? Umm, Tucker plays the harmonica and talks about driving in a car along the Gulf and hiking in the Everglades. He's remarkably tolerant of Kaitaama's hissy fits -- his best lines sound like knock-offs of Han Solo's to Princess Leia, but they're still amusing. So is watching Tuck and Kait play Twister in the tiny escape pod.
The scene that redeems the episode, though, belongs to Archer. He has Plinn brought into an empty cargo bay, talks about how the Vulcans usually punish offenses as minor as being for late for a shift, then announces ominously that his ship started out with 83 crewmen, but is down to 76. In comes T'Pol in robes, and Archer bows low to her, then keeps a straight face when she asks with Vulcan aplomb whether Plinn's race has any postmortem rituals. Archer bows when she leaves, too, but tells Plinn that T'Pol owes him a couple of favors and he might be able to ask for leniency if only Plinn will tell him his vessel's warp frequency -- okay, we know that's coming, but the execution is just marvelous.
The rest is silliness -- Kaitaama being from a culture where First Monarchs aren't allowed to associate with members of the opposite sex, just like Picard's Kamala whom she physically resembles. Tucker expects the alien measurements to be equivalent to meters, but really, how many other societies are likely to measure distances by the length traveled by light in vacuum during 1/299,792,458 of a second? It's fun when he crash-lands on Dagobah, considering all the Star Wars references in the dialogue, and more fun when the princess knocks out the bad guy who's got Trip down in the mud. And then Archer arrives, sees Trip in his underwear and asks if he's interrupting anything!
Nemesis opens this weekend. Hopefully it will contain some actual science fiction, since Enterprise seems bound and determined not to. I'm willing to bet that there will be much better action sequences, but I'm also willing to bet that Picard won't fake groveling to his first officer to manipulate a shabby alien. I'm a little horrified that Archer and Tucker could have grown on me so much that I can get so much guilty pleasure out of an episode this inane.
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.