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The Trek Nation - Singularity

Singularity

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 21, 2002 - 9:44 AM GMT

See Also: 'Singularity' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: T'Pol narrates the history of a critical illness afflicting the entire crew as she investigates the reason she alone has not been affected. Enterprise had been surveying a class four singularity -- a black hole with extreme gravitational shear. Tucker wanted to get close enough to take some pictures, so Archer told him to set a course -- but asked the engineer to please do something about his uncomfortable bridge chair during the two days it would take them to reach the system. During the down time, Archer planned to work on writing an introduction to a book about his father, Sato asked to fill in for the ailing chef in the kitchen, and Reed wanted to test some new security protocols. Meanwhile Mayweather went to sickbay with a headache and Phlox kept him in for some tests.

Soon, however, the nerves of the crewmembers began to fray. Tucker began to work obsessively on the captain's chair, ignoring other engineering responsibilities. Archer could focus on nothing but the essay about his father. Sato became frantic to create an ideal Japanese meal, and after Reed suggested that one of her dishes contained more salt than he liked, she refused to serve anything until she was satisfied that she had perfected her recipe. Reed started wearing a sidearm while in restricted areas, suggested the use of clearance codes to tell crewmembers from impostors, and set out to develop a tactical alert system that Tucker dubbed "Reed Alert" to call the crew to battlestations, polarize the hull plating and charge the weapons.

T'Pol realized that the crew's behavior had gone from erratic to abnormal and tried to recruit Phlox to treat them, but the doctor was obsessed with operating on Mayweather's brain. After knocking him out with a nerve pinch, T'Pol looked at Phlox's scans and realized that the radiation from the black hole was affecting his brain. Now her studies suggest that all of the other crewmembers besides herself have been affected.

As crewmembers begin to pass out in the hallway, T'Pol goes to Archer's quarters, wakes him up with a cold shower and demands his help navigating the ship through the center of the trinary system to get the crew out of danger. They have no time to charge the phase cannons to shoot debris out of the way or to charge the hull plating, but Reed's tactical alert system comes online and does it for them. Once they pass the black hole and clear the radiation, the crew begins to revive. Tucker fixes Archer's chair by lowering it one centimeter, and Archer finishes his essay.


Analysis: It would be easier to forgive the derivative nature of this episode if the beginning were as witty as the second half. We've already gotten one paranoid-crew episode during Enterprise's short run -- "Strange New World" -- and I've lost count of the number of weird-behavior episodes we've seen on Trek overall, from "The Naked Time" to "Dramatis Personae" to "Bliss," etcetera. This sort of story is a staple of science fiction, and gets over-used on just about every series -- there have been variations of it on Babylon 5, on Farscape, on Andromeda -- so it's the storytelling, rather than the plot, that makes or breaks such an episode. "Singularity" does well with the characters and manages some wonderfully funny moments, but I wonder how many viewers tuned out during the slow first two acts.

When an episode is shown mostly in flashback, there should be a good dramatic reason for it, like the need to depict the consequences of a disastrous action for maximum emotional impact. Deep Space Nine's "In the Pale Moonlight," for instance, begins after the action of the episode has concluded, and the emotional payoff is much stronger for it. But "Singularity" merely tips its hand early by starting off with the unconscious crew. This isn't about a stupid, avoidable decision or a tactical error from which the audience can learn something along with the folks on the screen, it's about an unknown that never really becomes very scary because we see the worst that it can do in the first two minutes of the episode. It's hard not to groan when Tucker recommends taking a tourist trip to the black hole, and harder not to groan when trivia like the captain's chair and Sato's cooking then become central plot points before we know why these things matter. It looks a lot like we're getting a time-wasting "getting to know the crew" story before heading into a swift disaster scenario.

When the action finally does pick up, it's quite good. There's wonderfully creepy amusement in watching Phlox's interaction with Mayweather (who once again spends the better part of an episode unconscious -- give this man something to do). As he scans for the captain's precise measurements and ponders spill-proof cupholders, Tucker's frenetic desire to build Archer a throne becomes hilarious to watch -- particularly if one tries to attribute subconscious motives to the engineer's obsession with protecting the captain's ass. Sato turns into Neelix in the kitchen, screaming for carrots. Archer babbles hopelessly about his childhood (and when Archer snaps that Tucker doesn't know anything about writing, Tucker says "I'm not the only one"). Reed rants about Archer being less interested in safety than in inviting crewmembers to breakfast and watching water polo.

Then, in the series' finest comic sequence so far, Reed sets off a tactical alert for the express purpose of demonstrating crew incompetence. Growling that Archer took one minute fifteen seconds to reach his post while Tucker didn't even try because he was too busy worrying about the gadgets on the captain's chair, Reed roars about their mission being doomed. Tucker tells him to go play soldier somewhere else; Reed retorts that in the military, Tucker would be taken out and shot. Then the two get into an actual fistfight, and the scene ends with Archer telling Reed that if he hears the damn alarm again, he might have Reed taken out and shot instead. The actors' timing is wonderful, and it's great fun to see Reed being mocked for the stodginess to which we've all been subjected week after week.

And then, in a really clever move, Reed saves the ship. He's not even present for the big scene, yet it's probably his strongest moment all series when the hull plating and weapons come online right as Archer is on the verge of panic. I know I'm not the only one tired of hearing Reed whine about Archer, but it's instructive to remember that he's absolutely right -- everything he warns T'Pol about in his paranoia has happened on another Star Trek series. I'm not particularly a fan of the military stuff and I haven't particularly liked Reed's characterization as a military man, but I think I've just been converted. "Reed Alert," indeed. Go Malcolm!

Though T'Pol shoulders much of the work for the episode and puts up with the most direct annoyance -- unlike the apparently amnesiac crew after the crisis has passed, she still has to live with the headache of trying to figure out when humans are being their normal irrational selves versus when they've gone insane. Phlox isn't particulary nuttier at first warning Mayweather of horrible deadly diseases than he is on a normal day, but when he shows up with the scalpel and threatens to turn it on T'Pol if she won't let him cut into Mayweather's brain, he's suddenly Frankenstein. And T'Pol neck-pinches him! She has to put up with Archer threatening to lock her in her quarters and ship her back to Vulcan, but she gets her revenge by dumping him in the shower and lecturing him about his responsibility to his crew. Go T'Pol!

I wish we'd learned a bit more substantive stuff about Archer's father and childhood from his book introduction; I get the feeling no one has really thought it out, which is too bad, because I'd love some real background on him at this point. It's too bad Tucker drops the idea for the inertial micro-dampeners for the captain's chair; those could have stopped a lot of falling-all-over-the-bridge moments in later Treks. Yet despite some obvious flaws in the writing and a bottle-episode feel, "Singularity" ends up being highly enjoyable and well-played.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


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.