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The Trek Nation - The Breach

The Breach

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 24, 2003 - 3:31 AM GMT

See Also: 'The Breach' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Denobulans ask Enterprise to rescue a group of geologists from a planet whose government has recently become xenophobic and demanded that all offworlders leave. The team is deep underground working in a cavern, so Archer sends Mayweather -- an experienced spelunker -- down with Tucker and Reed to retrieve the scientists. Just after they depart, Enterprise discovers a transport carrying aliens which is suffering from a deadly radiation leak. Among the passengers rescued from the damaged vessel is Hudak, an Antaran -- a species with which Denobula has a long history of conflict. Though Hudak is dying of radiation poisoning, he refuses to let Phlox treat him.

Mayweather leads the away team rappelling down a steep cliff in the cave where they believe the Denobulan scientists may be working, but he is injured while stopping a fall that could have killed all three Enterprise crewmembers. Leaving him on a rock ledge, Reed and Tucker spelunk to the bottom of a vast cavern as they hunt the missing Denobulans. Meanwhile, Archer orders Phlox to cure Hudak, but the doctor refuses to force treatment upon a patient who has refused it. Questioning the Antaran, Archer learns that the Denobulans were responsible for killing 20 million Antarans casualties during the long war between the two planets.

Phlox admits to T'Pol that his grandmother hated and feared Antarans, refusing even to let him visit a former sanctuary of theirs when he was an adolescent. When Hudak asks him if he taught his children to hate Antarans, Phlox becomes enraged and says that the Antarans have kept the old hatreds alive. But later he admits that he tried to raise his children to be open-minded, though his youngest son became involved with a hate group and would love to learn that his father let an Antaran die. Phlox asks Hudak to live and set an example for his people; ultimately, Hudak agrees to let Phlox treat him.

Reed and Tucker track down the Denobulan scientists, who are very reluctant to leave and insist on taking many samples with them. While the group climbs back to the surface, fighting between patrol ships and renegade soldiers causes earthquakes in the caverns. Archer insists to the planetary leaders that he will fire on them if they refuse to let him rescue his people and the Denobulans they went down to retrieve. The shuttlepod returns with everyone safely aboard. Hudak agrees to share his transport with the three Denobulan scientists and Phlox records a message for his son to explain how meeting an Antaran has affected him.


Analysis: Last season when Enterprise aired "Dear Doctor", I said it was fine with me if the show recycled material from the older Trek shows as long as it was good material and done well. "The Breach" reminds me of numerous episodes from previous series, but it's still an excellent episode. As always, much of the acting is stronger than the writing -- John Billingsley stands out this week, though as always Connor Trinneer gives a finely nuanced performance and Anthony Montgomery gets to show his chops as well. A nicely balanced A-plot and B-plot and some unusual sets make this one of the year's finest shows.

I can't remember offhand all the Trek episodes dealing with the rights of patients and the conflicts of doctors; various lines in "The Breach" bring to mind the centuries of civilized war between Eminiar and Vendikar, Worf's rejection of medical assistance in the name of Klingon honor, Torres' outrage at learning that Vidiian doctors wanted to study her, Bashir's conflicts as a scientist and Starfleet officer when presented with the opportunity to study Jem'Hadar and Founders. The ethics of medicine become more and more complicated as human science develops, so I'm delighted to see these issues revisited again and again.

"The Breach" has particular resonances with Deep Space Nine's "Duet" and Voyager's "Jetrel" and "Nothing Human" -- the latter a story in which Torres refuses medical treatment developed by a Cardassian who performed torturous experiments on Bajorans. The situation is somewhat different here, for Phlox was not directly involved in any mistreatment of Antarans, but it's impossible to know how much Denobulan medicine might have developed directly from the deaths of tens of millions of aliens. To Hudak, the fact that Phlox is a Denobulan means that the doctor is loathsome regardless of his personal beliefs or actions; he reminds me a bit of Kira in early DS9 episodes, incapable of believing that any Cardassian might want to atone for crimes against Bajor.

Thus there are also resonances between the primary and secondary storylines of "The Breach" when the Denobulan scientists scoff at an order to abandon their research. They insist that the information they may gather about seismic activity, which might save their own world someday, is far more important than the wishes of the government on the planet they're studying. Tucker doesn't bother to debate ethics with the scientists; he just threatens to shoot one in the ass if he doesn't move it quickly through the caverns so they can get off the surface. But there's an undercurrent of imperialism running through the Denobulans' insistence on their right to remain, and even though the new planetary government is portrayed as dangerously inflexible and xenophobic, it's understandable why they might resist meddling aliens.

Odd that the Antarans and Denobulans don't seem to have been aware of one another on that world; I half-expected them to decide to combine their research at the end, yet was glad they didn't. It's much more realistic for them barely to tolerate one another as they slowly begin to explore the possibility of overcoming generations of hatred. For all the tension, Phlox's relationship with Hudak seems a little too facile; we see his guilt over the failure to have taught his son tolerance, but we don't really see the underlying fear, the years of his own childhood nightmares about the demons despised by his grandmother. It's easy to see in our own world, in Ireland and the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia, that old prejudices and hatreds remain tenaciously no matter how much the map and the technology may change.

"The Breach" does an excellent job stressing visually the convolutions of geography and geology with the one of the more interesting cave sets ever seen on Star Trek. The spelunking sequences remind me of Vertical Limit, particularly when the anchor fails and it looks as if all three Enterprise crewmembers may plunge to their deaths; it's pretty sad that Mayweather once again ends up injured and out of the action, but at least this time he gets to be a hero first. I don't know all that much about pitons and carabiners but the rappelling sequences all look pretty convincing to me, and the lighting in the caves is eerie.

The guest performances are all quite good and the regular cast acquits itself superbly, with the exception of Scott Bakula who seems strained and overemotive in the scenes with Phlox (dialogue like "You're a doctor, he's your patient...find a way to help him" doesn't help him any, I'm sure). Billingsley is fine offering Phlox's big emotional revelations, but I think his best work comes earlier, when his pinched expression and colorless phrasing suggests that there's something very wrong, even before we have a clue who the Antarans are or why Phlox might be disturbed to see one in his sickbay.

I'm wondering whether Antarans are from Antares, because I'm still not sure where the Denobulans come from or where they fit in among other Trek aliens -- do we know them by another name, do they become painfully xenophobic, or have they been eradicated by Classic Trek's time in some cataclysm? One of the many problems with rewriting Trek history on Enterprise is the sense of disjuncture between the fictional universe as we used to know it and as we know it now. Next week, according to the previews we're back to gratuitous sexual innuendo, but perhaps this show will develop some courage and take more complicated stands on the contemporary issues it dares to present.


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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.