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The Trek Nation - The Communicator

The Communicator

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 14, 2002 - 9:43 AM GMT

See Also: 'The Communicator' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Upon returning to Enterprise from a visit to a pre-warp civilization on the brink of civil war, Reed discovers that his communicator must have fallen out of his pocket. Archer decides to accompany him to retrieve it from the tavern where they ate, but when they enter the building and try discreetly to find the equipment, they are accosted by a group of military officers who believe that they work for the opposition Alliance. Archer and Reed deny any knowledge about their own equipment but when Enterprise hails to track down the missing officers, General Gosis believes he has proof that the officers are spies.

While Tucker and Mayweather work to mount a rescue using the Suliban ship captured by Enterprise, Archer and Reed discuss whether they should tell their hosts the truth about coming from another world. Archer doesn't think anyone would believe them. During their interrogation, a blow to Archer's face reveals that his forehead is a cheap prosthetic and that his blood is red. General Gosis orders Dr. Temic to perform a full medical examination on the prisoners. Upon getting the results -- and the doctor's conclusions that Archer and Reed belong to a different species -- Gosis reveals that a surveillance aircraft took a picture of a shuttlepod. Under pressure to reveal where he comes from, Archer insists that his weapons are experimental prototypes from the Alliance, while Reed claims that their bodies have been genetically enhanced to make them stronger soldiers. Gosis accepts that they aren't aliens but orders them executed so that the doctor can study their organs.

While monitoring communication, Sato learns of the plans to terminate Archer and Tucker. She warns T'Pol, who leaves with Tucker and Mayweather on the Suliban ship even though its cloak is not working properly. As they await death, Reed tells Archer how ironic he finds it that they must die to protect people who want to kill them, but Archer insists that they are making a necessary sacrifice to protect a planet not ready to learn of warp technology. As nooses are placed around their necks, the Suliban ship arrives and blasts from phase pistols cross the courtyard where the execution is taking place. Archer rescues all their confiscated equipment as T'Pol and Tucker stun the general's staff. In the end Gosis is the only alien to see the cloaked ship's departure.

After retrieving the shuttlepod they took to the planet, Archer and Reed return to Enterprise and tell T'Pol that she took a big risk coming down to save them, knowing that the cloaking device could have failed. Archer is glad that they retrieved all the equipment to avoid doing damage to the planet, but T'Pol reminds him that they did damage anyway; they changed the balance of power in the war with the Alliance. Still, she is impressed that Archer was willing to sacrifice his life to disguise his origins.


Analysis: Like last week, there's a part of me saying, 'Boy I enjoyed that episode,' while another part is saying, 'Boy do I have problems with some of the flaws in this story.' As story-telling, 'The Communicator' works superbly. It's a tightly-written drama that balances action, humor and pathos, making excellent use of all the crewmembers and touching upon the major themes of the Star Trek franchise. I'm sure I'm not the only Classic Trek fan who saw the opening and immediately thought of 'A Piece of the Action,' the comic original series episode where an Earth vessel had left a book about gangs of Chicago on a planet which then emulated the culture described therein. At the end, Dr. McCoy realizes he has left his communicator on the planet, yet Kirk and Spock seem amused that the imitative aliens may find the technology and recreate themselves anew.

This 'Communicator' is a much darker story, a serious attempt to consider what futuristic technology could do to a developing world on the verge of a global war. It has more in common with the original series episodes 'Tomorrow Is Yesterday' (in which Kirk and Spock nearly changed the course of the 20th century when an Air Force pilot discovered Enterprise in orbit) and 'A Private Little War' (in which a developing culture received advanced weapons of warfare from Klingons) than with the amusing story from whose plot it seems to have sprung. Whatever choice Archer makes, the consequences are going to be epic: either he's going to reveal to a pre-warp culture the existence of sophisticated alien life beyond their planet, or he's going to change the stakes in a global power struggle.

Which leads me to wonder when Jonathan Archer turned into one of the Vulcans he despised for so long. My jaw was on the floor when he called the general stupid and pretended to be working for his enemies. Gosis and his lieutenants certainly aren't the nicest aliens we've seen on this series, but they're hardly abusive monsters; they're preparing for war, they're afraid of an assassination attempt against one of their leaders, they capture two guys with complex technology they won't explain. They smack them around a little, but in fairness, given the circumstances, they show admirable restraint. There's no sophisticated torture. Even the execution plans seem simple and humane. Compared to Spielberg's worst fears about what 20th century humans might do to an E.T., these guys just don't seem unreasonable.

But Archer doesn't try to reason. He tells Reed that they wouldn't be believed if they tried to tell the truth, then somehow makes the leap to conclude that they should not tell the truth. Now, there are perfectly valid reasons for what will become the Prime Directive; we've seen and heard a lot of evidence on other Trek series. But we haven't seen it on this series, and more importantly, neither has Archer. He's always come from the opposite perspective -- the insistence that non-interference can be both condescending and damaging. He's not talking about arming these people or sending a fleet to monkey with their planet's atmosphere, just telling the truth about there being intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Reed thinks it might be good for them, and I can't help but feeling that he's right. The mere knowledge that there's a different life out there might put an end to the civil strife on the planet. Of course, it might exacerbate it when the Alliance learns that Archer found his enemies first, but Archer doesn't really stop to consider the option in the first place.

Instead he tells the most damaging sort of lie, by going along with the general's initial assumption that he must be part of the Alliance. He credits Gosis' adversaries with having developed phase pistols, genetically engineered soldiers, long-range tracking devices...and in the end, by extension, cloaked ships. The effects of this belief could be utterly devastating. For all we know, the Alliance is a bunch of murderous religious zealots and Archer has met their strongest opposition. If Gosis chooses to back down, he may be abandoning the planet to a takeover by who knows what sort of tyranny. On the other hand, if he decides to attempt a pre-emptive strike, thousands of people may die in a battle that might never have been necessary without Archer having scared the general into believing he had to strike before those prototypes became standard. Why didn't he just claim to be some sort of roving cult missionary -- or, since he was prepared to die to protect his secrets, why didn't he just keep his mouth shut altogether, and let them draw conclusions they could never prove?

I'm not complaining about the ideological inconsistencies as such; I'm thrilled that Enterprise is tackling such issues. But I find it inconsistent that Jonathan Archer would have made the choices he did for the reasons he did. Enjoyable as the cloaking storyline was -- with Tucker's arm turning temporarily invisible and Mayweather cracking a couple more than his usual quota of jokes -- it took away from the necessary scene in which we got to see Archer agonize over these issues. We need to watch the process by which he draws his conclusions for them to hold real weight. We need to know what he's learned from the events of 'Civilization,' 'Dear Doctor' and 'Rogue Planet,' why his perspective on the Vulcan treatment of humans has shifted, what he wishes he could ask T'Pol and Admiral Forrest. This is a big episode and a big topic. It calls for a certain amount of introspection and talkiness, with series continuity an absolute necessity.

All that said...there's a nice balance of shipboard and planetary scenes, good pacing (the expected rescue just as the nooses tighten), decent visuals though the dark restaurant is awfully similar to last week's -- doesn't anyone wear bright colors in pre-warp bars anymore? -- brief yet strong scenes for Sato and Phlox, a believable though briefly sketched alien culture that's a good blend of Starman innocent and X-Files paranoid, and a clear indication of how far T'Pol will go to protect Archer even though she sees clearly the flaws in his captainly reasoning. Overall I'd put this episode among Enterprise's top five in terms of composition and writing, but the wavering on ideological issues makes it maddening.

The inconsistencies don't seem to be reflecting Archer's personal development -- it would be fine if he expressed aloud that he's not sure of the right thing to do when it comes to interference, or had a headache from the bad prosthetic and couldn't think straight. But there's a deeper ambivalence within the show about the flawed, frustrating construct called the Prime Directive that must be developed for this series to fit into Trek canon. It needs to be taken back to the personal level. Now we know Archer will give his life to keep pre-warp cultures innocent -- tell me why. And tell me, again, why that's a good thing, because it is and should be a question to rethink again and again, every time such an issue comes up.

And next time maybe they should think about just abandoning their lost equipment along with whatever questions it poses. Getting it back seems to cause more trouble than it's worth; the military will probably just stick it in a crate in a warehouse with all the other mysterious artifacts.


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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.