Star Trek: Enterprise: The Communicator
March 17, 2019 10:16 PM - Season 2, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Reed misplaces his communicator.

Memory Alpha details:

Background information
Script
> The final draft of this episode's script was issued on 7 November 2002. The script specified that, during the scene in which the Suliban cell ship first appears in this installment, Tucker and Mayweather had "been working for over an hour," and that the episode's penultimate scene, with Archer and T'Pol in the captain's ready room, was set "a day later" than the scene before it.

Continuity
> According to this episode's production report, this installment "explores a premise hinted at in the original Star Trek." This, more specifically, was in the end of "A Piece of the Action", when Doctor McCoy confesses to having left behind his communicator on Sigma Iotia II, and Kirk jokes it "upsets the whole percentage." "'The Communicator' picks up on this idea, but with a far more serious tone," the production report commented.
> This episode explores the importance of not introducing technology to civilizations which are not yet warp-capable. This would eventually be adopted by the Federation as one of its highest laws, the Prime Directive, a topic, coincidentally, explained in "A Piece of the Action".
> Somehow, the Suliban cloaking technology used to rescue Archer and Reed was lost to the Federation by the time of Kirk's USS Enterprise.

Costumes and props
> The weapons the alien soldiers use were Heckler & Koch MP5SD sub-machine guns, modified with drum magazines, Heckler & Koch G36 stocks, and silver-coated sound suppressor forearm.
> The chairs in which Archer and Reed are sitting during the interrogation are the same design as Julian Bashir's interrogation chair on Romulus in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges".

This Week In:
* Pointless STO Comparisons: I bought a Suliban Cell Ship recently. It’s crazy useful, offering bank, auction house and mail access, along with unique duty officer recruitment options. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not a very accurate translation from the show. (To be fair, the MMO version isn’t one tiny cell, but a cluster of them around a freighter of some sort, and is similar in function, combat capability and size to the style of freighter Merriweather was born on.)
* Vulcans Are Superior: The commitment to avoiding cultural contamination comes from the Vulcans.
* Non-Catastrophic Equipment Failures: Extended, see below.
* Aliens Outclass Enterprise: Averted, since they were interacting with a pre-warp civilization.

Poster’s Log:
So there’s a bunch of things going on here.

The first is a point in the story’s favor: we are finally given a reason for T’Pol to trust Captain Archer, because he was willing to die for a deeply held Vulcan belief that Starfleet itself has yet to put on the books. Indeed, if this episode had aired before The Seventh, her decision to pick him out of any other member of the crew would’ve tracked a lot better, and it offers justification for future friendship.

It also does show Archer trying to protect others, even if he picks the worst possible way to do it. That's worth something, despite the shoddy execution.

Also in the episode’s favor: regardless of how much sense it made, the rescue at the end was visually pretty fun.

Unfortunately, the rest left a lot to be desired. Some stuff that bothered me:

* The device they can’t find is literally a transmitter.

While I get the connection to A Piece of the Action, (and am impressed by ENT invoking a TOS episode instead of TNG), a missing communicator doesn’t really make them look good, here. Its entire function is to broadcast a signal clearly, across vast distances. If I were offering notes here, I would’ve had Reed lose a phase pistol, as that doesn’t inherently offer positional data and is immediately dangerous to anyone who finds it.

* The transporters are missing again, but with a twist this time.

The argument that they are an untested technology normally makes at least some sense after what happened to Novakovich in Strange New World. The difference between this episode and most episodes where they skip the transporter is the Suliban Cell Ship, though: that’s an untested alien craft that specifically irradiates Trip, possibly causing permanent damage. They use it anyway. I don’t mind that in principle, but it bothers me that nobody even discussed transporters in the mission prep. Like, ‘we can’t use them because [reason].’ Thirty seconds would’ve removed this complaint. Even just Trip going, ‘naw, man, I just really prefer a ship’ would’ve been fine.

* Archer pretending to be from the Alliance is worse than telling the truth.

This is the worst aspect of this episode, and the ending even acknowledges it: lying to these people potentially destabilized a tense geopolitical situation. A lot of people could die because Archer lied, and they aren’t going to even stick around and find out.

In the spirit of discussion last week, I’m going to take a second to talk about justification for the Prime Directive and how people might have felt about it in Roddenberry’s day because this episode is a callback to what I believe to be one of the foundational notions behind it. Per MA, A Piece of the Action starts off like this:
The USS Enterprise arrives at Sigma Iotia II. This remote planet had been visited by the Horizon in 2168, before the establishment of the non-interference directive. The Horizon was lost shortly after leaving Sigma Iotia II and Starfleet only managed to receive her radio reports nearly a century later, as the Horizon was only equipped with conventional radio.

After planetfall, Uhura informs Captain Kirk that she is in contact with an Iotian named Bela Okmyx who describes himself as "Boss". Okmyx invites Kirk to come down to the planet's surface saying that a "reception committee" will be waiting for him upon arrival. Since the Horizon's visit was before the Federation's Prime Directive against non-interference, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are concerned about what effects the Horizon's crew may have had on the Iotian culture which was just beginning industrialization at the time and have a knack for imitation.
What happened on Sigma Iotia II is basically a fantasy/silly version of a cargo cult, and to be fair to Gene Roddenberry and the gang, that fear is rooted in historical events. As much as I complain about the nastier implications of the Prime Directive, I do think stuff like this also drove the notion that cultures with a significant gap in tech could not safely interact. The idea doesn’t come out of nowhere, and not all of the fears behind it are wrong.

Unfortunately, none of that works in this specific episode at all for a couple of reasons:
1) Archer insists that they would not be believed. This is clearly nonsense, because the doctor who examined them actually posits the theory they are space aliens, and the general seems on board with it until Archer lies. There was significant corroborating evidence for the theory, including surveillance photos of the shuttlepod. The locals are able to work both the phase pistol and the communicator in a matter of minutes, and understand broadly what the devices are for. They even correctly surmise that Enterprise must be nearby. Insisting they 'aren't ready' is a difficult proposition when they guessed most of the truth on their own. Archer insisting that the locals wouldn't believe their story at all is even worse, especially since he restates that notion after the locals bring it up themselves. That gave the script a 'first draft' kind of feel to me.

2) Archer doesn’t talk about cargo cults. This is all me surmising things. To be fair to ENT, this is a franchise-wide complaint, but it’s brought to the fore here because General Order One doesn't exist yet. It's very hard to believe Archer would be willing to die for a principle he cannot properly articulate, defend or be prosecuted for ignoring.
posted by mordax (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This episode only works if you assume every person involved is holding a giant idiot-ball. I hate episodes like this where multiple plot points only make sense if you infer otherwise reasonable people have taken leave of their senses. It's not horrible- but oof.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:21 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


While I get the connection to A Piece of the Action, (and am impressed by ENT invoking a TOS episode instead of TNG)

Don't hand out too many kudos: the connection was accidental. Here's the writer of the episode:
Given that over 600 episodes of Star Trek have been produced, it would be hard not to find similarities between Enterprise episodes and shows from the other series. The premise of 'The Communicator' actually came to me when I lost my cell phone a few months ago. I wasn't thinking of 'A Piece of the Action,' but of course there is a parallel there.
I guess the production report that is mentioned in the Memory Alpha piece was used for advertising purposes. So someone figured out the similarity between the two episodes sometime between the writing of the script and the airing of the show. I don't think we know whether it was appreciated during filming.
posted by painquale at 6:38 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I was frustrated for this episode for a few reasons, but the biggest was that just like "A Piece of the Action", we don't get to see the consequences of the contact. Show us the problems that arose from this, instead of Archer grappling with his ethics and Trip partially vanishing; what happens when this group either thinks that their enemy is potentially well ahead of them technologically and/or that aliens are visiting? Do they launch a pre-emptive attack? Do they negotiate peace for fear of the unknown alien menace? Show us the consequences, so that we start getting a clear line between a moment like this and the eventual adoption of the Prime Directive.

Past that, on the positive side:
-the decontamination chamber was not used for soft-core porn!
-Archer actually shows some command presence, even if his choice to lie was nonsensical and more damaging than revealing the truth
-T'Pol doesn't give a big "Vulcans are superior"/"I told you so" lecture

Other frustrations:
-Trip partially disappearing was...what? for humor only? It wasn't all that funny, nor did it tie into the episode well at all. While "A Piece of the Action" was far more light-hearted in tone, the humor there - including McCoy losing a communicator - at least was all of a piece and fit together thematically to suit the episode. I mean, I guess there's a argument to be made about Trip playing around with tech he doesn't understand leading to consequences, but that doesn't connect - the aliens actually handle the new tech just fine, in terms of figuring it out and testing it safely.
-They can't locate a communicator, a device designed to transmit.
-Reed, the tactical officer, gets taken down pretty quick in a fight.
posted by nubs at 8:11 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I don't mind so much that the premise was already used for "A Piece of the Action", because that episode hinted at the possibilities that this episode might have taken as its starting point. (A side note to DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations", which was done for Trek's 30th anniversary, was that the showrunners originally thought of setting it on Sigma Iotia II, showing the effects of the lost communicator on Iotian society.) There are a whole bunch of ways that they could have gone with something like this, even keeping in mind that they've done the contact-with-a-pre-warp-society thing a few times on the show already. They could have turned it into a parody of E.T., with a crewmember being found by a bunch of alien kids who help them escape the alien hunters and help them "phone home." They could have gone on a wild-goose chase for the thing all across the city, or even the planet, and been followed or accompanied by a law-enforcement official who started wondering what was so important about this little walkie-talkie thing that their oddly mysterious strangers wanted back so desperately. They could even have stuck with the theme of more serious consequences of interference for the society at large, but developed it in a more original direction (see below).

Instead, we get yet another episode where Archer and another crewmember get thrown into alien jail by a thuggish military or paramilitary group, who aren't shy about using force to try to extract some kind of information. At some point, they could have just made up a transparent black eye decal for Scott Bakula's face. Not only have they been to this well already, more than once, but there are at least a couple of big, glaring problems with the execution of it:

- They were just down on the planet, specifically for the purposes of observing their culture, and didn't notice the guys hanging out in the bar, in uniform, or didn't grasp the significance. Even after they realized that the communicator had been moved, they threw caution to the winds and tried sneaking into the back room, as if there's ever been a bar that would have accepted that from patrons. If they wanted to make a point that a) the political situation was a lot more precarious than the away team had realized, and/or that b) the introduction of a foreign element to the society could change things much more quickly than they realized--whether or not it could have been that quick would have been debatable, but it would have been a debate worth having.

- These guys who are so on the edge about their enemies that, not only do they torture their prisoners and not have anything like habeas corpus, apparently, but are also ready to execute them, have apparently no one among them that might bring up the idea that torturing and murdering representatives of a far more technologically advanced civilization might not be a great idea. (Admittedly, this is something that doesn't occur to humans in any number of alien-visitation movies, such as, for example, E.T.) So they flip from being all aggro to bending over backwards to accommodate their Strange Visitors in the hopes of learning their secrets, at least to that remarkable ray gun. That lieutenant who was such a thug? He begs them to kick his ass.

Plus, of course, the thing about the communicator being more trackable, from a longer distance away, and Archer saying and doing exactly the wrong thing. The latter might have resulted in the nukes flying; they're flying away, congratulating each other for their brilliant rescue, and then, whoops, mushroom clouds.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:57 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


It's been a looong road… Fuckin' up at every turn…

Show us the problems that arose from this, instead of Archer grappling with his ethics and Trip partially vanishing; what happens when this group either thinks that their enemy is potentially well ahead of them technologically and/or that aliens are visiting? Do they launch a pre-emptive attack? Do they negotiate peace for fear of the unknown alien menace? Show us the consequences, so that we start getting a clear line between a moment like this and the eventual adoption of the Prime Directive.

This is kind of where I'm at with this one. I remember my general thought process the first time I saw it:

Reed: "Crap, my communicator"
Me: "Aha! Now here's a tale of Early Starfleet Fuck-Ups that I can get behind, because I bet they're gonna get into the hows and whys of the impact on a society from this, kind of like a Sigma Iotia II backstory."
Mrs.: "Sigma Iotia II?"
Me: (tediously explains "A Piece of the Action")
Mrs.: "I WANT YOU INSIDE ME"
Episode: (goes into familiar heroes-in-alien-jail territory)
Me: "Well... maybe at least they'll throw in some amusing plot twists, a la TNG 'First Contact'."
Episode: (goes nowhere amusing)
Mrs.: "When are they gonna bring up the transporter?"
...later:
Me: "I mean, they could at least mention the transporter."
...later:
Mrs.: "They forgot about the transporter, didn't they."

It's almost funny that the one piece of continuity they DID remember was the Suliban cell ship that probably nobody else cared about, but the transporter—arguably the most well-known piece of Trek tech besides the ships themselves—gets not even a dismissal in dialogue.

they're flying away, congratulating each other for their brilliant rescue, and then, whoops, mushroom clouds.

I would have respected the hell out of them if that had actually been how they ended it.

But yeah, using advanced tech as a simplistic MacGuffin to set up a gunplay scene and Trip having an invisible hand (hey, he could have fixed the aliens' economy) ends up being just disappointing conceptually, even though some of the rudiments were done more effectively here than we've often seen so far.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:24 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Don't hand out too many kudos: the connection was accidental.

*facepalms*
Thanks. Should've known.

Trip partially disappearing was...what? for humor only?

I think it was supposed to be, but someone forgot that jokes need a punchline.

They were just down on the planet, specifically for the purposes of observing their culture, and didn't notice the guys hanging out in the bar, in uniform, or didn't grasp the significance.

Yeah, this one kills me. I want the show to have at least one Daniel Jackson. Even Hoshi doesn't fit the bill, being a linguist rather than an anthropologist.

> they're flying away, congratulating each other for their brilliant rescue, and then, whoops, mushroom clouds.

I would have respected the hell out of them if that had actually been how they ended it.


Same.

It's almost funny that the one piece of continuity they DID remember was the Suliban cell ship that probably nobody else cared about, but the transporter—arguably the most well-known piece of Trek tech besides the ships themselves—gets not even a dismissal in dialogue.

Honestly? I had forgotten they kept the cell ship.
posted by mordax at 3:11 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


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