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Chosen Realm

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 15, 2004 - 4:28 AM GMT

See Also: 'Chosen Realm' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Just after Tucker and Mayweather return from a mission to study another Expanse sphere, the ship picks up a distress call from a vessel trapped within the sphere's anomalies. Archer offers assistance and, after making certain that none of the aliens are armed, takes them aboard. D'Jamat, their leader, explains that they are from the planet Triannon and have come to the sphere to venerate it. When he has dinner later with Archer and T'Pol, he explains that his people believe that the spheres of the "chosen realm" were created by the Makers who shape reality, using anomalies as manifestations of their will. When D'Jamat and T'Pol begin to argue over the relative merits of faith and science, Archer gently interrupts to announce that his crew will soon have the Triannon ship repaired, and D'Jamat says he hopes to repay their kindness.

A woman visits Phlox in sickbay to ask privately about a medical procedure, though the Triannon have thus far refused medical attention because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. She is married to Yarrick, who quietly expresses doubts to D'Jamat about their planned course of action. D'Jamat hisses that the Enterprise crew desecrated a sphere and that his plans will bring salvation to the crew as well as to their own planet. Soon after, he tells Archer that the Enterprise is about to embark on a glorious mission and that his people are stationed around the vessel to take it over. To demonstrate their resolve, he has one of his followers commit suicide using an organic bioweapon that blows out a section of bulkhead and kills an Enterprise crewmember.

Because D'Jamat has people stationed by the warp engine prepared to blow themselves up if the captain does not go along with his plan, Archer orders Tucker and the others to cooperate for the time being. Phlox refuses to leave his patients in sickbay, but many other crewmembers are locked in their quarters. D'Jamat explains to Archer that heretics on Triannon are undermining the way of lives of the faithful, and he is taking Enterprise and its weapons there to end the conflict. He also explains that the crew should be executed for entering a sphere, but because they put themselves at risk to save the Triannon, he will temper the punishment: only one crewmember will be put to death. During the six hours he gives Archer to decide who should die, he deletes Enterprise's data on the spheres.

When Yarrick visits Archer with a report, Archer informs him that he knows Yarrick's wife asked Phlox about terminating her pregnancy. Yarrick insists that it's a private matter and says he will follow D'Jamat to the death, but when he confronts his wife afterward, telling her that she put them at risk by speaking with the doctor, she insists that she will not have a child who will die in D'Jamat's war and had thought that her husband felt the same way. Archer tells D'Jamat that he has chosen himself to die for his crew, which D'Jamat finds admirable; he believes that he and Archer are kindred spirits, both trying to save their people, and because Archer tortured an alien to gain information about the Xindi, he expects Archer to understand his methods. Archer asks to die by having his molecules disassembled and T'Pol performs the "execution" using the transporter.

But Archer of course has merely beamed elsewhere in the ship, and arms first himself, then Reed and the MACOs. Using scans of Triannon physiology obtained by Archer, Phlox synthesizes an agent to neutralize the suicide weapons. With the help of Yarrick and his wife, the crew retakes the ship just as a convoy of enemy Triannon vessels comes into range and begins firing upon it. Archer powers down Enterprise's weapons to demonstrate that he intends no harm to them, and with D'Jamat in the brig, the ship heads to Triannon, where Archer shows the faithful that their war has decimated their planet; no major cities remain. "Your faith was going to bring peace? Here it is," Archer says.

Analysis: Despite obvious antecedents in previous Trek episodes from "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (TOS) to "In the Hands of the Prophets" (DS9), this episode had me intellectually engaged and emotionally involved until the revelation of the source of the religious war -- a debate over whether the universe was created in nine days or ten. Suddenly what had seemed to be a rather fair look at religious fanaticism tipped over into ugly, superficial parody, and I resented not only the shallowness of the real-world parallels but the stupidity of recycling a plot that had already been done better on several previous incarnations of the series.

Maybe this is a stupid thing to get hung up on, but until then I had been stunned by the episode's daring. A woman makes a decision to have an abortion, and instead of being the center of a morality play, it's practically a throwaway subplot, as is the doctor's apparent respect for her right to choose regardless of the beliefs of her own people. D'Jamat is clearly a lunatic but he's also a man of absolute conviction, who seems not to be leading his people out of a quest for personal glory like Kai Winn nor out of superficial prejudice like Lokai and Bele, but because he believes that he has been touched by his Makers for a greater purpose. Conor O'Farrell is perfectly cast and his performance is nearly perfect as well; he exudes strength when presenting his theological beliefs, is intimidating enough to make one believe that he can keep his followers in thrall with just a word, seems genuinely to suffer over the deaths he causes and over the suffering he must put Archer through. Even when he starts having to spout clichés about how questioning him is tantamount to questioning the Makers, when his initial dialogue is fresh and engrossing, there's an aura of intelligence and certitude.

Yet he is taking over Enterprise, and planning to wipe out thousands of people on his planet...over a debate about whether the spheres were completed on a Tuesday or a Wednesday? The level of contempt suggested here for organized religion is staggering. Yes, religious conflicts have started over incredibly trivial matters, but the suicide bombers in Jerusalem are not blowing themselves up over a debate about whether God prefers to be called Jehovah or Allah: there are several thousand years of conflict over land, culture and history involved, and much of that conflict has not been spiritual in nature at all but has centered on religious and secular leaders staking personal claims to glory in this life and the next. This isn't a little cult like the one from "The Way To Eden", in which a group of fanatics set off to find a fabled paradise planet; this is the dominant religion of an entire civilization. And given the power of the spheres in their chosen realm, the belief system itself isn't all that preposterous. Killing people in their names is quite a different matter, but strangely, the episode doesn't ridicule D'Jamat's followers for being entranced like lemmings; instead it makes the foundations of belief look ridiculous.

Kirk was always meeting and overthrowing false gods, from Apollo to Ba'al to the God who lives in the center of the galaxy, usually using science to unmask the robot or whatever it was that was giving them their power. He even became a false god, "Kirok", and had to be saved by Spock's logic and McCoy's medical knowledge. By contrast, the Bajoran Prophets were pretty much the real thing: not the highest power in the universe, certainly, but so far advanced over humanoids that a certain degree of humility and worship seemed only fitting, even to someone like Sisko who came from a different tradition entirely.

We don't yet know what the spheres are, nor who put them there; calling their creators the Makers makes a certain kind of sense. We're led to believe that most of the faithful don't grow up to be suicide bombers -- Yarrick and his wife make clear that they were raised with different beliefs, perhaps no less rigid but evidently less violent in practice -- yet they don't speak about that, so we get no sense of what religion is like elsewhere on their planet. We see only the horrific...concluding with the end of the world, which suggests that passionate belief will always lead to such a conclusion; after all, D'Jamat wasn't on his homeworld when the war reached its nadir, so there must have been many other extremists like him in power. It's a very straightforward, superficial equation being presented: people of strong faith = dangerous fanatics, while people who doubt, be they scientists or just common slobs with questions about why they're doing what they're doing, stand for progress.

It's a pity the episode bothered to try to explain the reasons behind the religious war, since it's pretty much impossible to posit a single debate behind any religious war (does anyone really think the Crusades were solely about bringing the glory of Jesus to Jerusalem?). Because without that, it's a strong outing with excellent performances, and I might not have stopped to ask questions like, "Where was Archer's brain when, after a superficial weapons scan, he gave these strangers such total run of his ship that they managed to get men stationed in engineering during the takeover?" Not to mention, "If D'Jamat didn't know about the transporter, why didn't Phlox or someone try to get to it and use it before Archer's 'execution'?" And lets not get started on how quickly D'Jamat hacked into their computer and started deleting data...not to mention the basic question of how they communicated at all without Hoshi around to facilitate.

Things I liked: the range of expressions on Jolene Blalock's face as T'Pol watched Archer's "execution", when she was supposed to be playing a stoic Vulcan yet suggesting grief enough that D'Jamat wouldn't wonder why she wasn't distressed. Phlox's creative use of a bat to distract a stupid Triannon guard. Trip's griping that he can't believe Archer is going to surrender the ship so easily (neither could I). Archer freeing Reed first, though I did have to wonder: what's the point of having MACOs on board when they're so completely useless in a situation like this? And I really, really liked D'Jamat reminding Archer that he tortured a prisoner. Even though Archer keeps saying he had no choice and he'd do it again, I want him to have nightmares about it.

And I'm curious: what would D'Jamat have done if Archer hadn't played ball? If he hadn't been honorable, if he'd decided that finding the Xindi was more important than one more rescue mission, or if he'd said, "Go ahead, blow up my ship and make martyrs of all of us because we won't participate in your fanaticism"? Trigger-happy Janeway might have ordered the self-destruct herself! There's also the question of why the enemy Triannon fleet had pursued D'Jamat all the way out to the sphere and whether they knew what had happened back home eight months earlier, but I guess we're not supposed to think about that.

It truly does not bother me when later Treks tread the same ground as older Treks; some of the same subjects are as relevant if not more so now, and some of these themes are worth many more examinations. But we should get a fresh perspective, a new insight, a more complicated vision, not a heavy-handed allegory that ends like an episode of the old Twilight Zone with Archer as the voice of warning.

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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.

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