February 24 2024


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Silent Enemy

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 17, 2002 - 9:23 AM GMT

See Also: 'Silent Enemy' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Just after Enterprise deploys a subspace amplifier that allows the crew to communicate with Earth, unidentified aliens scan the ship. Though concerned, Archer puts aside his worries and tells Sato to focus on finding out Malcolm Reed's favorite foods so they can throw him a birthday party. Communications with home are bittersweet. Introverted Reed hasn't even bothered to tell his parents his job title, and Tucker's long-distance relationship has apparently come to an end. Yet when the aliens return, blast through the hull plating and disappear again, the crew finds they have bigger problems.

Archer tells Tucker that he wants to return to Jupiter Station to get more powerful weapons installed, even though Tucker and Reed both insist that they can do the work in space. As Mayweather sets course for Earth, the chief engineer and weapons officer show their team the specs for phase cannons; they need to get their single prototype working and build two others from scratch, so that the ship will be prepared in case of another attack. While the team works overtime, the aliens return, blasting Enterprise's warp nacelles and infiltrating the ship. Phlox is able to treat crewmen disabled by the strangers, but a device they have hidden in the launch bay overloads the systems when Reed tests the new weapons, leveling a planet's mountain range and damaging the ship.

Unable to ask the Vulcans for help because the aliens have destroyed their subspace amplifiers, a furious Archer sends a message to his adversaries, promising to fight to protect Enterprise. When the aliens return once more, Archer tells Reed to overload the phase cannons again to boost their yield. The powerful blasts penetrate the alien shields and the enemy ship flees trailing debris. Though they still have not learned the identity of their adversaries, the Enterprise crew celebrates the success of the engineering team's work, and Archer calls off the trip back to Jupiter Station. Meanwhile, Phlox reveals to Sato that Reed takes injections to counteract an allergy to a plant enzyme present in pineapple; she bakes him a birthday cake with the fruit, and they have a successful party.

Analysis: Though well-paced and reasonably engrossing, 'Silent Enemy' lacks the unnerving edge that characterizes most episodes about hostile aliens. When we first met Voyager's Vidiians in 'Phage,' for example, they were terrifying -- after a brutal and near-deadly attack on a crewmember, we saw only glimpses of ravaged faces and ships with tactical advantages that greatly outweighed Voyager's. Though the Enterprise crew works overtime in 'Silent Enemy' to defeat their new adversaries, we share little of the urgency they must be feeling, not even after the aliens board the ship and attack crewmembers. It's a foregone conclusion that the episode will end with Malcolm's birthday party, and an obvious guess that he'll get to be the hero along the way.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not lamenting the lack of horror-movie tactics like we saw in 'Fight or Flight.' 'Phage' and 'Silent Enemy' were both directed by Winrich Kolbe, who's very capable of filming nail-biting suspense, so I'm assuming it was a production decision to focus on the crew's general cheeriness, rather than the creeping sense of fear one would expect on a ship new to deep space and under assault by a powerful unknown enemy. The chase through the ship's darkened corridors is underscored by monotonous minor-key music that's an improvement over what I assume is supposed to be the light-hearted melody of the scene in the mess, but it adds a sense of predictability rather than suspense. The cheesy ghostlike aliens don't add any fear factor, particularly since in the end they don't do Enterprise crewmembers any harm.

Thus it seems curious that Archer expresses more skittishness than anyone else on his crew, except one lone engineer who worries aloud that the aliens may attack again. The captain wants to head back home for an overhaul while his chief engineer and weapons officer insist that they can do a better job than Starfleet's ship-builders. Archer doesn't lack confidence in his crew, yet he wants official backup and even tries to contact the Vulcans for help. Obviously he takes his responsibility to protect his crew very seriously, and the lack of a red-shirt body count is a welcome surprise. The theme of caution versus risk-taking also permits Tucker some nice development as he first insists to Archer that they need to take chances in the name of exploration, then realizes that he himself has ordered Reed to play it safe in the installation of the phase cannons.

It's mystifying that the captain ties up one of his senior officers making plans for a birthday party, rather than trying to figure out whether there's a problem in communication that's keeping them from talking to their adversaries. Archer makes the initial overtures to Reed's parents, but when he gets nowhere, he dumps the problem on his chief of communications as if she's -- well, Yeoman Rand comes to mind. I'm trying not to make too much of the fact that Archer reduced a senior female officer to baking a cake for one of the boys, but the episode purposefully makes an issue of her gender by having Reed mistake her offer to cook for him as a romantic overture. He might still have declined, but I doubt Reed would have given the same speech about inappropriate fraternization had Mayweather offered to make him enchiladas, though I hope I'm wrong. One of the very few things we learn about the guy is that he once had a crush on a waitress, as if we need to be reassured of his heterosexuality in the face of his isolation.

In sum we still know very little about Reed except that he's obsessed with his work -- whether this is because of his parents' disinterest in him or the other way around isn't clear. Like Mayweather, it seems that his parents are disappointed that he chose Starfleet over family tradition, but it's too bad he didn't say something to that effect in 'Fortunate Son' if it made a major impact on him. He comes across as competent in the armory, refreshingly excited about risky new technobabble, and otherwise dreadfully boring. I hope he decides to take responsibility for ship's security, because it's inexcusable that no one bothered to check the launch bay for hidden bombs, surveillance devices and anthrax spores once the space invaders left.

In short, I'm ambivalent about this episode. I enjoyed it while I watched it and my 8-year-old liked it better than 'Cold Wars' because it wasn't scary, but other than the introduction of proto-phasers, it contributed little by way of dramatic or character development. As always I appreciate Tucker's enthusiasm for exploration, Archer's protectiveness of his people and the overall optimistic tone of the series, yet at the same time, I feel like I could have missed this hour of Enterprise and it wouldn't have been any great loss.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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