Saturday, April 07, 2007

Passing "Judgment" (ENT)

As I mentioned before, I've been re-watching a lot of Enterprise episodes on the Sci-Fi channel. Recently I saw the episode "Judgment" again. I was pleasantly surprised to realize it was more enjoyable than I remembered, but I was again struck with some of its unrealized potential.

Speaking as the Advocate

For me, seeing the Klingon court again was great. That may have something to do with my memories of Star Trek VI. That was the first Star Trek movie I saw in a theater (the others coming out before I was old enough to have a clue what was going on). The tri-angular pit, the judge's claw and ball "gavel," prosecution-in-the-round, the chilling verdict: those images were etched into my mind, and I loved seeing them again.

I also think using Rura Penthe was a nice way to reverse engineer some continuity. In Star Trek VI Chekov comments that Rura Penthe is "known throughout the galaxy as the alien's graveyard," letting us know what a bad place this is. This rather awkward line of dialog is only inserted for the benefit of the audience to give us an important (?) bit of information.

But beyond the dramatic awkwardness of the line, it also raises the question, if Rura Penthe is really "known throughout the galaxy", then why have we never heard of it before? Well, with this episode of Enterprise we have heard of it "before." As I said, I nice way to reverse engineer some continuity.

Another more subtle nod to continuity has to do with Klingon culture. In the transition from TOS to TNG the Klingons evolved from brute villains, to a society governed by a highly developed sense of honor. On one hand we can assume we simply were not exposed to enough of what really constitutes Klingon culture in TOS but at the same time there does seem to be some disparity.

Kolos (Archer's advocate played by the always delightful J. G. Hertzler) helps us bridge the gap. He talks about a civilization of many disciplines - including law students and scientists - with an elevated concept of honor that has lost its way. The increasingly aggressive warrior caste has drawn in the younger generation and made preying on the weak a sport, a way of creating a false sense of honor based on posturing and barbarism. Archer in turn helps him to think in terms of righting these wrongs, restoring honor, and making a courageous change for the better.

Here is an excellent look at what Klingon history is really about. Kolos even asks Archer, 'You didn't think all Klingon's are warriors, did you?' So often in Star Trek (and perhaps in sci-fi in general) we deal in absolutes. Alien races are portrayed as monolithic - one language, one culture, one way of approaching things. Vulcans are logical, Ferengi are greedy, and Klingons are warriors. And when we see a stray episode with a Klingon or Ferengi scientist (such as "Suspicions" TNG), we cock our heads and say, that doesn't seem right. But the reality is there has to be that kind of variety and texture to an inter-stellar civilization.

What we see in "Judgment" is that not all Klingons are alike, and that there are different forces at a work within their culture. A dominant warrior caste is promoting a way of life consistent with what we see in TOS, but there's a cultural background based on the stories of Kahless that is also at work and that asserts itself more strongly at different times in Klingon history.

The Unrealized Potential

Where this episode lets me down is that it alludes to a much more expansive story then we ever get to see on screen. When it first aired I remember thinking that there was enough material here for two, if not three episodes. When season four came along, Enterprise tried that kind of arc-based story telling. That's exactly what I thought could have been done here.

The first episode could have shown the initial conflict with Duras as it actually happened, instead of two re-telling of those events. The way Duras tells the story is obviously inaccurate, but this is not of as much entertainment value as it was probably meant to be. For one thing, you can tune into any episode of CSI these days and see a false flashback of how something supposedly happened. We see it way too much for it to be interesting in its own right. And Star Trek has done this kind of thing in much more interesting ways already.

"A Matter of Perspective" (TNG) may have been based on a contrived premise, but at least something was drawn from all the varying stories of what "really" happened, and it was an innovative story for its time. "Living Witness" (VOY) took a different approach, with a clever story-telling framework, and a real message about how recorded history can be intentionally or unintentionally manipulated by those who tell the story. Here, we don't get anything so interesting-just the blustering testimony of a dishonored Klingon.

So rather than rehashing a condensed version of the original events, why not show them objectively. Then the episode could end with another important detail we are never given - how Archer was finally apprehended by the Klingon's. How did they take him into custody? Surely there is a story there.

The second episode would allow time for to see - not just hear about - the efforts to lobby for Archer's release. The reactions of Starfleet and the Vulcan High Command, the crews reaction to T'Pol's leadership as they find themselves deep in Klingon territory. In the meantime we are introduced to Kolos, and the trial unfolds. We see what it takes to get Phlox down to the planet and into the prison block. The episode ends with Archer sentenced to life on Rura Penthe and perhaps we get just a glimpse of this gulag, or maybe that's saved for the third episode.

The third episode then shows in detail the most rushed aspect of the whole episode - the rescue. Again we are told there were some unorthodox channels used to release Archer, but it would have been nice to see T'Pol and Trip negotiating with Klingon's or Reed stowed away aboard a prison transport, and so on.

And if three episodes is stretching it too thin, then at least give it two. Either way, there seemed to be way too much we are just told about, and far to little we are actually shown. Overall, I like this episode very much, but I wish it was fleshed out a little bit more.

And when Archer finally escapes, there is one line I would really have liked to hear Kolos say to Archer: "Qapla!"