“There is no me.”: Enemy: Starfleet

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“Enemy: Starfleet” marks an important turning point for Star Trek Phase II. This is best exemplified in the title credits, as it's the first episode to actually go out fully under that name (the previous episode had the title card cheekily change from New Voyages to Phase II midway through). This, combined with the addition of Xon as a full-time character (though he appeared in the last episode, he was little more than an in-joke) and the teaser at the end featuring James Cawley proudly declaring the next episode is “The Child” mean the writing is on the wall for whatever the original conception of this show may have been.

Perhaps predictably, perhaps not, “Enemy: Starfleet” is the most straightforwardly Original Series-esque episode so far. The title is misleading-Considering all the signs and portents we've been building since “To Serve All My Days” about a potential climactic showdown with Section 31 and the Federation's seedy underbelly, I was expecting a very different story than what this actually is based on the name “Enemy: Starfleet”. D.C. Fontana's Star Trek: Year Four-The Enterprise Experiment miniseries for IDW was long out by now, and James Cawley and his team had surely read it. Perhaps they were trying to make it canon to Phase II, but even that story never gives us the moment of triumph this show seems to call for (indeed, I doubt Fontana had ever wanted one, considering “To Serve All My Days” itself).

Either way, “Enemy: Starfleet” turns out to be a very familiar, almost stock, story about Federation technology falling into unscrupulous hands who go on to reverse engineer it to wage a war against their now hopelessly outmatched adversaries, who initially blame the Enterprise for the ensuing years of slaughter. There's a lot of speeches about Federation values of selflessness, and Kirk gets to fret a lot about how he refuses to let death and destruction be carried out in Starfleet's name. Barbara Luna (who played Marlena Moreau in “Mirror, Mirror” and Veronica in “In Harm's Way”) even gets to come back as evil warlord Alursa, who is seemingly deliberately designed to be a rote iteration of the 60s vampy seductress space tyrant queen archetype. Luna's good and always fun to see, but she does seem a but miscast at times (after all, Marlena Moreau was explicitly and purposefully not this) and there doesn't seem to be any kind of irony or self-awareness about her performance, which is the only thing that saved Marta Dubois' Ardra in “Devil's Due”. They should've gotten Kate Mulgrew to reprise her role as Queen of the Spider People instead, or better yet, William Shatner.

The idea of Our Heroes being framed for something, or being incidentally implicated by accident, is such a stock and hackneyed plot structure I don't need to elabourate. Even the idea of a renegade starship impersonating the Enterprise and committing atrocities in its name is well-trod, for me immediately calling to mind for me a number of other expanded universe works, in particular the superior Star Trek: The Next Generation comic arc “Those who fight monsters...”. In “Enemy: Starfleet”, it's the reverse-engineered USS Eagle, lost a decade ago which Alursa has retrofitted and repurposed as a battleship, but the general effect is at least superficially similar. There's a faint meta-commentary about how Alursa has created a “bad” Starfleet to mirror our “good” one (in addition to the accumulative technology she's absorbed and grafted onto the Eagle, she also uses telepathic mind control) and that we must be careful to not turn out like her, but it's a thread that's so underdeveloped it might as well not be there and it doesn't feel as compelling or disturbing as the Mirror Universe, Section 31, or even the Borg.

This sense of dutifully reiterating Original Series tropes is pervasive throughout the whole episode. Alursa is eventually thwarted, of course, by Kirk distracting her with a manipulative seduction scene while secretly working with one of his crew to sabotage her ship. This act itself is the product of an ethical debate about the Enterprise crew ending the war between Alursa's people and her enemies themselves (which I'll have some more to say about a little later one) and there's a great deal of starship action, which generally feels significantly less brutal or deconstructive then previous such scenes this show has done. Actually, the battles in “Enemy: Starfleet” are played the straightest of any episode yet, save “In Harm's Way”, and this one lacks the earlier story's sense of gleeful fannish fun. It tries very hard to be serious, upfront Original Series Star Trek and while the reliably excellent CGI effects make it a substantially more visually interesting experience, it still ends up feeling a bit worn and uninspiring.

The primary way in which “Enemy: Starfleet” differs from a stock Original Series story is in its attitude towards character development, which is one of the only things about it that telegraphs it as a post-Star Trek: The Next Generation story. Peter is back and dealing with the fallout from “Blood and Fire”, so he gets many scenes both with and without Kirk where he's trying to cope with his grief at losing his fiance while also working himself extremely hard to be a capable Starfleet officer. There's also a minor plot point about Chekov growing up and maturing from being the young recruit he was in the Original Series to being a veteran seasoned space explorer. He gives Peter advice, seeing as he was once in a similar point in his life, and comes up with a clever bit of technobabble to save the Enterprise during the climactic battle with the Eagle. In the end, Kirk promotes him to security chief, putting him in the role he held during the original Star Trek Phase II. This is all quite good and well done, though the fact does remain this kind of character development is sort of expected of any reasonably modern TV series.

There is the issue of this episode's requisite moral dilemma. The way the Enterprise crew thwart Alursa and end the generations of war between the two peoples is to utterly devastate that entire region of space, rendering warp drive impossible and isolating everyone indefinitely. It is, admittedly, a last-resort plan and Kirk had hoped to avoid it, but it is portrayed as a kind of necessary evil, and it doesn't sit right. it reminds me of Cold War “nuclear option” scaremongering at best, and at worst the kind of sabre-rattling rhetoric United States foreign policy adopts in regard to regions such as, say, the Middle East. “You naughty underdeveloped countries are at war, so we'll come in and punish you both to set you straight”. For a show that's so far been so good at calling into question the ethics of the Federation and trying so hard to show how the Enterprise crew is bigger than that, this feels like going right back to 1960s Roddenberry Ethics 101, which is the thing from the Original Series I'd really hoped we could avoid the most.

What's ironic is that were “Enemy: Starfleet” actually an Original Series episode, I wouldn't hesitate to call it one of the very best episodes in the entire show. The Star Trek Phase II team have given their favourite programme the ultimate gift: They've learned how to emulate it so well they now not only make episodes indistinguishable from the real thing, but that can actually surpass it as well. This is exactly what a reconstructed Original Series would look like in 2011. But, that's just the thing. It *is* 2011, not 1967, and this isn't enough anymore. The very fact the baseline quality for this show is so high means that, instead of being one of the best episodes yet, “Enemy: Starfleet” becomes one of the worst, saved from being the actual worst only by virtue of not being “Blood and Fire”.

I will, however, admit a great deal of my indifference to “Enemy: Starfleet” comes from my indifference to this model of storytelling in the first place. I plainly do not love the original Star Trek as much as James Cawley and his team do, and this show obviously isn't for me. Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on something that is no more and no less than the product of pure fan love for Star Trek. But then again...With extensive involvement from people like Dave Gerrold, Doug Drexler and Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. (not to mention a parade of veteran actors and former production team members), one wonders exactly how unofficial and beyond reproach Star Trek Phase II really ought to be held at this point. Especially considering what's about to happen next.

Comments

Daru 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah not much to say - I guess I thought that this was just quite a big missed opportunity, as a story like this produced at this time would be a perfect moment to have tackled the problem of Starfleet. It just came across as pretty generic.

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