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4-11 Observer Effect
reviewed by Kevin Thomas Riley
Well, after the disappointment that was Daedalus I was pleasantly surprised by Observer Effect. This is how a stand-alone bottle episode should be made. Although spoilers indicated that it was going to be been-there-done-that alien possession/alien virus episode it was handled very well. And let's be honest, after 700+ Trek episodes out there there's only so much you can do without being accused of being repetitive. What matters is the execution and it was excellently done.
It was a great character episode. I wish they did more of those. You can have action and character developments at the same time. I liked the insights to Hoshi's past. Her starting poker games, breaking people's arms and getting tossed out of Starfleet Training might come as a surprise, since that's an aspect we haven't seen of her before. But since we haven't learned much of Hoshi before anyway it's no stretch to assume that she could've been different when she was younger. Besides, we all have different personalities in different situations, at different times and in different settings so I don't think this little revelation was out of character. I actually love that Hoshi can kick some ass. And Linda Park excelled here - she should definitely get more to do besides opening hailing frequencies. While we didn't learn anything new about Trip he nevertheless shone in this episode too. This was Trip and Hoshi's episode.
Another character that surprised me (again) was Archer. He was compassionate and caring. You could really see that he was very concerned for his two sick crewmembers. When he threw his protective gloves off to help Hoshi and when he put his hand on dying Trip I really could feel what he was feeling. A Captain like that I could sign up for. After last week's instalment of Obnoxious Archer this was a pleasant experience. This is how I'd like to see Archer. It is too bad his character is so inconsistently written that I fully expect him to become a bore in the next episode. I'm all for character development and all but let's show that - don't make him out to me a pendulum that one week swings in one direction and the next in a completely different one. Show some consistency in his character and its development.
Even the other secondary characters got stuff to do - Phlox, Reed and Mayweather. But it's a shame that when Travis finally gets some lines it's not even his lines but that of an Organian. Still, Montgomery did a nice job here. Observer Effect was actually a very good ensemble piece and they should do more of those.
The part with the aliens being Organian (original series Errand of Mercy) was perhaps not necessary. Strictly speaking they could have been just about any superior non-corporeal aliens but the tie-in was nice anyway. From being adherents to non-interference to stopping a Federation/Klingon war in the future you could see where it all began. Even Organians, like Vulcans, can evolve and change over time.
You could argue that the end was a reset (and I normally hate those) but I never felt it was that. First of all, the crew remembered what had happened about the virus. It was only the presence of the Organians, that aside from Phlox and Archer no one else knew about, that was kept hidden. So I don't feel that it was the generic Reset Button™ at work here. Second, did anyone actually believe that anyone was going to die? This is Star Trek, not Babylon 5 and while it might have been a unique way to go for Trek I don't think any fans would have expected it or even wanted it. After all, the deaths were not the story here. From a dramatic standpoint, the death of a major character should have an impact. Killing off Hoshi for example would not have contributed to that in this episode.
I really enjoyed the eerie aspects of this episode, from the beginning when Organian-Reed and Organian-Mayweather were playing chess, Organian-Phlox and Organian-T'Pol observing Trip and Hoshi in the decon chamber, Organian-Archer and Organian-T'Pol surprising Phlox and finally when Organian-Trip and Organian-Hoshi rose from the dead. They did a good job of showing those creepy aspects and together with the music made my skin crawl at times.
Some might also object to the preachy aspects of Archer's little speech about humanity at the end but I thought it was well done. This was far from the usual "gazelle speeches" he makes on occasion. While the humanity-is-special can seem tired it has always been a staple of Trek and if the delivery is good then I won't object. One thing bugged me though, and that was the subtle references to Dear Doctor when Archer faced a similar non-interference situation and in my opinion made the wrong choice. Why was this situation different? Just because he was on the receiving end shouldn't change the moral of the decision.
I liked the understated concern T'Pol showed here. Jolene Blalock does a good job at showing subtle emotions in her controlled Vulcan demeanour. From her facial expressions alone you could see that she was very upset about Trip dying. And I loved how she asked Archer about if Trip was to regain consciousness and Archer picking up on that right away. And when Archer called back and said that Trip was OK her relief at the news was clearly visible. She still cares deeply about Trip even if the relationship is in a holding pattern.
So, what's my grade? I'm hovering between a 7 and an 8 on my patented 10-grade scale (I reserve the top grades for truly excellent ones like the Vulcan arc). For the been-there-done-that aspect it would get a 7 but since the execution was above what I expected I'll be generous and give it a grade of 8.
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