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4-15 Affliction

reviewed by Kevin Thomas Riley

I was very torn about this episode coming in and I'm still very torn coming out of it. I never thought it necessary to explain something as silly as the "Klingon forehead issue" that seems to have gotten a sizable portion of the fan segment in a twist. Leave it be, I've always said. It's just a makeup issue, much like the original series look a bit dated compared to later incarnations of Star Trek. I always reasonably assumed that the bumpy foreheads had always been there, a tongue-in-cheek throw away line by Worf on DS9 notwithstanding. So, devoting a couple of episodes to "explain" this for me seems much too fanboyish. But alas, the excellent quality can't hide the fact that season 4 is at times too fanboyish. Hence we now have Affliction and Divergence set to clear out this supposed mess. While a lot of hardcore fans will applaud I do think that a lot of the more casual viewers will think this is too silly. Imagine if you weren't a Trek fan and heard about that in tonight's episode you'd get an explanation to "the smooth Klingon forehead question"! Oh, wellů Besides, don't you have to explain the ridged Romulans, the ever-changing Andorians and the different looking Tellarites now? The excuse that these differences aren't as protruded (pun intended) as the Klingon ones doesn't fly. Where do you draw the line? Either it is a principal issue or it isn't.

Thus I sat and watched Affliction with great trepidation. I can't say I was surprised about it though. As befitting the general quality of this season it was a very good episode. For something as silly as the "forehead issue" it was executed well and the "explanation" wasn't too far-fetched. It was actually a rather nice tie-in with the previous Augments arc, in having Klingons experimenting with augmented human DNA as the cause for smoothening the foreheads. This is really canon, folks! The augments, Drs Soong and Phlox will have a hand in how the Klingons look in the early Kirk era. At least that brings joy to my heart!

However, it is really beyond silly (in spite of it being a staple of Trek and much other science fiction) that some injected viral DNA could change the physical appearance in someone in just a couple of seconds. Mutated, augmented or whatever DNA shouldn't work like that. At least Soong's augments were altered at the embryonic (or maybe even earlier) stage. That makes a whole of a lot more sense. Fully grown smooth-headed Klingons, created using augmented human DNA, shouldn't appear in another twenty years or so. This, taken together with the fact that it really isn't a necessary story to tell, takes the episode down some points for me. But had it just been about some other strange epidemic plaguing the Klingons, the episode(s) would be just fine.

Another thing that kinda bothered me is that these smooth Klingons, which we will see later on in the original series, are supposed to be stronger and more intelligent than the bumpy non-augmented ones. I know that outward appearances can be deceiving but come on, there is no way I can believe that the leaner human-looking Klingons are supposed to be stonger than the bulkier and more muscular bumpy ones!

There was another tie-in to upcoming Treks with the introduction of a shady intelligence organization (known as Section 31 on DS9) to which Malcolm Reed is a secret associate of. His divided loyalties were played out very well and you could really feel how torn he was between the section he'd sworn allegiance to even before he became a Starfleet officer and Captain Archer and the NX-01 crew. The betrayal felt by Archer was very real too. As of this episode the motivations for the section are rather murky. Why did they allow Phlox to be kidnapped (as suggested by them taking a surveillance satellite off line) and why would they want to hide the fact that the Klingons were behind it? Reed did say as much to the captured smoothie, that they too wanted a cure. Are the section and the Klingons secretly working together, and if so, for what purposes?

For that matter, why did the smoothies attack and board the Enterprise? Are the escapees from the infected colony, or are they working with the bumpy ones? And if they so easily could have sabotaged the Enterprise to make it travel beyond safe speed, why didn't they just blow it up in the first place - if destruction is their goal? I suppose we'll get answers in the next episode.

One thing I loved in this episode was the Trip/T'Pol stuff (no surprises there). The scene at the beginning was very angsty. "My life doesn't revolve around you!" Ouch, that must have hurt, T'Pol! So Trip leaves for the Columbia but neither he nor T'Pol can escape each other. They invade not only each other's dreams but each other's daydreams as well. "No, you get out! This is my daydream!" That scene was, for all its angst, very funny. They're obviously bounded together on a mental level that even seems to increase when they're apart. Being a spoiler hound, I know where this is going so I won't say anything more.

That Hoshi got a glimpse of the shared Trip/T'Pol dream, as a residual effect from her mindmeld with T'Pol, was fun too. Subconscious thoughts can be exchanged and surface while sleeping, eh? Betcha would have kept a tighter lid on those if you had known beforehand, T'Pol? Hoshi must now be well aware what T'Pol's hidden feelings regarding the absent engineer are. Oh, and Hoshi was very cute in her civilian attire, hair loose and kicking some Rigellian ass!

The mind-melding scene turned out much better than I had anticipated after learning some spoilers about Archer (a friggin' human, former katra carrier notwithstanding!) teaching T'Pol (a Vulcan!) how to meld. Thankfully it was very subdued.

Seeing Trip on the Columbia, changing arm patches and all, was sort of a break from the expected. How many of you who haven't read spoilers really thought he was going to transfer? Trip's demeanour was changed as well. He's no longer the friendly easy-going type but a hardened professional that knocks so many heads together that there's a couple of requests for transfer from his engineering crew. But he got the job done and did in a week what six months prior couldn't accomplish - getting the Columbia space-worthy. At any rate he's now looking more for colleagues than friends. Getting too closely attached to co-workers (read: T'Pol) has just hurt him and his outlook is now different. Quite believable, actually. The same cannot be said for Captain Erika Hernandez. Sorry, but her character just felt flat.

So, finally, what is my grade? For the reasons sated in the first half of the review I cannot in good conscious give this more than an 8 on my 10-grading scale. With no "forehead issue" I could easily have given a 9 and just to be generous I'll put a plus after. So 8+ it is.

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