Archer, Reed and Sato return after going undercover to observe a pre-warp culture. Unfortunately, Reed has left his communicator behind. Worried about cultural contamination, he and Archer return to the surface, but eventually are apprehended by one side of a brewing conflict. Quickly, they are identified as aliens and their other technology — hand scanners, a phase pistol and two more communicators — fall into their captors’ hands. Knowing they can’t reveal their true identities, Archer (ridiculously) tells the captors that they’re genetically enhanced spies from the other side of the conflict. He and Reed are set to be hanged, but T’Pol, Trip and Mayweather — using the cloaked Suliban ship captured way back in “Broken Bow” — rescue them and Archer is able to recover the technology. Back on the ship, Archer acknowledges to T’Pol that they still likely did major damage to the planet’s culture.
Why it’s important
Like the far superior “Dear Doctor”, this episode addresses humanity’s early thinking about interactions with primitive cultures. Clearly, the events here make Archer do some major soul searching. That’s a good idea, as was T’Pol acknowledging that Archer was willing to let himself and Reed be killed to prevent further contamination …
What doesn’t hold up
Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t come out well for a ton of reasons.
For one thing, there’s a rather obvious solution to the entire ordeal that the crew doesn’t even discuss. Why not simply beam the communicator up, eliminating the need to send a second landing party to a planet that might already be aware of some weird happenings and be on the look out for suspicious individuals? Sure, it might not have been possible — and even it it were, it might raise alarms if the device just vanished. But wouldn’t that be preferable to sending more people down to the planet? Beyond that, it’s simply crazy to think that Archer and Reed would return to the planet with two communicators, two scanners and a PHASE PISTOL.
Of course, the Enterprise trope of Archer being taken prisoner pops up here, and then he decides to try to address the situation by providing fodder for a BREWING CIVIL WAR. Essentially, he guesses that telling his captors that the other side has advanced significantly is better for the planet than letting them know that alien life exists. Granted, neither option is good, but I’ve got to believe that giving his captors a reason to start a war was the absolute worst way to go.
Then there’s the rescue plan by T’Pol and Trip. They opt to use the Suliban ship captured more than a year earlier (and not mentioned since) to minimize exposure. But in so doing, they give the aliens more reason to think the other side is tactically advanced, by way of stealth technology. Honestly, using the transporter to beam down a rescue party probably made more sense — and it’s not even mentioned as an option. I know that the transporter was still something that freaked the crew out at this point, but they had used more than a few times.
Oh, and, as we’ve discussed before, it’s ridiculous that Kirk and Spock knew so little about cloaking devices when Starfleet actually knew about them in episodes like this.
Finally, it’s awfully convenient that amid a firefight during the rescue, Archer is able to get to all the technology that the captors confiscated. The door could have been locked, there could have been a guard, one of the devices could have been in another location …
Blech. This is a prime example of Enterprise’s early struggles. The episode isn’t AWFUL and its heart is in the right place. But it’s not well conceived and inserts some rather dull subplotting — in this case, part of Trip’s hand being cloaked — that undercuts the main action. Subplots, IMO, really hurt early Enterprise and helped create the idea that the series was dull and behind the times. If “Dear Doctor” was a strength of the first season, “The Communicator” is arguably the biggest misfire (though not the worst episode) of the second. It paints the crew, and through them, humanity, not just as inexperienced when it comes to space exploration, but as sort of incompetent.
Coming later this week …
Archer and the creators tacitly acknowledge that charting comets is kind of boring.