Posts Tagged ‘Julianne Christie’

Unexpected, an episode of Enterprise first broadcast on October 17th 2001, opens with the ship (NX-01 incarnation, back in the 22nd century) experiencing various odd technical problems: vending machines producing the wrong items, gravity malfunctions, and so on. We get to see this when the gravity fails in Captain Archer’s bathroom (luckily he is only having a shower: things could have been a lot worse). This is quite a lavishly CGI-d scene for what is basically just a throwaway gag, but it is the cold open for the episode so it may have been intended to impress and lure in casual viewers (this may be overestimating the appeal of a damp Scott Bakula clinging to his shower head).

Well, naturally, the Enterprise crew are smart cookies and figure out the source of the problems: a cloaked ship is tailgating the Enterprise, causing problems with the warp exhaust, or something like that (it’s good old fashioned treknobabble). The aliens (who are called the Xyrillians) are very apologetic and explain they have been beset by engine problems, and are using the Enterprise‘s exhaust to recharge. Despite the fact that the episode strongly indicates that the Xyrillians are considerably more advanced than Earth, Archer decides to lend them chief engineer Trip (Connor Trinneer) for three days so he can fix their teraphasic warp coils.

Of course, this is Enterprise, so things aren’t as straightforward as they will be in centuries to come: Trip has to spend hours in an uncomfortable acclimatisation chamber in order to board the Xyrillian vessel, and when he gets there he finds it very disorienting and challenging (the direction and performances suggest the experience is a cross between severe jet lag and a bad trip). However, Trip’s trip improves when he discovers the human food the Xyrillians have laid on for him (they appear to have invented water-flavoured jelly), and the fact there is a distinct spark between him and Ah’Len (Julianne Christie), one of their engineers. Literally so: electricity crackles whenever they touch, which is not the most subtle metaphor ever, but what the hell. The two of them even take time out together to visit what is essentially a Xyrillian holodeck, where they stick their hands in some granules that create a temporary telepathic connection between them (easy, tiger).

Make sure she’ll still respect you in the morning, Trip.

All too soon it’s time for Trip to go home and the ships go their separate ways – but it seems he’s brought back more than happy memories and information on the Xyrillians. He starts growing extra nipples on the inside of his wrists, and the ensuing medical exam requires Dr Phlox to enquire if there was any romance during his time away. Yes, it turns out that Ah’Len has managed to knock Trip up, and he is now pregnant with an alien baby. Various surprisingly broad comedy scenes ensue, as the ship searches for the Xyrillians and Trip has odd cravings and frets about whether Enterprise is a child-friendly environment.

Unfortunately, Trip’s repairs have turned out to be no good, and when the ship catches up with the Xyrillians they are pulling their cloaked tailgating manoeuvre again, only this time with a Klingon battle cruiser. As these are especially brutal and shouty 22nd century Klingons, their first reaction on being informed of this is to declare that all the Xyrillians will be executed, but Archer talks the Klingon captain into letting them off in return for the Klingons getting some holodeck technology (we are pre-Prime Directive so they can get away with this), although not before Trip has to show his baby bump (actually, it looks more like a tumour) on the main viewscreen. Trip’s bundle of joy gets transplanted somewhere non-specific, the Klingon captain shouts ‘I can see my house from here!’ as he visits a holo-recreation of Qo’noS, and everyone heads off happily.

This is one of those episodes (written, by the way, by Brannon Braga and Rick Berman) with a toxic reputation and you can kind of understand why: while there are some good things in it (Trinneer’s performance is charming, and there’s a nice turn from Julianne Christie, who actually manages to make a bald scaly alien in a tinfoil jumpsuit rather alluring), in other places it is just inept or feels bizarrely misjudged.

The pacing is off, for one thing: you can tell that the character-based-emotional-core of the episode is Trip having to come to terms with the possibility of becoming a parent (the kind of theme other Trek episodes deal with reasonably successfully). But after spending a good chunk of the episode getting him over to the Xyrillian ship, and then establishing his relationship with Ah’Len (presumably so Trip doesn’t just come across as an easy lay), the episode only has about five minutes to contemplate this before they have to think about resolving the plot. The other issue is the tone, once the fact of the ‘pregnancy’ becomes apparent: it is much closer to goofy, gonzo comedy than you’d expect in Star Trek, with the other characters smirking and struggling to keep a straight face when talking to Trip.

I could probably also put my armchair xenobiologist’s hat on and comment on how very implausible the Xyrillian reproductive process seems – apparently the males of the species don’t contribute genetically to the embryo at all, they just host it, which begs all kinds of questions about how they maintain diversity in their genome and what the male gets out of the process at all. The fact they also apparently procreate by sticking their hands in holographic psychic gravel together also seems rather unlikely to me. But when the plot demands such things…

I suppose it is all part of an attempt to communicate just how weird and alien the Xyrillians are. This would work better if the show had not apparently been running out of money, for despite everything suggested by the script about the exotic environment of their ship – food growing out of the walls, grass growing on the floor – what we end up with are some of the most garish, ugly, cheap-ass looking sets ever seen in Berman-era Trek. (The technical incompetence of the episode extends into other areas: for instance, Christopher Darga, playing the Klingon captain, is very obviously looking at the wrong camera during most of his communicating-by-viewscreen scenes.)

And yet I find myself oddly reluctant to consign Unexpected to the same reliquary for horribly inept Trek where you will find episodes like Spock’s Brain, Angel One, Shades of Gray, and anything featuring mushroom-powered teleport drives. Quite what the point of it was supposed to be admittedly remains unclear, but there are certainly pleasures to be had along the way, from the performances to the fact that it is, in places, much more genuinely funny than most of the supposedly comedic episodes of Next Gen. It’s not great drama, or great SF, or even particularly great comedy. But it passes the test, some of the time at least, in that it engages, diverts and entertains.

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