Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 2, Episode 19
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, while a great and entertaining Trek film, doesn’t seem to carry the same deserved cultural cache as other entries in the Original Series franchise. That usually goes to the iconic Wrath of Khan, the mirthful Voyage Home, or even deathly serious Search For Spock. And yet, we have not one, but two tribute episodes to Star Trek VI!
As a huge fan of Undiscovered, there was a very nerdy appeal to seeing an Enterprise episode structured around it. However, among its many flaws, the series was guilty of a shocking amount of recycled plot lines from previous Trek series episodes with only cosmetic changes, so it’s also pretty representative of what you can typically expect to find with Enterprise. True to that, we get an episode that feels like a patchwork collage of previous entries in all facets – locales, themes, characters, and guest stars. There’s absolutely nothing new here, but it’s watchable and kind of fun in a low-power brain mode way.
Speaking of guest stars! The indomitable J.G. Hertzler graces the episode with his cantankerous presence. Having played the most awesome Klingone to have ever lived (General Martok on Deep Space Nine), it gives the episode instant gravitas and appeal. He plays a different kind of Klingon this time – Kolos, a defending lawyer assigned to Archer (in the same way that Worf’s grandfather was for Kirk and McCoy).
The episode opens with Archer in a Klingon trial almost exactly like the one we saw Kirk and McCoy in, even down to the metal gauntlet-wielding judge and same camera angles. Star Trek loves its trial episodes (especially its alien ones), and this is… definitely one of them.
We’ve seen a bit of the Klingon justice system and its lawyers in several instances already – Undiscovered of course, TNG’s “Sins of the Father,” and DS9’s “Rules of Engagement.” The trial aspect of the plot borrows from all of these sources, even the way in which the opposing defendant gives a colored testimony of events that we see acted out (from “Engagement”). And of course the alien justice system in the episode is bereft of any rhyme or reason, and has absolutely zero interest in truth or justice (which recalls O’Brien’s ordeal in the Cardassian court in “Tribunal”).
The gist of it is that the Enterprise came upon a drifting ship full of starving refugees. They were annexed by the Klingon Empire, had all their resources stripped, and were left to die. Archer and the crew rescue them, but are intercepted by a Klingon classic cherry bird of prey, who deems the refugees rebels and demands that they be turned over. Archer of course refuses to comply (’cause that’s what humans do), some fireworks ensue, yadda yadda, he ends up in a Klingon prison to stand trial for aiding rebellion.
Oh, and the captain of that Klingon ship? You guessed it. Duras Stallone.
No really. It’s Duras. Like, not the actual guy who accused Worf(‘s father) of treason and killed his baby mama, but an ancestor of him. Son of Toral, in case the connection wasn’t made quite clear enough (Toral was the pipsqueak illegitimate heir of Duras from TNG’s “Redemption” two-parter). Duras would go on to become a minor recurring villain in Enterprise. It’s yet another sizable chunk of fan service in an episode that’s 110% fan service by volume, but by all means, keep loadin’ it up, boys. What’s carrying weight mean??
The plot proceeds in a pretty by-the-numbers fashion for Star Trek and we get a lot of familiar thematic and character beats. There’s nothing much deep or thoughtful about it, save for one or two things.
Duras (who has been demoted from captain since then, ha ha) gives his bullshit account of what happened, and Archer tries to tell his side, but of course that it isn’t allowed. Of course it isn’t. Like a lot of Trek alien culture details, you’re really not supposed to think about it too much. And our own justice systems(s) are hardly paragons of virtue, but at least there’s the pretense of getting to the truth and meting out appropriate blame/punishment. Here, not so much.
The episode does address that and provides a bit of depth to Klingon society. In private, Archer is insistent to Kolos that he be allowed to tell his side of the story. Kolos seems equally indifferent and cynical in that deliciously grumbly way that Hertzler has. Apparently the Klingon court system used to be more invested in the idea of finding out the truth and justice, but society has shifted away from that. Kolos, an honorable legal combatant, seems wistful of those times, and Archer persuades him to remind the court of how things used to be.
It’s bare-bones as far as depth and characterization goes and helps move the episode along, but it also smacks of one of the more unfortunate themes of Trek – that of the human coming along and helping to singlehandely fix an alien society. Archer just demands to tell his side of the story in court, and against all current Klingon legal customs, he gets to. Hertzler sells the material because he’s badass, but the speed with which he goes to “Ah who cares, what time is lunch?” to screaming at the judge about the abominable state of Klingon law so hard that he gets thrown into prison with Archer is kind of jarring.
The best aspect of the episode is a quiet moment between Archer and Kolos as they await the verdict. Again, Kolos laments the sorry state of the legal class in Klingon society. Archer is surprised that their are other classes in Klingon society other than “warrior.” “You didn’t believe all Klingons were soldiers?” Kolos asks him. It’s a welcome detail that speaks to the complexity of Klingon society and a clever lampshade of the mono-cultures that Star Trek is replete with. Kolos explains how his father was a teacher and his mother a biologist, but now every Klingon seems to want to be a warrior. The reason for this societal shift isn’t given, which might have been nice, but it does connect the tribal, Viking-like Klingons of Enterprise with the military-warrior race we see in TNG and beyond.
Archer gives the ol’ “my people were violent fanatics at one time too” spiel, and soft-encourages Kolos to try to change his society. Again, it’s exactly what one would expect from Star Trek and nothing more.
Amazingly, the Klingon judge accepts that Archer did not knowingly incite rebellion against the Klingon empire, but predictably also says that intentions don’t matter and he still violated Klingon law. However, since Archer and the Enterprise did save the Empire from ruination back in the pilot episode (oh yeah…), he won’t be killed. Yay, question mark?
As for what happens next… If you thought this unabashedly derivative tribute to The Undiscovered Country wasn’t going to end up in Rura Penthe, well… you thought wrong, bucko.
So Archer (with a life sentence) and Kolos (with a one year sentence, which is basically death) end up in Rura Penthe and it sucks like most gulags do. Thanks to some back door dealing from T’Pol (and some bribing), Reed suddenly shows up in the prison to spring Archer out. Well, not so much “spring” as “walk out the front door while waving to the guards,” but we gotta wrap this thing up here. Kolos is offered the chance to escape with them, but thanks to his newfound determination to better his society (and not wanting to be a fugitive), decides to stay behind. The end.
It’s all fine, but I just didn’t really feel any of it. Like much of Enterprise, the episode is functional without much flair. It uses many previously established elements for its foundation, but doesn’t build much of its own on top. The Undiscovered Country was a smart and entertaining adventure, and “Judgment” builds an entire episode around a single aspect of that film. For a couple fleeting moments it reaches some interesting places but ends up feeling like a patchwork collection of pieces and bits that we’ve seen before many times. There’s little to discover here, including the magic that makes the best of Trek soar.
- There’s a couple nice exterior shots, both of the Klingon… place (homeworld?) where the trial is, and one of Rura Penthe. The glacier one is really nice.
- The Klingons’ hair here is so… straight. I’m just imagining Kolos in front of a mirror with a straightening iron every morning, pressing out those glorious Klingon waves…