Attention on heck! Don’t try to adjust your viewscreens, person-hell and boo-tenants! What you’re seeing isn’t a creepy clone, a hellish hologram, or a strangely specific alternate universe! For the month of October, we’ll be taking a spine-chilling stroll through Trek’s most horror-iffic outings and spooky adventures! Now why don’t you sit back and try not to let that green blood of yours run cold! If things get a little too intense, don’t hesitate to ask Scotty to SCREAM you up! Hehehehehehehehehe!
Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 2, Episode 4
For all its flaws and missteps, one of the things Enterprise got right was an undercurrent of anxiety in the unknown depths of space humanity was exploring. In Star Trek, space has always been a vast frontier full of unknowns, but Enterprise got a lot of dramatic mileage out of the potential horrors one could find, and how in over their head the relatively young (as an organization) Starfleet was in encountering them. “Dead Stop,” as the title implies, is an unsettling story of horror-tinged sci-fi that shows the crew of Enterpise how much there is to be scared of out there.
A succinct way of summing up the story would be “Christine in space,” after Stephen King’s novel (and John Carpenter’s film adaptation) about a demonically-possessed muscle car. If that sounds weird, well, it’s because it is. But it’s a welcome inspiration for a simple and creepy Trek outing.
Enterprise was the most serialized of any Trek show up to that point, and even in the earlier seasons that didn’t have as strong of an overall storyline, events still carried over from one episode to the next much more than any previous series. Case in point: this episode deals directly with the aftermath of the previous one, “Minefield,” in which Enterprise gets heavily damaged by an encounter with a Romulan mine.
The ship escaped destruction, but it’s still in bad shape. Missing a huge chunk of its hull from the explosion, Trip estimates he’ll need at least 3-4 months to make repairs, and that’s if they happen to find all the resources they need. Complicating things, the damage limits the ship’s speed to a paltry warp 2, so they’re years away from the nearest Starfleet base. Also, Reed’s leg is messed up from the encounter, having been punctured by the mine. So right out of the gate, the episode underlines just how alone the ship is and how potentially fucked they are. Later Trek series featured the vast supply chains that Starfleet provided. With the exception of Voyager, there was always a nearby starbase the ship could limp its way to for repairs. But not here – they’re on their own.
Sending a distress call, they are tipped off by a distant Tellarite ship (hey, we know those guys) about a nearby repair station. It takes Enterprise three days to make its way there, and they do indeed find an automated repair facility. Consisting of two expanding tubes connected by a habitable area, there’s something cool but unsettling about its mechanical design. The station doesn’t respond to hails and upon approaching it, they read its internal atmosphere as liquid helium and a couple hundred degrees too cold, so not very hospitable at all. But the station scans Enterprise and immediately adjusts its environment to suit humans and expands one of its repair bays to fit the ship. The framing of the small ship within the spider-web like docking port visually communicates the danger that lies ahead and is a cool image.
Archer hesitantly orders Enterprise to dock. This is clearly, CLEARLY too good to be true. To his credit, Archer is appropriately suspicious and on edge about the whole situation (which is smart). But there are no other options available to them at this point, so he has no choice.
Boarding the station, Archer, Tucker, and T’Pol are finally greeted by the station’s computer (voiced by director of the episode Roxanne Dawson!), which gives them an impressively quick time estimate for repairs not only to the ship, but Reed’s leg as well. It even gives them several options to pay in materials/supplies – Archer chooses to give them some warp plasma in exchange. Large mechanical arms extend towards the ship and get to work. Nothing creepy or weird about this at all…!
The three of them enter the station’s recreation area, where they see the same kind of super-advanced food replicators that would become commonplace in the TNG era. Tucker orders some catfish (because of course he does), and it recreates the dish precisely, having scanned the ship’s database for the recipe and DNA code of the animal (which is crazy if you think about it). Archer isn’t thrilled that the station just automatically helped itself to all of Enterprise’s data. Absolutely nothing to worry about at all, I’m sure…!
In addition to repairing the ship, the station has beamed a device to sickbay that easily regenerates Reed’s leg wound. He’s able to walk again, and the machine promptly disappears. Archer is still uneasy about everything – there are no people behind the station, and the repair fee seems really cheap. Too cheap. For this reason, the drama of the episode is a little flat. It’s obvious that a station in the middle of nowhere providing low cost repairs in record time is suspiciously convenient. The episode uses Archer’s uneasiness to underline this and in ALL CAPS to make sure we know that something has to be up, which is overdoing it. The drama of the plot therefore lies in the details of the reveal, which is fine. But it would be nice for the reveal to not be telepgraphed so heavily ahead of time.
Tucker and Reed are intensely curious about the computer core of the station, and being approximately 12 years old in their maturity, sneak aboard and try to investigate, only to be beamed back to Enterprise by the station. Archer of course yells at them (which seems to be one of his main hobbies), pointing out how the station could just as easily have beamed them into space. He confines them to quarters, but also asks if they saw anything suspicious (in order to confirm his SUSPICIONS).
Mayweather gets paged by Archer to come down to one of the launch bays, which was supposed to be closed for repairs. Later on, Archer is called to the bay where they find Mayweather dead from an isolytic shock. Oh man, what a strange and totally non-suspicious twist of fate…
Archer launches an investigation, and goes back to the station to demand an explanation. He asks to speak to an actual person, but the computer doesn’t seem to understand his questions. It recalls the minor technological dystopia we all encounter when trying to navigate some circuitous automated phone tree. Its overall demeanor is polite, but dumb. Too dumb. The station is obviously sophisticated enough to diagnose a ship’s maladies, calculate payment, and handle the details of all the repairs, so it’s of course pretending to be dumber than it is when confronted. Archer gets so pissed he even punches the thing, because of course he does.
There’s some requisite pathos for Mayweather’s untimely end from everyone (especially Sato) which is decently done and nice to see, although it does feel a bit like padding before that REVEAL. Phlox performs an autopsy on Mayweather, but finds the lack of a certain microorganism he recently used to treat Rigelian fever odd. If anything, the isolytic shock that killed him should have fed the microorganisms and caused them to multiply. Ergo, this isn’t Mayweather’s body, but a very detailed replica apparently created by the station. This… honestly seems like a huge, HUGE logical leap, but OK.
Phlox can’t help but muse (in that delightfully Phloxy way of his) how the station is so sophisticated that it can create a dead body in complete cellular detail, but a single living microorganism is beyond its grasp. Life’s funny like that, y’know? Also, holy shitballs, man. This station is nuts.
Trip rolls in the payment to the station computer, but goes full dissatisfied customer Karen on it in order to distract it, I guess. Meanwhile, Archer and T’Pol bust into the station’s core, and what they find is absolutely delightful: dozens of alien bodies strung up with tubes connecting them to the computer. With the exception of the newly-integrated Mayweather, their brains are too far gone to rescue, being used to augment the station computer. A couple centuries later, the Starship Voyager would feature neural gel packs as a futuristic innovation to boost its computer systems. This is pretty much the same idea, except horrible in every way.
Archer and T’Pol are able to disconnect Mayweather and escape (hooray, the black guy didn’t die…). The station clamps down on them in response. But the warp canisters they delivered to pay for their repairs have a bomb attached, which Archer remotely detonates, blowing up the evil station and allowing Enterprise to makes its escape. Mayweather recovers with no permanent damage and the ship carries on its merry way. Hooray!
However, the floating debris of the station start to come together and repair itself…
BWA HA HA…
It’s all pretty wacky and hits a lot of familiar horror beats. It doesn’t pass a whole lot of logical muster though, by virtue of the plot detail obfuscation. The mystery of the station and its background are a big part of the spooky appeal, but by the end we haven’t really learned anything about it beyond the big horror reveal. To dwell on it further might dilute the punchiness of the reveal, but I feel like we need a few more details than what we’ve gotten here. The episode does a good job of setting up what’s essentially a haunted house in space (that doesn’t seem like a haunted house at first), but it doesn’t bother to craft any sort of origin story for the house.
Somebody had to have built this thing, but who were they? Why aren’t they around anymore? It’s crazy that it features technology that’s a couple centuries ahead of its time. What is the point of the station beyond its own survival? Is it really able to just steal the bodies it needs to without ships noticing (including a Klingon that we see)? The station seems to be playing dumb the entire episode, but it’s clearly an intelligent force (especially with so many brains wired to it). There’s a deadly simplicity to the premise that’s alluring, but Trek usually gives us a little more thoughtfulness in the details. It’s a great spooky sci-fi story, but doesn’t quite work as a well thought-out Star Trek outing. As mentioned earlier, it painstakingly foreshadows that something bad HAS to be behind the station’s amazing service. So all the drama is saved until the end, but what we do get is a little too meager to be completely satisfying.
You could sum up a lot of Spooky Trek stories that way – but that’s what I love about them. They represent the franchise stepping out of its comfort zone to tell stories that are weird and shocking. They don’t always work, but they are fun and interesting journeys that I appreciate. At the very least, “Dead Stop” underlines how terrifying the unknown can be. The philosophy of Star Trek is based upon an almost guileless sense of altruism and generosity. The repair station of this episode extends an open hand to Enterprise with that same attitude but it hides something much more disturbing. It’s a predator lying in wait, using the bait of low cost repairs to lure in its victims. The sentience of the station is left spookily ambiguous – is this simply a mindless maw devouring alien bodies or a nefarious intelligence drawing in sustenance? Either way, it teaches the Enterprise crew (and humanity) to watch out for monsters hiding in plain sight – they can be the most dangerous ones of all.
- I like the bright white minimalism of the station interiors. They give kind of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe, which matches the theme of a deadly computer system.
- I’m surprised the station doesn’t demand the full payment up front?
- I love that when Archer disconnects Mayweather from the computer, he just rips the tubes out and blood sprays everywhere. I know time is of the essence, but ha ha, holy shit, Johnny. You’re such a damn gorilla!
Well, I don’t know about you, my space-FEARing cadets, but I’m certainly beat! All this looking at the viewSCREAM has given me quite the headache. As much as I’ve enjoyed this month long trek-or-treat, I think I’ll head down to sickbay and see if Bones can do anything for my Guts. Until next time, Live as Long as you can and Prosper! Ahehehehehehehehe!