Star Trek 715: Observer Effect

715. Observer Effect

FORMULA: Scientific Method + Power Play + Shuttlepod One + Arena

WHY WE LIKE IT: A couple of creepy moments.

WHY WE DON'T: The character and alien development sounds wrong.

REVIEW: One of the very few stand alone episodes in the last season, Observer Effect is at least better than the last one, but still suffers from being less relevant than usual (in fact, the crew doesn't really remember it happening). Our point of view is that of two alien observers doing research into humanity through living hosts, mostly Malcolm and Travis. A fun conceit for a bottle show with which both the actors and director have fun. What they're observing is the crew's reaction to a virus that has decimated many crews before. One alien is a veteran, having observed this same situation for 800 years, while the other is a relative rookie.

Infected with the lethal virus, Trip and Hoshi get to experience another Shuttlepod One situation (if more cursorily). Trip's folksy engineering stories are entertaining enough, but we're denied a good linguistics story, really. The revelation that Hoshi was kicked out of the Academy for breaking a superior's arm when he tried to break up her poker ring just doesn't sound right. If Hoshi was a black belt in aikido, you'd think we'd have seen it before (like when she's been at the mercy of ugly aliens). I suppose it helps explain how she gets so far on her delirious suicide run to the airlock.

Meanwhile, the aliens are jumping hosts and generally acting creepy, but we also learn that they're testing each species for possible first contact. The Cardassians, Klingons, et al. have apparently failed the litmus test when they simply destroyed their infected crew mates, but the rookie is confident that these humans are different. He proves to be right when Phlox's potential cure requires at least one person not to wear the EV suit's gloves (though that fine motor control is never really demonstrated), and Archer allows himself to be infected to be those hands. Apparently, that's never happened in 800 years. The treatment a failure, Hoshi and Trip die, with Archer soon to follow. If you suspect alien intervention at this point, you've been watching Star Trek as long as I have.

The human trait of compassion, perhaps ridiculously unique, prompts the rookie to question their code of non-interference, and they have that argument before Archer's very eyes... animating the corpses of Hoshi and Trip. It's a creepy zombie moment (one of two in which these same characters are possessed) that allows Archer to make a speech about what it means to be highly evolved (and if it doesn't include compassion, he'll stay a barbarian, thank yewwwww). An alien save later, there's talk of an eventual first contact in maybe 5000 years (rim shot!).

It's quickly mentioned, but eagle-eared viewers might have noticed that these aliens call themselves Organians, so would be the same godlike aliens we saw in Errand of Mercy forcing a peace treaty on the Klingons and Federation. I dunno. The observers seen him seem to have a very different modus operandi as well as a different attitude. And if things move that slowly for their culture, I can't see that changing quickly enough to account for those changes in only a 100 years (far from the 5000 mentioned). A surprise coming from writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, two people who, both on Enterprise and in the novels, could be accused of continuity porn. Their ideas usually integrate seamlessly into Star Trek canon.

LESSON: Look, don't touch.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: An good enough bottle show, but really very trivial in a continuity-heavy season like this.

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