Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Chris Black
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 1, Episode 18
Production episode 018
Original air date: March 20, 2002
Captain’s star log. Archer is reluctantly posing for photographs that Tucker is taking for the portrait artist back on Earth who will be painting Archer’s portrait in Starfleet HQ. Reed interrupts the photo-shoot to announce that they’ve found a rogue planet, which comes to Archer as a great relief. This is a planet that broke free of its star and is floating through interstellar space.
The planet has underground heat springs that provide a Class-M atmosphere, er, somehow, and they also find a ship on the world—but no life signs. Archer, T’Pol, Reed, and Sato go down in a shuttlepod with flashlights and night-vision single-eye goggles and eventually come across three dudes. They’re called Eska, and our heroes are able to communicate with them pretty much instantaneously, thus making Sato’s presence on the landing party a total waste. To prove this point, she’s sent back to Enterprise and not seen again.
The Eska are hunters. This planet is a safari of sorts for them, as during particular times of year, a party of three is given leave to hunt some of the game on this world. Enterprise didn’t pick up their life signs because they’re wearing masking agents to hide them from their prey.
Archer asks the Eska if they can hang out with them, and they agree. When Sato returns to Enterprise, Tucker goes down to help survey the planet, while Reed asks if he can accompany the Eska on their hunt. (Reed promises Archer that he won’t kill anything, he just wants to watch the hunters in action.)
The landing party sleeps with the hunters over “night” before the hunt, and Archer is awakened by a female voice calling his name—he follows the voice and catches glimpses of a human woman in a night-dress.
The next “morning,” everyone dismisses it as a dream, though Archer thought it felt real. Archer hears and sees the woman again when he, T’Pol, and Tucker are surveying. At the same time, one of the Eska is wounded by a local animal. Archer offers Phlox’s services to patch the hunter up.
Phlox detects some bizarre skin samples on the hunter’s skin, likely from the animal that attacked him, which the Eska call a wraith. (No, not that Wraith…) The cells are in a state of chromosomal flux.
Archer continues to search for the woman, and she shows herself. She is one of the wraith that the Eska are hunting. They’re telepathic shape-changers and ask Archer for help against the Eska. She appeared to Archer as the image he had in his head of a woman from a poem his mother read to him as a child.
Returning to camp, Archer asks the Eska why they hunt here when they can hunt at home, and the Eska tell them about the wraith, and how they can get in your heads. They’re the most challenging game, though T’Pol says they sound sentient.
Archer returns to Enterprise with the landing party and talks it over. T’Pol points out that they can’t really stop the Eska from hunting there—even if they stop these three, they’ll just send more. Phlox, however, can create a masking agent that will keep the wraith off of the Eska’s scanning devices—it will level the playing field at least.
The Eska fail to capture the wraith, to their annoyance, and then leave the planet, wondering if the Enterprise crew was responsible. The wraith thanks Archer and Enterprise buggers off.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? We see Starfleet’s night-vision goggles. Or, rather, goggle, since it only covers the right eye for some reason. (The Eska have night-vision visors that cover both eyes….)
The gazelle speech. Archer’s Mom read him “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” by William Butler Yeats (one of your humble rewatcher’s favorite poets) when he was a child, and the wraith looks like what little Jonny Archer imagined the fish who turned into a woman in the poem looked like.
I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol pointedly comments to Archer that he probably wouldn’t be so eager to look for the wraith alone if it was appearing as a scantily clad man. She isn’t wrong…
Florida Man. Florida Man Is Stymied In His Photographic Endeavors.
Optimism, Captain! Phlox treats the wounded Eska and comes up with a way to protect the wraith. Because he’s just that awesome…
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. It is to the episode’s credit that the wraith does not appear as a long-lost love of Archer’s or a lust object or anything like that, though both the Eska and T’Pol make that assumption. Instead, it comes from a long-lost childhood memory involving Archer’s Mom, which is actually kind of sweet.
I’ve got faith…
“What are the chances you’d encounter a half-naked woman, who you think you know, dozens of light-years from your homeworld?”
–One of the Eska, asking Archer the good questions.
Welcome aboard. Four guests in this one, all of whom have appeared on Trek before: Stephanie Niznik (who played Perim in Insurrection) plays the wraith image Archer sees. The three Eska hunters are played by Conor O’Farrell (who played Jeff the scientist in DS9’s “Little Green Men,” and who will play D’Jamat in “Chosen Realm”), Eric Pierpoint (who played Voval in TNG’s “Liaisons,” Sanders in DS9’s “For the Uniform,” and Kortar in Voyager’s “Barge of the Dead,” and who will play Harris in this show’s fourth season), and Keith Szarabajka (who played Teero in Voyager’s “Repression“).
Trivial matters: This episode was based on a notion by story editor and science adviser André Bormanis, though he received no credit for it.
This is the first mention of Archer’s mother, who won’t be mentioned again until “Cold Station 12” in season four, and who won’t get named except on a bio of Archer seen in “In a Mirror Darkly, Part II,” which will give her the first name of Sally (the same as Scott Bakula’s mother).
It’s been a long road… “We never failed in the hunt before you arrived.” The notion of a rogue planet is a fascinating one, and is exactly the kind of strange new world that would be fun to explore.
Unfortunately, there is precisely nothing in the story that requires it to be a rogue planet. In fact, after going to all the trouble of establishing that this is a planet without a star system, we get a bog-standard hunting story on a bog-standard jungle set, with three guest characters who are nominally alien, but may as well be three guys named Joe, Fred, and Billy-Bob from central Pennsylvania, given how they act.
There are hints of the interesting episode this could have been, but they drop the ball on all of them. The discussions on how humans don’t really hunt anymore don’t go anywhere, Sato’s presence points to maybe showing some difficulty in talking to the aliens, but they forego that and the universal translator works perfectly and effortlessly. The notion of a creature that can look like something from your memories could make for a good story—something like what the original series did in “The Man Trap“—but, while I do like that Archer’s “fantasy woman” is in fact from a Yeats poem his Mom read him, there are so many story possibilities that are just wasted here. I mean, Archer is just so blasé about the wraith getting in his head and digging around like that. And yes, Star Trek characters have their heads mucked with all the time, but in a prequel like this, it should be new and weird and scary, but Archer’s very been-there-done-that about it, which is just not that interesting.
And in the end, the problem is solved in a straightforward manner, the Eska pout at Archer for a bit, and that’s it. It’s only not anticlimactic because it’s of a piece with the rest of this dreary, goes-nowhere episode.
Warp factor rating: 3
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be an author guest at HELIOsphere 2022 this coming weekend. He’ll be doing panels and programs and things, and also spending time at eSpec Books’s booth in the dealer room. Click here for his schedule.