Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & André Bormanis
Directed by David Livingston
Season 2, Episode 18
Production episode 044
Original air date: April 2, 2003
Captain’s star log. Enterprise is tootling along when suddenly a ship—which is traveling faster than light but doesn’t appear to have any kind of warp propulsion—comes up behind them and basically swallows them up. As soon as they’re inside the vessel, engines and tactical systems shut down, though life support is still working.
Archer, Tucker, and Reed take a shuttlepod—which, for some reason, is still working even though the mothership’s propulsion is completely down—into the interior. The inimical atmosphere inside the ship changes to an oxygen-nitrogen one, though the crew sensibly leaves their EVA suits on.
Some non-corporeal beings—whom Archer will later dub “wisps,” so that’s what we’ll call them—zip around the interior. Scanners don’t register them, but one gold one goes inside Tucker’s head, and then a blue wisp exits his head. A few minutes later, the blue and gold switch again. Tucker claims to have been in Florida when he was out of his body.
They return to Enterprise, but Phlox clears him medically. Later, while he’s trying to get the engines restarted, there’s another gold-wisp/blue-wisp switchout. Tucker is now obviously not himself and he wanders out of engineering, having a surreal conversation with Rostov and then going to the mess hall. Archer and T’Pol confront him there, where we find out that the wisps are able to temporarily switch places with corporeal beings. Tucker is being cared for by the other wisps, apparently, and the wisp is very much enjoying all the differences about being corporeal: eating, walking, having a gender, needing maintenance on your form, etc. Archer is suspicious, but the wisp insists that they’re explorers just like him.
As a gesture of good faith, the wisps let Enterprise back out into space and restore Tucker. The latter has nothing but good things to say about his experiences—which ranged from reliving memories to enjoying the odd wishful fantasy, like riding with Hopalong Cassidy.
The engines and tactical systems are still down, unfortunately, so once Phlox (again) clears Tucker, Archer puts the engineer on getting the ship up and running, while Reed is assigned to get weapons and shields back up. However, Reed encounters a wisp and is possessed by it (after trying to shoot it, of course). He immediately starts hitting on a female crewperson, making all kinds of oogy remarks about the differences between the male and female form that will totally get him written up by HR for sexual harassment, then, when she abandons the elevator with all due dispatch, wisp-Reed goes to T’Pol’s quarters to try to get in her pants. Once T’Pol figures out what’s going on—after initially thinking Reed is drunk—she contacts Archer who sends a security detail to confine wisp-Reed to his quarters.
Phlox reports that a wisp tried to possess him, but couldn’t. Meanwhile, several crewmembers start becoming possessed by wisps. T’Pol and Phlox devise a way to detect those who are possessed and confine them to quarters.
At one point, Mayweather is running away from a wisp when he heads toward the nacelles. Apparently the nacelles’ shielding is proof against the wisps, so Archer orders all non-wispy personnel to the catwalk. (Good thing the engines are already not working, huh?) T’Pol volunteers to put herself in the line of fire, as it were, as she believes Vulcan mental discipline can keep the wisps out. Archer reluctantly agrees, and T’Pol is possessed—however the wisp isn’t able to affect T’Pol the way they do the humans, and eventually they abandon her. T’Pol meanwhile has learned the truth: the wisps are looking for corporeal beings to possess so they can abandon their falling-apart ship. They can’t survive in space for reasons that the script doesn’t bother to explain (they’re non-corporeal and don’t breathe, so what’s the problem?).
Archer and T’Pol hatch a plan to flood the ship with carbon dioxide. Phlox executes this plan, since he’s the only one who can traverse the ship safely. Unfortunately, Tucker has been possessed again, and he overhears the plan and tries to stop Phlox. Luckily, he fails, and the possessed crew suffocates. The wisps leave their dying bodies, and then Phlox restores the atmosphere to something livable, and everyone miraculously survives. The wisp ship tries to overtake Enterprise again, but Reed has gotten the torpedoes working, and they blast the ship to smithereens.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently the wisps live in subspace. This might explain why they can move faster than light without a warp drive, though the episode itself doesn’t bother to explain it…
The gazelle speech. Archer doesn’t trust the wisps from the outset, and his instincts prove right.
I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol is willing to give the wisps the benefit of the doubt, but she’s also the one who determines their true colors due to the power of her awesome Vulcan brain meats.
Florida Man. Florida Man Trades Brains With Alien—Twice!
Optimism, Captain! Because Denobulans are apparently immune to being possessed by the wisps, it’s left to total non-techie Phlox to implement the flood-the-ship-with-CO2 plan. It goes, um, slowly.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. The wisp who possesses Reed is apparently sex-obsessed, as it tries to sleep with one crewperson and T’Pol (at least) in the most ham-handed manner possible.
More on this later… Star Trek has a loooooong history of encountering non-corporeal beings, but this is humanity’s first time encountering such, apparently.
I’ve got faith…
“We have no reason to believe their motives are hostile.”
“They’re holding my ship hostage.”
“We don’t know that.”
“We don’t? Look out there—you see any stars? Our engines are offline, our weapons—seems kind of hostile to me.”
–T’Pol and Archer arguing about the wisps’ intentions.
Welcome aboard. The only guest is recurring regular Joseph Will, back from “Two Days and Two Nights” as Rostov, in his final appearance (though he will be mentioned again).
Trivial matters: The crew once again takes refuge in the nacelle’s catwalk, just like they did in “The Catwalk,” and the improvised command center from that episode is still intact.
This episode was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects for a Series, alongside two other Enterprise episodes, “Dead Stop” and “The Expanse.” They all lost to the pilot episode of Firefly.
It’s been a long road… “Non-corporeal life—that’s a first for Starfleet.” This episodes starts out so promising and then goes so totally in the toilet.
Seriously, I was loving this through to the end of the first act (though both the teaser and Act 1 end limply, continuing Enterprise’s tiresome tradition of not giving viewers any good reason to care about act breaks and encouraging them to change the channel to something more interesting while the commercial’s running). The conversation between wisp-Tucker and Archer is really compelling stuff. I loved the idea of non-corporeal life forms trading places with the humans on board so they could compare notes on how the other half lives. It’s a perfect Star Trek plot.
And then it goes straight into the shitter as soon as Reed starts macking on the female crew. We go from one wisp being fascinated by the concept of gender, and then go straight from that to “tell me of this human thing you call ‘sex’,” and it’s just so lazy and uninteresting and predictable.
On top of that, they don’t actually have enough story for an hour, so we get to spend an inordinate amount of time with Archer instructing Phlox on how to open a hatch and how to spray CO2 around the ship, not to mention a very lengthy digression with wisp-Sato telling Phlox that Sato broke her leg, and can he come fix it? Except she’s faking to get him in there so she can escape being confined. Linda Park delivers her dialogue particularly well there, actually, just sort of calmly talking about broken limbs, but the scene just goes on forever.
Then it ends with the Enterprise crew murdering the wisps. That may seem like an extreme statement, and yes, what the wisps did was pretty horrible, but it’s not a capital offense. The casualness of the brutality of Archer’s response is the issue here, more than the response itself. At the very least, there needed to be some agonizing about the actions they took here, but no, they just hare off and blow them up without a second thought. It’s awful.
The only saving grace of the disaster this episode turns into is the acting. Park, Dominick Keating, and especially Connor Trinneer do a wonderful job of doing the wisp versions of their characters, each taking on a rather calm, ethereal affect that’s very effective.
Warp factor rating: 3
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written a ton of short stories this year. They’ve appeared in The Fans are Buried Tales edited by Peter David & Kathleen O. David, Three Time Travelers Walk Into… edited by Michael A. Ventrella, Zorro’s Exploits edited by Audrey Parente, Phenomenons: Every Human Creature edited by Michael Jan Friedman, Tales of Capes and Cowls edited by C.T. Phipps, and Ludlow Charlington’s Doghouse edited by Tina Jens. He has at least two more due out before the end of the year, in Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2022 edited by Robert Greenberger and The Eye of Argon and the Further Adventures of Grignr the Barbarian edited by Ventrella, with a bunch more set for 2023 as well…