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We’re halfway through the first season of Enterprise now, so of course it’s time for the decontamination blue light room to return and remind us of how far we’ve come… especially when, this time around, it’s a threesome between Hoshi, T’Pol and Malcolm. No, really; I only wish I was joking.
After the last few episodes, there’s a lot to feel frustrated about with “Sleeping Dogs,” not least of which the fact that it feels so haphazardly thrown together and, as a result, surprisingly slight. There’s a sloppiness in the writing and structure of this episode that hasn’t been around since the earliest episodes like “Unexpected” or “Terra Nova,” with things introduced and given a lot of focus in early scenes that just don’t have any importance to the rest of the episode; on Enterprise, it seems, the old adage about “if, in the first act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired” becomes “if, in the first act, you have made a big thing out of telling everyone that Malcolm has a cold, then in the following one it should be ignored entirely.”
The odd thing is, there are numerous hints that Malcolm’s cold – important enough that it gets a scene of its own, as Doctor Phlox and Malcolm discuss how unlikely it is to actually get a cold on a hermetically-sealed starship – actually had some importance to the plot at some point; when he, Hoshi and T’Pol beam over onto their abandoned Klingon ship (Note: Of course, it’s not as abandoned as they think, because where else would the story be?), there’s a discussion about the odd odor that Malcolm, of course, can’t smell – and when we then learn about a neurotoxin that has debilitated the crew, it seems – for a brief, exciting second – that that’s what the smell might be! It’s a gas! And only Malcolm will be immune for some reason because he can’t smell it! Then, out of nowhere – and in one of the lamest plot twists in Trek history, which is saying a lot – it turns out that the Enterprise away team were never in trouble because the toxin was in the blood wine no-one’s seen, and the mysterious smell was… nothing important whatsoever, just like Malcolm’s cold!
It feels like I’m complaining about the show not being predictable and obvious, which feels completely counter-intuitive, but when a show has this many red herrings that don’t seem to add to the core narrative, it’s more of a sign of poor writing (or, perhaps, inconsistent re-writing) than sly construction and detouring expectations. With so many swerves and out-of-nowhere introductions of new concepts, characters and explanations, “Sleeping Dogs” feels more like a breathless rush to finish the episode in one piece than a consistent, coherent story in and of itself – and, sadly, that doesn’t make for particularly entertaining viewing.
And, then, of course, there’s the decontamination scene at the end of the episode, which, oddly, does feel less offensively “Let’s stare at T’Pol” than previously – but only because Malcolm provides similar eye candy for those preferring the male of the species,including all the abs you could hope for in an episode of a Star Trek show… But, somehow, I can’t work out if equal opportunity lechery counts as a true step forward, or one back…