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Strong Writing, Acting Takes "Canamar" Above the Standard Fare and Raises the Bar for the 'Average' ENT Episode, Says Deus


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Posted: 06:43:22 on February 27 2003
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: ENTERPRISE Reviews
Reviews Ex Deus

Written by O. Deus, edited by Steve Krutzler



One of the odder things about "Canamar" is that the episode is named after a place we never see, namely Canamar itself. The ad campaign for the episode also cited an alien prison, when in fact the entire episode takes place on board a hijacked prison transport. This is actually an improvement over the standard alien prison plot that we've seen in STAR TREK time and time again. Particularly since we just had an alien prison plot in Season 1 with "Detained" and a good deal of episodes to date have seen Archer imprisoned or held hostage. "Canamar" improves on them by turning Archer from a passive captive into an active conspirator scheming for a chance to break free while adopting an alter ego for the purposes of deceiving his captors. But where Shatner and Stewart adopted carefree roguish alter egos when forced to impersonate criminals in "A Piece of the Action" or "Gambit," Bakula's alter ego is a bit looser but still dour and brooding; a decision which passed up a chance for Bakula to shake up his Archer persona a little and play a role with some more panache.

There were two obvious ways to do an episode like "Canamar," as a piece of social commentary on the justice system or as a more carefree heist plot. STAR TREK has done the former any number of times and "Canamar" is no competition for truly memorable episodes like DS9's "Hard Time" or VOYAGER's "The Chute." Particularly since "Canamar" has nothing new to add insofar as social commentary goes and no clear message to offer despite a closing note by Archer suggesting this was the case. Aside from one life story, "Canamar" never shows us the actual prison and all we really know about the justice system is that it's not very thorough, the guards scowl a lot and get violent with the prisoners. But those are just cliches and unlike Voyager's "Redemption," "Canamar" never goes any deeper. The latter option might have provided some entertaining material that would have flowed naturally from the interaction with the menagerie of alien criminals on the transport. But instead of opening up as Trinneer does, Bakula shuts down and aside from some moments of camaraderie with Kuroda, doesn't seem to be feeling much of anything. His closing lines suggest that he considered this to be a horrific experience but we don't really see that in his performance throughout the episode.

"Canamar" does offers better than average characterizations for the episode's characters, however There's Kuroda, its chief villain, played by Mark Rolston, who turns in a memorable performance as a hard and ruthless criminal in a hard and ruthless world. Sean Whalen's Zoumas makes for an entertaining and irritating presence and even the token Nausicaan heavy has the occasional offbeat response that makes him seem more than just a token heavy. The result is to transform characters that would otherwise have been throwaway cardboard cutouts meant only to serve the interests of the plot into actual people.

A good deal of the credit goes to John Shiban's snappy dialogue while longtime STAR TREK director Allan Kroeker infuses the episode with a dark atmosphere more reminiscent of DS9 than of ENTERPRISE. The special effects department continues to outdo itself with two new ship designs that are both unique and memorable, gorgeous orbital scenes and plasma and crash effects.

ENTERPRISE's end of the search story, though, could have been discarded entirely and the episode would have been more successful and suspenseful by focusing on the claustrophobic conditions of the transport without Archer and Trip or the audience knowing if anyone was even searching for them. Unlike VOYAGER's similarly structured "The Chute," the interaction with the Enolian doesn't even offer any meaningful insights into the Enolian society. Instead, its only contribution is to ry and ramp up the tension with the threat of the patrol ships destroying the transport, which we know won't happen anyway, and to show the progress of the search, which only weakens the suspense by pulling away from the situation Archer and Trip find themselves in.

All in all, "Canamar"'s strength comes from its character interactions and its dialogue rather than any social commentary the episode was meant to deliver through an evocation of penal conditions or any suspense from a plot that has seen plenty of wear and tear over the years. As far as that goes it's a serviceable episode that while not quite measuring up to some of the best ENTERPRISE episodes of the season, demonstrates how much the average episode has improved since the first season and how valuable John Shiban is to the writing team.

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Current Results
About the Author
O. Deus has been a TrekWeb visitor since the site's 1996 inception. Along with being an ardent poster, he is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Deus has written reviews and columns for TrekWeb for over two years.

Past Reviews
  • "Canamar"
  • "Future Tense"
  • "Cease Fire"
  • "Stigma"
  • "Dawn"
  • "The Catwalk"
  • "Precious Cargo"
  • "Vanishing Point"
  • "Singularity"
  • "The Communicator"
  • "The Seventh"
  • "Marauders"
  • "A Night In Sickbay"
  • "Dead Stop"
  • "Minefield"
  • "Carbon Creek"
  • React to this story below and see what others are saying at the STAR TREK BBS.
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    Hey Deus!
    By Noxmagic ( ) at 20:52:21 on March 01 2003
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    For once, you liked an episode of Ent. more than I did. Go figure. While I found Canamar to be a decent episode, I was disappointed with it. As you point out in your review, the promotions for this episode had us believe much of it would take place at Canamar...but we never get to see this "terrible" prison. I could deal with this bit of misrepresentation on Paramount's part, except Canamar turned out to be awfully predictable. I'd guessed that the lead bad guy would die the instant his partner and him had taken over the ship. And, as you point out, it was obvious the aliens of the week weren't going to succeed in blowing up the prison ship, not with Archer and Trip aboard.
    But enough gripping. What saved the episode for me were the character interactions, and as seems to be the case every week, Trip was wonderful as ever. Maybe the single most enjoyable part of Canamar was watching him slowly become irritated by the talkative alien he was sitting next to. I think all of us have been in a simular situation, where we are stuck being around a good natured though very annoying person. And, as usual, the special effects were top notch. I wonder, would Canamar have served more of a purpose than being a filler, throw away episode, if it had utilized two crew members who do not normally get much air time? Why not throw Phlox and Travis into Canamar, intead of the often captured Archer and Trip? Travis (the most ignored character on Ent. by far) would have been given a chance to show what he is truly made of, and Phlox could have been given some sort of moral dilema to deal with. Oh well.

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Another good episode and review
    By Tbar ( tbar@divertigo.com) at 09:59:05 on February 28 2003
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    I have to agree with Dues on this one. I think this was a notch above the normal "prisoner" episodes in Trek. I really enjoyed the pace of it and the acting. I thought Archer's character was really well handled again (for the third week in a row) and that really gives me hope. Plus the music once again stood out which was excellent.

    Good job..

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    By scottysgreat grandpa ( ) at 00:33:46 on February 28 2003
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    O. Deus tends to write harsh, though thoughtful, reviews of ENT....

    That's why I can't figure out the latest at all. In Canamar, I was expecting an analysis of the legal system on par with the episodes from the DS9 era, which, in different stories, demonstrated the absolute need for things like the Bill of Rights in deep space.... but, in 'Canamar' we just see a 'Treasure Island' type fight for the ship.

    So far as 'legal system' ENT episodes go, this one was a joke. Think about Picard eating raw eggs, or O'Brien living, within his mind, for twenty years on a penal colony.... compared to that this one just said, basically, that the cops should check out their APBs closely. After the awesome 'future tense', this one was a real letdown.

    PS I also thought the nausican and leader duo was the best part of the episode... though a bit too much like 'han and chewie' with a bad streak.

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    By timmer33 ( ) at 17:27:20 on February 27 2003
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    Just thought I'd point out that the writer of this episode (John Shiban) I believe is a former x-filer. He wrote Dead Stop which was a good episode, now this. If only B&B would get more great writers and let them write episodes unhindered. This guy should be a lesson to them, if they pay attention to such things. Hire talent and let them do what they do best, Berman!

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    Reman in Canamar?
    By karcher ( ) at 14:15:19 on February 27 2003
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    It's my first post. I love Trek. As far as television goes, Enterprise sucks. I keep watching every week hoping it gets better. It doesn't. :-( I wish they hadn't cast Quantum Creep.

    Anyway, that's not my point.

    Did anyone else notice that the alien sitting next to Archer on the prison transport looked a lot like a Reman from Nemesis? Not exactly, but the skin tone and the Nosferatu-like ears really did remind me of the Reman makeup from the movie. Maybe I'm imagining things. Would a Reman on that ship be at all consistent with continuity?

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Reman in Canamar?
    By karcher ( ) at 14:13:18 on February 27 2003
    URL: http:// | User Info
    It's my first post. I love Trek. As far as television goes, Enterprise sucks. I keep watching every week hoping it gets better. It doesn't. :-( I wish they hadn't cast Quantum Creep.

    Anyway, that's not my point.

    Did anyone else notice that the alien sitting next to Archer on the prison transport looked a lot like a Reman from Nemesis? Not exactly, but the skin tone and the Nosferatu-like ears really did remind me of the Reman makeup from the movie. Maybe I'm imagining things. Would a Reman on that ship be at all consistent with continuity?

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Another good episode
    By Akita1999 ( ) at 10:23:47 on February 27 2003
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    Canamar was not the best episode of Enterprise this season or this month. Nevertheless, it was a good episode that I enjoyed.

    I thought that the episode had a nice flow to it. There wasn't a lot of wasted dialogue or scenes. As Deus and others have noted, the writing was snappy and made this derivative action storyline an interesting and entertaining episode. Bakula was good, although I still think that he should do more with his character and emote a bit more. Trinnear's acting was very strong.

    Before this episode aired, I was concerned that it would be a major letdown. But it wasn't. It was a good episode.

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Solid ep, big improvement over the typical ENT episode
    By Steve Krutzler ( s_krutzler@trekweb.com) at 08:22:52 on February 27 2003
    URL: http://trekweb.com/brittandsteve | User Info
    I'll echo everyone here [on the Suliban Helix forum] and agree that "Canamar" was certainly a notch above the first half of season two, even if not as well done as "CF" or "FT." Yet again, I think we've seen an average script really risen by the score, which as Cyrus posted elsewhere, was by a newcomer this week. Still not quite as present as I'd like (last week's FT was probably the better music-wise), but the last act really owed a lot to the music. It was the suspensful orchestration that worked with the editing to convey that sense of excitement that few ENT episodes have done.

    The story was certainly nothing new or even all that compelling, but as Deus points out in his review, there was some good lines and some good performances. Bakula's Archer has for a third week in a row come off very strong in both dialogue and performance. Trinneer continues to steal the show with hardly any lines.

    "Canamar" was just a good sort of rough-and-tumble entertainment episode. The FX of the careening ships into the planet's atmosphere was very well done and did a lot to add to the suspense. The first time I saw it I knew that Kuroa ends up staying behind and burning up and I had a feeling they would cut out that imagery in light of the Columbia tragedy, and, as it turned out, the fever pitch cut to the ship docking with the Enterprise was very effective at, especially in those moments where Rolston really got a look of "I'm dead" on his face, with the firery light bounching off his face. Quite eerie.

    All in all, Feb Sweeps 2003 came out 3/4 for ENT in my book. "Stigma" got us started with what in my opinion was one of the worst written episodes I've ever seen, and then we got two solid mythology/adventure pieces, followed by this taut, suspensful, if not wholly spectacular, episode in "Canamar."

    Too bad UPN moved the schedule back two weeks. I was looking forward particuarly to "Judgment" with J.G. Hertzler next month. ENT has only aired five new episodes this year, so frankly I don't think it's a wise move to go to repeats for an entire month. ENT always does poorly after an extended period of repeats.


    -Steve Krutzler
    ==V/-/== Rocks

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    By Cyrus ( ) at 07:07:39 on February 27 2003
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    I mostly agree with the review, a very entertaining and well made episode. A competent script by writer John Shiban and good direction by director Allan Kroeker. The sets and visual effects were excellent.

    Also the music in this episode was great. It was done by Brian Tyler, his first Trek score. Hopefully they let this guy do more episodes without asking him to tone it down.

    According to an insider (who posted on another board) the visual effects at the end of the episode were modified due to the shuttle Columbia disaster. The effects showing the prison ship burn up in the atmosphere were originally much more extensive.

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