Observer Effect (Star Trek: Enterprise)
|Star Trek: Enterprise episode|
|Episode no.||Season 4
|Directed by||Mike Vejar|
|Original air date||January 21, 2005|
"Observer Effect" is the eleventh episode of the fourth season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: Enterprise and the eighty-eighth overall. It was first aired on January 21, 2005, on UPN. It was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and directed by Mike Vejar. Set in the 22nd century, the series follows the adventures of the first Starfleet starship, Enterprise, registration NX-01. This episode sees alien entities test the Enterprise crew by observing their reactions to a deadly silicon-based infection. Actual first contact with these aliens – the Organians – would occur about a century later, during the events of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy".
As it was a bottle episode, the episode did not use any additional sets or guest stars with the intention of cutting down on costs for the series. This also gave time for the visual effects team to finish earlier work. The episode received mixed reactions from critics, with praise directed at the links to The Original Series, while criticism directed towards some of the characterization of the characters. "Observer Effect" was watched by 2.76 million viewers on first broadcast, which formed part of an overall drop of viewers for the series.
Lieutenant Reed (Dominic Keating) and Ensign Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) play chess while serving as hosts to non-corporeal aliens. Returning from an away mission on the planet below, Commander Tucker (Connor Trinneer) and Ensign Sato (Linda Park) soon exhibit symptoms of a strange disease. Upon examination by Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley), it is found to be a highly contagious silicon-based virus, and Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) explains that Commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) and Phlox are seeking a cure. To pass the time, while isolated in Decontamination, the two try to learn more about each other.
The aliens take a keen interest examining the human response to this crisis, and compare notes to previous reactions by Klingons and Cardassians. They are members of an advanced species looking to make "first contact". So far, based on 10,000 years of observations, no species has been deemed ready. Seeking a different view of the crew, they temporarily shift to the bodies of Phlox, T'Pol, and Archer. A difference in opinion between the two aliens starts to form: one seems determined to maintain their non-interference protocol, while the other feels the protocol is outdated and unnecessary.
With time running out, Phlox and T'Pol find a way to disrupt the virus using deadly levels of radiation. Archer and Phlox, while wearing environmental suits, escort Tucker and Sato to Sickbay for treatment. Sato soon goes into cardiac-arrest, and Archer removes his gloves and helmet to assist her, but she cannot be resuscitated. They then administer a dose of radiation to Tucker, but that too is ineffective. Phlox then leaves to resume work from the Bridge. Suddenly, Tucker and Sato are reanimated by the aliens, who – while possessing the crewmen – explain the situation to a surprised Archer, who then makes an impassioned speech on behalf of his crew. The aliens decide to modify their procedures, choosing to resurrect and cure the infected crew members, when they previously would have left them to die. The aliens erase the encounter from crew's memory. Archer orders a warning beacon to be placed above the planet, and the aliens leave to begin planning first contact with more advanced humans at a later time.
"Observer Effect" was created as a bottle episode, the second in a row after "Daedalus". These episodes were intended to reduce costs on the series by not requiring additional set production. Unlike the "Daedalus", "Observer Effect" also did not use any guest actors. It was the second to be written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who wrote a plot which brought back the Organians from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy". The Organians were originally created for The Original Series by Gene L. Coon, and were intended as a balance to the Klingons. Mind replacement or mind invasion plotlines are common in science fiction. Other episodes in the Star Trek franchise exploring the theme include "Wolf in the Fold" and "Turnabout Intruder" from The Original Series, "Sub Rosa" from Star Trek: The Next Generation and "Cathexis" from Star Trek: Voyager.
This was one of show runner Manny Coto's deliberate moves to link Enterprise closer to The Original Series during the fourth season. It was the second time that the crew of the Enterprise (NX-01) had met non-corporal entities following the second season episode "The Crossing". Filming began on the episode on October 22, 2004, and continued for the following seven working days. While the makeup department needed to present Park's and Trinneer's characters as they progressed through the sickness introduced by the Organians, the visual effects team was freed up to complete production on earlier episodes.
Reception and home media release
"Observer Effect" was first broadcast in the United States on January 21, 2005, on UPN. It was watched by 2.76 million viewers, which was a decrease from the 3.03 million who watched "Daedalus" but more than the 2.53 million viewers for the following episode, "Babel One". Writing for The A.V. Club in 2014, Alasdair Wilkins included "Observer Effect" in his list of the twenty best episodes of the series.
Jamahl Epsicokhan, at his website Jammer's Reviews, described the plot of "Observer Effect" as not being as predictable as it might initially seem due to the crew's inability to save Tucker and Hoshi and their reliance on the aliens to do so. He felt that the links to "Errand of Mercy" were both "subtle" and "sublime", while describing the overall bottle show as "No slam-bang excitement; just a commitment to observation and plausible procedure." He adds that the episode was an example of "humanist science fiction" rather than an "adventure show".
Michelle Erica Green disliked the episode, writing about it in a review for TrekNation. She called it "clichéd, predictable and boring", saying that the sudden differences in characterization in this episode, compared to how those characters acted in earlier appearances, could potentially lead to confusion as to when they were actually controlled by the aliens. She criticized the plot which only affected the senior crew members on the ship and said that it had "ripped off" several prior episodes of the franchise including "The Empath", "Homeward" and "Scientific Method".
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