The Great Star Trek Enterprise Rewatch: The Augments

Soong and the Augments have escaped into Klingon space, but Archer isn’t giving up so easily. Whilst Enterprise prepares for pursuit, Soong discovers that the Augments are no longer willing to submit to his authority. Can he stop Malik from executing a plan to destroy all life on a Klingon colony?

The Soong/Augments arc concludes here, with drama, tension, explosions and everything getting wrapped up in a nice neat little package so Enterprise can fly away and move on with its life (although the Augment storyline will spawn a related Klingon arc later in the season). There are some shiny set pieces to keep us entertained, such as Archer blowing himself to safety with an explosive decompression, and then being beamed to safety at the last second. And of course, Brent Spiner remains excellent. But overall, this episode is merely decent rather than outstanding.

As with the entire arc, the problem is that this storyline relies far too much on lazy tropes. We knew from the start that Malik would ultimately turn against Soong. We could easily guess that Persis would free Soong, and that she would pay the price for betraying Malik. Even the phony warp signature trick and Archer’s “don’t mess with us, we have the Chancellor on board” ploy are among the oldest tricks in the Star Trek book.

Genetic engineering

Yes, it’s time to have the big debate about genetic engineering again. I know we’ve all been party to this before, but no review of this arc would be complete without it.

At least part of Soong’s work has focused on the obvious good thing to do with genetic engineering – namely to eliminate debilitating genetic conditions that can severely impact on quality of life. But of course, the question has always been – where to draw the line? Let’s say we decide to genetically engineer away severe autism, so that no one has to live a life where they are unable to care for themselves, interact with others or express their emotions. Fine – but what about other people on the spectrum, who value their neurodiversity? At what point is a trait something negative that must be removed, and when is it a vital part of someone’s individuality?

And then of course there’s the whole can of worms of ‘designer babies’. Once we allow genetic engineering, everyone from the well-meaning to the unscrupulous will take advantage of what it can offer. You want the best for your child, so why not ensure they will be smarter and prettier than average. And suddenly, you find yourself having to genetically engineer your child just so they won’t be at a disadvantage, as we see in the film Gattaca. But what about parents who can’t afford to have their children ‘optimised’? Is it fair for those children to be born into a de facto underclass, always destined to play second fiddle to their genetically enhanced peers?

Of course, in this arc it’s easy to hate the Augments because Malik, their leader, is an archetypal self-absorbed jerk with a superiority complex. A more interesting story might have arisen if we’d found ourselves liking the Augments, perhaps even feeling sorry for them.

Franchise nods

Prepare for the biggest dose of fan pandering yet!

  • Malik mentions the long lost SS Botany Bay, the ship Khan and his followers used to flee Earth. Of course, this ship will not be found until the events of Space Seed.
  • Soong wants the Augments to hide in the Briar Patch, the sector of space which is the main focus of Star Trek Insurrection.
  • Soong ultimately concludes that he would be better off studying robotics, but that it may take several generations for the work to come to fruition. This of course foreshadows his descendant Noonien’s creation of Data et al.

Points and Observations

  • Although not a strong enough connection to be a true Franchise Nod, Enterprise sneaking into Klingon space and having to speak to other Klingon ships over audio mirrors the Enterprise-A’s unauthorised mission to rescue Kirk and McCoy from Rura Penthe in Star Trek Vi.
  • The 1800 embryos which had been preserved for 150 years are unceremoniously destroyed in this episode, but no one really seems to care.
  • For the umpteenth time, Archer is able to smooth things over with the Klingon High Command, who have conveniently forgotten about that time they wanted to kill him. I’m coming to think Enterprise is single-handedly responsible for the bad state of relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire by the 23rd century.
  • Note how the transporter has progressed from being “that thing we use occasionally when there’s really no other choice” to “business as usual” over the course of the series’ run.

Summary – The Augments: The Soong family gives up on genetics and turns to robotics.

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