“Canamar” is a strong, fast-paced, action-packed episode in which Archer and Trip are stuck on a prison ship that’s hijacked by two desperate prisoners. Sort of Con Air in space but better because Scott Bakula > Nicholas Cage.
It’s also an episode where T’Pol’s in charge of Enterprise, and Hoshi and Mayweather get more than usual to do, since two of the main white guys are gone.
The teaser immediately grabs your attention – Hoshi repeatedly hails Shuttlepod One but receives no response from Archer. Reed detects no lifesigns onboard, and we cut to credits after some dramatic looks from the bridge crew.
T’Pol gets everyone together to report on the situation and it feels like almost everyone gets to contribute. Phlox talks about the blood he found in the shuttle, and Hoshi clarifies some cultural items in the Captain’s log. Then T’Pol orders the ship to the Enolian homeworld.
Cut to Archer on the prison ship. He and Trip have been accused of smuggling and are pretty much presumed guilty, like the others on the ship. The Enolians have them restrained in special handcuffs, which the guards can use to deliver shocks of pain.
T’Pol is almost successful in getting them released, until an Enolian prisoner, Kuroda Lor-ehn, and his Nausicaan sidekick hijack the ship.
Kuroda is bitter because he’s spent pretty much his entire life behind bars. He was sent to prison the first time when he was 15. At that time he wasn’t guilty of any crime, but a term under the cruel treatment of Enolian guards turned him into a hardened criminal.
All this Archer finds out after he gains Kuroda’s trust, offering to help pilot the ship to the rendezvous with Kuroda’s friends. It kind of reminds me of Picard masquerading as an outlaw in “Gambit” and it works to good effect here, too. You can appreciate Archer’s practical approach to the situation and his realization that he must try to understand what makes Kuroda tick.
Meanwhile, an Enolian representative has come on board Enterprise, and unfortunately from this point on nothing really that interesting happens in terms of T’Pol’s command. For example, the Enolians say they have orders to destroy the hijacked ship, so if Enterprise wants their crew alive, they’d better find the transport first. T’Pol just accepts that fact and doesn’t appear to push back, despite what we know about the Enolians’ sketchy justice system.
Back on the transport, Trip is being bored by another prisoner, Zoumas, who is ridiculously chatty and is sporting some seriously impressive alien makeup. Zoumas seems to be the intended comic relief. Trip is bored by him almost immediately and ends up snapping at him.
Later, Archer discovers Kuroda is planning to escape the ship and let all the other prisoners die. He warns Trip, who manages to knock out the Nausicaan, but Zoumas actually sabotages him by warning Kuroda that Trip is ready to attack him.
Not long after, Enterprise arrives and takes over Kuroda’s friends’ ship and then boards the prisoner transport. Kuroda is left locked in the cockpit as the ship crashes into a planet.
Back on board Enterprise, Archer confronts the Enolian diplomat:
Enolian: Er, Captain? Captain? My superiors will want a report on…
Archer (interrupting): I’ll give you one right now. Kuroda’s dead, the other eleven prisoners are under guard. As you’re aware, my Engineer and I were falsely arrested. We almost wound up in Canamar. Makes me wonder how many others don’t belong there. You wanted a report? You’ve got one.
Overall “Canamar” is a very strong episode that I’d mark among my Season 2 favourites, but I also felt it had three missed opportunities.
1. T’Pol in command. I know T’Pol is a very different character from, say, Riker or Kira, both of whom would’ve probably yelled at the Enolian diplomat. But it would’ve been cool to see the writers leverage T’Pol’s strengths to create more tension and raise the stakes of the scenes on Enterprise.
2. Zoumas. Zoumas is there for comic relief but in spite of how much he talked we didn’t learn anything about him except that he’s chatty and kind of annoying. He could’ve been more memorable if there was a poignant moment where Trip’s opinion of Zoumas challenged a bit more than it was by learning, say, something about Zoumas’ family or difficult past.
3. The overall message. This episode has a message: treating people with cruelty and imprisoning them unjustly is not only wrong – it’s going to create more problems than it solves. But it’s somewhat undermined by the one-dimensionality of the prisoners we meet. Even Kuroda is difficult to really empathize with, as his moment talking about his 15-year-old self is so totally lacking in vulnerability and is quickly eclipsed by his decision to kill the other prisoners when he escapes. It’s easy to write him off as someone who would’ve ended up in prison anyway.
Archer’s line at the end helps but it stops at condemning the imprisonment of the innocent, and doesn’t explicitly address the issue that overly cruel treatment of any prisoners is counterproductive.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Hoshi and T’Pol talk about communicating with the prison transport.