I should have known better.
The last time I was on here (a month ago?!?!? It seems a lot shorter than that!), I did some complaining about the long-cancelled TV show Enterprise (because, hey, I’m up on the latest entertainment options). In that column, I rehashed my disappointment with the show, specifically about how they seemed to rehash a lot of the same tired old tropes from previous Star Trek incarnations. The worst of these tropes was time travel, as embodied by the temporal cold war that Archer and company found themselves in. It was this nonsensical garbage that caused me to stop watching the show in its original run a few episodes into the third season.
In the comments, Adam Collings had this to say:
Unfortunately, you gave up on the show just when it got awesome. Seasons 3 and 4 were very good in my opinion, and I was very disappointed when it didn’t get renewed for season 5.
I was skeptical, Adam. So far, what I had seen only confirmed my prior judgment of this show.
Then I got into the heart of the Xindi episodes of season three and I realized what a mistake I had made. I should have remembered: every Star Trek show stinks in the first couple of seasons. It takes a while for them to find their footing, figure out the crew dynamics, and tell some awesome stories. Next Gen‘s first two seasons were abysmal, but once Captain Picard got assimilated, it really took off. Deep Space Nine only mentioned the Dominion once up until the end of season two, but they went on to tell some powerful stories in the final seasons. And the same can be said for Voyager, especially after they realized what a snooze Kes was.
I now am over half-way through season four and approaching the end point and, after each episode, I keep thinking, “Now this . . . this is what I wanted!” Give me the political machinations of the corrupt Vulcan high command! Give me the diplomatic wranglings that bring the Andorians and the Tellarites together. Keep the Romulans skulking in the shadows, plotting to overthrow the whole region. That’s what I want from a Star Trek prequel!
And really, the Xindi episodes were pretty great too! Once they started looking into the origin of the spheres which warped space around them, I was hooked. I had to know how the spheres and the Xindi were connected. I had to know!
Until this guy came along again:
Ah, Crewman Daniels. Popping into the Xindi plot to give Archer all sorts of information about his future. Every time Archer seemed ready to do something dramatic, there was Daniels to muck it up again. But this time around, I figured out why Daniels bugs me so much. He’s a deus ex machina. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a deus ex machina a person or item that’s suddenly introduced into a story, usually towards the story’s end, that conveniently resolves everything in a neat and tidy way.
And that’s precisely what Daniels is. For example, in one episode, Daniels yanks Archer into the future, to the Enterprise-J, and hands him an item that should help him resolve the entire conflict. In other, Archer is considering a kamikaze run to destroy the Xindi superweapon. Once agian, Daniels pulls him into the future to show him the founding of the Federation, once again trying to help him keep on the right path.
To put it bluntly, Daniels and the time travel nonsense in Enterprise is a cheat, evidence of lazy writing. It’s a way to fix a sticky issue in a story without a lot of thought or effort. There’s a reason why deus ex machinas are derided and have been for many, many years.
But it hasn’t always been that way. And it still isn’t in some circles today.
That’s where I’m going to leave things this time around. Next time, we’ll take a look at where the whole deus ex machina concept comes from, and then, after that, we’ll see how this might apply to Christian speculative fiction. Until then, I’m curious to know: Have you ever seen an example of deus ex machina in a movie, book, or TV show? How well did it work?