Synopsis: The Enterprise arrives at an isolated colony where a part of the Xindi weapon is being built, forcing Archer to entrust the survival of his mission to a Xindi.
Review: “Shipment” finally kicks the Xindi arc into high gear and gives us a look at what ENTERPRISE’s third season might have been like without a lot of the interruptions and episodes that were supposed to deal with the Expanse or the Xindi but more often than not didn’t add up to much. Not only do we meet our first Xindi character with any depth and complexity, but we also get a look at how strange Xindi technology is and the backstory of the Xindi races themselves.
While “The Shipment” does not offer a particularly original plot, its strength is in the character drama aided by another strong performance from a guest star and sketching out the nature of the Xindi, thus broadening the arc. As in “Anomaly” we get to see some more of what Archer is prepared to do on this mission even if he falls back on his usual good nature fairly quickly and the Xindi back story proves to be a lot more interesting than the Xindi council scenes have been so far.
Not everyone gets a lot of screen time in this episode. Hoshi and Mayweather are not exactly front and center and it’s a little difficult to understand why they bothered to bring in Steven Culp for what amounted to a redshirt role most of whose lines could have easily been given to an actual redshirt or some random security ensign we’d never see again. This is of course the kind of job he and his team were brought in for but it still ends up being done by Archer and Reed as usual while he mostly stands in the background and gives two word answers or asks three word questions.
By contrast the episode does a good job of working Dr. Phlox into the action by having him research the biological end of the Xindi biomechanical technology. Trip once again nearly manages to blow himself up while fiddling with Expanse technology and T’Pol is back to playing the stay at home commander. Still, “The Shipment” does a good job of balancing everything together to make a complete and coherent episode instead of A and B and C stories that run on different tracks or a single story that feels stretched thin for material as the series has done in the past.
Season three of ENTERPRISE also seems to be doing better at featuring powerful and memorable guest stars who challenge our characters worldviews in episodes like “Anomaly,” “Rajin,” “Exile,” and now “Shipment.” Earlier seasons had all too often neglected guest stars in favor of throwaway alien races of the week who threatened the Enterprise and then went away never to be seen again. It’s also good to see that ENTERPRISE has a mythological back story worked out for the Xindi in just a few episodes, having perhaps learned from the mistake of the Suliban, who were defined primarily by their abilities rather than any meaningful back story. The various Xindi races are still not making enduring impressions except for the Insectoids who are being portrayed as increasingly evil based on their appearances. Wouldn’t it have been surprising though if for once it was the human looking aliens who were evil and the insectoid looking aliens, whom viewers would naturally assume were evil, who turned out to be the moral ones? It would be somewhat more challenging than once again associating ‘being different’ with being evil and ‘being human-like’ with being good.
While the Xindi Archer deals with is not one of the humanoids, he’s the next closest species to human. It might have been more daring if it had been a colony of insectoids instead, creatures whom Archer wouldn’t be able to relate to as easily and whose very inhumanity would cause him to see them as enemies. The suspense in “The Shipment”‘s plot ultimately revolves around the decisions Archer must make which about the nature of the man Archer chooses to trust. While the plot is not original, its ability to generate suspense rests on a willingness to keep the audience in suspense as to whether the Xindi will help Archer and the Enterprise or betray them.
Whether he knows what has really been going on and is pretending not to in order to manipulate Archer long enough to turn him over to the Insectoids, or whether he really is a scientist and engineer outraged at the uses to which his craft has been put to. “The Shipment” is a successful episode precisely because between Chris Black’s writing and the performances, the suspense is there nearly until the end. But an Insectoid would have been a more successful vehicle for exploration, though, of course the makeup would have made it difficult for the actor’s facial expressions to be properly visible.
On the production values front, the actual Xindi biomechanical technology isn’t all that new to STAR TREK since VOYAGER had organic gel packs and the Xindi version look like spaghetti worms but the portrayal is alien enough to be intriguing, even if the production values are somewhat lacking. The Xindi gun Trip is playing around with also looks far too toylike, as does the display. The weapons explosion is also a little hokey with an over-the-top fiery blast. With Andre Bormanis having gone from science consultant to writer and story editor, would it be too much to expect an explosion in space to look more like a radiating energy wave and less like a car bomb in Beirut?
The sets for the Xindi home had a nice homey feel like a futuristic hobbit hole and the shots of the compound from above are a little too dark to make out many details, but still good-looking. And the shot of Enterprise between the intersecting curves of two planets is a striking touch of composition that shakes up the all too often generic space background scenes.
Next week: Enterprise confronts its terrible future. And no it’s not syndication.