Synopsis: Archer and T’Pol do Starsky and Hutch going back in time to the 21st century to stop an attempt by the Insectoid Xindi on earth’s past.
Review: It’s odd for ENTERPRISE producers to schedule two retro episodes like “North Star” and “Carpenter Street” so close together, and indeed the two episodes do have a lot of similarities. Both borrow the visual style of an action genre, the western and the 70’s cop show. Both are fun to look at with strong direction but aside from the occasional comic moment, take themselves far too seriously in stories that don’t add up to very much. But “Carpenter Street” isn’t nearly as visually adventurous as “North Star” and it takes itself even more seriously. Where “North Star” committed itself completely to the material it was paying homage too, “Carpenter Street” picks and chooses a few elements with no real enthusiasm or vigor.
Time travel episodes on STAR TREK and elsewhere in Sci-Fi usually provide plenty of comic material. From Kirk claiming that Spock’s ears were crushed in a cotton picker, to Picard doing Shakespeare to dodge paying the rent, to militia goons capturing Torres and Chakotay. “Carpenter Street” has some comic moments, but not nearly enough, and its only real high points are T’Pol recovering her strength this season in her tough, no-nonesense treatment of Loomis; and Archer offering to untie Loomis so he can hit him again. Most of the remaining comic moments come from Loomis but instead of being played broadly for laughs, Loomis is played by an actor who tends to play disturbed characters and his performance isn’t really broad comedy but nervous and fidgety; a lot like his guest role on NYPD Blue.
For whatever reason, “Carpenter Street” is set in the present day even though if the car Archer drives had been removed, the episode could just as easily have been set in the 70’s or the 80’s which would have been more adventurous and in keeping with the visual theme. A theme into which Loomis’ apartment, haircut and fashion choices would have fit in perfectly. Also it would be more credible than having the Xindi pick our time out of all the other points in Earth’s history they could have gone to. After all, what are the odds of that anyway? Presumably Braga and Berman thought that a present day setting would be simpler to do and make the threat more relevant to the audience; but it’s not like the audience was sitting on pins and needles anyway worried about the Xindi virus being released. “Carpenter Street” could at least have had some fun with the 70’s.
In some ways, the idea of integrating “Carpenter Street” into the Xindi arc rather than having the characters take a vacation from dealing with the superweapon due to obliterate the human race as in “North Star” was smart. But on the other hand, if the Xindi could travel back to Earth’s past, then why bother with the entire process of designing a weapon and flying it to Earth. All they really had to do was go back a few thousand years and wipe out a handful of nomadic proto-humans. The Borg in FIRST CONTACT behaved logically since they didn’t want to wipe out humanity, just assimilate it. The Xindi though want to wipe out humanity and instead they tinker around with a bio-weapon in recent human history when there are much easier ways to accomplish their goals if they can travel through time. “Rajiin” too starts to make very little sense if the Xindi had all of Earth’s past at their disposal. So does sending the weapon prototype to attack Earth in the 22nd century instead of the 19th when Earth would have had no defense against it. And so the integration with the Xindi arc rather than being a strong point begins to raise questions the episode can’t answer but that just cast doubt about the credibility of the Xindi arc.
The actual use of the Reptilian Xindi in the realistic 20th century set designs also pointed up how fake and shiny and plastic the Xindi Reptilian costumes look. On ENTERPRISE or another spaceship, Sci-Fi designs don’t stand out nearly as much, but put up against textured natural materials like wood and brick, the costumes look like something off the discount post-Halloween sale rack. Having the Xindi alter their appearance, or using humanoid Xindi, might have expanded our knowledge of them, saved money on makeup and been creepier than the latex. ENTERPRISE often uses humanoid-looking aliens with just a dab of latex here or there when it shouldn’t, but this was one case where the producers should have gone for a humanoid look. There might have been a scene where one of the Xindi would peel off the human mask to reveal the Reptilian inside that would again have been more disturbing than having Reptilian Xindi running around the city.
The oddest part of “Carpenter Street” might be the episode’s decision to hang most of it around the character of Loomis, a low grade sleazeball without much in the way of interesting or redeeming qualities. The episode begins with him and ends with him, even though aside from occasional bits of comic relief, he contributes nothing to the episode. At one point the rumor regarding “Carpenter Street” was that the producers were looking for a ‘name star’ to play the part of Loomis and that may explain why Loomis ‘looms’ so large in this episode. But since at the end of the day the producers ended up a casting a capable but generally unknown actor who’s played a number of roles on STAR TREK over the years, it’s unclear why the Loomis character continued to play such a large role in the episode.
In order to accommodate the Loomis character, the episode had to have Archer do some pretty stupid things. First his plan to sneak in alone using Loomis and then take on the Reptilian Xindi is nothing short of foolish. Loomis is not trustworthy, as we find out later, and when your team only has two people on it and the enemy outnumbers it, splitting up is just senseless. In “Rajiin” and “Twilight,” we’ve seen that the Reptilian Xindi are very tough and very formidable and easily defeated the MACO’s even when the numbers were even. Archer taking them on alone is nothing short of insane and his being able to do it so easily discredits the Xindi as a capable enemy.
And why keep Loomis around anyway once Archer was inside? There is no real reason except that the plot calls for a bit of suspense that has Loomis attacking T’Pol. Like most of what happens in the episode, Archer’s decisions make no sense except as setups for action scenes borrowed from TV shows with even worse writing. All in all Loomis is the single biggest weakness because the plot warps around him. If an actual big name had been cast in the part, centering the episode around him might have made some sense. But lacking any depth, complexity or redeeming qualities, Loomis is nothing more than 30 seconds of comic relief stretched out to 15 minutes. T’Pol at one point suggests that Loomis encapsulates the worst qualities of the 21th century, which we might take as the writer’s view of Loomis. Except of course the worst qualities of the 21st century would involve mass murder, brutal dictatorships and theocracies and the eugenics war, which STAR TREK once again forgets about. Loomis is just a petty sleazeball. He doesn’t represent the moral failings of the 21st century, just the failings of this episode.