Synopsis: Archer attempts a lone attack on Azati Prime, which leaves him captured in enemy hands.
Review: “Azati Prime” in many ways resembles the episode that closed out the second season, “The Expanse.” “Prime” is chock full of plot developments and important things happening. So many and so much, in fact, that the episode seems unbalanced like an old woman carrying a heavy load on her back. Enterprise reaches Azati Prime, Archer goes to the future to discover the truth about everything that’s been going on, Archer goes off on a suicide mission, Archer is captured and tortured, T’Pol struggles with command of the Enterprise, Archer convinces Xindi council members they were wrong about attacking Earth (the latter in under 15 minutes), and the Xindi vessels nearly destroy Enterprise. This isn’t material for one episode, this is material for at least 2 or 3 episodes, which is ironic, considering that episodes like “Doctor’s Orders” and “Hatchery” were essentially filler, marking time until this week. Even so, “Hatchery” was a more coherent and better structured episode.
The deeper problem is that despite the competence and decisiveness and intelligence Archer and his crew have begun showing in recent Xindi episodes like “Stratagem” and “Proving Ground,” it goes completely out the window in this key episode. Archer suddenly decides to go off on a suicide mission even though he is not only the officer most needed on Enterprise but is actually far less qualified for the operation than Mayweather, who actually piloted the shuttle in. His whole course of action is irrational and endangers the mission but despite the crew being prepared to mutiny last week when Archer compromised the mission, this week the crew do no more than express muted sadness. Archer argues that he’s doing it because he doesn’t want to order anyone to their deaths, but that’s nonsense. The Xindi killed 7 million humans; Enterprise would have plenty of volunteers ready to carry out the attack, just as essentially suicide missions like the Doolittle Raid after Pearl Harbor had plenty of volunteers.
T’Pol then follows up on the situation and does nothing and eventually Enterprise is torn apart by a Xindi attack. Archer tries to get the Xindi Reptilian to kill him once he’s captured and being tortured which is pretty silly since the time for suicide was when Archer was on his powered-down ship with a lot of explosives on board and vital security information in his head. And despite simulations like the ones we saw Major Hayes running last week, Enterprise’s response to the Xindi is mostly to sit there and take it. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t work out too well. And while the image of Enterprise crewmembers being sucked out into space is shocking, it evinces more disgust than grief because of T’Pol’s incompetence and indecisiveness and Archer’s abandonment and desertion that led up to the moment.
Azati Prime has its stirring moments, like Archer’s farewell speech to his crew and turning over Porthos to Dr. Phlox. It has some great visual effects like the shuttle splashing down into the water and Enterprise being ripped apart. Allan Kroeker‘s direction is solidly dramatic through. The concept of Daniels bringing Archer to stand on the bridge of a future Enterprise at the scene of a battle with the Sphere Builders is pretty neat, too. Continuity tie-ins with previous episodes ranging from “Twilight” to “Hatchery” to “Strategem” to “Harbinger” to “Carpenter Street” are all well and good, but “Azati Prime” remains an episode burdened with too much material and too little intelligence. Ultimately, the core developments of the episode are driven by Archer and T’Pol, the ship’s top two officers, doing stupid things. And it’s hard to find stupidity gripping or moving.
“Azati Prime” would have worked much better by splitting up its material over more episodes, especially since far too few of Enterprise’s episodes this season have been truly arc episodes. Ending the episode with Archer’s capture would have also made for a much stronger ending than dragging it on while Archer rather unbelievably convinces Degra and other council members with no real evidence that he’s been to the future and that their real enemy is a race from another dimension. The plausible response by the Xindi wouldn’t have been anger or belief but laughter. Randy Oglesby again does a great job with the material but his change of heart based on Archer’s absurd claims, rather than based on his moral qualms, is completely ridiculous. “Azati Prime” would have done better by having Archer appeal to Degra’s sense of morality and the children who would die if the weapon was launched then by telling Degra he’s been to the future.
Having T’Pol and the crew formulate a realistic plan of attack that incorporated what they learned about Xindi insectoid vessels and having Enterprise fight believably for its life would have also made the devastation far more powerful and gripping. Also, you have to wonder why Enterprise didn’t bother keeping an eye on the outpost. Didn’t they consider the possibility the Xindi might check on them? But basic intelligence seems to have been checked at the door this time out, right along with common sense. “Azati Prime” has some good material but sadly it’s poorly deployed and jumbled together in an episode with too much whiz-bang and too little of the horse sense and strategy of recent scripts. No amount of special effects or plot developments can compensate for watching characters use their minds and do their best to cope with a problem instead of retreating into stupidity or apathy.