Synopsis: Archer tackles the weapon, T’Pol tackles the Spheres and Enterprise tackles a rewrite of Planet of the Apes
Review: Zero Hour most obviously refers to the countdown to the Weapon’s attack on Earth. Of course it’s also a sly reference to the final twist of the episode which plunges an already teetering storyline into sheer lunacy.
For the most part Zero Hour’s strongest scenes are those that rest on the tension leading up to the actual attack on the Weapon. Archer exploiting Hoshi to carry out his mission pushes his character further into the wolfish ruthlessly desperate mode he’s been in all season. Dr. Phlox facing death also makes for a touching if somewhat overly sentimental scene.
After that the episode begins its steep decline into cliche and then incoherence. First we have T’Pol and Trip’s attack on the Sphere which leads to some really bad skin for the crew. Undoubtedly TPTB thought that the idea of having everyone on the ship turn into a walking commercial for skin care products would be dramatic but instead if just makes what should have been a tense situation look silly as you wonder if Lubiderm isn’t paying Enterprise for product placement.
And indeed the entire Sphere attack storyline is mostly pointless. Enterprise’s Xindi arc would have been stronger if this attack had been accomplished episodes ago leaving Archer in command of Enterprise to pursue the weapon. It would have been appropriate and fitting as a conclusion to an arc that had Enterprise leaving earth to pursue the Weapon and returning home battered but unbowed to destroy it. Instead the audience’s attention is split between Archer’s pursuit of the weapon which is the compelling story and the sphere attack which isn’t.
Unlike the Weapon, the Spheres aren’t going anywhere so it’s not clear why T’Pol is so desperate to destroy them even at the risk of destroying Enterprise and killing the crew. Yes the anomalies will expand but all life in the Expanse, let alone Vulcan, as T’Pol seems to suggest is a long way from being threatened. The addition of the Sphere Builder’s attack is cliched and looks silly all the more so in the rose colored haze. Additionally the Sphere seems to call up Braga and Berman’s worst instincts giving us tons of technobabble solutions from Phlox’s magic anomaly resisting formula whose effectiveness he can apparently calculate to the second to the deflector pulse to the weapons frequencies. Watching T’Pol do her best Janeway impression as she nearly killed the crew to do something utterly pointless; really brought nostalgic tears for Voyager to my eyes.
The plot then only becomes more awkward as once the Weapon is destroyed the focus shifts away earth and to Enterprise sitting and waiting for Archer in the Expanse. And so we get an absurd scene in which Degra’s ship heads to the Expanse to meet up with Enterprise to tell Enterprise Archer is dead at which point they all head back over to Earth. Instead of the Acquatics simply delivering Enterprise to earth directly to meet Degra’s ship. Sometimes I complain about time being trimmed from Enterprise’s episodes and then I look at a complete inability to grasp the use of time on the part of the Enterprise producers and wonder why I even bother?
The attack on the Weapon itself is a bit too strongly suggestive of Insurrection or for that matter Generations, First Contact and Nemesis; all of which involved fights between our heroes and the villains over a launch sequence or a set of controls. But what Rick Berman lacks in originality, Allan Kroeker does his best to make up for in some decent action sequences. The effectiveness of the various fights range between clumsy to suspenseful and Archer’s final coup de grace to Commander Dolim is not original but quite effective. The bloodstains on the wall and on Archer’s face are particularly effective touches.
Shran’s appearance might be a bit dubious plotwise but he is a great character and Coombs is a great actor so that the only regret is that putting his name in the opening credits killed any surprise at his appearance. Coombs of course rules every second of his screentime and his lines make for some of the coolest moments in the episode. It also is a good reference point to the revelation of a future Federation in which Andorians and humans work side by side.
All of this would have made for a decent enough episode. Not the greatest Star Trek episode of all time or anything near it but adequate enough. There is a clear decline between the writing quality of Countdown and Zero Hour. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s writing is simply not up to the task and once again we see heaps of Voyager style technobabble thrown in and the kind of amateurish plot awkwardness that characterized Voyager episodes. But Braga is unfortunately not satisfied with that.
As the second season finale set up the third season, the third season finale is apparently meant to set up the fourth. Of course the situation becomes all the more desperate since Enterprise’s ratings are doing quite poorly and the series has become increasingly unwanted by UPN which instead favors top quality programming like ‘America’s Top Bulimic.’ This makes it crucial for the Enterprise season finale to have a hook that will pull viewers back in. And so we get Braga’s Planet of the Apes style ending to the episode.
Of course the problem with the ending is that it’s silly. Not only does it seriously resemble Voyager episodes like Future’s End and The Killing Game spliced together but it completely defuses the conclusion of the entire season’s arc and its payoff in favor of a gimmicky conclusion that the audience is likely to treat the same way it did the similar ending of the remake of Planet of the Apes.
Storytelling requires continuity. It requires an understanding of the emotional journey and the parts of the narrative that make a story whole. Zero Hour is yet another demonstration that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga understand nothing of the kind. Zero Hour’s ending screams of unoriginality and desperation. Not to mention contempt for the same viewers who sat through a season of the Xindi arc expecting more of a payoff than Archer waking up in the Twilight Zone.