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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Kir’Shara

Synopsis: Archer brings Surak’s teachings to Vulcan, T’Pol leaves her husband and Trip annoys both Andorians and Vulcans.

star trek enterprise kir'sharaReview: The final third part of the Vulcan arc is the most action packed of the three paying off on much of the material that had been set up by the far slower and often more turgid previous two episodes. Ultimately a lot of the action scenes such as Archer fighting the Vulcans as T’Pol is captured are superfluous and really don’t do much for the story but they still speed up the pace and make the episode flow quicker at the very least as a substitute for much of the pointless arguments that characterized Awakening. The highlight of the episode though is unsurprisingly enough Shran who thanks to Jeffrey Combs always wonderful performances immediately brings life to any scene or episode.

Indeed Shran’s scenes with Ambassador Soval are the most compelling moments that Kir’Shara or any episode in the three part arc or for that matter this season have to offer and are highly reminiscent of Garak’s interrogations of Odo. This is of course somewhat ironic since these scenes also stray from the episode’s format of ‘Archer with Surak in his Head Saves Vulcan’ but at the same time point the way to something far deeper which is Andorian and Vulcan reconciliation. The reconciliation of a clash of opposing philosophies between Andorian aggression and self-centeredness and Vulcan non-violence and self-awareness would have made for some compelling material. Particularly as Soval appears to be the last Vulcan on Enterprise actually acting like a Vulcan instead of a human with pointy ears.

Unfortunately any of this is scrapped in favor of the culmination of four years of evil Vulcan plots on Enterprise with the most evil Vulcan of all as V’Las continues behaving like a completely demented and unhinged villain. He’s not acting like a Vulcan or even a Romulan but every villain cliche in the book right down to detaining a minister who protests against his actions. And of course his downfall comes in cliched villain style as Archer and T’Pau saunter into the room and put everything to rights in a matter of minutes. Sense this makes little, as Yoda might say.

First we begin with the premise that the Vulcan High Command completely warped Vulcan philosophy. How long this has been going on for is entirely unknown but since Vulcans aren’t disagreeing with them combined with the Vulcan lifespan one would suspect a figure of at least five centuries or maybe a thousand years. A few Romulan collaborators fail to explain all this. Furthermore this twist ending dodges the complex questions the episode posed initially about the authenticity of the transmission of religious teachings and the nature of Vulcans. It reduces a complex philosophical debate to a matter of punching out or Vulcan neck pinching the right guy at the right time. And thus complex religious and philosophical problems are resolved.

In Awakening Surak claimed that even Syran himself was too corrupted to properly be the guardian of his teachings, by Kir’Shara simply flashing some of Surak’s teaching on a holographic screen was enough to end all the violence. And what key element does Archer bring to all this that he needed to be selected above anyone else to be the savior of Vulcan morality? Well he punches people a lot. He also seems to have little trouble defeating Vulcans in hand to hand combat despite the complete strength inequities. Rather than any kind of revelation or meaningful conclusion all Kir’Shara really offers is a standard villain’s downfall plot that in this case doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense.

It remains then for the showdown between the Andorian and Vulcan fleets to offer what little suspense the episode has to offer. And here Jeffery Coombs and Gary Graham’s performances continue to stand out and even Trip does a surprisingly competent job in command. It’s possible to quibble that humans are once again getting foolishly involved in a conflict between two species, either of which could blow the Enterprise to bits, but the door closed on that particular objection years ago. Still Enterprise attacking a Vulcan cruiser, considering the disparity in firepower hangs on the lunatic fringe. As it taking sides in a conflict in which neither side is all that clean.

All in all Kir’Shrara contributes some interesting elements to the Enterprise reinterpretation of the STAR TREK universe. Its touches of continuity drawn on the STAR TREK universe are nice as are the attempts to bring Enterprise continuity closer in line to the continuity of the STAR TREK universe. Nevertheless the three-part arc suffers from serious writing handicaps and the Augments arc did a far more credible job dramatically because ultimately it knew what it was about. It was about the tragic failure of a single man. What is the Vulcan arc about? Religious or philosophical truth? Archer learning to accept Vulcans? T’Pol learning to accept her mother? Discovering that T’Pau liked to wear gaudy makeup when she was young? The relationship between Humans and Vulcans? Vulcans and Andorians? All of these and more are present and none of these are properly executed or concluded.

Instead the three-part arc essentially consists of the search for a magical artifact that will set all problems to right. This is a rather simple and classic story. However its execution is crude and stumbles repeatedly. The discovery of the artifact is repeatedly dragged out and its use is too simplistic and anti-climactic. The Augments arc was a tragedy. The Vulcan arc veers between Archer Jones and the Holographic Vulcan Tablets of Wisdom and muddled and unfocused character melodrama. Neither makes proper use of Vulcan and Vulcans. Neither addresses the philosophical issues the episodes try fitfully to raise. Archer Jones and the Holographic Vulcan Tablets of Wisdom occasionally makes for entertaining viewing, particularly in The Forge and Kir’Shara. But as Yoda might or might not say, yet not in Archer punching people a lot does a good episode lie.

Finally continuity is important but continuity cannot and does not substitute for good writing, for good drama or for a good episode. Continuity is like the binding of a book. Without it all you have are loose pages. But if there’s nothing worth reading on the pages, what use is the continuity?

Next week: Super-intelligent and genetically engineered reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Awakening

Synopsis: Archer gets in touch with his inner Surak, T’Pol gets out of tune with her mother and the evil Vulcan High Command gets their evil groove on.

star trek enterprise AwakeningReview: If there wasn’t a lot to say about “The Forge”, there is in many ways even less to say about “Awakening”. There is enough continuity in the episode to be pleasant. The attempt to repair Vulcan continuity albeit in some limited way is also nice. But ultimately like “Forge,” “Awakening” is an episode with little plot that drags it out for forty minutes in order to satisfy the requirements of a three-part arc. “Awakening” indeed has a good deal less to fill its time than “Forge” did.

And so we have the incredibly weak and pointless suspense over the transfer of the Katra from Archer’s brain, which comes to nothing ultimately. We have T’Pau a character about as interesting and compelling as wet gravy, and who has little function except to maneuver absolutely nothing of importance and makes little impression. Much of this, particularly the time in the compound, with the exception of Surak’s scenes comes down to wasted time that adds up to rather little. T’Pol’s reunion with her mother is somewhat more interesting but lacks any real feeling and the death of T’Les complete with a “�deathbed’ reconciliation is painfully predictable and cliched.

Lacking the energy and sense of wonder of “The Forge”‘s explorations of the Vulcan desert, the caves by contrast have little to offer us but particularly uninteresting characters arguing with each other over not particularly uninteresting things. And the strongest material in the episode, namely the debate over the nature of Vulcan beliefs and the scenes with Surak, seems to get the least amount of screen time. These are things, after all, more important than T’Pol’s mother — or so one would imagine.

But it turns out that these Syrannite Vulcans, who are closer to Surak’s beliefs, are also corrupted as T’Pol points out to her mother. This returns back to ENTERPRISE’s dictum about all Vulcans except the really good-looking females being evil. Of course there is still one good Vulcan left, dead and inside Archer’s head, which makes Archer the last good Vulcan left as Surak tells Archer when he says that Syrran too was corrupted and only he can save his people. One can’t help but groan at this point in disbelief.

On Enterprise things don’t fare much better. Trip wanders around trying to defy the Vulcan High Command and generally being ignored for it. He threatens the Vulcans and is predictably enough ignored. His only interesting scenes come via Ambassador Soval who manages to lend dignity and depth to all his scenes. By contrast the Vulcan High Command has degenerated into every villain cliche. Replace the Vulcans with any race and you could have the same exact scenes just by changing a few place names. Really even Dr. Evil might not have been out of place here towards the end. It’s one thing to portray the Vulcan High Command as having strayed from Surak’s teachings but V’Las simply appears to be a cliched two-dimensional villain ranting and scheming in predictably evil fashion. When he commands his minions to comb the desert, you can’t help but imagine the scene from SPACEBALLS in which the stormtroopers drag a giant comb along the sands.

The third and final part of the Vulcan arc may turn out to be a wonderful episode that redeems these two. Like the Augments arc, this story lacks material for three episodes. As a two-part episode we could have had two strong and gripping episodes without a lot of the dead weight and dead air used to stretch the episodes out to hit the magic number three.

Next week: Vulcans, Andorians, Terrans and Syrannites…Oh My.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Forge

Synopsis: Archer and co. investigate the bombing of the Earth embassy on Vulcan.

Archer Star Trek Enterprise Federation The ForgeReview: The premise of the three-part Vulcan arc is an interesting one, especially considering the need to bridge the gap in continuity between ENTERPRISE’s mangled portrayal of the Vulcans and the STAR TREK portrayal of the Vulcans, the two often completely incompatible. “The Forge” itself also tosses out a variety of interesting ideas into the mix, which may or may not be delivered on properly in future episodes. However, “The Forge” itself is nearly impossible to review on its own because it’s simply more a fragment of an episode than an episode.

As with the Augments arc, “The Forge” appears to be part of an attempt to return to the prequel concept as a bridge to the Original Series and has a nice selection of continuity references to TOS. While it still continues to be filled with negative Vulcan stereotypes, the arc appears to be moving towards the argument that these Vulcans are bad primarily because they are the Vulcans in authority and prefiguring a social upheaval on Vulcan that will bring it more in line with the Vulcan we know. Of course the entire premise that such events had occurred in recent memory fly in the face of all of STAR TREK, as we know continuity and ENTERPRISE even in the best of situations go together about as well as oil and water. And for those troubled by that, ENTERPRISE’s own premise renders it as being outside of STAR TREK history via time-tampering from the future, rather than a continuing part of STAR TREK history as a whole.

The actual Vulcan drama is hit and miss with Ambassador Soval returning as a strong character but the Vulcan high command crudely portrayed and poorly acted. Soval’s speech to Archer, though, sounds like recycled deep throat cliches. Admiral Forrest is somewhat unnecessarily killed for shock value where having him severely injured in sickbay would actually have been more far more effective. Trip’s reaction of callously not caring about the embassy guard’s body but his mind is out of character for him. Trip has many failings but inhumanity hasn’t been one of them until now.

STAR TREK has more traditionally done three-part episodes and ENTERPRISE’s new attempt to carry out these arcs has its flaws. Like “Borderland,” “The Forge” feels like less of an episode and more of a preview to an episode. But where “Borderland” had more content and a solid ending, “The Forge” strings together exposition scenes and some action with the end result being more of a snack than a full dinner. Considering that the episode begins with a bang, the succeeding action mostly drags in scenes in which various people discuss or argue with Vulcans. There is no real sense of loss or catastrophe aside from Archer’s scene with the coffins.

Once in the desert the pace does not actually pick up any but the interest level increases mainly because we are finally exploring Vulcan. Some elements such as the sandfire are well done, though the special effects for it and the Sehlat are quite inferior. The Sehlat in particular looks like CG from the early 90’s. The editing attempts to compensate for this by showing it only in quick shots is effective to a degree but still would have been better done with the Sehlat entirely out of sight. Just as the electrical sandstorm worked much better as flashes from behind rocks, so too the Sehlat worked better as a growl than a CG creation. Special effects problems also plague the embassy bombing with the pillar collapsing blast scene looking just downright silly. I don’t know if ENTERPRISE’s budget has been cut or just stretched (in light of the lower UPN licensing fee) but in such a situation, suggestion is better than showing poor effects.

All in all “The Forge” raises some interesting ideas and possibilities but lacks real meaning until future episodes pick up the ball or don’t.

Next week: I’ve got Surak in my head and I can’t get him out.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cease Fire

Summary: Archer attempts to mediate between a Vulcan and Andorian territorial dispute.

“Cease Fire” is a much stronger follow up to “The Andorian Incident” than the rather mediocre “Shadows of P’Jem,” which saw Enterprise’s star trek enterprise cease fire entire command crew blunder into getting captured and remaining outside observers to much of the action. “Cease Fire” by contrast sees Trip taking a strong command posture where in “Shadows” he was reduced to yelling ineffectually at the Vulcan commander. Archer and T’Pol again find themselves in hostile territory but Archer maintains control of the situation and does his best to find solutions. The Andorians and Vulcans are also far better developed here than they were in either “Andorian Incident” or “Shadows”. Though the Vulcans are still portrayed rather unsympathetically and the episode makes it clear the writers’ own sympathies lie more with the Andorians than the Vulcans, this is still the first time Ambassador Soval has been developed at all and portrayed as anything but an arrogant and bigoted martinet.

Between the special UPN promos, two major franchise guest stars and top notch production values in the planetside scenes, the action scenes and gorgeous CGI work on the Vulcan and Andorian ships, “Cease Fire” seems to have had the benefit of a special push from the producers and the network. More money has been spent on-screen and this time out it’s been combined with a fairly good script to make for the best Vulcan\Andorian episode to date. Like “Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem,” “Cease Fire” does suffer from the outsider syndrome in which the crew are outsiders intervening between quarreling aliens. Where the previous two episodes both tried to resolve this dramatic problem by having Archer and T’Pol taken hostage, “Fire” avoids such obviously cheesy gimmicks in favor of more generalized ‘behind enemy lines’ sequences.

While it does end up deploying the hoary formula of the fanatical subordinate contrasted with the more sympathetic leader as the central dilemma whose resolution comes when the former is exposed to the latter, it’s still preferable to the fanatical leader contrasted with the more sympathetic subordinate, which Voyager’s latter seasons used almost non-stop. This formula is still a widely used television cliche and although Plakson’s part is woefully underwritten, the actors do what they can to give each line their own unique style and spin. It doesn’t always work and Plakson’s stylized film noir delivery, which worked quite well during her TNG appearances is often out of place, especially in her final scene, it still makes the material more interesting to watch and lifts the dialogue somewhat above its formulaic roots.

By contrast there are flashes of clever and off-beat dialogue such as the battlefield exchange between T’Pol and Ambassador Soval, which

star trek enterprise cease fire

“Cease Fire” could have used more of instead of the old standbys about war, negotiation and peace that marked Combs and Plakson’s repartee and any Star Trek viewer has already heard time and time again. There is just enough good dialogue in “Cease Fire” to cause one to wonder if Chris Black wasn’t being held back by the producers from being a little more adventurous with the lines in a few of the key scenes. Devoting some more time to developing Shran’s character with scenes that don’t necessarily directly advance the plot would also be a good idea. Combs’ Weyoun made quite an impression in a single episode mainly because time was dedicated to developing his race and his character even in an episode where he was doomed to be killed off by the end. By comparison we still know very little about the Andorians except that they are part of an Empire, are angry a lot of the time and don’t much like the Vulcans and that isn’t a lot to go on when building the identity of an entire species.

“Cease Fire,” though is a good place to start laying the ground work. Shran here develops more of a personality and thus an identity and even a sense of humor. Ambassador Soval gets a background and a history and a somewhat dry sense of humor of his own. Archer manages to go through most of the episode acting like an able and competent Starship Captain who can think on his feet without behaving foolishly and can act as a diplomat instead of ranting over the slightest insult. T’Pol manages to get more relevant character development in an episode not even centered around her, than she did in the T’Pol-centered “Stigma.” Phlox manages to steal another sickbay scene that doesn’t even center around him and Trip gets another moment in the sun.

Trip’s threat to fire on the two groups of ships is a bit on the irrational side considering the legal fact that Starfleet had been called to mediate the dispute and had no territorial status here and the practical fact that based on what we’ve seen up till now, any single one of the ships from either fleet could have taken Enterprise apart without breaking a sweat. Still, it harks back to proper TOS tradition and by playing it as much for comic value as suspense through Archer’s last minute message, it avoids the kind of overblown self-righteousness such scenes usually involve for Archer. The fact that Trineer is also a better actor and Trip a more likeable character than Archer undoubtedly helped as well.

All in all, “Cease Fire” could have used a more original plot but still has plenty of memorable character moments, snips of memorable dialogue, and noteworthy production values while effectively advancing the galactic drama of the Federation’s founding.

Next week: From Andorians and Vulcans to Suliban, Oh My.

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