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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Aenar

Synopsis: Archer and Shran’s quest to stop the Romulan drone takes them to Andoria and an Andorian sub-species of blind telepathic pacifists.

star trek enterprise aenarReview: “The Aenar” is not a bad episode or a particularly good one. As an episode that stands on its own it’s reminiscent of some TOS and TNG episodes, though still dramatically weak. As a follow-up to a three part series of episodes dealing with the birth of the Federation and the rise of the Romulan menace, it’s effectively a no-show. If “Unity” sidelined much of the alliance and the Romulan threat in favor of Shran’s desire for vengeance, “The Aenar” sidelines much of it in favor of well…the Aenar themselves.

The Aenar are interesting in some ways and if nothing else can be said for ENTERPRISE it has managed to explore the Andorians far more than STAR TREK ever has. It’s not the best epitaph for a series but it’s better than no epitaph at all. Still, where “Babel One” and even “United” were laying the groundwork for the birth of the Federation, “The Aenar” isn’t laying the groundwork for much in particular. Ultimately the Andorian trilogy fails because it feels the need to drag in too many divergent elements to the point that it increasingly loses its dramatic focus and by “The Aenar” has no clear point.

In “Babel One” Enterprise was dealing with a Romulan threat and the need to bring about peace between Andorians and Tellarites. In “United,” Enterprise crafted an alliance between them to stop the Romulan threat. In “The Aenar,” the Tellarites are discarded and the alliance has really come to nothing, failing to stop the Romulan drone, and so the solution comes from the telepathic link between an Andorian brother and sister. It’s not an entirely uninteresting story but it’s not the birth of the Federation either.

The hidden underground city and its interiors and the Aenar themselves do seem like a TOS throwback though the situation lacks the intensity TOS would have invested in it. By a convenient coincidence of course it is also the sister of the kidnapped Aenar who encounters Archer and Shran. Though the Aenar are secretive and no more than a handful of Andorians have ever seen an Aenar, they seem to have no problem inviting Archer and Shran to their hidden underground city and have contacts with the Andorian government. Quite a lot for a half-mythical species barely anyone believed existed. Thus while “The Aenar” is a throwback to TOS, it also feels like a throwback to ENTERPRISE’s first season.

The Romulan story has become increasingly weak, being limited to political tension that Brian Thompson is simply not capable of carrying. His tale of being a former disgraced Senator who questioned the warmongering of the Romulan Empire might have added depth to the Admiral’s character an episode ago but is now just a detail thrown in far too late and performed by an actor not at all capable of using it to add subtlety and depth to the character. THE X-FILES understood Brian Thompson’s limitations and used him appropriately. ENTERPRISE made him the chief antagonist and then kept him safe far from the action. This is not the ideal formula for great drama and it’s no surprise that it doesn’t deliver any great or even particularly mediocre drama.

Jeffery Combs is still doing his best as Shran and bonds far better with the Aenar girl than he did with Talas and remains the most watchable part of the episode. Scott Bakula has improved a good deal since the first season and there has been real growth to his character. By contrast Connor Trineer’s Trip and Jolene’s T’Pol remain tedious and annoying and their soap opera detracts from what strengths “The Aenar” has by burdening the episode with yet more silly dramatics. It’s almost enough to make one appreciate sitting through Paris and Torres’ soap opera. At least there was more yelling and Klingon weapons and less passive aggressive whining. Now Trip is asking for a transfer and Archer seems to be the only one left on board Enterprise who doesn’t know about him and T’Pol.

It isn’t as if anything can save ENTERPRISE now despite the well-intentioned if ultimately futile attempts to influence UPN and Paramount executives; still, with this being quite possibly the last year of STAR TREK ever, it would have been nice if the series had produced a higher level of quality towards its end. “Babel One” had the potential to lead to a truly great and memorable three-part episode that dealt with the Romulans and the birth of the Federation and perhaps justified ENTERPRISE’s existence. Instead it stands out as a strong episode followed by increasing mediocrity.

Next week: Phlox in peril or is that phleril?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – United

Synopsis: Enterprise forms an alliance of Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans and humans to pursue the Romulan marauder.

star trek enterprise unitedReview: “United” is a serviceable episode, though significantly weaker than “Babel One”, in no small part because the story of the alliance gets reduced to a feud between Shran and a Tellarite. This is unfortunate since it pushes away the greatest strengths of the storyline in favor of a rather familiar STAR TREK cliche and a pointless action scene.

Jeffrey Combs once again does his best as Shran but the material that he’s given teeters on the absurd and that does little to help matters. Meanwhile, the Romulan drone has proven to be a rather weak threat and quite unimpressive in comparison to its appearance in “Babel One” and only manages to survive by chance and lots of system redundancies.

The alliance, the early stirrings of the Federation, which was supposed to take center stage, instead occurs on the periphery. We never even see an actual Vulcan, aside from T’Pol, which would have been a nice touch, and we never get any of the sense of drama and momentum that, for example, hummed under the workings of the Xindi alliance with Enterprise. Instead it seems as if somewhere out there are ships, all hunting down a drone, which seems like overkill. Especially as the drone proves to be little match for even Enterprise, let alone Andorian or Vulcan ships which are supposed to be more powerful, and its only ability to cloak itself is quickly neutralized.

Still, “United”‘s strongest moments are its character interactions. Trip and Reed’s friendship is nicely renewed in scenes that echo “Two Days and Two Nights” and “Shuttlepod One.” Archer and Shran have some strong scenes together and even Hoshi and Ensign Mayweather have a scene that’s oddly more lively than a lot of the rest of the episode.

Overall, though, Shran’s romance and tragic lost love was a poor idea, poorly executed, and when it becomes the main preoccupation of “United” it really becomes an awful one. The actual duel looks silly, the weapons they fight with look silly and the conclusion, which is sillier still, only make things worse. Archer defeating Shran is simply not credible. Shran giving up after losing an antenna is not credible either. From everything we’ve seen he’s determined to the point of madness, he is hardly going to give up avenging the woman he loves because Archer briefly outmaneuvered him.

Finally, if the theme of this episode is unity, then there is a distinct shortage of it. If the theme is building the Federation, there’s a distinct shortage of that too. The alliance we have here seems no more enduring so far than the one Janeway formed in “The Void,” less so actually, since no one involved seems to be doing very much interacting.

“United” needed to show a lot more and tell less. It needed to sustain the momentum of “Babel One” but sadly it didn’t. It needed to be well-paced, insightful and funny. It wasn’t. ENTERPRISE needed to survive past this season but it didn’t. Sic transit and all the rest.

Next week: Andorians with really pale eyes.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Babel One

Synopsis: Enterprise is sent to escort the Tellarite ambassador to a peace conference with the Andorians only to find themselves in the path of a mysterious ship sabotaging the talks.

star trek enterprise babel oneReview: “Babel One” looks set to be the first episode of the first great three-part series, not only in this season of ENTERPRISE but of STAR TREK as a whole (which admittedly is not that difficult since there isn’t all that much solid competition.)

Many of “Babel One”‘s elements are admittedly not original. The peace conference and the enemy out to sabotage it for example are a staple of STAR TREK. STAR TREK VI’s plot, for example, hinged around a peace conference and a staged attack using a prototype cloaked ship. ENTERPRISE’s own pilot, “Broken Bow”, revolved around Enterprise transporting a Klingon home while being ambushed by Suliban with special abilities. So did the season’s closing episode.

But discarding the question of originality, “Babel One” is a strong episode that sets out the relationships between the alien species that will make up the Federation, features strong characters, decisive moves by Archer, cinematic quality direction, top notch special effects and a story that moves quickly and efficiently. Despite its status as a prequel to the Original Series and an episode that focuses heavily on Original Series species’, including some we barely ever saw outside TOS, in many ways “Babel One” more strongly resembles a TNG episode. Indeed in its focus on diplomatic measures and alliance building, the conspiracies of the Romulans and the blend of humor and suspense makes “Babel One” far closer to TNG than any other series.

The camera work on “Babel One” at times moves into gimmicky range and is rather flashy but it’s also enjoyable to watch especially during some of the Andorian fight scenes or Shran jumping down to the deck from above. The special effects are also excellent. The angle of the Tellarite shuttle’s arrival is well done. Romulus is simply spectacular and the Romulan ship is massive and eerie in a way that suggests cinematic quality effects. Even the production values are well done with the Romulan ship’s corridors appropriately spooky and alien.

T’Pol is flat this week again, though she really is given little to do, but the rest of the cast turn in solid performances. Archer is edgier now, and seems more willing to snap at Trip. Trip and Reed are recovering their relationship again and the actors play off each other cleverly and naturally. There’s even a reference to “Shuttlepod One” in their banter. The one weak note is struck by Brian Thompson, best known from the X-FILES, who is hired primarily because of his size. Whatever menace he has is ruined however whenever he opens his mouth and he is rather unsuitable for a Romulan commander, as Romulans are expected to be clever and devious, rather than large and bombastic. Thompson would have worked well enough as a Klingon, but as a Romulan he’s the dumb kid trying to play 3D chess.

From the clever Hoshi and Archer dialogue training at the start of the episode (though does Archer really need Hoshi to teach him how to insult people?) to the introduction of the Tellarites, the episode moves smoothly to intrigue and suspense and revelation. It’s simple and yet ENTERPRISE’s past seasons are littered with episodes seemingly incapable of mastering cohesion or style. Jeffrey Combs as Shran is an always welcome character and while his relationship with Archer is still often acrimonious, he clearly is letting his guard down more. Archer for his part clearly has a certain camaraderie towards Shran despite their endless clashes. It’s a good thing too, as a character that has often come off as a weak and unprofessional Starship Captain.

Shran reveals that like Archer he was also the commander of the first ship of its class and his revelation about Talas seems to tie in with Archer’s own possible thoughts about T’Pol. And aside from telling us more than we needed to know about Andorian mating practices, this is the only weak point about the plot. T’Pol mentions that her ‘divorce’ from her non-husband is official and now suddenly her status is up in the air again. Reed seems to know that she and Trip had something together, though it’s not clear how. Long after that storyline seemed to have been dropped, Archer is displaying an interest in T’Pol again. The camera angles in their scene together as Archer asks if “they’re moving too fast” are a particularly odd touch.

Of course T’Pol had left her husband in “Kir’Shara” yet suddenly ENTERPRISE has defaulted back into its old folly of ‘There’s Something About T’Pol.’ STAR TREK has not had a good history of crew relations. ENTERPRISE has had a thoroughly awful one. While some may pine away for the glory days of season three when T’Pol began losing her mind and giving Trip massages to help him stop stressing over the few million dead back on earth or “A Night in Sickbay” in which Archer worried desperately over his dog and T’Pol in that exact order of importance, the rest of us would rather watch reruns of Welcome Back Kotter translated into Norwegian than another painfully contrived attempt at romance. Let alone some abomination such as a storyline in which Trip and Archer fight over T’Pol. Personally I’d rather sit through The Passion 2: The Christening than Archer and Trip yelling over which of them will have the chance to spend the rest of their lives annoying each other to death. ENTERPRISE has an opportunity here, to explore interspecies relations minus the innuendo. Hopefully it will not waste it again in the hopes of luring a few fans with yet another pointless relationship or T’Pol in skimpy outfits. It did not work in season three or any other season. It will not work now.

“Babel One” is a strong episode at a time when ENTERPRISE desperately needs one. It contains many of the basic ingredients that can save the show and can make itthe series it was meant to be, about building the Federation and bringing us into the era of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Many people accuse critics of Enterprise of hating the series. I cannot speak for everyone but I hope that ENTERPRISE survives. I hope to see a fifth season and a sixth one after that. I don’t believe that will happen, though, without improvements in quality and without a shift in focus. “Babel One” is what ENTERPRISE needs to be doing if it is to have a fifth season.

STAR TREK is a great universe and it would be a terrible shame for it to die here and now. Much as when the fictional Enterprise is in peril, the power to save it lies with the writers. They can decide ultimately if it lives or dies by working hard enough and well enough and making the right choices to save the series. Ultimately it is not the fans or UPN who will keep ENTERPRISE alive, it is its writers. People like Manny Cotto, Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis among others have shown they’re capable of producing good and even great episodes. In their hands rests the future of the franchise.

Next week: Archer vs Shran, but where’s the referee?

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