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