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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Rajin

Overall episode score: 6.0
Performances: 7.0
Writing: 3.5
Direction: 5.0
FX and Production Values: 6.5

Summary: A Xindi spy romances and probes the Enterprise crew.

“Rajiin” picks up the Xindi arc and references events in previous third season episodes like “The Xindi,” “Anomaly” and “Extinction” that has Archer dealing with the aftereffects of his mutation, the Enterprise searching for a way to synthesize the hull compound suggested by the Osaarian and the council mentioning Enterprise’s attack on the mine. There are more scenes of the Xindi leaders, which sketch out the agendas of the individual Xindi races a bit more and their long-term plans beyond what the premiere showed us. The Expanse still seems more like VOYAGER’s Delta Quadrant than the unimaginably mysterious place that terrified both Vulcans and Klingons at the end of the last season; but the alien bazaar is nicely done both conceptually and visually. Vejar’s direction shines most in the bazaar scenes filled with strange goods and animals for sale by strange species. Like “Broken Bow” and “The Seventh”‘s takes on STAR WARS’ Mos Eisley, it’s an effective evocation of interspecies trade and mingling. And what 24th century Earth should probably look like but never does.

Like the behind the scenes looks at the Suliban’s interactions with Future Guy, the Xindi council scenes serve to position the conflict as being something greater than just isolated threats to the Enterprise. But at the same time the council also seems to be following the classic pattern of bad aliens/reasonable aliens subdividing the threat into the same categories of evil enemies and ones that can be negotiated with that have served as the resolution for many a STAR TREK episode. It would have been more interesting if their positions hadn’t been quite as biased to appearances, if perhaps the humanoid Xindi had been the most ruthless while the insectoid Xindi had been the most sympathetic to the humans. It would have put forwards the traditional STAR TREJ message of disassociating outward appearances from inner humanity. Much in the same way that TOS’s “Devil in the Dark” recontextualized the monster to show a mother, it might have also been interesting if instead of being an attractive woman, “Rajiin” had been something that outwardly looked like a monster. It would have had real possibilities for changing how we think about the Xindi instead of doing yet another episode about a mysterious seductive woman with a hidden agenda and thus going where STAR TREK has already gone so very many times before.

Like other ENTERPRISE episodes in the past, “Rajiin” becomes a struggle between the high road and the low road that only tangles the story and the motivations of the characters even more. While Archer was perfectly prepared to send back the Cogenitor to a life of slavery in order to maintain good relations with an alien species, he’s prepared to fight all comers in the alien bazaar in a completely alien part of the galaxy on behalf of another slave. At the end of “Cogenitor” Archer asks Trip what kind of example he’s been setting, which is a really hard question to answer because a lot of the time Archer doesn’t seem to know himself. Is this meant to be part of Archer’s character growth in the Expanse, is he being manipulated by Rajiin, is it because he’s attracted to the slave in question but he wasn’t attracted to the Cogenitor? Or is Archer simply being written inconsistently because the show’s writers and therefore also its characters are not operating within any kind of consistent moral framework? It’s important for characters to have worthy goals but without a consistent understanding of how they solve problems in order to achieve those goals, stories become exercises in plot contrivance.

But “Rajiin” suffers from the same problem that the series does as a whole. This is, after all, the show that featured the first Vulcan to serve on board a human starship even as they paraded her around in skimpy clothing at every opportunity. This is also the season which took Trip’s post traumatic disorder suffered after the death of his sister and turned it into an opportunity for a topless massage. ENTERPRISE wants to do serious stories but it also wants to desperately appeal to the lowest common denominator with desperate tactics like these. And the two are not all that compatible, particularly because unlike when in the Original Series, it smacks of a kind of cynical desperation that treats the audience with contempt while scrambling for ratings. It’s no surprise that “Rajiin” seems to place as much emphasis on the deliberations of the Xindi council as on T’Pol and Trip doing the heterosexual version of K\S fan-fic. Except, of course, for the suggestions of intimacy in Rajiin’s encounters with Hoshi and T’Pol, which once again serves to present homosexual contact as threatening and a violation, rather than portraying it positively. If B&B have to stage exploitative scenes, they could at least avoid associating same sex intimacy with rape against an otherwise heterosexual character as an offensive stereotype in movies and TV shows.

If the high road in “Rajiin” holds up, it’s because of an effective performance from the guest starring actress in taking a part that could easily have been reduced to a heavy breathing cliche and infusing Rajjin with a distinct personality that’s always present. And overall the performances generally do hold up, as aside from the massage scene everyone manages to keep their dignity and take the material seriously aided in no small part by Vejar, STAR TREK’s best director. Unlike LeVar Burton in “Extinction”, whose episodes usually look good, Vejar is not only good visually but good at working with the actors to get the right performance out of them. Whether it’s an alien trader doing an almost lighthearted impression of an alien trader on the original series to Rajiin’s intense concentration on everything around her, “Rajiin” boasts the right performances every time. It’s likely more to his credit than to Friedman’s script that “Rajiin” doesn’t become another “Favorite Son.” And while the battle scenes don’t live up to the standards of “Anomaly” or the fight scenes to the standards of “The Xindi,” this fourth episode of the season manages both satisfactorily. More importantly than the action scenes are the interactions between Archer and Rajiin that play well and without which no amount of action scenes could have salvaged the episode. Ultimately Rajiin’s report to the council hinges on the credibility of those scenes and as a result so does the entire episode as a whole.

Next week: What could make a Vulcan lose his or her mind?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Expanse

Summary: After an alien attack devastates Earth and kills millions, Archer takes his ship on a new mission into the Delphic Expanse to locate the aliens responsible for the attack.

star trek enterprise the expanseIn many ways “The Expanse” is more of a 40 minute trailer for upcoming episodes in the revised and retooled 3rd season version of ENTERPRISE than an episode itself. Unlike the retoolings of previous spin-offs like DS9’s “Way of the Warrior” or VOYAGER’s “Scorpion,” The Expanse serves as a secondary pilot after “Broken Bow,” minus the character introductions. As such, “The Expanse” is less about what’s actually happening on screen and more about the premise that it sets up for next season. Like a trailer, it’s a flashy showcase chock full of ships, special effects, space battles, alien races, plot twists and emotions. And like a trailer it’s also shorthand for the kind of abrupt changes, many of which should probably have been played out in a more gradual transition.

Attacks on Earth have been more commonplace in the STAR TREK movies than any of the series because they imply a raising of the stakes to something so major it requires its own showcase. Like “The Expanse,” two ORIGINAL SERIES movies featured probes carrying out attacks on Earth, both of which turned out to be somewhat misguided. Two NEXT GENERATION films featured attempted attacks, which were more menacing and lethal in nature but still none of the four films or even DS9 came close to “The Expanse” in showing the sheer devastation and scale of destruction. The improvements in special effects are what make it possible but it’s Enterprise’s need to reassert the importance of the crew and their mission in the face of falling ratings and interest that prompted Berman and Braga to cut a swath across the more optimistic STAR TREK worldview of the future, as the Xindi probe devastates Earth in a way that not even the Borg had ever managed to do. Even if ENTERPRISE’s producers choose to jettison or back off some from the resulting changes to the series, the deaths of millions makes it impossible for the series or Archer to go back to ever being as naive and carefree as before while maintaining credibility.

The special effects of the probe’s attack are occasionally spotty but it’s the crew’s reactions along with Archer’s log entries that really convey the impact of the attack. Still, despite effective scenes including the crew’s first reaction to learning the news and Trip confronting the devastation at home, “The Expanse” is doing too many things at once to really focus on the effects of the attack on the crew. There’s Duras constantly menacing Enterprise and while the resulting Klingon scenes are entertaining and the space battle is ENTERPRISE’s best, it mainly seems to be there in order to present an on-going threat, as if the Xinti attack and the threat of the Expanse wasn’t enough for an audience the producers seem to be assuming is on the verge of ADD and won’t watch or enjoy the episode if there isn’t a constant stream of action. Duras’ pursuit is an important continuation of the events in “Judgment” and “Bounty” that brings Starfleet and the Klingons closer to hostilities, but cramming them into an already crammed 40 minute episode dealing with other major events was not the way to go.

After all, within those same 40 minutes millions die on Earth, the Suliban kidnap Archer for a conversation with Future Guy, Enterprise returns to Earth, Archer challenges Vulcan authority again, gets a new mission then travels for months to its destination and Enterprise’s crewmembers deal with the impact of all these events. There is a lot of good character scenes here, from T’Pol and Phlox’s discussion of their status as the only aliens on board a human Starship to Archer and Trip drinking together during the night. There are good action scenes including the sight of the first other armed Starfleet ships we’ve seen up till now as they rescue Enterprise, and the Enterprise rolling behind a pursuing Klingon ship masked by gaseous clouds in a hoary but yet entertaining revisiting of WRATH OF KHAN. There are revelations, from the first photon torpedoes to an update on the departure of the second Warp 5 starship, to the suggestion that Future Guy might be human after all. But pack a lot good scenes that never quite manage to flow into one another tightly together in a package whose primary role is to setup future material, and you have an episode that hits a lot of the right notes but never quite comes together in a symphony.

As a second pilot “The Expanse” covers a lot territory that “Broken Bow” missed, most importantly by giving us a sense of Earth and Starfleet that we never really got before “First Flight.” There are still missed details that future episodes should clear up including the question of the soldiers of what army are on board Enterprise exactly and why Earth needs an army in the first place. It also marks the diminution in importance of the Suliban, whom “Broken Bow” presented as nemeses but have now become reluctant allies at best. Since the pilot, the Suliban have failed as menaces or as characters and while some viewers may be complaining about their defanging in “The Expanse,” comparisons to the defanging of the Borg on VOY are not warranted simply because unlike the Borg, the Suliban were never impressive or terrifying. The Xinti, from the brief glance we got in Starfleet’s version of Area 51, also seem to rely on extensive makeup but it still looks more natural than the Suliban and certainly more menacing. Most importantly, though, “The Expanse” provides Archer with a sense of purpose and gravity that he’s never really had before. Archer has been a temperamental character who acted on impulse. Now those qualities come closer to being grounded by the dedication to serving a larger purpose as Kirk’s and Sisko’s were.

Ultimately, “The Expanse” is a trailer and so its impact and how we see it in the context of the larger series has to wait for the third season of ENTERPRISE to begin. It promises a lot, but how much subsequent episodes deliver remains to be seen.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns

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