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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 – Proving Ground

Synopsis: Archer finds dubious Andorian allies in his quest to stop the Xindi weapon.

star trek enterprise proving groundReview: Proving Ground may very well stand as the best Xindi arc episode to date, not because like “Twilight” it does something extraordinary. Instead it stands out because it has the qualities that should be commonplace in ENTERPRISE episodes but sadly haven’t been.

“Proving Ground” manages to be a suspenseful episode because the suspense doesn’t come out of staged threats or characters behaving like idiots for the convenience of the plot, but out of the interactions of the agendas of well-rounded and written characters. All out of a story that finally gets the season back on track with the Xindi arc instead of wandering around aimlessly through various distractions. And most of all, a story that brings back the sense of imminent danger to humanity that we haven’t really seen since “Twilight” and probably the end of last season before that.

Chris Black writing on his own for once manages to inject life into even the most mundane scenes with snappy and witty dialogue that actually develops the characters. We even have a meaningful scene dealing with Trip’s sister, one of the first real growth scenes this season that have so far reduced his grieving process to a series of erotic massages from T’Pol, with of all people, Shran. Bakula comes off as a bit stiff and irritable but Jeffrey Combs manages to make the most out of every second of his screen time. This is unquestionably his best performance as Shran; the conflict between his liking for humans and his duty to the Imperial Guard makes the Shran character fully multi-dimensional as he moves seamlessly from comedy to tragedy.

But even the more minor scenes and characters get their due. The interaction between Lt. Talas and Lt. Reed is fun to watch but it also develops her sufficiently enough to make her actions in transmitting the probe data to the Enterprise credible. The tension within the Xindi High Council is tighter and more explosive than ever. So tightly wound that an explosion between the moderate and extreme Xindi seems all but inevitable. And all the while Shran has now been developed into something like Archer’s Q, a nemesis of sorts who nevertheless respects the Captain even if he more often acts as an obstacle.

On the directing side, veteran STAR TREK director David Livingston turns in another professional effort. The episode under him plays out like a heist movie with quick sharp scenes that focus on the essentials and don’t waste time on anything else. Suspense builds slowly but surely and unlike “Chosen Realm” is never squandered with an easy resolution but instead builds to the final confrontation between Archer and Shran that almost has a touch of WRATH OF KHAN to it. And for once Archer doesn’t defeat an opponent through heroics or technobabble or luck; but by out-thinking him and ultimately out-bluffing him.

The Andorian sets themselves lit with blue are a nice touch and somewhat reminiscent of the Enterprise-D sets suggesting that maybe the Andorians had more to do with the visual decor of Starfleet than humans did. The Andorian visual communications have an oddly faded 60’s touch very reminiscent of STAR TREK’s Original Series look. The Andorian Starship may not look like it would be believable on TOS but the Andorian General looking out from that circular screen looks as if he would be very much at home talking to Captain Kirk over it. The contrasts between the three sets of command bridges, Xindi, Human and Andorian help give the episode a grand scope visually that can’t simply be done with CGI starships. Playing out the same scene while moving from the perspective three locales builds up the suspense nicely.

Meanwhile the Xindi story has now been significantly advanced with Enterprise scoring its first real victory over the Xindi. The data losses of last week have been partially recovered, though this incident suggests Enterprise needs better data backup protection. And with data on the probe and a prototype destroyed, Enterprise now has given Earth a fighting chance against the coming Xindi assault. And ENTERPRISE, the series, has produced what may well be the best episode of the Xindi. Certainly the best at progressing the story, at showing life-like characters interacting with each other and at delivering a suspenseful and entertaining story that’s worth every minute.

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