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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Countdown

Synopsis: The Sphere Builders act to thwart the crew and Xindi’s attempts to stop the weapon from being armed

Review: As the last episode before the season finale, Countdown is appropriately suspenseful and ominous. But at the close of the season it also delivers a strong episode by harnessing the power of characters who have been all too often kept in the shadows this season in favor of exploitative Trip and T’Pol material.

star trek enterprise countdownReed once again emerges as a troubled but determined leader and his scenes with Major Hayes compromise some of the most moving scenes this season that speak eloquently about command and responsibility all the more so for being understated even as it is clear that strong currents of emotion are boiling underneath. Both Steven Culp and Dominic Keating deliver excellent and restrained performances as they finally resolve their conflict in favor of the mission.

Unfortunately we haven’t seen nearly enough of Major Hayes and Reed has been woefully underused this season. Hoshi too has been barely visible this season manages to nearly compensate for it in only a few scenes in which she shows strength and courage amidst her fear. And Phlox fighting with Captain Archer over transporting Hoshi is yet another great moment in the work of yet another underused Enterprise character.

Even Commander Dolim, despite the cheesy makeup, cheesy character and pretty much cheesy everything somehow comes off as menacing perhaps because his tone is that of cold grim amusement like Gul Dukat, rather than a cartoon monster. He is not senseless or consumed by hatred but coldly determined to do his job while enjoying it in a grim sort of way at the same time.

The only weak moment in the episode really comes when we get another round of Trip and T’Pol’s whining. Suddenly the episode grinds to a halt while we indulge in some more cheap soap opera. Worse yet I experienced a flashback and was certain that I had somewhat stepped back into an episode of Voyager with Paris and Torres bickering at each other. And after all Trip is Paris with a southern accent and T’Pol with her emotions out of control is increasingly turning into Bellana. God alone knows why TPTB decided that 4 years of Paris and Torres weren’t enough and that we needed another 5 but apparently that’s what we’re going to get.

Considering the ending, you almost wish T’Pol and Trip would really get their own ship along with their own spinoff show in which they could voyage around the galaxy annoying alien species and giving them erotic massages. As things stand now UPN would unfortunately probably be a lot more interested in ordering it than a 5th season of Enterprise.

Countdown itself suffers from the premise of the idea that the Xindi can deliver the weapon from their council area and then directly to earth in a matter of hours. This steps up the suspense but it also looks ridiculous. Enterprise should have broadened the Xindi arc by adding an extra episode that would have focused on the pursuit of the weapon and the interrogation of Hoshi, the relationships with the Xindi and perhaps Dolim and the Insectoids questioning the real role of the Sphere Builders. There’s a lot of rich material here that’s going untapped because of the need to artificially accelerate the pace.

Archer’s deal with the acquatics though is a nice touch. Up till now the Xindi seemed to have been all too willing to go along with anything Archer wanted. The deal though is a more plausible exchange in which they aid Archer in exchange for something of interest to them. Though the move to transfer the team going after the weapon to a Xindi ship while leaving Enterprise and most of the crew in the Expanse hacking into a Sphere seems off. It makes logical sense but not emotional sense to leave Enterprise out of the fight to stop the Xindi weapon.

Nevertheless the transfer scene is effective and has overtones of Voyager’s Year of Hell separation sequence. Archer’s voiceover log giving the exact date as the ships launch and the crew members prepare for combat is another excellent scene that sets up the momentous events to follow. And the dinner at which Archer, Trip and T’Pol discuss their future plans after the ‘war is over’ nails each bit of dialogue just right. Chris Black’s skills with dialogue are evident yet again in turning even ordinary banter into exchanges that really connect with the underlying themes. It is many ways striking to see the opening of Enterprise with a rundown of humanity’s exploration accomplishments that seems to have nothing at all to do with the show today. Scenes like this look to a future beyond.

Meanwhile the Sphere Builders like the Olympian Gods watch over and manipulate the fate of the mortals from their cloudlike positions straddling time and space. In some ways this season Enterprise has been an Odyssey and now finally despite all the gods can do enterprise is coming home.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Hatchery

Synopsis: When Archer is infected by a Xindi hatchery he becomes the proud and overprotective godfather of a whole bunch of Xindi spawn.

Review: Viruses, mind-control devices, hallucinogenic plants, remote hypnotic suggestions and various radiations on STAR TREK have often been the vehicle for exploring behavior and playing out conflicts that the producers and writers do not dare have the characters act out in reality. Such plot devices are convenient because they allow conflict and dramatic events to take place without consequences that would redefine the characters and their relationships to each other. But such episodes are also often lifeless and dreary because ultimately we know that the Reset Button will be pressed by the end, eliminating whatever development has occurred in it.

star trek enterprise hatchery“Hatchery” partially dodges this trap by limiting the effects of the Xindi chemical to Archer alone. The actions of his crew and the MACO’s were not undertaken due to any outside influence and so continue to be a factor even though the episode hastily wraps up the conclusion with Major Hayes accepting everything without too much fuss — although as far as he knows the people giving him the information may well now be the enemy. The bigger questions about Enterprise’s command structure remain unanswered, however. A single scene of Archer telling Hayes not to accept any illegal orders from him in the future or orders that violate Starfleet’s chain of command would have gone far in that regard. As would T’Pol and Trip or Phlox questioning whether the presence of the MACO’s gives the Captain too much power and subverts the Starfleet approved hierarchy on the starship.

Still, “Hatchery” does well given the timeworn and derivative material. Despite the fact that just about any viewer with any STAR TREK experience under his belt realized that Archer had been infected and his behavior was due to the infection very quickly, “Hatchery” manages to draw out the suspense by framing Archer’s behavior with appealing liberal rhetoric from the him. The more obviously bizarre and dangerous Archer’s behavior becomes, the more appealing his rhetoric becomes, like a drug addict finding increasingly persuasive ways to defend his addiction. A literal metaphor since Archer had, in fact, been drugged. Unlike previous Captains in similar episodes whose behavior was clearly aberrant, Archer remains deeply persuasive almost until the end.

“Hatchery” also manages to throw in a good deal of background and character development for the Xindi Insectoids, more so than anything that we’ve gotten in the past. We’ve seen the Xindi Insectoids at their worst but now we also see them possessed of a compelling instinct to preserve their offspring, even if that instinct appears to be a chemically-generated fact of their biology. “Hatchery” also throws in a variety of other continuity references, including a long-awaited one to the Eugenics Wars, even if Archer does make it sound more like a UN peacekeeping mission than the hell and horror of WWIII. The revelation that the MACO’s were trained at West Point points to continuing questions about the status of individual nation states in this time period.

The key conflict in the episode simmers occasionally but never really boils. Trip’s takedown of Archer is anti-climactic where a more extended scene in which Archer tries to use his newfound persuasive abilities and call on their friendship before Trip is forced to shoot him would have worked better. Major Hayes has also not been all that developed throughout the season and his tension with Reed should have been far better defined by this point. Nevertheless, the crew’s willingness to defy the Captain for the mission even without any solid proof of a foreign agent acting on his mental state shifts the balance of power a bit as Archer recognizes jokingly in his final scene with Trip.

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