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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 – The Council

Synopsis: Archer arrives at the Xindi Council while maneuvers continue among the Xindi races and the Sphere Builders before the launch of the weapon.

Review: The Council is many things but not the least among them a compelling argument for Manny Coto being in charge of Enterprise rather than Berman and Braga. As a complete episode it often comes off a bit disjointed but that is because its real accomplishments are in the characterization of the Xindi. A characterization that is long overdue. Unlike some of the previous episodes, this is not one dominated simply by the character of Degra.

star trek enterprise the councilWhile Randy Oglesby does deliver another resoundingly powerful performance as Degra in his final appearance; Coto fleshes the Xindi out by giving the other Xindi council members depth as well and making their interplay ppear more than the cartoonish stereotypes they have been up till now. The Avian skull alone is a deceptively simple but excellent touch that does more to bring depth to the Xindi and their agenda than all the Council meetings have throughout this season and until now. Details such as this or Degra’s revelations about the role of the Sphere Builders in their lives should have been a part of the show long before this to make the Xindi and their motivations plausible.

By contrast the Enterprise crew doesn’t come off nearly as well this episode. Archer is still focused but a bit too casual. His principal’s office exchange with Hoshi is clever and well played but it also clashes with the context of the situation. 7 million people have died and this is Archer’s last ditch attempt to preserve the remains of humanity and it makes him seem far too lighthearted and casual especially considering the terrible things Archer has had to do up till now to the point that he sent himself off on a suicide mission only a few episodes ago.

The real purpose of these scenes seems to be to remind us of Hoshi’s existence as a human being with a likeable personality so that we’re shocked and saddened by her kidnapping. But of course Enterprise should not have neglected her or Reed or some of the other crewmembers this season as gratuitously as they did in favor of the compelling ideas embodied by T’Pol’s erotic massage parlor. However as in E2, Reed gets another small but effective scene. This time with T’Pol. It’s ironic that despite all the fuss and all the effort dedicated to T’Pol and Trip and T’Pol’s unlocking of her emotions with Trip; one of her best scenes and unquestionably best demonstration of the empathic use of her emotions is in a scene with Lt. Reed.

Billingsley’s Dr Phlox of course is always entertaining to watch even if he’s given little to do. By contrast Connor Trinneer who was certainly never one of Enterprise’s best actors but managed to give a pretty good performance in The Forgotten, phones in his scenes in The Council. Not that he’d really even be noticeable alongside Randy Oglesby’s work but at least he could have made an effort to put some depth in his performance. In this episode Manny Coto manages to make even the proverbial doomed redshirt stand out but in an episode full of compelling characters; Tucker is strictly a no show.

All in all the human side of The Council is easily outweighed by the Xindi side of it. It would have been intriguing if the producers had the guts to tell this episode’s story from the Xindi perspective. It certainly would have been doable as Degra was already on Enterprise a lot of the time. But “The Council” comes as close to that as it dares with an episode in which the Xindi rather than the humans are undeniably the key players.

Again the issue of proof is dubious since all Archer presents is a holographic mockup of the Sphere Builder. Considering what Degra tells us about the level of devotion of the Xindi to the Guardians, half the Council seems rather willing to turn on them with limited evidence at best. If T’Pol’s mission had returned from the Sphere with compelling evidence to the Council that might have more credibly explained their willingness to believe Archer’s story. Still the radical steps taken by the Reptillians help tip the balance.

Degra’s murder is excellently directed, written and played and stands as the best part of the episode. Much of it could have been done as a cliche but the writing gives us two personalities with two different worldviews colliding with one another in that room. Both are fanatics of a particular kind with two different visions of the future that will rebuild and reunify the Xindi. Degra’s vision embodied in that handshake with Trip is incompatible with the Reptillian dominated Xindi Council hunting down the very last humans in the galaxy. The launch of the weapon becomes a tug of war with the victory going to the Reptillians and Insectoids seeking to rebuild a destroyed way of life through mass murder.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Damage

Synopsis: Enterprise tries to recover from its pounding by stealing a warp coil. The Xindi Council bickers and T’Pol has to learn to ‘just say no’.

Review: The damage in the title of this episode refers to both the physical damage we can see in the tears and devastation on the Enterprise hull and the moral damage sustained by Archer and members of his crew over the term of the Xindi mission. It’s an episode that lingers over the damage Archer, T’Pol and even the Xindi see in themselves as much as it does over the lightless and beaten interiors of Enterprise itself.

Damage star trek enterpriseThe scene of the Xindi council calling off the attack early on dampens far too much of the tension too quickly, as it might have been much more helpful to keep the audience wondering why the Xindi called off the attack and whether they might return for a while. Still, “Damage” does a credible job of showing the beating Enterprise has taken and closes as it began with a devastated ship not healed by any quick fix or technobabble solution.

While STAR TREK, particularly on TV, will never top the sense of devastation Enterprise experienced after Khan’s attack, crystallized in the awful image of Scotty standing helplessly in the turbolift with a bloody body cradled in his arms, “Damage” provides some excellent… well, damage. The exploding EPS conduit over the heads of the senior officers followed by debris raining down during the briefing is a particularly nice touch; Archer looking over the covered bodies in sickbay is a more understated moment, but arguably a more effective one that hardens both his determination and pain.

The truly inspired touch, though, is the damaged alien vessel with the warp coil that Enterprise must raid in order to stop the Xindi weapon. Unlike DS9’s much-hyped “In The Pale Moonlight,” Archer faces a genuinely impossible moral dilemma because circumstances give him no choice but to carry out an immoral act against innocent victims. This puts it closer to the depth of great TOS episodes like “A Private Little War,” that require an immoral act for a pragmatic outcome.

When Archer’s team raids the alien vessel, it visually suggests the raids on Enterprise in “Anomaly” and “Rajiin,” and thus the victims become the victimizers, as happens all too often today. Archer’s final confrontation with the alien captain is brief but effective. Throughout the course of an agonizing year Archer has gone from being naive and arrogantly optimistic to a hard-driven and wounded man who acts not out of hope but pragmatism. The scientist and explorer has become the unwilling soldier.

All in all “Damage” effectively shows the price Enterprise has paid and the way in which Archer and the crew respond to it. However the other two stories circling around the episode, namely T’Pol Gone Wild and the Xindi council debating Archer’s claims, are a good deal weaker. The Xindi Council scenes in general to tend to deflate too much of the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere that makes for the episode’s strongest scenes. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman should have learned from George Lucas’s THE PHANTOM MENACE, which demonstrated that political bickering in government offices doesn’t make for the best drama. Worse yet, the Xindi Council scenes represent exactly what much of “Damage” avoids, easy and quick fixes.

The Xindi Council members moving from genocide to freeing Archer and letting Enterprise go is just too implausible. Degra argues that Archer had provided proof where the Sphere Builder has not, but that is even more absurd; Archer did not prove his claims about the sphere-builders or their ambitions. All he did was prove that he might have access to time travel, which the Xindi already know the Sphere-Builders do. Archer did nothing to demonstrate or prove humanity’s good intentions and at the same time it’s also completely implausible that Degra and the others would be so committed to wiping out humanity without a single shred of evidence that Earth presented a threat, but just on the word of the Sphere-Builder.

Randy Oglesby continues to deliver strong performances as Degra and Tucker Smallwood is quite good too. The Sphere-Builder from the future pacing through the Xindi Council is eerie, even if her performance is so transparently malevolent that it’s absurd that anyone would take her claims seriously. Compare that to the more subtle female shapeshifter on DS9 who didn’t have to act like she was about to bake Hansel and Gretel in a giant oven to convey the presence of evil.

T’Pol’s story is something else entirely. Namely an exercise in contemptible stupidity and unforiveable ignorance. We had good reason to believe that sooner or later TPTB would tie in something involving the anomalies and Trellium-D to T’Pol’s bizarre behavior in order to get them off the hook with the STAR TREK fans Braga derides as ‘Continuity Pornographers.’

But it was difficult to imagine a storyline in which we are told that Vulcans need to take drugs in order to experience emotions when in fact Vulcans experience emotions far more intense than humans–the very reason that requires them to maintain such strict control. The idea that a Vulcan needs to take drugs to experience emotions is as insane as saying that a weightlifter needs to take drugs in order to be able to put down barbells rather than to lift them up. The difficulty is in suppressing emotions, the emotions Vulcans experience all the time and must continually struggle to control using their mental disciplines. Trellium-D degrades those disciplines but those disciplines are a voluntary
exerciseto begin with. It simply makes absolutely no sense at all.

Of all the aspects of STAR TREK, Vulcans have taken the worst beating from ENTERPRISE, first being cast as villains plotting to obstruct our heroes, as militarists, as prudes, metaphorical homophobes, mind rapists and just about any nasty thing imaginable. But T’Pol’s portrayal this season has really hit a whole new low. It is, of course, difficult to top the repulsive depiction of T’Pol in “Bounty,” running through the halls half-undressed in a mating frenzy and having to be hunted down by Enterprise security teams, but season three has certainly been working up to it.

The bonus sexism of a woman being left in command on a ship while becoming unfocused and then hysterical, only to be relieved by the male Captain is yet another of ENTERPRISE’s thoughtful additions to the STAR TREK legacy that we will undoubtedly treasure for years to come. Somewhere Harlan Ellison, who has spent countless hours over the past few decades shrilly complaining because Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t let him portray a crew members as drug users and dealers is undoubtedly quite happy right now. Perhaps next season we can look forwards to Trip tripping out on E or Archer on crack? After all, we’ve now opened the door and we might as well step all the way through.

“Damage” is strongest when it focuses on the moral and physical dilemmas of the Enterprise crew, rather than the more soap operatic elements. Unfortunately, along with the physical and emotional damage to the Enterprise and its crew, the episode suffers from its own damage as well.

Next week: There are only 5 new episodes left. Count em, that’s 5 new episodes.

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