Written by Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis
Directed by David Straiton
In which Archer and the crew of Enterprise becomes embroiled in a Romulan plot to disrupt peace talks between the Andorians and Tellarites, leading to violence...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
After a couple of stand-alone episodes that digressed from the mini-arc format that dominated the early part of the season, the serialized storytelling returns with an arc devoted to the early groundwork towards Federation. It’s rather evident that this is the format that the writers prefer, since they get to take a big story, break it into three major acts, and then attempt to make something like a feature film re-cut into three episodes. It worked for the “Vulcan Arc”, and if this episode is any indication, it’s going to work for the “Babel Arc” as well.
The most popular (and inspired) episodes have involved the Andorians, particularly Shran, and this episode is no exception. Jeffrey Combs brings something to the table that few guest stars have been able to match, which is probably why he is always offered the most interesting recurring roles. Combs is in top form in this episode, giving Shran the measure of depth necessary to make the episode work.
The structure of the episode is all about peeling back the layers of deception, from the attack in the teaser to the final reveal. This is appropriate, given that the primary villains of the piece are Romulans. For the audience, this is hardly a shock, since it had been revealed at the end of “Kir-Shara” that the Romulans were manipulating Vulcan society to foment hostilities among the other major players in the quadrant. Having failed to spark a war between Vulcans and Andorians, the Romulans turn to another conflict, hoping for better results.
The Romulan plan makes a great deal of sense. Since the existing continuity demands that nearly everyone in the universe remain clueless when it comes to the nature and origin of the Romulans, it’s logical that their isolationism be used to support this fact. The remote technology utilized by the Romulans serves the purpose of keeping the actual Romulans on their homeworld, safe from detection, while allowing them to be the principal villains of the season.
This also sets the stage for the Romulan Wars against Earth, which supposedly begin around this point in the timeline. It’s not clear which part of the prototype is considered new technology: the remote command function, the holographic function, or the warp function. It certainly seems as though Romulan technology is limited, and much of it is being used to get other species to attack one another, with Earth/Starfleet getting in the way every time. The eventual attack against Earth could be conducted using whatever resources remain, including the non-warp, nuclear armed ships mentioned in “Balance of Terror”. It would make sense if those ship were remotely controlled or staffed by Remans, preserving the requirement that Romulans remain unseen.
Despite the fact that the remote command function is an elegant solution to the problem, it’s a plot device that is incredibly well concealed. Even after Trip and Reed quip about the lack of a crew, the possibility that the vessel is remotely controlled is not the immediate conclusion. In retrospect, the clues are all right there in plain view, but they are cunningly arranged to mask the truth. No doubt many fans were able to figure it out ahead of time, but it’s unlikely that many were absolutely certain that they were right.
In terms of the Romulan plans for the Andorians and Tellarites, they seem to be taking a page out of the Drakh playbook from “Babylon 5”. Essentially, they raid the borders of each respective power, plant or create evidence blaming traditionally opposing powers, and then come in and take over when each side is weakened by the resulting warfare. The Dominion did the same, though with more disturbing resources, and there’s a reason why it’s done again and again: it’s damned effective. It’s all too easy to believe that your usual enemy is the one killing your people, even when the technology at play is well beyond their usual capability.
One could argue over Archer’s role in this particular situation. After all, here he is, playing the central role again! But it still makes sense, given the circumstances, for Archer and Enterprise to be at the center of events. For one thing, if Earth is going to send someone as a intermediary, wouldn’t it be the same person who forged some measure of peace between the Vulcans and Andorians a couple years earlier? The Andorians, at least some of them, trust Archer more than any other Human, and Archer has gained something of a reputation after the Xindi and Vulcan situations.
For that matter, Archer’s key role in the slow but steady road to Federation does much to explain the lack of Klingon participation. Perhaps it’s not just the ideals of Federation that were unappealing to the Klingons, but the fact that someone who is considered an enemy of the Empire is pulling together an alliance of competing powers. Based on their own code, they would see this as a threat, an enemy drawing together allies for an offensive. Is it any wonder that they quickly see the UFP as their main opponent?
As previously mentioned, any episode with Shran is practically an instant classic. It’s great watching Shran and Archer go at it, especially since there’s a mutual respect constantly hanging in the air between them. For all that Shran expresses disdain for how easily Archer is being fooled, the truth is that Shran is more willing to accept evidence when it comes from Archer. Had it been anyone else asking him to stand down, the entire Tellarite delegation would have been dead in seconds.
It’s also interesting to watch Archer struggle with the Tellarite method of communication. He does well enough with Hoshi (who is utterly gorgeous when she’s pretending to be angry!), but he’s much less confident when dealing with Gral. It’s a subtle distinction, but it does a lot to reveal Archer’s thought process. He doesn’t quite accept that he needs to be so rude and unyielding to communicate with the Tellarites, but lacking anything better, he makes the effort.
Trip and Reed get to work together again, and it’s interesting to watch them tentatively resume their friendship. Reed wasn’t altogether pleased with Trip during the “Vulcan Arc”, and this is apparently part of the process of restoring their mutual balance. It’s good to see a reference to Reed’s initial attraction to T’Pol, and Trip’s denial of response to the end of T’Pol’s marriage. When they are forced to rely on each other to stay alive, the true strength of their friendship will be tested.
Oddly enough, Reed may not be the only one intrigued by a possible future with T’Pol. Archer seems to dance around the subject, bringing back thoughts of the first season flirtation between the two characters. The conversation that Archer has with Shran about Talas appears to be related. After all, in the first season, Archer and T’Pol wouldn’t have been worried about officer protocol. Now, things are very different. It would be unfortunate for this potential subplot to appear, given the disastrous handling of the Trip/T’Pol romance, but it does provide another example of internal continuity.
Speaking of Talas, the undeniably attractive Andorian, last seen in all her glory in “Proving Ground”, makes a strong return in this episode. Her attempted seduction of the guard outside her door feels more like the aesthetic of the original series than a calculated attempt at “sexing up” the episode, and her relationship with Shran brings up an interesting question about the Andorian reproductive scheme.
In the novels, quite a bit of work has been done of late to develop a four-gender Andorian relationship scheme, playing off of a comment made in an episode of “Next Generation”. This episode suggests more of a standard two-gender mating, which would complicate a rather elegant scheme (the Andorian characters/species details are some of the best in the modern Trek-Lit). On the other hand, there’s every reason to believe that Shran is choosing his words carefully, getting his point across without revealing anything that would be hidden from outworlders. The fact that Talas’ physiology appears very, very compatible could easily be deceiving!
Some might be concerned about the portrayal of the Romulans and their overall appearance. The use of special effects from “Star Trek: Nemesis” has caused something of an instant uproar, including several theories that the Romulans are really operating from the future, echoing aspects of the Temporal Cold War. That would be an unnecessary complication, since it’s just as simple to assume that the basic Romulan appearance hasn’t really changed, and that the differences in appearance are merely a function of basic variation in the genotype. For that matter, the “Nemesis” Romulans could be part of a faction obsessed with the days before the rise of the Federation, thereby making the similarities intentional.
While Hoshi gets her moment to shine early in the episode, as usual, she and Mayweather are sidelined in favor of the other characters. Even Phlox only gets a few minor scenes. Oddly, for as much as her character is a topic of conversation, T’Pol has very little to do in this episode. When she does appear, her post-“Kir’Shara” mask is firmly in place, only faltering when one would expect it. Some might consider this to be a “flat” or “wooden” performance, as if Blalock isn’t even trying, but this is clearly character development. She’s meant to be adhering to the ways of Sarek, and as such, her emotions are more in check. Isn’t that what everyone was expecting her to be like from the beginning, after all? To complain now is somewhat hypocritical.
It also seems wrong for critics to harp on the number of scenes that take place on Enterprise, utilizing established sets. This episode has a number of new sets and plenty of good CGI shots (the Enterprise approaching the debris field is one very good example), all made possible by the budget-saving stand-alone episodes that preceded it. The budget issues this season have been well documented, and while it has shown from time to time, it’s not nearly as obvious as it has been on other series with slashed budgets (“Andromeda”, for instance).
One could see this story taking place on the original series or “Next Generation”, and that’s perhaps one of the best compliments that an episode of “Enterprise” can receive. This is exactly the kind of material that Manny Coto had promised, and the “Vulcan Arc” actually stands as a strong precursor to the events depicted in this arc. In other words, this is exactly what the writers knew they needed to accomplish.
It’s also what the audience has likely been waiting for, and hopefully the ratings for the next episode will reflect that desire. The strength of the previous episode helped to bring some viewers back into the fold, and the fact that the concurrent episode of “Stargate SG-1” was considered a major disappointment could have helped “Enterprise” in the long run. The February ratings will be a critical test for the series’ future. Beyond the “Babel Arc”, the sweeps period will conclude with a two-part arc delving into the question of Klingon biology, answering a long-unanswered question about the appearance of the Klingons over the years. In other words, the producers are putting out episodes that ought to generate major interest in the audience, and if that fails, there are no excuses left. For what it’s worth, if this episode is any indication, it deserves to succeed.
Overall, this episode is another strong beginning to a potentially excellent story arc, building off of the strengths of the “Vulcan Arc”. The writers develop a clever solution to the problem of using Romulans as the main villains of the tale, avoiding any major blunders. As always, Jeffrey Combs shines as Shran, adding the requisite gravitas to the episode. This is exactly the kind of episode that the series needed going into February sweeps.
Final Rating: 8/10
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