Written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Manny Coto
Directed by David Livingston
In which Archer must convince the Andorians and Tellarites to work together to have any chance of locating the Romulan vessel, but the death of an Andorian threatens that goal...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
This episode of “Enterprise” is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the series has officially been canceled. It’s not entirely clear why this should be surprising to so many people. As soon as the series was renewed for the fourth season, the underlying subtext was already on the table: the series needed one more season to reach approximately 100 episodes, so it was worth the investment for Paramount. It’s not a coincidence that the cancellation press release came within days of the contract for syndication rights.
Manny Coto was brought into the fold to ensure that the final season would end the current franchise run on a positive note. Sure, the network and studio were hoping that the series would somehow regain fan respect and get them better ratings, but if they were truly interested in seeing the franchise succeed at this point, why would they bring in someone who had every intention of focusing on fan-driven continuity topics? For all that the fourth season has been the best thus far, it has also been the least likely to gain new viewers. This is all about giving the loyal fans a memorable final year before the long wait begins anew.
This episode is a perfect example of that storytelling imperative. Very little about this episode is geared towards the casual viewer. Nearly everything is designed to appeal to the long-term fan, and in that regard, it succeeds without question. This is the kind of material that the series should have been attempting to cover from the very beginning (and indeed, some episodes of the first season did so). Not only is the process of Federation taken one giant leap forward, but in many respects, one gets the feeling that this is the end of a process. It might have been spotty at best, but the path to this moment stretches back in discernable fashion to the early stages of the first season.
The focus is squarely on Archer’s part in bringing together the four core worlds that would ultimately come together in Federation. Much of his work centers on the difficult task of getting former enemies to realize that they have common interests. As one would expect, this is rather simple when there’s a mutual enemy on the horizon. With the Romulans doing everything possible to destabilize the region, Archer is able to use the unseen threat to advance his own agenda of relative peace.
As plots go, this one is fairly straightforward. The writers recognize the popularity of the Andorians, and they focus on Archer’s need to overcome Shran’s reaction to Talas’ death. Because Archer and Shran have been strange bedfellows for so long, the nuances of the conflict don’t seem forced; if anything, this friendship forces Archer to look beyond the obvious and take Andorian culture into consideration, just as he was forced in the previous episode to take Tellarite culture into account. Having already gained the respect of the Vulcans, Archer continues to take the lessons learned during the Xindi crisis and apply them to home ground.
While the episode certainly succeeded, it’s still not going to rank very high as an example of “empire building”. The process of pulling together the alliance wasn’t consistent enough, despite having roots in previous seasons, to match up to the truly memorable examples provided by superior series. For all that Archer and Shran have built a key relationship over the years, the Vulcan situation was only recently resolved and the Tellarites didn’t even become a player until the previous episode!
Contrast this with the more substantial dissection of alliances and counterplots in the later seasons of “Deep Space Nine”, where the presence of the enemy was more immediate and directly threatening. Under those circumstances, Sisko and his allies had to deal with alien governments on a much grander scale, and more often than not, self-interest was the order of the day. Sisko had to make hard decisions over time, with plenty of setbacks, to get the alliances necessary to simply achieve a solid defense.
Of course, the gold standard for “empire building” is still “Babylon 5”. The entire point of that series was the creation of a pseudo-Federation, prompted by the intersection of an ancient enemy’s return and the rise of humanity as a galactic player. “Babylon 5”, over the course of its five-year plan, essentially told the kind of story that “Enterprise” should have told: how the right people at the right time can bring about massive change in the right places, leading to extraordinary events.
The first season of “Enterprise” seemed to be building on a similar structure, at least in terms of fleshing out the various empires in play. But unlike the Narn and Centauri conflict, the conflict between the Vulcans and Andorians was never covered in detail. For that matter, on “Babylon 5” each of the four worlds at the center of the creation of the ISA went through a long-term transformation, and each world’s crisis was distinctly covered along the way. In contrast, the analogous conflicts between the core Federation worlds were always seen through the filter of interaction with Archer and his crew. Instead of building the Romulans as an unseen threat over the course of the subsequent seasons, the narrative strayed into other areas. In short, the series never became the expansive story of building Federation that it might have been.
It’s hard not to wish that the series had taken this direction, since it would have given this episode a rich historical context. As it stands, the road to Federation is remarkably short and simple. Even if Archer’s prior work between the Vulcans and Andorians represented a major step down that path, it was simply one more adventure, not a major step in a pre-conceived plot progression. This is the result of the focus on Enterprise and her crew, which wasn’t amenable to the kind of wide focus that was possible on a series like “Babylon 5” or “DS9”, where the action could be pulled into a centralized location.
One might wonder why a comparison between “Enterprise” and “Babylon 5” is even necessary. After all, they were two very different series with two very different mission statements. And of course, there are those who debate the relative strengths of “Babylon 5” as a story and a series. The comparison is simply meant to demonstrate how this episode could have struck a deeper chord, and in equal measure, how “Enterprise” could have been a worthy prequel to existing Trek continuity.
Consider that in this version of the “empire building” story, Humans weren’t dealing with conflicts within their own government, such as colonies vying for independence or telepaths attempting to gain political control. In the grand Trek tradition, Humans were effectively conflict-free. They had disagreements from time to time, but Archer was never concerned about support from the homeworld. On “Babylon 5”, of course, the exact opposite was true, and the result was a feeling that anything could happen (including cast changes without warning).
Of the three worlds that would eventually ally with Humans to create the ISA on “Babylon 5”, each one of them went through hell and back. The Minbari caste system fell apart, leading to civil war, which led to a complete upheaval of their entire society. This process unfolded over more than three seasons. The Centauri wanted to regain power in terms of galactic politics, and as a result, they became willing victims of the enemy. This drama played out over five seasons, and was mated with the rise and fall of their enemies, the Narn. All three alien worlds had nuanced characters that gave their particular struggles and shifting philosophies a point of view.
When it comes to the three alien worlds at the center of the proto-Federation alliance, only one of them experienced a true crisis of planetary proportions: Vulcan. Even in that case, the story was only covered at the end of the process. It lacked the detailed fall from grace that gave the Minbari societal upheaval such gravitas. There were some slight indications of disagreement among Andorians on how to deal with certain situations, and the next episode might address some changes in Andorian society, similar to the Vulcan situation. But those changes are unlikely to be the result of any long-standing plot development. And of course, the Tellarites have no background to be discussed.
In essence, when it comes to the creation of the ISA on “Babylon 5”, it is the culmination of several plot arcs, all of which interweave with the character arcs, making the historical alliance a satisfying and somewhat unexpected result of all that had come before. Federation, however, is a foregone conclusion. Fans know that it’s coming, and they know who is likely to be involved. It almost feels like the writers or producers, early in the planning stages, didn’t have the confidence in themselves to tell a complex story of how the Federation was pulled together. It was left to the writers in the fourth season to take the pieces dropped here and there over the past three seasons and make it all come together in a logical fashion.
When it comes to pulling together continuity elements to make sense of things, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are certainly up to the task. With the aid of Manny Coto, they take a very simple story and make the proto-Federation alliance make sense. Having already prevented a war between Vulcans and Andorians, and permanently altering Vulcan society in the process, Archer needs to find a way to bring Andorians and Tellarites to the same table.
Archer does this through sheer force of will at times, especially when it comes to reinforcing his logic and making the two enemies recognize the common threat. But in order to do that, both representatives need to feel respected. It’s all too easy for them to see Archer’s strident demands as patronizing. The Andorians and Tellarites need something on the level of Archer’s involvement in the transformation of Vulcan, and the circumstances aren’t well equipped for that.
Except, of course, that Shran loves Talas, and when she dies, Shran invokes an Andorian Imperial Guard tradition that involves a duel to the death. Since it was a Tellarite that dealt Talas the fatal wound, any thoughts of alliance are hardly viable. Except, of course, that Archer is desperate to locate the Romulan vessel, so he needs to find a way to work it all out. His solution is simple yet elegant: follow Andorian cultural requirements to the letter, thus showing respect for their point of view, while making the Tellarites feel more than equally valuable by placing their lives above his own.
The complex relationship between Archer and Shran is portrayed with enough detail and character depth to make the situation work on more than one level. Archer’s latent death wish comes back into play, but rather than make that an overt part of the story, it lingers in the background, affecting everyone around him. Of course, the commentary here is the concept that the only way to lead effectively is often to place one’s life on the line, and Archer seems more than willing to make that choice. (Of course, the only way to get through to Shran and Gral is to demonstrate that he considers the Romulan threat to be on par with their own concerns, thus reducing everything to the most common element of life and death.)
Most of the characters get to have shining moments, and it seems as though the writers made a concerted effort to make that happen. Trip and Reed get to bond again on the Romulan ship (providing an amusing reference to the lack of previous character development when Reed comments on their respective strengths), Hoshi and Mayweather get to delve into Andorian culture, and Phlox gets his token moment.
T’Pol has a part in the story as well, but unlike the previous episode, her emotional control (a sign, one would have thought, of her attempts to follow the newly revealed teachings of Surak) is non-existent. There are a couple of ways to view this. Either Blalock couldn’t keep up the level of performance again, or the writers were intentionally trying to show that T’Pol’s emotional control is still very much a work in progress. It’s easy enough to believe the former, so if the depiction was intentional, the writers could have smoothed over the problem with a line of dialogue.
One of the highlights of the episode would be the in-depth look at the Andorian and Romulan cultures. In retrospect, this emphasis makes perfect sense, given that the Romulan focus appears to be on the Andorians this time, given that final frame. That makes this the “Andorian Arc”, rather than a “Babel Arc”, and that fits the overall structure of the season. So far, two worlds have been the focus of Roluman aggression, however covert: Vulcan, and now Andoria. It’s likely that the previous conflicts were spawned from Romulan involvement, and that gives the Romulan threat scope.
Clearly, the Romulans have been preparing for an invasion, and now that the long-term plans are falling apart, there are consequences on that world as well. As mentioned in the previous episode, Archer’s involvement in disrupting the Vulcan and Andorian plots place Earth squarely in the Romulan’s target sights. In this respect, the Romulan plot is being handled very well, since it gives a larger context to the mini-arcs and the season as a whole. For example, in the pilot, someone was caught messing with Klingon DNA; this (and the upcoming Klingon two-parter) could eventually be linked to the Romulans as well, giving a possible reason for the enmity between the two empires beyond simple struggles over borders. If this continues, the season and series can end with the context of the Romulan Wars and the subsequent Federation intact, thus telling the gist of the story and performing the “prequel” function.
Given how strong the episode was, where time was spent attending to detail, the final scene felt incredibly rushed, as if tacked on to provide an excuse for a third episode. The transition could have been handled better, especially since the writers made an effort to focus on both sides of the apparent conflict. With no prior hint that the Andorian connection would be made on Romulus, the story feels like it could have ended with this episode, rather than spilling into the next.
As already noted, most of what works against this episode has nothing to do with it at all, but rather, what the audience is likely to be bringing to the table. It’s hard not to compare this proto-Federation alliance to the similar plot thread from “Babylon 5”, but it doesn’t mean that the episode should be judged poorly for it. Similarly, there are details about the Andorians, their culture, and their homeworld that continue to contradict the excellent work in the current Trek novels. It’s hard not to wistfully consider what might have been, if the right source material had been chosen to give the Andorians on-screen development.
The episode, on its own, has everything that it should have: a strong plot that actually plays on series and franchise continuity, character development, strong acting, and lots of fun visuals. If some of the scenes didn’t quite work, it was usually a matter of pacing or line delivery, but those examples were far and few between. In short, it’s “Enterprise” running on all cylinders, taking what was given and making it work.
What will be interesting is the reaction to the cancellation. Many times, when a series is in decline, the news of cancellation breaks the spirit of everyone involved. The critics and critical fans overlook those still trying to make it work, and focus on the negative. The final season of “X-Files” is a perfect example, when the writers pretty much stopped trying, even as the cast did their best to deliver the goods.
But some series, facing the end, will kick things to another level. One example is “Roswell”, a series with little or no direction in its final season. When it was clear that the end was coming, the writers buckled down and gave the fans their best work of the season in the space of a handful of episodes.
Another example, perhaps more relevant to “Enterprise”, would be “Angel”. The final season of that series came after budget cuts and tentative network support. The series was cancelled just as the final episodes were being developed, and before the fans could see where all the plot threads were going. Joss Whedon and the writing staff gave that series a fitting end, never wavering despite the cancellation. Many considered that season, in retrospect, to be the best produced in the series’ run. And now, after the fact, the network is very sorry that the series was cancelled, since every “replacement” series has failed miserably.
“Enterprise” has the kind of writing staff and dedication necessary to leave the stage with heads held high. Manny Coto has enough experience in the industry to know that the goal now should be giving the franchise the kind of grace note it deserves. It’s impossible to believe that Trek will never come back; the novels, currently the most vital creative arena of the franchise, will always be there to some degree, and the fans aren’t really going anywhere. Sooner or later, the fans who feel like there’s too much to take in right now will yearn for something new in the Trek universe, and the studio will inevitably want to capitalize on that hunger. For now, the goal is to give “Enterprise” and Trek an end worthy of remembrance. Episodes like this will accomplish that goal.
Overall, this episode is a strong continuation of the themes from the first installment of the “Andorian Arc” (previously the “Babel Arc”). The character work is very strong, especially between Archer and Shran, and while the development of the alliance seems a bit too easy, that’s more a criticism of what came before than the way it was handled in this episode.
Final Rating: 8/10
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