"The Aenar"

Written by Andre Bormanis and Manny Coto
Directed by Mike Vejar

In which Archer and Shran contact an Andorian sub-species called the Aenar, while the work to counter the Romulan threat results in the loss of a vital crew member...

Captain's Log - Final Analysis

Captain's Log

The escalation of extremes on both sides of the cancellation gulf had already begun in earnest as this episode hit the air, largely overshadowing the fact that this is another consistent hour from the current regime. In a sense, it’s a larger commentary on why the series was cancelled to begin with: those who despise the series watched only to bemoan every possible flaw, those who loved the series watched for more rational pursuits, and those who have left the series for dead didn’t bother tuning in this time, either.

It doesn’t help that the producers and the cast have openly confirmed that the studio itself has decided to give the franchise a rest. For the rabid attack dogs among the naysayers, this has declared open season on those who have enjoyed the show, turning what had already been a flurry of unnecessary “I told you so” tirades into self-congratulatory ego stroking. On the other extreme, there are those who refuse to see the writing on the wall, spending money on ads to “Save Enterprise”, despite the fact that the studio has no intention of lifting a finger, regardless of fan response.

The “Save Enterprise” movement (if it can be called such a thing) is actually somewhat destructive in its effect, which might go against the usual logic of such crusades. However, consider that “Enterprise” is not a lone series concept, trying to valiantly remain on the schedule. It is, rather, the latest televised incarnation of a multi-media empire, and the easiest way for the studio to determine whether or not the fandom in general is interested enough in Trek to continue shelling out money.

Frankly, from the studio’s perspective, the Trek Product peaked in recent popularity around the mid 1990’s, with the end of “Next Generation”. When that series came on the air, it was the only thing like it, and in that era, first-run syndication was far more lucrative than it is today. In the past ten years, the studio has done everything possible to maintain that level of success. Inevitably, it hasn’t worked. While “DS9” was creatively fertile, ostensibly because of the competition with the underdog yet more highly acclaimed “Babylon 5”, “Voyager” and then “Enterprise” only vaguely offered something akin to a new approach.

Many people have noted that “Next Generation” fulfilled the dreams of millions of Trek fans from the original series onward. The title itself invoked how long it had taken to get Trek back to the airwaves outside of repeat syndication. (The animated series, oft overlooked and rarely re-run, never seemed to factor into the majority of the audience, who still managed to catch the original series on weekends.) Years of anticipation and pre-internet rumor fueled that desire for more.

Flashforward from 1985 to 2005: it’s 20 years later, and now there’s 18 years worth of new Trek material. For those who lived and died by the original series, where’s the anticipation? The franchise went from legendary to saturating pop culture to establishing an overwhelming repeat syndication presence. It’s quite possible for even the most rabid Trek fan to admit that there are episodes they haven’t seen once, let alone the dozens of times most original series fans watched those episodes.

So while there are die-hards that continue to watch each and every episode, others have moved on, or they’re content to stop with whatever their favorite incarnation was and let the rest appeal to someone else. The effect of five different series has been the fragmentation of the fandom. It’s not that there are less fans out there, but for most of them, the desire and anticipation has been fulfilled.

For those who continue to enjoy fresh perspectives in the Trek playground, opinions are no less divided. There’s a joy to an episode like this one, delving into Andoria and the pre-Federation intrigues. But it’s apparent that only a certain segment of the fandom is really interested in this period of the timeline, and the rest might very well find it more interesting to delve into some of the novels. Even the studio has to have noticed that the sales for the novels have been steady throughout the slow but steady decline of televised Trek, and right now, many fans consider the novels to be more creative and exciting than “Enterprise”.

So the studio looks at the ratings, the declining interest in franchise merchandising beyond the novels, and then they look at the box office receipts for “Nemesis”. They realize that the bulk of the Trek audience is looking backward now, buying DVDs and novels based on earlier incarnations, not looking forward to new product. The decision to “rest the franchise” is hardly a surprise under the circumstances.

There is a certain irony in that many fans would love to see a series of novels covering the Romulan Wars or the period surrounding Federation. They trust the current crop of writers for prose Trek to do the concept justice. But “Enterprise” novels are far and few between, and one must conclude that the demand is not very high. This says a lot about the opinion of the characters related to “Enterprise”; there’s nothing so exciting about them that fans are demanding more stories about them.

This is a critical distinction. It’s not necessarily that the fans wouldn’t like to see the era before the original series or leading into Federation. It’s more correct to say that many fans don’t want to see that period as it was depicted on “Enterprise” or through the point of view of the series’ characters. There may be a large number of Trek fans out there interested in Andoria or the early stages of the Romulan Wars, with no interest in seeing Archer and his crew at the center of it.

The lack of character development, especially beyond the three main characters, has been a major criticism of the series. This episode doesn’t do much to alleviate those concerns, but anyone still watching the series has already concluded that it’s far too late to worry about that now. The central draw of the series, right now, is the exploration of the pre-Federation state of play. Specifically, this episode explores Andoria as it was in that era, and continues to set the stage for a future retaliation against Earth by some pissed-off Romulans.

As with every episode that includes Shran, the entertainment level is high. The writers took the chance of showing Shran in a situation where his bluster and arrogance would fall to the wayside, overwhelmed by the circumstances of the threat to his world and the loss of a loved one. This episode may be the final appearance of Shran in the Trek universe, and if so, then the writers did the character justice by giving him more depth.

One could argue that this episode is primarily about Shran and his interaction with the Aenar, especially Jhamel. Archer is there to facilitate Jhamel’s decision to go against the ways of her people and stop her brother Gareb from succeeding in the Romulan mission to destroy Enterprise. Had Shran gone to the Aenar himself, it’s unlikely that his interpretation of events would have been accepted, since the Aenar must have long since rejected Andorian philosophy, or they wouldn’t have isolated themselves from Andorian society in the first place.

Archer is means by which the Aenar learn about the situation; Jhamel then seems to bond somewhat with Shran, perhaps understanding that they share a common grief, the loss of a loved one. It’s possible that Jhamel might have gone with Archer anyway, but it’s Shran and his connection to her that drives her forward. It’s unlikely that Archer could have (or would have) convinced Jhamel to make the potential sacrifice of her own life, and if he had, it would have come across as Archer using Jhamel against her will, thus equating with the Romulan abuse of Gareb.

On the Enterprise side of the equation, the important story elements belong to Trip and T’Pol. T’Pol recovers somewhat from her emotional outbursts in the previous episode. Her control only slips when her emotions overwhelm her control mechanism, which is still being rebuilt in the wake of “Kir’Shara”. Thankfully, instead of revisiting the Trip/T’Pol romance, the writers choose to make the end of that romance a springboard for actual character arcs.

Before Shran and Jhamel are involved in the struggle to disrupt the Romulan control over Gareb, which is the culmination of the plot arc as a whole, there’s the development and testing of the “telepresence” device on Enterprise. Unlike Shran, who reacts to Jhamel’s struggle with the machine by gaining immense respect for her abilities and her dedication to her brother, Trip cannot divorce his feelings for T’Pol and his concern for her welfare from the demands of duty. This has been building over time in the background, and T’Pol short-lived marriage was essentially a way to keep the topic off the table for several episodes. Once that marriage was dissolved, Trip had to deal with the fact that T’Pol was now working out her personal issues through dedication to Surak’s teachings, not by clinging to him.

Trip’s decision is perfectly in keeping with his character. Since the writers aren’t interested in changing him through experience, beyond a certain level of fatalism in the third season, they make his impulsive nature work for the story. He can’t seem to keep his head clear, and so rather than take the difficult road and face the challenge head-on, he chooses to leave the situation and pretend that it will solve everything. In the end, Archer tries to discuss this, but Trip has already made up his mind. It’s quite unexpected, and for that reason alone, it is a good move for the writers.

There’s a third key element to this episode, and that’s the depiction of the Romulan intrigue at the heart of the “telepresence” project. One of the weaknesses of this arc was the performance of Brian Thompson. To play a Romulan requires a subtle line delivery that, unfortunately, Thompson is unable to accomplish. Thompson is usually cast in the more visually formidable parts, so his role in this arc was against type, and in this case it didn’t work to the benefit of the story. It’s hard to accept that Valdore, as depicted, managed to rise to any position of power, given his inability to speak eloquently.

It’s not enough to undermine the quality of the story completely, of course, since there’s so much else going for it. And even Thompson’s failure to deliver the lines with appropriate introspection doesn’t take away from the contextual depth. The writers depict a Romulan Empire with obvious goals for regional expansion, and anyone caught questioning that mandate is forced out of power. Considering some of the current actions taken against moderate conservatives in American government under the current administration, Valdore’s tale rings true.

The resolution of the current threat is perhaps a bit too final. The prototype “telepresence” drones should have been (and might still be) the precursors to the vessels used by the Romulans in the war against Earth. One would assume from the Romulan intrigues surrounding this particular project that the gambit was considered unsuccessful. Of course, that could explain why it took another year or so for the Romulans to attack Earth with drone ships with nuclear devices.

Another interpretation is that these episodes actually constitute the beginning of the Romulan Wars. At the very least, Archer and his crew are aware of the fact that the drones are Romulan in origin, and because they wind up intervening in the Romulan-driven destabilization efforts between the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites, Enterprise and all of Humanity becomes the most logical target. Any future action against Archer or Enterprise, or any pre-Federation Starfleet vessel, would inevitably be categorized as a war effort against Earth. Perhaps, a century removed, the combined Romulan operations were described, in shorthand, as a war against Earth, making all of this consistent with the history given in “Balance of Terror”.

One exceptional aspect of the episode is the CGI, especially the long-range shots of Andoria and the Aenar dwellings. It almost didn’t matter that the descriptions of Andor(ia) given in the novels set after “DS9” were completely contradictory, because they were simply gorgeous shots. (One note: the authors of those novels made it clear that climate control had been exercised, thus partially explaining the major contradictions away. The costuming for the Aenar was also quite beautiful, especially the fetching outfit for Jhamel. And of course, the space combat was up to the usual standard.

If there was a downside, then it was the way the Aenar’s attempt to confuse Shran, Archer, and Jhamel was resolved. It seemed rather simple, and one wonders why the Aenar didn’t think to disguise the fact that they were running around in circles, if they were able to disguise the exit so easily. It was probably simplified for time, but regardless, it didn’t come together as the writers probably intended. The overall tone of the episode also lacked energy, which might have been the result of several production factors or directorial style; for some reason, Mike Vejar is unable to give his “Enterprise” episodes the kind of tension present in his “Babylon 5” episodes.

At the end of the previous episode, it seemed like the plot threads were already where they needed to be to establish the rationale for the future Federation and the Romulan Wars to come prior to it. The diversion towards the Aenar doesn’t seem initially necessary, until one considers that it sets the stage for Trip’s decision to leave Enterprise and the elimination of one tactic for the Romulans and their war plans. One might wonder what had become of the alliance in the previous episode, since it didn’t factor into the story at all, but that would have almost been too much.

For now, this episode might be most notable for the exploration of the Andorians and Trip’s unusual decision to leave Enterprise. It remains to be seen how this will unfold in future episodes, but regardless, this is the kind of shuffling that might have been useful earlier in the series. Of course, that only counts if the writers use this to expand the scope of the story, rather than simply subtract a character.

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode did a capable job of closing out the “Andorian Arc”, even if it initially felt like an unnecessary extension of the plot. The exploration of Andoria was one of the strengths of the episode, and the ending was completely unexpected. Even so, the episode didn’t have quite as much energy as it should have, and the Romulan intrigues were ill-served by a bad casting choice.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10

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