Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by David Livingston
In which Archer struggles to deliver the Surak’s original writings to the High Command, while Trip tries to help the Andorians protect their homeworld while averting all-out war...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
Like the “Augment Arc” before it, the “Vulcan Arc” rounds out the three-episode plot with an episode that seems to be filled with foregone conclusions. There are some significant moments along the way, especially in terms of addressing issues from earlier seasons, but the overall thrust of the arc’s conclusion is exactly what one would have assumed from the first two installments.
It was clear from the previous episode that Archer was going to deliver the Kir’Shara to the High Command and subsequently bring about the end of V’Las and his administration. It was also clear that Trip and Soval would, by warning the Andorians, prevent the pre-emptive strike on Andoria and the war that would inevitably follow. There were hints of Romulan involvement in the entire situation, and indications that T’Pol’s personal philosophy would be challenged by her experience.
All of these elements are addressed in the episode, as predicted, so the real question is whether the writers managed to add something more. Some plot threads get better treatment than others, as one would have expected from the “Augment Arc”. This time, however, the writers make it very clear that unresolved plot threads are meant to be addressed in future episodes. This is a clever way to generate season-long plot and character arcs without making them the primary focus. That writing strategy is something the series has needed since the first season.
One very big question is answered at the very end of the episode. Romulans have been secret allies with V’Las for decades, implementing a policy to change Vulcan society to something closer to the Romulan way. Or so V’Las has been fooled into thinking; it’s suggested rather clearly that the Romulans are actually trying to drive the Vulcans towards a self-inflicted downfall.
The extent of this plot is unknown, but certain assumptions can be made. For one, it’s unlikely that many Vulcans are aware of the Romulan presence on Vulcan. After all, in the original series episode “Balance of Terror”, Spock was surprised to discover that the Romulans were seemingly identical to Vulcans in terms of appearance.
It makes sense that the Rolumans would want to convince V’Las and other possible sympathizers to quietly bring about “reunification”. It allows the Romulans to infiltrate Vulcan society on every level, slowly but surely making the changes to eliminate one of the greatest threats to their own expansion. If reunification were truly their goal, then why not do so openly?
As theorized in the previous review, it’s very likely that Archer’s involvement in the restoration of Surak’s teachings and the renaissance of Vulcan mysticism contributes to the eventual Earth/Romulan Wars. Archer has already been identified as a key player in Federation, and if the Romulans are trying to eliminate and weaken competing powers, they are going to find Earth’s push for Federation to be rather unpalatable.
Suppose that some Vulcans come to discover Romulan intervention in Vulcan society. They would keep that very quiet, but they would also recognize that Earth’s war with the Romulans is the consequence of that well-hidden plot. The Vulcans would be that much more sympathetic to the idea of an interstellar alliance in a partnership with Humans, and as previous continuity has established, that’s exactly what happens.
It seems that Manny Coto wants to use the Romulans carefully, placing them onscreen but making sure that they remain hidden from the right people. This would work around the restrictions that would otherwise prevent the Romulan intrigues from being directly addressed. The Romulans can be involved in any number of future arcs if this careful separation is maintained.
The Romulan involvement in undermining Vulcan society is well-suited to a single scene for this reason, as it suggests more than it reveals. The quick and dirty resolution of Vulcan’s attitude towards Earth is covered in exposition, which is disappointing. This is a major development in the “Enterprise” timeline, and it barely gets mentioned. For that matter, the revelation of the Kir’Shara’s contents is equally brief and disappointing. It would have been better if the fight sequences earlier in the episode had been shortened to give the Kir’Shara a better payoff.
Speaking of the fight sequences, it was interesting to see the Vulcans openly using the lirpa, a weapon that was used for ritual combat in the original series episode “Amok Time”. It would have been entertaining, at the very least, for the old-style “fight music” to make an appearance, but alas, the score was the same bland mish-mash as it always has been on “Enterprise”. The fight scenes bring up the obvious question: why would those weapons be used in this instance?
This arc always felt like it began with a laundry list of items to resolve or explain, but the discussion of Pe’nar Syndrome seems the most obvious. It’s barely integrated into the rest of the episode; it’s as if someone wanted it dealt with as quickly as possible and that’s the end of it. Despite that fact, the writers deal with the issue as logically as the other issues with Vulcan society are addressed.
Less effective is the rather sudden dissolution of T’Pol’s marriage with Koss. If this is intended to be the end of that character thread, then it is one of the few miscues of the Coto regime. T’Pol’s marriage to Koss solved the problem of the Trip/T’Pol romance, which had been inconsistently written coming into this season as it was. Hopefully the writers will resist the urge to toss the two characters back together again, at least until they have a good plan in place.
The writers also continue with the commentary on the issue of “weapons of mass destruction” ala the American invasion of Iraq. The teaser makes it very clear that the writers wanted to use this story to express their disagreement with President Bush’s proactive stance on counter-terrorism. Considering the fact that V’Las is ruled by his emotions and places his entire world in jeopardy for the sake of starting a war on false pretenses, it’s rather clear where the writers’ philosophy lies.
It’s very good to see, however, a long and involved discussion between Archer and T’Pol regarding her philosophy. Archer’s experience puts his father’s struggle with Vulcan stonewalling and his own career in perspective, and it’s clear that he no longer holds the same grudge against Vulcans as he did in the beginning. He wants to share that kind of personal epiphany with T’Pol, but she’s highly resistant. This is clearly meant to initiate a character arc for T’Pol, and hopefully it will be handled with care.
Equally effective is the interplay between Soval and Shran. Jeffrey Combs is always excellent as Shran, and he does not disappoint in this episode. Combs and Graham play their respective characters with the subtlety necessary to make them more than simple caricatures. Shran is definitely a favorite character for the writing staff; his dialogue is always flavored with the nuance that Combs loves to convey.
Despite the fact that it was constructed to delay the final confrontation between the Vulcan and Andorian fleets until the second half of the episode, the torture of Soval completely fit the established mindset of the Andorians and made use of the heightened emotional state of Vulcans when their logic is removed from the equation.
Also notable is the time spent covering Reed’s objections to Trip’s decision to intervene. Trip made a habit out of sticking his nose into alien situations when he had no good reason, so perhaps it’s not so unusual that his judgment would be questioned. More to the point, Trip is trying to make the kind of judgment call that Archer would make in his place. Reed has always been more isolationist, so it makes sense that he would raise the objection. It never goes so far as Reed challenging Trip’s authority (which could have been interesting), but it does add something to the episode.
As the season marches on, the writing staff seems to be moving the storytelling towards the “Babylon 5” model. Like the fourth season of that series, the mini-arcs take disparate concepts from earlier in the series (or the franchise continuity as a whole) and pay them off, setting the stage for the next payoff as the overall tapestry unfolds. While there’s no contest between the two series (“Enterprise” doesn’t have the cohesion or characterization of “Babylon 5”, to say the least), it’s good to see solid fundamentals being applied.
“Enterprise” is now better than much of the latter half of the “Voyager” series, and probably on par with much of “The Next Generation”, which was brilliant at times but variable in quality. This season has been so focused on improvement, at least in terms of giving the fans something worth watching, that it almost feels like a different series altogether. Anyone watching the second season would have been shocked to see this arc, for instance, and even more shocked to see some of the criticisms of that season so elegantly addressed.
What the writers still struggle with is the feeling of inevitability hanging over the final installment of each arc. The conclusion of this arc was telegraphed so much that it was impossible to be surprised by much of anything. The explanation for Pe’Nar Syndrome was rather inspired, but it also felt inserted awkwardly into the script. At the same time, there’s little doubt that this arc is meant to bring plot threads to a close so fresh intrigues can be born. In that respect, this episode and the “Vulcan Arc” as a whole works extremely well.
Overall, this episode was a strong if predictable conclusion to the “Vulcan Arc”. While there weren’t many surprises, few were expected, since the function of the arc was repairing continuity and bringing it line with the previous status quo. Intriguing future plot threads are introduced, however, promising more episodes of this quality.
Final Rating: 8/10
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