And we're back. A year later, but we're back. The second season ended with a devastating attack on Earth by a mysterious alien race called the Xindi, and the Enterprise heading into the Delphic Expanse to find them. That was an ending with a lot of promise, and I was looking forward to seeing the series gear up for a season-long arc.
And I disliked it almost immediately.
But I'll weave that into the post. Let's get into it.
1. The Xindi (my rating: 2 out of 5)
Okay, I'm immediately torn on this arc. Right away, we're introduced to the Xindi, a collection of five races working together (Arboreal--apelike, Primate--humanlike, Aquatic, Insectoid and Reptilian). They're pretty fascinating, and this kind of societal collective is something we don't see much in Star Trek, where every planet is pretty much represented by one more-or-less uniform species. My problem, though, is that I think it robs the series of its dramatic tension by showing us right away who the Xindi are and what their motivation for the attack on Earth is (they've been told--by someone--that humans are ruthless and are going to exterminate their society). Now there's really no mystery for the viewer; we know who the villains are, we see them interact, and we know their motivation. Okay. I think it is an interesting development to have the MACOs on board--Starfleet Marines--since this is a military operation into the unknown. But wouldn't it have been more involving to be just as in the dark about the Xindi as Captain Archer? (Also, the MACOs aren't so interesting themselves; the most they can muster is a predictable rivalry between their leader--Rex from Desperate Housewives--and Malcolm Reed.)
This episode also starts what I think is the dumbest arc of the season, which is Trip Tucker and T'Pol getting half-naked and rubbing each other every night. Since Trip lost his sister in the Xindi attack on Earth, he has trouble focusing and sleeping at night. As Chief Engineer, he's invaluable to the mission, so in order to clear his head, it's somehow decided that he needs to have sessions with T'Pol every night for neuropressure massage. So we get a lot this season of T'Pol and Trip in their pajamas and getting all sexy-but-not-really with each other. Look, if you want to push these characters together, fine, but this development is totally immature and inorganic. It doesn't feel natural. Hey, Jolene Blalock looks good in her panties, fine, but if you really want to get these characters together, you could do it in a much less silly way.
2. Anomaly (2/5)
This Expanse thing seems important and intense, and the special effects are kind of interesting, with the spacial anomalies and things warping. It's not as scary as we've been warned yet, but it has potential. Immediately, the Enterprise's supplies are stolen by pirates, which seems more like a delay than a plot, but it is interesting to see how far Archer is willing to push. He actually takes a captured Osaarian pirate and nearly lets him die in an airlock just to force him to talk. I think the whole prequel series idea has maybe given the writers a license with Archer to make him more stereotypically a two-fisted man of action, and I'm not sure yet if it's interesting or a crutch. It's nice to see that Archer's not fucking around, but at the same time, it makes him seem less thoughtful. They keep backing him into corners. They're taking what was a man of exploration and putting--literally--the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's sort of trying desperately not to be crushed by this huge responsibility, and it makes him screw up sometimes. Nearly killing the pirate isn't portrayed as heroic, but desperate.
3. Extinction (1/5)
This was the episode so bad that it put me off the show for a year. Archer, Reed and Hoshi Sato go to a planet and get turned into another species by a virus. The race that created the virus--an ancient, now-dead people called the Loque'eque--did so because they had become sterile and their civilization was failing. Their idea was that the virus would turn visitors to their planet into them, complete with race memories, so their species would survive in some form. Interesting idea, but this is already an old Star Trek trope: crew members who are mutated into another species in order to experience a kind of life that is either lost or misunderstood or both. It still seems like a violation. Another alien race even shows up--one that was nearly decimated by the virus--demanding that Archer, Reed and Sato not be allowed offworld because of their vow not to let the virus spread. But the attempts at an ethical debate are ham-fisted, and Archer's final decision--to preserve the virus--just seems dangerous. Luckily this is Star Trek, and even in a season-long arc, there are no consequences of Archer's decision, and everyone is cured instantly and it will never effect anything ever again. It's just another delay on the road, and these delays will be frequent and often pointless, because Berman & Braga don't really have serialization in them.
4. Rajiin (1/5)
Archer meets a slave girl (Rajiin) in a marketplace, rescues her, and she turns out to be a spy collecting scans of human biology for Xindi Reptilians who want to make a biological weapon. Interesting idea, but this should have been the first time we ever saw any Xindi, instead of always going to their council meetings. The Reptilians are kind of scary; they board the Enterprise and are practically immune to phasers and incredibly tough. They're scary the way the Jem'Hadar were when we first saw them. So much wasted potential. Also, Rajiin is a boring and obvious character who's really only there to seduce everyone, almost make out with T'Pol, and just be sexy. We get it, this is the sexy Star Trek, but we're getting Torchwood levels of ridiculous here.
5. Impulse (3/5)
Last season, we were told that there was a Vulcan ship, the Seleya, that got lost in the Expanse after the crew went crazy, got violent, and started attacking each other. The Enterprise finds the ship in this episode inside an asteroid field; apparently the asteroids have a mineral called Trellium all over them that can be used to synthesize a hull plating that would shield the Enterprise from the matter-warping effects of the Expanse, and apparently Trellium acts as a powerful narcotic on Vulcans. This is an out-and-out horror episode, trapping Archer, T'Pol, Reed and some redshirt MACO on the Vulcan ship, which is full of Vulcans who have basically become violent zombies. The tension comes from T'Pol, who is slowly becoming more emotional and more violent as she succumbs to the effects of the Trellium (which Archer decides not to use on the hull because of its effects on T'Pol). Not great, but the first genuinely enjoyable episode of the season.
6. Exile (2/5)
An exiled psychic alien named Tarquin contacts the Enterprise and agrees to help decipher part of the Xindi weapon if Hoshi stays with him while he does it. What follows then is a chaste, uninteresting retread of the Beauty and the Beast fable. It's okay, but Star Trek does Gothic romance about as well as it does, well, any sort of romance. There is an interesting bit with Archer and Trip getting a close look at a sphere that seems to be creating the anomalies in the Expanse; I liked the bit where a thruster fires and Archer and Trip nearly lose the Shuttlepod. That was the kind of thing I liked about the show before: the sense that not everything's been perfected yet. But, again, it seems like we're wasting time, even though the sphere will be relevant to the arc. (And at least Hoshi gets an episode; Travis Mayweather does even less this season than he does on the first two.)
7. The Shipment (3/5)
This would have been the place to really start exploring the Xindi. In this episode, Archer has found a planet that's producing a substance critical to the Xindi weapon. He takes the Arboreal Xindi in charge of rendering it hostage, and some interesting conversations follow. It's here that the Xindi get humanized, and through the scientist, Gralik, Archer starts to understand that not all Xindi are evil, and that there's a chance diplomacy could save the day. He's not turned around instantly, but it's here that the doubt gets planted.
8. Twilight (3/5)
There's a lot of good stuff in here, but I'm not sure it all works. It involves another worn-out Star Trek trope: one of the main characters waking up in old age makeup in an alternate future. In this one, Archer wakes up in a future where the Xindi have destroyed the Earth and he's suffering from an infection that keeps him from forming new long-term memories. Twelve years have passed, but he forgets every day that his mission failed and that T'Pol has stayed with him as caretaker while what's left of humanity has taken refuge on Ceti Alpha V (nice bit of fatalism, there). What makes this episode are the performances of Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and John Billingsley as Archer, T'Pol and Phlox. They also find a fairly clever way to undo everything and press the reset button--this idea that destroying the infection in the future destroys it in the past and wipes out the alternate future. It seems like a cheat, but it kind of works. But it's also ultimately like Voyager's "Year of Hell" in that nothing that happens really has any bearing on the plot or goes anywhere. This would have been something to keep going, I think, over a larger part of the season. It would have been a good framing device for a while, because you could have kept the tension of impending failure going. You'd have to let it go on longer to create the tension, since it's not like Starfleet is going to lose the war, since we've already seen what happens in the next two centuries...
9. North Star (3/5)
The inevitable Western. Here, Archer and crew end up involved with a world where humans who were abducted by aliens in the 1890s became slaves, then rose against the aliens and took over. But since there haven't been any technological developments, the whole thing is basically the Old West. It's actually not a bad episode, especially for a Western episode of a science fiction series, but it's so out of place. There's nothing about this Xindi weapon we're all supposed to be worried about. It feels like a second season script that didn't get made but was too good to get rid of. It's too bad; the biggest failing of the episode is that it just doesn't belong in this season.
10. Similitude (5/5)
Suddenly, a great episode. This episode presses the issue of cloning. Trip is critically injured and put into a coma; he needs tissue that the Enterprise can't get without turning back, so Phlox comes up with the idea of using one of his alien animals to clone Trip. The clones created by the animal will grow quickly and only live for about two weeks, but when it catches up to Trip as an adult, the tissue can be harvested and Trip can be saved. The episode doesn't shy away at all from the ethical ramifications: is the clone a human being with its own life and memories? Are those experiences what make up sentience? And is it right to create autonomous life merely to use it as a supply for organic material? It never really finds the answer, but the answer is complicated. It's a surprisingly poignant episode. I think it also points out a better direction for the Trip/T'Pol romance; I like that the clone simply comes to T'Pol and tells her how he feels, but admits that he doesn't know if the feelings he has are Trip's or his own. He could've just done that without the silly massage nonsense. It's also more genuine. I mean, how do you not develop feelings for the sexy woman who is rubbing your naked body down every night? T'Pol reacting with a kiss is interesting; she's getting much more emotional this season, which is an interesting development (and a build both on her mind-melding experiences last season, and her continuing dissatisfaction with Vulcan bureaucracy and society).
11. Carpenter Street (1/5)
Oh, god, more time travel. I am so fucking tired of time travel in Star Trek. And this is the inevitable cast-members-go-back-to-the-period-the-show-was-made-in episode, so Daniels (because we can't be free of the Temporal Cold War) sends Archer and T'Pol back in time to 2003 Detroit where Xindi Reptilians are creating a biological weapon to decimate the population. Boring.
12. Chosen Realm (2/5)
Religious fanatics take over the Enterprise and plan to use it to wipe out the other side in a religious civil war. There's a parallel to be made between the lead fanatic's belief that violence is justified in the name of peace and some of the desperate moves Archer has made (and will continue to make) in search of peace for Earth. But instead, the episode's theme is basically "Fuck you, religion." The cause of the conflict between two sides in a hundred-year-long religious war is ridiculously simplistic, and the final scene, with Archer rather highhandedly showing the leader that religious fanaticism just leads to death and destruction, seems smug, especially for Star Trek. The only interesting idea is that the religion focused on here worships the Spheres--and it turns out there are many of them, and they may be what's generating all of the anomalies in the Expanse. Finding out who would purposely do that adds an interesting layer to the Xindi conflict, which still needs more focus.
13. Proving Ground (5/5)
Well, this episode is highly-rated by me just for the presence of the Andorians. God, I would love to see more Andorians. I wish Enterprise had done with Andorians what Deep Space Nine did with Klingons and the Ferengi and really given them a great exploration. Maybe the next series (and I remain firm in my belief that there will be one). Jeffrey Combs is always so great as Commander Shran, and I like his appearance here, swooping in as help for the Enterprise and grandly talking about how the Vulcans offered no assistance while the Andorians are willing. Even Shran's first appearance has a good humor about it.
It's too bad the whole thing turns out to be a double-cross, with Shran's mission really being to discover the Xindi weapon and steal it as a deterrent in the Andorian border war with the Vulcans. It seems true to Andorian character, though, so it's not a disappointment, and we get a whole episode with an Andorian crew. I really want to see more Andorians on this show. Especially Andorians like Talas.
Yes. More of this. Fantastic episode overall. It's also a better introduction than we've had before to Degra, the Primate Xindi who is the weapon's designer. We'll get much more of him, which is ultimately a good thing.
14. Stratagem (4/5)
Degra wakes up on a shuttle with Archer, and apparently the two have been prisoners together for years in a Reptilian Xindi prison. I was worried this was more time travel bullshit, but Archer is actually playing a captured Degra. He's wiped out Degra's memory of capture, given him a story, and plays it for as long as he can, trying to gain Degra's trust so he can discover the location of the Xindi weapon. Interestingly, it's easy for Degra to believe that the Reptilians and the Insectoids would turn on the others, hinting at unease in the Xindi alliance. I still think there would have been more tension if we didn't know so much about the Xindi and their motivation right away, but Randy Oglesby is really good as Degra and the quiet of this episode casts a spell. When the stratagem doesn't work, and Archer gets more direct--ultimately hatching a more desperate but more fruitful deception--the episode just gets more and more tense. I liked this one. The Xindi are finally starting to get really interesting (and a believable threat).
15. Harbinger (2/5)
Three disparate plotlines. Two of them--the long-simmering rivalry between the MACO leader Major Hayes and Reed coming to a boil, and the increasingly-emotional T'Pol experiencing jealousy when Trip tries to neuro-massage a sexy MACO soldier--are boring, obvious, and long past due, especially since the T'Pol/Trip story and the Reed/Hayes story haven't really been touched on at all in a long time. These aren't really plot threads or character arcs, and they're just so cliched that I didn't really care. The third plot, with Archer and Phlox encountering an alien pilot at the site of a spatial anomaly, is potentially interesting, but doesn't have enough meat to it to sustain it. It's important to later developments, but is rendered unexciting by the other stuff going on in the episode. Oh, and Trip and T'Pol do it. So there you go.
16. Doctor's Orders (5/5)
Phlox and T'Pol are basically the two most interesting and well-realized characters on the show. (Archer is a close third, but too often falls into the cliche of the noble white explorer two-fisted science hero.) Here they basically borrow the plot device from the Voyager episode "One," where the crew has to be put in stasis to get through a trans-dimensional disturbance that is neurologically dangerous. Phlox, apparently impervious, stays awake to shepherd the ship through. I like the quiet scenes in the first act, with Phlox alone on the ship, watching The Court Jester, Porthos padding along at his side, and then joined by T'Pol. (Can I just say how nice it is on this show to see people in Star Trek enjoy culture from the 20th century, instead of pretending that all advances in entertainment reached their peak in 1897?) It's like the characters are alone in a haunted house, with Phlox hallucinating sounds and even Xindi invaders. I love the twist at the end. Jolene Blalock has a lot of fun being funny and acting really out of character. Just a good time. (As was the Voyager episode, mostly, which was also a showcase for that show's two most interesting characters, Seven and the Doctor.)
17. Hatchery (2/5)
This episode kind of pissed me off. The set-up is interesting: the Enterprise discovers a wrecked Insectoid ship with a nursery onboard. There are 31 eggs waiting to hatch, and Archer believes it's imperative that the crew save the hatchery and the infant aliens. It's an important argument: the Xindi believe that humans are ruthless killers, so it's important to show them otherwise. Trip, still hurting from the loss of his sister and his home, is quick to say that they should just torch the hatchery, but Archer gets to counter with the excellent point that he wouldn't say the same thing if they were Xindi Primate infants instead of Insectoid eggs. I think there's a great argument, but the twist to the episode--that Archer has been poisoned with a substance that reverse-imprinted him into caring only about the safety of the eggs above all else--completely diminishes it. I guess it's not interesting to the fifth-graders that write this show just to have Archer argue an ethical point, instead having some bad sci-fi twist that takes Archer's agency away from him.
18. Azati Prime (3/5)
I feel like this is really the start of taking this whole Xindi thing really seriously and making it the main focus of the show. This episode has some good tension and some great visuals, with Archer willing to sacrifice himself to take out the Xindi weapon--he's foiled and captured--as well as another scene of desperation, with his willingness to destroy a Xindi moonbase in order to keep the location of Enterprise a secret. But it also shows how little faith the series has in its writing and in its ability to balance the Xindi conflict arc by basically having Crewman Daniels once again drop in from the future and basically explain to Archer (and to us) what's going on. Apparently that alien pilot Archer and Phlox found in "Harbinger"--a test subject who basically disintegrated in our reality--was part of a trans-dimensional race called the Sphere-Builders. They built the Spheres, which are what makes the Delphic Expanse so hostile; they're trying to warp that region of space so that they can live there, and they want humans destroyed because it's the human-led United Federation of Planets that will destroy the Sphere-Builders. They're the ones who told the Xindi that Earth was a ruthless threat, and they plan to destroy the Xindi in time. According to Daniels, the Klingons are part of the Federation in the future (we're onboard the Enterprise-J for this), so maybe that's something to explore in the next series. So after the tension of the first half of the episode, the whole nature of the conflict isn't discovered through the ingenuity of our crew, but dropped on us in an infodump by a character whose very existence on this show I despise. Time travel is such a boring crutch. The other interesting aspect of this episode, though, is Degra; apparently they wiped his memory and let him go to, um, continue building the weapon? I don't know, they don't quite justify it, but at least it provides Archer with an ally, as Archer is able to gain Degra's trust and the two begin talking about meeting with the Xindi Council for a possible diplomatic solution and maybe even an eventual team-up against the manipulative Sphere-Builders.
19. Damage (3/5)
I think this is finally the episode where Archer crosses the line: as the Enterprise continues to be damaged in fights with the Xindi, he tries to trade with a crew of Illyrians for their warp coil. Giving up their warp coil would strand the Illyrians three years away from their home (on impulse power), while Archer desperately needs it to meet with the Xindi Council by a certain time. So Archer and his men basically become pirates and steal the warp coil. I get that this is a desperate situation. And to the show's credit, Archer feels bad about it the whole time, acknowledging that leaving the Illyrian crew Trellium and more food supplies doesn't make up for what he's done. But it feels like a betrayal of the audience somehow. It doesn't sit well. I get it, I really do; there's not always a pat answer, and sometimes you have to do horrible things for the greater good (something which Star Trek wouldn't even consider for a very long time). But it's uncomfortable. It's supposed to be. But... I don't know, it doesn't totally work. The other important bit, which I found interesting, is the revelation that T'Pol is a drug addict. Apparently, ever since the encounter with the Vulcan ship, she's been experimenting with injecting Trellium in order to give herself more access to her emotions, experimenting with a part of herself the same way she did with the mind-meld. So that's a big part of the reason she's been so emotional all season: she's fully addicted to the Trellium and even puts her life in danger in this episode to get a fix. They don't come right out and say it in these terms, but she's basically given herself brain damage doing this.
20. The Forgotten (2/5)
I guess it's the quiet before the storm. Much of the episode revolves around Malcolm Reed putting his life in danger to stop a plasma fire, but Reed's just such a non-character by this point that there's no suspense. Trip tries to write a letter to the parents of an engineering colleague who was one of the people who died when the Xindi attacked the ship in the previous episode. He also continues to be (understandably) hostile to Degra, who is now actively working with Archer to stop the impending attack on Earth and hopes to convince the Council that the Sphere-Builders are the real enemy and that Earth has no hostile intentions.
21. E-Squared (2/5)
As Archer prepares to enter an unstable subspace corridor to reach the Xindi Council, he's confronted by an Enterprise from the future crewed by descendants of the original crew. The premise is that when the Enterprise tried to enter the corridor, it was attacked, subspace was unstable, and the Enterprise was spat out of it a hundred years in the past, where it waited and the crew lived on and had children in the Expanse until it was time to warn Archer not to go through with his journey through subspace. It's fitfully interesting, and David Andrews is pretty good as Lorian, the half-Vulcan son of Trip and T'Pol, but it kind of just becomes another action episode. There aren't really any stakes, and we have to endure yet more terrible old age makeup with an old version of T'Pol that's just laughably bad.
22. The Council (3/5)
Archer finally appears before the Xindi Council. I only realize now, with Hoshi working to translate the Insectoid and Aquatic languages, that English seems to be the standard language of the universe once again. Really, Farscape handled the idea of a universal translator so much better and offhandedly enough that it didn't become an issue. Best not to think about a lot of the language barrier issues on this show. Some good intrigue here. Degra meets his death at the hands of Dolim, the Xindi Reptilian leader, and the death stings. The Reptilians steal the weapon and kidnap Hoshi, planning to use her to de-crypt the launch codes so they can destroy Earth. I like the sense of wistfulness about the Xindi, especially with the talk of the extinct Avian Xindi. There's also a subplot with T'Pol infiltrating one of the Spheres; its defense system vaporizes one of the MACOs, which is terrifying.
23. Countdown (3/5) 24. Zero Hour (3/5)
These episodes sort of blend together for me, with their relentless action. The MACO leader, Major Hayes, dies in heroic sacrifice, which you knew from day one would happen. Daniels shows up again, begging Archer not to take a suicide mission to destroy the Xindi weapon because he is apparently integral to the future founding of the UFP. Earth is nearly destroyed, but then it isn't. Wonderfully, Commander Shran shows up at the eleventh hour to help save the day. The weapon blows up with Archer seemingly still inside, and T'Pol captains the Enterprise and destroys the Spheres and terminates the space-altering effects in the Delphic Expanse, defeating the Sphere-Builders and ending the Xindi War. It's all exciting, but not really gripping. It goes by quickly, with only a little room to breathe at the end (I do like the moment when T'Pol tells Tucker her real age--65--which Vulcans consider intimate knowledge).
The very end pisses me off, though. The Enterprise arrives at Earth only to find themselves in 1944, and Archer turns up captured by Nazis who are led by an alien in an SS uniform. Oh, good. More time travel. For fuck's sake. You can't give these guys a break for like a second?
I think it's safe to say that I don't hold with the people who think this is better than the first two seasons. It's pretty much exactly like the first two: slow in spots, okay in others, and with tons and tons of unrealized potential. There really isn't a season-long arc here; there's a season-specific premise, but there aren't a lot of character arcs or plot threads at play. There are a lot of episodes that don't build on the Xindi conflict at all or move the story forward in any interesting way, and I think a lot of it is because either Berman & Braga just aren't brave enough to commit to it, or they think they are and they just don't realize they aren't. It's a lot of the same problems they had on Voyager, honestly, although Voyager's premise was much more able to deal with not serializing it as long as the characters continued to develop (which was also not always successful). It's interesting that there's such a debate about which show is worse, Voyager or Enterprise, and while I don't think either one is out-and-out a bad show, I think Enterprise is the least of them. And it's not because it's bad, but because there is so much potential here that's in the hands of people who don't know what to do with it, but who would rather cling to their cliches and their tropes than do something really different with it.
It's been three seasons of this, so I have no reason to expect the fourth season won't be more of the same. It's just so disappointing how much you could do with this show that's just not really going anywhere. I'm getting real tired of Star Trek, and it's really just because of Berman & Braga and their master plan of just doing all the same things over and over and over again. It's not that Enterprise itself is horrendously bad. It's just that no one seems to care about doing something different from what they've been doing, at this point, for 16 years. It's gotten old. This wasn't the third season of one show. It was the 24th season of muted sameness.
(Oh, and how about the change in tempo for the theme song this season? That thing's just more and more out of place every episode.)