Written by Mike Sussman and Terry Matalas
Directed by Mike Vejar
In which Archer weaves a complex series of deceptions in a ploy to trick Degra into revealing the location of the Xindi super-weapon...
Captain's Log - 60 Minute Drill - Final Analysis
Building directly on the events of “Proving Ground”, this episode pulls back the scope to a battle of wills between two men, Archer and Degra. Rather than take the well-trodden path of convincing Degra that humanity and Earth deserve to be spared, Archer cuts to the chase and tricks Degra into revealing the location of the Xindi super-weapon. As a result, the storytelling for the season continues to surprise, as the writers seem to learn from earlier mistakes.
For the most part, the double deceptions are transparent to the audience, even if the truth behind each ruse takes at least an act to be revealed in full. However, guessing the truth actually reveals the strength of the premise. One knows that the “future” is a fabrication, and yet this is communicated through subtle clues in Archer’s behavior; in nearly every respect, there’s no sense that Degra should be able to see through Archer’s performance.
If there has been doubt in Scott Bakula’s ability to play Archer in a darker, more determined vein, this episode answers those concerns. Unlike the second season episode “Canamar”, where Archer’s cover as a mercenary was wholly unconvincing, Archer falls naturally into the role he is playing. This fits into the theory that Archer was initially a captain without a defined mission, slowly slipping into a kind of complacency. Now, however, the pressure is on, and Archer’s character and resolve is being tested.
Unlike previous episodes that placed all of their worth on a single plot element, this episode manages to make the central conflict pertain to the larger season arc so well that every scene appears to be critical to the end goal. There’s no sense that scenes are a waste of time or the result of forcing a stock plot device into the arc. This episode is devoted entirely to the arc itself, and the need to find the Xindi super-weapon drives the action into new and interesting territory.
As with so many “Enterprise” episodes, the real question is whether or not the characterization will be consistently progressive through the subsequent episodes. This is a reasonable and even necessary question, because Archer’s portrayal in this episode wouldn’t work nearly so well had the first half of the season not given Archer’s darker impulses some measure of development.
Character arcs have been largely ignored this season, and this is a matter of grave concern. What made “DS9” work so well within the Trek franchise was the blend of long-term plot threads and evolving character development. Plot arcs are all well and good, but they should work hand-in-hand with the development of the characters. For example, the strong plot and character arcs of “Babylon 5” more than compensated for the lack of budget. Character and story need to work together for a dramatic series to succeed.
This is a fair comparison, because this episode hinges entirely on the ability of the writers and Scott Bakula to sell Archer’s determination. Much like the end of “Proving Ground” demonstrated, Archer is willing to play hardball when necessary, even if it’s not his first choice. This is critical to the conception of Archer as a strong captain, and something that was not at all convincing in the second season. When Archer makes a threat or commits to an action now, it’s understood that he will follow it through.
Oddly enough, “Proving Ground” depicted an Archer that had plenty of determination but a certain naïve quality. Perhaps as a response to his experience with Shran, Archer shows much more intelligence and guile in this episode. It’s not a smooth transition, but it does work on a basic level. Archer understands that Degra is never going to be his willing ally, and takes the appropriate measures to trick Degra into spilling information anyway.
One could question the morality of Archer’s ploy, on the grounds that Degra is being treated somewhat cruelly. But this is where episodes like “Similitude” come into play. Some questioned Archer’s decisions in that episode, on the grounds that Trip’s clone was forced into an early death on what passes as Archer’s whim. While that is arguable, there is a certain resonance between that episode and what happens in “Stratagem”. Archer continues to use whatever means necessary to complete his mission, and this serves to facilitate the larger question: could this be the ultimate goal of the future faction that has been using the Xindi?
If Archer was supposed to be the man to drive forward the concept of Federation, then his actions during the Xindi arc could easily derail that future. After all, Archer is willing to do some questionable things to save his world, and that cannot make the Vulcans any more willing to see the value in an expanding human influence. The previous episode could also drive the Andorians into a less cooperative stance.
Whatever the long range implications, one thing is for certain: this episode is almost brilliant in its simplicity. Archer’s logic is sound, and the execution of the ruse works exactly as it should, leaving no doubt that Degra would have truly been fooled. If those basics hadn’t been covered, the episode would have failed. As it stands, this is easily another classic moment for the series.
60 Minute Drill
00:59 – Personally, I like Archer’s new look…very daring…
01:39 – I like how they resist the urge to show the battle in the teaser from an outside frame of reference, in proper keeping with what Degra would see…as if to say, “if you believe the possibility of the premise, at least visually, then you can see how Degra would”!
03:12 – This is where the Xindi database presumably comes in very handy: exploiting what they know of Xindi history and political climate, as well as proper languages…
11:02 – The bloodworms are perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the subterfuge, since it amounts to a kind of subtle torture, rather than just psychological mindgames!
11:28 – Nice effects on the bloodworm extraction…
15:20 – Odd that Archer didn’t take the chance to find out more about the Xindi’s source of information about “the threat from Earth”…would have been nice to know why the Xindi are doing what they’re doing!
16:25 – The point of the coolant breach still doesn’t quite add up, given the premise of the ruse…also, the music in that scene seems wrong for the tension that the writers are attempting to create…
23:13 – This episode begins (in the flashback) on 12 Dec 2153, which fits with the date given in “Proving Ground”…nice continuity!
23:14 – Love the effects for the debris field!
25:14 – About time Hoshi had something to do…
26:45 – The radiation issue is a nice connection to the cause of the prototype’s failure in the previous episode…again, great continuity!
29:02 – Phlox gives the word “torture” a rather odd inflection in this scene…a little too much emphasis…
38:26 – Kinda rude for Degra to suggest Archer start a family, considering that Archer just got done explaining that Earth and most of humanity have been wiped out!
42:11 – If going to Azati Prime would be a detour, that suggests that they were already on another course following a promising lead…so where were they planning to go, that Azati Prime wouldn’t be a justified “detour”?
55:00 – Love Degra’s expression when he realizes that he just betrayed his people…
56:24 – That’s one hell of an abrupt ending…they couldn’t think of a better way to fade out?
Overall, this episode was a great mixture of strong plotting and character study. Archer and Degra really steal the show, which just goes to show what Bakula can do with strong writing. The pacing was excellent, and the episode was never boring. There were a couple of minor logical flaws at the end, but nothing to take away from the rest.
Final Rating: 9/10
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