Written by Phyllis Strong
Directed by James L. Conway
In which Archer must make a bitter decision when the damage to Enterprise following the Xindi attack jeopardizes an opportunity to meet with Xindi willing to hear Humanity’s side of the story...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
A lot of fans have given up on “Enterprise”, taking the sagging ratings and admitted writing failures as a sign of an impending (and for some, overdue) mercy killing. And quite frankly, that’s too bad, because unlike “Voyager”, which started strong and was slowly destroyed by its own bland network-driven production team, “Enterprise” is learning from its mistakes.
“Azati Prime” was easily one of the best episodes of the series, even taking into account the questionable plotting choice of Archer’s apparent suicide run. Had the writers been operating in “Voyager” mode, like much of the first and second season, that episode would have resulted in a quick resolution and a ship with cosmetic damage, at most.
Instead, Enterprise is a complete wreck, and it’s very clear from the beginning of the episode that a quick fix is the last thing the writers have in mind. The crew has been beaten and battered, and only a last minute shift in Xindi political power saved their skins. The constant stream of damage reports and casualty figures demonstrate that the writers aren’t going to back down from the challenge of exacting consequences.
Instead of the usual predictability of quick trust in the Trek tradition, Archer barely manages to convince some of the Xindi to question their own information. Coming on the heels of what Daniels told Archer in the previous episode, the extra-dimensional Sphere Builder pulling the strings within the Xindi Council is finally revealed. While it’s far too easy to tell that she’s hiding something, this is a nice bit of series continuity.
The idea of a secret meeting with Degra and elements of the Xindi Council is a good one, adding some intrigue and complexity to what had become in earlier episodes a jingoistic plot arc. Instead of portraying the Xindi as a relatively faceless enemy with a single-minded thirst for human destruction, ala Middle Eastern terrorists, the writers have slowly but methodically taken the time to develop the Xindi as distinct species with opposing goals. Compare this to many of the adversaries on “Voyager”, where motivations were metaphorical at best and derivative at worst (think Hirogen and Borg).
But the episode was less about the physical damage inflicted by the Xindi and more about self-inflicted wounds. Two characters are highlighted, as usual, but the quality of each character thread differs greatly. On the one hand, there is a nicely developed turn in Archer’s character, confirming some of the fears raised by his earlier decisions. On the other, there’s the somewhat poorly rendered addict analogy inflicted upon T’Pol.
Ever since the beginning of the season, Archer has been depicted as driven and focused, wanting nothing more than to find and eliminate the enemies of Earth. And after some of his initial decisions, many of which came close to crossing the line of morality, it was clear that his ability to maintain integrity and decency during the mission would have an impact on future relations with the Vulcans and other members of the Federation.
As soon as the aliens arrive on the scene, the foreshadowing of “Anomaly” comes to mind. In that episode, Orgoth taunts Archer, wondering if the captain would be able to develop the ruthlessness necessary to survive in the Expanse. Over the course of the season, Archer has slipped farther and farther down that slippery slope; in this episode, he arrives at the critical moment. Having made enough choices to drive him into a fatalistic self-loathing, Archer takes the next step: piracy.
The scene between Archer and Phlox is incredibly well done. So much is left unsaid, and yet so much is communicated. Many of the scenes related to Archer’s choice are the best of the episode, and once again, Bakula displays real talent when presented with strong material. Contrast this to the lack of character development in the second season, where Bakula couldn’t give Archer any presence.
Even more telling, contrast the discernable shift in Archer’s mindset, based on a methodical process of eroding his moral integrity, to the disjointed manner in which T’Pol’s addiction has been handled. It’s not that T’Pol’s addiction to emotions is a sudden character trait; her activities in San Francisco, established in “Fusion”, demonstrate that she is fascinated and drawn to emotional states forbidden by Vulcan culture.
But like the equally disjointed addiction metaphor thrust upon Willow in the sixth season of “Buffy”, T’Pol hasn’t been showing overt signs of an addiction to Trellium-D. Granted, this goes a long way towards explaining her emotional moments in past episodes, but unlike Archer’s descent, there’s been no sign of a developing problem. T’Pol has apparently been hiding an addiction to the emotions brought about by exposure to Trellium-D, and yet her activities until recently have simply been abnormal.
The implication is that T’Pol may not be able to recover from her experimentation, because of residual levels of Trellium-D in her system. While it’s interesting to see her suffer through the effects of her own foolish mistakes, it distracts from the more intriguing and better established plot and character elements. Part of the problem is that T’Pol has never been the best at hiding her underlying emotionalism, and making her even more unstable could get annoying very quickly.
Thankfully, the focus is largely on Archer’s decision to steal a warp drive in order to rendezvous with Degra and members of the Xindi Council willing to hear his side of the story. Everyone on the main cast has a moment or two of reaction to Archer’s plans, and while they all fall within the range of “disgusted”, there are enough differences to reveal aspects of their characters.
This is an oft-ignored improvement for the series. While the first half of the season was an awkward merge of plot arc elements and stand-alone concepts, the introduction of long-term character arcs has bolstered and improved the season as a whole. Once again, this must be related to the introduction of talented executive producer Manny Coto, who has demonstrated an understanding of character on many other occasions.
It certainly appears as though every character will play a part in the final stretch of episodes for the season, though one would expect Archer and T’Pol to dominate as usual. Considering how well the focus on Archer pays off in this episode, that’s not necessarily a bad move. It remains to be seen if T’Pol’s character thread can rise to the same level of quality, or become yet another strike against the series.
Overall, this episode continued to explore the rising fatalism within Archer’s character and the effects of the Xindi mission on his morality. Unfortunately, the explanation for T’Pol’s recent emotional outbursts is not as well developed. There’s a stronger confidence in the writing for this series, enough so that it would be a shame for earlier failures to steal away any chance of future improvement.
Final Rating: 8/10
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