Sunday, November 24, 2013

Return Of The Andorians: “Proving Ground” Is Good Despite The Conceit!

The Good: Good acting, Good pacing, Good plot
The Bad: Predictable character reversal that undermines the episode, Continuity issue reduces magnitude of the episode
The Basics: “Proving Ground” makes decent use of the Andorians, then manages to get the Xindi plotline back on track.

When a show tries to take a new direction, there is usually a sacrifice that is made. When that happens, the show risks its established audience. If the new direction takes, the show’s producers and writers are usually allowed to maintain their vision and see it through. If the new direction does not resonate with the audience, usually the showrunners run for what is safe to try to regain the audience. In the case of Star Trek: Enterprise, I have a respect for what the show’s producers tried to do with the third season, by creating a seasonlong arc. In fact, the argument could be made that the premise and the episodes that diverged from focusing on the main story of the season were what weakened the season. Episodes like “North Star” (reviewed here!) popped up in the third season and had absolutely nothing to do with the show’s serialized plot and that weakened the concept of the season. As the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise progressed without the ratings recovering from the prior two seasons’ backslide, the producers and writers trended more toward the safe and familiar in a desperate attempt to recover the audience before the network actually cut back the season order.

The result was that after episodes like “Carpenter Street” (reviewed here!), which tried to bring back the ever popular time travel element and “Similitude” (reviewed here!) which tried for raw sex appeal, fans were given “Proving Ground.” “Proving Ground” brought back reliable ratings favorite Jeffrey Combs and made a much stronger attempt to refocus the third season’s plot. However, fans of the Star Trek franchise could recognize the conceit for what it was: bringing the Andorians into the Xindi plotline, even for an episode, was an attempt to play to one of the aspects of Enterprise that fans had positively identified with, which had been abandoned when the Xindi plot began. For all the external factors weighing on the episode, “Proving Ground” manages to be solidly entertaining.

At the Xindi Council chamber, Degra announces to the impatient Dolim that he is ready to test the new planet-destroyer prototype in three days. The Enterprise homes in on the kemocite they marked and the ship hunts the Xindi ship carrying it to find the Xindi test location. En route, they encounter anomalies which nearly destroy the ship until they are rescued abruptly through the use of a tractor beam. After weeks of searching in the Expanse, Commander Shran and his Andorian crew find the Enterprise, rescuing the damaged starship. Shran reveals that his ship has come in response to the attack on Earth and he comes claiming to be Archer’s friend, sending his officers aboard to help repair the Enterprise.

After helping to repair the Enterprise, Shran’s warship and the Enterprise arrive at an uninhabited system where they find four Xindi ships and a planet that bears harsh evidence of Xindi weapons testing. While Reed and Andorian Lieutenant Talas work together to fix the weapons systems, Archer and T’Pol accompany Shran and the Andorian ship into the Xindi testing area. There, Shran bluffs his way into scanning the Xindi weapon under the guise of being the Andorian Mining Consortium on a mission to find Archerite. While the Andorians withdraw, the Xindi launch their prototype, which blows a local moon in half, while the prototype almost overheats and explodes. When Archer becomes determined to recover the prototype, Shran volunteers his ship to help recover the irradiated sphere, though Archer does not fully trust him.

Lately, my wife has been on a Doctor Who kick and after a day of watching it, she has a tendency to note that nothing ever goes right and it would be nice to see an episode where the Doctor and his Companions get to visit an alien planet for enjoyment, without some evil, twisted, conspiracy hunting them down. “Proving Ground” put me in the exact same mood the moment Shran and Talas begin making moves that foreshadow they will betray Archer and his crew. Instead of being a smart, serialized episode that makes a good play for the humans and Andorians actually working together in order to eventually build the Federation, “Proving Ground” illustrates no growth for Shran and a poor sense of plot progression for the larger Star Trek: Enterprise story. “Proving Ground” would have been just fine, better even, if Archer and Shran’s relationship actually had grown and the net result of the prior seasons’ interactions with Shran had led to a time when Shran would put his crew at risk to help Archer.

The only other real flaw with “Proving Ground” is in the test scale. In “Twilight” (reviewed here!), viewers saw the Earth get destroyed by the eventual Xindi weapon; seeing an unknown moon get barely split in half lacks resonance after seeing that.

On the flip side, Reed has some good scenes and actor Dominic Keating makes his very limited emotional journey in “Proving Ground” seem like more than just generic character exposition. Keating and guest star Molly Brink have decent on-screen chemistry to sell a potential Reed/Talas relationship. At the other end of the performances and character work, Scott Bakula and Jeffrey Combs actually seem like Archer and Shran are building a legitimate relationship. While Combs is forced to play a betrayal with Shran, his performance earlier in the episode establishes well the ultimate result. Even Jolene Blalock does a decent job as T’Pol, so the episode flows well.

“Proving Ground” is not as strong on its own as it is for those who have seen “The Shipment” (reviewed here!), but as strong serialized television goes, the episode works.

The three biggest gaffes in “Proving Ground:”
3. T’Pol spends time on the Andorian warship. The only way the Andorian ship could have survived the anomalies in the Expanse long enough to find the Enterprise was to outfit itself with the element that preoccupied the earlier episodes of the third season . . . the element that, according to “Impulse” (reviewed here!) is toxic to Vulcans. T’Pol should not have been able to spend time on the Andorian ship,
2. The Andorians have superior weapons to the Enterprise; if they needed them to keep a stalemate with the Vulcans, the Vulcans are either portrayed as incompetent or shortsighted. Keeping StarFleet’s only available ship weaker than their enemies makes no tactical sense,
1. Shran makes an excellent point about how the Andorians are willing to help the humans more than the Vulcans. Unless the Andorians took the brunt of the impending Romulan War, they should have had vastly more influence and presence in subsequent Star Trek series’.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the penultimate season here!

For other Andorian-focused episodes of Enterprise, please check out my reviews of:
“The Andorian Incident”
“Shadows Of P’Jem”
“Cease Fire”


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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