Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting To Know The Enemy Is The Goal Of A Successful “Stratagem!”

The Good: Interesting story, Good performances, Good effects
The Bad: No real character development, Huge plot/character/ethical hole in the storyline
The Basics: “Stratagem” progresses the serialized story of Star Trek: Enterprise by having Archer capture and work over Degra, the lead Xindi scientist.

With all of the time travel, alternate universes, and false realities in the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, it takes a lot of investment on the part of the fans to care about continued mind games by the time “Stratagem” comes up in the season. “Stratagem” smartly avoids trying to fool the viewer while the episode creates an elaborate plot to explore how Archer fools the leader of the Xindi weapons team. More than any other episode in the third season, “Stratagem” focuses on Degra.

The episode is also one of the most potentially divisive episode of the third season; the episode very obviously uses classic conditioning and shared obstacles to build trust between two people. This is actually a common form of torture for information and the fact that Phlox uses Regulan blood worms and drugs to get information from Degra to distort his sense of reality is troubling. “Stratagem” can easily be argued to be an “ends justify the means” episode, but the troubling level of unethical acts Archer and Phlox engage in – without any debate from T’Pol – is disturbing. On the plus side, the “it’s okay to torture the villain” story is well-balanced by humanizing Degra. Degra’s character is fleshed out in ways that were only previously vaguely insinuated at before in Randy Oglesby’s brief performance in prior episodes.

A small shuttle carrying Degra and Archer evades a Xindi Insectoid attack. With their escape successful, Degra is instantly suspicious, but Archer works to convince the befuddled scientist that they have just escaped from a Xindi Insectoid prison camp where the two had shared a cell for the prior three years. Archer tells Degra the story of the prior three years; how after the test that was sabotaged in “Proving Ground” (reviewed here!), Degra was captured by the Xindi Insectoids and shortly thereafter, Archer was kidnapped and the Enterprise was destroyed. While the Xindi Council worked to complete the weapon and destroy Earth, the Xindi Insectoids were building a fleet which they used to wipe out the other Xindi sects. According to Archer, the Xindi Insectoids were just using the rest of the Council to take over the Expanse and Degra is quick to agree that that seems plausible.

Soon, though, it becomes evident that Archer is manufacturing the incident and the story in order to get information from Degra. While Archer utilizes drugs and blood worms to extract information from Degra, the episode flashes back to how Archer came to be in possession of Degra and the tight-lipped Xindi gives Archer little other opportunity to get information from him. After manufacturing the shuttle and the story, Archer slowly builds Degra’s confidence to find the location of Azati Prime, a classified world where Archer believes the Xindi are building their doomsday weapon. The plan starts to fall apart when Degra becomes suspicious and starts to test Archer for knowledge he does not have.

“Stratagem” has a desperate quality to it that none of the episodes since “The Expanse” (reviewed here!) has truly possessed. The attack on Earth led to a seasonlong journey that has not seemed especially pressing, despite the fact that there have been glimpses of the Xindi preparing their new weapon. The concept for the season is a good one, but the sense of desperation that leads to “Stratagem” seems forced. That makes the episode far more troubling than realistic. The means do not justify the ends and considering that Archer gets the name Azati Prime almost immediately from the Xindi computer core, the elaborate way that Archer tries to get more information is pretty reprehensible. In fact, given that Archer has the name Azati Prime and Degra, he could easily have stalled the Xindi weapon simply by keeping Degra aboard. There was no real need for torture.

Despite the plot-centered nature of “Stratagem,” the additional character details about Degra work well. Unfortunately, Archer never gets to Degra the way he managed to get under the skin of the Xindi Arboreal in “The Shipment” (reviewed here!). As a result, there is something of a character anticlimax in “Stratagem.” The episode keeps tight on the plot and Degra never comes to truly admit that the Xindi weapon is wrong. If anything, Archer’s actions only solidify the distrust Degra has in the humans. It seems strange given how far Archer and Phlox go in the episode that they did not work to leave Degra with some sort of post-hypnotic suggestion that the weapon is wrong or that the humans do not deserve to be wiped out.

Instead, “Stratagem” is unimaginative in its plotting and character work. However, the performances are solid. Randy Oglesby makes the previously efficient and clear-headed Degra seem entirely reasonably frazzled. Oglesby is a wonderful character actor and here he starts to layer Degra. Oglesby is not given a lot of work to do – the character is fleshed out with additional character details – but Degra is not asked to do any emotional heavy lifting. Strangely, neither is Scott Bakula. Bakula is pretty straightforward as Archer and the performance is not at all demanding for him. Still, he does a fine job at convincing the viewers that Archer can manage the deception he is perpetrating against Degra.

Best for truly moving forward the urgency of the third season plot of Star Trek: Enterprise, “Stratagem” still has a troubling concept, but a decent execution.

The two biggest gaffes in “Stratagem:”
2. The fact that StarFleet uses torture of this type should have made Riker much more resistant to the same techniques (or more aware of what was happening to him) in “Frame Of Mind” (reviewed here!),
1. The Xindi suddenly are using “subspace vortices” that seem to operate much the same way as the transwarp conduits in “Descent” (reviewed here!). Given that, the transwarp conduits should not have been as much of a novelty or anomaly by the 24th Century.

[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 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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