Monday, December 23, 2013

The Key Plot Moment Comes For The Third Season Of Star Trek: Enterprise At “Azati Prime!”

The Good: Some very cool effects, Engaging plot, Good acting
The Bad: Lack of character development, Some effects and performances
The Basics: “Azati Prime” pushes the serialized plot of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise forward when Archer sees the future and reveals it to Degra.

In the course of virtually every serialized television series, there comes a time when one is either watching or they are not. When that point is reached, the producers usually stop bothering with a review at the beginning of each episode on the assumption that those people who have missed prior episodes will either pick up what they need in the new episode or they should have bothered to watch the prior episodes. With Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s extensive final arc, that point came with the wonderful “Tacking Into The Wind” (reviewed here!). With Star Trek: Enterprise’s season-long arc focused on the Xindi weapon being built in the Expanse and the Enterprise’s search for information on the weapon (and attempts to halt its production), the point the producers figured viewers were watching carefully or had given up was “Azati Prime.”

As a result, “Azati Prime” includes a number of continuity details that reference prior episodes in the arc of the season. This episode takes on faith that viewers know who Degra is and the encounter Archer had with him in “Stratagem” (reviewed here!), as well as how the Enterprise came to have a Xindi Insectoid shuttle in “Hatchery” (reviewed here!). The episode smartly assumes viewers have much more experience with the series by including the return of Temporal Agent Daniels, which helps make the big, significant episode even bigger.

As the Enterprise nears the gas giant around which Azati Prime, the secret Xindi weapons facility is located, it monitors the Xindi ship carrying Degra, the lead scientist working on the weapon, entering the defense perimeter. After Mayweather and Tucker take the Xindi Insectoid shuttle to the water world Azati Prime, the crew learns that the weapon is near completion. Returning to Enterprise, Archer decides to make the one-way trip to destroy the Xindi weapon. Upon deciding to make a suicide run to destroy the weapon, Archer is transported to the distant future. There, he meets with Daniels, who tells him they are on the Enterprise-J, during a crucial battle with the builders of the alien Spheres that created the Expanse. Telling Archer that he absolutely must not die in order for history to go the way it ought, Daniels reveals that the Xindi were merely pawns of the Builders and that in the future, the Federation is working to save the Xindi from their influence (and save the galaxy from them).

When Archer goes on his attack run, Tucker and T’Pol are dismayed when hours go by without yielding demonstrative results. Archer, as it turns out, has been captured by the Xindi Insectoids. Tortured by Reptilian Commander Dolim, Archer uses the opportunity to make contact with Degra. Giving Degra an artifact from Daniels, he tells the Xindi that the Sphere Builders will destroy the Xindi and the Council begins to fracture over the new information. Degra and the leader of the Xindi Primates begin to question Dolim when the Reptiles attack the Enterprise. With T’Pol in command, the Enterprise savaged by the Xindi ships and Archer is left on his own.

For all of the dependency upon seeing prior episodes in this arc, the writers of “Azati Prime” seem to want viewers to forget that “Impulse” (reviewed here!) provided a reason Vulcans suffer within the Expanse. Given that the Enterprise did not use the element that made Vulcans crazy in the Expanse, there is no viable reason why T’Pol would be emotional in this episode.

“Azati Prime” is a pretty generic action-adventure episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. While it is solidly entertaining, it is lacking in any deeper meanings or actual character development. There is a mild cleverness to the way the episode uses information gleaned throughout the rest of the season – most importantly in “Stratagem” and in a way that makes “Carpenter Street” surprisingly relevant – but the episode is strongly lacking in genuine character development. While the plot is pretty tight, none of the characters grow, change or evolve . . .

. . . Except Degra. Degra does not evolve as much as he finally is given the facts that support the underlying humanitarian bent he has been insinuated to have the entire season. Degra is, above all, a patriot. As a result, he will do whatever he can to protect his people and while he has had pangs of guilt before now over killing seven million people – many of whom, he came to realize, would have been innocent children – he lacked the information to make an informed decision that the Xindi were building a horrible weapon for all the wrong reasons. When Archer presents the scientist with credible proof, he revises his plans, but it still fits with the patriotic nature of his character.

Throughout the episode, T’Pol exhibits a fondness for Archer that has not been entirely evident before now. In fact, she pushes Tucker away for no specific reason and there is some frustration for the viewer on his behalf from that character change. It is almost like the writers abruptly decided to give T’Pol a romantic choice between Archer and Tucker and “Azati Prime” poorly throws that concept into the mix.

On the acting front, the guest stars rule “Azati Prime.” While Scott Bakula is wonderful at performing Archer when Archer is tortured by the Xindi, realistically making him both defiant and fatigued, Matt Winston, Scott MacDonald, and Randy Oglesby steal the show. Winston has a single scene and he is saddled with having Daniels deliver a lot of plot exposition. Winston sells that scene by finally making Daniels seem authoritative, in control, and willing to share the crucial information Archer clearly needs. That is a change for the mysterious temporal agent and it works wonderfully for “Azati Prime.” Scott MacDonald, who plays the Xindi Reptilian Commander Dolim, has a history in the Star Trek universe of getting stuck behind a latex mask and Dolim is no exception. However, while MacDonald has always played affable or generally good characters, Dolim is monstrous and angry. As a result, MacDonald gives a very different performance in “Azati Prime” and the menace that he drips into Dolim’s voice plays perfectly and keeps the potentially bland lines he is delivering from seeming at all cliché.

Then there is Randy Oglesby. Oglesby is a wonderful character actor and in “Azati Prime,” the Star Trek franchise finally uses him for a role that requires both intellect and passion . . . without having him play angry. Oglesby makes Degra make a reasonable and emotional transition from scientist working on an abstract problem to an entity who is essentially building a genocidal weapon and understands the magnitude and ethics of that. Degra’s transition in “Azati Prime” works so well because he is pitted in scenes opposite Dolim and Oglesby and MacDonald play off one another remarkably well.

Sadly, Jolene Blalock is given a part for T’Pol to play that makes no sense and the emotional Vulcan is a problem executed with middling acting.

On the plus side, “Azati Prime” features truly breathtaking special effects for an underwater sequence and the final space battle is incredibly rendered (save for the utterly cheesy CG crewmembers who fly out of the holes in the Enterprise). The make-up effects for both Dolim and the wounded Archer are impressive.

But the effects and action are not enough to truly blow the viewer away; “Azati Prime” is entertaining, but not meaningful beyond the limited story being told in this arc. It is enjoyable, but essentially scienc fiction pulp and Star Trek fans tend to want (and deserve) quite a bit more for their buck.

The three biggest gaffes in “Azati Prime:”
3. T’Pol displays emotions in front of Tucker; if humans knew Vulcans had emotions decades before Spock was born, the cultural conceit of Vulcans not possessing emotions would seem to be exceptionally hard to puerpetrate and endure,
2. The Xindi ship seen in this episode looks virtually identical to a Son’a ship in Star Trek: Insurrection (reviewed here!). Given how old the Baku and Son’a were and given how they have no relationship with the Xindi, in the Xindi history in this season, there is no reason the ships should looks alike,
1. Reed describes the Xindi defense perimeter as a “detection grid;” given that the concept existed in this time period (a satellite network creating a defense grid), the idea of the Tachyon net should not have been at all audacious in “Redemption, Part 2” (reviewed here!). In fact, it seems utterly stupid if StarFleet had encountered similar technology in this era that it would take Data to apply it to detecting cloaked Romulan vessels!

[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 works with Tucker Smallwood, please visit my reviews of:
“In The Flesh” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Home” - The X-Files


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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