Friday, January 10, 2014

Moving To The Finale, The “Countdown” Begins!

The Good: Good plot, Decent villain moments, Moments of character development
The Bad: Predictable, Most of the character moments
The Basics: “Countdown” moves the plot of season three along very well and sets up the third season finale of Star Trek: Enterprise!

As the serialized plotline of Star Trek: Enterprise’s third season wound up, the plots became tighter, but the lack of character work was obvious. In the penultimate episode, “Countdown,” there was a strong sense of movement, but the sense that the writers were realizing how unbalanced the cast actually was. With Hoshi Sato captured during the climactic battle in “The Council” (reviewed here!) and a new MacGuffin introduced – the idea that the Xindi weapon requires three of the five codes in order to activate it – the plot is moving fast toward a resolution. Sato had done almost nothing in the season and Reed had been largely neglected (which was why his outburst in “The Council” stood out).

“Countdown” is very much a continuation of the prior plotline, so the fact that Archer’s main ally is not present and there are ever-shifting alliances presented throughout the episode only makes real sense to the people who have been viewing the prior episodes. That said, “Countdown” has a lot that is familiar to fans of the Star Trek franchise – especially Star Trek: The Next Generation. Torture was well-explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation with episodes like “The Mind’s Eye” (reviewed here!) and “Chain Of Command, Part II” (reviewed here!).

Hoshi Sato, captured by Commander Dolim, is told that her brain will essentially be liquefied and she will help the Xindi Reptillians to decode the third launch code needed to arm the Xindi weapon. Jannar and the leader of the Xindi Primates bring Archer before the Xindi Aquatics. The Aquatic leaders are unwilling to help Archer until he suggests that he and the Enterprise can help disable the Spheres, which would make the Expanse livable for all the Xindi again and prove that the Sphere Builders are actually malicious. While Sato tries to resist Dolim’s commands, T’Pol and Tucker butt heads on how best to disable the Spheres. In the process, they work to solidify their relationship.

When Dolim confronts the leader of the Sphere Builders, he is irked to discover they are unwilling (they claim unable) to give him the access codes he needs to activate the weapon Degra designed. As the Xindi Council fractures, Archer forms a new relationship with the leader of the Xindi Primates. When the Xindi Aquatics come forth as allies, the Sphere Builders decide to intervene directly. With the Xindi Reptiles arming the weapon, Archer and his fleet move to confront the Xindi Insectoids and Xindi Reptiles.

“Countdown” illustrates well a fundamental problem with big special effects-driven projects. As the episode moves toward a climactic space battle between the Enterprise and its allied Xindi fleet and the Reptillian/Insectoid fleet, it is hard to genuinely care. The fleets are largely anonymous ships and the nature of the prequel makes for an unfortunate lack of consequence. Regardless of the Enterprise, which seems unlikely to be absolutely destroyed with all hands lost, none of the ships have characters or even species that the viewers are invested in.

On the character front, “Countdown” does a decent job of resolving the conflict between Reed and Major Hayes. Hayes declares that he feels like a member of the crew and his commitment to bring Sato back alive seems very genuine (which is odd because his insistence that Reed needs to be on the bridge seems very forced). The other big character growth comes from T’Pol and Tucker. In “Countdown,” they actually commit to a relationship and it plays well. T’Pol seems like (as contradictory as it would be to the overall continuity) she has foregone logic only and might well be open to a steady, romantic relationship with the human Chief Engineer.

Hoshi Sato is very weakly defined in “Countdown.” She makes a lone passing attempt to prevent the Reptilians from getting the arming sequence by killing herself. Similarly, Archer’s insistence on rescuing Sato shows an unfortunate lack of perspective for the Captain. While Sato blithely notes she is not a cryptologist, she is used as one in a way that makes no sense. After eight months in the Expanse, almost a year after the seven million people on Earth were killed, Archer seems suddenly willing to let his mission fail by rescuing Sato at the risk of the Enterprise and the new alliance.

“Countdown” is notable in that it utilizes the transporter in a very traditional Star Trek way. As Major Hayes and the M.A.C.O.S. fight to rescue Sato, the tension mounts and the use of the transporter helps one feel like they are actually watching something very Star Trek.

Unfortunately, the idea of “Countdown” is a self-defeating one. Because Star Trek: Enterprise is a prequel set in the Star Trek Universe, the question for the entire season has not been “if” the Enterprise will succeed in its mission to save Earth, but rather “how” Archer’s crew would stop the Xindi. The climactic moment of “Countdown,” then, is robbed of much of its suspense and intrigue because there is truly only one way this arc can end.

Despite the plot elements that make “Countdown” feel like familiar Star Trek, the episode is remarkably lacking in thematic resonance that sell it as Trek. While Archer is committed to saving Earth and the Xindi, there is an entirely missing element to the episode: any moralization about the destruction of the Spheres. Because the Sphere Builders are so monolithically presented, their survival is disregarded entirely. Archer never considers how the destruction of the Spheres might be tantamount to genocide on the same order as the one (or two) he is trying to prevent.

Dolim is presented as a decent Star Trek villain, though he lacks a level of empathy the best villains always have. He begins to indicate that he is an absolute evil; betraying those around him in ways that do not justify his blind obedience to the Guardians. Ultimately, “Countdown” is exactly what one expects of a penultimate episode in a season-long serialized arc: it moves the plot forward to the point where one is eager to see the final episode of the season.

The biggest gaffe in “Countdown” is: Spock was the first StarFleet Academy graduate, but the implication was that he was the first Vulcan in StarFleet, so T’Pol’s resolve to “formalize her relationship with StarFleet” seems troubling.

[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!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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