Friday, March 7, 2014

Better As A Middle Act Than A Compelling Episode On Its Own: “Awakening”

The Good: Some of the guest actors
The Bad: Huge continuity problems, Robert Foxworth’s performance, Light on plot (much better at explaining prior episodes and foreshadowing the next), No real character development
The Basics: “Awakening” is a mediocre episode that finds Archer possessing Surak’s katra and Tucker learning about the Vulcan High Command’s real agenda.

Reconciling the Star Trek: Enterprise Vulcans with the Vulcans seen in the rest of the Star Trek franchise was bound to be a headache for the writers and producers of Star Trek: Enterprise. After all, in Star Trek, Spock had characterized the Vulcan culture of logic as being in place and stable for thousands of years, so the generation before Star Trek - where Star Trek: Enterprise is set – should have had the Vulcans acting exactly as they had been in every other Star Trek series. To try to explain why they weren’t and how they evolved into the familiar Vulcans was the subject of a three-part arc in the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise. The first part was “The Forge” (reviewed here!) and it continued with “Awakening.”

“Awakening” marks the return of T’Pol’s mother, previously seen in “Home” (reviewed here!) and given the nature of the Syrranites (whom T’Les is associated with), it seems strange that T’Les would have been so accommodating over T’Pol’s emotional entanglement with Tucker. “Awakening” illustrates well the problem of executing a prequel with little respect for the original material. With so much information given to Archer about katras and Vulcan culture, the continuity issues the episode creates are huge. Either the concept of katras should not be new to Admiral Kirk in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (reviewed here!) or the Enterprise crew in Star Trek should not have the deeply ingrained belief that Vulcan culture and history has been based in peace and logic for so long. Hell, in “Awakening,” Vulcan shuttles shoot at the StarFleet shuttlepod as a pretty direct act of aggression.

“Awakening” picks up right where “The Forge” left off with the Enterprise at Vulcan investigating the bombing of the Earth embassy there.

With Archer and T’Pol captured by the Syrranites, T’Pol is reunited with her mother in the middle of the Vulcan desert. Having exposed the potential conspiracy surrounding the Earth embassy bombing, Ambassador Soval is relieved of his duties, ostensibly because Administrator V’Las is in on the implication of the Syrranites. Soval warns Tucker that Archer and T’Pol might be in grave danger from V’Las and his forces as they seek to exterminate the Syrranites.

As T’Pol and T’Les discuss what the Syrranites actually believe, Archer finds himself suffering from the effects of the Vulcan mind-meld from when the desert guide died. Archer has visions of Surak and soon T’Pau – the leader-apparent of the Syrranites now that Syrran is dead – confirms that Surak’s katra is in Archer’s head. While T’Pol explains Vulcan mysticism to Archer and Tucker and Soval work to rescue the officers, V’Las prepares an orbital bombardment on the Forge.

For all my appreciation of Robert Foxworth, “Awakening” is not his best performance in the Star Trek franchise. Arguably cast because of the similarities between V’Las and his prior character, Admiral Leyton, Foxworth plays the Vulcan Administrator with a smirk and unvarnished disdain that is anything but logical (or emotionally reserved). While Kara Zediker (T’Pau), Gary Graham (Soval) and Joanna Cassidy (T’Les) all play Vulcans wonderfully in the episode, outside a single moment of shock crossing his face, John Rubinstein plays the scene-stealing Vulcan in “Awakening.” For a guy who played creepy and menacing so perfectly in Angel (reviewed here!), Rubinstein manages to play entirely emotionless incredibly well. His dispassion accents the undertones of anger that Foxworth puts into V’Las and make the Vulcan seem anything but controlled.

Bruce Gray makes his final Star Trek appearance as the vision of Surak and he does a decent job. Any differences between Gray’s interpretation of Surak and the one that appeared in “The Savage Curtain” (reviewed here!) can easily be explained away by the prior on-screen Surak being a figment of Spock’s imagination.

“Awakening” is an exposition-heavy episode. Surprisingly little actually happens in “Awakening;” more time is spent explaining events that have already occurred (the conspiracy surrounding the embassy bombing) and the nature of the Vulcan biology/philosophy. On Vulcan, Archer is told all about Vulcan mysticism and T’Pau attempts to remove the katra from him, but otherwise much of the scenes on Vulcan with Archer and T’Pol are a bunch of people talking about philosophies and comparative religion. On the other plot, little happens as well; Tucker and Phlox exposed the conspiracy in the prior episode. In “Awakening,” they simply find themselves repeatedly blocked by V’Las until V’Las bombards the Forge. Similarly, “Awakening” foreshadows the final part in the arc when Soval reveals V’Las’s agenda in the episode’s final minutes. But, again, within “Awakening,” not much actually happens.

Despite a significant death in the last moments of “Awakening,” the episode is not at all rich in character. Archer is pushed along as the result of – essentially – the ghost inside him and Tucker just proceeds with the investigation until he has only dead ends before him. What could have been a powerful T’Pol episode is stunted by her and her mother’s scenes being used for tremendous amounts of exposition as opposed to actual character growth.

Ultimately, “Awakening” is an episode that works better in the context of its arc, as opposed to a free-standing episode. It does explain the first part well and sets up the final episode in the arc, but does little else.

The three biggest gaffes in “Awakening:”
3. Given the way V’Las act, there should be no prejudice in Star Trek that Vulcans are pacifists,
2. In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Spock tried to save his katra so it could be returned to a proper receptacle on Vulcan. There is no reason T’Les should not have made a similar attempt,
1. There is no reason whatsoever that T’Pau would sound nothing like she did in “Amok Time” (reviewed here!), yet her dialect is entirely different in “Awakening!”

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

For other works with Robert Foxworth, please visit my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
Six Feet Under
“Paradise Lost” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Homefront” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


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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