Sunday, March 2, 2014

Good Metaphor, Terrible Application (In Terms Of Continuity): “The Forge”

The Good: Themes, Decent performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Woefully misapplied concept for the Vulcans, Continuity issues (within and without)
The Basics: “The Forge” is stuck with the difficult task of reconciling the Vulcan Problem and does so with a story that would have been brilliant . . . for any race other than the Vulcans!

When Star Trek: Enterprise began, it did so with a fundamental problem: co-creator and co-executive producer Brannon Braga openly admitted he hated the original Star Trek and he did not want to be bound by what came before in creating the prequel series. After years of gruesome divergences from Star Trek continuity, Braga was replaced and the fourth season became a time where the challenge of the show was to try to make it start to resemble more the look, feel, and thematic concepts of Star Trek. One of the big problems for fans of Star Trek with Enterprise right off the bat had been the characterization of the Vulcans. Hardly logical (they were brimming with contempt for humans and played as arrogant liars from the outset), the Enterprise Vulcans bore little resemblance to the Vulcans seen throughout the rest of Star Trek. So, with “The Forge,” the writers of Star Trek: Enterprise worked to reshape the Vulcans into the more logical, familiar, Vulcans that fans knew and loved.

That task fell – for the first part of the three-episode arc – to Star Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. While the duo is usually spot on for making connections within the Star Trek universe, with “The Forge” they are given a virtually impossible task . . . and they dropped the ball. I love stories of religious hypocrisy and revisionism; I have no problem with institutionalized religion, but I find it seldom matches the faith that such organizations claim to be organized around. Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens seem to have a similar belief. Unfortunately, with “The Forge,” they apply such a story to the Vulcans and they open a huge can of worms for those who have any care for Star Trek continuity.

Opening seventeen years prior on Vulcan, with the discovery of an artifact pertaining to Surak, Admiral Forrest visits Vulcan. There, Ambassador Soval confesses to Forrest that Vulcans are afraid of humans because humans remind Vulcans of their primitive selves. When a bomb goes off, destroying much of the Embassy, Archer loses Forrest and the Enterprise arrives at Vulcan. There, they meet with the head of the Vulcan High Command, Administrator V’Las, and are told that there are suspects in the bombing: the Andorians and Syrranites (Vulcans who follow a corrupted version of Surak’s teachings).

While investigating the bombing, Reed and Mayweather narrowly escape another bomb’s detonation. In the process, they get DNA from the bomb, belonging to “a well-known Syrranite” named T’Pau. While Soval discredits the Syrranite angle to Archer, T’Pol’s husband Koss gives T’Pol a family heirloom, allegedly from her Syrranite mother. T’Pol uses the IDIC Koss gave her to uncover a holographic map which she believes will lead her to her mother. While Phlox discredits the DNA evidence linking T’Pau to the bombing, T’Pol and Archer begin a perilous quest along the route Surak allegedly took along the Forge, one of the most brutal locations on Vulcan.

Since “The Andorian Incident” (reviewed here!), the Vulcans have been problematically represented. As Archer notes in “The Forge,” Vulcans frequently lie; but in all subsequent incarnations of Star Trek, Vulcans are characterized as truthful to a fault. While Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are saddled with reconciling that – as well as pretty much undoing the concept of Vulcan mind-melds being uncouth as seen in “Stigma” (reviewed here!) – their solution is nowhere near as compelling as it has to be to sway fans. The idea that Vulcans have a monolithic culture, centered around logic, is completely undermined by the idea that that culture was established during the Star Trek: Enterprise time period and witnessed by humans! Moreover, it completely undermines the character arc of Spock in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (reviewed here!) to have Spock realize that logic is only the beginning; Spock is basically retconned as a guy rebelling against his father’s beliefs, his father’s generation. You don’t get much more human than that!

The other significant issue with “The Forge” is a practical (production) element; Reed and Mayweather get an early scene and it feels like the writers and producers were just stretching to find a use for them. There’s no practical reason for the ship’s navigator/helmsman to be involved in a bomb investigation. On the minutiae side, the StarFleet embassy worker is identified as a Corporal; he was a StarFleet officer, not a M.A.C.O.S. soldier (StarFleet does not have Corporals). On the amusing front, Robert Foxworth pops up as V’Las . . . which means both times Earth facilities have been bombed in the Star Trek franchise, Robert Foxworth was cast to play an influential leader near the blast investigation (the other being “Homefront,” reviewed here!).

The acting in “The Forge” is wonderful. Vaughn Armstrong’s brief, final scene as Admiral Forrest is understated and does not telegraph what is coming. Gary Graham returns as Soval and plays him once again with perfect emotional detachment. Foxworth and Michael Nouri make great additions to the pantheons of notable actors playing Vulcans as they are able to play dispassionate expertly.

The plot of “The Forge” moves along rapidly. The episode transitions nicely from an investigation to a survival story and teases well where the arc is going. In the latter minutes of the episode, “The Forge” takes an intriguing turn that is strong enough to intrigue viewers into coming back. The a-plot and b-plot play off one another in a very watchable way.

“The Forge” is a little lighter on character development than one might hope, but it’s not bad. T’Pol is teased with the idea that her mother is a traitor. Archer does not have any real character development, but “The Forge” finds him at the beginning of the arc with a lot for Scott Bakula to do. The net result is an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise that is not bad television, but is bad Star Trek.

The three biggest gaffes in “The Forge:”
3. Archer and T’Pol encounter a Sehlat; there is no reason that an expert in biology and xenobiology like Dr. McCoy would not know what one was in “Journey To Babel” (reviewed here!),
2. A Vulcan Civil War over the most basic precepts of Vulcans would radically alter the cultural stigma and assumptions humans only a generation later would have. As a result, Spock should not have been either as much of a mystery, nor expected to be as monolithic in Star Trek,
1. Vulcans are lightyears ahead of humans in every form of technology; that Ambassador Soval still had open cuts after three days is utterly ridiculous.

[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 Michael Nouri, please visit my reviews of:
The Proposal
The Terminal
Finding Forrester


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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