This "revitalizing" season has, if anything, made matters worse with a derivative, B5-like continuing saga all based on a ridiculous premise that makes the Villain-Du-Jour (the Xindi) look stupider than the hairstyle on a Kazon! It's still fun to watch but not complimentary to the old thinker, there!
Lo and behold, as we approach our Season Finale the show actually does have a better feel to it, as so many of the depressing loose ends have been tied up like so many sausage links (I love bad metaphors). As we learn more about the Xindi, and most especially "the Guardians" that guide them, we start to understand and like this direction (though a Romulan War would've been better) and the almost-realistic slow tide that turns in favor of Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and his intrepid crew has made me actually look forward to watching the show for something besides a glimpse of T'Bod! Oh, the premise is still weaker than Justin Guarini's record sales, but the Clean-Up of that Berman-made mess has surprised us all by being... well, watchable!
When we last left our pernicious players, the Xindi Council's internal strife had broken out into full on Civil War with the Primate and Arboreal races siding with the humans and the Reptilian and Insectoid groups determined to follow the Guardians into the destruction of Earth, stealing "The Weapon" (so Death Star) and heading out to the Terran System. All the while, the pensive Aquatic Xindi are caught in the middle demanding more information! To make matters worse, the Reptilian Xindi have absconded with Archer's translator Hoshi Sato (the lovely Linda Park) in a two-pronged damaging blow to the Coalition of the Willing! Depriving Archer of Sato slows communication with the Xindi in general, and worse, the Reptilians now have the best translator in the Expanse doing their bidding. It's only a matter of time before they use her against her will to unlock a third (and final) launch code for the weapon and put a big Alderaan on Spaceship Earth!
As "Countdown" (5/19/04) begins we see the chemical mind-control at the hands of the Reptilians take its toll on Hoshi and the desperation of the remaining humans and Xindi Sects escalating to failure. What match will the Enterprise and friends be against the Reptilian and Insectoid forces, both faster and better armed than Starfleet, not to mention the Arboreals and the Primates? Worse than that: Now that we know the Guardians are actually the Sphere Builders, what's to stop them from unleashing the Expanse-Reshaping energies that (we're warned) can turn an entire crew inside out?
The special effects here are some of the best of any Trek, though, unlike some episodes, they're not used as a crutch here. The sphere attack, and most especially the affects it has on Xindi ships (particularly the Liquid-Filled Aquatic Ships) is breathtaking and disturbing. The concept of a water-breathing, yet Space-Faring race in high-tech aquariums is far overdue, and one of the most interesting Star Trek ideas in years. It still leads to timeline questions, however. This is a Prequel... in all the future, why is it that we've never heard of the Aquatics, or indeed even the Xindi as a whole?
Writers André Bormanis and Chris Black and Director Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris from Voyager) keep the story flowing and keeping the viewer on edge through most of the episode, wondering what's going to happen next. There's also a continuation of an interesting new point in the Star Trek universe. In Star Trek The Original Series there was always that one actor brought in to wear a "Red Shirt" and die on the mission. It's a running joke... find the Red Shirt, and you've got your casualty (unless it's Scotty). In our last episode "The Council" we lost just one such Red Shirt (though he was in blue and gray). Bormanis and Black handle this well as Malcolm Reed's guilt and admission of failure is palpable. Real emotions are shared here by Reed (Dominic Keating) and the colleagues of the Proverbial Red Shirt! On Enterprise there's a person in that shirt! Is it touchy-feely? It's war, and people die in war. A tenseness and strain between T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) and Trip (Connor Trinneer) is briefly, yet smartly handled, giving us a little more insight to the pain the Vulcan Science officer is dealing with for the first time, really, in 66 years. Meanwhile John Billingsley's Phlox has handled the role of the "War Surgeon" with Pathos. His balance between needing a soldier in the field and doing what's best for the patient is a mental juggling act that old JB actually handles with grace and discomfort, better than old Siddig El Fadil ever did!
It's Linda Park who dominates the acting here as Hoshi fights to maintain her dutiful self in the face of mind-control drugs and torture. The fate of being forced to remain alive as you help an evil group destroy the place where you keep all your stuff must be more painful than an episode of Tem Knight Rider to endure. Park is sometimes underused on this show, but here she's given a lot to work with both with and without words.
What follows? Who knows! It's hard to say how this Season's going to end. They should be able to wrap this up pretty well (though the "suspense" is pretty nonexistent... come on... will the Earth get destroyed?)! I just hope they get back to some of the set-up for the future like they began with. So far Gregory Benford Moments have pulled them so far off course it's hard to imagine this even being the same universe as Spock, McCoy and Sulu... and Uhura... Oooooooooooooh, Uhura!
Still, this is exciting and a good march forward. If we can seal up these loose ends it'll be a scream and a half to get back to bid-nezz! Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Star Trek: Enterprise's episode 3.23 "Countdown"! Now are we counting down to the future or are we counting down to cancellation? I shudder to consider the future of this franchise. With the state of TV as it is now, I'll bet we'll soon be face to revolting face with Starfleet Investigates, a CSI-like Drama set in the 23rd century during which Hair Follicle Tags and Underwear Stains are analyzed under futuristic conditions to pin Kahless the Unforgettable as the true Assassin of JFK! Okay, I'm posting this, and then I'm going to crawl under my desk and cry. (Click here for the Season Finale review... It's "Zero Hour!") See you in the next reel!
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