November 17, 2014

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Countdown"

It's 19 May 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

Ensign Sato has been kidnapped by the Reptilian Xindi and forced to work on decrypting the codes they need to launch the super-weapon. Archer finally convinces the Aquatics to side with him, the Arboreals and the Humanoid Xindi in a last-chance attack on the Reptilian fleet.

"Countdown", the penultimate episode of Enterprise's third season, is basically 40 minutes of wall-to-wall fighting: gunfights, fistfights, space battles, you name it, they seem to do it. One of the benefits of writing a season-long story arc is that by the time you get to episode 23 you've got pretty much nothing else to do than run one hundred per cent climax. As a result this episode is made up almost entirely of emotional pay-offs and satisfying action beats. It's certainly not the most intellectual Star Trek episode ever made, but it's certainly one of the more enjoyable.

Hoshi Sato gets put through the wringer here, injected through the skull with alien parasites in order to make her compliant enough to break the codes for Dolim so he can activate the weapon. It's a nasty piece of body horror, and Linda Park plays the scenes out brilliantly. Less successful is the MACO rescue mission to get her back. It indulges in too many clich├ęs, not the least of which is the rather predictable death of Major Hayes (Steven Culp) - shot in the chest by a Reptilian while beaming back to Enterprise.

The MACOs have never really sat well within the framework of Enterprise. I can see what they were trying to do with them: make the series a bit harder and more military, and satisfy a network desire to shake up the status quo a little. In practice it feels like the writing team was just constantly uncomfortable using them. Star Trek, for better or worse, has a certain set of values. Those values got severely stretched by Season 3's Xindi arc, but the MACOs threaten to completely break them. They're space marines, and threaten to turn the series into Aliens or Starship Troopers every time they're deployed. They also take away from the role of Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) as tactical officer, something that obviously occurred to the writers as they went because they started basing subplots around it.

So Major Hayes dies heroically, yes, but it's not a death that affected me because the series has fought against itself in giving him any sort of prominence or depth throughout the season. It's like the death of Lt Keffer in Babylon 5 Season 2: it's impossible to be sad because we never got the chance to get to know the character.

Elsewhere in this episode, however, is one outstanding space battle. Xindi fighting Xindi, the Enterprise giving all it's got while still basically limping through space, and the Guardians activating spacial anomalies to aid the Reptilians in their escape. I'm a sucker for space battles, and this one's a doozy. The episode ends with the weapon charged, unlocked and racing on its way to Earth with a Xindi ship in pursuit, and the Enterprise heading off to destroy the Guardians' sphere network. It's basically everything you want in a penultimate episode cliffhanger.

23 episodes into Season 3, and 14 have been good: the quality ratio is up to 61%.

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