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220[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Zero Hour"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Jun 30, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: A fairly entertaining -- albeit thin -- wrap-up of this massive
      season-long storyline, but is the twist ending we get necessary or
      appropriate?

      Plot description: With the weapon on its final course for Earth, Archer --
      in pursuit in a Xindi vessel -- plans to board it with an armed assault
      team. Meanwhile, the Enterprise attempts to disable the sphere network at
      one of its crucial junction points.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Zero Hour"

      Airdate: 5/26/2004 (USA)
      Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "What ... the ... F***?!" -- My reaction to the last 10 seconds
      -----

      I'll give "Zero Hour" one thing: It did not bore me. It employs an endless
      series of sci-fi/action/Saturday-morning-serial cliches, but it does so with
      great technical expertise and brutally unremitting momentum. It clearly
      favors style over substance, action over useful dialog, technobabble over
      puzzle-solving, and insane -- repeat, *insane* -- plot twists over
      traditional endings. I kinda liked its reckless spirit of over-the-top
      action, big visuals, and a melodramatic ticking clock. I also laughed at the
      hoarier moments and the heedless bright ideas and goofy sci-fi oddities.
      This is fun -- but, let's face it, pretty dumb.

      And of course there's the matter of the last 60 seconds, where Trek reality
      becomes utter surrealism. I felt like I'd been transported to an alternate
      TV dimension where "Star Trek" meets "The Twilight Zone" meets "The X-Files"
      meets "Quantum Leap," and goes through one of those spatial anomalies
      created by a Delphic Expanse sphere, emerging on the other side as a
      strange, twisted mass of ... something. The final 10 seconds reminded me of
      the inexplicable dimension-shattering ending of Tim Burton's version of
      "Planet of the Apes." Jarring, and in that way weirdly compelling, but
      stranded without sense or meaning or plausibility.

      Yes, Berman & Braga have turned the screw so far they've stripped the
      threads into a fine metallic dust. About all I can say is this: If the first
      words out of Scott Bakula's mouth when Archer wakes up next season aren't
      "Oh, boy!" then the writing staff should be taken out to the Paramount
      studio lot and summarily shot for squandering obvious opportunities.

      In the opening scene, the Xindi reptilians are seen celebrating their
      imminent victory by eating live mice. Yes, live mice. I laughed. (How can't
      you?) They even hold the mice up to each other first, as if toasting with
      wine glasses. If there was any doubt that Dolum and his cohorts weren't Pure
      Evil, then this scene ... well, I don't know what this scene says. If they'd
      been eating newborn kittens after having drowned them, that would be
      iron-clad confirmation of Pure Evil. I don't know where eating live mice
      lies on the Evil Scale.

      From here (okay, maybe a little later), it's up to Archer & Co. to get
      aboard the Xindi weapon and destroy it from the inside, while Trip and T'Pol
      work on the tech solution du jour to destroy Sphere 41 and bring down the
      sphere network. There's a ton of other stuff going on here, but not much
      actual story to tell. In my review of "Countdown" I drew a distinction
      between "plot" and "story." I will elaborate here by saying that a story is
      about people and ideas and characterization, whereas plot is about
      technological manipulation, battle scenes, phaser shootouts, fistfights, and
      moving objects from A to B in a given time X, preferably before something
      explodes.

      If anything, the episode is proof that momentum and pacing and nonstop
      crisis mode can only get you so far. While there's no denying that this
      ongoing action/suspense/cliffhanger structure has played very much in
      Enterprise's favor this season (particularly the last third of the season),
      it becomes clear in "Zero Hour" that the exhaustion factor has taken its
      toll. I will be ready for something new next season.

      "Zero Hour" is the final leg of this season's obvious mission to have its
      cake and eat it too. The Enterprise writers, in devising the Xindi arc, have
      managed to play the Quest For Peaceful Trekkian Solution right alongside the
      Quest For Big Action Movie. They brought the peaceful Trek scenario to its
      climax in "The Council" by having the Enterprise become allies with Degra
      and negotiate a peace with part of the Xindi council. They bring the action
      scenario to its climax here, in what is essentially a B action movie where I
      had pretty much predicted from the first frame (if not five episodes ago)
      that we would be seeing the Xindi weapon blow up just outside Earth's orbit.
      There is something to be said for formula conventions.

      This is the kind of show that starts with a general concept and then adds
      everything plus the kitchen sink. For example, the sphere builders board the
      Enterprise and walk through walls and sabotage systems in their attempt to
      thwart Trip's technobabble solution to destroy Sphere 41. This is in
      addition to the fact that they have created a toxic anomaly field around the
      sphere, which the Enterprise must enter despite Phlox's assurances that
      exposure will kill the crew in a matter of minutes. (Even the ticking clocks
      have their own ticking clocks.) Everyone's skin begins to crack, making the
      Enterprise crew look like *they* might be reptilians.

      But wait -- here's a visit from Daniels, who tells Archer not to lead the
      boarding party, because he's too important to the future of the Federation,
      the founding of which he will be sitting down to sign in seven years -- an
      interesting factoid, but maybe not after you've considered the source. I
      give up in trying to make sense of Daniels and his timeline illogic. He's
      like a message in a bottle, but without the message, leaving you with
      nothing to do with the empty bottle except smash it over your head.

      And now here comes Shran and the Andorians to create a diversion for the
      reptilians so Archer's team can get aboard the weapon. Shran, it can be
      said, comes literally out of nowhere, which definitely makes him a function
      of plot as opposed to story. (Shran says Archer owes him one; so,
      apparently, do the writers.)

      The most human aspect in the episode is Hoshi, who has to translate the
      Xindi weapon blueprints under awful pain and pressure. It's not enough that
      she's not even close to recovered from her torturous encounter with brain
      parasites; she's also wracked with guilt over having been forced to decipher
      the firing code for the reptilians. In the midst of all the chaos is Linda
      Park's performance as a person who is exhausted, sick, and suffering, and
      yet still performs with relative grace under pressure.

      But no time for human emotions! We have a weapon to stop!

      As for the solution of actually stopping the weapon, it comes down to the
      most obvious of action cliches. Part of me expected little else; after all,
      how many ways are there to blow up something so big with such a small armed
      boarding party? Still, I had to chuckle at the fact that humankind's fate
      comes down to Sato telling Archer which neon light tubes to invert under a
      control panel. You'd think that someday someone would be able to design a
      doomsday machine that couldn't be overloaded simply by short-circuiting the
      controls. The Xindi are apparently not those someones.

      Archer says he will initiate the final sequence himself, and orders the rest
      of the boarding party to evacuate. "This isn't open for debate," Archer
      says, for perhaps the 90th time this season. Inevitably, Archer is jumped by
      an angry Dolum after activating the final sequence, leading to the
      obligatory B-movie fistfight, etc., replete with Archer getting beat up,
      thrown around, and hanging from a ledge, etc. Dolum's a big guy, so Archer
      defeats him by slapping a grenade on his back and them blowing him up, which
      is pretty amusing. Archer then runs toward the camera in slow-motion as
      explosions go off behind him, also in slow-motion. Then the weapon, nearing
      Earth's orbit, explodes.

      So, to recap: Dolum gets blowed up real good; Archer runs in slow-motion;
      Xindi weapon gets blowed up real good.

      Meanwhile, the Enterprise successfully destroys Sphere 41, causing a
      disruption which cascades through the network and causes all the spheres to
      implode -- something the story is nearly ready to do. Without the spheres,
      the sphere-builder threat is neutralized, and the Delphic Expanse returns to
      normal space, explaining why we've never heard of the Delphic Expanse in
      later centuries (although still no explanation for why we've not heard of
      the Xindi in later centuries).

      All of this tech-heavy madness is made almost amazingly watchable by the
      filmmakers -- director Allan Kroeker, the editors, composer Jay Chattaway,
      the special-effects wizards. As a script, "Zero Hour" isn't much to behold;
      it's one of those shows that's all in how it's executed than in what's on
      the page. The technobabble is lame and arbitrary and the action scenes are
      painfully familiar. Despite that, "Zero Hour" is a watchable and
      entertaining example of a big-but-thin sci-fi action plot.

      But...

      That brings us to the show's Ultimate WTF Ending. Maybe some would argue
      that Berman & Braga are to be commended for not giving us a traditional
      ending. I'm not so sure. "Zero Hour" is an episode that seems to demand
      resolution and payoff. While we get some of that, we also get the "shocker"
      of the year, a completely unrelated twist that I found more goofy than
      shocking.

      We're left with questions: What happened to Starfleet? Why are American WWII
      fighter planes opening fire on Trip and Mayweather's shuttlepod over San
      Francisco? Why is Archer, badly burned, lying in a Nazi MASH unit? And why,
      oh why, is there an unknown alien in a Nazi uniform among them? Is this the
      past, the present, the future, an alternate universe? Is Daniels
      responsible? Has the timeline been manipulated and scrambled to save Archer
      from dying aboard the exploded Xindi weapon?

      Is short, WTF?

      The ending is an attention-getting -- if corny -- teaser for season four,
      but I can't endorse it as an ending for "Zero Hour." What if Enterprise had
      been canceled (which was a distinct possibility at the time this was shot)?
      Was an alternate ending with more resolution waiting in the wings?

      Tune in next season. I will be.

      -----
      Copyright 2004 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...