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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "The Xindi"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Some new places, and new faces, but some hoary old
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2003
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Some new places, and new faces, but some hoary old techniques.
      Call it a mixed bag.

      Plot description: After six uneventful weeks seeking out the Xindi in the
      Delphic Expanse, the Enterprise follows a lead to a harsh mining facility
      and one of its Xindi laborers.

      -----
      Enterprise: "The Xindi"

      Airdate: 9/10/2003 (USA)
      Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

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

      "We don't have the luxury of being safe or cautious anymore."
      -- Archer, perhaps talking about the battle for TV ratings
      -----

      It's been six weeks since the Enterprise entered the Delphic Expanse. And
      the Xindi are well aware of its presence. In the opening minute we see a
      sort of Xindi roundtable council meeting, where arguments over What
      Enterprise Knows are being presented by several different alien species,
      including one that looks like a giant fly -- or maybe an ant -- as well as a
      reptilian creature and a weird kinda-walrus-thing in a tank. The fly wants
      to send out forces to destroy the human ship. Maybe that's justifiable since
      I make it a rule to kill any fly that invades my living space.

      The Enterprise crew, however, is still very much in the dark. They have not
      come across any hard evidence pointing to the Xindi. And, so far, the
      weirdest thing to have happened is that some containers are bouncing around
      from one wall to the other in a cargo hold, because gravity seems not to be
      working quite right in the Delphic Expanse. For the crew, indeed, there's
      been a bit of wandering and waiting thus far in the Delphic Expanse. The
      puzzle of the Xindi, which Archer's new mission has implored he assemble,
      has yet to supply any pieces.

      But Archer has a recently acquired lead from a cargo captain whom Reed says
      is of "questionable character." Archer doesn't much care about his
      questionable character, because We Need Answers Dammit and we're not going
      to find them without taking a risk or two. The Enterprise follows the lead
      to a world with a harsh mining facility, where apparently a Xindi laborer is
      known to reside.

      And so begins season three with "The Xindi," a so-so premiere that invites
      our curiosity while also delivering several notable disappointments that
      invite us to think, "You're kidding, right?" Here's an episode that tells us
      there is not one but five distinct species of Xindi, while also giving us a
      story where, almost hilariously inevitably, Archer and Trip are, yes,
      tricked into being imprisoned and must subsequently escape and/or be
      rescued. Meanwhile, 7 million human deaths from "The Expanse" have for the
      moment been reduced via microcosm to a personal vendetta for Trip, who has
      nightmares about the death of his sister.

      There's a nightmare sequence where Trip sees his sister about to be killed
      by what we might as well call the Xindi Swath. It's an effective sequence in
      its visual sense of stark, melodramatic contrasts -- a white, pristine
      paradise about to go up in the flames of a hellfire. I was less than
      thrilled, however, by the first moment in this episode where Trip comes in
      contact with his first Xindi (Richard Lineback), grabs him by the collar and
      says, "I'm not sure why, but I'm just itching to kick the hell outta you,"
      which is dramatic overstatement.

      (1) But of course Trip knows *why* he feels the way he feels, and (2) that
      doesn't make his actions justified under the circumstances. Given the level
      of information Trip has, his unchecked aggression here strikes me as not
      unlike an American in 2003 grabbing by the collar the first random Arab he
      bumps into on the street and accusing him of being a terrorist. I'm not
      saying such an exchange couldn't (or doesn't) happen, but in the 22nd
      century, Trip strikes me as cavalierly un-Trek-like here, revealing
      pumped-up visceral aggression without the benefit of reasoned thought. It
      might've been nice if the story challenged Trip on this point at least a
      little.

      Then, of course, we get to the passage where Archer Goes to Jail [TM], which
      as of right now I'm declaring is this series' most obvious cliche -- the
      equivalent of the Shuttle Crash [TM] on Voyager.

      It's at this point my imagination takes hold, since the story's certainly
      doesn't. I'm imagining the initial writing of the first draft of the "Xindi"
      script, where Berman and Braga have gotten to the point where Trip and
      Archer meet the Xindi -- who might be able to direct them to his
      homeworld -- and the door in the mining shaft is closed by the mining
      foreman, who has told them, tellingly and telegraphically, "Take your time."
      The Xindi prisoner then informs them that they, like he, have been lured
      into a trap of forced slave labor.

      I'm imagining Braga sitting at the computer keyboard (in this particular
      fantasy sequence, boss Berman dictates while right-hand man Braga does the
      typing). Berman stops dictating, having hit a wall, and Braga then suddenly
      remembers an important office tool at his disposal: He looks down at his
      keyboard, which has one of those plastic overlays that explains what the
      F-keys are programmed to do. Above F12, it says "SEND ARCHER & CREWMATE TO
      JAIL." Braga decides now would be a good time to press this button, since
      F12 is an oft-used function key that writes two acts' worth of script pages
      in which Archer and a random crew member (with Trip's initially equal chance
      multiplied by three before the random selection is made) are locked into a
      holding cell and must then find a way to escape, preferably by crawling
      through caves, tunnels, and/or ventilation shafts.

      Braga presses F12. Accompanied by the default Windows XP chord sound, a
      dialog box appears that says, "Automatically generate random
      imprisonment-and-jailbreak narrative?" Braga then clicks "OK," at which
      point 16 pages of standard jailbreak material is generated from a database
      of events from previous Enterprise scripts and other action movies -- in
      this case including Archer (and the random crewmate and the tagalong
      guest-star prisoner) traipsing through raw sewage and then crawling up
      through a shaft that is about to be filled with flames that would kill them.

      These events do not allow Archer and Trip and the Xindi prisoner to escape,
      however, as they are forced out of the shaft (flames, etc.) and caught by
      the guards.

      About here, I'm imagining, is where Braga hits another wall and presses F11.
      Accompanied by the default Windows XP chord, a dialog box now appears that
      says, "Automatically generate shootout-and-escape sequence?" Braga clicks
      "OK," and this generates several minutes of sustainable action and shooting
      and the narrow escape of our crew and rescue team with, of course, zero
      casualties (unless you count the Xindi prisoner).

      (Triumph voice on.) I kid, I kid. (Voice off.) I suppose it's to the credit
      of the production team and director Allan Kroeker that this lackluster
      material is somehow made watchable, almost to the point of being mildly
      entertaining. Completely unsurprisingly, "The Xindi" is terrific from a
      production standpoint, and if the writing had been up to par they might've
      had something here. The technical aspects of this show -- the production
      design, the lighting, the direction, the editing, the visual effects, the
      action choreography, the Michael Westmore makeup -- are right where they
      should be. The alien mining facility is a triumph of dusty, murky, grubby
      art design, intensely cold colors, incessantly coughing actors, and exterior
      CGI shots that convincingly and simply say "unfriendly."

      Stephen McHattie, playing the mining facility's foreman, turns in an
      effective -- if stylized -- performance that suggests a man who has been
      breathing toxic air for his entire life, and probably longer. Meanwhile,
      Scott Bakula plays Archer in an almost unremittingly grim, no-nonsense tone.
      Archer is strikingly serious, of no smiles, and exudes an attitude of
      getting the job done so the ship can get on with its important mission.

      We're also introduced to some of the ship's new Military Assault Command
      Operations team (MACOs), led by Major Hayes (Steven Culp). They provide much
      of the action in the inevitable rescue scene, but are otherwise of only
      limited story value. Now that they've been established, I hope future
      episodes will develop them or give them a purpose beyond action scenes.

      Of course, no review of "The Xindi" would be complete without a healthy
      deriding of the "Vulcan neuro-pressure" scene. Vulcan neuro-pressure,
      described by T'Pol as "a very intimate act," might help the grieving
      insomniac that is Trip sleep through the night, so Phlox talks T'Pol into
      giving Trip lessons in said technique. (For the writers, such a technique is
      probably in lieu of a mind-meld, which, as we know, the Vulcans deem illegal
      in this century.)

      This eventually leads to a laughable scene in which both T'Pol and Trip
      appear shirtless for, well, no good reason. The problem with this scene is
      its utter and shameless transparency. It has nothing to do with sex or
      intimacy or characters but simply panders -- like all of Enterprise's
      previous attempts at pseudo-sexual material (with the exception of Hoshi's
      night in "Two Days and Two Nights") -- to the audience with sex-LIKE
      material that really has nothing at all to do with sex and everything to do
      with puerile snickering.

      When are the producers going to grow up and get over it? Do they honestly
      think people tune in to their show for scenes like this? I'll tell you
      what -- under the right circumstances and writing, I'd be much more in favor
      of seeing two of the characters *actually having sex* rather than be fed
      this juvenile Sexuality Lite that thinks it's funny because, tee-hee, we can
      put almost-naked people on the screen and show non-sex sex!

      Bah. (Yep, it's F10: "Automatically create non-sexual circumstance for
      character 'T'Pol' to remove her shirt? [OK/Cancel]")

      Anyway, enough. The bottom line is that "The Xindi," while giving us some
      elements that work reasonably well and laying some groundwork in terms of
      new faces and situations, is too much business as usual: prison breaks,
      shootouts, a few hints that we might be going somewhere but precious little
      in terms of believable Xindi motivation (aside from cartoon exclamations
      that they "must finish the weapon!"). We do learn, at least, that there's a
      mystery of contradictions here somewhere; the Xindi homeworld has
      (apparently) already been destroyed for over a century, which doesn't track
      with what Future Guy told Archer regarding the Xindi and their motives. Will
      this end up a mystery, or a muddle?

      As I said before, this season has potential. "The Xindi" is proof that such
      realized potential still lies ahead of us, since it doesn't lie here.

      --
      Next week: Archer does his best impression of Janeway's interrogation in
      "Equinox, Part II."

      -----
      Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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