[ENT] Jammer's Review: "The Xindi"
- 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
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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...