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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Stratagem"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: A solid nuts-and-bolts story, although I called the ending in advance. Plot description: The
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: A solid nuts-and-bolts story, although I called the ending in
      advance.

      Plot description: The Enterprise crew captures the designer of the Xindi
      weapon and tries to coerce him into revealing sensitive information.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Stratagem"

      Airdate: 2/4/2004 (USA)
      Teleplay by Mike Sussman
      Story by Terry Matalas
      Directed by Mike Vejar

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "I've learned that our work, in the end, means very little. Our real legacy
      is the children. I would do anything to protect mine. After I was told of
      the threat from humanity, I left my theoretical studies and agreed to design
      the prototype weapon. When it arrived in your star system, I watched the
      incoming telemetry with the other members of the council. Seven million
      lives were extinguished in front of my eyes. I asked myself, how many of
      those were children?" -- Degra
      -----

      Sometimes I wonder if the people who inhabit sci-fi stories have more
      willingness to suspend their disbelief than those of us in the real world. I
      guess they would have to. After all, if you live in a world where weird
      things can and do routinely happen, and the seemingly impossible is
      possible, an elaborate ruse like the one in "Stratagem" might *feel* all
      wrong, but your knowledge of how the world works would make the scenario
      seem logically plausible.

      The plot of "Stratagem" plays like an episode of "Mission: Impossible," and,
      indeed, a reader informs me that the show is a take on an old M:I episode
      called "Submarine," in which a similar plan was hatched. (They were always
      trying to trick the bad guys with elaborate stings in those M:I stories.)
      "Stratagem" is effective because it finds the right details, uses quick
      thinking and suspense instead of mindless action, and most importantly, puts
      us in the position of sympathizing with the villain even as we hope the ruse
      will foil him.

      In my review of "Proving Ground" I made a point of the fact that the Xindi
      named Degra had been such an undefined presence that he might as well have
      been interchangeable. That's no longer the case after "Stratagem." Degra
      (Randy Oglesby) emerges as, if not quite a fully developed character, at
      least a full-fledged personality steeped in believable psychology.

      Degra wakes up to find himself in a shuttle with Jonathan Archer, apparently
      three years after the last thing he remembers. A long-haired Archer tells
      him that the Xindi mission to destroy Earth was successful, but that the
      Xindi insectoids had merely used the Earth threat as a diversion to seize
      control of Xindi society. Degra had been imprisoned with Archer in the
      aftermath of both societies' downfalls. Degra can't remember anything
      because of temporary side effects from a truth agent administered in prison
      just before their escape.

      Thank heavens this premise isn't explained with more time travel.

      The twist -- and I liked how it was revealed to us -- is that the premise
      set three years in the future is actually an elaborate deception concocted
      by the crew of the Enterprise. The shuttle is actually a simulator room and
      Archer is feeding Degra bogus facts in the hopes he can elicit relevant
      information that will help the Enterprise find the location where the Xindi
      are building The Weapon.

      This results in a game of skillful caution for both Archer and Degra. Degra
      doesn't fully believe what he is being told, but isn't quite sure what to
      think. Archer gets information relayed to him from the command center where
      T'Pol and Hoshi help run the simulation and consult Degra's personal logs.
      When they can't find the answers Archer needs to respond to Degra, Archer
      has to improvise. (I wonder: After capturing Degra and his team, could the
      crew really have conceived and implemented this elaborate plan in only three
      days?)

      We also get our first indication since Gralik in "The Shipment" that the
      Xindi have some actual depth. Degra is shown as a man building a terrible
      weapon only because he has to protect his people -- and by personal
      extension, his children. He has a family he wants to be with, he has made
      personal sacrifices to serve his people, and he expresses regrets about the
      7 million killed on Earth in the initial weapons test.

      Oglesby turns in a solid performance that showcases a respectable acting
      range; we are forced to realize that he has been wasted on perfunctory (and
      repetitive) exposition scenes in a half-dozen other episodes this season.

      The sticking point that remains, of course, is the whole muddled issue of
      the Xindi's underlying need to commit genocide based on information they've
      been supplied by an as-yet-unknown-to-us third party. As much as Degra here
      comes across as a reasonable man doing what he must for his society's
      survival, I'm still deeply troubled by the fact that there's no explaining
      the logic in the Xindi's answer that nothing short of the complete
      destruction of an entire world can counter an alleged threat.

      It's also somewhat unfortunate that the Xindi story arc has, it seems, been
      reduced to a desperate hunt for the weapon set against a countdown to its
      launch. There's no longer time or reason for diplomacy or other information
      gathering, because the writers have set a deadline of only a few weeks and
      established fairly rigid boundaries.

      What works here is the way the story's details are an exercise in precision:
      One wrong statement by Archer, or one technical glitch in the simulator at
      the wrong time, and the whole operation will be blown. Indeed, the scene
      where Degra finally begins to suspect he is being lied to -- while hiding a
      weapon behind his back -- is one of the better recent examples of suspense
      on this series. I will trade any 10 scenes of the MACOs shooting at people
      for one well-executed scene like this that stimulates the mind as well as
      the viscera.

      Ultimately, the ruse is blown, but not before Degra has unwittingly given
      Archer the coordinates of a red giant where a Xindi military colony called
      Azati Prime is located. Could this be the base where the final weapon is
      being built? Degra later claims not, and with a ticking clock, Archer must
      decide what to do next. It's a three-week detour to the red giant -- a
      detour they can't afford to make if it's not the right location. (Although I
      now find myself asking, a "detour" from what alternative course of action?
      Perhaps I missed something.)

      I admit I'm forced to wonder why Archer did not consider
      interrogation-by-airlock, but perhaps that's a can of worms best left where
      it lies.

      To shorten the voyage, Archer orders Trip to investigate and adapt the Xindi
      starship's subspace vortex technology that allows them to jump quickly
      across light-years of space. Trip does so and launches the Enterprise into a
      vortex that threatens to rip the ship apart. Archer desperately grabs Degra
      and the Xindi engineer from the holding cell and demands they help stabilize
      the technology.

      It's at this point where the twist upon the twist became fairly obvious to
      me -- that the whole use of the Xindi vortex technology was another
      simulated ruse to make it look like the Enterprise had so quickly traveled
      to Azati Prime. I just wonder if Degra would've really been taken in by this
      particular trick and let slip his outburst, considering he had just been
      through one elaborate deception already. What's the proverb Scotty once
      used? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

      No matter. My objections to such plot points aren't huge. "Stratagem" is a
      solid installment in the Xindi arc, in large part because of its
      straightforwardness and willingness to stick to characters and truthful
      behavior. The Enterprise crew gets a crucial piece of information, and the
      Enterprise writers pull it off skillfully.

      --
      Next week: Reed and Hayes go one-on-one, as do Trip and T'Pol.

      -----
      Copyright 2004 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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