[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Stratagem"
- Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
In brief: A solid nuts-and-bolts story, although I called the ending in
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
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
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
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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...