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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Azati Prime"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: The most satisfying payoff yet this season. Plot description: The Enterprise crew finally reaches
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 8 8:58 PM
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: The most satisfying payoff yet this season.

      Plot description: The Enterprise crew finally reaches the Xindi military
      colony at Azati Prime, and plans a suicide mission to destroy the doomsday
      weapon.

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      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Azati Prime"

      Airdate: 3/3/2004 (USA)
      Teleplay by Manny Coto
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Manny Coto
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

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

      "Patience is for the dead." -- Mantra of the terminally impatient
      -----

      "Azati Prime" is setup, payoff, cliffhanger, timeline silliness, humor,
      suspense, and special effects rolled into a single episode with some
      characters whose behavior I didn't always quite believe. While I have some
      problems with this episode, I will say this: There is no denying that it's
      loads of fun, and involving in an immediate way. It's an episode where I
      honestly did not know how it was going to end (it doesn't end, actually,
      because it's a cliffhanger), and given recent anemic installments like
      "Hatchery" and "Harbinger," that's saying something.

      I also must give credit to this episode's use of continuity and elements
      from past episodes. While it's safe to say that I have not been sold on this
      season of Enterprise because of its uneven storytelling, there are some
      strands that come together in "Azati Prime" and work. The episode uses
      little pieces from other episodes -- even failed ones -- that further a
      larger cause here.

      Yes, the Temporal Cold War is still an unlikely, contrived mess. Yes, the
      Xindi still seem like witless pawns in an implausible timeline chess game.
      But at least we're given a few reasons for why they are witless pawns, and
      at least the temporal silliness is written with enough self-awareness to
      include a starship named the "Enterprise-J."

      The crew finally reaches the colony at Azati Prime, where The Weapon is
      being built. The mission: Go in and investigate. To get inside the defense
      perimeter undetected, Trip and Mayweather use the Xindi insectoid shuttle
      obtained in "Hatchery" -- which at least gives some small justification for
      the existence of that mediocre hour.

      Important to the effect of "Azati Prime" is that it carries some conviction.
      The urgency for stopping this over-the-top uber-weapon is made reasonably
      convincing in the context of the story at hand. In one scene, Archer gives a
      grim order to destroy a Xindi listening post that has detected the
      Enterprise, lest they transmit that finding back to the colony. This is a
      potent moment, because it grows out of logical necessity but also represents
      a point of no return and an inherently tough call. It's good to see Archer
      still shows pause in killing three Xindi who are just doing their jobs, even
      if his order is legitimate for the purpose of defending billions back on
      Earth.

      In another scene, we see Degra talking with a colleague, expressing his
      reservations about destroying an entire planet. I'm glad this Degra is the
      same as the one in the Archer-manufactured scenario of "Stratagem."
      Reassured by his colleague that the attack on Earth is to protect the Xindi
      from their own destruction, Degra muses: "That's what I keep telling myself.
      But the reality is, a good number of the dead will be innocents -- and
      children." Scenes like this are welcome and necessary to keep the situation
      grounded in some form of human feeling instead of simply turning it into a
      big comic book.

      That's not to say "Azati Prime" doesn't have its share of comic-book
      elements. Particularly, we have the main antagonist in this episode (and all
      Xindi episodes), the nameless Xindi reptilian commander (Scott MacDonald, a
      Trek alum whose guest roles date all the way back to Tosk in DS9's "Captive
      Pursuit"). This ham-handed villain, who has always been impatient to the
      point of absurdity, has a line here that's appropriate, stupid, or maybe
      both: "Patience is for the dead." Here's a guy who flat-out *wants* to blow
      up Earth -- ASAFP -- and will have none of Degra's time-wasting Voice of
      Reason. But couldn't they at least give this guy a name?

      Trip and Mayweather's reconnaissance mission eventually supplies us with a
      terrific visual: We see the weapon being built at a vast, underwater
      construction site. It's one of those expansive, detailed, sci-fi opticals
      that stands alone as simply an awesome sight to behold, like the Borg
      transwarp hub in "Endgame" or the Suliban space-pod array in "Broken Bow."
      It's a shot made chilling by our knowledge that this sphere is being built
      to destroy our world.

      When Trip and Mayweather return with the reconnaissance data, the crew comes
      up with a plan to use the insectoid shuttle to get torpedoes inside the
      weapon and set off a chain reaction to destroy it. This would be a suicide
      mission. Archer says he will helm it, because "I won't order anyone else to
      die." (Although, isn't that part of the captain's job, however distasteful?)

      About this time, Archer is pulled 400 years into the future, where Daniels
      explains that Archer cannot sacrifice himself because he must negotiate a
      future peace with the Xindi. But I find myself agreeing with Archer: Daniels
      and his future "knowledge" is probably not worth the paper it hasn't been
      printed on yet. (Given the events of "Carpenter Street," I'd be tempted to
      tell Daniels to take his temporal nonsense and shove it.)

      But Daniels confirms suspicions we've had since "Harbinger," by explaining
      that the sphere-builders, for their own self-serving reasons, have
      manipulated the Xindi into their current mission to destroy Earth.
      Apparently, in Daniels' future, the Xindi are part of the Federation, all of
      which is at war with the sphere-builders. How does this fit with the
      established Trekkian timeline? Better question: Who cares?

      Really, the whole timeline is presented as a sort of believe-it-or-not
      (mostly not) exercise in surrealism. I will be impressed and probably amazed
      if it can ultimately make any sort of sense that jibes with Trek reality as
      we know it apart from this series -- or, for that matter, within this
      series. Like I've said before, it's basically an "X-Files" pseudo-plot. But
      the "X-Files" could sometimes be entertaining even when I didn't buy what
      was actually happening, and that's the effect with the timeline elements in
      "Azati Prime."

      As for the rest of the plot, it works, it moves forward with a thoroughly
      compelling urgency, and it pulls together some pieces we've seen scattered
      throughout the season. I will reserve my judgment of the timeline games for
      another day.

      T'Pol tries using logical arguments to dissuade Archer from his decision to
      pilot the suicide mission. Then she blurts out, almost uncontrollably, "I
      don't want you to die!" -- which, I must say, snapped me right out of the
      show with its overstated goofiness. Even though I've become aware that
      T'Pol's emotionalism will eventually be explained in upcoming shows, I still
      found it to be an unwanted distraction here. There's simply enough going on
      without having T'Pol making spontaneous and vaguely out-of-character
      confessions and (later) locking herself away in the captain's ready room in
      a terribly unprofessional manner at an inappropriate time.

      Obviously, Archer doesn't die in the suicide mission. Instead, he's captured
      en route by a Xindi patrol, which prompts the show's most humorous scene,
      where Archer gets interrogated and beat up by the reptilians. It's fun
      because Archer is characterized exactly like he was in "The Andorian
      Incident"; he answers questions with rambling, smart-assed digressions aimed
      to provoke. This provides a good counter to the reptilian commander's
      inherent impatience: Archer simply pisses him off *more*, meaning more fun
      for us. Archer takes his licking and keeps on ticking.

      But the most critical scenes are the ones between Archer and Degra. They
      carry the episode's real weight and suspense, because they pose the
      question: Can the tide be turned and a mutual understanding reached, despite
      the mistrust and carnage that has preceded this? It also works because the
      actors are convincing. We learned in "Stratagem" that Randy Oglesby was a
      solid performer who just needed something to do. Here he gets more to do and
      takes Degra to a place where he's not sure if he can trust anybody anymore.

      The reptilians have apparently been hiding information and conspiring with
      "her" -- a female sphere-builder, I presume -- which at least supplies an
      explanation for why people like Degra have been misled. I guess that makes
      the reptilians either Pure Evil or obsessed with their own woefully
      misguided beliefs of the human threat. Or total dupes of the
      sphere-builders.

      Meanwhile, the Enterprise is attacked and takes a pounding that's as vicious
      as any attack seen on Trek since the Defiant was destroyed in "The Changing
      Face of Evil." Cliched as it might be, the zoom-in on T'Pol's eyes is the
      perfect touch, and without words says what needs to be said, namely: "This
      is it. We're in deep trouble."

      Bottom line: This is possibly the most entertaining episode of Enterprise
      yet this season. It's not what I would call deep, and I'm still severely
      doubting any possible veracity in Daniels' timeline, but "Azati Prime" has
      enough of the right pieces. It has the performances, uses solid storytelling
      and well-placed 'splosions, has a terrific score by Jay Chattaway and
      efficient direction by Allan Kroeker. It took awhile to get here, but this
      season has finally provided at least one exciting payoff.

      -----
      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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