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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Countdown"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: Last week s episode s spirit recycled with different facts. Appropriately dizzying. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2004
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.


      In brief: Last week's episode's spirit recycled with different facts.
      Appropriately dizzying.

      Plot description: In exchange for a promise to disable the spheres, the
      Xindi aquatics agree to help Archer stop the reptilians, who have kidnapped
      Sato and are forcing her to decrypt the weapon's firing codes.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - "Countdown"

      Airdate: 5/19/2004 (USA)
      Written by Andre Bormanis & Chris Black
      Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

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

      "This could be a command subroutine."
      "And it could be a letter to Santa Claus."
      "The boss of this family told you you're gonna be Santa Claus. You're Santa
      Claus."
      -- T'Pol, Trip, and Paulie Gualtieri's version of a command subroutine
      -----

      The title pretty much says it all. "Countdown" is the ticking clock to the
      imminent colossal calamity that will either happen (yeah, right) or not
      happen in the season finale -- although there will certainly be another
      countdown within the events of next week's "Zero Hour" itself. Place your
      bets on Earth's fate now -- although if I were you I'd just go ahead and put
      $1 on Earth being destroyed, since the payoff on that bet would easily be
      about 10,000 to one. Hey, it's only a dollar.

      "Countdown" is structured almost identically to last week's "Council": The
      Xindi Death Star is getting away, our heroes must make difficult
      negotiations with other Xindi to try to stop it, there's a big battle, and
      the Death Star slips away into a vortex -- again.

      As a purely structural form with ongoing plot advancement, sustained
      tension, terrific visual-effects sequences, and an exhausting last act that
      leaves us suspended with yet another cliffhanger -- well, this works once
      again. Yes, we saw almost exactly the same thing last week, but for the
      second week in a row, the creators manage to generate a legitimate visceral
      impact.

      The reptilians and insectoids have taken the weapon into a vortex, but they
      only have two of the five firing codes. They need at least three firing
      codes to arm the weapon. Since Hoshi is a linguistic prodigy, Dolum has
      kidnapped her in an effort to force her to decrypt the aquatics' firing
      sequence. Obviously, Hoshi is not amenable to this idea, so the reptilians
      torture her with mind-altering parasites that invade her brain.

      Poor Hoshi. She's such a small young woman amid these big, burly reptilian
      bad guys. The physical intimidation factor is bad enough (and still she
      refuses to help, defiantly spitting in Dolum's face); but she's forced
      through brainwashing to submit to their will. I said it last week: These are
      not nice guys.

      Meanwhile, Archer makes his second pass at the now-fractured Xindi council.
      The aquatics, with the only armaments that stand a chance against Dolum and
      his allies, may be humanity's last hope. Alas, they are *still* indecisive
      about a course of action, despite the reptilians and insectoids having made
      off with the Death Star. They tell Archer to wait -- that they will inform
      him of their decision once they've made it. Archer's frustration is
      understandable, and he makes a good point: By the time the aquatics make up
      their mind, they may find that the actual decision has been made without
      them. You know, Ticking Clock and all.

      So Archer makes a proposal: The Enterprise will disable the sphere network
      in exchange for the aquatics' help in launching a strike on Dolum's forces.

      I'm forced to wonder why the Xindi, with decades or even centuries of
      studying the spheres, would not have found a way to disable them if they
      were so motivated. (The Enterprise, by contrast, needs only a few days to
      come up with a possible solution.) Perhaps it's worth noting that Trip
      doesn't actually have the solution in the can. Archer simply sells the
      aquatics on an idea they don't know is actually unproven (no pressure,
      Trip). The aquatics agree to Archer's terms and prepare to open a vortex to
      intercept the weapon and launch an attack. (It would seem this isn't a
      decision the aquatics need very long to deliberate.)

      Truthfully, I'm not so sure you would call what happens in the course of
      this episode a "story." It's simply plot and action skillfully assembled --
      a series of events framed as goal-oriented nonstop momentum. That not such a
      bad thing, but I'll be damned if I want to describe it blow by blow. Suffice
      it to say that it comes down to the Enterprise and their new Xindi allies
      attacking Dolum's ships and the weapon in a big action climax, and
      retrieving Hoshi with a MACO boarding party.

      Some highlights:

      -- The interior of the weapon demonstrates excellent production design
      alongside so-so imagination. (The spinning central core seems to shout:
      "Blow me up in next week's finale!")

      -- The sphere builders use the spheres to create massive anomalies that
      thwart the Enterprise's attack and permit the weapon to escape again. This
      is conveyed with elaborate FX and mayhem, including imaginative shots of
      anomalies ripping through Xindi aquatic ships, which leak water rather than
      venting atmosphere.

      -- Major Hayes is wounded during the boarding assault and subsequently dies
      on the operating table, where his last words are, significantly, with Lt.
      Reed.

      -- Dolum, a tried-and-true villain to the core, kills his insectoid allies
      at the first possible hint of betrayal.

      -- After the successful retrieval of Hoshi, Archer must immediately make
      another questionable I-have-no-choice call (to Phlox's dismay) by
      immediately assigning Hoshi -- who is barely healthy enough to be moved --
      to yet another boarding team, so she can decode blueprints for destroying
      the weapon.

      -- Archer's team secures passage on Degra's ship (by inheritance it actually
      now belongs to the Xindi played by Tucker Smallwood, but he still,
      regrettably, has no name) to chase down the weapon while T'Pol takes the
      Enterprise to Sphere 41, a key hub in the network (with the general idea
      being, bring it down and bring the network down).


      That's the kinetic action/events portion. It is what it is, and on that leve
      l it ranks as fairly solid stuff. But what qualifies as actual storytelling
      (as opposed to "plotting") can probably be boiled down to two character
      scenes I appreciated.

      One is near the beginning, when Reed and Hayes have a conversation about the
      death of Cpl. Hawkins. There's a slight tension between them, believable
      under the circumstances. After all, Hawkins was one of Hayes' men, placed
      under Reed's care, and simply put, Hawkins didn't return from the mission.
      Hayes doesn't blame Reed, but he feels a certain possessiveness over the
      MACOs that's hard to give up.

      Really, this is the sort of thing we should've been seeing all season,
      instead of ham-fisted stupidity like Reed and Hayes beating on each other in
      "Harbinger." Finally, now, at the end of the season, the writers are dealing
      with the MACOs as a subset soldier unit finding its place aboard this
      Starfleet vessel, instead of treating them as vague action figures. Hayes
      has a nice little speech where he puts the Starfleet/MACO melding in the
      perspective of teamwork and professionalism. This should've happened long
      before Episode 23, but I'm definitely willing to say better late than never,
      particularly seeing as Hayes dies in the course of the hour.

      The other character scene is like the writers' meditation on returning this
      series to an eventual state of normalcy. It's simply Archer, Trip, and T'Pol
      having dinner in the captain's quarters -- a once-familiar sight that has
      been absent for months because of this grueling mission. There's a freshness
      to the optimism here, the notion that the mission *will* be over in a mere
      matter of days or even hours, and that we might as well discuss our plans
      for what we'll do after Earth is saved. (This is one of those times when you
      don't bother to think about the alternative scenario, which would be too
      depressing to contemplate.)

      In a way, the dinner scene looks beyond the Xindi arc, and reminds us that
      this series can finally explore something else next season. (The sentiment
      fits well with word that Enterprise was renewed for another season,
      unofficially reported a day before "Countdown" aired.)

      Of course, before that can happen, we have to deal with the season finale.

      --
      Next week: To be concluded...?

      -----
      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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