53: The Xindi
The highly anticipated third season opener is a strange egg, coupling development for
a lot of long-term plot threads with a more mundane run-of-the-mill action situation
for the centerpiece of the episode. I don't think this episode really succeeds
in drawing fresh audience members into the big story for the season... Last season's finale
"The Expanse" worked SO much better at that,
and anyone wanting to get into Season Three really
should start with that prior episode. That said, those of us who did get intrigued by
"The Expanse" will find enough good stuff here in "The Xindi" to keep us intrigued and on
the hook for more.
The opening sections of "The Xindi" give us some good material, but I think we get
far too many new characters thrown at us too quickly, and none of them seem to get enough
of a good hook or scene to stand out or become truly memorable. First we get the council
of villains conspiring against Enterprise and Earth for this season, with about eight speaking
characters arguing for dominance and none of them really standing out, none of them giving their
names either. "Is that Degra sitting in the corner?" I ask myself, having seen this once before
twelve years ago. No way to tell from this episode alone.
The ranks on Enterprise have also been increased to accommodate non-Starfleet military personnel.
Steven Culp becomes the first major actor I'd ever seen on this show to get his credit along
with his character's name Major Hayes in the opening, so it's easy to pick him out. Daniel Dae Kim also
gets to smile and deliver one line as one of the new marines, although I'd be hard pressed to
find him in any of the action scenes that follow. Really, despite the fact that Hoshi went
out of her way to give us an introduction to these new crewmembers, they still feel like one
great homogenous group of unknowns. And it is bizarre to think that she did this after
they'd already been cruising along together for six weeks, as indicated in Archer's earlier rant.
For its main section, the episode diddles around with a basic mine/prison-break scenario,
working through mistrust with an archetypal trickster/informant character. Not only is this
standard formula in terms of writing (and Berman & Braga don't seem particularly good at it
with Archer having a big goal of talking to the guy but no ounce of a reason why the guy
should want to tell Archer anything), but this bit is also tired formula in the fact that
we witness our characters fiddling around in the old tiny dingy standard cave sets filled with
smoke yet again for most of this. The lack of production value here is a bit less excusable
than usual since we can easily expect that it will take our characters the entire episode
to finish with this place.
And it does seem that "Enterprise" as a series too often goes for a dark, foggy,
colourless tone, both on and off the ship. Frankly, it's a bit depressing, and doesn't speak
to the optimism of previous Trek shows, or frankly the spirit of the title sequence either.
"The Xindi" certainly indulges in its fair share of this on today's planet, with our
protagonists' crawl through sewage and icky blue slime in the shaft areas really dampening
the atmosphere that should be here to draw new viewers in for the season.
The good news is that we're out of the ugly mines with ten minutes of screen time to spare,
which the episode then puts to excellent use. The production value is in the optical shots,
and we get some really good ones. We get to see the ramifications of what Archer
has managed to learn during this episode, which nicely seems to contradict much of what the
mysterious future figure told him in the last episode. The mystery deepens. I'm there.
We also see the beginnings of a new angle on relations between T'Pol and Trip.
Enterprise needed to do more with the interpersonal relationships between the crew members,
and though I'm not sure this T'Pol/Trip angle was the best idea, at least it seems to be
giving this overly-congealed pot a little bit of a stir. It still feels quite clumsy though.
There seems to be a triple fumble here as well. T'Pol shouldn't really need to take her shirt
off, but having done that, the camera didn't have to sit where it would give us a revealing view,
which then necessitates that she go out of character to cover up areas that Trip wouldn't have seen
anyway. It makes the whole thing so clumsy and obvious, when subtle tensions would have been more
effective. But perhaps the show's creators had painted themselves into a corner by creating a
female lead who by design isn't allowed to display emotion, so now they've got her displaying
the only other thing they can think of to make her attractive.
It is notable too that the title music for the show is much improved. We get a whole new
rendition from the supporting instruments, which seems to have more energy and rhythm to it,
but most importantly has less of a distorted electric guitar in it, helping the tone of each note
come through more clearly and making the whole thing more tuneful and catchy. Very nice.
Too bad we end up with the exact same raspy vocals as before - I'd have loved it if these had been
replaced with good instrumentation instead, or at least a decent voice.
As this episode wraps up, it is the new developments in the mystery and the ongoing plot that
have center stage and command our attention, and this episode absolutely makes you want to see where
the show is headed next. It's a fitting middle chapter of a longer story.....
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