74-76: The Council / Countdown / Zero Hour
To finish off the third season, "Star Trek: Enterprise" produced a massive
3-episode spectacle of answers and resolution, with all of the ongoing threads of
the Xindi plot and of season 3 shipboard relationships charging strongly forward,
delivering on the promises made since the previous season's finale. I was almost
prepared to make a case that these three episodes constituted the best, most exciting story on
Enterprise ever, if only some serious flaws hadn't poked through.
First off, we have to note that production value is quite high and satisfying on these
three episodes. Money for sets and optical shots and other effects seems to be better spent
when it is used to create something that will be seen and used in several episodes.
Characters and narratives can become bigger, more interesting, and less predictable
when they appear across several episodes. These three episodes reap the full benefit
of this long-term approach, and deliver a really exciting and worthy conclusion to the year's
I particularly loved the reveal of the council chamber's location, one of many great
visual effect highlights.
Only a few very minor points detracted from this conclusion in the style/production value
arena. One was the knifeplay - which was a bit too ugly and primitive for my sci-fi tastes.
Another was the small handful of torture scenes - no one really wants that as part of their TV viewing
and writers really should come up with better stuff. But as I say, these are small bits that
are more than made up for by all the good stuff here that is far more plentiful.
On the narrative side of things, we've got a bit more to talk about. Most of what we've got
here is good stuff. I would say one thing about many of the Xindi characters. At times they
seem to stretch credulity by having some very serious convictions one moment, but then come
around to champion other views later on. Some of these twists are more believable than others.
Does it all hold up in the end? Even in these last three episodes, we still manage to get some
tidbits of character exposition that add credibility to various Xindi individuals. (As part of
that exposition, many members
of the council only have their names spoken on screen once all year, here in the final push.)
I'm always prepared to grant aliens some substantial differences in brain chemistry leading
to entirely different habitual thought processes, and from that point of view, I tend to think
of the Xindi as being a bit more gullible to propaganda and hot-headedness than Humans or Vulcans.
What we've seen of Xindi character and motivation all year works well enough for me.
(I wish I could say the same for the characters of "Lost" over their six year run, but
that's a whole 'nother TV show.)
The only real narrative flaw in these final episodes is a temporal one. It begins with some
very minor bumps and glitches that would be easy to ignore. We get a number of scenes of the
most heinous villains babbling on about timelines, and those scenes kind of missed the mark for me.
Their use of terminology is loose and sloppy, as though Star Trek is recycling its own crap upon
itself and suffering from Boudrillard's decay of meaning with each iteration. The gist remains
clear enough anyway, but wimps the characters out a bit. Most other scenes show our protagonists
really up against the odds, struggling hard not to lose everything. Then along comes one of these
white-out scenes, which should creep us out as the villains say, "well now we're going to do THIS!"
Instead, these villains manage to nearly undercut all the jeopardy by saying that it's actually
more and more likely that the protagonists will be victorious. Ick! Maybe this truly is how
conspirators spend their final days when their machinations crumble around them, but if such
scenes are going to contribute to a narrative, better choices should be made in what these villains
say, both in the selection of ideas and their articulation. All things said and done, I would
like to have scenes of these characters here, but with these scenes as they are, I worry that they
weaken the story more than they strengthen it. Still, this is a very minor flaw, easily overlooked,
which doesn't truly hurt the story.
Daniels also makes a brief appearance in the season finale, during a scene in a completely
arbitrary time off on its own tangent. One kind of gets the feeling at this point that
the writers are trying to use him in the same fashion as Bakula's other counterpart Al
on "Quantum Leap", only it's really not working. Daniels rambles on with his usual schtick about the
historical importance of Archer's future, using that as the lame excuse for begging Archer
to not be the proactive hero tackling the issues of his own present day. It leaves me wondering,
"My God, why did they bother to put this here at all?!" It adds nothing to the conclusion
of the Xindi saga, breaks the momentum, and is completely useless. It's a mistake for sure,
BUT, since you can easily cut this scene or ignore it without it detracting from the conclusion
of the Xindi saga, this remains as just another minor temporal fluff.
I will say that "Enterprise" feels like a slightly different show now that Berman and Braga
themselves are writing the final episode "Zero Hour". The core action sections wrapping up
the Xindi saga are equally good, but it is noticeable that many of the regulars miraculously have
time for scenes of self-reflection during this. Phlox has one which isn't out of character,
but feels out of context because of its timing during the narrative.... when more pressing concerns
are paramount. Shouldn't he have done all that months earlier?
But I want to give a positive point to Berman and Braga as writers in the sense that I felt
Hoshi's voice was finally present in the writing here in "Zero Hour", for the first time since
"Broken Bow" and
"Fight or Flight".
Seeing as how Hoshi almost disappeared into the background
even more than Travis Mayweather during the later stages of season three, the resurgence of her
character was quite reassuring.
But now to the big serious flaw. Collectively, "The Council", "Countdown", and
the first 80% of "Zero Hour" could have easily gone down in my book as Enterprise's finest story
(partly because the bar was not set quite as high on "Enterprise" as on other Trek series),
with Archer's final action shot being one of those classics that had burned itself into my brain
as a very positive key memory of this show. But show runners Braga and Berman then went on to snatch
defeat from the jaws of victory, leaving me scratching my heads at their sense of taste. In the end
with the last 20% of "Zero Hour" weighing in, I have to say I think that
"Broken Bow", and
"The Expanse" all manage to stay ahead of this 3-parter
in my ultimate ranking of the entire run of Enterprise.
It does make a certain amount of sense that B. & B. should want to create some kind of cliffhanger
to pull us in for the start of the fourth season. Personally, I'm not sure that was wise or
necessary. Simply bringing the Xindi saga to a successful conclusion, which they did,
shows that they will deliver what they promise and therefore makes it natural for us to want
to tune in next year, knowing that the show has finally gotten good. They could have simply gone
out on a high. Let the final act be a coda of celebration and reflection, with
Admiral Forrest and Ambassador Sevol greeting the crew on their good Earth. Far too simple.
Even pulling a total Quantum-Leap exit for Archer isn't totally without merit, if it can tease
us with the promise of a GOOD adventure to open next season. But what we are teased with is anything
but good. It just looks like old tired recycled crap.
Firstly, Braga can't seem to keep his fingers out of time travel. On Star Trek, that is NOT
automatically a draw, and under his pen, is often something that can bore the audience and
send them away in droves. Further, he appears to be tipping his hand to show that he's going to
really screw this one up by starting with what we can guess to be his idea of a time rewrite.
Oh, the importance of keeping history "correct"! Pass me the barf bag. I wish I could maybe
say that there was a good reason why the Enterprise crew should have slid to an alternate Earth,
and done it in two completely separate groups, but I really don't want to be dissecting
the massive action beats concluding the Xindi saga looking for such a distraction.
I wish I could say that this was just some stupid
one-off adventure that did this, an adventure that all Trek fans could safely ignore, but here it is
staining the final 10 minutes of what otherwise might have been the most exciting story
"Enterprise" ever did. Aaaahhhh!!!! I would so love to pull "Zero Hour" in two,
and keep its Xindi portions completely separate from the prelude to "Storm Front".
Back to the consideration of enticing the audience to tune in next year, this ending misfires in
another arena. Hollywood is going to portray Nazis again. Like they haven't already done that to
death, and it gets more boring every time. Braga didn't learn his lesson back on Voyager's
"The Killing Game" at the end of
The Hirogen Arc. How much of a literal repeat of
"City on the Edge of Forever" were he and Berman going to try to chuck at us?
I consoled myself that just maybe, in a time travel tale, they might reveal the identity
of Sillick's mysterious informant from the future. Neither of them had appeared all season.
But I have to confess, I didn't really care about such a reveal very much anymore. This show
no longer needed to crutch itself on a familiar face from TNG, DS9, or Voyager, if indeed
such was mysterio's identity. "Enterprise" had established its own regulars, and a cast
of recurring minor characters that we needed to see more of. Still, it would be a promise
to deliver on, if we could have that reveal just the same.
And so, with an unnecessarily sinking heart, I grimaced and tuned in to the season four
opener. Archer's out-of-place scenario did not look enticing. Captain Quantum indeed.
Rankings (Season Three):
- Proving Ground (a nice clean sci-fi action story advancing a lot of the long-term
character relationships that we care about. FINALLY an episode
that does Star Trek Enterprise RIGHT!)
- The Council / Countdown / Zero Hour
- Harbinger (Intrigue aboard ship and with spheres, and best Hayes story yet.)
- Azati Prime
- The Forgotten
- Stratagem (Another solid tale of progress for season 3, fleshing out Degra to the max.)
- Exile (tops all season 3 stories that come before it in the run.
Hoshi's situation is interesting and civil, with eye-candy,
then gets a little tired, but ends positively.
Sphere exploration is fascinating.
[A lot of fans seem to forget how much important info comes out first
in this episode.] More!)
- The Shipment (A solid story advancing the main plot, and singling out Degra a bit.
Not too exciting, but solid.)
- The Xindi
- Similitude (This finally feels like Star Trek, TNG style, first time in a LONGGGG time.
Impressive debut for Manny Coto. Off point for the season arc, and a bit
too harsh with Archer's determination in a scene or two, but balanced in the end.
Early on, it looked like the reset-button would make the journey pointless,
but it soon twists unexpectedly into something much better.
An interesting idea, fairly well explored from a thorough variety of angles.)
- Hatchery (alien influence or evolved philosophy? This one kept me guessing long
after I thought I'd figured it all out.)
- E Squared
- Rajiin (decent story advancing the main season 3 plot)
- North Star (Way out west. This turns out alright in the end, but makes us anticipate
a formula rut episode for the first 2/3. Thankfully, no
Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development,
no Prime Directive. The truth is allowed to rule, honest
relations develop, real issues are tackled head on. Very nice. Action is a bit
gratuitous, but not bad. Star Trek has evolved since the 1960's at last.
Two thumbs up.)
- Doctor's Orders (not too bad, but a bit dull)
- Chosen Realm (opens with very good new information and a promising difference of beliefs,
but descends too completely into a terrorism version of ye olde
"take over the Enterprise" plot. 2/3 of this one can go out the airlock.
A dialogue-based exploration of a more rational spiritual belief system
could have made a much better episode.)
- Impulse (nice CGI and arc development, but a dull episode premise. Improvements
might include losing the out-of-sequence hook that creates anticipation of disappointment.)
- Carpenter Street (ick!)
- Extinction (what a bore! It advances nothing of the big plot, and doesn't even feature
our characters as Bakula and company play other roles. HUGE fumble!)
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