Sunday, June 12, 2022

Enterprise, Season 1: The Andorian Incident

Enterprise, Season 1
"The Andorian Incident"
Airdate: October 31, 2001
6 of 97 Produced
6 of 97 Aired

Introduction

While visiting a Vulcan Monastery, the crew of the Enterprise becomes embroiled in a struggle between the Vulcans and their violent neighbors the Andorians.

"The name's Shran. Thy'lek Shran."


Writing

Matthew: So Berman and Braga are intent on developing the notion of Vulcans as being not the same as we knew them from TOS onward - rather than being rigorously ethical and pacifistic, instead they are sometimes helpful and friendly to humanity, but many other times condescending, devious and hypocritical.  This episode picks up that theme from the pilot. The P'Jem monastery here houses a dozen or so quite snotty Vulcan priests, and they are hiding a spy station that is surveilling the Andorians. I think the structure of this episode blunted the potential drama the Vulcans not living up to our (or humanity's) expectations. As the episode stands, it takes until the final ten minutes for us to learn that the spy base does in fact exist, and that the Andorians maybe have a legitimate beef. But this means that the only indignation and response we get is Archer telling everyone to take pictures and give them to the Andorians. How much better would it be if they discovered the base earlier on in the episode and actually had to navigate the implications of this during the hostage crisis? We could have heard the arguments of the Vulcans in favor of such surveillance capability. We could have had the drama of Archer agreeing with the Andorians but not supporting their methods. We could have had T'Pol struggling with divided loyalty between her current crew and her people. Oh, well.

Kevin: The element of this plot that annoyed me the most was how summarily Archer made executive level decisions that impact literally this whole area of space. What if Andoria declares war? Vulcan has a pretty solid espionage case against Archer right now. I wanted to see more discussion of the actual motivations and implications too. I'm also slightly nagged since this seems to run counter to the contention that Vulcans not only don't lie as a matter of course, but cannot lie. I've never believed even when Spock says it, but it seems like this should just be exhibit A in this argument.

Matthew: In the episode we did get, I enjoyed the various machinations by which the Enterprise crew sneaked around and overcame the Andorians.  I liked learning about the monastery itself, seeing ancient relics, and the various interrogations. Commander Shran is also an obvious highlight here. His nuanced dialogue and characterization makes him instantly likeable, which reinforces my earlier criticism of not getting a real debate in this episode. I was less enamored of the other Andorians, especially the rapey subordinate. I think this is lazy storytelling. Overall, there is a relative lack of science fiction here - it's a pretty straight action story. I liked the story of Archer and T'Pol trying to find a working rapport, but the overall implications of the plot weren't explored to my satisfaction.

Kevin: Yeah, it makes me like a writer less whenever they invoke sexual assault as a cheap means of ratcheting tension. I think the core of what Shran will become is here but he doesn't actually get a lot to do in this episode. Maybe a line or two about what Andoria is experiencing at the hands of Vulcan.  

Acting

Matthew: I think Scott Bakula comes into his own in this episode. Prior to this, he has seemed rather stiff and cranky. Here, he displays humor, guile, and even some compassion. His chemistry with Jolene Blalock's T'Pol grows nicely here. I was also pleased by Dominic Keating's Malcolm Reed here. When given something to do, he has a seriousness combined with ultra-dry wit that really works.

Kevin: Yeah, I would add Trinneer to that list. His Southern charm was a nice piece of his character rather than just just dispensing Southern colloquialisms. 

Matthew: What can be said about Jeffrey Combs that we haven't already said? He creates an instant fan favorite in Commander Shran, as he did previously with Weyoun - but they're not the same character by any stretch. Weyoun's unctuousness is absent, replaced by Shran's steely resolve and the chip on his shoulder. The ability to make such a bristly character likeable is a real boon to any actor and any show.

Kevin: Agreed. 

Production Values 

Matthew: The P'Jem monastery was entirely created on the soundstage, and I think it really works. It's visually interesting, and integrates well with the various painted and digital matte shots that fill out the planet. The furnishings are also interesting and visually engaging. The catacombs are one of the better cave sets we've seen (which in fact were a partial re-use of the caves from "Terra Nova").

Kevin: My only complaint is stylistic rather than technical. There is no trope lazier than equating spiritual or intellectual enlightenment with a vague Asian pastiche. It wasn't full on 80s kung fu movie, but it felt like the art department was doing a riff on a Buddhist temple to the point I think one of the Vulcan tchotchkes was, in fact, a Buddha statue.

Matthew: On the other hand, the interior CGI shot of the spy station was pretty bad, even by the standards of the day.  I understand that the budgets wouldn't allow this, but they should have built it and allowed the actors to walk around inside.

Kevin: There was no need to make it that size. A small, actual room would serve the plot better anyway. The Andorians must be scanning with divining rods if they missed a space the size of Central Park spewing energy from under the temple.

Conclusion

Matthew: This was an entertaining episode that held my interest throughout, but upon reflection I wish it had shown more ambition. Nonetheless, it had good characters and some nice interactions between them, and some pretty good action. I think it's a 3 overall.

Kevin: Definitely a 3 for me as well. The character work was good and I like the implication, if not the full exploration, of galactic politics at this time. That makes a total of 6.

2 comments:

  1. I agree very much that the focus should have been less on the action, and more on the political situation and the ramifications of any choice made. The way they did it, Archer (it seems) simply does what he does to get some payback on the Vulcans for holding back information - to Andorians and/or his dad.

    I like Archer as a person. He'd be a really decent neighbour, willingly lending a hand, and doing great if you put him in charge of the grill at parties. Just don't let him alone with the retired ballerina down in no. 156, especially when he's had a few. She'll kick his behind all over the place. Again.

    This story highlights why having him in charge of a starship is a weird choice. He's making foreign policy decisions on the fly, harming the intelligence operations of Earth's closest ally in the process. And IIRC the nearest thing to consequences will be the High Command deciding to reassign T'Pol for about 45 minutes.

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  2. Yeah, I actually had to look it up because in my head, the Andorians destroyed P'Jem either at the end of this episode or reveal it at the start of the next one. It's not until Shadows of P'Jem in a few weeks, and yeah, it does not make the Vulcans look like "not jerks" or even very good at statecraft. You got caught lying, you either show some grace and own or loudly proclaim it doesn't matter you were lying because the Andorians started it. Blaming Enterprise and/or T'Pol is like the worst of both worlds where you disclaim the need to act ethically but also don't protect your own interests.

    And that is a genius way of putting it. Jonathan Archer has suburban dad energy. Every dilemma so far has had the tone a frustrated man in a Home Depot who can't find the thing he needs to finish the project he promised his wife he would finish.

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