Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Enterprise, Season 3: The Shipment

Enterprise, Season 3
"The Shipment"
Airdate: October 29, 2003
58 of 97 produced
58 of 97 aired


Enterprise tracks down a key production facility for the Xindi weapon, but Archer isn't sure he should level it from orbit.

"WMD's in a bit. But first, the tranya!"


Matthew: At some point early on in this episode, it became clear that this was good. Just like we autopsy what goes wrong with shows, I would like to attempt a very clear investigation of why this works. The first attribute that is present here is that it feels like Things Are Definitely Happening. This is a necessary but not sufficient feature for a good episode (as evidenced by many an episode of NuTrek). Now, "things happening" can be something as small as character development (e.g. "Data's Day) or as big as a major plot development that will affect all stories going forward (e.g. "Best of Both Worlds" or the Dominion War). This episode feels like a solid advancement of the season plot - we've found a factory that is a key production facility for the weapon, and we're interrogating the people responsible.

Kevin: This episode really should have come third or fourth in the Xindi arc. It gives a ton of texture to Xindi history and politics much more effectively than another council scene. It immediately elevated the story from a monolithic villain to a complex society. Rather than a whole people somehow fanatically dedicated to Earth's destruction, the average Xindi probably hasn't heard of Earth at all. That adds lots of avenues for exploration and conflict that are inherently more interesting than a simple Big Bad.

Matthew: As I said, plot advancement is necessary but not sufficient. I think the point at which I knew that this would be pretty good was when we were introduced to Gralik. Archer went a bit Angry Dad on him initially, but when it was clear that he was stupefied by the allegations against his facility, Archer acted like the sort of person we want in command of our Star Trek show - he saw things from Gralik's perspective and re-evaluated his course of action accordingly. Aaahhhh, it feels so nice to have ethics in my Star Trek. Reed and Major Hayes provided a nice skeptical counterpoint, and things felt like a real Star Trek episode for most or all of this episode's run time.

Kevin: If I wanted to be a stickler, I could say that Archer suddenly remembering who he works for is a bit of an unexplained gear shift from previous episodes, but I'm so happy about it, I don't care. You have my permission to retcon Archer into a nicer person. Reed and Hayes taking the Classic Worf position makes sense for the characters and keeps that option in the mix without devolving into an episode of 24. 

Matthew: I think what elevated this episode for me was the discussion with Gralik about Xindi history. With this episode, they pay off the various scenes of discord between Xindo races as well as the destruction of the Xindi homeworld. The way Gralik delivered his lines about the lost 6th species of Avians, and the discord on the Xindi world leading to its destruction was evocative and worked for me, a resident of a world rife with discord and dying species. I am now officially in the column of "someone who cares about the alien race and wants to find out more." I never got there with the Kazon for instance, or with basically any race presented in NuTrek.

Kevin: Just to be a nitpicker, I think it's a tiny bit incredible that it never occurred to Gralik that the material he is refining could be used for a weapon, but I certainly buy that it never occurred to him that it was being using for a planet destroyer. The backstory on the Xindi was desperately needed and I think they could have taken it even farther. A traumatized Xindi diaspora is probably primed to overreact to threats, and there's probably a solid lesson for Archer in there about how to respond to this threat to Earth. We nibbled at it with his discussion that Earth may precipitate the very war they are here to prevent, and that was great. They can just do it again and louder next time.

Matthew: Our B plot here is about the Xindi weapon, testing it, learning about its biological components. It was fine, in the way most "Tucker tackles and engineering problem" story lines are.

Kevin: This was fine, I agree. It had some nice comedy, and it did a good job of escalating the Xindi threat in a subtle way. The idea that the guns have booby trapped safeties makes the Xindi smart and difficult enemies without making them monsters. Starfleet should really look into a non-lethal form of that tech. I will say that action scene in the jungle didn't bother me the way that other firefights have, since it was the parsley and not the steak this time. You can punctuate a good story with an action climax, but you can't use it to substitute for the story.


Matthew: Casting can make or break a species or a story in Star Trek. John Cothran, Jr. made this episode and advanced the cause of this season mightily with Gralik. I loved his line readings, and he really gave some exposition heavy scenes real emotional weight. His interplay with Scott Bakula was also really good, and I loved it when he was snotty to his Xindi countrymen near the end.

Kevin: Cothran is a gem. He was previously the Klingon captain in TNG's The Chase, and he appeared in Star Trek: Klingon and Star Trek: Borg, two of the "full motion video" PC games that were popular for a hot second in the 90s. He 'gets' the setting and his voice is beautiful and resonant. He infused the character with enough wry humor that you understand how he was able to convince Archer he wasn't the bad guy. If nothing else, he definitely gave vibes of 'overworked engineer' and starting from that, the episode soared.

Matthew: Steven Culp is really under-utilized so far as Major Hayes. It's clear to me that he has an idea of his character's beliefs and inner life, and I want to get the story that pushes those boundaries for us.

Kevin: I am sharpening the knives of my argument that as fertile an idea as the MACOs are, they end up being interchangeable redshirts, but I will save that for a later day. Culp is good, and again, having someone advocate in a sane way for a military option is needed voice for an interesting discussion, and Culp definitely delivers. If nothing else, he has neatly avoided the sense that he wants to fight for its own sake, the thing most military characters do in most sci-fi.

Production Values

Matthew: Our big money spender this episode was the Xindi production base and its accompanying buildings and sets. I think they looked pretty good, all told. Yes, the machinery viewed through the window had a clear CGI look to it, but the Gumby beings are getting better.  I really liked the interiors of Gralik's house. Set dressing like this can really work to make a place and a species feel real, and it did so here.

Kevin: Gralik's house was great. Lots of little details that made it feel like a real space. The windows were great since it makes sense a house in this environment would have so many and it gave lots of great angles. The attack drones were a little CGI, but in the end, I chose to enjoy the unexpected call back to Arsenal of Freedom. 


Matthew: I really enjoyed this episode. It's probably not an all time great, but it felt like a breath of fresh air after so much heavy action recently. It has above average acting, good writing, and effective set design. So I think I'm at a 4, which has been a long time coming. Is the drought over for Enterprise?

Kevin: I think this is a pleasant and urgently needed downpour, but I'm a few episodes ahead in the rewatch, and we are not out of the woods yet. (Apologies for such a mixed metaphor.) This is classic Trek and I am happy to say that while clearly in the style of its forebearers, it doesn't feel like a warmed over TNG or VOY plot. If nothing else, situated in 2003, it's Star Trek doing its job to remind viewers that we go to war with governments not people, people who often have little knowledge or say in such matters, and even a true existential threat doesn't waive our moral obligations. Combine that with a great guest actor, and yes, this was a very nice episode, and a real proof of concept for this arc. I agree with the 4, for the rare Enterprise 8.

1 comment:

  1. I went back and watched this just now, because I couldn't remember much about it. As you say, it's definitely above the cut for the Xindi arc, and with a nice taste of Trek. I remembered Gralik when you mentioned him, and he was a pleasure to watch.

    It's funny how the reptilians are the impatient ones among the Xindi. Not exactly a trait I associate with crocs, snakes, or tortoises. I wonder if the theme would have fitted better with an insectoid Xindi.

    An even smaller thing, nice to see the MACO carbine weapons make sense. They fight on ships a lot of the time, where I'd think a hand phaser would be a much more practical weapon. But out in the open they fit much better.