Saturday, February 4, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: The Forge

Enterprise, Season 4
"The Forge"
Airdate: November 19, 2004
82 of 97 produced
82 of 97 aired


An attack on the Earth Embassy on Vulcan precipitates a search for a mysterious sect of Vulcan dissidents by the Enterprise.

Vulcan, pictured 5 years before it gained a moon in 2009.


Matthew: Here we come to the episode that serves as the crux of my argument for "letting people who love Star Trek and have experience with Star Trek write Star Trek." This is not to say that new writers have no place, but Judith and Gar Reeves-Stevens have firm, long-established credentials as people who "get" Star Trek, and who know how to write good stories to boot (they have written the classic Trek novels "Memory Prime" and "Federation," among many others). Bringing them on staff to tackle an existing problem in Enterprise canon is a godsend. What problem? Why, that the Vulcans of ENT Seasons 1-3 seem nothing like those from TOS and onward (this is a problem that I think is overstated to some degree, but as an opinion it has many adherents). This episode not only has a tight, coherent plot, but it also weaves in "fan service" in a way that is not gratuitous and still advances story. In many ways, I find the embassy bombing to be a more effective evocation of the times than the Xindi season arc. It has a more direct and understandable motivation (rising anti-alien sentiment on Vulcan) and it plays out in interesting ways (hard-line conservative Vulcan conspiracies to pin the blame on dissidents). Something I particularly liked is how the episode rehabilitated Ambassador Soval by placing him within a broader context of diverse Vulcan opinion - he seemed like a priggish turd when he was on Earth, but within the context of the current hard-line Vulcan political structure, he is in fact quite a moderate, even progressive voice.

Kevin: I don't think the objections to season 1-3's Vulcans is overstated, but I agree this episode goes a long way to solving the problem. The issue is less that you can't square TOS and ENT Vulcans, it's that the portrayal and conflict got monotonous fast. Maybe it was one of perspective, but when have only Soval being only a jerk, it does flatten the portrayal. I think what this episode wisely does is give us an array of Vulcans with an array of positions. Lots of people with lots of positions having lots of organic conflict is always going to be more fertile ground than monolithic characters taking rote positions. I'm also a fan of the Reeves-Stevenses (their DS9 trilogy Millennium is truly some of the best Trek fiction I have read) and agree bringing them on solves a lot of problems in season four. I think, even aside from any assessment of their Trek cred, they simply seem to understand how to fit a story in a larger framework. This trilogy is a self-contained episode where all the information, stakes, and resolution are clearly laid out, but it fits neatly into a broader mosaic of other stories. We've said before Star Trek tends to work best as standalone episodes, since even if a set up is silly, you don't really have time to think too deeply about it. But even in serialized king DS9, most episodes were still about one or two stories, even if they impacted the larger narrative landscape. This episode hits that ball right down the center of the fairway. We will have a story that will impact Archer and T'Pol most directly, but still reconfigure the broader landscape other stories are told in. In short, I think you don't even really need to assess this for its Trek-ness, it is simply a good story, and that's a major step up from the first two seasons in their entirety, and a not insignificant portion of the third.

Matthew: When the plot moved into the "Forge" itself, I think things really worked. The pilgrim Arev was really well written, and he served as a nicely organic dispenser of plot information while still being a well rounded character. Was there fan service? Oh yes. The Sehlat calls back to TAS "Yesteryear," T'Pau fills out a legendary TOS character's story, the IDIC symbol is nicely explained, the Katra of Surak is introduced, T'Pol mentions her eyes' nictitating membranes, Kiri-Kin-Tha's First Law of Metaphysics.... and none of this requires prior knowledge of the show to make sense or work on its own. It's perfectly done fan service, really (contrast it with the previous episode to see the obvious difference). It rewards long time fans and titillates new ones with expansive, mysterious details. About the only thing I found silly about the Forge plot itself was the sand storm, and that was more on the execution side.

Kevin: I was less innately bowled over by Arev, but I'm willing to chalk that up to taste rather than defect. The idea of the Katra has always been a little...mushy. It kind of exists in a nether space with magic that Star Trek usually avoids, and let's be honest, was clearly a retcon designed to explain how we can get adult Spock back after his death. Getting Spock back is a worthy goal, so I can look past it, but I think Vulcan mind abilities can get fuzzy real quick, especially when they kept freighting Vulcan skills with more and more bespoke abilities in Voyager. I'm laying out those concerns to give some weight to the compliment that I think this episode pretty much works on this front. The lines are clearly defined for what a katra does and it fits, particularly with the McCoy/Spock version from the movies, so it all moves pretty well for me. For me, the most effective part of this story was the conversation about competing copies of Surak's teachings. Faiths and philosophies across space and time have debated who has the 'real' version of an important text, so that resonated. I have less faith than the Syrannites that having a 'more' 'authentic' copy would solve some underlying schism, since people will still believe what they believe and a different copy won't change that. I think if I found a first draft of the Bible that explicitly said being queer is A-Okay with Jesus that bigots would suddenly jettison core beliefs. But as a MacGuffin, Surak's teachings are right up there with lost arks and holy grails.

Matthew: I liked the bombing investigation B story. I think it nicely laid out the conspiratorial elements who were manipulating the bombing behind the scenes, and the way the mind meld was worked into things was effective. I was really worried (having been conditioned now by so many haphazard seasons of Kurtzman Trek) that the mind meld would ignore previous Enterprise stories which portrayed it was an underground, deviant practice. But they brought things around nicely as the High Command Administrator took extreme umbrage with Soval's having done so. It tied in a past story into the new plot line really nicely, that there is a sect of people who believe that Vulcan's original founding traditions, attitudes, and practices have become corrupted by self interested hard-liners. I enjoyed the mild ticking bomb tension as Reed and Mayweather tried to defuse a leftover explosive, and the evidence it garnered them. It was all tightly and effectively done.

Kevin: I'm jumping to the end of the trilogy when I think about this, but I can't forget that I know what T'Pau will reveal about mind melds, but I see this arc as nullifying Enterprise's previous additions to Vulcan mythology. Enterprise previously posits that only a handful of Vulcans can do it and it is a shameful thing that is never spoken of. By the end of this arc, it is back to a thing Vulcans are universally aware and willingly capable of. That's fine. I liked TOS' take on mind melds way more. So yes, it didn't ignore it, but I do see it as a pretty blunt refutation of it. It needed to be refuted though, so I'm fine with it.


Matthew: The Vulcans in this episode really shone. Particularly good were Gary Graham as Soval and Michael Nouri as Arev. Graham is finally getting to regularly play something other than his early season jerkiness, and he gave Soval a wonderful layering of motivations and moods. His scene with Archer  over the coffins was truly excellent, and gave a really barely restrained portrayal of Soval's righteous indignance over Forrest's death. Michael Nouri clearly has "star power" to burn, imbuing his Arev with a gravelly charisma and gravitas. I loved Arev's sly wisdom, and it really served his scenes with Scott Bakula and Jolene Blalock. When he discovered Archer and T'Pol's true identities, the screen fairly crackled with energy.

Kevin: I agree it's nice to see Soval get to have some range, and it really works. I don't know if I would go so far as to describe Nouri as "star power" but he's got good gravitas and he inhabits the universe. His line reading about the P'Jem monastery really sounds like the character was aware of those events and not just reading the line on the page. It's little stuff like that that makes a performance work.

Matthew: Scott Bakula was excellent as Archer. He didn't yell once! He did a great job dealing with the other Vulcans without losing his cool, he was believable during his trip in the Forge, and he really changed after the Katra was deposited within him. I even thought Michael Reilly Burke did some good nuanced work as Kos. 

Kevin: I don't have much to add here. Archer was good at pushing against the Vulcans without being combative himself. The crew scenes investigating the bombing all worked. We're never going to quite solve the problem of underdeveloping a chunk of the cast, but this is definitely nice familiar ensemble work. Foxworth is good as well. My only critique there is that his presence reminds you of Homefront and Paradise Lost, with which this story and his character share a fair bit. Note to self: If there's ever a bombing, find Robert Foxworth and prevent him from seizing power.

Production Values

Matthew: The IDIC turning into a holo projector was really well done. The prop looked great on its own, but the integration of the computer effects into the room was truly exceptional, a best for the series so far. The orbital shots over Vulcan met the current very high standard of ship CGI. The location scenes in the Forge had good after effects applied to them, changing the color of the Vulcan sky to a Mars-like salmon color, with some good rippling standing in for heat. Only the sand storm looked cheesy - I would rather they had filled the whole screen a la Star Trek 2 than given us the.... blob we got.

Kevin: The planet shots of Vulcan were particularly nice. The sandstorm with its video toaster electrical effects were the only misstep, I agree. We've criticized the show for going to barren California desert too often, but it makes sense here, and the color correction was judiciously used to make it look different.

Matthew: The exterior of the Earth embassy was just sort of so-so, but the interior looked really rich, and the digital matte of the explosion aftermath was good. All in all, this episode with just a few locations really made Vulcan feel like a real place. 

Kevin: The long shots of stuff like the embassy are still giving me Babylon 5, a show ten years older. The interiors were good, and I think they did a good job of the aftermath, too.


Matthew: I can't really talk myself into anything less than a 5. This feels like classic Star Trek. It is loaded with extraordinary detail that fans can appreciate, the plot is interesting and compelling, the acting is excellent, and the production values (minus the sand storm) were executed at a very high level. I remember watching this the first time around and thinking "Holy Crap, they absolutely nailed this. Where has this been all series?" It's superb. 

Kevin: I think you might be overcorrecting for 'most improved episode' a little but I agree this episode is very good, and very promising. I think the accidental comparison to Homefront/Paradise Lost is apt. That had a lot of similar elements, and really managed to be a meditation on balancing security versus liberty in times of danger, and I think this episode deals with a lot of the same things, but doesn't quite 'grab' me the way other fives do. This episode is very good, but it's just not quite at "Yesterday's Enterprise" or "Inner Light" levels. This is still a good story, but it doesn't quite have a reach to something deeper, either character or philosophically driven, to really nudge this into the top echelon.  It's still an enthusiastic 4 for me, making a total of 9.



  1. I started watching Enterprise again with "Home" after watching off and on during the second and third seasons. I was onboard with what Coto was doing with the series, and episodes like "The Forge" and the following two in the trilogy kept me hooked. I agree with all of the praise for the Reeves-Stevenses as Star Trek writers, and I just wish we could have gotten more seasons with this level of quality.

    1. If they had started with this approach, we probably would have. Berman and Braga really mismanaged the creative side of things in the first two seasons.

  2. The only issue with this story I can come up with is that Archer of all people ends up with Surak in his head. At least he has the good grace to resent it.

    But it had to be. It's Star Trek, so this interesting and historical thing happens to the captain. That's how it goes. But I still think they should have given it to Hoshi and used it as the starting point for character growth.

    Compare it to Picard's mind meld with Sarek. It's a little strange that a human, even one so stoic and steely as Picard, would be the better choice for that. But at least, we would expect Picard to be largely the same afterwards. What we'll get with Archer is more like The Inner Light, which didn't leave as much of a change as you'd expect such an experience to do. Maybe I'm belittling Archer's character growth here, but I don't think so.
    At least in this case, there was a matter of expediency that made the choice of character make sense - though not so much later on (I don't remember which episode exactly T'Pau tries to take it off him, but I think it's the next one).

    Since I'm such a glutton for Vulcan arrogance, I liked Soval from the first, and seeing him again is always good. Seeing him get to do more stuff is better, and having him squarely on the protagonists' side is just a bonus. But more is yet to come! *rubs hands gleefully*