Monday, October 31, 2022

Enterprise, Season 3: The Xindi

Enterprise, Season 3
"The Xindi"
Airdate: September 10, 2003
52 of 97 produced
52 of 97 aired


Archer and crew seek out members of the Xindi species in an attempt to locate their home world. Meanwhile, T'Pol whips out her boobs for some reason.

If I see one more reptilian side boob, I f#%*ing quit this council!



Matthew: This episode sets a lot of balls moving and is I think for the most part successful. We are introduced to the Xindi council, with its five species. I don't think it really blunts drama to show them to us now - it's OK for a viewer to know more than a character (but almost never OK for a viewer to know less). The species were distinct enough to be memorable, and they helped to set up motivations. I still am mystified as to why they tried the weapon out on Earth and didn't think it would result in a response, one they seem very apprehensive about. I didn't love the use of subtitles, but they were blessedly short.

Kevin: I'm always going to enjoy talking scenes, so the basics of this are fine. It's even an organic way to introduce the various factions and their positions. It at least shows they're thinking about the story and how to give it something more than just a two dimensional villain. By definition, this should be a five-dimensional villain, and that's not a bad start. 

Matthew: The next ball in motion is the "search for the Xindi homeworld" plot. In this we are introduced to several character beats and subplots. Archer is grim and angry now, as evidenced by his butch new haircut and two day stubble. I was not enamored of this. We also meet the MACOs, and their tension with Malcolm is evident. I found their presence to be interesting, at least, and to suggest a world outside Starfleet, which is always a good thing. I wouldn't say we learned enough about them to render them distinct and memorable, but their interplay with Hoshi was cute and their presence in the action sequence was effectively done. The Xindi prisoner on a mining planet was verging on another "Archer is imprisoned" plot. It ended up with the Xindi prisoner dying but offering vital information while he did, which felt a bit arbitrary. They are led to a destroyed planet, which is an interesting wrinkle to the story, and serves to complicate their motives.

Kevin: I think the destroyed planet reeks of Lost-style mystery box storytelling, and the fact that time travel already exists seems to provide a pretty obvious solution, at least as a possibility, and that should occur to Archer. I'll also give a shoutout to the one thing that Sato got to do this week. She did a solid riff on Henry Higgins with the MACOs, and I'm bringing it up to highlight my "character trait not character" thesis. It's fine that their first meeting might involve her professional role, but when she's done with the dialectical showing off, they literally leave. Why not just let the conversation go on for another few seconds to get see Sato be a person? Nope. Having used her language skills, she can now leave.

Matthew: The biggest recurring subplot will eventually bear pleasant fruit, but for now it feels like more decon showers - Trip and T'Pol's semi-nude massage sessions. From a story standpoint, I think this should have developed organically between the characters, as opposed to being yet another HR violation suggested by Phlox, and initiated with subterfuge on his part. I have a hard time believing T'Pol would agree with this level of intimacy, at least not without either 1. romantic feelings on her part; or 2. a strong argument for the needs of the many. Neither was indicated here. The dialogue itself was unduly sexual (e.g. "Harder. Right there. I should return the favor."). I think there was a way this could work, it just wasn't this way.

Kevin: God this scene pissed me off. Just so much. On so many levels. First, it's not a mystery why Trip is having trouble sleeping. He is obviously not dealing with the trauma of his sister's death, and eventually your chief engineer not being able to sleep without drugs is going to really create problems. The more interesting, and not weirdly gross solution, is Phlox acting like a CMO and telling Trip he needs to really process this or he's relieved of duty. That conversation between Archer and Trip, or Reed and Trip, balancing their desire to give their friend space versus the demands of the mission would have been good. T'Pol should object to this subterfuge, obviously. The massage itself is so gross and dumb. Plexing was stupid and made up (though I will confess to doing for its placebo effect a few times) but at least Deanna didn't get her boobs out for Barclay. And he, at least, would have consented enthusiastically. The massage itself is so dumb. 'I'll touch your back in super sexy ways and that's basically therapy.' Ugh. Vulcan mental/physical skills have oft become a catch-all for whatever magic elf power they need, but sheesh, this is beyond the pale. This was a scene reverse engineered to put a topless woman in the promo. That's all, and everyone behind the camera should be ashamed of themselves. It's character assassination for Phlox, and kind of T'Pol too, and as Matt says, these characters have chemistry. If they decided that life is short and why not act on their feelings for complicated and possibly ill-advised reasons, that would at least be choices these characters are making with potentially dramatic consequences. This is just cheap and gross.


Matthew: I was not a fan of Scott Bakula's "Dark Archer." It amplifies the more unpleasant aspects of the "Angry Dad" portrayal in seasons 1 and 2 and strips him of humor and inner conflict. It's not a disaster, but I want to see Bakula give it more shading. On the other hand, despite my deep reservations about the massage scenes themselves, Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock do very good work creating chemistry and humor in their scene this episode. 

Kevin: Yeah. I think Archer's been frustrated so much that it makes this version not the gear shift they want it to be. And it's not fun to watch long term, at least for me. I agree, it's not terrible per se, but I can see getting tired of it really quickly. I honestly didn't see the chemistry in this particular scene for Trinneer and Blalock but rage might by blinding me.

Matthew: The Xindi prisoner, played by Richard Lineback, came off as sort of a low rent Brad Dourif here. Fun fact, he played one of the Felicium cokeheads in TNG "Symbiosis." He was fine and did what he was asked, but the character was ultimately rather irritating. The Xindi Council itself has a lot of returning Trek alumni, including the very good Tucker Smallwood (who played an imposter Starfleet Academy officer in VOY "In The Flesh"), Scott MacDonald (who played the Romulan N'Vek in TNG "Face of the Enemy"), Randy Oglesby (who completes the rare guest star Tetris appearing on all 4 "modern" shows), and Rick Worthy (who played Noah Lessing in VOY"Equinox"). It was a wise choice bringing such skilled character actors back, and it pays dividends both here and in future episodes. 

Kevin: Stephen McHattie, formerly Senator 'IT'S A FAAAAKE' Vreenak, brings a similar slithering energy to the foreman. I think in the end it was over the top and certainly telegraphed he was a slaver pretty early, but I can't be mad at someone swinging for the fences. I agree that council is doing solid work, but the CGI is a little distracting from the acting.

Production Values

Matthew: This is where I'm going to criticize the massage scene the most - the wardrobe and camera angles really amped up the ick factor. Why is T'Pol wearing a nightie that is sized for an 8 year old, fastened with only one button? Why couldn't she wear a Yoga leotard or something, if the pressure points she needs to reach are up by her neck? Why was the side boob shot necessary? It felt like they worked really hard to position the camera at the maximum possible exposure point without a nipple being shown. It was the definition of gratuitous.

Kevin: That top was ridiculous. It's literally designed to only be not sufficient to cover her breasts. I may not have much experience sleeping with women, but from what they tell me, they don't sleep in something that barely covers their heaving breasts like the heroine's bodice on a romance novel cover. For me, the framing of the shot of her sitting covering her breasts with her hands really annoyed me. Why would T'Pol be modest? I'm not asking for even more skin on screen, but the modesty only highlights how out of character this is.

Matthew: I guess we also have to address the theme song. I've never been a hater of "Faith of the Heart"... until now. What in the name of the Great Bird of the Galaxy is the beat they put behind it? Did they think this would increase the fan-base's appreciation for the song? They should have either ditched it altogether or stuck with it come hell or high water. This solution alienates both camps - ruining it for people who like it, keeping it for people who hate it.

Kevin: It was like they got their hands on Garage Band 1.0 on their new candy-colored iMac desktops and decided they should celebrate by using every default drum track at once. I was fine with the new DS9 rhythm and honestly, don't notice it unless I'm looking for it. This, however, demands my attention like a tornado siren or being woken from a dead sleep by an acid reflux attack. Just shrill and unpleasant, and for a moment, you forget what not feeling anxiety feels like.

Matthew: The command center was fine enough, with screens and such. The alien mine was pretty bland. The debris field was very early-aughts CGI.   The Xindi all looked pretty good, though, even the CGI members of the council.

Kevin: I've been on a 90s kick of point and click adventure games (thank you, Good Old Games) and this really looked like one. I continue to appreciate the ambition more than the execution, but I like a good scene of people discussing options based on their perspectives.


Matthew: I think I'm stuck on a 3 here. I was never bored, and there were hints of interesting developments in the offing, such as the multi-species council, the destroyed home world, and the clash of styles with Major Hays and the MACOs. On the other hand, the massage scene was like the decon shower on steroids. 

Kevin: This would have been a 3 for me, absent the massage scene. This is otherwise a solid, if grim, action story. I was not as enamored by the reveal that the Xindi home world is already destroyed, since we already know of the time travel nonsense, so it's not per se shocking to me. But whatever. That solid, serviceable action story is getting dinged for a patently offensive and exploitative scene. That's one demerit for Branon and Braga, making my score a 2, and a total of 5.


  1. Well, not much nice to say, but you did invite me to comment regardless...

    I'm tired of angry Archer and Trip already. I don't think I was when I first watched it, but I got there pretty quickly. I'm reminded of Picard talking about how anger can turn comfortable 'like an old leather jacket', and how you almost forget it's there. It's not that they don't have cause to be angry, but they are supposed to be better than this. At the least a lot more self-aware.
    Captain Maxwell lost his whole family, and then fought a war, no doubt losing friends and crew under his command. And his anger was still out of the ordinary for Starfleet. Trip has it tough, but not that tough.

    The T'Pol-Trip relationship turning romantic always made me roll my eyes, and that was back from a time where a seminude Jolene Blalock could have made my entire day. It's not just me getting crusty with age, it's me getting aware of how exploitative and condescending this is; towards the character, the actress, and the viewer. And as you point out, also to Phlox and even Trip. A rather rote 'opposites attracts' story isn't helping. It (somewhat) sours pretty much every epiosde that comes after. More on that later, no doubt.

    Why does the major female character always get shoved into a romantic plot? She's [expletive deleted] Vulcan! Is it really so hard to write for a Vulcan? Why are we always removing their self-control?
    And this is just the beginning for this season... *taking slow, deep breath*

    Something good to say... It's nice to see Steven Culp again. He always plays a good hard-behind, and this is no exception. I won't say his character's arc was telegraphed outright, but let's just call it kinda predictable - at the very least unsurprising - and not spoiler anything. But (as usual for ENT) the actor turns in a solid performance, whatever other criticisms I could make.
    Even the positives have negatives for me right now, it seems.

    1. "Why does the major female character always get shoved into a romantic plot?"

      Amen and say it again louder for the people in the back. It's not that the other characters don't have romance, but they also get to have other interesting plots. It's basic Bechdel Test problems.

      I also staunchly advocate the dethroning of romantic pairings as the ultimate in human relationships. Star Trek's most successful LTRs are friendships. What if instead of happy ending massages, we showed T'Pol helping Trip actually manage his grief. It would be a great way to examine Vulcan philosophy and human emotion. I forget if we've already established it, but we eventually show that T'Pol lost her father some years ago, and I think some exploration of what that loss means to a Vulcan would be really interesting.

      I can even script it. He accuses her of having no feelings and thus no connections, she counters that her father's death affected her deeply, but her training and philosophy allows her hold that experience differently. If she can access her memories and relationships of a lost loved one in a more positive way, maybe that's something in favor of Vulcan philosophy, at least on paper.

      And maybe helping Trip actually process his grief would be a valuable insight for T'Pol on human emotions. As we see from Trip's reactions, emotions have physical components, and at least for humans, they cannot be simply ignored. Trauma, even 'merely' psychic trauma causes physical reactions. That's not a failing or something to be gotten around. The only way out is through, as they say.

      Maybe that's part of what bothers me about this plot too. It's not just sexually exploitive, it's punting on character work for one of the few successful character in the show. Trip lost his sister in a violent attack, one they fear may be repeated but on a larger scale. That's a big deal, and there's no massage so sexy that you aren't going to have to take time to process it. Honestly, that whole crew should be on the ragged edge. Their home was the victim of a terrorist attack, and they are living in a haunted house while being humanity's Only Hope. No one should be sleeping. Exploring that, and figuring out how they get to being Picard and not Maxwell is both not icky and actually the better story.