Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Enterprise, Season 3: Proving Ground

Enterprise, Season 3
"Proving Ground"
Airdate: January 21, 2004
64 of 97 produced
64 of 97 aired

Introduction

Enterprise receives unexpected assistance as it tracks down the test site for the Xindi weapon.


It... is blue.



Writing

Matthew: This is a "Season Plot Advancement" episode. This can go well or poorly - well if it stands on its own as a story, poorly if it just feels like a delaying tactic. I think this went well. The Andorian angle to the story gave it a life of its own beyond just moving characters and weapons from point A to B to C. We have the fun of another Shran appearance, the hints of an alliance between Andoria and Earth, the doubts T'Pol raises of their trustworthiness, their minor betrayal, and the button of Shran still trying to help. All in all, a nice arc. Was there a lot of science fiction? Nope. No big ideas, really. Just politics and characters.

Kevin: In addition to just being a joy all by himself, Shran's presence helps expand the season story and does some great character work for Archer and Shran. The Andorians wanting their own version to get a leg up on the Vulcans is a great piece of writing since it's how any nation would likely respond. It's such a good, credible piece of politicking that the only problem it causes is showing how shallow the season arc is. The Big Bad bent on the Destruction Of All Life Everywhere is a fun comic book movie villain, but it falls apart when you think about it too deeply. Here, as the Big Bad, the Xindi have blinders on, seeing only the goal of destroying all humans. In a real, credibly built world, that's not the only concern. Even if they are successful, do they really expect Vulcan, Andor, or the Klingons to sit by while a neighbor who has literally and publicly committed genocide sit around with their planet buster? They might likely save themselves from destruction at the hands of humans, only to find themselves on the losing end of an alliance of the other Alpha Quadrant races now rightfully terrified of the Xindi. But that's a problem for the season, not this episode. This episode is fun, and it's fun to watch because all the players are competent and make moves that do credit to their experience and are in keeping with their established characters. It's a three way chess game, and all the friction points there are fun, because the conflict is organic not forced. Even the button of Shran's discrete help really works because it makes his own hand wringing feel credible and it keeps the character on just this side of ally versus enemy. They managed to make the some what antagonistic character act in a somewhat antagonistic way, while never losing the enjoyment of the character's presence or have him do something really unforgiveable. I'm going on about how much I liked this because it was so nice to see such a solid piece of story telling after a few recent duds.

Matthew: As far as the season plot goes, this pays off the previous story of Grelik sabotaging the ore involved in weapon construction, which is a nice callback. We also get some more scenes of the Xindi council, their disagreements, and their weapons test. It was all reasonably well done, though it did not contain the sort of story interest that Grelik's story about the 6th Xindi sub-species did in the previous "Big Plot" episode.

Kevin: Like I said above, I think the Xindi thinking this is the solution to all their problems is a little na├»ve, and Shran making a play for the weapon demonstrates that. I will say I think Shran's story is as good as Grelik's story in his episode. Again, it was nice to see a character navigate a complicated situation in keeping with their character.

Matthew: The nuts and bolts of this individual episode story were sound. I thought they were building Reed and the female Andorian towards a romance, which would have been pretty trite, but then they sidestepped it and made it more about Reed taking proper precautions against sabotage. Shran's ruse to gain information about the testing site was amusing, but strained credulity a bit, especially knowing how militaristic and violent some of the Xindi subspecies are. I think, otherwise, what was notable about this episode was its lack of any substantive contributions from Phlox, Travis and Hoshi.  

Kevin: I enjoyed the banter and am thrilled they didn't go the romance route. A nice matryoshka doll of feint/counter-feint is always going to make me happy. It should really be sounding some red alert klaxons for the writers (and the actors' agents) that Shran in 3 appearances has a more developed character than anyone outside Trip, Tucker, and T'pol after 3 seasons. 

Acting

Matthew: Jeffrey Combs brought a nice bit of comedy to Shran this time around.I believed his character's motives, and his chafing against his orders. I also liked Molly Brink quite a bit, despite her noticeable "not being Suzie Plakson" handicap. She had nice chemistry with both Combs and Dominic Keating. The Xindi ensemble were all at least adequate.

Kevin: I can't help but believe that they literally posted a casting call for a "Suzie Plakson type." As much as it would have strained credulity, some way to keep her in the show would have made me happy. That said, I agree Brink did a great job. I believed her grudging respect was genuine, even as she carried out her mission. That's good acting. And while it may feel redundant to praise Jeffrey Combs acting, who cares? The man is a gem. He really understands how to portray someone as an antagonist because your interests don't align, not because they are evil. It leaves so much room to imbue Shran with so much depth.

Production Values

Matthew: There were a lot of nice visual effects in this one, and the CGI ships are getting to be better looking. The Andorian ship looked nice, and the test weapon was also good looking, There were also some nice Okudagrams in the command center showing the weapon schematics. All in all, this was a pretty visually interesting episode.

Kevin: I remember particularly liking the schematics of the weapon. And we said this last time, but the antenna effects are so good. They really feel like appendages with weight and muscle and they move just enough to feel organic without being distracting. It's a real coup for the make up people.

Conclusion

Matthew: The question for me here is how much an episode that basically lacks sci-fi gets penalized, if at all. Having a Shran guest spot makes up for a good amount, but I'm still kind of stuck at a 3. This was a solid, entertaining episode that really didn't have ambitions to be more. Maybe if the conflict between Shran and Archer, or between Shran and his officers, had been amped up a bit, there would have been some more ethical teeth.

Kevin: I'm as shocked as you are to say this, but this gets a 4 from me. I've always been more charitable to a well sketched character story, even if it lacks hard sci-fi, and the little chess game they set up comes off pretty much without a hitch. The drama came from watch the characters interact as their established characters rather than shoehorn some random motivation in. The episode is well paced, and a great character study for Shran. This is on par with the Cease Fire in learning how Shran is an Andorian patriot, but not a mindless drone from his world. For being a well acted, well paced, fun episode to watch, this gets into the higher tier for me, making a total of 7.

2 comments:

  1. Much agreement. It's no wonder there was talk of Shran joining the Enterprise crew if the series had continued. He's a strong and interesting character, played so enjoyably. And his presence gives a welcome break to the usual Archer-Trip-T'Pol dynamic (which is only working so-so in my opinion - I so wish they had not put T'Pol into a romantic arc).

    I do feel the actual capturing of the weapon was a little too easy. Shoot at some shis, they limp off, and that's that?

    I'm trying to remember if the scans actually came in useful in a later season. I hope they did, but if so, it can't have been a major thing given that I don't recall.

    And "the Andorian Mining Consortium runs from noone" line always has me smiling. I like to think Shran, always verging on embracing drama, came to identify with the character he was playing, and liked him enough to infuse him with his own standards for dignity.

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  2. It's part of why Jeffrey Combs has such a storied horror career. Horror depends on the characters accepting the premise. Combs is a master at portraying a character who takes the story seriously, even if the story is ridiculous. Brunt trying to become Nagus is silly, but you know Brunt takes it seriously, and that's why it's funny.

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