Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Vulcan arc

I watched the first moments of the first episode ("The Forge"), with almost a sigh of relief as well as appreciation. With writers Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, we are in very good hands. The opening dialogue between Admiral Forrest and Soval is the best written, most succinct dialogue I can recall in all of Enterprise. There is equally good dialogue between Archer and T'Pol.

The Forge and the Awakening, along with the Vulcan scenes that introduced T'Pol's mother, T'Les, show surer hands in Vulcan dialogue. I noticed that, when confronted with an accusation, these Vulcans (notably Soval and T'Les) were straightforward in their response, without any of the emotional denial or "whataya mean by that?' comebacks of humans in confrontation.

I was sorry to see T'Les die, although that scene was a very good one, an acting triumph for Joanna Cassidy and especially Jolene Blalock. I'd be cautious about killing off too many subsidiary characters, though. It begins to feel formulaic, and future possibilities for these characters are ended. Subsidiary characters invented for the purpose of a single story (for instance, Spock's parents) can generate more story---these characters are greatly responsible for the richness of the ST universe.

In the Awakening everyone is hot blooded. The Vulcan leader of the High Council, the young T'Pau, and Archer, when he confronts the woman he believes killed Admiral Forrest, is angry and belligerent. Though more in control, the ambassador is operating out of deep feeling. The coolest head, ironically, seems to be Trip. He's fairly passive at being in charge, at first just disbelieving that Vulcans would attack the Enterprise, and then withdrawing only after the advice of the ambassador. But he's credible, especially when he admits doubts but agrees he's doing what he thinks Archer would do, and he does it resolutely.

Gary Graham gets to strut his stuff in this arc. Actors can be amazing---here's a guy cast apparently for a bit part who is given this opportunity and runs with it. The writers don't do him any favors by tasking him with making credible the sudden revelation of the Andorian invasion plot, but they do give him a strong character arc, and one more classic scene: aboard Enterprise, Trip is asking Soval why he's suddenly helping humans instead of criticizing them. Having been posted on earth for so long, he says, "I developed an affinity for your people." "You did a pretty good job of hiding it," Trip says. And to Trip's delight, Soval replies in all sincerity, "Thank you." It's a Spock moment, written and performed perfectly.

Kara Zediker as T'Pau did a good, nuanced job, too. It seems the formidable great priestess of TOS was once quite a fox.

The central metaphor of this arc, a surprise to no one, is the war in Iraq. The Vulcan leader V'las is GW Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld rolled into one giant head. V'las's WMD excuse to launch a pre-emptive strike is the Xindi weaponry that the Andorians also don't have. His lines, "Sooner or later the Andorians will make use of this technology. Is it logical for us to wait for that day?" is a virtual paraphrase of the we can't wait for "the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud" rhetoric of Bush and Condi Rice, and their later insistence that the Iraq invasion was justified because of Saddam's desire to develop weapons. Like Malik, and our sociopathic administration, he sets up a situation and then says, "This is the only way," meaning that innocents will die to further his ambition, ideology and agenda. For anybody who misses the references, there's dialogue like, "We're in the desert. There's a storm." The Syranites are referred to several times as "insurgents." (More about this in "The Arc of Arcs.")

There might even be a subtle political parody here. It seems that in the so-called real world the group of militarists behind the Iraq invasion policy call themselves the Vulcans---a reference to the god of fire rather than to Star Trek. So in this arc, some Star Trek Vulcans sound a lot like some D.C. Vulcans.

As for the planet Vulcan, we see a bit more of it, and there's visual continuity with previous glimpses, the enhanced DVD Star Trek: The Motion Picture scenes especially. The Reeves-Stevens obviously know even more about Vulcan from the novels they've written and read that describe it more in detail. I believe this was the first time that we saw a Vulcan cityscape?

Making the ordeal a trek through the desert was certainly appropriate, not only for the earth associations with the desert religions (Christianity, Judaism, Muslim) but with the nature of the planet Vulcan. Not only is the name associated with fire and heat, but once upon a time the existence of a planet Vulcan in our solar system was theorized, even closer to the sun than Mercury (as a way to account for an apparent discrepancy in Mercury's orbit.) Anyway, they did good planet work---even the caves seemed different.

Though there are even more twists and turns in this arc, some seem forced. But in terms of writing to create tension and forward momentum, these multiple conflicts and multiple jeopardy pay off in dramatic tension and excitement. Add in an effective contemporary metaphor, the furthering of Vulcan history, the tie-ins with the rest of Star Trek and more loose ends of Enterprise past tied up, this arc whets the appetite for the future.

What's going to happen in the future? I hope the effects of carrying Surak's katra on Archer's sudden ability to toss Vulcans around and use the neck pinch are addressed in the next episode or two. Maybe with some joke about Archer no longer being able to do the neck pinch.

Archer's character has gone through a lot from last season to these 9 episodes. It will be interesting to see what he's like now, after having Surak in his head. The effects of all this on T'Pol need to be defined, too. There was less indication of what direction this will take, for even after her mind meld with T'Pau, she seemed an emotional mess. It gave her some nice moments---with her mother, with Archer, and with her husband, who turns out to be a good guy after all, and T'Pol is moved but he can't accept her admiration---a very nice touch. But she also seemed irrationally petulant and even possessive towards Archer at times. She needs some consistency now.

The regular cast showed their ensemble instincts in these arcs. There was good ensemble work as the crew tried to function without Archer in the first arc and most of the third. The basketball game was a brief but very nice touch. Each actor had significant moments over the 9 episodes, though a kind of hierarchy remains: Archer, Trip and T'Pol, then Phlox and Reed, then Hoshi and Travis.

Despite this and uneven writing in the past, individually the actors all seem to be finding colors for their characters. Scott Bacula is becoming a more naturalistic version of Shatner in how he moves stories forward with his energy, authority and machismo. It seems that the future may bring more TNG-style showcase episodes or arcs for the other characters. In past years the other regular actors--John Billingsley, Jolene Blalock, Conner Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Linda Park and Anthony Montgomery--have shown the ability to carry scenes and work with one another to carry episodes. All they need is good stories and good writing.

And apropos of nothing that happened in these episodes, look for a solution in coming weeks to why the original series Klingons look different than the Klingons before and after it. This is just a hunch.

Such "continuity" problems can be fun to play with as writing challenges, and they can generate stories. But the inherent problems of a prequel series remains: you may create as many continuity problems as you solve. The aforementioned transporter effect is one, and here we have a brief (or briefly glimpsed), private ceremony to extract Surak's katra from Archer, but in Kirk's time (in Star Trek III) the priestess says the ceremony to extract the katra hasn't been performed "since ages past, and then only in legend." I suppose this could be finessed by the difference in the two situations, with the Spock regenerated on the Genesis planet as essentially a empty vessel. But these problems are likely to crop up from time to time. They will likely inspire the creativity of posters on the Trek BBSs.

High points: the Kir' Shara display in the Council chamber---a nice emotional high. T'Pol's final scenes with her husband, and with her mother. Surak showing Archer the mushroom cloud.

Awkward moments: the ceiling beams start to fall before the explosion goes off when Reed and Mayweather set off the remaining bomb, and one of the Vulcan soldiers begins to convulse before he hits the electrical field created by the minerals in the rocks. And that's sure not much.

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