Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Within the Arcs: Storm Front

Within the arcs were great moments, not so good moments; great writing, not so good writing; and generally good stories. I liked Storm Front more than some critics and fans apparently did. Sure, I know the evil Nazis are a cliché, but the Nazis were real, and they can still be dramatically powerful both as a reminder and a caution. I don't think these stories exploited the Nazi associations, as some dramas-and even some so-called documentaries---have, for cheap villainy and stereotypes.

As Manny Coto said to me and other interviewers, his main goal for Enterprise was to make it a true prequel series to the rest of Star Trek. The first experiments were in Storm Front, and they expanded from there, once most of the loose ends from the previous Enterprise season (or seasons) were tied.

There's an inherent danger in referencing other Trek, which may have been a factor in the response to "Nemesis." Expanding and building on what came before (or in this case, events in the future of the Star Trek story universe, told in our past) is one thing, but repeating what we've seen before is another. Sometimes that's a matter of balance and perception.

For example, there were subtle echoes of Picard's relationship with Lily in "First Contact" in Archer's with Alicia (the 1940s earth woman who nursed his injuries.) I don't think it worked that well---it just reminded me of a relationship that was done better in the movie, where it had a chance to develop. Here it just seemed like a way to move the story forward by borrowing emotions from somewhere else.

Alicia however was a believable character. Even the hoodlums turned resistance fighters had their moments, even though they were movie hoods (what other kind do we know about, from that era?) It is plausible that those are the guys who would be the resistance, at least in Brooklyn (they were the ones with guns, after all.) No Albert Camus there, writing noble manifestos and smoking existential Galloises, between taking pot shots at Nazis. Alicia's story of the tenants resisting a Nazi ban on "colored music" by passing around a gramophone to play Billie Holliday was both affecting and realistic.

Another goal that Manny Coto expressed to me was to return to telling stories that illuminate contemporary issues, as did many of the best original series and subsequent Trek stories. This began in Storm Front with great theatrical flourish. The Nazi flags on the White House were followed by a fake newsreel praising the new Nazi-American alliance. There are some hints that this isn't entirely phony propaganda in this timeline---that there are American collaborators (as there were in France, for instance.) But the identification made most strongly is of course between the Nazis and the aliens from the future who are helping them.
(I'll have more to say about this in my "Arc of Arcs" section that follows.)

Coto and crew were given a writing problem: they had to explain the Nazi aliens, and wrap up the Xindi arc. They did that one better by wrapping up the Temporal Cold War arc (although we still don't know the identity of Future Man.) I thought they did all of this skillfully, and got an exciting story out of it.

I guess I liked the energy and the sort of slightly wacky mood of these episodes. The surreality of it was tipped off from the start when the Nazi officer taking Archer away in the open truck is talking to him about American movies. He says that the flaw in those war movies is that the Americans always win. Those are his last words, as immediately the Americans attack and win.

These were dramatic episodes, with action and meaning, and some fine acting from the guest cast. In the coda, "Home", the acting of the main cast was the chief attraction, and they all acquitted themselves well, while advancing both character development and story. I learned something more about each one of them (including Travis Mayweather), usually from a look or a gesture, or the way he or she said something. There were strong guest performances too, especially Joanna Gleason as T'Pol's mother and Ada Maris as Captain Erika Hernandez (I liked the fact that Archer's squeeze wasn't young and blond, but an equal.)

High points of this arc: the spot-on fake newsreel,;on the apparent threshhold of returning to his time, the alien making his speech about totalitarian destiny still in Nazi uniform; and the way that Gary Graham as Soval extends his hand to Archer and says thank you [for saving Earth and probably Vulcan from the Xindi]---he does it with a subtle effort and awkwardness that shows just how alien the gestures are for him, and yet how sincere.

Low point: the welcoming ceremony when the Enterprise crew returns. It looks fake and sounds the same, a kind of weak parody of the Star Wars welcome to the returning heroes.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Wasn't that Joanna Cassidy as as T'Pol's mother? I thought she did a terrific job, a very understated performance.