Star Trek 680: The Expanse

680. The Expanse

FORMULA: The Changing Face of Evil + The Search + The Wrath of Khan

WHY WE LIKE IT: A new direction. The effects. The poignancy.

WHY WE DON'T: Could have done without the nosy Vulcan.

REVIEW: It's Star Trek's version of 9/11, isn't it? Earth is attacked by a probe that cuts a swath from Florida to Venezuela, leaving the planet scarred and over 7 million dead, including Trip's sister. At the same time, Enterprise must contend with Duras trying to regain his honor by destroying Archer, who's now escaped Klingon clutches once too many times, and the Suliban who abduct him (DRINK!) and bring him to the mysterious Future Guy.

That, at least, connects to the attack on Earth. As part of the Temporal Cold War, someone has told the Xindi that humans would be responsible for their destruction in 400 years time. Their preemptive strike was only a test. Its success means they're now building a superweapon to launch against Earth, one that will irrevocably change history (and this, the advance warning). That ties the story into the mythology of the show without making it a time travel episode.

The consequences of the attack are felt once the ship gets back to Earth, and a great deal of the episode's success is due to their playing it straight. Trip is hit the hardest, and it'll be interesting to watch his personal arc take shape in the coming season. Will he be able to accept a more Trek-like resolution to the human-Xindi conflict, or will he insist we blow the bastards out of the galaxy? We also catch a glimpse of other Earth ships, including the NX-02 still being built. Earth is getting on the defensive. Enterprise, of course, will have to go after the Xindi, and to do so, it is refit with better shielding and weapons (including photonic torpedoes, courtesy perhaps of the Vissians?) and an as yet unseen cadre of marines. It's a different world, where exploration is no longer at a premium.

The mission will not be an easy one. The Xindi are said to live in the Delphic Expanse, a region of space from which no starship ever returns intact. The Vulcans, as always trying to hold us back, tell of spatial anomalies, dangerous species and bad cases of SPACE MADNESS that should provide enough fodder for an entire season of Enterprise. In fact, while I'm wary of abandoning the ideals of exploration (which will still feature since we've never been to this expanse), I applaud the format of a year-long epic. Not only does it prefigure most hot shows of today, but it's also the point where Enterprise stopped worrying about its crossover appeal and catered to its loyal fanbase. The ones that watch every week, watch every week. An epic is not a problem.

And if this is the first part of that 25-episode epic, it perhaps acts as a template. The Xindi arc will not be a chain of "to be continued" cliffhanger shows, but a series of interlocking pieces, each with its own plot within the larger story. In this case, the story wraps up the Klingon subplot, with a really cool-looking battle inside a nebula, something like what The Wrath of Khan would have been with better effects. Duras is largely playing the fool (I like it), and pays dearly for his attempt to kill Archer. It's a satisfying go-round that also plainly states that we're leaving the world of the first two seasons behind.

The episode ran on so long that a couple scenes were removed entirely, but are thankfully on the DVD. One involves a romantic interest for Archer that might explain his reluctance to Kirk it up on his missions. I don't miss it, since I don't much care for the casting or what information is imparted in the scene. The scene I do miss is the one between Archer and Hoshi in which he thinks she's leaving, but she's only packing old books to make room for now ones. It's a nice awkward moment for Archer, and a mark of how much Hoshi has grown and is ready to move on to other types of stories. I would have retained it in exchange for the superfluous scene in which a Vulcan comes aboard ship to ask too many questions. We already know these guys are meddlers, and it doesn't really plug into the more crucial decision T'Pol has to make about resigning her commission (should we expect a change of clothes in the coming season?)

LESSON: Just because you've never heard of them doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Practically a relaunch of the series with a new, post 9/11 mission. The drama is heartfelt, the action scenes exciting, the Temporal Cold War stuff restrained, and the effects gorgeous. A set-up that makes me look forward to the next 24 episodes.


Teebore said...

The prospect of a story arc (on Star Trek! And it's not a DS9 rerun!) definitely had me energized and excited for the next season in a way I hadn't been for Star Trek in a long time.

Jeffrey said...

I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek shortly after 9/11, if memory serves. When this episode aired, I said out loud "They should have been doing this since season 1!"


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