693. Proving Ground
FORMULA: The Expanse + Cease Fire + The Wrath of Khan
WHY WE LIKE IT: Back on track! And Andorians too!
WHY WE DON'T: The plain Andorian bridge. Too much of Talas.
REVIEW: After a number of high concept episodes, what the show really needs is a strong plot-driven piece of the Xindi arc, and that's what Proving Ground is. Enterprise has found the testing ground for the superweapon and the plan is to learn as much as possible and if possible, even steal the prototype. We also see Gralik's tainted batch of kemosite at work, bringing the test to a halt. Still, wow, I bet even a partial destruction of the Earth like the one seen here would do the trick. Does it have to be TOTAL annihilation?
Where the episode gets a little indulgent is in bringing in Shran and the Andorians into the picture. While I'm always happy to see Shran and his ambiguous relationship with Archer, it does seem a bit fortuitous that the Andorian ship could find Enterprise so easily. Between that and the easy way the ship maneuvers in the Expanse, it makes the Imperial Guard seem more advanced than even the Vulcans. Another disappointment is the look of the Andorian ship's bridge. Though I'll believe these guys have a spartan aesthetic, it still seems a little dull and studio-bound.
Still, the Andorians are here, however they managed it, so let's enjoy them. Shran is, as usual, at once hero and villain, here caught between his duty to the Imperial Guard (stealing the weapon) and his own moral compass (not seeing the sense in making enemies of the humans). The script plays with the idea of trust throughout. T'Pol is right about Andorians not being trustworthy, but then Archer is too in his trusting Shran specifically. And the crew of the Enterprise aren't suckers. Though Talas has been sabotaging the ship, Reed has been checking her work all the way through making it possible for the ship to reach the Andorians before they can leave with the weapon. It was obvious that Reed would be given an alien babe to work with, but we go back to that subplot too often for my tastes, especially if it's all going to be mutual appreciation society meetings. But the ending redeems it a great deal, presenting us with characters who were playing each other.
A number of scenes help elevate this episode beyond the machinations of its plot. Shran helps Trip out on the basis that they are "brothers in revenge". Shran puts on a character for the Xindi, one that is amusingly looking for "archerite". After the standoff and subsequent destruction of the weapon, Archer opens a channel and offers his help to the Andorians, bringing the episode full circle.
LESSON: If you can't share it, then no one gets to play with the toy.
REWATCHABILITY - High Medium: Though the Andorians' return stretches credibility just a little, the alternative is going without them entirely this season, and we, clearly, would be poorer for it.