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WARNING:  This review of "The Andorian Incident" should have a cute spoiler warning; alas, "The First-Quarter Grades Due Incident" precludes that.

In brief:  A little pat here and there, but great fun.

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"The Andorian Incident" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 6 Teleplay by Fred Dekker Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Fred Dekker Directed by Roxann Dawson Brief summary:  The Enterprise's ill-timed visit to a Vulcan retreat puts Archer in the middle of a hostage situation.

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Director Roxann Dawson's been quoted in a few places as saying "The Andorian Incident" really has an "Indiana Jones"-like feel to it. I don't know if I'd characterize it quite that way, but there's a certain free-wheeling sensibility to it that called to mind a lot of TOS -- and in a good way, most of the time.

Some of that "TOS echo," of course, is due simply to the presence of everybody's favorite blue-skins, the Andorians.  Every Trek series to date has had one or more races who got pretty thoroughly examined: TOS had Vulcans, TNG had Klingons, DS9 had Bajorans and Cardassians, and so forth.  The Andorians have been around for a long time, but we still know almost nothing about them -- "Enterprise" could be the series that changes that.  (I can also take this opportunity to put in a free plug for all of the "post-series" DS9 novels, however; one of the new characters on the station is an Andorian, and we're finding out some interesting stuff about the species there.)

After the teaser (notable in that we get to see Andorians with modern makeup, and in that there's absolutely no dialogue), the episode begins much as others have -- namely, Archer decides to do something rash and potentially stupid.  This time, he wants to check out a planet that's along their course -- which is fine, except that T'Pol says it's an intensely private Vulcan spiritual retreat that may not welcome visitors.  The dialogue, heavily paraphrased, is something like this:  "Vulcan spiritual retreat, huh?  Sounds interesting; let's go visit."  "Captain, they are a private people, they may not welcome visitors."  "Great -- so you'll handle it, then."  For now, it's entertaining, but we really, *really* need to see one of these decisions blow up in Archer's face in a serious way.  (This one doesn't count -- he got beaten up, but other than that he accomplished more good than harm.)

The decision had two immediate good consequences, though.  First, Archer seemed almost playful when he talked T'Pol into making the visit -- just the way in which he calls "Archer to helm" suggests that he's having the time of his life.  More importantly, however, the T'Pol/Phlox scene in the mess hall points out yet again that John Billingsley is one of the series' major finds.  Phlox gently and diplomatically makes T'Pol look at her "new crew" in a slightly different light, even managing to invoke IDIC in the process.  "What is diversity but a celebration of differences?" is a good point to make to T'Pol, and probably not a bad one to make to the audience at this particular point in time either.

The show really kicks into high gear, though, once Archer, Trip, and T'Pol head down to the retreat itself.  In short order, they discover the four Andorians who've taken over the sanctuary and are taken prisoners themselves.  At this point, we go pretty firmly into suspense-movie mode:  not every decision is entirely well thought out, but you're having so much fun watching everyone chewing the scenery that you don't particularly care.

Part of that appeal, of course, is due to Jeffrey Combs.  He's certainly had roles in Trek I didn't care for (most notably Ferengi Liquidator Brunt), but he made a deliciously slimy Weyoun in DS9 for years, and is different enough here that we're getting a better sense of his range.  Weyoun was eternally patient and generally pleased with himself; Shran, the Andorian leader, is eternally suspicious and generally violent with others.  Now, that could describe half the Klingons we've seen on screen in the last decade as well, but Shran seems a bit more sadistic about it, and you get the sense that he doesn't necessarily *enjoy* violence so much as he considers it a useful tool.  In any case, he's great fun to watch.

Once Shran threatens the Enterprise and destroys all the communicators, it becomes clear that we're going to go into the "face down this problem, then this one, then this one" Saturday-morning- serial mode of storytelling -- which is pretty Indiana-Jones-esque, I suppose.  Step One:  find a way to communicate with the Enterprise. Step Two:  find a way to stall for time until Step Three:  force the Andorians out.  There were a few plot points telegraphed a mile off -- for instance, as soon as we hear about the reliquary and are told that no one ever goes in, is there anyone out there who *didn't* know immediately that Our Heroes would end up inside at some point? -- but from a pacing point of view, most of this held together quite well.

Scott Bakula, in particular, decided to buckle his swash for all it was worth this week.  (And no, I don't entirely know what that means either.)  Archer is the one who has to reconcile Vulcan sensibilities with the needs of the moment, Archer's the one who gets to strut around and get beaten up while letting Trip test a hypothesis, and Archer's the one who gets the Big Decision at the end after the plot twist is revealed.  In a lot of ways, this is old-style, ham-it-up storytelling, and both character and actor proved up to the job. (Personally, I just enjoyed hearing someone mention Tycho Brahe on screen ... but I suppose that's just me.  :-) )

T'Pol was a slightly more mixed bag, but in this case it's not so much the actress as the way the character's being presented.  First, we get Tholos, one of the Andorians, sneering, "I'll enjoy having you ... as a prisoner," which is so far up the list of Cliched Leering Villain Boasts that I thought it had been retired some time ago.  Then Archer offers her a blanket to keep warm, which while not particularly sexualized is certainly going to call up sexual tension in the viewers' minds (especially with Archer in serious Kirk mode this week anyway). Then Tholos talks about Vulcan mating rituals and offers to kill Archer in order to mate with T'Pol.  Now, even put together, this isn't as blatant as the decontamination scene in "Broken Bow," but it pretty thoroughly screams at us that "yes, she may have other character traits, but this is the Attractive Sexy Babe character and don't you forget it!"  It wasn't gigantically jarring here, but it was unnecessary enough that it was slightly jarring.

Not jarring, at all, on the other hand, was everyone's favorite explosives enthusiast, Lt. Reed, who *finally* got to blow something up.  :-)  I'm really waiting for a good and juicy Reed show somewhere down the line, because Dominic Keating is really doing a nice job with what material he gets.  Yes, for example, it was a given that Reed wasn't going to "sit on his butt when he's threatened," (to quote Archer) but Reed's snappish, "I don't take orders from a comm voice, Ensign -- not unless it belongs to the captain" cut to the point without being melodramatic.  Reed's still nervous about the transporter, which is appropriate, but he's also willing to put those concerns aside for the sake of his job.  I want to know more about what makes Reed tick, but it's already palpably clear that he's a character you'd want to have at your back.  I can definitely live with that.

There were a couple of plot points which seemed somewhat questionable, though not hugely so.  First, while Archer and T'Pol are debating about nonviolent solutions (in a fairly good scene), I wondered if it might work to simply beam down a sensor array from Enterprise, damage it a bit, then let the Andorians "discover" it in some locked room.  I'm not sure it would have worked, but it might have been worth considering, since the alternative is putting a lot of lives at risk in a firefight.  Second, why exactly did Archer need to go through that lengthy "talk about nothing and get beaten up" scene for the sake of tossing that statue through the atrium bas-relief? Wouldn't it have been easier for Trip to check from the other side? Walk up the staircase quietly, peer through the holes and see if the light is really coming from the atrium.  No muss, no fuss.  Both points are definitely arguable, but the second one in particular struck me as a small dose of "toss logic out the window for the sake of a good scene."

Speaking of the Archer/T'Pol debate, apart from the presentation I think it makes some good points.  When is violence justified?  Are the Vulcans risking "enlightening" themselves right into victimhood? Some interesting questions, and ones without particularly clear answers.  (The answers for this particular incident were made moot by the twist at the end, but the questions overall still strike me as valid.)

All of that, however, is just lead-up to the big twist at the end -- namely, that the Andorians' suspicions were well-founded all along, and that the Vulcans at the retreat have actually been spying on the Andorians for a long time.  I'm sure some people will be crying foul over this, both because it has Vulcans lying for a long period of time and because it seems fundamentally against most Vulcan ethics -- but I'm willing to go along with it now, for a few reasons.  One is we don't really know much about Vulcans of this particular era -- yes, their culture dates back a long time and the general sense of logic and control is well-established, but there could certainly be factions within Vulcan society who consider this necessary.  It's entirely possible that incidents like this are what make Vulcan a bit more pacifistic and a founding member of the Federation -- if the Federation can keep the peace, they won't *have* to pull stunts like this.  The other reason? Well, it just worked so damn well.  We're left with some ambiguity -- for starters, it's not at all clear whether the Elders of the sanctuary knew what was going on, though I'd certainly call it likely -- and a serious sense that T'Pol is badly shaken by Archer's discovery. (Kudos to Blalock for hitting the right balance in that scene, by the way.)  The Andorians are now in Archer's debt, and it's one I hope we see him collect on someday.  If it turns out that virtually every Vulcan we see is deceitful and scheming, I'll be the first to pick up a torch and head for the castle -- but this isolated incident works for me just fine.

Other musings:

-- The initiate's own wild shooting is what revealed the sensor emplacement he was trying to hide -- a nice touch.

-- I don't know if my wife and I were the only two people who noticed this or not, but we were getting fairly serious B5 echoes when Archer and Trip were stalling for time in the atrium.  Archer and Trip babbling about monasteries, the San Francisco Zoo, and everything else they could think of just made us think of Sheridan and Garibaldi talking about trees in "Divided Loyalties."

-- When T'Pol briefs Archer and Trip about how to behave, I couldn't resist adding "And whatever you do, Commander, do NOT stick your hand in a bucket full of telepathy-inducing pebbles!"

-- This is the second episode in a row where I haven't wanted to throw something large and heavy at T'Pol, which is a good sign -- but that catsuit has absolutely got to go.  (No, not in that sense -- get your minds out of the gutter, or at least back up *to* the gutter.)  When she's conferring with the Elder upon their arrival, the outfit really plays up the differences in presentation between T'Pol and other Vulcans, and not in a way the episode intended.

-- Trip is staying pretty true to character.  One of his first lines this episode is, "Where's the exploration in going places people have already *been*?", and both it and Archer's response were well taken.

-- The Elder says early on that during Kolinahr, Vulcans are urged to explore their "vestigial emotions."  I really can't see that wording as workable.  By any yardstick you want to use, Vulcans are not and have never been emotionless -- so "vestigial" seems odd.  (I suppose one could argue that the Vulcans *want* them to be evolutionary holdovers that aren't needed, so the wording could be wishful thinking.)

-- The emphasis on how much T'Pol can't stand the smell of humans was a bit much.  Yes, it fits with the Porthos scene in the pilot and with her discussion about food with Phlox an episode or two back, but it seems excessive.

That pretty much does it.  Apart from the plot twist, "The Andorian Incident" is not exactly a hugely deep, thought-provoking show -- but it's an awful lot of fun to watch.  No objection here.

Wrapping up:

Writing:  Mostly an adventure yarn, with a few weird moments in tow         -- but a generally well-crafted one. Directing:  Lots of fun cross-cutting at the end, a good dissolve with         the "lights at the end of the tunnel," and solid overall. Acting:   Bruce French (the Elder) had a little trouble staying Vulcan,         but no major concerns.

OVERALL:  9.  Well worth the hour.

NEXT WEEK:

Cometary hijinks.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*> "For people without emotion, you sure have a flair for the dramatic!"         -- Trip (and boy, ain't that the truth) -- Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*.  Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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