01/04/2003. Contributed by Timothy W. Lynch
Andorian commander Shran calls upon Archer to mediate a dispute between the Andorians and the Vulcans. Critic Timothy W. Lynch sits in judgment of this new episode of Star Trek Enterprise.
Sometimes, simple is best.
"Cease Fire" doesn't break a whole lot of new ground, but it plays to the series' core strengths and sets up some nice ideas for the future in the process.
It's not all that new to find a Starfleet captain trying to mediate a dispute in order to prevent a war - Kirk certainly did it on occasion, Sisko did on occasion (mostly early on, before the Fed's own war with the Dominion took precedence), and Picard did it whenever his tea got cold.
It's a common enough theme - but what's not common is for said captain to see it as a new thing. Archer does, and for the most part Archer should. I can't say I'm that impressed if it really took the man a year and a half to realize he's the chief representative of humanity to "a much larger community," but at least when he gets a realization he tends to stick with it. :-)
Apart from that realization, though, the early stages of "Cease Fire" didn't have all that much to recommend them apart from a sense of potential. I liked very much the idea of Archer having to negotiate a wary cease-fire between the Vulcans and the Andorians (and especially the idea that Shran would ask for Archer specifically), but the laying out of the problem came in one of the more interminable lumps of exposition I've seen in a while.
There had to have been a more interesting way to get that information across to us; having T'Pol hand it all to Archer while he and Trip act skeptical about motivations is not that way.
Additionally, everyone seems to have forgotten when Enterprise is set: the treaty of 2097 (which left this disputed planet uninhabited) is said several times to be more than a century old, which makes no sense. It's not a huge deal, but it added to a sense that this episode could be stuck in the land of "intriguing ideas bollixed up by execution."
The return of Gary Graham's Soval didn't help that much. As I've said before, there's a difference between the calm Vulcan self- assurance that annoys everyone and actively contemptuous behavior, and Soval has spent way too much time on the wrong side of that line to suit me, be it for writing reasons or acting ones.
He doesn't seem to fit in with the Vulcans we know from past series or the version ENT's presented us with, and that made it difficult early on for me to buy into the story overmuch. In any event, until the end of the first act I didn't have much of a feel for the show other than a few cynical musings about the Federation (or the pre-Fed, in this case) still representing the U.S. writ large.
Specifically, Archer's casual dismissal of T'Pol's background information as too long and his unwillingness to go in with any particular plans reminded me way too much of certain aspects of US policy right about now. Let's leave it at that.
Once the action shifted down to the planet, however, things improved considerably. Some of that is due to one of the inherent contradictions of being a fan: a large fraction of us say we want things to be new and different (and a large fraction of that fraction even mean it), but give us a guest actor or character we've been fond us previously and we tend to drool. :-)
In this case, we not only got another episode with Shran, played by Jeff "I think I've played ninety-seven roles on Trek by now" Combs, but we also got our first exposure to Tarah, a female Andorian, played quite well by old TNG favorite Suzie Plakson.
More importantly, though, it's at this point that the conflict became a bit more multifaceted. Shran may have asked for Archer, but it's clear that not everyone supports him in that initiative - not just the use of Archer, but the whole idea of sitting down and talking with the Vulcans at all.
Tarah disputes and dismisses any interpretation of the situation that doesn't involve her being absolutely right, from Archer's bringing T'Pol along at all to his description of Vulcan prisoners as hostages. "Hostages?" she notes. "Criminals take hostages. Kidnappers looking for ransom take hostages. I assume you're referring to the enemy soldiers we captured." She's a bit strident, but she certainly has a consistent point of view.
Archer also gets somewhat more intelligently written here than he's been lately. Bakula's delivery of threats and ultimatums is still not one I find totally convincing, but the substance of Archer's comments here is sound: he convinces Shran that, although sympathetic, he'll need to take something concrete back to Soval in order to get him to come down in person. I don't know if he proposed the release of two prisoners in the hopes of getting it all, or just in the expectation of getting one, but either way it's a sound enough tactic.
Once the deal is struck on the Andorian end and (somewhat inexplicably, so far as I can tell) on the Vulcan end, Archer heads back down with T'Pol and Soval. Naturally, however, the return trip can't go perfectly smoothly - the show's requisite action quota needs to be filled, for one thing.
Thus, the shuttlepod gets shot down, and the rest of the show finds the threesome trying to find their way to safety - and specifically to find the Andorians, since Archer insists upon keeping his word. Soval has grave misgivings about this, since he assumes the shuttle was shot down by Shran in an attempt to kill them, but he's given little choice.
Stranding this trio also leads to a long-overdue conversation. At one point, Archer goes ahead to check out the terrain, Soval observes that T'Pol was a gifted aide to him back in San Francisco, and that if she'd stayed on Earth she might well have a diplomatic posting of her own.
It's about time that someone not on Enterprise asked T'Pol why she's still there, and I appreciated both the asking of the question and T'Pol's answer. (It's also close to the only scene in which Soval actually acts as emotionless as he claims to be.)
Meanwhile, the Vulcans aren't the only one with internal differences of opinion. Shran doesn't know who shot at the shuttle, but is incensed at the result - he orders Tarah to personally see to it that all three people are brought in alive. She again resists this, suggesting that the Vulcans shot down their own ambassador to provoke a war, but grudgingly agrees.
If there was any intention of making "who's trying to kill them?" a mystery, then it failed, as a neon arrow pointed to Tarah pretty early on. I don't really think that was the intent, though - and as I said earlier, I think there was a real strength to the way Tarah was used here.
She may be the villain of the piece, but she's not some cackling villain twirling her mustache - she's a patriot by her own lights who thinks Shran's leadership is bringing them all to ruin.
Before too long, of course, this is exposed. Archer and company run into another firefight, and eventually Archer manages to take one of the two snipers by surprise, then has some hand-to-hand fighting with Tarah. Given how strong the Andorians are (as per several examples that weren't this episode), it rang a little false that a bruised and battered Archer could take on a perfectly hale and hearty Tarah and come out on top, but that's a relatively minor hitch.
The main point was to incapacitate her long enough for Shran to come upon the scene and find out what Tarah's been up to, and that he does quite nicely.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is at least given something intelligent to do. Trip, who's been put in the "dorky comic relief" role entirely too many times this season, winds up putting the Enterprise in harm's way when some Andorian ships come to help out their fellows on the surface.
It's not all that surprising that he'd put the Enterprise between the Andorians and the Vulcans and then threaten to fire on anyone who makes an aggressive move, but it's very in keeping with Trip's character and was well presented. I'll take it.
I keep coming back to the schism within the Andorians, though, and it was very definitely a large part of the show's appeal for me. Once Tarah admits what she's done, she tells Shran "it's not too late to make a stand," and he does: he has her arrested and taken away. She goes calmly, but tells him, "there are others who feel this way. You'll see."
I very, very much hope that's not something that's just mentioned to make this episode feel a little more ominous. There should be lots of people who feel as she does, and some of them should be in places of sufficient power to really make a lasting peace difficult. Let's see some of that!
Despite some problems early on, "Cease Fire" is a fairly good example of what can be done with this series' setting. We know that eventually, there does need to be a lasting peace, since both Vulcan and Andor (or "Andoria," as it's apparently called here) are charter members of the Federation - but we don't know how strong or how friendly that alliance is, and we know next to nothing about how that alliance came about.
This is a historical thread well worth pursuing, as it can lead to interesting stories that really are somewhat new to Trek.
"Cease Fire" also wins by having much better dialogue than a lot of its recent predecessors. Granted, there's also some dialogue that's quite grating - Trip's whole bit about "my underwear's flame- retardant" is on that list, as is Archer's "the ball's in your court now" and T'Pol having to explain it. That's outweighed, though, by things like...
- Tarah: "You act as if [the Vulcans] have some sort of moral code. They have no conscience - only their precious logic!"
- T'Pol: "We need to reduce our speed." Archer: "The ground is gonna do that for us. Brace yourselves."
- the Andorian ship's recommendation that Enterprise withdraw, because they'd hate to see them be hit with debris from the Vulcan ships. *That's* self-assurance.
- Archer: "I believe someone once defined a compromise as a solution that neither side is happy with." Shran: "In that case, these talks have been extremely successful." (He then proposes a drink "to our mutual dissatisfaction," which is also cute.)
- and, of course, the Vulcans' discussion about humans' ear fixation. :-)
It's been unusual this season for ENT dialogue to make me smile, but "Cease Fire" had a few of those. Kudos.
Other observations and comments:
- When Archer and T'Pol first arrived on the planet, did anyone else find it convenient that the Andorians brought along a second hood even though they were expecting only Archer? (I've no problem with it, especially since they're so paranoid as a matter of course - it just made for good MST3K fodder.)
- Beyond the timing glitch of "how long ago was 2097, anyway?", Soval also says at least once that Archer's last contact with the Andorians was at P'Jem. Not true, and there's every reason Soval should know that.
- The breakfast scene with Archer/Trip/T'Pol has some strikingly bad effects work whenever you see Trip. It was most unusual.
That should do it. "Cease Fire" took fifteen minutes or so to figure out where it wanted to go, but struck very few false notes once it started on that path. More shows on this level and less like "A Night in Sickbay" or "Dawn," please.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some lousy work with Archer early on, but several nice moments of dialogue and some decent complexities within each culture. Directing: Again, after a slow start things moved along nicely. Acting: Kudos to Combs and Plakson, and after a bumpy start Bakula and Graham held their own as well.
OVERALL: I think this sits at an 8.5. Color me pleased.
Timothy W. Lynch
Copyright 2003, 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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