In brief: Mostly routine as these things go, but the ending is of particular interest.
They say that the right ending to a movie is especially crucial, because that's the note you leave your audience with, and they're more likely to judge your success or failure based on the last feelings they have as they leave the theater.
This theory would apply nicely to "The Andorian Incident," which is — let's face it — a typical and obvious hostage premise with questionable logic for most of its run before supplying an ending that makes us sit up and take notice. Agree or disagree, one must admit that the final minutes of the episode and Archer's actions represent an interesting turn of events. The implications are worth thinking about.
The Vulcans, ah, the Vulcans. In "Broken Bow" I complained that they were obstacles for the sake of the story needing near-generic obstacles. That may still be the case (I'm not sure we've seen enough to understand why the Vulcans are the prigs of the galaxy, but so it goes), but here it takes a few interesting turns. The Vulcans are on not the best terms with the Andorians, who as the episode begins have invaded a spiritual retreat on a Vulcan outpost called P'Jem. Coincidentally, enter the Enterprise, where Archer tells T'Pol he'd like to take a shuttle down to P'Jem and visit the monastery in the interests of learning about some Vulcan customs. T'Pol isn't thrilled with the idea but she goes along with it, giving the captain a laundry list of rules to avoid offending the Vulcan elders. (T'Pol says the monastery is 3,000 years old, and since it's not on the Vulcan homeworld, one wonders just how long the Vulcans have been out in space.)
Once inside the monastery, our characters discover the Andorians and find themselves drawn into the middle of long-standing Vulcan/Andorian tensions. Although there's no official state of war between the Andorians and the Vulcans, there are extremist Andorian groups willing to use violence in the name of protecting Andorian interests.
T'Pol describes the Andorians as "paranoid," and she initially seems to be right. Some Andorians are very bitter at the Vulcans, accusing them of spying on their world, and that paranoia doesn't take long to extend to the humans. We have a Vulcan in our midst, we came to this monastery, so we must therefore know something. This "something" has to do with the Andorians' suspicions that the Vulcans have a long-range sensor array hidden somewhere in or around this monastery, used as a major spying post to watch over the Andorian homeworld. The Vulcans dismiss the accusations as ridiculous; they say this is a place for spiritual meditation, not for technology, and certainly not for military-type operations.
The leader of this small Andorian group is Shran, who is played by none other than Jeffrey Combs, who created one of DS9's most memorable villains, Weyoun. What's perhaps a bit unfortunate is that some of Combs' best strengths as a performer aren't allowed to come into play for this role. Shran is a near-humorless thug whose first instinct is to have Archer beaten senseless when he supplies no useful information. Combs' best strengths in Trek have always also included his humorous edge. In addition to his role on DS9, his guest spot in Voyager's "Tsunkatse" benefited from the fact he was a funny bad guy. Shran as a character doesn't have that quality. He's very serious and borderline cruel, and while Combs can do that fine too, it's just not as much fun to watch.
Between bouts of interrogation, our crew members and the Vulcans are locked into a room that, fortunately, has a secret passageway into some Vulcan catacombs. There's a radio down here, which our crew uses to contact the Enterprise. There's a certain Indiana Jones sense to the idea of Vulcan catacombs, but there's also a certain silliness to the fact that our characters are so easily able to go in and out of these tunnels undetected by the Andorians. As is the case for most situations like this, the villains unwittingly give our heroes just enough means to secretly come up with a plan of action.
The whole procession of plot is pretty much routine, but some characterization in between the moments of planning is appreciated and beneficial. In particular, I liked seeing snippets of Reed's leadership back aboard the Enterprise ("I don't take orders from a com voice, ensign — not unless that voice belongs to the captain"), as well as another debate between Archer and T'Pol highlighting differences between Vulcan and human ideals. The discussion on self-defense vs. non-violence strikes me as particularly realistic from what we know of both human and Vulcan sensibilities.
Still, there are also moments that seem really ill-thought-out. The most obvious example is the whole game with the big stone face in the wall. When Trip looked down one of the tunnels and saw the three holes in the wall, the thing that instantly came to my mind was that those three holes were the same three holes in the wall on the other side of the face. This later occurs to the crew as they're planning their escape. But they need to be sure that the tunnel leads to the room with the big face.
So what does Archer do? He tells the Andorians he wants to talk, so that they will take him back to the room with the big stone face. When he plays around with them instead of giving them information, they beat him up some more, during the course of which he secretly throws a small artifact through one of the holes in the big face. Then, on the other side, when Trip finds the artifact, the crew then knows that this tunnel exits to the room where the Andorians are.
Hello? Why not just go through the tunnel and look through the holes in the wall to see if they lead to the room where the Andorians are? Why go to all the trouble to throw an object through from the other side and then find it in the tunnel? Either Archer is an idiot or he really likes getting beat up. More likely is that the whole concept of the artifact being thrown into the tunnel is to pad out the script and draw out the conflict. What could've been half a page of the script — or indeed, even one line ("We can ambush the Andorians from this tunnel!") — is stretched out into pages of extraneous actions and dialog.
The ensuing chase scenes and shootouts are competently staged but not particularly surprising. What makes "The Andorian Incident" work is not the hostage plot that exists for most of the hour but rather the destination the story reaches. It turns out the Vulcans are in fact hiding a massive spy facility underneath this monastery. We find out that the Andorians' suspicions don't arise from paranoia that makes them into stock villains of the week, but instead that the Andorians are right and the Vulcans have been lying all along.
This ending effectively shatters many of the assumptions from earlier in the episode that were held by the characters in the story and also perhaps by viewers watching. We find ourselves re-evaluating the meaning of some scenes. Consider, for example, the T'Pol/Archer argument on self-defense. It takes on an entirely new meaning in light of the fact that this whole time the Vulcans have been lying and in fact have been spying on the Andorians — probably in the interest of self-defense. T'Pol, I believe, had no idea about what was going on here, and likely finds herself as surprised as Archer. I wonder if the Vulcans are hiding things within their own ranks.
Archer's actions are interesting as well. He lets the Andorians have the records as proof of the Vulcans' espionage operation — an operation that's in violation of the Vulcan/Andorian treaty. Archer, I'm sure, feels completely justified in doing so, since the Vulcans had been lying all along to everyone. The truth is, after all, the truth.
It's especially important that there be consequences to this episode. The ending has shown that the Vulcans can be secretive, militaristic, and persuasive liars. The story presents this information without further discussing it. Archer's actions have shown that he's willing, on principle, to sell out what at this point is humanity's only real ally. By giving the Andorians the proof of the spy facility, he's possibly opening up a Pandora's box for increased tensions between the Vulcans and Andorians, and probably between humans and Vulcans as well. The Vulcans' unwillingness to be straight with humans shows once again that this is a strained relationship. Meanwhile, we have Shran telling Archer, "We're in your debt."
I'm giving this episode a borderline recommendation. There's plenty of stock-issue plotting and broken logic in the course of this story, but I liked where it took us. It shows that Archer is stubborn, principled, and righteous. I only hope that down the road we see what kind of trouble such characteristics get him into.
Next week: Ice, ice, baby.