In brief: More middling — if thematically respectable — fare.
Lukewarm indifference can be an awful feeling when experienced for a prolonged period. I look at my last four reviews in a row now: 2.5 stars, 2.5 stars, 2.5 stars, 2.5 stars. I tell myself that at least it means competently constructed television, but somehow that's cold comfort. I want a spark of life and ingenuity in my entertainment, and not simply responsible messages inside bland containers.
"Cease Fire" is more average Trekkian fare that inspires more indifference from me. The story is reasonable enough — don't get me wrong — but it's presented in perhaps the most by-the-numbers way imaginable. It's forensic-like in its approach to plot points: Point A, Point B, Point C. All that's missing are the Law & Order location-and-date cards and that unmistakable CLANG-CLANG:
SHUTTLEPOD CRASH SITE
PAAN MOKAR/WEYTAHN SURFACE
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2152
The message: Peace requires patience and compromise on both sides. Archer is able to bring the two parties to the table so they listen to each other and compromise. By the end, problems may not be completely solved, but things are nicely wrapped up for the moment and we have cause for hope. If only the real world were so hopeful, I'd have that Middle East thing solved in an hour. Maybe two. At least the Star Trek universe is still hopeful of such possibilities.
Of course, that doesn't change the fact that getting from A to B to C is like watching the construction of some hoary storytelling techniques at work. It's gotten to the point that I wonder if the problem is not the material, but the reviewer who is tired of some of the material. Am I jaded and cynical? I hope not. Maybe it's just the fact that "Cease Fire" employs in its arsenal of storytelling techniques things that fail to move me because they don't have any freshness to them. Things like hostage-taking, obstinate Vulcans, traitors in plain view, shuttles being shot out of the sky and thus crashing to the ground, and bloodless shootouts with unseen enemies that seem to go on forever. No amount of reasonable dialog or good intentions is going to make elements like that feel new or exciting (or, at least, not in this case). It makes me thirst for a clever plot with a clever twist.
The indispensable Jeffrey Combs returns as the ever-serious Andorian leader Shran, who has requested Archer mediate a dispute between the Andorians and the Vulcans. The dispute is over a seemingly worthless rock of a planetoid called Paan Mokar by the Vulcans — Weytahn by the Andorians — uninhabitable until the Andorians began terraforming (Andoriaforming?) it a century ago. The Vulcans then annexed the planet on the account it was so close to their homeworld, and subsequently used force to remove the Andorian colonists from the planet. They justified these actions with their belief that it was obvious the Andorians were setting up a strategic military base that could threaten Vulcan interests. A treaty was put in place forbidding occupation of the planetoid. Now Shran has reoccupied the vacant colony and taken hostages from the Vulcan security forces who were sent in to remove him. Tensions are on the verge of escalating into a more serious armed conflict.
Of course, any story about a long-standing quarrel over a small territory between two strongly opposing sides with stakes in the matter will immediately remind us of the endless tensions of the Israeli/Palestinian issue. And like that situation, "Cease Fire" takes two parties whose solution lies only within the ability for both to make concessions neither wants to make. Enter Jonathan Archer as a neutral party to urge both sides to compromise. The Vulcans grudgingly accept him because they have little choice; Shran accepts him because Archer has shown in past dealings an ability to see things from a fair and neutral perspective.
I have to admit that the Vulcans continue to baffle me. I always figured they were governed, even in this century, by enlightened logic and a desire for peace in the galaxy — and yet they display the intolerance we saw in last week's "Stigma," and here it's revealed they annexed a world on suspicion of Andorian military planning (apparently not proven; the episode is murky on this point). Somehow, I always figured the Vulcans as more diplomatic than that, but perhaps they simply have no reason to trust the Andorians. Also, perhaps the writers want to reinvent the Vulcans as a flawed society in need of some repair.
I must admit that the mechanics of the plot did not much interest me. The hostage holding, mistrust, threats of violence, and ensuing action are put forward with a sense of clockwork routine that the episode can never really overcome. Shran's trusted lieutenant is a voice of Andorian skepticism when it comes to trusting the Vulcans. Her name is Tarah, played by the ever-tall Suzie Plakson (6-foot-1.5, according to the IMDB), another familiar Trekkian face (she played K'ehleyr on TNG and also the mother of Q's child in Voyager's "The Q and the Grey"). The fact that she is Shran's trusted lieutenant should not, under any circumstances, lead one to believe she is trustworthy; the plot point of her betrayal can be predicted half a dozen scenes in advance.
The idea is to get Vulcan Ambassador Soval (Gary Graham) and Shran in the same room with Archer so they can hammer out an agreement. Archer, Soval, and T'Pol take a shuttlepod to meet Shran on his terms. En route, the shuttlepod is shot down by Andorian militants who are not so keen on Shran's initiative of negotiation. Archer et al now find themselves in hostile territory where they must evade/engage armed Andorians who are not obeying Shran's orders in regard to the peace process.
These passages consist of fairly boring, protracted action material. I may be in the minority, but I'd favor a juicy scene of heated negotiation with specifically detailed points and good dramatic acting over any dozen scenes of Archer doing somersaults with phase-pistol in hand and then engaging in fisticuffs with Tall Tarah. But that's just me.
Tarah, by the way, is the one who willfully undermined Shran by ordering the attack on the negotiating party. Tarah's role in the plot is far too obviously telegraphed for my tastes, but the point being made here is a valid one: The leadership often has to combat the attitudes of the people they lead in an effort to gain the support for an unpopular initiative. (Disclaimer: This paragraph does not constitute my endorsement of a U.S. war in Iraq.)
One character moment that caught my attention in the midst of otherwise bland action was an exchange between T'Pol and Soval regarding her evolving attitudes as a result of being a part of the Enterprise crew. He asks her why she has remained aboard Enterprise instead of taking a path that would've provided her more career advancement by now. She responds with, "I find the work gratifying." There's more to the dialog, and it proves to be a nice exchange that shows T'Pol's loyalty to the Enterprise's mission.
Some exchanges that got slightly annoying, on the other hand, were ones involving the Andorians' term for humans, "pink-skins." Apparently they are not aware that not all humans have the same color skin. Of course, I suppose this is only fair since I'm making the same assumption in thinking all Andorians are blue.
The negotiations at the end are generic, unspecific, and somewhat underwhelming, but that's probably okay. They do convey the point of this episode, which is that the only workable solution in a conflict like this is when all parties walk away from the table partially unhappy. It also demonstrates the other theme of the episode, which is that humans will become more important on the galactic canvas through diplomatic events like this.
While I can't quite recommend "Cease Fire" on the whole, I can recommend one sentiment at the core of the episode, which is aptly summed up in some dialog by Archer: "Maybe we're not out here to just scan comets and meet new species. Maybe we're out here to prove that humanity is ready to join a much larger community. I intend to do that." Well said. Now if only we can get rid of the pointless phaser shootouts and the fisticuffs, and depict the solutions with a little more interest, we'll be in good shape.
Next week: The crew discovers a new front in the temporal cold war.