Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Expanse"

***

Air date: 5/21/2003
Written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I can't wait to get in there, captain — find the people who did this. And tell me we won't be tiptoeing around — none of that non-interference crap T'Pol's always shoving down our throats. Maybe it's a good thing she's leaving." "We'll do what we have to, Trip. Whatever it takes."

— Tucker and Archer

In brief: A rather extreme, out-of-left-field shake-up of the series, but effective nonetheless.

"Enterprise has potential," I said to TV Guide magazine a few months ago, "but it doesn't take risks." I said a lot more, but that's what got printed — which is fine, because it got to the crux of the matter. Enterprise was in the middle of a second season that was bland, boring, and safe.

Well, with "The Expanse," Enterprise has taken a risk. Whether it's the right risk remains to be seen, but at least the series is committing itself to something resembling a direction (and if the press quotes are true indicators, this will become an ongoing storyline rather than something that will be instantly resolved at the beginning of next season — which is good news).

The optimist in me sees this as an opportunity for the writers to do some unpredictable things and give this series a much-needed purpose and story arc. The pessimist sees this as a writer's sudden act of desperation to move a frequently anemic series in a hopefully exciting direction. (Reportedly, the studio regards Enterprise with much skepticism, so one wonders if they demanded changes.) The pessimist also wonders if the show isn't veering off in the direction of a war series with overlarge stakes — which seems to be an unlikely digression for what is allegedly the prequel to Star Trek. Enterprise doesn't seem like a series where such material would naturally fit, but maybe I should wait and see rather than speculate.

The stakes here are nothing short of apocalyptic, beginning with a weapons test of unknown alien origin that slices a 4,000-kilometer-long swath from central Florida down through to Venezuela, killing 7 million people in the process.

And this is a weapons test.

So, yes, you could say they have my attention.

Enterprise is immediately recalled to Earth. Before reaching Earth, however, the Enterprise is intercepted by the Suliban, who bring Archer aboard their ship to talk to the Shadow Man From The Future, who explains that the attack on Earth was carried out by a race called the Xindi — and, furthermore, that the Xindi intend to destroy Earth with a doomsday weapon in a subsequent attack. Allegedly, the Xindi motivation is that humanity will be responsible for their own destruction in 400 years; such information about the future was never supposed to fall into their hands, but was apparently conveyed to them by an unauthorized source.

The Shadow Man is giving Archer this information because the destruction of Earth would contaminate the timeline. Common sense suggests that 7 million deaths would also severely contaminate the timeline, but I guess the point here is that the temporal cold war doesn't make sense and never will. Common sense also suggests that the Xindi, if they intend to destroy Earth, could've waited until they were actually ready rather than tipping their hand with a surprise "test" attack that slaughters millions and demands reprisal. Couldn't they have tested their weapons anywhere?

The actual attack presents a chilling image, with a beam slicing right through Florida and Cuba, leaving a canyon of decimated earth in ashes, perhaps a mile or more wide. The spherical design of the Xindi spacecraft seems curiously clunky, like something out of a 1950s sci-fi pulp magazine, but infinitely more crucial to the impact of this is the shock and dismay we see in our characters. The scene where Archer informs the crew of the attack reveals confusion and disbelief, and the shot of the crew on the bridge when they see Earth's damage from orbit for the first time is a potent scene; they stand in silence, and no words are necessary.

For such reasons, "The Expanse" works as drama, and contains a lot of feelings and responses that are recognizable given the current national stage. The episode is obviously a futuristic metaphor for 9/11 and its aftermath: The way Earth is blindsided by this attack is not at all unlike the way most Americans felt blindsided on 9/11, and there are apt details that lend an air of realism, like the constant revision of the casualty figure. In a way, the sudden, forced change in direction of this series reflects the sudden change in the direction of American foreign policy after 9/11. The idea that these Xindi would want to destroy us may be conjured from thin air (and the contrived way it ties into the temporal cold war brings up more questions than answers), but what happens from there is not, because an attack like this demands action.

But what kind of action?

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of "The Expanse" is that there is no clear idea of what Starfleet or the people of Earth expect will happen from here. There's no concrete conclusion of whether or not This Means War. (And really, we can't even be positive that the Xindi are responsible.) With 7 million dead and another attack allegedly on the way, presumably this does mean war or something close, and the Enterprise receives an immediate retrofit with upgraded weapons and defenses. The Xindi, Archer was told, reside somewhere within a strange area of space called the Delphic Expanse, and Starfleet gives the Enterprise a new mission — after some convincing and consideration — to venture into the expanse and investigate the Xindi threat.

There's of course some frustration along the way to this decision. First of all, the Vulcans are constant skeptics of information that supposedly comes from the future, since they do not believe in time travel. (With time travel being so obviously prevalent in this century, you'd think the Vulcan Science Directorate would wise up.) This leads to a scene where Archer "proves" something in the wreckage from the alien vessel is from the future by scanning it with a "quantum-dating" device that reads "minus 420." Uh-huh. (I guess this means that it's not 420 years old but rather 420 years young.) Why would a piece of metal traveling through time have any impact on the measurable age of the metal? To me, this is like saying that if I traveled back in time 10 years, I would no longer look 27 years old, but instead 17. (Or at least I'd be quantum dated as 17.) Not that time travel is plausible in the first place, but you see how this seems contrary to accepted sci-fi conventions. Maybe I need to go to quantum-dating school.

Then there's the concern over the mysterious and ominous Delphic Expanse. The Vulcans once explored it but no longer do, because of its strange and unexplainable properties and even its sometime non-adherence to the laws of physics. Ambassador Soval tells ghost stories of ships that entered and never emerged. In one case, he says, a Klingon ship emerged with its crew's bodies all turned inside out — and yet STILL ALIVE. (Cue ominous music of doom.) I find myself wondering why Soval believes these stories when he's not willing to believe in time travel. As a final warning, he even shows Archer the last video footage of the last Vulcan crew to go into the expanse: They are all going insane and violently whaling on one other — the last thing recorded before the ship was destroyed, apparently by the crew's own hands. This creepy B-movie idea reminded me of a similar scene in the movie Event Horizon, where people who ventured into black holes went crazy and massacred themselves in bizarre and bloody video footage.

Once Starfleet decides to investigate the Delphic Expanse, the Vulcan High Command recalls T'Pol to Vulcan, since standing policy forbids Vulcans from entering the expanse. Among the show's better character scenes is the one where she expresses to Archer her desire to stay aboard the Enterprise and resign her High Command commission. "You need me," she tells the captain straightforwardly. The scene represents a breakthrough of sorts, where T'Pol has become one of Us. Whether that's desirable is a matter of perspective: One hopes she will still remain an alternative voice, but it's nice to see that T'Pol has become more comfortable with her role among humans.

The episode also gives the carnage on Earth a direct character connection by placing Trip's younger sister among the missing and presumed dead. There's a potent image of the destruction in Florida seen close up by Trip and Malcolm. We're naturally reminded of images of ground zero following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Some may wonder whether this is appropriate as entertainment, but I believe it works because the story takes its fictional concept seriously. The fact that something awful has happened is not simply a backdrop for an adventure (though it is that as well), but also given its due weight. The characters react believably, and handheld camera work in the early scenes sets the mood of emotional disarray. I could sense in these scenes the feeling of something genuinely wrong.

Archer, particularly early in the episode, is understandably emotional and aggressive. And there's obviously a character arc in the making for Trip that could change him dramatically. He's bitter and wants to "blow the hell out of these bastards when we find them." In a scene where Archer and Trip pour themselves glasses of hard liquor, Trip says: "Tell me we won't be tiptoeing around — none of that non-interference crap T'Pol's always shoving down our throats." There are some serious moral questions worth considering here (possibly including the non-interference issue, which made waves in "Cogenitor"), just as the Dominion War on DS9 brought new issues to the table. The question is whether they will be adequately addressed and whether they fit in the context of this series.

Shoehorned in here is a weirdly structured subplot involving the Klingons, who dispatch the dishonored Duras (Daniel Riordan) on a mission of potential redemption: to track down Archer, who by now is an infamous enemy who has twice escaped the Klingon Empire's clutches ("Judgment," "Bounty"). This subplot has little to do with anything else, except peripherally. The Klingons show up at the beginning and the end, and serve as stand-ins for the sake of demonstration. At the beginning they invade Earth's solar system to try to capture Archer, only to be chased off by Starfleet defense vessels (this raises the question of what kind of defenses were in place prior to the Xindi attack, and if security has been beefed up since then). The Klingons appear again at the end, to chase the Enterprise as it enters the expanse and provide the crew a chance to test the new torpedoes.

During the climactic battle with the Klingons, the bridge scenes are shot with the camera's shutter speed increased, resulting in a strobe effect — a method made fashionable by Saving Private Ryan's war footage, and imitated ad nauseam since. I don't know about its use here; watching sparks explode on the bridge is not exactly war footage.

The nature of the plot forces the episode to span months of time, with all the unimportant travel scenes left out. This allows the story to cover a lot of ground in one hour, perhaps too much. It doesn't feel like months of time are passing, and the Klingons apparently are staying with the Enterprise through this entire time, showing up on cue when it's time for action.

One touch I appreciated, which exists basically apart from the plot, is a scene where we see the construction on the next warp-5 starship, the NX-02, which Admiral Forrest says will be ready for launch in 14 months. It's nice to see this seed finally planted.

Still, I'm beginning to wonder now if Enterprise can ultimately emerge as a legitimate prequel series. Unlike season one, season two has granted itself fairly liberal latitude in playing fast-and-loose with the franchise history, and "The Expanse" is perhaps the most extreme example to date. The notion that 7 million people could be killed here and yet this attack, the Xindi, and the Delphic Expanse can all be unheard-of elements in the Trek canon is nothing short of ludicrous. (Of course, since there's a temporal cold war connection, timeline games can presumably write it off.) This is a strong season-ender with some promising elements and a notable dose of true feelings, but it also represents an extreme shift in the Trek universe that the writers will likely have to approach with a certain restraint and caution.

Irony of ironies — here I am recommending restraint and caution for Enterprise. That's a good thing, I suppose.

Previous episode: Bounty
Next episode: The Xindi

End-of-season article: Second Season Recap

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25 comments on this review

Omega333 - Tue, Sep 25, 2007 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
"Maybe I need to go to quantum-dating school."

Even today we have theories which allow for particles to travel back and forth in time. Iirc, something like a positron moving forward is like the same as an electron moving backward. They could perhaps just be reading an electron back to its source or something. Ir maybe not...any writters that put T'Pol in heat like last week aren't exactly thinking too much in depth :p
Alexey Bogatiryov - Sun, Mar 22, 2009 - 11:33pm (USA Central)
This was the episode that broke the camel's back and forced this ole trekki to stop watching Enterprise every week (only occasionally from now on). The blatent disrespect that the writers showed for the timeline was simply unacceptable and something that I and many others would not stand for. It is a shame that Enterprise's potential was squandered on this whole Xindy arc!

Just lost all hope in the revival of the Franchise at this point :(
Christina - Sun, Sep 6, 2009 - 10:55am (USA Central)
This episode marks the post-9-/11 spot when the writers tried to turn Archer into George W. Bush, striding along in a flightsuit with a mouthful of righteous anger phases and a stuffed codpiece. "Whatever it takes."?

Seriously, what marred the emotional impact of the episode for me was the fact that the Xindi arrive to attack Earth and of course they attack the former United States! Because presumably US-American viewers wouldn't give a damn if the Xindi laser had cut through India or Japan or Turkey instead of Florida? I can see the Xindi attacking the northern hemisphere because there's more landmasses there than in the southern one, but the question remains: Why did they aim so badly? Seriously, if I had crossed half the galaxy to test out my prototype(!) weapon on another species' planet without warning and start a war with them, I would make damn sure I aimed at the most populated areas, instead of slicing through water half of the time and then flying away again. Alright, so they got Florida. Apparently the Xindi came to Earth to wage war on manatees.

You might say the Xindi got their pre-emptive war in a bit early. But if you want to wipe out a species (including all their offplanet colonies) you better try a biological agent instead of slicing and dicing the planetary crust. So this was a stupid move, obviously designed to make the Xindi into targets.

Let me go on a little rant here: As a German viewer i'm somewhat miffed that every time you see Earth from space in an American series or movie (Battlestar Galactica, Enterprise, you name it) you *always* see the North American continent displayed instead of any other part of Earth.

Just as the Mercator maps of Earth hanging in American schools are different from the one hanging in European schools, as far as I know (I may be wrong, but I've seen such maps on TV). In the US, the Americas are placed in the centre of the map, meaning that Asia is cut in two and stuck at the left and right edge, while in European atlases the Greenwich zero meridian running through Europe and Africa is in the middle of the map, with the whole of Asia, India, Australia etc to the East and the Americas to the West, and the Pacific dateline bisecting the Pacific ocean on both edges of the map, like this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Primemeridian.jpg
def - Tue, Oct 13, 2009 - 9:47am (USA Central)
I didn't mind this episode, but the Xindi arc killed the series for me. I gave up in the first half of the third season, having watched the first two seasons episode by episode. I think a 9/11 arc was fair to do, but it just wasn't interesting to do with made-up villains. In the real world, the attacks weren't from nowhere. If the series had set up the Xindi in the first or second season, there would have been a lot more resonance.

@christina, I live in Japan, and you'd be surprised how many maps here put Eurasia on the left and the Americas on the right. Guess who's in the center? :D
trlkly - Mon, Nov 16, 2009 - 1:13am (USA Central)
Of course they're messing with the timeline. The whole point of this is to launch the temporal cold war arc into full swing.

Oh, and almost no Mercator maps in the US have us in the center. It makes no sense. This type of map is designed around the concept of longitude and latitude. Of course the equator and prime meridian are going to be in the middle. The Japan-central map seems to defeat the purpose, too. But, then again, Japan is even more xenophobic that Americans.

And, anyways, of course they're going to attack the former US. For one thing, the characters are all American (check out their accents). And for another, the primary audience is American. To help us feel what they feel (that their home has just been attacked), they have to give use the same feeling. In fact, I suspect the reason christina is upset is because it didn't attack her part of the world.
Jacob Tee Taylor "The Second" 007 - Sun, Jul 4, 2010 - 10:31pm (USA Central)
After seing the same old same on in season 1 on cbs.com, and having watched a good chunk of Season 2 on the old United Paramount Network along side other such presigous shows as WWF SmackDown! I quickly and eagerly jumped anticipating the new story arc from The Expanse forward! Yes everything is rushed..but at least this episode sets up a franchise in a direction that i'm hoping is no longer boring and predictable. Archer totally changed into a different person for sure. I guess times have changed. I sorta missed the reasoning as to why the Klingons were after Enterprise....but i am eagly awaiting the Season 3 opener and thought this was a nice set up.
sweezely - Tue, Jul 6, 2010 - 8:23am (USA Central)
Regarding the maps thing, it's quite common for the home continent of the map maker to put that continent centrally. I live in Japan too, and yes, many times you will see a map here that puts Japan in the centre. Equally, I have seen maps where the Americas are central and Asia is split in two on either side of the map, although both of those variants are less common than the traditional (and correct) way of having Britain in the middle (then again, I am British so I would say that).

And Malcolm and Hoshi would disagree with the assertion that all of the characters are American. Malcolm even has a local accent!
ippolite - Wed, Aug 18, 2010 - 10:31am (USA Central)
"And Malcolm and Hoshi would disagree with the assertion that all of the characters are American. Malcolm even has a local accent!"

Also, wasn't Travis born and conceived in space, by space parents, who may or may not have been born of space itself?
Matrix - Thu, Dec 2, 2010 - 10:29pm (USA Central)
This was a pretty decent episode that brought about some interesting changes and was still quite entertaining while doing it. Starfleet's still too small and where were all those little ships at the end of next season? Oh well.

Those thermobaric clouds would have been nice background detail for the rest of the season, maybe a bit too much like the nekrit expanse, but i think would've given a much more otherworldly feel. Using the Xindi as antagonists is smart since it leaves it open to what happens to the aliens.
I think some viewers forget that this is an American show made for American viewers, so there would be an obvious american focus. But that beamed looked it sliced through cuba and venezuela. not to mention the character they wanted to be most affected by it was from the U.S. so it makes all kinds of sense. And BSG you might remember had Africa quite prominently, but whatever.
I sorta wish the timetravel had been toned down to a communicating through time thing rather than the physical time travel, otherwise why not just build the entire weapon in the future and transport it back. But that's just a small criticism for a pretty good episode!
Marco P. - Mon, Mar 28, 2011 - 2:39am (USA Central)
Strangely enough, I found this one actually entertaining.

A much-needed rattling of the cage for ST Enterprise, although knowing Berman & Braga this re-injection of something called "plot" in the series will probably lead to another disappointment. Yet at least I'm intrigued and curious to see where things will go.

I do have to comment on some of the previous notes by readers here, writing "this is what killed it for me", "after this I'm not watching Enteprise again", etc. etc.

Really? REALLY???

After all the sh*t we've been watching in the first two seasons, the continuous rewriting of canon to suit the writers' needs, the crappy storytelling, and the ineptitude of almost every character on screen, THIS is what kills it for you? An actual storyline?

I am speechless.
Max Udargo - Tue, Sep 6, 2011 - 1:44am (USA Central)
Christina from the past:

I have lived in America all my life and have never, ever seen a map of the world with the United States in the center and Asia cut in half on the edges. The standard map you always see has the US on the left and Europe and Asia on the right, and the cut-off point is somewhere between Alaska and Russia.

I think you are the unfortunate victim of some sort of anti-American propaganda.

On the other hand, yeah, when Earth is viewed from space in American movies, almost always North America is clearly visible. One exception that stands out because it was such an exception was the view of Earth from space in the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. Africa was front and center.
Max Udargo - Tue, Sep 6, 2011 - 1:56am (USA Central)
Watching Phlox freak out on the Vulcan psychologist was worth the price of admission. What is it about that guy that makes him so damn watchable and engaging?

But I think the obvious question here is: if you can travel back in time, why not test your new planet-slicing weapon on a certain day, say August 4, 2150, and then when you're ready to hit them with the real thing, hit them on August 3, 2150?
historypeats - Sat, Dec 3, 2011 - 10:23am (USA Central)
Max from the more recent past: the Xindi aren't time-travelers. I, like everyone else, wonder why the Xindi didn't test their weapon in a place where Earth wouldn't have noticed, and thus given humans a reason to muster defenses against a future attack. (Then again, characters don't always behave rationally, either in fiction or in real life - even when it comes to military matters of life and death.) But the Xindi didn't have the capacity to send things back in time; they could have tested the weapon in a different place, but not in a different time.
Steve - Sun, Feb 26, 2012 - 1:42am (USA Central)
How dumb are the Xindi? Why would they test the weapon on the very people they want to attack? How about testing it on some remote planet and then do the real thing on an unsuspecting Earth?
Steve - Sun, Feb 26, 2012 - 1:46am (USA Central)
Also regarding the American thing. You really cannot help but notice it. First Flight is a perfect example. Every single person there is clearly from the US. The captains, the admiral, the engineers, all the support crew.

Obviously it's an American show and that's the reason...but from a Trek POV it's a bit of an immersion breaker.
Cloudane - Fri, Jul 6, 2012 - 6:40pm (USA Central)
I'm British, I'm just glad to have Reed.

But yeah, kind of standard for America isn't it? Other countries, what are those? ;)

Interesting that a huge thing is carved through Earth and it's not visible in the TNG era. Or maybe it is and we're just not told about it. Or maybe it's a time thing that will be reset buttoned later.

I liked the last line - "Let's see what's in there"
Nice little optimistic nod (or coincidence) to the last line in TNG's first episode...
Brock - Sat, Aug 4, 2012 - 10:06am (USA Central)
Why didn't the "death ray of doom test" wipe out San Fransisco (AKA StarFleet HQ)? Oh I know cause then we wouldn't have any more episodes of Enterprise. The End.

But serious Why would you test out that sort of thing? Just f**king Nuke the planet, and kill everything on the surface, don't freaking beta test it and give the good guys a chance to find you. Ugh....bad guys are so bad at being bad.

haha....okay I was just being cynical, I actually enjoyed this episode quite a bit.

And to answer Cloudlane's question...umm it's just a large ditch easily fixed and rebuilt within 200+ years. And did you not just watch the Borg plot hole crapfest? The writers obviously don't care about any continuity at all.
Steve - Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
Doctor Who is the same way...apparently everything that ever happens to the Earth centers on London. Nearly every character speaks in a British accent.
Zane314 - Fri, Sep 7, 2012 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
Very good episode, I'd go 3.3, call it 3.5 stars. The opening was an eye opener! It is getting a little tiring to have the Vulcans always holding the Humans back; it'll be nice once the United Earth Empire, I mean the United Federation of Planets is formed and the Vulcans end up in a smaller role besides the dominant Hue-mans. B&B really went out of their way to make the Vulcans pains in the butt unlike TOS and later. I didn't mind the 911 parallels; it seems they needed a new, unique threat instead of Klingons, Borg, and other recycled races. Sure, we have the Temporal Cold War but that seems hard to use for a coherent, multi-episode story arch. Having Trip lose his sister was understandable from a plot/show point of view but it seems a tad unrealistic to have the #3 officer in charge of the ship going to find the people who did this. And Archer basically says go for it! Ok, it's tv and they need this to be personal. And the Klingons were fine; let's face it, they couldn't have Archer meet the Xindi all in part1 so they needed to pad it with another threat. We got the attack, Klingons, our Suliban friends, and great effects which all equals excellent tv sci-fi.
John the younger - Thu, Dec 27, 2012 - 8:00pm (USA Central)
Even in the 20th Century the US had (and still has) the nuclear arsenal to wipe out much of the planet (through direct bombing and resultant nuclear fallout). For a space-faring species like the Xindi surely they could poison Earth's atmosphere without too much trouble (presuming the Earth's planetary defences are still minimal, as evidenced by this episode).

I dunno, I guess this is a problem with other Treks too. Especially where you have aliens with cloaking technology.

Anyway, good review Jammer, I mostly agree with you here.
CeeBee - Sun, Mar 3, 2013 - 6:31pm (USA Central)
"none of that non-interference crap T'Pol's always shoving down our throats".

Like she did in Dear Doctor. Oh, no, she didn't, that was Archer.

Like she did in Cogenitor. Oh, no, she didn't, that was Archer.

Like she always did. Oh, no, she didn't "always", she only advised against open contact in Civilization.

It seems Trip Tucker still is the redneck racist from Strange New World. Good to see characters develop. And writers doing their job.
navamske - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 7:47pm (USA Central)
@Christina

"Apparently the Xindi came to Earth to wage war on manatees."

The didn't come to Earth to wage war on all of them, just the one named Hugh Manatee.
CeeBe - Fri, Sep 27, 2013 - 9:58am (USA Central)
Tucker in Broken Bow, boasting to T'Pol about human accomplishments: "How about war, disease, hunger. Pretty much wiped 'em out in less than two generations".

Tucker in The Expanse, growling to Archer before he claims they'll do "whatever it takes": "...find the people who did this. And tell me we won't be tiptoeing around."

Do you know where endless and bloody wars come from, Mr. "how about us, humans" Tucker?
Jack - Mon, Nov 25, 2013 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
Jammer is right...it's utterly absurd that a region of space that "anatomically inverts but doesn't kill""people (something epically difficult to buy) wouldnt be mentioned in the other "later" Trek incarnations.
Aaron - Sat, Apr 19, 2014 - 9:16pm (USA Central)
I liked this one. Seriously, after 7 seasons of Voyager being mostly one-shot episodes, it's nice to get some continuing plot threads. Enterprise was basically Voyager with hull plating instead of shields for most of the 2nd season. Now they've got a purpose.

I thought it was an apt storyline given ENT's broadcast existence in the post 9-11 era.

Oh, and people, stop complaining about canon! No one but hardcore trekkers cared about that, and it's why the producers of the new movies just said F*** canon.

It makes sense that events from more than 100 years before TOS might have lost their intensity, like the Spanish-American War or World War I for us today, that people don't talk about that much anymore unless studying history.

What I didn't get, though - 1) where the hell were the Vulcans? They didn't seem to give a crap or assist at all, so I can't believe that humans would put up with them at all, especially after this. 2) Earth vessels seemed to make short work of a Klingon battle cruiser, why was there no warning about this Xindi weapon?

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