Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 11/26/2003
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Mike Vejar
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"This gonna take long? I don't want to miss Conan." — Guy in apartment (a programming alternative far better than this episode)
In brief: Did you enjoy this turkey for your day before Thanksgiving?
There's only one thing I demand in a story that claims to tie together the Xindi arc and the Temporal Cold War plot, and that's an hour that commands my interest. No such luck. "Carpenter Street" is a mediocre time-travel bore with barely enough plot for me to accuse of not making sense.
And to be sure, the little bit of plot we do get here doesn't make sense. It's more of the same Temporal Cold War wave-of-the-hand nonsense, where logic and motivation take a vacation and we're supplied explanations that pretty much go like this: We don't know how the Xindi went into the past or where they got their information or what they're intending to do, but don't worry about any of that because all that matters is that we stop them now, now, now!
I don't know about you, but my patience with some of this temporal nonsense is wearing thin. I'd like at least an inkling of (1) where the Xindi are getting their information about humanity's supposed future attack upon them, (2) why they believe it, (3) how the Xindi have access to time travel, and (4) why they are dead-set on destroying all of us. These are questions that go to the heart of Xindi motivation, and you'd think a story that delves back into this morass of timeline goofiness would at least try to tackle these questions, but "Carpenter Street" doesn't have a clue about any of it. The Xindi, as a result, ring as hollow here as ever.
Also, this comic-book notion of Archer basically saving the human race week after week (or at the very least the stakes of such being invoked in dialog) is really starting to get old. Are Berman and Braga convinced that the only way this series will hold our attention is if humanity's entire existence (ostensibly) hangs in the balance every week, while Archer chases the villain across rooftops? Star Trek is supposed to be about ideas, not about whether or not the captain can save the world.
Then there's time-traveling Daniels, who represents the ultimate contrivance when it comes to Those Crazy Timelines. He can see just enough to know that timelines are being altered in a direction away from where they "should" be, but not enough information to be particularly useful to Archer. According to Daniels, three Xindi have traveled back to Earth in 2004 where they are doing ... something. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Something Bad.
(Wouldn't it be interesting to have our assumptions proven wrong for a change? What if Archer went back in time to find the Xindi doing Something Good that was actually preventing some other Xindi from doing Something Bad in a future timeline? But I suppose that's one original idea that might prove too difficult amid a time-travel plot that already makes so little sense.)
Let's just say that Daniels' level of knowledge strikes me as less than convincing, to say the least. It's too simultaneously/conveniently complete and incomplete to come across as anything more than an obvious device to get Archer and T'Pol into the year 2004 with no information about what they need to do, other than look for the Xindi bad guys. (This series makes about as much sense of its timelines as The X-Files made about possible alien conspiracies — which is to say, none at all.)
My dissatisfaction with the lack of new insight into the Xindi role in the Temporal Cold War might've been mitigated had the plot in 2004 been interesting or fun, but it's not. It's bland and perfunctory, and ends with a painfully routine action climax. The plot holds just enough of our interest to keep us from changing the channel leading up to the story destination. To be fair, the story is able to build a reasonable sense of mystery surrounding the human collaborator, Loomis (Leland Orser), who is being paid to kidnap people who have donated at the blood bank where he works. The Xindi are using these victims, who all have different blood types, to develop a bio-weapon, which they intend to take back to the future, I guess. Archer and T'Pol must track down the Xindi and stop them.
Of course, if you really stop and think about any of this, you will see that this is clearly a Swiss Cheese Plot.
- Why does Daniels send Archer and T'Pol back in time to a point where the Xindi have already been working on Earth for two months? Why not send them back earlier, at a point where the Xindi are not as close to completing their mission? For that matter, why does Daniels say that the Xindi have "already" been working on Earth for two months? In time-travel terms, hasn't this "already" happened centuries ago? Maybe the passage of time in past, present, and future all moves forward simultaneously, like different people in different time zones. Or maybe Daniels needs to go back to Time Travel School. (Daniels says it "takes time" for changes in the timeline to "ripple through the timeline" and reach his century. Huh?)
- Just why do the Xindi need to run tests on all these different people to create a virus capable of killing all of us? Since when do bio-weapon toxins have to be coded to your blood type to be lethal? Surely the Xindi have enough information to know how to kill everybody with a single toxin/virus. And why would they have to develop this toxin from scratch? Lethal substances can be found anywhere.
- If you're going into the past, why pick 2004 as your place to "hide"? Humans would be a lot more likely to discover aliens hiding in 2004 than in, say, 1404. Granted, the obvious answer is that so we can use a current-day backdrop for the setting, but the Xindi have no reason to pick this year. Then again, maybe they didn't pick it. Maybe it was picked for them by the Timeline Gods who obviously are in charge of this whole Temporal Cold War thing.
- And just who are the Xindi "hiding" from if they are indeed using Earth in 2004 as a hiding place? And what about the events of "Rajiin," where it was implied that the Xindi had everything they needed to make the bio-weapon? Are these Xindi working in conjunction with or separately from those who decided in "Rajiin" to create the bio-weapon? Or are these the same guys? Does it even matter since the Xindi seem to be capable of being wherever and whenever a given episode needs them to be?
Again, logical scrutiny is less important if I'm having a good time. The main problem with "Carpenter Street" is that it's tired, predictable, and unimaginative. It's about as by-the-book as these things can be. Basically, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen what this episode has to offer. There are no twists and no particularly entertaining fish-out-of-water gags. When Archer and T'Pol steal a car to drive around the city, for example, one would expect a comic payoff (or perhaps a payoff of any kind). Nope. The "wry" observations on 21st-century human greed aren't wry enough. Even the parody on the fast-food drive-thru is lame and obvious. Wasn't that joke old a decade ago? (Time to break out the DVD for Star Trek IV, incomparably better than this.)
The one thing I did like was T'Pol's dry contempt for Loomis, which was Vulcan disdain done well and aimed at an appropriate target.
All this eventually brings us to the literal run-and-jump climax, which is mostly yawn-worthy, as Archer and T'Pol chase down a Xindi ("He has the virus!" ["And we have a trailer line!"]), who goes running and jumping across rooftops, etc., trying to release the virus and wipe out half of Detroit, etc. Archer jumps and clings desperately to the pipes on the side of a building, etc. (Will he fall and be killed? Now that would be a twist.) Sometimes I wonder if television producers can watch scenes like this and not see them as the hopeless cliches they so obviously are. If so, it's time for retirement. Forced retirement.
The consolation here, I guess, is that Archer gets three Xindi prisoners (or corpses — I'm not sure, to be honest) out of this adventure, no doubt to be the source of future stories in this Xindi arc — stories that, no doubt, will continue to make no sense and offer no conclusive direction or meaning.
Interestingly, the hopelessly tepid "Carpenter Street" comes on the heels of the surprisingly ambitious, if misguided, "Similitude." I wasn't exactly a fan of "Similitude," but I respected its spirit. As a story, at least "Similitude" put up a fight. "Carpenter Street" is waving a white flag.
Note: This episode was re-rated from 2 to 1.5 stars when the season recap was written.