Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Countdown"

***

Air date: 5/19/2004
Written by Andre Bormanis & Chris Black
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"This could be a command subroutine."
"And it could be a letter to Santa Claus."
"The boss of this family told you you're gonna be Santa Claus. You're Santa Claus."

— T'Pol, Trip, and Paulie Gualtieri's version of a command subroutine

In brief: Last week's episode's spirit recycled with different facts. Appropriately dizzying.

The title pretty much says it all. "Countdown" is the ticking clock to the imminent colossal calamity that will either happen (yeah, right) or not happen in the season finale — although there will certainly be another countdown within the events of next week's "Zero Hour" itself. Place your bets on Earth's fate now — although if I were you I'd just go ahead and put $1 on Earth being destroyed, since the payoff on that bet would easily be about 10,000 to one. Hey, it's only a dollar.

"Countdown" is structured almost identically to last week's "Council": The Xindi Death Star is getting away, our heroes must make difficult negotiations with other Xindi to try to stop it, there's a big battle, and the Death Star slips away into a vortex — again.

As a purely structural form with ongoing plot advancement, sustained tension, terrific visual-effects sequences, and an exhausting last act that leaves us suspended with yet another cliffhanger — well, this works once again. Yes, we saw almost exactly the same thing last week, but for the second week in a row, the creators manage to generate a legitimate visceral impact.

The reptilians and insectoids have taken the weapon into a vortex, but they only have two of the five firing codes. They need at least three firing codes to arm the weapon. Since Hoshi is a linguistic prodigy, Dolum has kidnapped her in an effort to force her to decrypt the aquatics' firing sequence. Obviously, Hoshi is not amenable to this idea, so the reptilians torture her with mind-altering parasites that invade her brain.

Poor Hoshi. She's such a small young woman amid these big, burly reptilian bad guys. The physical intimidation factor is bad enough (and still she refuses to help, defiantly spitting in Dolum's face); but she's forced through brainwashing to submit to their will. I said it last week: These are not nice guys.

Meanwhile, Archer makes his second pass at the now-fractured Xindi council. The aquatics, with the only armaments that stand a chance against Dolum and his allies, may be humanity's last hope. Alas, they are still indecisive about a course of action, despite the reptilians and insectoids having made off with the Death Star. They tell Archer to wait — that they will inform him of their decision once they've made it. Archer's frustration is understandable, and he makes a good point: By the time the aquatics make up their mind, they may find that the actual decision has been made without them. You know, Ticking Clock and all.

So Archer makes a proposal: The Enterprise will disable the sphere network in exchange for the aquatics' help in launching a strike on Dolum's forces.

I'm forced to wonder why the Xindi, with decades or even centuries of studying the spheres, would not have found a way to disable them if they were so motivated. (The Enterprise, by contrast, needs only a few days to come up with a possible solution.) Perhaps it's worth noting that Trip doesn't actually have the solution in the can. Archer simply sells the aquatics on an idea they don't know is actually unproven (no pressure, Trip). The aquatics agree to Archer's terms and prepare to open a vortex to intercept the weapon and launch an attack. (It would seem this isn't a decision the aquatics need very long to deliberate.)

Truthfully, I'm not so sure you would call what happens in the course of this episode a "story." It's simply plot and action skillfully assembled — a series of events framed as goal-oriented nonstop momentum. That not such a bad thing, but I'll be damned if I want to describe it blow by blow. Suffice it to say that it comes down to the Enterprise and their new Xindi allies attacking Dolum's ships and the weapon in a big action climax, and retrieving Hoshi with a MACO boarding party.

Some highlights:

  • The interior of the weapon demonstrates excellent production design alongside so-so imagination. (The spinning central core seems to shout: "Blow me up in next week's finale!")
  • The sphere builders use the spheres to create massive anomalies that thwart the Enterprise's attack and permit the weapon to escape again. This is conveyed with elaborate FX and mayhem, including imaginative shots of anomalies ripping through Xindi aquatic ships, which leak water rather than venting atmosphere.
  • Major Hayes is wounded during the boarding assault and subsequently dies on the operating table, where his last words are, significantly, with Lt. Reed.
  • Dolum, a tried-and-true villain to the core, kills his insectoid allies at the first possible hint of betrayal.
  • After the successful retrieval of Hoshi, Archer must immediately make another questionable I-have-no-choice call (to Phlox's dismay) by immediately assigning Hoshi — who is barely healthy enough to be moved — to yet another boarding team, so she can decode blueprints for destroying the weapon.
  • Archer's team secures passage on Degra's ship (by inheritance it actually now belongs to the Xindi played by Tucker Smallwood, but he still, regrettably, has no name) to chase down the weapon while T'Pol takes the Enterprise to Sphere 41, a key hub in the network (with the general idea being, bring it down and bring the network down).

That's the kinetic action/events portion. It is what it is, and on that level it ranks as fairly solid stuff. But what qualifies as actual storytelling (as opposed to "plotting") can probably be boiled down to two character scenes I appreciated.

One is near the beginning, when Reed and Hayes have a conversation about the death of Cpl. Hawkins. There's a slight tension between them, believable under the circumstances. After all, Hawkins was one of Hayes' men, placed under Reed's care, and simply put, Hawkins didn't return from the mission. Hayes doesn't blame Reed, but he feels a certain possessiveness over the MACOs that's hard to give up.

Really, this is the sort of thing we should've been seeing all season, instead of ham-fisted stupidity like Reed and Hayes beating on each other in "Harbinger." Finally, now, at the end of the season, the writers are dealing with the MACOs as a subset soldier unit finding its place aboard this Starfleet vessel, instead of treating them as vague action figures. Hayes has a nice little speech where he puts the Starfleet/MACO melding in the perspective of teamwork and professionalism. This should've happened long before Episode 23, but I'm definitely willing to say better late than never, particularly seeing as Hayes dies in the course of the hour.

The other character scene is like the writers' meditation on returning this series to an eventual state of normalcy. It's simply Archer, Trip, and T'Pol having dinner in the captain's quarters — a once-familiar sight that has been absent for months because of this grueling mission. There's a freshness to the optimism here, the notion that the mission will be over in a mere matter of days or even hours, and that we might as well discuss our plans for what we'll do after Earth is saved. (This is one of those times when you don't bother to think about the alternative scenario, which would be too depressing to contemplate.)

In a way, the dinner scene looks beyond the Xindi arc, and reminds us that this series can finally explore something else next season. (The sentiment fits well with word that Enterprise was renewed for another season, unofficially reported a day before "Countdown" aired.)

Of course, before that can happen, we have to deal with the season finale.

Next week: To be concluded...?

Previous episode: The Council
Next episode: Zero Hour

Season Index

7 comments on this review

Carbetarian - Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - 11:47pm (USA Central)
I am unsure how I feel about Hayes dying in this episode. On the one hand, I agree with what Jammer says here about the welcome sense of realness with regard to the MACOs. But, on the other hand, I feel the same about Hayes' death that I did about Degra's in the last episode. Now that they've killed the only MACO with a real personality, do they just go back to being action figures in the next episode? I suppose it doesn't matter though. They should only be around for one more episode anyway.

I still think the reptilians kidnapping Hoshi makes no sense. Are we to believe that all this time, with decades worth of council meetings behind them, that the reptilians still have not found a way to translate the Aquatic language themselves? Really? Is Hoshi also a master programmer along with a master linguist? The reptilians really had no one who was capable of deciphering whatever it is that Hoshi was deciphering? That's a big stretch.

But, whatever. I enjoyed this episode all the same. None of this war arc has come anywhere near the depth or realism of DS9's war arc. But, then again, the Xindi war arc only had what? 24 episodes? One could argue that DS9 had more like 110 or so episodes to deal with everything, from the first appearance of the Jem Hadar to the series finale. So, I can forgive Enterprise for sometimes feeling like a sillier, watered down version of DS9's war arc.

Unlike the best episodes of DS9, I can't see myself rewatching the good war episodes of Enterprise anytime soon. But, they are great fun to watch once. The early episodes of this series (nearly all of season two comes to mind) were almost painful to get through. So, I am very pleased to see the huge levels of improvement the last four or five episodes have shown.

Two highlights of this episode for me were watching the Aquatic ship blow up and leak water, and later watching the Insectoid ship get shot down and then ripped apart by the weapon. I'd give this episode three stars for effects alone. Another stand out job by their visual production team!
Paul - Thu, Apr 12, 2012 - 2:12pm (USA Central)
One big-time gripe. When Reed tells the MACOs that Hayes is dead, he's (presumably) talking to all the MACOs left (except the one in sickbay). However, Amanda Cole (the MACO who had a thing for Trip) and the MACO played by Daniel Dae Kim from LOST aren't there -- and I don't remember any dialog saying those two died.

I *THINK* there were unnamed crew members who died at Azati Prime, but I'm not entirely sure. The fact that Cole's death didn't get a mention is a plot hole, IMO.

For the record, ENT was better about this kind of thing than VOY. DS9, TNG and TOS didn't have to be as good because there were presumably replacement crew members available. But the endless parade of no-name extras on VOY was one of the many failings of that series.

ENT got it right for the most part. But the disappearance of the two MACOs I mentioned was annoying.
Milica - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 11:25am (USA Central)
Another good one, with the exception of Hoshi being the jack-of-all-trades once again...
Cloudane - Tue, Dec 4, 2012 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
Very good, on the edge of my seat once more, no complaints at all from me.

This is really awesome stuff how the season came about - early on I found it grim, cynical and anti-Trek (and sometimes simply boring). Now all the pieces of the jigsaw have come together, it's been a terrific season in hindsight, improving of course at the end all the same.

Seeing things like Archer's darkest moments hasn't been easy, but given that we're talking about "early Starfleet" before even the birth of the Federation, it's understandable that they're not the perfect people from let's say TNG, and the way their development has been presented is actually pretty good. There may not be big hefty balls-to-the-wall "lessons" but rather a subtlety in how everyone is learning to balance action with discussion and mutual understanding.

Why say all this in the comments for episode 23? Because I know Trek has a terrible habit of finales that fizzle out and leave a bit of a "meh", so I'll just put those things out while I'm enjoying it.

On a similar note, if 24 ends as well as the last few have been heading up to, this would've been a wonderful finale for Enterprise. I have a feeling it'll be a bit like Blake's 7, where it's a shame they commissioned a 4th series because it could never match how well the 3rd played through or ended. We'll see...
Ken - Thu, Jan 10, 2013 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
@Paul:

I don't think Enterprise was quite as good at keeping the non-reoccurring characters straight. DS9 had a massive cast of secondary characters that we actually got to think of them as main characters as well, such as Kassidy Yates, Rom, Sisko's Father, Brunt, Damar, Martok, Admiral Ross, etc.

When one looks at the list of reoccuring characters on DS9, it is a marvel that they managed to make all 35-40 characters straight, yet it seems effortless. They don't appear to be random crew members, but they are all real people.

The problem with Enterprise reoccurring characters, or characters that are made to be important, is that they don't appear consistently on every episode where they should, and there logical plot holes with them as you rightly pointed out. But to be blunt, Enterprise had to manage 1/3rd or 1/4th as many reoccurring characters even on a busy day compared to DS9.

I just don't think the writers cared, because to me, this stuff can't be that hard to keep straight. It doesn't cost a lot of money to make sure this stuff is correct, just due diligence and a small effort.
Lt. Yarko - Sun, Jun 9, 2013 - 9:41am (USA Central)
The spitting thing didn't fit with Hoshi's character. I didn't like it at all. Talk about misplaced and sorely overused cliche...
Jack - Wed, Nov 27, 2013 - 9:01pm (USA Central)
The Aquatics supposedly have the most powerful ships among the Xindi, but I'm wondering how that could be. They don't seem capable of constructing them

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