When 7 million people are incinerated on Earth, and an angry Tucker talks about not "tiptoeing around" in the Delphic Expanse, and a borderline-obsessed Captain Archer throws a guy into an airlock to get information, one begins pondering what vicinity the Star Trek moral compass is pointing toward. Certainly, the runners of the franchise haven't forgotten where they came from, but we might be wondering just how far the envelope might be pushed.
"The Shipment" seems to be laying some ground rules. They're the ground rules I more or less ultimately expected — which in this case is good news that I welcome. The Xindi arc will apparently not sell Star Trek's soul in the sole interest of shaking up Enterprise.
In short, this episode is about two things: supplying the Xindi with some much-needed depth, and showing that Archer will in fact be exercising an appropriate level of restraint on this mission. If you are looking for Archer to indiscriminately blow the hell out of the bad guys, you aren't going to get it (and you probably should not claim to be a Star Trek fan in the process).
The episode follows directly from the results of last week's "Exile," going so far as to include a "previously on Star Trek: Enterprise" recap of the relevant facts from that episode. The information that the telepathic alien supplied Hoshi leads the Enterprise to a small Xindi colony where a substance called kemocite is being produced in massive quantities. This substance, it is learned, is a key ingredient for The Weapon that the Xindi are building to destroy Earth. Archer, Reed, and Hayes shuttle down to the surface to investigate and, if possible, neutralize the production plant. They learn that a refined shipment of kemocite is indeed to be delivered to the Xindi builders of The Weapon in a matter of days.
Now, to simply blow up the kemocite facility would not only be against the Trekkian rules of morality and decency, but would probably also be tactically self-defeating. As Archer points out, "I thought we were here to try and stop a war, not start one." One suspects that the Xindi's need to destroy humanity, based on an unconfirmed (and, indeed, unconfirmable) warning, would arise from some sort of extreme paranoia. So Archer has a point when he says, "By destroying this complex, we'll be confirming their worst fears about humanity." Doing so might not be doing yourself any favors, and might instead be tantamount to fueling the fire; it raises the question of how to regard a preemptive strike mentality. On the other hand, if the kemocite is destroyed and cannot be delivered, would that be a crucial setback to the construction of The Weapon?
To gain information first and resort to violence only if necessary (always a good choice, that), Archer follows one of the workers from the kemocite facility (which, by the way, has laughably poor security, as evidenced by the away team's exceptionally easy break-in that goes completely undetected) and takes the man hostage in his home. The hostage is a Xindi sloth named Gralik (John Cothran Jr.), who is the director of the kemocite plant.
Archer angrily demands answers, and for a time looks a lot like the Archer that threw the guy into the airlock in "Anomaly." Scott Bakula's performance overreaches a bit and is not always completely believable when he shows his fangs (he's more believable as a nicer guy), and it's a good move that the story gradually settles him down until Archer and Gralik are able to talk on more civil terms. The turning point comes when Archer accuses Gralik of being complicit in the 7 million dead on Earth, and Gralik responds, "You burst into my home, show me some twisted piece of metal, and tell me it proves I'm a mass murderer?"
These discussions are the show's true selling point. Star Trek in its pure form has always been about dialog and reaching mutual understanding, and by taking that avenue here "The Shipment" becomes an episode of traditional Trekkian form. This also allows the story to supply some welcome insight into the Xindi, for us and Archer. We learn that the various Xindi species, which all evolved on the same planet, were a century ago locked in a long war on their homeworld. In addition to the five Xindi species — including the reptilians, primates, sloths, insectoids, and marine creatures — Gralik speaks of a sixth species, the avians, which were wiped out in the fighting. The Xindi planet (the remains of which we saw in "The Xindi") was destroyed in the war, as a result of an extreme and desperate act.
The Xindi species have since been scattered throughout the expanse. Many of them live in peace and know nothing of the plot to destroy Earth. Gralik, in fact, is disturbed upon learning about the Xindi's initial strike on humanity. He emerges as a man of pride and integrity — and also shortsightedness. He is proud of the work he does running the production facility, but had never once considered that kemocite, a substance of many applications, could be used to develop a weapon of mass destruction. There's a message here about the recklessness of weapons proliferation and the blinders created by financial gain. It's a message the episode establishes but does not belabor.
I was less enthused about the action scenes, which emerge from the plot once Degra (Randy Oglesby), the Xindi that is buying the kemocite shipment to build The Weapon, arrives at the colony and begins looking for Gralik, who has failed to report in. Degra and his associates send out robotic seekers to locate Gralik, leading to a lackluster action scene that looks like a similar sequence in Star Trek: Insurrection merged with the forest settings of an Andromeda episode. Honestly, this show doesn't need such an action scene, but I guess the demographics must be satiated.
The story keeps some other threads alive by having Tucker dismantle the Xindi firearm acquired in "Rajiin." The weapon employs weird biological components that grow back when removed. Trip's efforts to crack the secrets of this weapon end when he tries to test-fire it, only to learn that it's rigged to blow up if an unauthorized user pulls the trigger. Whoops.
I particularly like that this episode is content to keep our characters working behind the scenes with Gralik rather than forcing a direct confrontation with the Xindi. The script is wise enough to know that Archer realizes a confrontation at this time is not in the mission's best interests. The episode is about information gathering and reaching a mutual understanding with Gralik, who is essentially a neutral party. It is a measure of the level of trust that Gralik and Archer are able to reach that Gralik ultimately takes Archer's word over those of his Xindi customers. "I may have just betrayed my people to a ruthless alien species," Gralik says to Archer, after his customers have told him why they need the kemocite. It's a fair moment of bemused caution, considering the situation Gralik has found himself in.
But I still want to know why the Xindi want to blow up a planet, exterminating humanity and countless other forms of life based merely on the say-so of some fool from the future. Can this be made believable in any circumstance? Are the stakes maybe just a bit higher than they need to be for this kind of drama? I guess we'll find out.
Until then, I'll be in favor of Archer asking as many questions as he can.
Next week: Time travel by way of missing memories.