Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Stratagem"

***

Air date: 2/4/2004
Teleplay by Mike Sussman
Story by Terry Matalas
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I've learned that our work, in the end, means very little. Our real legacy is the children. I would do anything to protect mine. After I was told of the threat from humanity, I left my theoretical studies and agreed to design the prototype weapon. When it arrived in your star system, I watched the incoming telemetry with the other members of the council. Seven million lives were extinguished in front of my eyes. I asked myself, how many of those were children?" — Degra

In brief: A solid nuts-and-bolts story, although I called the ending in advance.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who inhabit sci-fi stories have more willingness to suspend their disbelief than those of us in the real world. I guess they would have to. After all, if you live in a world where weird things can and do routinely happen, and the seemingly impossible is possible, an elaborate ruse like the one in "Stratagem" might feel all wrong, but your knowledge of how the world works would make the scenario seem logically plausible.

The plot of "Stratagem" plays like an episode of Mission: Impossible, and, indeed, a reader informs me that the show is a take on an old M:I episode called "Submarine," in which a similar plan was hatched. (They were always trying to trick the bad guys with elaborate stings in those M:I stories.) "Stratagem" is effective because it finds the right details, uses quick thinking and suspense instead of mindless action, and most importantly, puts us in the position of sympathizing with the villain even as we hope the ruse will foil him.

In my review of "Proving Ground" I made a point of the fact that the Xindi named Degra had been such an undefined presence that he might as well have been interchangeable. That's no longer the case after "Stratagem." Degra (Randy Oglesby) emerges as, if not quite a fully developed character, at least a full-fledged personality steeped in believable psychology.

Degra wakes up to find himself in a shuttle with Jonathan Archer, apparently three years after the last thing he remembers. A long-haired Archer tells him that the Xindi mission to destroy Earth was successful, but that the Xindi insectoids had merely used the Earth threat as a diversion to seize control of Xindi society. Degra had been imprisoned with Archer in the aftermath of both societies' downfalls. Degra can't remember anything because of temporary side effects from a truth agent administered in prison just before their escape.

Thank heavens this premise isn't explained with more time travel.

The twist — and I liked how it was revealed to us — is that the premise set three years in the future is actually an elaborate deception concocted by the crew of the Enterprise. The shuttle is actually a simulator room and Archer is feeding Degra bogus facts in the hopes he can elicit relevant information that will help the Enterprise find the location where the Xindi are building The Weapon.

This results in a game of skillful caution for both Archer and Degra. Degra doesn't fully believe what he is being told, but isn't quite sure what to think. Archer gets information relayed to him from the command center where T'Pol and Hoshi help run the simulation and consult Degra's personal logs. When they can't find the answers Archer needs to respond to Degra, Archer has to improvise. (I wonder: After capturing Degra and his team, could the crew really have conceived and implemented this elaborate plan in only three days?)

We also get our first indication since Gralik in "The Shipment" that the Xindi have some actual depth. Degra is shown as a man building a terrible weapon only because he has to protect his people — and by personal extension, his children. He has a family he wants to be with, he has made personal sacrifices to serve his people, and he expresses regrets about the 7 million killed on Earth in the initial weapons test.

Oglesby turns in a solid performance that showcases a respectable acting range; we are forced to realize that he has been wasted on perfunctory (and repetitive) exposition scenes in a half-dozen other episodes this season.

The sticking point that remains, of course, is the whole muddled issue of the Xindi's underlying need to commit genocide based on information they've been supplied by an as-yet-unknown-to-us third party. As much as Degra here comes across as a reasonable man doing what he must for his society's survival, I'm still deeply troubled by the fact that there's no explaining the logic in the Xindi's answer that nothing short of the complete destruction of an entire world can counter an alleged threat.

It's also somewhat unfortunate that the Xindi story arc has, it seems, been reduced to a desperate hunt for the weapon set against a countdown to its launch. There's no longer time or reason for diplomacy or other information gathering, because the writers have set a deadline of only a few weeks and established fairly rigid boundaries.

What works here is the way the story's details are an exercise in precision: One wrong statement by Archer, or one technical glitch in the simulator at the wrong time, and the whole operation will be blown. Indeed, the scene where Degra finally begins to suspect he is being lied to — while hiding a weapon behind his back — is one of the better recent examples of suspense on this series. I will trade any 10 scenes of the MACOs shooting at people for one well-executed scene like this that stimulates the mind as well as the viscera.

Ultimately, the ruse is blown, but not before Degra has unwittingly given Archer the coordinates of a red giant where a Xindi military colony called Azati Prime is located. Could this be the base where the final weapon is being built? Degra later claims not, and with a ticking clock, Archer must decide what to do next. It's a three-week detour to the red giant — a detour they can't afford to make if it's not the right location. (Although I now find myself asking, a "detour" from what alternative course of action? Perhaps I missed something.)

I admit I'm forced to wonder why Archer did not consider interrogation-by-airlock, but perhaps that's a can of worms best left where it lies.

To shorten the voyage, Archer orders Trip to investigate and adapt the Xindi starship's subspace vortex technology that allows them to jump quickly across light-years of space. Trip does so and launches the Enterprise into a vortex that threatens to rip the ship apart. Archer desperately grabs Degra and the Xindi engineer from the holding cell and demands they help stabilize the technology.

It's at this point where the twist upon the twist became fairly obvious to me — that the whole use of the Xindi vortex technology was another simulated ruse to make it look like the Enterprise had so quickly traveled to Azati Prime. I just wonder if Degra would've really been taken in by this particular trick and let slip his outburst, considering he had just been through one elaborate deception already. What's the proverb Scotty once used? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

No matter. My objections to such plot points aren't huge. "Stratagem" is a solid installment in the Xindi arc, in large part because of its straightforwardness and willingness to stick to characters and truthful behavior. The Enterprise crew gets a crucial piece of information, and the Enterprise writers pull it off skillfully.

Next week: Reed and Hayes go one-on-one, as do Trip and T'Pol.

Previous episode: Proving Ground
Next episode: Harbinger

Season Index

15 comments on this review

Omega333 - Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
I like how the doctor has the neuropathways worked out and can erase the memory, but can't get a truth serum made because it would take some weeks to do what he should have had done in the first place. :p
Please - Sat, Dec 5, 2009 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
I hope you didn't dock this episode stars because you thought the second twist was easily discovered. Keep in mind that most people don't analyze these episodes for a review, keeping much of the audience (including me) believing they are actually attempting to use the Xindi's slip-space vortex (which I hope the spheres allow possible). I hope you don't analyze everything this much, must make enjoying fiction difficult.
Jacob Teetermon Taylor #7 - Sat, Jul 17, 2010 - 3:08am (USA Central)
Wow 2 episodes of STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE in a row that I thought we actually enjoyable and good, if you ignore the major flaws in the arc. (Why the Xindi must kill Earth and how they got thier info etc...) No comments because I think everything was covered perfectly but it was a swell episode indeed. Jake Taylor out.
Fortyseven - Sun, Sep 5, 2010 - 10:05pm (USA Central)
Nothing in this episode was a surprise to me. I knew they were just screwing with Degra from the opening scene, though the specifics weren't so clear. I assumed it was a real ship they'd acquired, as opposed to a simulator ride. Doh. And the second ruse was so obvious that I didn't think the writers were *trying* to trick us -- we were in on it by that point.

I don't say these things as a negative, however: I thoroughly enjoyed the episode. Phlox was enjoying himself a bit too much, perhaps. ;)

Surprisingly, I actually felt kind of bad for Degra once he realized he'd been duped AGAIN...poor guy. Luckily he won't remember getting suckered twice in a row. ;D (Haven't seen the rest of the season yet, so I don't know for sure how it plays out.)

The only thing that actually frustrated the crap out of me was... Archer never asked him WHY humanity was considered a threat, outside of what we already knew. Especially since he'd already said that they didn't really discuss the attack on Earth much. They don't seem like unreasonable people... well, the primates at least.

Guess I'll find out soon enough. *loads up the next ep*
RussS - Fri, Nov 12, 2010 - 1:41am (USA Central)
Why didn't Archer and Degra discuss why Earth was a threat? Why not clear up a misunderstanding?

Good episode. In fact, the last ten or so have been mostly good, sometimes really good.

Carbetarian - Mon, Dec 27, 2010 - 10:25pm (USA Central)
Well, well, well... Another good episode for Enterprise! And this time they even managed it without Jeffrey Combs! Dare I say it? Things are starting to look up for this show.

While season one had maybe two or three decent episodes and season two barely managed that, season three is a vast improvement! The show still isn't consistent. But, there have already been at least six or seven solidly good episodes this season. I would even call three or four of them very good! I'm still not buying into Jonathon Archer, Super Captain And Rescuer of Planets™. But, the show is getting better and is even finally starting to grow on me.

This episode had my attention the whole way through. I thought the bit with the sub space vortexes or what have you was a trick. But, I wasn't totally certain of it until the end. The writers got me interested and sympathetic enough with the enemy, that I sort of hoped it wasn't a trick so that he wouldn't have to deal with being suckered twice. Of course, he won't remember being suckered either way! Good stuff.
Marco P. - Fri, May 6, 2011 - 3:37am (USA Central)
This episode made me think of TNG's "Frame of Mind", in which Riker thinks he is losing his mind when reality keeps shifting between an alien hospital and the Enterprise, where he is rehearsing a play. Bit similar here: fake reality setting used to extract information from the victim.

Also aren't surprised by thee Mission: Impossible reference, the episode has indeed a very "MI" feel to it. If the writer took indeed inspiration from "Submarine", it would alas also reinforce the trend of Enterprise's lack of originality. Inspiration is one thing, copying is another. It isn't the first time this happens (recall "Cogenitor" being ripped off from Alien Nation's "Three to Tango").

Anyways, my rating for this episode went through 4 phases:

1) 0-15 mins: 3 stars.
Escape ship setting, we still don't know it's a fake ship and that the whole thing's a stratagem (though from the title, we can guess). Also, Archer reveals "Earth's been destroyed" so we know it isn't a real story. Still, could be another "alternate reality" episode or indeed a ruse, but I enjoyed it until the writers removed any doubt.

2) 15-40 mins: 2 stars.
After the first big reveal (it's a fake ship and Archer's tricking Degra), my rating dropped. A much better choice? Keep the viewer guessing. Then again they needed this part for the filler material, give Dagra some background info and do some characterization. Appreciated, but not completely successful. Not enough time is spent investigating his feelings after killing 7 million people on Earth, nor is the subject why the Xindi want to destroy Earth ever broached with Archer. The latter's already been pointed out in the responses before mine, but what I will add is an explanation as to WHY: because the answer (a guy from the future told them the Humans would destroy Earth) is just stupid. So for the episode's benefit, better ignore it completely.

3) 40-41 mins: 3 stars
After the second reveal (they duped Dagra again by making him believe they traveled to the Red giant super-fast, but actually not) I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps due to low expectations from the writers' part, I'll admit: I didn't see the second ruse coming, and it played nicely. Of course this being ST Enterprise and the writers being idiots, this feeling didn't last very long. Less than a minute actually.

4) 41-end: 1 star
So, here's the situation: Archer & the Enterprise have managed to capture the guy in charge of the whole superweapon project. Instead of keeping him captive to delay the project further, all the while trying to extract more information from him (interrogation-by-airlock, yes that seems to work) what do they do? They wipe his memory (an exact science right? I mean, no chance the wipe doesn't work 100% and Degra + friends eventually remember bits & pieces of their ordeal.. nooo. Phlox can't do truth serums, but wipe out memory engrams to exactly 3 days (TWICE!) is a piece of cake) AND stick him back in his ship, free to continue his work. WHY? To make sure the Xindi don't know Enterprise now knows the location of the superweapon? Here's a better idea: kill Degra and make it look like an accident. Cynical? Hey I'm only applying Archer logic here: whatever happened to "do whatever it takes"???

So once again, the Enterprise writers take what could have been REALLY great and make a mess of it. Tease you with a carrot, hit you with a stick. Blah.
Jasper - Wed, Nov 9, 2011 - 4:50am (USA Central)
Granted I have a knack for seeing twists coming (part of it may be due to my interest in and thus knowledge of story theory) I knew more or less what was going on. Actually, in the shuttle when after a couple of minutes I had convinced myself that of the two options, time travel was out, I was wondering how they did the windows. I mean, it didn't really seem like they would have the 3D technology aboard to make the stars seem realistic. So, then it had to be a real ship, which made the attacks and the turbulence more of a problem as they couldn't be simulated too well.

The second time, I was wondering what the plan was, as at first it seemed to be to have the Xindi scientist open the portal for them, but then it all resolved itself. It wasn't until I saw the Red Giant on screen that I realized that they had "accidentally" taken Degra to the bridge and set him up for his fall.

Still, even though I knew what was going on both times, it was quite well executed which made it a really good episode in my eyes.

I also want to tackle some points brought up by different people.

- Archer's Steely Resolve
People are asking why there was no torture by Archer and why Degra wasn't killed. Actually, both those points rely heavily on the character that Archer showed earlier this season. He was still completely angry with the Xindi attack and displayed some very unTrekish behavior. Since, then he has cooled down again and is now functioning as Trek captains should - and he is talking about stealing the weapon and taking it home to create a defense already. He is no longer the man that tortures or the man that could murder in cold blood.

- Similarity to other episodes
One of the first things you will learn about stories once you start reading up on the theory behind them is that no story at all is original. So sure, these stories may have been done before. And sure, this rendition may be quite close to previous ones. And sure, this may not be the first episode for which those things are true. But come on, the way you are all comparing this to other episodes (possibly of other shows) and then saying this is unoriginal is just looking for a way to bash the show. What you could do is compare them to those previous similar stories and tell how they compared or how you do(n't) like the kind of stories all together.

- Discussing the Xindi motives
Just about every comment mentions that Archer didn't talk with Degra about the Xindi attack motive. I ask: When should they have talked about it? When Degra was in the brig and wasn't telling much anyway, or when Archer had Degra's trust but it would have blows his cover straight away?
(Imagine:
Archer: "So why did you guys attack earth anyway, didn't you consider other options like talking?"
Degra: "Jonathan, you said we were friends for three years, don't tell me now that we have never talked about such an essential issue between our races..."
Archer: "No, no, no, I just sort of ran out of things to talk about with you, so I decided to revisit the subject. I mean, you don't remember telling me about it, do you?")

- Phlox's supposed shortcomings in Xindi neuroscience
First off, let me say that removing memories is a far more simple thing to do than something as random as a truth serum. On top of that, I would like to state that I believe that the removal of memories - like the probable possibility of a truth serum if more research time is allotted - is something Phlox stumbled across. Acutally, I think he stumbled across the two things from the same research, so he was never doing something else than he should have been doing. His research just held more results in one direction than in the other.
Zane314 - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 5:33pm (USA Central)
I watched all of this one. Turd. I give it 1.5 stars (and 2.5 turds), just because of the effects and I ended up rooting for Degra the whole time. It was one deception after another and since I laughed out loud at the first one it sort of spoiled the rest. The second deception was predictable (the full-ship ruse) and the last one (putting them on their ship) was ridiculous. Too bad B&B couldn’t have mined the best parts of the episode: Archer finding out the Xindi are more heterogeneous than he thought and even a weapons master like Degra can feel genuine remorse for killing 7 million, especially the children. But no, the Xindi are the enemy, time to deceive, brutalize, torture, do whatever it takes.

The breaker for me was the monitor outside of the shuttle window, the setup was preposterous! Look at the size of the window, the distance to the monitor, and it’s size. Surely a viewer inside the shuttle would see more than the monitor not to mention the fact that even the best monitors we have today are plainly that, monitors. I know future monitors would be better but I still doubt the dimensionality would be unnoticeable. I laughed out loud at the reveal when Archer walked out.

I’m so disappointed that Phlox suggests a truth serum to aid the interrogation, does the tattoos, and helps the victim’s hair grow. Isn’t the first rule of Denobulan medicine about consent from the patient? Oh, I guess Degra isn’t a patient, he’s a prisoner so let the games begin! And Phlox’s sing-song way he refers to torture causing graying of hair is really a bummer coming from a doctor. Then he inserts the blood worm into the Xindi! Which later must be painfully, bloodily removed. And at the end, Phlox injects a bit of plasma in the 3 Xindi for the final ruse and says “it won’t be harmful” - who cares! Phlox was at best a Doctor of Interrogation in this episode and at worst simply a torturer. Very disappointing.

“I gave you what you thought you wanted” - great line by Degra reflecting the dubious value of torture. Then Archer threatens to do it to Degra again. [eyes roll!] And in engineering, Archer orders the guy at gunpoint to command the Xindi engineer to stabilize the ship. Kind of funny how Travis saves the ship OFF SCREEN! Poor guy, he gets no respect. Of course in the end Travis didn’t even save the ship off screen!

Surprise! They did a full-ship version of the ruse to get him to admit the red giant was the key location. Whoopee! And Archer caps it with a sarcastic, monotonic “thanks for your help.” Is this good writing? It wasn’t for me. Also, Archer just doesn’t come off believable in these intense, threatening, torture situations. He always has a wry, slightly sarcastic way of talking through these scenes that doesn’t feel right.

And the final, unbelievable deception is setting the 3 Xindi in their ship, presumably with a very accurate memory erasing treatment from Phlox. So the memory erasure is that accurate and reliable, it never fails or is off by an hour or a day? Come on. And their computer core is blank? I’d think if a major database (i.e. a dozen file cabinets) for the Manhattan Project disappeared after 3 critical scientific blacked out for days, the project leaders and security would go ape sh|te and not just chalk it up to an unexplained plasma leak. Nuts!

And why the last, short Archer voiceover about hoping the next system will have the Xindi weapon? I mean, duh, isn’t that implied! No need to say that, especially right before the credits. B&B also had a previously seen montage for an episode where the Xindi weapon misfired. All so Archer could refer to the scientist who refined the kemocite. Does B&B have any respect for the viewer? BSG had previously seen montages but there were lots of characters and complicated stories that spanned all 4 seasons. Even with the Xindi arch it’s very easy to keep up without a montage.

I might have to downgrade this to 1 star (and 3 turds) - really silly stuff.
Zane314 - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 5:36pm (USA Central)
Has Enterprise become in s3 basically Battle-Star Trek-lactica? Archer is now a “whatever it takes” captain willing to employ torture in multiple episodes, very much like Roslin and to a lesser extent Adama. The military detachment appears on the Enterprise in s3 mirroring the military sci-fi of BSG. The Enterprise writing and casting just doesn’t match up. E.g. Archer interrogating someone can’t hold a candle to Adama’s Glare of Death or Starbuck and a pail of water. Plus, Archer can only muster *almost* airlocking a prisoner. On BSG there’s a line to get airlocked! In Enterprise, 7 million killed in the beta test and a full planet buster is in the works. In BSG, 99.99975% of humanity is annihilated in the Great Attack (20billion dead, 50k survive). Come on Enterprise, don’t try to be dirty, military, tough, torture-ee, intense, etc. I like the Expanse, the Xindi, and Trek story archs but this copy cat seems weak sauce to say the least. Instead, Enterprise and the Xindi should have taken more queues from DS9 story archs ... oh wait, Ron Moore did lots of those and then went on to BSG. To bad he couldn't have helped ENT out.
Cloudane - Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
I echo the ones pleasantly surprised at how good the episodes are at this point in the season. Finally!

Guess I'm not as savvy as some here - I was nicely fooled by the first setup (though I did have my suspicions with the second - there was something about how the ship shook that somehow felt fake).  To be honest at first I was thinking "oh this is ridiculous... you can't keep doing what-if time travel episodes" and was delighted to find that it was nothing to do with time travel or alternative realities and in fact something I wasn't expecting at all.

Definitely nice to see some depth to a Xindi. But for goodness sake it's still a case of "all you guys need to to is TALK"

I do have a brewing suspicion that through some time paradox shenanigans they in fact ARE the ones responsible for the destruction of the Xindi home world, and that this is a fight for existence between two sides where only one is destined to survive and neither is inherently bad. But I've not seen the rest of the show yet so.... we'll see!
John the younger - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 3:08am (USA Central)
Enjoyable trickery.

Althougth there's certainly more range here than usual, I still don't care much for the character of Degra or Randy Oglesby's portrayal.

Everything. Must. Be. Yelled. Clearly. And. Precisely.
mark - Tue, Feb 26, 2013 - 10:32am (USA Central)
I didn't see the second ruse coming, so I give the episode three stars for that. It could have been 3.5 stars if Degra had given us a logical reason why the Xindi are willing to commit genocide essentially on a tip from some unnamed source.
Sintek - Fri, May 31, 2013 - 10:38pm (USA Central)
How long did it take them to design an accurate, used-looking alien shuttle with unique writing on the panels? They don't have replicator technology so the hull would have had to be machined, the furniture custom built, hydraulics, real-time and realistic effects like the leak, custom UI for the operating system, etc. That must be why they had to be sure it was the right red giant after spending 18 months in R&D on the shuttle simulator.
Mahmoud - Sat, Oct 12, 2013 - 8:39am (USA Central)
OK, wait, seriously? All these comments and reviews over the years and not one person actually has a problem with what Archer was doing?

The plot goes out of its way to make Degra's basic motivations and intentions clear: he's doing it to save his family, his children, and his world. (That he's going overboard by wiping out the entire human race is a different point, in reality that's just the stupidity of the writers showing.)

I don't see how *not a single freaking crew member* had ANY qualms whatsoever about what was being done. How is what Archer just did so much better than threatening someone in an airlock — where, need I remind you, his entire crew was looking on agape and taken aback in supreme shock and disbelief that their Captain was resorting to such base torture?

How come when it's *our* characters and protagonists that are the subjects of mind games (be it Riker, Picard, Sisko, Bashir, O'Brien, or even Troi) it's cruel torture, it's sadistic and mean, etc. etc. etc. but when Archer's doing it to Degra in this episode IT'S NOT EVEN WORTHY OF A SINGLE EXPRESSION OF DOUBT?

I mean, I get it. Earth's at stake, these guys mean business, and Archer and his crew will do whatever it takes to get answers. But seriously? I was 110% sure when we finally got to see the bridge, T'Pol would be looking on with immense disdain... but no. And Phlox! Phlox! Really? Phlox not only didn't object on moral or ethical grounds (and he's always playing the role of a conscientious objector!) but actually was the one to propose the whole thing!

More than any other ST series in the past, ST: Enterprise was really intended to mirror some of the current events in our time. The whole Xindi plot in the first place was to play to the emotions of the Patriotic American Viewer, modeling the actions and behaviors of Archer with those of our dear, beloved GW Bush (as Jammer and others were quick to mention in the past), and the episodes themselves mirrored some of the major concerns that have been brought up with the whole mess we have in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I actually *agreed* with Archer when he was doing his airlock stunt a few episodes back — but I could agree without a shred of guilt because someone else (*everyone* else on the cast, actually!) was objecting for me. War is a time of difficult and desperate measures, but to present psychological torture with such an air of normalcy and not even the slightest hint of regret?

I was so sure that at the VERY LEAST with Degra so quickly accepting that he and Archer really became friends/allies that Archer would have a shred of dignity to at least express the slightest shame/remorse/discomfort that he was being forced to do this — alas, no. To the contrary, he's ever adamant and even enjoying the ruse. He *enjoyed* revealing to Degra just how far the deception went. You could see the satisfaction in his face and hear it in his voice as he makes it a point to let Degra know how he's been manipulated and cheated into giving that valuable information.

Granted, for Enterprise to actually make me give a damn enough to post this rant means this was actually a decent episode for once. (e.g. You won't see me going around to NCIS or 24 forums/blogs/boards and criticizing the lack of decency and respect or the complete bowing-in to the mass media stereotypes and big-government hype) — but this is the first time in my life that I've watched an episode of Star Trek that "tackled" such an important and sensitive issue with such a one-sided bias *to the extent that the mere fact that there could even _be_ a second side was never mentioned* AND that ST was stolidly on the wrong side in the matter?

As far as I'm concerned, what Archer & co. did here in this episode of ST: Enterprise was worse than any torture any of the other ST members ever had to put up with in the past (well, maybe Picard excluded) because the fact that they, in the end, "win out" thanks to their torture just makes it all the more painful for the target/victim of the intelligence interrogation.

(BTW, actually got both plot twists early on — proud of myself :P)

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