In brief: An entertaining enough show, although there are plenty of standbys in use.
"Babel One" is one of those shows that benefits from ending on a good note. The theory goes, the last feeling the audience has is the most important one, because it will reflect upon the episode as a whole. Based on that theory, this episode works. The twist ending is successfully executed, isn't obvious before it's revealed, and maintains plausible logic. Because, after all, the Romulans are sneaky and deceptive and what they're doing here strikes me as their sort of tactic.
The rest of the episode is passable, but nothing for you to write home about (that's my job). You know the drill: Two warring societies must meet to settle their differences as our main characters play the role of peacekeepers/mediators. (When I pitched to Voyager in what, incomprehensibly, was five whole years ago, Bryan Fuller told me that one of my pitches fell too much into the general category of the "two warring societies" storyline. Obviously, if they have a category for it that they use to weed out pitches, this is not a new story.)
In the case of "Babel One," the warring people are the Andorians and the Tellarites. The Enterprise is transporting the Tellarite ambassador (Lee Arenberg) to the neutral world of Babel for negotiations over a trade dispute with the Andorians. Exacerbating the situation is the rampant distrust both species have for each other. The distrust is in no small part caused by ships each side has lost in recent years, presumably at the hands of the other.
The latest ship to be destroyed is Shran's, which was apparently attacked by a Tellarite vessel. Only Shran and 19 of his crew survived the assault; they are rescued by the Enterprise en route to the negotiations. Obviously, Shran is in no mood to deal with the Tellarites on board Archer's ship. ("Keep them away from us, or there will be bloodshed," he warns Archer.)
There's a lot of distrust and yelling. Perhaps too much. The Andorians and the Tellarites are both obstinate to the extreme, and Archer has the thankless role of playing referee.
Better is a scene where Archer and Shran share a drink, and Shran talks about his ship and crew. Shran's character is that of a hardened soldier, and the loss of his ship is a cause for wounded pride. I liked that. He also confesses his feelings for his subordinate officer Talas (Molly Brink), one of the ship's survivors who recently had became Shran's lover. She made the first move, Shran says, and his options were to either take her up on the offer or throw her in the brig. Call it Andorian pragmatism. "I hope you made the right decision," Archer quietly says.
The attacks in this region of space have caused strong friction between the Andorians and Tellarites, since both sides seem to be attacking each other, but there's a mystery brewing with clues: Why is the same power signature present at more than one attack site? Why does this contradict the visual evidence from the recorded logs of the attacks, which confirm that the Andorians and Tellarites are attacking each other? And why does an Andorian ship open fire on the Enterprise and refuse to acknowledge Shran's orders to stand down, before scurrying off?
One annoying aspect of the show — or more specifically, UPN's marketing campaign — is that we know the answers to these questions before the show even begins, because the trailers had given it away seven days before. This has the unfortunate effect of making the first 30 minutes of the plot extremely obvious to us, forcing us to watch in frustration while the characters put the pieces together. Fortunately, it doesn't take them too long to add things up, and T'Pol even quickly hypothesizes that the ship responsible — a rogue marauder — is based on the same technology as the minefield encountered two years ago in "Minefield" — the Romulans.
Archer realizes the delicate nature of the situation, as well as the opportunity he has available here. There's a historic chance to form an alliance, as well as indications that the Romulans — if they are indeed responsible — are determined to see that such an alliance is not formed. I liked the moment where Archer pauses to muse over Starfleet's role in this mess, asking T'Pol, "Do you think we're moving too fast?" T'Pol tells him that Starfleet is in a unique position as a neutral party to forge relationships where the Vulcans — distrusted by the Andorians — would be unable to help.
By Archer's good fortune, the Romulan marauder, which has the ability to disguise itself as any other ship by using a holographic skin and false signatures, breaks down dead in space, giving the Enterprise crew a chance to beam aboard and investigate. Reed and Trip are left behind below decks on the marauder when the Romulans are able to make repairs and escape. Trip and Reed continue their investigation on the marauder while Archer resumes his efforts to bring together Shran and the Tellarite ambassador so they can all pursue the marauder.
But before Archer can show his new evidence regarding the marauder, Shran and Talas break out of their quarters and go after the Tellarites. This leads to the usual action scenes and shootouts involving the MACOs, etc., and the tense standoffs, etc., as Shran demands answers from the Tellarites while holding his gun on them. Archer tries to squelch the situation, and is mostly successful in regaining Shran's trust, but not before Talas is wounded by a Tellarite with an itchy trigger finger.
Meanwhile, Trip and Reed make their way to the bridge of the Romulan marauder, and find themselves face to face with ... an empty bridge, controlled by remote. In what proves to be one of the season's more memorable moments, there's a cool pull-back reveal shot that shows the Romulans at their command stations, which turns out to be in a tower in the capital city on distant Romulus. It's a neat twist. I admit I didn't see it coming, and yet the logic holds. The show finds a way to do something unexpected and yet sensible given the fact that Trek history mandates that the Romulans are not to be seen by anyone in this century. If the rest of the episode had been this inventive, it might've been a great one. As it is, we have a decent story willing to employ standbys, up to a point.
Next week: Before there can be an alliance, there must first be a fight to the death, naturally.