In brief: An intriguing, jam-packed story that cares about the history of Star Trek. Of particular interest to culture aficionados.
Here's an hour packed wall-to-wall with political intrigue, plot exposition, conspiracies, Vulcan history/mysticism/cultural references, and half a dozen significant guest roles. On a series that often hangs its hopes on playing to the action crowd, "The Forge" seems almost like an act of radical scriptwriting. It's an appropriate first Enterprise writing assignment for Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who are new to the Enterprise writing staff but well-known veterans of the Star Trek book world. They approach this episode not just as storytellers, but as novelists — or archivists.
The episode has the texture and pace of a Bajoran-themed show that would be right at home in DS9's second season. The plot is a forensic deconstruction of the players, their actions, their beliefs, centuries of history, and what it all means. The story is enhanced by an abundance of references worthy of a Trek prequel series.
This, my friends, is a show for true Trek fans. It delivers on Manny Coto's mission statement for this season: to use Enterprise as the backstory for Star Trek. It also throws in relevant details established in previous seasons of Enterprise, like the destruction of P'Jem. Those hoping for third-season-like action/adventure may be disappointed. Those who aren't interested in Vulcan society will be lost. This is not for the uninitiated viewer. But I think it's safe to say the core Trek fans will be sufficiently absorbed.
I was particularly impressed by the sheer amount of material the show throws at us. But since volume isn't everything, it's a good thing that the show also does some worthwhile things with its characters.
One character who does not have good things happen to him — but whose story contribution is substantially important — is Admiral Forrest (the reliable Vaughn Armstrong), who is promptly killed in an early scene where the Earth embassy on Vulcan is bombed. Forrest saves Soval's (Gary Graham) life at the cost of his own. Just moments earlier the two were discussing the issues of trust between Earth and the Vulcan High Command, which has its doubts about humans in no small part because humans remind the Vulcans of their own ancient war-torn past, before the age of logic reformed their world.
The bombing death toll is 43, including 12 Vulcans. The Enterprise is ordered to Vulcan to open a joint investigation with the High Command. The High Command believes the bombing may have been committed by the Syrrannites, a Vulcan subculture that the High Command says follows a leader named Syrran, who teaches a "corrupted" version of Surak's beliefs. Surak was the father of modern Vulcan logic, a philosophy he birthed 1,800 years ago, bringing peace to a turbulent, devastated world. (Surak was mentioned in TOS, although a search of my old reviews reveals only one reference, in the awful "The Savage Curtain," an episode that also had the misguided audacity to resurrect Abraham Lincoln.) The High Command apparently sees the Syrrannites as a backward sect that would presumably bomb an embassy because they are wary of outsiders.
During the forensic investigation of the blast site, Reed and Mayweather come across an unexploded — but still very armed — bomb. Reed takes some scans (and offers the keen observation: "Look on the bright side: If it detonates, we'll never know"). The scans reveal DNA on the device that implicates a Syrrannite named T'Pau. Yes, that would be the same iron-willed T'Pau from TOS's "Amok Time," who presided over Spock's would-be wedding and was famous for being the only person to turn down a seat on the Federation Council.
About here is when T'Pol's husband Koss (Michael Reilly Burke) shows up to deliver a personal message from T'Pol's mother, T'Les. It seems that privacy is the first thing lost when an embassy is bombed and the High Command gets jittery; Koss came to deliver the message to T'Pol personally for fear that a ship-to-shore signal would be monitored.
T'Pol is cold toward Koss, making me continue to wonder why Koss would waste his time holding out for her. Koss presents her a Vulcan IDIC ("Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," adding another to the tally of TOS references) that was given to him by T'Les. It seems T'Les is a Syrrannite and has gone into hiding in light of current events. It also sheds new light on why she was perhaps forced out of her position at the academy (see "Home").
The IDIC contains a holographic map of a famous Vulcan desert called the Forge, and a path through the Forge that, according to history (or is it myth, or legend?), is the same path Surak took on his road to enlightenment. Vulcans, particularly Syrrannites, walk this same path to achieve similar enlightenment. There's an exchange between Archer and T'Pol that I liked, where the story draws a parallel between Vulcan history and human history, and notes how these stories of biblical scope cannot be agreed upon because the records have been lost and transmuted over thousands of years.
One of the nice aspects of "The Forge" is that it shows Vulcan as a society that has its fragments and disagreements. There's more unity here than Bajor had, yes, but it's always nice to see a world in Star Trek other than Earth that is not necessarily comprised of only one society or point of view.
Indeed, the most interesting aspect of the plot is the fact that the High Command is possibly itself part of a conspiracy of deception. Soval finds he is out of the loop in regard to the bombing investigation and the High Command's politicking around it. In what is the story's most interesting character turn, Soval discovers his loyalties are more to Archer than the High Command. Soval, like Archer, respected Admiral Forrest, and Soval begins to suspect the High Command is not being straight with him, Starfleet, or the Vulcan people.
There's a strong scene on the Enterprise that takes place in a room full of flag-draped coffins. As Archer reflects upon Admiral Forrest, Soval enters the room and subtly turns a 180 from toeing the line of the High Command to becoming Archer's ally, telling him to find the truth in this investigation. "Whatever the High Command tells you, believe the opposite," he says.
Archer and T'Pol beam down to the Forge, which is like a technology blackout zone because of a dampening field. You can't beam in or out; you must start at the edge and walk miles through the desert. The plan is to walk along the path shown in the map in hopes of finding the Syrrannite sanctuary.
This leaves the rest of the investigation in the hands of Trip and the Enterprise. Phlox discovers that the DNA evidence on the bomb was faked, but this new development cannot be transmitted to Archer and T'Pol while they are in the Forge. The only living witness who might be able to identify other suspects is lying in a coma from the explosion, and is unlikely to recover.
Trip and Phlox suggest a Vulcan mind-meld to retrieve his memories. They turn to Soval for help, and in what is the show's most surprising and satisfying example of put-up-or-shut-up, Soval says that he himself will put his career on the line and perform the meld. Soval learns via the meld that Stel (Larc Spies), a high-ranking member of the High Command, was present before the explosion. Stel is an adjutant to the head of the High Command himself: V'Las (Robert Foxworth). When V'Las gets word of Soval's mind-meld, he promises severe consequences; Soval might very well be finished.
In the Forge, Archer and T'Pol must contend with desert creatures (the Sehlat, which wants to eat them), as well as violent desert storms (the Sandfire, which wants to bury them under tons of sand or boulders). Helping them survive is a desert traveler they encounter named Arev (Michael Nouri), who turns out to be a Syrrannite and tries to set the record straight on their beliefs, which he says have long been distorted by an increasingly intolerant High Command.
Arev is headed to the T'Karath Sanctuary, where the Syrrannites are hiding. He tells T'Pol that her mother is among them. He also explains the Syrrannite belief in returning to the basics of Surak's teachings. Furthermore, he claims Surak's Katra is being carried by one of the Syrrannites. You remember the Katra from Star Trek III. If not, you can watch "The Forge" (or Star Trek III) for yourself to figure out how it plays into Vulcan mysticism, and what it means when Arev is about to die and transfers the Katra to Archer. Holding the Katra of Surak can be no small feat. And it's a really neat story idea.
As you probably figured from this long and particularly synopsis-heavy review, "The Forge" is awfully heavy on exposition. Having Archer along is handy, since T'Pol and Arev can explain Vulcan things to him and, by extension, to us. If the show has a weakness, it's that there's so much explaining going on, and some of this might've been achieved with images or hints instead of talking. But that's not a huge problem, because this is a show that believes in the fictional events it is trying to sell us. And the information is mostly fascinating.
This is an intriguing outing. It's like a cross between Enterprise, The Original Series, and Deep Space Nine, all at once.
Next week: Just what does it mean when you carry the Katra of the father of Vulcan logic?