Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Forge"

***1/2

Air date: 11/19/2004
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by Michael Grossman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Over the centuries, his followers made copies of his teachings."
"Let me guess: With the originals lost, whatever's left is open to interpretation."
"You find this amusing."
"I find it familiar."

— T'Pol and Archer on the writings of Surak

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?

Previous episode: The Augments
Next episode: Awakening

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15 comments on this review

Murphy - Sun, Dec 21, 2008 - 11:37pm (USA Central)
I agree. This episode blew me away with all its refs to other episodes spanning the entire ST history. Some people may not know or remember this, but Spock was shown to have a pet Sehlat in the animated series. I was thrilled (for some reason) to see the animal make a 'guest' appearance here. That was a really fun moment for me. (I'm really happy Judith and Garfield came to Enterprise. I wish they came sooner!)
Alexey Bogatiryov - Mon, Mar 23, 2009 - 12:34am (USA Central)
Agreed Murphy, the historical episodes, especially ones that emphasize the conflict between humans and vulcans were some of the best - lovely. Wished there had been more of these!
Christina - Sun, Sep 6, 2009 - 11:07am (USA Central)
Spock's pet Sehlat was first mentioned by his mother in the TOS episode "Journey to Babel".

I loved this episode. Tighly plotted, insight on Vulcan society etc. Just one thing makes me cringe: Why God why does it have to be dumb *Archer* who gets Surak's katra transfered into his mind?? Archer? Are you kidding me, writers?
Mr. J Teetertotter - Tue, Aug 17, 2010 - 12:35am (USA Central)
Why did the expelled Vulcan councilman whom was hepping Catfish Tucker put around all show until revealing that head councilman Moriarty was planning to attack the Andorians? Seems like some pretty important information to keep to one's self. Even before getting fired it seems he should have done something about this. This ending sorta comes out the utility door in the right field corner and it is another "Mister Worf - FIRE!" ending. gotsch. First and Second seasons are mostly one ep shows where very little happens so there not really any payoff at the end of an episode. In the 3rd sesason it kept putting along til the last couple show where the ship got blown up. Now its gonna take 3 eps per story. Gotsch! Ok. What can I do about it? I will hope its all worth it in the end!
Grumpy - Sun, Apr 24, 2011 - 12:06pm (USA Central)
As a human viewer, I am flattered by Soval's speech at the beginning that Humans are Extra-Special because we don't have a single species-defining "hat" like the aggressive Klingons or arrogant Andorians. This has been the subtext of Star Trek since the time of the beginning, but in the spirit of Season 4, it's now explicitly canon.
Marco P. - Mon, May 16, 2011 - 2:34pm (USA Central)
Wow! What a great Trek outing! As sfdebris.com puts it, the first step in a mission to "completely undo all the fu**ed up stuff done to Vulcans so far this series".

During "Home" (S4E03) we had a brief glimpse of the true potential of Vulcan society portrayal in ENT. but "The Forge" represents its full realization. Finally Vulcans are truly given depth, background, politics, culture, as well as an interesting history replete with ideological ramifications. They act & perform like three-dimensional characters!

The most interesting character portrayed is Soval. Long after T'Pol, he represents the first Vulcan ready to truly embrace Human-Vulcan cooperation and his willingness to put his career (even *status* as Vulcan) on the line, in order to helo his deceased friend Admiral Forrest (and then later Jonathan Archer) is both surprising and very refreshing. Vulcans are truly no longer the suspicious beings holding humans back in their technological advancement and spatial exploration.

I think a big key to this episode's success are the multiple parallels drawn from our own Earth society: factions with different political/theological idelogy, conspiracies, differing interpretation of religious texts. The multiple nods to Trek continuity are just the icing on an already large and tasty cake.

A few nitpicking points and other comments, in no particular order:
• In one of the episode's opening scenes, THANK GOD the crew is playing basketball. If I see one more waterpolo footage I think I'll shoot myself.
• Why are Reed and Mayweather investigating the Embassy bombing?? What have Enterprise's PILOT and CHIEF OF SECURITY got to do with it? Shouldn't this be handled by a local StarFleet commission?
• Why didn't Reed/Mayweather beam off the bomb?!? For fear it might detonate? Contrary to episodes in other Trek series (where they specifically state some bombs are rigged to explode the minute a transporter beam attempts to dematerialize them), nobody said that would happen this time!
• Also and on more general terms, isn't it awfully convenient bombs on TV never blow instantly? They always start beeping increasingly faster giving the protagonists a chance to get away.
•T'Pol has been looking increasingly attractive this season. Within less than 6 episodes they have succeeded what ENT has failed to do over the course of 3 entire seasons: make T'Pol look sexy! All it took was an elegant white dress and slightly longer hair.
• Reviving a coma patient with extensive injuries (at the cost of possibly worsening) raised a big alarm medical ethics alarm bell in me. Fortunately they went with the mind-meld approach.

At any rate the overall feeling remains largely positive. "Worthy of a Trek prequel series" indeed.
Zane314 - Wed, Sep 19, 2012 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
Very good episode, I agree with Jammer's 3.5 stars for The Forge. I watched the whole thing and didn't have any issues with it. Nice structure starting off with 2 reoccurring guest stars, Reed and Mayweather get some action, Phlox in the mix, and then the bifurcation into 2 well done story branches. This is how it's done: mine the rich Trek history in a consistent way for a fresh, exciting story. Nicely done!
Cloudane - Sun, Dec 9, 2012 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
Good stuff, just don't try to watch it with people poking you incessantly on Skype or such like :P Switch everything off, sit back, enjoy. It requires (and deserves) undivided attention.
John TY - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 5:11am (USA Central)
Finally, something substantial.

My only real nitpick: Why would the chief prosecutor deliver the bomb himself in an obvious looking box? And why would a regular human guard recognise him?

Whatever. This was entertaining, reverent and mature enough an episode to finally make me not care so much about the minutiae. Here's hoping it's resolved well.

3.5
Eric - Sat, Feb 16, 2013 - 8:47pm (USA Central)
For such a "logical" people, the Vulcans sure have a lot of mystical traditions. Weird that no humans ever point this out. The way they've been portrayed in other epsiodes/series, I'd always pictured Vulcans as being utilitarian philosophers, maybe giving credit to the father of their philosophy, but in this episode, the siranites seem to revere him as a prophet.

I thought it was interesting that mind melds are considered to be deviant behaviour in Enterprise's time, but in TNG, they're just fine with them. How do they feel about them in TOS? Is there any stigma attached to them? I'd think that a society whose members live to be 350 would change their attitudes a little slower.
mike - Sat, Mar 2, 2013 - 7:40pm (USA Central)
This is the first episode in an important 3-episode arc that explains why the Vulcans of Archer's time are more prone to emotionism and deceit than the Vulcans of TOS and beyond. Now we learn than more Spock-like Vulcans at this juncture in history are considered radicals. I found it very interesting that at this point mind-melding is regarded as deviant and misunderstood as homosexuality was in 1950's. There are Vulcans who perform mind melds but they keep that ability deep in the closet. What I truly love about this arc in the development of the Soval character. He "comes out" as a melder even though it will destroy his reputation and career. Of course Archer is still his pugnacious "Popeye the Sailor" self and Tucker is as Hillbilly as ever. Once again Mayweather and Hoshi get nothing to do but I resigned myself to the truth that they were just racial tokens Berman and Braga rolled their eyes and tossed in to the concept.
mark - Sun, Mar 3, 2013 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
Maybe it's my anti-Enterprise prejudice showing, but I can't help but think that Soval's character didn't just do a 180 in this trilogy regarding his relationship with Archer, but that Soval himself has been rebooted from scratch. This simply isn't the guy we've been seeing for the past three years, and it seems to me that the producers have finally come to the conclusion that portraying the Vulcans as smug jerks isn't adding anything at all to the show.

This trilogy reminds me of "Stormfront", in that a particular element of the series is finally being jettisoned. Douchebag Vulcans just didn't work, and the idea that their entire society could have changed so completely in the space of one Vulcan lifetime (the time between this show and TOS) really seems farfetched. I don't think this seismic change in the Vulcans was part of Berman and Braga's original plan, but was instead a quick fix by Manny Coto. Still, I won't complain, as this episode was one of only a handful in the entire series (the others being "Fusion" and "Carbon Creek") in which I didn't despise this show's version of the Vulcans. Too bad Manny Coto wasn't around from day one. It's also too bad Berman and Braga didn't have any real fondness for TOS. It certainly shows in their work.
navamske - Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - 8:28pm (USA Central)
It's too bad T'Pau didn't put in an appearance in "United" -- as a form of exposition, she could have said of the Ushaan, "Dis fight is to de det."
Vladimir Estragon - Thu, Jan 2, 2014 - 1:40pm (USA Central)
So, I guess the whole ship of exploration thing is out now, right. Archer and company are now space cops.

"For people without emotions, you guys sure have a flair for the dramatic."
John G - Mon, May 26, 2014 - 5:58am (USA Central)
Soval certainly did a 180, but they nicely handled it, I thought. The dialog with Trip says it all: “You sure did a good job of hiding it.” “Thank you.” And you know what, given how guarded Vulcans are, I thought that line was brilliant and made the turn in just two lines of dialog. Definitely a vast improvement over some of the stuff in S1 and S2. Nice to see Soval’s character finally get some depth and even redemption. The examination of Vulcan culture is also wonderful — I don’t recall any episode of Trek going into such detail before. In fact it always struck me how little we know about the Vulcans from the canon.

Lots of red meat for longtime Trek fans, too. They practically referenced half the canon in just one episode, and did so nicely. Very well done and a shame it’s taken this long to get this far — which is not to say I didn’t like ST:E until now, in fact I’ve enjoyed it more than DS9 and far more than VOY, but now it seems to be really taking off. So much more the pity that the show was cancelled, because it was really beginning to show some serious promise.

My only nitpick was how Archer seems to hold up better with the katra than McCoy did in ST III. McCoy was practically insane, but Archer seems to be functioning pretty normally.

I think they were definitely dropping hints that T’Pol may be partly human, possibly from her great-grandmother’s sojourn on Earth. Certainly an intriguing premise.

As for Koss’ motivation for keeping the marriage to T’Pol, I think it’s fairly obvious. Not going through with an arranged marriage would bring great shame on both families, whatever the reason, and given that Koss’ family is very powerful and high-ranking, they would be nearly obsessed with putting on a good face. This sort of thing was quite common in Earth noble houses, and I think this is intended as something of a parallel. So Koss would have wanted to keep up appearances while also being willing to compromise with T’Pol to achieve that. I think it makes his character and the whole marriage story much more interesting.

As to why the Syrrannites would revere Surak like a prophet, again there is an Earth parallel — Buddha. Buddhists also regard him highly and have statues of him everywhere, even though he explicitly is *not* seen as a god and is not supernatural in any way. I think Surak’s religion is meant to be pretty much like Buddhism on Earth, basically a quasi-religious mystical philosophy. The level of reverence for Surak’s person makes perfect sense in that context, particularly if he really did bring an end to the wars and slaughter of early Vulcan history.

All in all an excellent outing. I’d give four stars and look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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