Star Trek: Enterprise

“The Shipment”

3 stars.

Air date: 10/29/2003
Written by Chris Black & Brent V. Freidman
Directed by David Straiton

"I hope you remember that all Xindi are not your enemy." — Gralik

Review Text

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.

Previous episode: Exile
Next episode: Twilight

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Comment Section

29 comments on this post

    This is a good episode. One of the best episodes this season. The Xindi really have some depth now. Finally.

    Once again, no signs on Mayweather. Maybe someone should send out a search party.

    Ah Kemocite... If memory serves me, this is the same stuff that sent Quark and company back to Roswell in DS9's "little green men". It has many uses, indeed!

    I'm willing to forget the ferengi reference though, since this was a good episode. I'll even say that it was a very good episode, by Enterprise standards. Although, echoing urfriend there, I am wondering if they lost Travis inside a dyson sphere at some point and forgot to mention it. Seriously, that poor guy never gets any screen time.

    One other thing that no one has mentioned so far... The new, more up beat, version of the theme song. I find it odd that they choose to make the song more perky during a season long war arc. I was never wild about the original version. But, I hated this rework a lot more than the old slower version the first time I heard it. But, it's grown on me a little bit since.

    As far as Trek theme songs go, I would rate them like this:

    1. Star Trek Voyager. It wasn't a great series. But, it had my absolute favorite opening of all the Trek incarnations. Sadly, it was often the best part of the show.

    2. Star Trek The Next Generation. Great song, great show.

    3. Star Trek TOS. Eh... Great show, decent theme song.

    4. Star Trek TAS. It's basically the same song as TOS, but reworked a little.

    5. Star Trek Enterprise. Insufferably mediocre show, equally insufferably mediocre theme song.

    6. Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I am a huge fan of this show. It's far and away the best of the Treks. But, the theme song is so boring and forgettable. I've seen the whole series at least three or four times through, and I still have to rack my brain to remember how the theme song goes.

    Good ep. I was getting a little uncomfortable with Archer's thug-like approach again early on (as the Xindi guy himself said, he just went barging into an innocent man's home making threats), but nice to see that he can eventually be reasoned with and that the proper Trekkian way is coming around.
    Forgive me if a did have my doubts - we know at this point that the Trek franchise was on its last legs, and so selling out was always possible.

    As people have said for earlier episodes, this all comes straight after 9/11 so it's easy to end up thinking it's a commentary on a Pissed Off America who want to put across a "we're not to be messed with - kill our people and we WILL get vengeance" type message. I think I'm understanding now that they wanted to get on the "side" of the people who'd be like that, so to speak, and gradually show them that that's not the answer. If this is the case, it could actually be a really good arc in retrospect.

    I completely agree with Cloudane: finally an episode where Archer starts to think and act like a captain. And I like to believe there was a pattern (even if I fool myself) to Archer's behaviour. He found a way to cool down, still remaining in business, but with some moral code.

    As for Mayweather, I'm not upset at all about his "disappearance". At this point, the producers must have realised how poor an actor he was, but I'd have prefered a dramatic death instead of a flat character.

    The search for WMD continues ... but as this fiction instead of reality, our heroes are actually on the right track and are managing not to kill lots of innocent people along the way.

    I think the music is awful, and all the stuff about faith in the theme song seems like an appeal to get the very religious to like a science fiction show.

    I suspect the callback to "Little Green Men"'s kemacite wasn't accidental, and a nice touch, since on both occasions it's presented as a volatile compound.

    Not a fan of Bakula's Clint Eastwood-esque approach. It doesn't come off as very convincing nor does it make for a sympathetic character who's pain we should understand. As time goes on and the echoes of 9/11 subside and viewing this episode we can look back in retrospect and see that our take-no-prisoners approach was every bit as bad. Violence is just an endless cycle of Hatfield's-and-McCoy's. Star Trek was not supposed to be about that. It should have transcended that mindset at this point in time.

    To answer Jammer's question about whether or not the word of someone from the future is legitimate about the destruction of a race...well, I personally couldn't afford to take the chance they were wrong. I also got the feeling from that shadow figure in the episode "Expanse" that the information was accurate.

    Better than curve for Enterprise, and actually felt like Trek for a change. Bakula doesn't do mean very well, he just looks like too much of a nice guy. I agree with everyone else that the more upbeat opening theme song belies the dark turn that the series took. Never really liked the theme song, but it's worse now and inappropriate to the feel of the series.
    The action scene with the drones was unnecessary and I would have liked more time with Gralik on the ethics of profit and weapons production instead. Oh well...

    I thought this was desperately dull and felt like stretching a plot line too far to fill the space. Yes, we finally get some indication that Archer is not on a killing frenzy and see that the Xindi are not all bad guys - in some ways this reminded me of a Planet of the Apes style set up but perhaps it was just the creature make-up!

    But broadly I thought this overplayed its hand enormously, the action didn't really liven proceedings up and in the end I was yawning well before it was over. 1.5 stars.

    Did someone really rank DS9's theme song as the worst of the lot? Man, I couldn't disagree more. As I'm working my way through all of the series, I typically just blow past the openings. But not with DS9. There's something very stirring about that song, especially after they rebooted the opening.

    For me, DS9's opening is at the top of the list. But yeah, Enterprise belongs firmly at the bottom.

    As an episode - it does what it must do, but no further. In retrospect, we see that Archer hasn't yet shifted from Explorer mode. There's never any discussion with the crew what would set back Xindi efforts most, but a gaggle of ideas. Archer seems to settle on something because it's the first thing that came up that won't insult his sensibilities rather because it's the best thing to do. An Archer that actually thought things through, could have (for example) captured Degra this episode, which would have involved no morally dubious choices at this point, and [spoiler] essentially skipped all the way to Stratagem while gaining him a few weeks.

    The action scene is perhaps slightly unnecessary, but it's short enough that it doesn't bother me at all and it sets up a scene I like very much where Gralik basically says: "what? I'm not allowed to go on a hunting trip when you guys aren't even supposed to be here for 2 days?" And then casually brushes off the Xindi Reptilian about the destroyed drone having scared away his prey. Love it!

    Back on track! Well, let's wait and see: last time we got a top episode, the next four were let-downs or outright duds, but hope springs eternal.

    At last we get an episode where everything that happens is germane to the plot arc. There is only a minor B story here, and it has to do with Phlox and Tucker working on Xindi weaponry (whose biotechnology is a little bit dodgy, but I can live with it). The rest of proceedings make great progress in advancing the story arc, and are well paced and acted, with little action but plenty of tension.

    Archer comes across as too in your face and aggressive, but thankfully not for long. If they can keep this balance; the new determined Captain, keeping his essential good nature while losing his earlier goofiness and poor decision making, we'll have a winner. The fact that the new military personnel don't question Archer is a subliminal vote of confidence, too.

    John Cothrane is excellent as Gralik, and makes me wish there were more elderly or middle aged personell as regular characters in Trek. It's been an issue since the start. Is there a sort of Logan's Run system at work in Starfleet where everyone not already a senior officer and over 35 gets retired til they're 70 when they get wheeled out and made an Admiral? Strange place to mention that, and didn't mean to introduce a sour note in a review of what I think is the best episode, or equal best along with 'Anomaly' of the season thus far.

    This isn't perhaps a classic, but it would have been a strong episode in any Trek series, and here it's conspicuously so. Now, some more of the same, please!

    Ok, back on Trek. This is how you move a mystery plot along without weird transformations and "who's dying now?" drivel

    I rather like these furry Xindi-sloths, but I am starting to wonder if Xindi females actually exist...

    I came away with a renewed appreciation for Bakula's acting skills. There were a couple of moments when he looked coldly murderous, and he conveyed that with nothing but an expression.

    A serious, focused episode with a decent story that tells us more about the Xindi? Yes, please! I've been waiting for something like this since 'Anomaly.' It doesn't have much in the way of action, but I can live with that as long as there are interesting characters to move things along. Gralik and Degra certainly fit the bill. Both are acting on self-preservation; Gralik is processing a highly dangerous chemical for financial gain, while Degra intends to use that chemical against humans to save his people. When Gralik looks beyond himself, putting himself at risk by sabotaging the kemocite, he proves that not all Xindi are warmongering killers - a welcome revelation. On the other hand, their tendency toward armed conflict is definitely real and turns out to be the sole reason their homeworld was destroyed.

    The subplot of the Xindi weapons being powered by space slugs is somewhat lighter in tone, and also serves its purpose well. How can they combat the Xindi's superior firepower if they can't use their weapons? I look forward to finding out. 'The Shipment' is a solid, if occasionally dull, episode that contributes substantially to Season Three's story arc.

    Good episode as Archer and the Xindi sloth Gralik develop an understanding of each other and it doesn't turn into a brutal torture scene followed by typical action sequences, which I thought it might at first. We get some good background on the Xindi and their history -- it would seem the Reptilians and the Insectoids are the most worrisome.

    Trip's B-plot with the weapon with an organic component to it was also interesting and original for me.

    Of course, there's plenty of espionage type stuff but at least it was thoughtful and suspenseful enough. Have to wonder about security and how lax it was around the facility and luck worked in the away team's favor. But getting Gralik on their side was huge and this does exemplify Trekkian philosophy, which is nice to see in the later Trek series.

    Gralik was a good character and had some good lines like about why he should not be considered a mass murderer, that not all Xindi are the same. He's not a warrior or anything like that -- your typical scientist type who has a conscience and would probably avoid violent situations.

    3 stars for "The Shipment" -- one of the better episodes of the Season 3 arc so far. Trying to add more color to the Xindi is always good as they're the main antagonists now (really the Reptilians and Insectoids). The episode just seemed to be more thoughtful than needlessly shallow/action-packed.

    Good episode. Nitpick that isn’t important to the story but that moon seemed awfully close to the planet with the facility. Could it maintain a stable orbit? What about tides? While minor Star Trek could make itself that much more close to being mostly sci rather than fi by paying more attention to such details.

    @Peter Swinkels: At first, I thought the same thing about the moon being that close. It would be wreaking havoc on the planet’s surface! But then I fives it must be a forced perspective. That moon is much closer to the camera than the planet. Still, it’s an odd angle they chose.

    I actually enjoyed this episode and thought it was one of the best of the series so far! Besides an interesting storyline and a return to proper Federation form (Trekian moral compass), the acting was very good. The actor playing Gralik was excellent! It’s easy to forget that It must be that much harder to act when you’re wearing tons of prosthetics. The guy managed to portray a dignified, honourable scientist with a resonant speaking voice despite being made up to look like a Yeti. (Sorry, but to me they look more like Yetis than sloths.)

    I also really enjoyed learning more about the Xindi and how they are actually evil. I even liked the B-plot. I guess the Xindi consulted David Cronenberg to design their firearms! Having an organic life form as a component of their pistols is pretty original and somehow slightly disturbing.

    All in all, this was a great episode.

    Edits to my comment above:
    I *figured* it must be a forced perspective

    the Xindi are *not* actually evil.

    A really good episode. I like that we are getting a little backstory on Xindi culture, and that they aren't all mustache twirling villains.

    I know CGI was probably very expensive, but I would really like to see more of the Xindi-Insectiods.

    I also agree about the upbeat music. With a lot of the suspenseful, cliffhanger teasers at the beginning, it is an odd segway to the cha-cha music!

    John Cothran, Jr. did a great job as Gralik Durr. Some actors ham it up when they are buried under prosthetics, but he didn't have to resort to that. I wish we had seen him again on Enterprise.

    I think I get Captain Archer's arc now. His whole life he has spent seeing to it that his father's engine gets made against all odds. Then it does get made and he gets to be the captain of the first Warp 5 ship. From his perspective, he has already won. Like a physicist who has won his Nobel prize, Archer thinks he now gets to sit back and enjoy, his life's work is done. This is what creates the goofy, boorish, mistake-prone unthinking Archer at the beginning of the series.

    Slowly through the series, and possibly by this episode, we see Archer realize the importance of his mission, grow up and become the Trekkian hero by degrees. In the growing up of Jonathan Archer, we see the birth of the Federation.

    Honestly, this is one of the first episodes of Enterprise in all of seasons 2 & 3 that I genuinely enjoyed. Actually deserving of its 3 stars. Some of its plot elements (the MACOs included) still seem incongruous given the pre-TOS setting. And at this point, I don't think there's anything that will dissuade me from my overall stance that ENT is not really Trek, and should probably be ejected from the Canon (along with most/all of nuTrek).

    However, once I allow myself to push past that, I do appreciate that the tone of the plot and the objectives of the mission were reminiscent of the opening arc of DS9 season 6, where Sisko and crew must pilot a stolen Jem'hadar attack ship beyond the front lines to sabotage a Dominion facility. It's clear the writers wanted the same sort of stakes and intensity, and I think they finally succeeded, while still managing to humanize the enemy. I only wish the same dimension we've seen from the Xindi arboreal species had been applied to their primate and reptilian counterparts, who are still very much one-dimensional cliches. I guess they are meant to be zealots, whereas Gralik is a scientist who is capable of thinking critically and learning from his species' destructive past. But Degra is supposedly a scientist too, so why is he such a bonehead?

    Even Archer was palatable here, and demonstrated that he is finally growing into the role of Starship captain. As others have commented, his acting like a maniac at the beginning of the episode simply didn't work. Not only did Bakula fail to pull it off, but it was also inconsistent with the more measured approach that Archer has slowly been developing as the season has progressed. His later interactions with Gralik, and their growing trust and understanding, were ultimately what made this episode worthwhile.

    As for Trip testing the rifle...his argument that they didn't have the time or luxury to find a "nice empty asteroid" on which to test would have been *somewhat* defensible, were it not for the fact that he chose *the Torpedo Bay* as his shipbound location of choice. "Given that we don't have time to go off ship, where should we test this? about the one place that has *live antimatter warheads* lying around?" I don't think camp and humour are inherently bad things for Star Trek. But I do find that, unlike on TOS and DS9, on ENT the camp often comes at the expense of plausibility and of your respect for the characters and their basic competency.

    I agree. Trek at last. No torturing victims. No ridiculous action sequences.

    Good thing the Xindi sloths speak American, no need for a universal translator 🙂

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