In brief: An aimless, unsatisfying wrap-up to this inconclusive three-episode arc.
Earlier this season, we had the Augments trilogy and the Vulcan trilogy. Now comes the conclusion to ... uh, this trilogy, whatever you want to call it. "The Aenar" is a messy epilogue in a three-parter whose most significant story arc was wrapped up in last week's "United." Watching the rather aimless "Aenar," I wasn't sure what this episode was supposed to be about, and by extension, the trilogy itself lacks a concrete through-line.
I think the main problem is that the show focuses fairly heavily on the Romulans and their meddling in the affairs of others, but we never really get the sense that this show is actually about the Romulans. The Romulans are more like arbitrary placeholders to drive the plot. We learn very little about them; they're sketchy people doing bad things for half-baked reasons. And if you stop and think about their genius plot, you're left amazed by the sheer stupidity of it all.
Most disappointing is the fact there's not much to suggest that this episode contributes to the prequel agenda that has been the selling point of this season. Unlike the Vulcan trilogy, which told a mostly coherent prequel story, we're left in a vacuum here wondering if we're going to see the Romulans again. If so, I'd hope for something more substantial. If not, then that's the way it goes and I guess the notion of Romulans sneaking around is all Enterprise intends to give us. Either way, "Aenar" has mostly wasted our time.
Not that "The Aenar" is all bad. It's never unwatchable and it has its moments. There is a scene, for example, where the Romulan admiral, a former senator, explains how he was cashiered from the senate for questioning the Romulan "precept of unlimited expansion." It would seem that reasonable people who question authority are quashed. Too bad this scene is never followed up.
It turns out the pilot of the Romulan drone is actually an Aenar, one of an Andorian subspecies who are blind and have strong telepathic abilities. The Romulans' remote-controlled drone is designed to respond directly to the telepathic signals sent by this Aenar, a man named Gareb (Scott Rinker), whom the Romulans abducted from Andoria about a year ago.
Shran explains that the Aenar were considered mythical for centuries until they were officially discovered "50 years ago." Even so, very few Andorians have ever met an Aenar, who are staunch pacifists, very secretive, and live only among themselves. Oh, and they can also read minds.
Frankly, much of this strikes me as quickly concocted Civilization Lite. These two species have lived on the same planet forever and only a few decades ago realized that the other even exists. But the story gives us little reason to believe these are real cultures that live on a real world. The Enterprise travels to Andoria to recruit their own Aenar to tap into the signal and stop the drone. But once there, we don't even see Andorian society.
Andoria is represented by empty ice-tunnels which, according to Shran, "branch off for thousands of kilometers." (The cities are all underground, with access from these tunnels.) You'd think there'd be a better way than walking to traverse thousands of kilometers of treacherous ice tunnels. I for one hope they brought a map. In any case, it strikes me as great fortune that Archer and Shran happen upon the Aenar as quickly as they do. Even greater fortune that it happens so quickly after Shran has accidentally impaled himself through the leg.
I suppose the notion of expanding this series' canvas of societies with the Aenar is commendable. Still, I wasn't all that riveted by them. The main selling point here is the decent characterization between the always-suspicious Shran and the innocent and well-intended Aenar named Jhamel (Alexandra Lydon), who, as it happens, is the sister of Gareb, the Aenar who was abducted by the Romulans. This gives her and her alone the motivation to break from her people's pacifist ideals to attempt to stop the Romulan drone.
Not that I understood how this was physically supposed to happen. You see, Trip has rigged up a remote-control chair/device on the Enterprise — similar to the one the Romulans have — which I guess has all the right frequencies and encryption codes needed to break in and interfere with the Romulans' remote-control system. One would think a remote-controlled war drone wouldn't be so easy to tap into, but then one would be wrong.
Whatever; that's one of the overall problems with this episode — too much meaningless tech and mechanical plot and not nearly enough emotion or relevance. I should care about Jhamel's plight to help her brother, but I don't. It's a perfunctory "human" tack-on to a remote-controlled plot filled with technobabble and explosions. The climax, where Jhamel is able to contact Gareb by telepathy and get him to turn the drones against each other, is overly simplistic — underwhelming at best, hokey at worst. Gareb expresses guilt over the people the Romulans forced him to kill, which made me wonder why he didn't just make the drones return to Romulus and start strafing the city. Oh, never mind; he's a pacifist. (Truthfully, he's just a weak pawn of the plot.)
Meanwhile, I'm asking myself: Why would the Romulans even design remote-controlled war drones that require a telepathic pilot, of all things? Couldn't they just design remote ships that, you know, used keys or a mouse or a joystick or something, anything, but telepathy? Even more silly: (1) These drones require an Aenar to pilot; (2) The Romulans were apparently so shortsighted as to kidnap only one Aenar to fly them; (3) the Romulan admiral forces the Romulan scientist to push the pilot to the limits of brain damage, saying his health is "of no consequence"; so (4) I guess when he dies, their brilliant plan is to mothball the drones.
Really, this whole thing is more often than not a Swiss-cheese plot. Just what are the Romulans actually trying to do, anyway? Cause general chaos as a prelude to an invasion? The story never says. It's just a vague pseudo-threat — the Romulans out here stirring up trouble for trouble's sake. Not exactly enlightening, particularly in prequel terms, and it's to the detriment of the first two episodes in this trilogy, which were sold mostly on their setup and mystery, which now has not been lived up to.
The show's best scene comes at the end, when Trip asks to be transferred to the Columbia, and Archer reluctantly grants that transfer. It's a payoff that was set up in several scenes earlier in the episode, centering on the simple fact that Trip realizes he's in (unrequited) love with T'Pol, and finds that it's affecting his work. This Archer/Trip scene is a quiet one that explores actual characters and the relationships and personnel realities of a starship. I like that Trip can't confess the reason for his request to Archer, and that Archer doesn't force him to.
As for much of the rest of this episode, I'll quote Archer: "Looks like we went all the way to Andoria for nothing."
Next week: Klingons, medical mysteries, and shadowy intelligence agencies.
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