In brief: A good Trekkian allegory, although the storytelling is awfully rigid.
"Demons" tells a pretty good story in an exceptionally average way. The ideas are here, but the juice is lacking. As I look over my notes, I see that they outline a pretty decent — but not great — story. "Demons" at least has the temerity to have a point, unlike "Bound" or "In a Mirror, Darkly."
I guess the real problem is that, as Enterprise winds to a close and Star Trek is about to go away, I don't have many strong feelings about this episode at all. Maybe it's just my typical end-of-season malaise. It happens. If Star Trek is out of gas, then so am I.
Which is maybe sort of unfair to "Demons." After all, here's a story that's about Earth and its internal problems, which is a relevant thing to consider before Earth can become a part of an interplanetary alliance. There's a conference being held on Earth in which the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites have all arrived to work on a historic alliance. The Enterprise crew looks on and applauds, but Trip grumbles over the fact that Minister Groener (Nathan Samuels) has all but taken full credit for the conference and has left Enterprise out of the story. "I'm sure history will reflect our contribution," Archer says. "Not if he's the one who's writing it," Trip responds. Perhaps the exchange is a reference to the fact that Enterprise, as a prequel series, was not known by any of its sequels.
But away from the negotiation table, trouble is brewing. A radical isolationist movement called Terra Prime is plotting ... something. It involves their custody of a six-month-old Vulcan/human child and a hotbed of radical plotting at the Orpheus Mining Facility on the moon, which is owned by John Frederick Paxton (Peter Weller), leader of the Terra Prime movement. The plot thickens when a Terra Prime member abandons the movement, is shot dead by her own people, but not before revealing the existence of the child to Archer — and the fact that it's the offspring of Trip and T'Pol.
Archer immediately opens an investigation. Meanwhile, Trip and T'Pol are baffled: T'Pol has never been pregnant, so how can this be their child? The mystery of the child and Terra Prime prompts Archer to send Reed back to Agent Harris (Eric Pierpoint) to get Section 31's leads. Is this a good idea? After all, it's Archer who forced Reed to choose one side or the other in "Divergence." Now Archer sends him back to Harris, who seems likely to strong-arm Reed back into the agency. This might've been an interesting setup to a thread if the show were coming back for a fifth season.
Archer has his own shrewd methods for getting information; he subtly blackmails Minister Samuels with exposure (Samuels had briefly and misguidedly joined Terra Prime at age 18) if he doesn't open up more investigative avenues. Subsequently, Archer sends Trip and T'Pol to the moon to investigate leads at the mining colony.
The episode's wild card is a reporter named Gannett (Johanna Watts), who is an old girlfriend of Travis. She wants an inside scoop about the Enterprise, and she also wants to get with Travis again. Travis is less enthusiastic; their relationship obviously didn't end on the best note. I've bemoaned for years the lack of characterization for Travis, and this episode seems to at least make an effort to give him something to do.
But let it also be said that the episode is very obvious in following the rule that no guest character can be inconsequential to the main plot. Is Gannett just a reporter looking for a story? Please. Eventually, Travis and Gannett are making out in a shuttlepod. Subsequently, Travis gets laid and pumped for information. These scenes might've worked better if the actors weren't so wooden about them, but the actors seemingly exist only in a plot and not in the moment. I didn't buy any emotional history between these two. What I did buy is that they are a function of a bigger puzzle. It comes as no surprise that by the end of the episode Gannett is in the brig, charged with being a Terra Prime spy.
The best aspect of the show is the idea of isolationists and the allegorical themes. The enemy in the story is Earth's own xenophobia (particularly since the Xindi attack). Even before the attack, Terra Prime believed Earth to be humanity's domain, and humanity's alone. Like many radical groups, Terra Prime simply believes what they are doing is right. Paxton has a moment where he reflects upon the "misunderstood" Colonel Green, made famous in the aftermath of World War III because Green "euthanized" millions who suffered from radiation poisoning. Paxton views it as an act of mercy that spared generations from genetic defects. Green is generally remembered as a butcher, and Paxton wonders if he will have a similar legacy.
Paxton sees interbreeding between humans and aliens as an unhealthy corruption of DNA. He and Terra Prime are essentially the 22nd-century equivalent of white supremacists or racial purists. (There are black actors portraying prominent lieutenants in Terra Prime, and I wonder if that irony was a deliberate casting choice.) Terra Prime also uses the sort of anti-government rhetoric that's similar to that of current-day extremists.
Paxton's lunar mining facility doubles as a spaceship, which he pilots to Mars and uses to take control of its verteron array, normally used to deflect asteroids and comets throughout the solar system. From this station he can fire on any ship or facility in the system. He makes an ultimatum: Either all non-humans in the system leave, or Paxton will use the verteron array as a weapon. (Shouldn't this thing have been under much heavier guard?)
What I like about "Demons" is that the villain is ourselves — at least, a subset of ourselves via a particular way of thinking. What I find lacking is the somewhat mechanical advancement of the plot. It's too routine to be exciting, and too pat to be believable. Paxton is a villain of ideology, yes, but not a particularly interesting one. He doesn't rise above adequacy. Peter Weller's voice suggests plentiful arrogance, but more as a stylized presence than as a real demagogue. This is an episode that always feels scripted, even though the script itself is pretty good.
Next week: Two finales for the price of two.