In brief: Some rough edges and a rushed ending, but a solid ride for most of the way.
The reason Deep Space Nine often worked so well was because of its expansive canvas of governments, societies, and characters with their own agendas. You got the sense that the characters were people populating a whole universe, and the overarching storylines had the will to throw that universe into chaos. And because the characters weren't all playing for the same team, there were plenty of possibilities for some characters to take unpredictable actions that were in partial or direct conflict with other characters.
I think that was ultimately the key to DS9: It wasn't just about Starfleet officers. It was also about everyone else. As a result, a lot more could happen, and we could empathize with more people and situations, even the bad guys and the neutral people caught in between.
That's sort of why this three-part Enterprise saga, which wraps up with this week's "Kir'Shara," makes for such interesting fare. The starship Enterprise feels like a part of a bigger universe rather than simply all of it. This three-parter reminds me of DS9's "Circle" trilogy from the beginning of its second season. Lots of characters, history, and political maneuvering. (Also, lots of names and objects that are spelled with apostrophes.)
That's not to say this Enterprise trilogy is perfect. "Awakening" had some notable logical gaffes (among them is one I didn't mention in my review for that episode, which is the lack of a reason for why Syrran didn't know the location of the Kir'Shara even though he carried Surak's Katra). Now "Kir'Shara" wraps things up with an ending of whiplash-like haste and overt tidiness — although it features a last-second revelation that's intriguing.
So — not perfect, but good.
One big thing in the episode's favor is that it's a mess for everyone involved, and there's disagreement in virtually every camp along the way. "Kir'Shara" has its obvious goals and solutions, but it also demonstrates that there may be various ways of working a problem, rather than just being about one problem and one solution.
For example, we have Trip making the decision to go to Andoria to warn Commander Shran (Jeffrey Combs) about the Vulcan surprise attack. There's a scene where Reed unhappily points out to Trip that warning the Andorians is a flat-out betrayal of the Vulcans — which Reed doesn't think is right. Trip has his own uncertainties, but in order to play the part of would-be peacekeeper, he must contact Shran so the Andorians can set up a blockade to intercept the Vulcan fleet. The thinking is that maybe the Vulcans will be forced to turn back if the stealth assault is revealed. If not, "I'll save you a seat at my court-martial," Trip mutters.
The Enterprise arrives at a nebula where Soval knows (from Vulcan intelligence reports) that Shran and an Andorian fleet are hiding. Shran reluctantly beams aboard the Enterprise and Soval lays out the details of V'Las' sneak attack. This initial meeting shows no signs of trust on Shran's part. Indeed, it could be said that the definition of Shran's character is that he's so paranoid that he trusts no one. He thinks perhaps Soval and the Enterprise are trying to lure his fleet into a trap.
Such distrust makes for scenes of charged drama, and it's in these scenes where the show's best visceral strengths lie. With Combs' performance, Shran is a guy always interesting to watch. Perhaps not as interesting as the very different Weyoun — who was more fun as a slickster politician, equal parts villain and sycophant — but engaging as this angry, distrustful man who needs proof and not just your word.
To get that proof, Shran is willing to take extreme and distasteful measures. He carefully kidnaps Soval from the Enterprise with an undetected transporter beam and puts him in a torture device designed specifically to lower the emotional inhibitions of Vulcans. This is a rather unique form of torture that makes for a series of potent scenes.
Gary Graham gets a chance to step outside the usual boundaries of Soval's character and deliver a memorable performance that shows his fear and anger in this appalling situation. He also reveals a bitter regret for having thought he could put faith in Shran's abilities to trust him in the first place. I especially liked Soval's tale about the Vulcan lookout guard named Nirak, whose incompetent inaction allowed an attacking army to destroy a city. Nirak now means "fool" in Vulcan; Soval predicts that Shran's legacy will be similar. Soval's tale is one of those welcome details that elevates plotting into storytelling.
What's also interesting about these scenes is that the role of the torturer, as angry as he may be, is not to be sadistic but merely pragmatic — to gather the information. Shran simply needs to know that he isn't walking into a trap. I found myself somewhat reminded of the great sequence in "The Die Is Cast" where Garak tortures Odo, although Shran here shows himself as more ruthless, putting his people's agenda first, far ahead of surrender. Combs' and Graham's performances carefully walk the line of being intense and in-your-face without straining to the point that it feels like overacting.
These kinds of situations would be impossible if we didn't have multiple conflicting forces in play, and if these forces and personalities didn't already have established backstories allowing us to identify with all points of view. It's interesting how Shran's character retains a certain self-serving integrity in arriving, via his brutal methods, at a truth that satisfies him. We disapprove of his methods and yet respect (if grudgingly) his eventual level of reasonableness, as he quietly laments, "There's been too much suspicion, too many lies, on both sides."
All the while, V'Las is moving forward with his planned invasion. It's worth noting that most — if not all — of the rest of the Vulcan High Command is initially in the dark about V'Las' plan, which leads me to question the wisdom (and indeed the possibility) of giving so much military control to one man, who then conducts large-scale operations in secret, unbeknownst to the other council members. The council's voice of dissent is Minister Kuvak (John Rubinstein), who is opposed to the invasion and later learns that the Syrrannites are looking for the Kir'Shara. V'Las dismisses the Kir'Shara as a myth.
The plot's other major strand involves Archer, T'Pol, and T'Pau trying to get the Kir'Shara to the High Command. The Kir'Shara, you see, contains Surak's original writings and will lead the Vulcans back to the proper Path. This could defuse the escalating tensions between the Vulcans and the Andorians, but only if the Kir'Shara reaches the capital before V'Las' attack unleashes an interstellar mess. Archer is aware of the Ticking Clock because of memories transferred by Syrran when he received the Katra. I for one would like to know: How would Syrran know anything about V'Las' war plans? (I'm calling it a plot hole.)
Along the way, we get a few insightful dialog scenes. I like how carrying the Katra gives Archer an understanding of Vulcans that he'd never had before.
In another scene between T'Pau and T'Pol, T'Pau explains that T'Pol's Pa'nar Syndrome (see "Stigma") is actually a side effect caused by having melded with an inexperienced mind-melder. It can be easily corrected by an experienced mind-melder (which T'Pau performs). The notion that Pa'nar Syndrome is a permanent affliction is merely a lie spread by the High Command to discourage mind-melds. That's a rather sublime — if simplistically tidy — invocation of the Undo feature on the part of the writers. They easily solve what was purported to be a major character problem while keeping true to the parameters of the story at hand. (Follow-up question: What about the emotional imbalances caused by T'Pol's Trellium addiction? Wouldn't T'Pau have noticed those as well?)
That T'Pol still voices her doubts about the motives of the Syrrannites is good for the sake of discussion, but somewhat dubious in execution: Wouldn't she better understand them after having melded with T'Pau? And doesn't the 180 T'Pol pulls a few scenes later, after she is captured, seem a little confusing? For that matter, it might've been a good idea for the writers to better explore the Syrrannites' belief system. Were they really just another of many sects that claimed to have the true answers? What makes them special and a target for destruction by V'Las?
There are also, of course, the requisite fight scenes after the High Command sends soldiers into the Forge to capture the escapees. I enjoyed the touches in these scenes, especially the gag where Archer discovers his sudden ability to use the Vulcan nerve pinch, as well as the Vulcan soldiers carrying those staffs with the semicircle blades on the end, ported straight in from TOS.
The ending, as I mentioned, is hasty. The crises all climax simultaneously, as they must. V'Las refuses to back down when his surprise attack is foiled, and the Vulcan fleet opens fire on the Andorian fleet, with the Enterprise caught in the middle. Meanwhile, Archer and T'Pau gain access to the High Command with security codes they get from T'Pol's husband, Koss. (The business with Koss' security codes is probably one plot piece too many, especially considering by this point T'Pol is in custody and unavailable to make the plea to him herself.) They open the Kir'Shara and reveal Surak's writings in a light show that impresses everyone except V'Las, who loses his temper in a decidedly un-Vulcan display of frustration as all his plans fall apart. Kuvak finally shows some backbone and stuns V'Las and calls off the fleet.
What feels like only minutes later, V'Las is put under investigation for the embassy bombing, the Vulcans are talking about the dissolution of the High Command, Soval is instantly reinstated, Koss releases T'Pol from her marriage obligation, Vulcan has returned to the Correct Path, and the Vulcans promise to give Earth more leeway in its exploration missions. What a difference a day can make.
I'm not sure what the ideal ending would've been, but it might've involved more extended dialog and just a tad more ambivalence about all this change. This ending is so tidy it's as if the Vulcans had been waiting around for someone to hand-deliver the Kir'Shara so they could usher in an era of change. Perhaps it was that they were all obliviously following V'Las down the wrong path.
That's actually a possibility the very end of the show puts forward, when V'Las is revealed to be conspiring (for decades, it turns out) with a Romulan operative hiding in the shadows. The Romulan speaks of "reunification," a term fans will be familiar with. I must say, this is a cleverly appropriate way to insert the Romulans into this series, since we all know that no human will see a Romulan until TOS's "Balance of Terror." This twist sheds some light on V'Las' motives, actions, and emotionalism — although I'm still not sure how a war between the Vulcans and Andorians would help pave the way for Vulcan/Romulan reunification.
All in all, "Kir'Shara" makes for a reasonable cap to a good trilogy — far more successful and interesting than the "Augments" trilogy. As storytelling it has holes, but as Star Trek it shows the ambition of tying pieces together and providing prequel-worthy substance.
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