In brief: Watchable but nonsensical — and there's little here that you wouldn't have easily extrapolated from the ending of "Zero Hour."
The bad news is that "Storm Front" inherits so much nonsensical time-travel baggage from previous episodes (including last season's final 60 seconds) that the premise is all but indefensible.
The good news is that this episode sets up all the pieces to possibly end — once and for all — the Temporal Cold War and all its related, incoherent BS. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Personally, I'm in favor of the end of the TCW in "Storm Front, Part II."
The other bad news is that ending the temporal war (or at the very least this two-parter) will apparently be accomplished with a Temporal Reset Button — of the sort found in Voyager's "Year of Hell." The idea goes something like this: Blow up something that's real big and controls time, and all of the "correct" timelines will be magically and instantly restored. The paradoxes are everywhere, but they all become irrelevant if you can blow up the device that has created (or has not yet created) all of the paradoxes and manipulations. Or something like that. (The new paradox becomes, how do you stop something that never was destined to be a by-product of a paradoxical event in the first place, and ... oh, never mind.)
The other good news is that this is all tolerable under the oh-just-forget-the-paradox-stuff writing of Manny Coto and the brisk directing of Allan Kroeker. It's not what I would call good, but it's tolerable and sometimes entertaining as nonsense.
I guess that makes this episode a real mixed bag. Reaching into World War II is a time-travel cliché, and alien Nazis are in concept no less goofy here than they were at the end of "Zero Hour." But at least now we can see how the writers develop and play out this Twilight Zone concept. Their approach is in the tradition of silly sci-fi fun, which is maybe the only workable approach, since the concept is too ridiculous to be worthy of social relevance.
In this rendition of an alternate 1944, World War II has taken a very different course because aliens have been helping the German war effort by supplying them with better weapons in exchange for the Germans helping the aliens build a temporal "conduit" (more on that later). This alliance has allowed the Germans to defeat Europe and invade the United States, the eastern portion of which they now occupy. There's an amusing shot of the White House adorned (defaced) with Nazi banners. It's amusing because it's simply impossible to take the image the least bit seriously in the context of this zany story. I'm not complaining that it's amusing, because I actually like the creators' audacity in showing it. (Later, we see a map that spells out the battle lines and the occupied U.S. territory.)
During an ambush, Archer escapes his captivity from the Germans and finds himself in a history that doesn't track with what he knows to be the actual timeline. He is rescued by American resistance fighters based in an occupied Brooklyn. Included among them is a young African-American woman named Alicia (Golden Brooks) and two Italian-American former loan sharks (read: mobsters) named Carmine (Steven R. Schirripa) and Sal (Joe Maruzzo).
If there's a message to be found in this episode (and it's mostly reduced to a non-point) it's that this version of 1944 America seems to have been forced, as a matter of survival to fight the Germans, to put aside more of its social and ethnic prejudices more quickly than its counterpart in the real timeline. It's a message the story does not insist upon or underline, but simply presents as a given. It's the only trace of social relevance in an otherwise nuts-and-bolts installment where dialog is mainly limited to exposition (there are a lot of characters who have to figure out just what exactly is going on here).
Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew, orbiting 1944 Earth and still believing Archer was killed when the Xindi weapon exploded, must figure out how to return to their own time. They get some clues into the mystery with the help of Temporal Nonsense Agent Daniels (Matt Winston), who shows up on the Enterprise but is practically unrecognizable. Phlox discovers that some sort of temporal cataclysm has caused various parts of Daniels' body to transform to differently aged stages, from infancy to elderly, turning him into a grotesque patchwork that we might as well call the Temporal Frankenstein Monster.
About here, Silik (John Fleck) shows up on the Enterprise, attacks Trip, steals a shuttlepod, and takes it down to the surface for reasons left unknown to us until part two. Trip and Travis beam down to find Silik but find only the abandoned shuttlepod, which the Nazis stumble across just after Trip and Travis have rigged it to explode. What's the only thing better than the writers blowing up a shuttlepod? Blowing up a shuttlepod full of Nazis, naturally. Unfortunately, Trip and Travis are immediately captured by another patrol, then held prisoner and threatened by Vosk (Jack Gwaltney), the leader of the time-traveling aliens.
Meanwhile, some friction arises between Archer, Sal, and Carmine, when the Nazis start storming through the neighborhoods looking for the escaped Archer. Sal and Carmine want to know how Archer figures into all this. Archer, for that matter, wants answers to his own questions. Eventually they work together to arrange a meeting with one of their informant's contacts, rumored to be a gray-skinned, red-eyed, inhuman Nazi collaborator. This alien believes Archer is a temporal agent sent through time to stop them from building their temporal conduit. Archer gets some crucial information before Sal shoots the alien to death.
Later, there's a shootout when the Nazis try to recapture Archer. This scene is an effete, bullet-riddled action sequence that's allowed to go on too long, but it's ironic that Schirripa's character ends up killing more people in a single scene on Star Trek than in four seasons on The Sopranos. Archer contacts the Enterprise with a stolen alien communicator, and Archer and Alicia are beamed up in perfect transporter ex machina fashion.
Daniels, at death's door, explains to Archer that Vosk is the leader of a dangerous, radical faction waging a full-throttled temporal war, and is responsible for all the shifts in the timeline, and who has put himself on 1944 Earth to rewrite history — and that 1944 Earth is the one time/place he can truly be stopped, because to stop him here is to stop him from ever having tampered with the timeline in the first place. Daniels tells Archer that he must find and destroy Vosk's conduit (read: big time machine), before Vosk can escape to ... somewhere/somewhen.
Daniels then expires right on cue. The guy always was a master of convenient timing (and probably will be again; you never know with those temporal loopholes).
This plot is a transparently obvious concoction, but on those terms it moves from beat to beat and engages our attention. The story invites us to embrace its absurdity and works as entertainment. It basically breaks down the entire temporal war (at least I think it does) to a single battle in Earth's past, that revolves around a single sci-fi MacGuffin: Vosk's conduit that the Nazis are constructing for him. The episode ends on an intriguing image that contains an effective Raiders of the Lost Ark echo — a massive time machine being built in a warehouse where Nazi banners hang from the ceiling.
But the biggest problem with "Storm Front" is its apparent, inherent meaninglessness. There's just something frustrating about a plot where none of the guest characters matter because they're all phantoms in a timeline that's going to be erased. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself and should wait for part two, but if you listen to what Daniels has to say, it practically plays like the writers' confession that all this temporal nonsense has gotten so out of hand that they simply have to wipe the slate clean in one bold, contrived stroke.
Then again, that may not necessarily be a bad thing, because then we can get back to stories that matter and make sense.
Next week: The Enterprise battles to save its own future. Bet you've never heard that line before.
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