In brief: Like part one, the underlying storyline is sound, but the execution is a little on the clunky side.
John Frederick Paxton blames Starfleet for Earth's relationships with alien species, so in his ultimatum demanding all non-humans to leave Earth, he makes Starfleet Command his first target. He'll blow it up if his demands are not met on deadline.
Elsewhere on Earth and far away at the Vulcan and Andorian embassies, Terra Prime members are protesting, in what is part of a larger coordinated effort. Soval makes an interesting point: "The fact that Paxton has the support of so many of your people is ... troubling." And the Andorian ambassador is similarly concerned: "Earth men talk about uniting worlds, but your own planet is deeply divided. Perhaps you're not ready to host this conference."
To me, this notion is at the core of "Demons" and "Terra Prime." Archer, Starfleet, and the government powers-that-be want the conference to go forward. But what do the people want? Is public opinion really so fragmented? Is this simply a matter of a vocal minority? If there is this dramatic divide on Earth, is Earth ready to move forward and become something bigger than itself?
All good questions that the episode poses, although it admittedly doesn't deal with them in a whole lot of detail. The story is more about stopping Paxton from carrying out his doomsday scenario, and, when successful, looking ahead to addressing these tough questions in the future.
To that end, "Terra Prime" is successful up to a point. It has moments of thoughtful dialog and debate. It also has moments of clunky action execution. Like "Demons" before it, this episode can never really overcome clichés or convention to qualify as great Trek.
In an effort to approach Paxton's ship on Mars without being detected, the Enterprise hides behind a comet and deploys a shuttlepod with an armed boarding party to follow the comet as it crashes to the surface. Perhaps I'm misinformed, but wouldn't a comet impact of this magnitude be disastrous? At the very least, shouldn't the shuttlepod be vaporized in the blast? (Perhaps not. I'm no expert, so maybe I shouldn't question the science.) In the episode's best touch, the shuttlepod flies over a fenced-in piece of history on the Mars surface: "Carl Sagan Memorial Station" reads the inscription on the stone, which sits next to NASA's Mars rover.
Meanwhile, T'Pol and Trip, who were captured during their investigation in "Demons," face off in a war of wills against Paxton. Paxton calls the baby and everything she represents a threat to humanity, saying humanity will be destroyed as alien species are brought into the genome. For Paxton, anything "impure" represents the road to annihilation. He is, of course, a narrow-minded fool, and T'Pol explains the opposing point of view with a statement that is sublime in its succinctness: "Life is change."
But I was never quite sure why Paxton had this child cloned in the first place. Apparently it was meant to be the poster child for the destruction of humanity, but as such a poster child, it seems awfully ineffective. Why create something you hope to prevent, unless its creation compellingly demonstrates your point of view? (This child doesn't.) Furthermore, why use DNA from Trip and T'Pol (acquired, by the way, by a Terra Prime agent hiding on the Enterprise)? Was Terra Prime using them as an example because they'd had a sexual relationship in the past? It's a point the episode never makes; it's not even revealed that Terra Prime knew about the relationship. So is this instead supposed to be an ironic coincidence?
Speaking of Terra Prime agents, it turns out that Gannett isn't actually an agent of Terra Prime, but rather an agent of Starfleet Intelligence sent to find the real agent aboard the Enterprise. So at least Travis wasn't played as a total pawn in the previous episode. Gannett has an exchange with Travis here that would qualify as characterization, but again (and alas), Anthony Montgomery's performance is so hopelessly wooden that the scene sinks.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Hoshi is in charge of Plan B, which is to destroy the verteron array if the away team doesn't take control of it before the deadline expires. It's trial by fire, and in a situation reminiscent of "The Doomsday Machine," Hoshi must contend with an authority figure who's practically salivating to take control of the situation from her as things go down to the wire.
Paxton ultimately is exposed as a hypocrite using alien medical treatments to keep himself alive. (You'd think someone in all these years would've recognized Paxton's condition if T'Pol can figure it out after observing two seconds of his hands shaking.) What is it about individuals who think they know what's right for everyone else and yet they themselves live in hypocrisy? In real life, these people make my skin crawl. In "Terra Prime," the plot machinations are moving too fast to permit that.
The action showdown that averts the crisis is clumsily handled. First we have Trip conveniently MacGyvering his way out of a holding cell. And then we have a wrestle for domination of the control room, where Archer simply has to stun Paxton and everything would be over, but instead he hesitates, permitting the window behind him to shatter because of the air pressure, etc., allowing Paxton to make one last move, etc. Amusingly, the verteron array actually ends up firing — hitting nothing because Trip reprogrammed it, but making Archer look rather incompetent as action heroes go. (And didn't the dialog say that the air pressure on Mars due to terraforming was essentially Earth-like? Why, then, would the window explode?) Then there's the business regarding the Terra Prime agent aboard the Enterprise, which exists only to tidy up loose ends of the plot.
So, no, "Terra Prime" is not sold on its action or Archer's would-be heroics. It's sold on its concept of humanity striving to be better, and on Archer's attempt to not only see this alliance through, but to see it through for the right reasons. The uncertainty sparked by the events of Paxton's plan puts the talks on hold (no doubt to give room for the series finale), but the story itself is hopeful that things will get back on track. Archer has a speech near the end that is nice, traditional, old-fashioned Star Trek, and it even includes the cliché of the Gradual Applause Crescendo. Given the way "These Are the Voyages" ends, this moment in "Terra Prime" is much more satisfying as a send-off for the Enterprise crew.
The eventual death of Trip and T'Pol's child (due to an errant cloning process) is tragic — perhaps unnecessarily so. But it's well played, and reveals depth to the bond between Trip and T'Pol — a depth that has rarely been demonstrated in the year-plus since their relationship began. It bodes well for their future. Too bad I've seen the finale and know what their future is. But, for this moment, it works.
Next: Riker. Troi. The holodeck. Oh, yeah, and the NX-01 crew, too.
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