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The Trek Nation - Azati Prime

Azati Prime

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 4, 2004 - 3:42 AM GMT

See Also: 'Azati Prime' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Enterprise hides behind a planetoid in the red giant system that reportedly contains the Xindi weapon, finding the inner planets protected by a detection grid. Archer orders Mayweather and Tucker to take the Insectoid shuttle to pass through the grid and scan the weapon, which is very near completion. At the Xindi Council, Degra expresses misgivings about destroying an entire world, particularly its children, but the Reptilians in particular are eager to see Earth destroyed as soon as possible.

Tucker and Mayweather successfully penetrate the detection grid, take the Xindi vessel beneath the surface of an ocean planet and find the weapon deep underwater. While they are gone, Archer destroys a facility that might have given away Enterprise's position in the system, killing the three Xindi staffing the outpost, which troubles him. When the shuttle returns with its scans, Reed is quickly able to determine that it should be possible to destroy the Xindi weapon by creating a chain reaction using the Xindi shuttle to fly in an explosive, but whoever pilots that shuttle will die. Though Tucker and Mayweather both volunteer, Archer insists that he will fly the mission.

Before he can leave, however, Archer finds himself on the Enterprise-J, four hundred years in the future. Daniels shows him that the transformed space witnessed by Archer's own Enterprise when they brought an alien trapped inside it aboard has now spread to cover much of the quadrant. The sphere-builders, Daniels reports, are transforming the galaxy as a prelude to invasion...and the Federation could have stopped it, but only if Archer survives to lay the groundwork for that Federation by making peace with the Xindi instead of blowing himself up. The Xindi will be destroyed, Daniels explains, not by humans but by the sphere-builders. Archer insists that protecting Earth is too important, but he accepts a medal that belongs to a Xindi crewman serving on the Enterprise-J, which Daniels hopes he will use to prove himself to the Xindi in his own era.

Though a tearful T'Pol asks Archer to reconsider his plan, he has Mayweather teach him to fly the Insectoid shuttle and says his farewells to Porthos and the crew. T'Pol monitors the shuttle launch, then retreats into the ready room and refuses to leave even when Tucker insists that the crew needs her on the bridge. However, Enterprise cannot detect the explosion of the Xindi weapon, and soon she is insisting that she will go to the Xindi herself to attempt to negotiate, even though Reed and Tucker both insist that this would be just as much of a suicide mission as Archer's.

Meanwhile, Archer is captured on his way to the weapon and tortured by the Reptilians, though he manages to convince their leader to give a message to Degra, a private detail that he learned when the humanoid was aboard Enterprise. Degra comes and questions him, eventually becoming convinced that Archer carries a Xindi medal from the future and that he may be telling the truth about the need for humans and Xindi to ally themselves against the sphere-builders. However, the Reptilians announce that they have waited long enough and take Archer away to be detained along with any members of his crew who survive their surprise attack, which leaves Enterprise with many dead crewmembers, hull breaches and a shattered starboard nacelle. By the time Degra assembles the Council, the Reptilian gloats, Enterprise will be dust.


Analysis: This is the most Star Wars-heavy episode Star Trek has ever done, both the old franchise and the new, which has good points and bad points. In a nutshell, the rebels find the Death Star being built in an underwater city on Naboo, discover that a perfectly aimed shot will create a chain reaction that can destroy the station, and conclude it won't be much harder to bullseye than womp-rats back home. The senior good guy decides to sacrifice himself for the good of the others, the villainous dark lord won't even listen to his own council, the hero has a hard-to-believe vision of a guy who's supposed to be dead...just about the only thing missing is the Force. And there's something comforting in the familiar, especially in a storyline as dark as that of "Azati Prime", in which the galaxy's biggest weapon of mass destruction prepares for deployment while the two senior Enterprise crewmembers seem to have gone nuts.

I'll start with the good and work my way to the bad. From a special effects standpoint, "Azati Prime" is hard to top: it has spectacular visuals including surface and underwater sequences, breathtaking space shots and a climactic battle that wreaks havoc on Enterprise inside and out. There's first-rate camera work even on the familiar sets, giving us angles on the ready room and engineering that I can't recall ever having seen before. And the use of sound is superb as well - the music, the dialogue, the effects - ranging from Insectoid language to bridge explosions to a Reptilian thug making contact with human flesh. This is an episode that should be considered for technical Emmy awards.

Moreover, the storyline and pacing make the episode quite engrossing to watch. It's very satisfying to see this season's various plot threads finally coming together: the conflicts among different Xindi species, Degra's second thoughts about creating a weapon to destroy an entire planet, the spheres, the nature of the Expanse, Archer's unhappiness with the blood on his hands. And then Daniels shows up, tying the Xindi arc into the broader dramatic sweep of the series and of the franchise, mentioning the time-travel concerns we've seen since the pilot episode and the urgent need for the Federation to turn back this new threat. (There are continuity issues with this version of Federation history compared with what we know from other series, but in a galaxy where time-travel is routine, it's easy to see how the timeline as we know it could have become unrecognizable.)

Where "Azati Prime" falls apart for me is in its wonky characterization of the two most important characters. It's very obvious to me that T'Pol is not a Vulcan as we know Vulcans: I'm not sure whether the excuse for her behavior is going to be that mind-meld disease she has or Romulan blood or pon farr that was never resolved or what, but as of this week, we are officially past the point when we should have been given some clue. Tucker actually stares at her and asks what the hell is wrong with her at one point; it's a reflection of how much damage has been done to her character that I cheered him rather than being really annoyed that he would speak to her like that at a moment when it is most important that he reach her sympathetically. I've no idea what's up with T'Pol's character arc but it's long past the point at which the writers should have begun to show their hand. When Phlox envisioned her as an incompetent, sniveling bimbo, I could write it off as an amusing hallucination; when she acts that way in a for-real story, even one likely to be afflicted by a reset button, it's a real characterization problem.

And then there's Archer, who decides to die because he doesn't want anyone else to die under his command. He's feeling terrible about the innocent Xindi on the outpost he destroys, and about having created Sim specifically so Sim could die saving Tucker...and that bothered me a lot too when he did it, and I'm really glad he's having second thoughts about this and his questionable use of the airlock and all the other horrible moral choices he's had to make as captain. But despite my passionate disagreement with some of those choices, it's his job. This is what it means to be a captain in wartime. He won't always have the luxury that his great-grandfather had, negotiating for a cease-fire to save the children, as he revealed while defending the Xindi hatchery. That does not, however, mean that he should lay down his life in penance, when as Mayweather points out, he is the least expendable person on the ship ...or possibly in the galaxy, if Daniels is telling the truth.

Archer's no Picard insisting under torture on the number of lights; he is, quite simply, brash and unimpressive, so when Degra decides against all reason to give credence to his story about time-travel, it makes Degra look stupid rather than making Archer look good even though we've seen that Archer is, in fact, telling the truth. Can you imagine if Saddam Hussein had greeted his American captors with a story about how he was visited by a guy from the future who gave him an American medal and told him that he alone could save the United States from Osama Bin Laden and his terrorists who were planning to destroy not just the US but the galaxy? That's how Archer must have looked to the Xindi, and with good reason. If Archer had made painful, cool, yet rational decisions like Picard or thrown the weight of his passion behind the idea of cooperation and peace in a speech like Kirk, it might be possible to swallow Degra choosing to believe him over a thuggish Reptilian, but even if he knew the Reptilian to be his political nemesis, it doesn't make sense that Degra's doubt of him would make Archer's story plausible; they caught him flying a shuttle on a suicide mission, after all.

One of the dangerous things about doing an episode like last week's "Hatchery" is that, once you've shown your audience how your character acts when crazy, your audience will notice if the character ever does similar outrageous things. And as absurd as I found Archer's behavior defending the Xindi eggs, I found it just as absurd putting himself at the helm of a suicide mission; I was wondering why in hell Phlox wasn't demanding a physical exam, again, and where were the MACOs keeping the crew in line this time. We get to see a lot of frazzled nerves - Tucker opining that he doesn't want to fly a shuttle "ass-first", Sato snapping about how to say "Have A Nice Day" in Insectoid - but this is way beyond mission stress and well into real lunacy. In fact the only advantage I can see to Archer's suicidal plans is that T'Pol doesn't look quite so terrible when she, too, announces her plan to put herself in the enemy's hands.

Apparently Archer is going to try to talk his way out of this mess, to address the Council and tell the Xindi what he has learned. All I can say is that I hope he gets some good coaching in jail. Think his Klingon advocate could be found and brought into the Expanse? Or maybe Yoda?


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.