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The Trek Nation - Stratagem

Stratagem

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 4, 2004 - 1:08 PM GMT

See Also: 'Stratagem' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Degra, designer of the Xindi weapon, wakes on a ship to find an aged Archer piloting a flight away from Insectoid vessels. The onetime Enterprise captain tells Degra that the two of them have been cellmates for three years and have just escaped from the Insectoids, who used the attack on Earth as a diversion to dominate the other Xindi species. Archer demonstrates that he and Degra both bear tattoos and explains that the bloodworms used to interrogate them have caused Degra to lose his memory. Degra says he never thought the Insectoids were capable of this and fears for his family, but Archer says that he heard from his wife Nara before he went to prison and at that time, she and the children were safe. Degra says that when he last heard from them, they were on a colony near a red giant.

While Degra sleeps, Archer injects him with a tranquilizer. Then he steps off the ship, which is a modified shuttlepod in Enterprise's hangar, and has T'Pol begin searching for nearby red giants on the assumption that Degra is probably protecting his family near the weapon. In a flashback Archer recalls finding Degra's small ship in the debris near the site of the weapon prototype test, taking his crew prisoner and learning from Phlox that Degra's short-term memories could be erased, thus making possible the ruse. Archer has a subdermal implant placed so that his crew can communicate with him while he's on the modified shuttle with Degra, where he must work quickly because a Xindi ship is approaching them, forcing Enterprise to hide amidst radioactive debris.

Degra explains that he would do anything to protect his children and that he was deeply upset thinking about how many children died in the first attack on Earth. The shuttle receives a signal, ostensibly Degra's former colleague Thalen on Azati Prime, though it's really Sato, who has read Degra's logs and is making up a scenario. Degra will not give Archer the coordinates of Azati Prime but when he programs them into the shuttlepod controls, Sato and T'Pol intercept them. But the hydraulics on the shuttlepod overload from the radiation in the debris field, allowing Degra to recognize the ruse. He attacks Archer and declares that the coordinates are not really the location of the weapon but of a Xindi-Insectoid facility - the last place Thalen or Degra's family would hide.

With Archer off the shuttlepod, Tucker suggests that it might be possible to use a phased deflector pulse to use the vortices that allow the Xindi to travel much more quickly than human vessels. But the ship begins to shake and Reed hauls Degra and his crew to engineering in a desperate attempt to save Enterprise. When the ship stabilizes, Archer brings Degra to the bridge to show him the image of Azati Prime on the screen. Degra warns that the defense perimeter will destroy Enterprise and Archer will never get near the weapon before Archer reveals that this, too, is a ruse; Enterprise is still in the debris field where the prototype weapon was tested, and Degra has now revealed that the weapon is at Azati Prime. Returning the unconscious Xindi to their vessel with their memories erased, the captain and his crew head off to search for the weapon at Azati Prime.


Analysis: A marvelously entertaining episode, "Stratagem" advances the Xindi arc, develops an intriguing supporting character, achieves suspense despite a somewhat transparent plot and gives Scott Bakula the opportunity to shine. It's Mission: Impossible in space, with T'Pol and Sato as Barney Collier and Willie Armitage behind the scenes while Archer plays Cinnamon Carter, Rollin Hand and Jim Phelps all rolled into one - seducing, setting up secret surveillance and making the call about when to up the stakes. We don't need a mission briefing to realize at the start that Archer's putting on a show; there are too many coincidences to force Degra to trust him, the coolant leak, the bloodworm, the booze. Despite the rocky trip past the Insectoids and various anomalies, it's all a little too smooth.

Archer essentially takes Degra on a Star Trek: The Experience ride complete with hydraulics and movies on the viewscreens. But he's not an actor working for pay; he's a man trying to save his planet, where pulling off the sting is essential to the survival of his crew and his species. He must achieve a fine balance between the script he and T'Pol have concocted and the reactions that he must convince Degra are natural, and he does a better job here than in various other episodes where he's had to convince enemies that he's become a friend. On the other hand, he can't hide his horror and grief when Degra talks about having wiped out the lives of seven million people on Earth. He can only try to work his emotions into the scenario.

It's not a sophisticated plot but it works very well, allowing quite a bit of necessary exposition about where the Xindi weapon might be hidden without any of it getting boring and allowing a close look at perhaps the most important member of the Xindi council. Like Gralik before him, Degra proves to be complicated and sympathetic - a man trying to defend his children and by extension the children of his species from the threat he believes humanity represents. Perhaps he trusts Archer a bit too much, too quickly, but it seems to be because he genuinely likes Archer; this isn't a trained killer but a theoretical scientist pressed into military service, and though he claims he had not believed the Insectoids capable of such brutality, his rapid acceptance of Archer's scenario suggests otherwise.

It's risky to have Archer fool him a second time, for that suggests a kind of naiveté on Degra's part, and nobody likes a stupid villain. But there's a kind of charm in it as well, the sense that although Degra has just ranted that humans are deceptive as well as ruthless, he doesn't quite believe it...and moreover he doesn't believe it of Archer. He wants to relate to the human, wants to discover that they share the same values about family and children. Once he's past the initial shock of learning that Earth is gone and Archer isn't a genocidal maniac, Degra is perfectly willing to risk bonding with a man whose entire species he's ostensibly had a hand in destroying.

We're still seeing unfortunate Xindi politics in which the species least like humans are the most brutal; it strikes me as a kind of racism, and unfortunate, though I am holding out hope that in the end it will be the Reptilians or the Aquatics who prevent the destruction of Earth if it's not some outside force altogether. These are beings who have already had their planet destroyed. They know what they are capable of, themselves; they don't need a lecture from Archer about values, they need only to learn that humans are not in fact planning to destroy their civilization. I thought that this episode might end with Archer not wiping all of Degra's memories, allowing him to remember a flawed and manipulative but also loyal and passionate human. As it is, there's a reset button of sorts on Degra's memories, but Archer will remember what's at stake for him, now he knows Degra's children's names.

Some of the bits seem rather familiar, though it makes sense that Archer would have culled the idea of a coolant leak from Reed and Tucker's shuttlepod experience, for instance. I did want to roll my eyes at the idea that Reptilian and Humanoid brains worked nearly identically, but without a handy Vulcan mind-meld, some gimmick is necessary to manipulate the Xindi memories. The ending, too, strikes me as a bit problematic, for surely Xindi scanners will reveal the presence of human DNA traces on the vessel, even if they can't remember how they got there. Yet it's nice to see so many threads woven together, and to see nearly everyone on the crew given something interesting to do, though this is very much Archer's episode; all the emotional focus is on him.

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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.