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By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 20, 2004 - 2:37 AM GMT

See Also: 'Countdown' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Sato regains consciousness on a Reptilian ship and is told that her linguistic abilities impressed their commander, who demands that she decrypt the Aquatic command code to launch the weapon. When she struggles, the commander has parasites injected into her brain to make her cooperative. Meanwhile T'Pol's shuttle returns to Enterprise and Reed tells Hayes of his regret that Hawkins died. Archer meets with the Aquatics to beg for their aid, saying that even if they don't trust his evidence of the duplicity of the Guardians, the kidnapping of Sato, murder of Degra and theft of the weapon has altered the situation; but they refuse to act rashly like the Reptilians, and ask for time to deliberate. In the meantime, Archer orders the MACOs to retrieve Sato while having Tucker and T'Pol work on a plan to disable the spheres.

Sato tries to sabotage the Reptilians by encrypting the weapon's arming matrix and attempting to throw herself over a railing to her death, but the Reptilians retrieve her and continue to coerce her until she begins to crack the Aquatic code. The Reptilians are unhappy that the Guardians will not simply give them the code, but accept that their perceptions of timelines don't allow that kind of precision. The Humanoid and Arboreal Xindi tell Archer that they hope for a long-term relationship but that Archer will have to make good on his promise to disable the spheres.

While T'Pol and Tucker continue to work on that problem, Sato gives the Reptilians the third launch code they need. The Aquatics agree to help stop the Reptilians and bring Enterprise, along with a fleet of Xindi ships, to the weapon, but in the ensuing battle, the Guardians create anomalies to protect the weapon while the Reptilians begin its final arming sequence. Archer has Hayes lead a team of MACOs aboard the Reptilian commander's ship to rescue Sato, but although they are successful, Hayes is shot during his beam-out and dies in sickbay after telling Reed that McKenzie can lead his team.

Archer heads straight at the weapon despite the anomalies, but the Reptilians set a course for Earth and open a vortex before Enterprise can get close enough to damage it. The Insectoids pursue, asserting uncertainty that Degra was a traitor, but the Reptilian commander has their ship destroyed since he already has the Insectoid launch code. While Archer plans to lead a team on board the weapon, including the wounded Sato, the captain leaves Enterprise in the hands of T'Pol and Tucker, who have a plan to disable a key sphere in the network of subspace relays created by the Guardians. Reed tells the MACOs of the death of Hayes and asks for volunteers to go with Archer and himself, choosing three when all step forward. Archer promises T'Pol and Tucker that he will meet them at the rendezvous, and goes off with the Xindi to attack the weapon while Enterprise goes to try to disable the pivotal sphere.

Analysis: An episode focused much more on plot and action than on character development, "Countdown" nevertheless had some nice moments for most of the leads and gave poor Reed his job back after a season of taking second place in battle scenes to Hayes. The MACO's death was not unexpected: as he selflessly kept sending the rest of his team back to Enterprise, holding off the Reptilians with his own weapon, my entire family kept repeating, "Yeah, he's gonna die." This wasn't one of Trek's more emotional death scenes - it was more Tasha Yar than Spock, and we never saw any kind of memorial or ejecting-into-space, though maybe they're saving that for after the battle - but it brought the Reed/Hayes arc full circle, allowing Malcolm to step into the shoes of a man he once fought with for usurping his place.

"Countdown" kicks off by counting down much of the third season, tracking the history of human-Xindi relations, the rise and fall of Degra, the Guardians' involvement and Sato's abduction. It then segues into what seems to me a relatively pointless onscreen torture sequence, designed mostly to give Linda Park some acting time; we figured out that the Reptilian commander was ruthless and brutal when he knifed Degra, and the details of his manipulation of Sato sound a bit too Wrath of Khan to prevent Ricardo Montalban imitations and inappropriate giggling at what should be a dramatic moment. I guess we needed a reason that Sato would break the Aquatic codes for them, and they decided to show rather than tell us that she was under alien influences, but it would have been nice to see a bit more intelligent dialogue rather than grunting and squirming to get away.

But from that point the episode really doesn't let down. The scenes between Tucker and T'Pol as they try to hash out the best way to disable the spheres and work out some of their personal issues at the same time are wonderful; he finally thanks her for all the neuropressure that made her so uncomfortable, and she finally calls him Trip. There's a nice balance between each of them and Archer, too, surprisingly informal given the tension of their situation, more Kirk-Spock-McCoy than before this season. Plus we get the hint that we could see T'Pol in a Starfleet uniform next season, which would thrill me even if it violates Trek canon about when Vulcans first became Starfleet officers. Gotta love Trip for being able to worry about when he can next have a steak and buy his people drinks in the face of the end of the world.

I continue to have issues with how quickly the Xindi bend to the purposes of the plot: the notoriously finicky Aquatics bend to Archer's request almost at once, the Arboreals and Humanoids bend over backward to help him, even the Insectoids are suddenly nervous about the Guardians and the Reptilians might be as well if the Guardians didn't pop up one of their anomalies at a critical moment. I'm hoping the Reptilian commander pays for his arrogance, either by realizing at the last minute that the spheres do control the anomalies when one disintegrates just when he needs it, or by the damage inflicted by the Insectoid ship when it was destroyed and shattered against the weapon being serious enough to prevent it from firing. He is painfully one-dimensional and it's not clear why, whether he has any interest whatsoever in saving the Xindi or only his own people or if he's just power-hungry; either he's quite stupid or quite greedy, and either way, it's not clear why his people follow him when they clearly question him at times.

While this is a strong arc episode, bridging some important storylines and setting up the finale, it's hard to evaluate as a single installment. The visuals are solid as always, if a bit confusing; I thought the weapon was arming itself when the Guardians set up protective anomalies, and I'm still not clear why beings from a different dimension would have humanoid bodies so similar in appearance to our own. I am very curious how the weapon will be destroyed, since we all know it will - I am betting "Zero Hour" does not end with Earth being blown up, whether Enterprise is renewed or not; does it have an obvious exhaust port that any X-wing could approach, or will it be more complicated, involving thousands of Xindi sacrificing themselves to stop it, which might explain why we've never heard of them?

Archer makes the right call bringing Sato with him over Phlox's objections that she could die; she has already tried to kill herself to save Earth, and this is a pretty obvious case of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the one, even if she's not Vulcan. But with Hayes dead, there's really no one left for him to make a tough decision about sacrificing...except himself, which the preview for the season finale seems to indicate he will try to do. Just like I'd lay money on Earth surviving, I'd bet Archer will be around for the rumored fourth season. I'm wondering if the unfolding of "Zero Hour" can possibly live up to the stakes set for it when there are so many things that it would seem have to happen, or if, like Voyager's "Endgame", it must inevitably feel like an anticlimax.

And incidentally, because I looked: February 13th, 2154 will not be a Friday the 13th. I wonder why they picked the date. Any ideas?

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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