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Proving Ground

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 22, 2004 - 3:41 AM GMT

See Also: 'Proving Ground' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While the Xindi hurry to complete their weapon, Commander Shran brings an Andorian ship into the Expanse searching for Enterprise, which his crew rescues from an anomaly. Shran announces that the Andorians have heard of the Vulcan lack of support for the humans, and they have come to assist Archer in finding the Xindi weapon. Though Archer is hesitant about allowing Andorian crewmembers on his ship, he allows Shran's tactical officer, Talas, to assist Reed in repairing the weapons and tracing the kemocite shipment in which Archer hid an isotope to lead them to the Xindi. T'Pol insists that the Andorians are duplicitous and cannot be trusted, but Archer says that he can trust Shran.

Talas is unhappy about having to work with Reed and with Enterprise's unimpressive systems, but the two discover that they have much in common and work well together once they work past their initial differences. Meanwhile the Starfleet and Imperial ships follow the isotope's signal to a moon in a remote system where the Xindi have apparently been testing weapons. Tucker asks Shran whether the Andorians might be willing to spare a compression nozzle for an antimatter injector, but Shran insists that this is sensitive equipment. He does, however, express his sympathy to Tucker on the death of his sister, saying he knows how Tucker feels, for he lost his brother in a border skirmish with the Vulcans.

Shran feigns being a member of a mining consortium as an excuse to enter the system, scanning the Xindi weapon until he is forced to leave. He and Archer both agree that it would be better to capture the weapon for analysis than to destroy it, so they allow the Xindi to proceed with a test that is only partially successful, shattering but not obliterating a small moon. While the Xindi Council members condemn one another for the unsuccessful test, Archer guesses that Gralik had something to do with it and wonders how they could bring the weapon aboard. T'Pol states that the radiation levels are too high, so Shran offers to take it onto his ship; Archer agrees reluctantly, but only with himself aboard, in command of the mission.

In a subspace communication, Shran's superiors on Andoria insist that he proceed with his mission to take the weapon though Shran warns that it would be foolish to make enemies of the humans when they might be valuable allies. Thus, once his ship and Enterprise have taken the weapon from the Xindi guard, Shran orders Talas to set course for Andoria and leave Archer in an escape pod. Furious, Archer hits Shran, who insists that his people need the weapon to prevent the Vulcans from invading their space and says that in taking the weapon from the Xindi he has done the humans a favor. When Enterprise arrives, T'Pol reports that Reed discovered sabotage by Talas and they are tracking the Andorian ship.

Enterprise approaches and hails the Andorians, demanding the weapon. When Shran refuses to turn it over, Archer says that he picked up the Xindi sensor telemetry and has the activation codes for the weapon. He orders T'Pol to arm and detonate it, saying he would rather it be destroyed than end up with the untrustworthy Andorians. Shran has the weapon evacuated from his cargo bay seconds before it explodes, damaging his ship, though he refuses aid from Enterprise which has maintained a safe distance. Later, Sato tells Archer that she picked up a transmission from Shran's ship, disguised to look like subspace interference, containing detailed scans of the Xindi weapon that the sender evidently did not want discovered by anyone else. Happily, Archer, invites T'Pol and Tucker to dinner to share some Andorian ale.

Analysis: Oh, those duplicitous Andorians, and those duplicitous Enterprise writers not letting us know which of them we can really trust. Archer seems pretty certain in the end that Shran repaid his debt for having lied, but if Shran - who seems to keep scrupulous track of who owes whom what - decided that the fist to his face was recompense enough, could it be that Talas (who was arguing in favor of going home in the first place) took pity on Reed and sent a message right under her superior's nose? Or, for that matter, might one of the Andorians have an agenda of which we know nothing, yet, and have different reasons altogether for divulging what is known about the Xindi's plans to destroy humankind? Sure the Andorians are untrustworthy, after all, but they are so right about the Vulcans...

"Proving Ground" doesn't really break new ground, but it pulls together a number of elements of the Xindi arc and ties it all in nicely with the Andorian storyline of past seasons, giving the show a solid, sophisticated feel like some of Deep Space Nine's early Dominion War episodes. Here we have the ongoing conflict among the different Xindi species as represented by their council members, the possibility that Gralik kept his promise to Archer and sabotaged the weapon, the ongoing difficulties with Expanse anomalies and the unexpected arrival of the delightfully complicated Shran, whose loyalty to Archer is apparently sincere yet secondary to his duty to his own people.

As soon as Shran gives Tucker condolences on his sister and starts talking about his own brother, it's obvious where the storyline is going, but by then it's more interesting to watch the characters than to wait for the inevitable conflict of interest. Shran seems sincerely surprised that Tucker isn't focused on revenge - not judging him, but having to refocus his understanding of humans once more, and perhaps even applying those perceptions to himself and his people. Even if he's self-interested and a liar, Shran listens to the humans in a way Soval never has and probably never will; he is very like T'Pol in this regard, which is ironic given their unwavering distrust of one another.

Jeffrey Combs does a fascinating job with the character, playing him a little too exuberantly at first, a little too sure of himself; it's Shran performing for his own crew and for Archer, and when he develops an internal conflict of interest, that oversized posture deflates like his antennae. This is not a character who wants to be seen as doing the right thing, but one who has a real moral center, who doesn't much care whether he's popular or celebrated so long as he believes his goals have been fulfilled and his debts paid. His refusal of a commendation is rather heartwarming. (And, to give credit where it's due, those antennae are brilliant creations and the prop department deserves big kudos for them; I love the way they wilt just so when Shran is losing an argument, even when he's refusing to acknowledge in any other way that he's been legitimately challenged.)

As for Talas, she's an obvious choice for saboteur from the moment she sets foot on the ship yet in the end one has to wonder how hard she was trying. Finally Reed has something akin to a flirtation with an alien female that doesn't feel contrived, and her competence is refreshing given how physically weak T'Pol has been of late and the Rajiins and Kaitaamas drifting across Enterprise's path on a regular basis. Molly Brink's performance is perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Suzie Plakson's Tarah, but perhaps it's just that Andorian behavior is as regrettably consistent as T'Pol warns Archer that it is.

I would very much like to see her back and to see the Andorian storyline continue. It enhances the Xindi arc to bring them in and it enhances the series overall to maintain this sort of consistency. I thought I was going to have doubts about how the Andorians could have found Enterprise so quickly, but the technological explanation didn't particularly jar and did make me really mad at the Vulcans - what the hell are they doing sitting out there avoiding the situation, anyway?

Some creative camera work makes "Proving Ground" a pleasure to watch: the shot of Archer facing Shran on the viewscreen with the antennae waving over his head, the overhead shot of the Xindi council, the distorted closeup of Degra during the weapon's misfire. There's also a fair amount of humor in listening to Shran and T'Pol snipe at one another, with Shran scoring most of the early points with the smackdown compliments of her new uniform, and I liked his attempts not to call Archer a pinkskin to his face. And the sequence with Reed and Talas, where she sarcastically offers to get him coffee and he gratefully accepts, only to have her announce that she quits her temp job, has snappy, fun dialogue and lively performances.

There were, however, a number of small details that made me roll my eyes, and not in a good way...particularly the discovery that the crew did not have a backup of the database which was wiped out by the Triannon zealots. Don't these idiots know how to burn CDs? Then there's the believability factor of the Xindi letting Shran fly in and out of the system hiding their weapon and not blowing him up immediately...and why can't they tell that there are humans on board, the way they can tell later which ship has which crew with a simple scan? I'm beginning to think that the Xindi are not only conflicted but also not very bright, so how hard can it be to stop their superweapon. Finally, when Archer threatens to arm the weapon on Shran's cargo bay, why doesn't Shran turn his superior weapons on Enterprise and blast the engines? Given the importance of Archer's mission - he let the Triannon take over his ship without a fight to protect it - he'd have stood down and let Shran take the weapon, and Shran knows him well enough that he should have been able to figure that out.

Overall, though, these issues did not diminish the entertainment value of "Proving Ground", which is well-paced, has entertaining dialogue, links together Enterprise's most popular storylines and pairs Archer with his most interesting off-ship sparring partner. Hey, UPN, this should have been a sweeps month episode: why was it not more highly promoted?

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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.

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