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The Aenar

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 12, 2005 - 3:39 AM GMT

See Also: 'The Aenar' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Romulan senator Vrax orders Admiral Valdore to launch both drones and destroy Enterprise, which has brought the Tellarites and Andorians together when they were trying to drive them apart. T'Pol has discovered that the ship on which Tucker and Reed were stranded is controlled telepathically, and when Phlox says that the brain wave patterns resemble those of Andorians, Shran is able to learn that the patterns are those of the Aenar - a strongly telepathic but blind Andorian subspecies that live in caves in the far north. He leads Archer to the secretive pacifists, who come out of hiding to assist them when Shran is injured hiking through the caves. Lissan, an Aenar chosen to act as leader, asks Archer for permission to touch his thoughts and is shocked to learn that he believes one of her people is helping the Romulans. She says that a young man who disappeared a year ago might be responsible, but Gareb would not have voluntarily hurt anyone.

On Enterprise, T'Pol and Tucker work with Phlox to build a telemetric device that will allow a telepath to attempt to cut off communication between the drones and whoever is controlling them. Tucker is increasingly nervous about T'Pol's testing the device, first insisting that she should wait for the captain to return, then offering to test it himself even though he is not telepathic. Finally, when a test appears to be taxing her nervous system, he orders Phlox to shut it down. T'Pol warns him that she believes his feelings are interfering with his work but he insists that his concerns are purely professional. Privately he asks Phlox how to cope, joking that his feelings are the doctor's fault for suggesting neuropressure, but Phlox says that Tucker is suffering from the one ailment that's universally untreatable.

The Aenar decline to help Enterprise track the marauder ship since doing so will likely involve violence, but Jhamel, the sister of the missing young man, volunteers to go with Archer and Shran because her nightmares have led her to believe that Gareb is alive and suffering. On Enterprise they learn that a cargo ship is missing and head to its coordinates. Meanwhile Jhamel tests the telemetric device but encounters synaptic trouble like T'Pol's, leading Shran to insist that they stop the experiment. Enterprise finds debris from the cargo ship, then encounters a suspicious Tellarite freighter which proves to be the Romulan drone. Jhamel can feel her brother's presence and asks Shran to help her try to contact him, despite the risks; meanwhile, Enterprise discovers that there are two marauder vessels, the other disguised as an Andorian vessel, both of which attack Enterprise when fired upon.

Jhamel makes contact with her brother, who tells her he had been told that all the Aenar had been exterminated. Devastated at the thought of how many people he has killed, he has one marauder ship attack the other, though Valdore shoots and kills him in the middle of the battle to try to stop him. Archer fires torpedos to help destroy the Romulan drones, then takes Jhamel and Shran back to Andoria when no other such ships appear. The Aenar woman has recovered from her experience but Tucker blames himself for her synaptic problems during the test, telling Archer that he was distracted. He asks for a transfer to Columbia, saying he can do more good there. Archer asks him as a friend to stay on Enterprise but Tucker insists that he cannot, and Archer finally agrees to the request.

Analysis: "The Aenar" is an episode with flaws, yet it's so much more than the sum of its parts, particularly where character development is concerned, that the problems seem quite minor when reflecting back upon it. That plot summary doesn't cover two dozen wonderful minor details: the beauty of the Andorian system, with its large ringed planet and multiple moons; the swarm of cave worms that heat the ice as they burrow through it, like tiny Horta; the flashes of insight into Romulan culture, including Valdore's revelation that he and Vrax were once friends before a single error in judgment destroyed his promising career and his determination to succeed in destroying Enterprise no matter the cost; the friendship that develops between Shran and Jhamel, both of whom have suffered painful losses; and, particularly, Tucker's emotional arc, which might have felt rushed or over-the-top had Connor Trinneer not played it so subtly and powerfully. Questions kept flitting through my mind about how such a cold, dark world evolved humanoids of the same height as Vulcans, and why blind telepaths built a city with well-lit medical facilities, but I kept tossing them aside and suspending my disbelief because the characterization was so strong throughout.

I can't remember what's canon and what's fanon about Andorians anymore - and I got bored with the Deep Space Nine relaunch, so I'm not even sure what's been added into the Pocket Books mix of late - but I was under the impression that Andorians had family structures quite different from humans and Vulcans, with multiple genders and broad extended families. Shran and Talas' pairing would seem to challenge that notion, and the Aenar challenge it even more. On the one hand, one would expect such a society to put less stress on nuclear family bonds and more on collective will, not in an ominous Borg sense but because, being both isolated and telepathic, consensus would seem to be necessary for this small group of people to make such technical achievements as we witness, even in the absence of wasteful violence and war. On the other hand, Jhamel's commitment to her brother is evidently stronger than her link to the rest of her people and their ideals. She forms a nearly immediate, intense bond with Shran that only deepens as the situation worsens, and she displays no fear at the utterly alien circumstances in which she finds herself on Enterprise, where there isn't anyone she can communicate with in what she must consider the normal way. I might be inclined to wonder about her skill with human languages if she refrains from reading minds, but let's just dismiss that along with the way Tellarites seem to have learned English as well.

Jhamel "meets people's eyes" much more than I would expect of a blind person, though much of that is probably TV license, but my favorite thing about her and the Aenar in general are the antennae. On Shran and the blue-skins, they've been used for comic effect, echoing emotions already visible on characters' faces and in their voices, but there's really been no logical reason shown for Andorians to have these protrusions and Shran appears to suffer no long-term ill effects from having recently lost one. With the Aenar, however, they're obviously the means for telepathic contact, which raises all sorts of interesting evolutionary questions. Were all Andorians once as telepathic as the Aenar, and have they lost that capacity for such complete contact as they spread through the planet's geothermal layer? Or have the Aenar developed this trait more aggressively due to their isolation, and might all Andorians be capable of becoming like the northern subspecies? There are so many topics potentially raised by this episode, it's hard to know which to think about carefully and which only exist because of carelessness on the part of the writing and visual effects...how they mine their metals from the ice, how they generate power, why a group recently considered a myth is neither more feared nor more subject to intrigue and conquest by the aggressive Andorians...you'd think they'd want to send someone to Enterprise if only to find out about this device that might be able to block their brain waves and communication.

If Jhamel's characterization doesn't always make sense in terms of human psychology, she is at least a wonderful foil for Shran, in whom she triggers impuses that I would at first have labeled paternal but later grow more complicated; she sounds rather envious of Talas, and he seems to consider her a kindred spirit. Of course, this relationship is overshadowed by the ever-more-difficult situation between Tucker and T'Pol, which takes several leaps forward and slips back before Tucker makes his life-changing decision to leave Enterprise, for reasons he won't even voice aloud to the captain, though it's a pretty good bet that Archer can guess just like Phlox did. Tucker is on the verge of being annoyingly overbearing in sickbay while T'Pol is trying to do her job, and even though he has a point that the command crew of Enterprise too often take too many risks at the same time, it's very obvious that he's reacting emotionally rather than rationally this time out. When she calls him on it, however, he declares that he's just doing his job rather than taking it as an opening to talk, which she seems willing to do right then since she's just called him Trip. This is all material that could have sounded trite and cliched, yet the actors handle it very gracefully, particularly Trinneer, who does well to portray Tucker trying to keep a sense of humor through it all. There's a lot of grace in the scene where he asks T'Pol what she thought about when she believed she was about to die, then avoids telling her why he asked the question.

Last week Archer was the go-to guy for everyone's problems, from the Andorian-Tellarite negotiations to the Starfleet problems concerning the marauder; this week he can't even seem to deal with the problems on his own ship without outside involvement. It's interesting that he chooses to accompany Shran on the away mission - T'Pol would seem a more logical choice, having a certain amount of experience with telepathy - and it's odd that he lets Phlox override him from sickbay, allowing Jhamel to interfere in at a critical juncture in a mission when they don't know whether her priority will be to help their cause or to try to save her brother's life. I don't know whether to praise his instincts on these judgment calls or to call him stupid, just as I can't decide whether he let Trip go too easily in the end or whether he really thought trying to break his friend down would only hurt their friendship and Tucker's way of coping with the situation. (Scene I'd love to have seen: Tucker confiding in Shran, who after all has just lost a lover who was very close to him in the chain of command. The parallels seem obvious, yet Tucker never goes to the one person who might viscerally understand his fears.)

The Romulans look quite stupid in the end having no way to wrest control of their vessel back from the rebelling Aenar, and it's not clear why Archer goes up against the marauder alone this time when he only recently had a fleet of ships as backup, but I didn't really think about these things until the episode was over, so caught up was I in the unfolding drama while I was watching. For everything that now seems like a somewhat silly plot decision, there's a great line or a wonderful acting moment that redeems it while it's playing out. I think that in terms of the plot, this is probably the weakest episode in this arc, yet for me it was the most gripping to watch, more subtle than the granstanding of "Babel One" and more human in scale than the grandiose struggles of "United." When Enterprise leaves the airwaves, I'm really going to miss Shran, and I'm sad that Tucker and T'Pol's storyline has so few episodes left in which to play out. That said...I'm a little worried about Columbia. It's not really a good-luck name for a sister ship to a prototype called Enterprise, and we all know Tucker will end up back on the NX-01 somehow. You Klingon bastards, you killed my ship! Well, that may be premature, but I'm afraid.

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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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