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The Expanse

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 22, 2003 - 4:11 AM GMT

See Also: 'The Expanse' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A round probe fires on Earth's northern hemisphere, leaving a charred line of ruin in its wake. Admiral Forrest contacts Archer to tell him that there have been over a million casualties and to call Enterprise home. On the way, Enterprise is intercepted by Silik and the Suliban, who take Archer to meet the mysterious shadowy being from the future. Archer is told that Earth was attacked by the Xindi — an alien race whom humans will destroy some 400 years hence. Someone else involved in the temporal cold war has interfered with the timeline and warned the Xindi, who are now building a device to destroy all of Earth.

Meanwhile, on Qo'nos, Duras is told that to regain his honor, he must recapture Archer. The Klingons intercept Enterprise as it enters the Sol system, but other Starfleet vessels fight them off. When he arrives at Starfleet, Forrest tells Archer that the Vulcans do not believe time-traveling aliens could be responsible for the attack on Earth; moreover, they have identified the coordinates given to Archer to find the Xindi as located in the Delphic Expanse, an area of space like the Bermuda Triangle where starship crews suffer horrific fates. Archer scans the debris from the alien probe and is able to prove that it likely came from the future, but the Vulcans remain unconvinced and send a psychiatrist disguised as a radiation specialist to examine Archer's mental state.

Starfleet agrees to let Archer take Enterprise into the Delphic Expanse to look for the Xindi. Crews begin to retrofit the ship with stronger hull plating and new torpedoes. Archer also requests a team of military officers to provide muscle in the Expanse. While he meets with Forrest, Tucker visits his sister's home in Florida and learns that she was one of the casualties of the attack — now estimated to be about seven million people. He becomes furious and tells Reed that he wants no memorial services, only revenge.

Soval tells T'Pol that she has been reassigned to Vulcan. Archer volunteers to have Enterprise drop her off on the way to the Delphic Expanse, though the ship is attacked by Duras again on the way there. T'Pol requests permission to bypass Vulcan and remain on Enterprise, saying that she will resign her commission from the High Command rather than abandon Archer and her crewmates at this time. She is working at the science station when the particle barrier at the outskirts of the Expanse comes into view.

Duras attacks one last time, but Mayweather's piloting and the new torpedos destroy the Klingon ship, and Enterprise enters the Delphic Expanse.

Analysis: Enterprise ends its second season with a gracefully cinematic episode, balancing traditional action essentials (Suliban, Klingons, the Temporal Cold War, mysterious and deadly new aliens) with some nice character work for the three Enterprise crewmembers who have been the focus for most of this season. Visually, it reminds me of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, with the footage of Earth under attack, though the Klingon sequences make me think more of The Wrath of Khan and The Final Frontier. The fact that I'm even drawing these comparisons, though, is tribute to the superb cinematography of "The Expanse", which is visually a very striking episode.

Dramatically, "The Expanse" makes quite an impact as well; it establishes Enterprise firmly in the post-9/11 era. Archer's reaction to the news, Tucker's agonized waiting to see whether his sister would miraculously appear out of the wreckage, the sense of brutality and outrage all seem painfully familiar. I've never actually asked myself the question, "How would Kirk/Picard/Sisko/Janeway react to an attack like those of 9/11?" despite the Suliban/Taliban comparisons drawn by many others. I'd expect more of an attempt at understanding, less emphasis on new weapons and recruiting soldiers from all of them. And I'm disappointed that Archer trusts his onetime Suliban enemies so quickly, that the Vulcans are so impossibly intransigent, that there's no Federation alongside Starfleet to provide translators and diplomats on a mission carrying photon torpedoes and military officers.

This isn't the next generation; it's now. And much as I miss Star Trek's breathtaking scope, its resolute belief in a future that isn't like this, I'm willing to see where this storyline can take the franchise. Because none of the other series ever really explained how humans got from here to there. We saw the nightmarish post-world war environment that Q made Picard relive in "Encounter At Farpoint", we saw the walled ghettos when Sisko lived through "Past Tense", we watched Janeway's ancestor struggle with the Y2K millennium, but humans clearly didn't go from the Vulcan first contact straight to the idyllic Earth of Kirk's era. Somehow, people stopped thinking like Tucker and seeking revenge before comprehension. Somehow Vulcans and other species realized that humans had a great deal to offer.

Obviously we're in a different timeline than the previous Trek shows, and a different timeline means a different universe. Maybe Kirk's future isn't destined to happen unless Enterprise reverses all the meddling and tampering with the timeline ever committed by Star Trek, and the show must end with The Reset Button To End All Reset Buttons: Archer in the shower on the day before launch. It would be a dreadful copout, if so. Our world is never going back to the map before the chaos of the past several years — the causes of 9/11 and the most recent war in Iraq, not just the results.

It's ironic that those old adversaries the Klingons represent a sort of comfort zone in all this. We can predict just what they're going to do, how they're going to fight, which clichés about honor they'll recite. This is an enemy we know very, very well...well enough to know that they're not really an enemy, will not remain an enemy, even when it's a Duras we're dealing with and the House is presumably developing the grudge that made its members so difficult in later generations. We may get to watch the events that ultimately lead to the rise of the Duras sisters and the death of Kirk.

As the death toll kept rising, I felt sure it was going to go over six million; the Holocaust serves as a devastating benchmark for horror, and we're supposed to think of the Xindi right now more like Nazis than the aliens who came to talk to the whales and tried to destroy Earth when they couldn't in The Voyage Home. Kirk and Spock understood perfectly well while humans were being punished, even though the crime of extinction had been committed in a different era. Now Archer's peers are facing a similar situation, though the crimes will be committed in the future instead of the past, if Dark Matter Man can be believed (and why Archer thinks he can be believed should be wondered; that's why I'd give him a psychiatric exam, not because he believes in time travel).

Shouldn't Forrest, Archer and the rest of the humans stop and wonder whether they can change the future, not by fighting the Xindi, but by altering their own behaviors, by asking what it is in human nature that keeps leading us to wars with death tolls in the millions? One of the most telling lines in the episode, when Mayweather asks Archer why Enterprise has been recalled, is Archer's response, "I didn't ask." He's clearly in shock — when the Suliban arrive moments later, he reacts sluggishly — but he needs to ask questions. Like Kirk facing the Klingons who killed his son, he needs to get beyond his personal feelings and speak for his crew, for all humans in space, perhaps for something even bigger.

Enough philosophy; on to the details of the episode. Tucker has a couple of big emotional scenes mourning his sister, and Archer is the pivot upon whom the action hinges, but T'Pol gets the most character development; she makes a choice that is personal and life-changing. And this after Archer nearly takes her head off right after meeting with Silik, telling her he doesn't need her damn skepticism. T'Pol's scenes with both Soval — whom she clearly does not trust for logical as well as intuitive reasons — and Phlox are quite emotionally engaging, for she's clearly feeling far more than we've been led to believe is acceptable for Vulcans. Spock did, but he was half-human. T'Pol simply appreciates humans, even when they don't appreciate her, even when Tucker is upset enough to claim he doesn't want to hear about her damned belief in non-interference.

That is exactly why they need her so badly — for the conflict. (I'm speaking of Tucker and Archer but the same statement could be applied to the series as a whole.) Because she wants to understand humans, but she is not going to become one of them no matter how long she lives among them, and she is changing them as much as they change her. How can Soval not see the value of that? Or is it exactly what he's afraid of, if he doesn't want humans to grow and become equal participants in the community of warp-capable worlds?

I still think Soval is working for someone far more sinister than the Vulcan High Command or the Science Directorate. He gives Archer and Forrest contradictory information on what happens in the Delphic Expanse — it turns Klingons physically inside out, it makes Vulcans get emotional and torture one another, it's a big haunted house — can't he pick one nightmare and stick with it? Archer gets his best line in the episode retorting that the Suliban ally may not really be from the future but he sure can predict how the Vulcans will respond to his claims.

I had a couple of red alerts, particularly when Archer's scanner indicated something that was constructed in the future. As I understand it, they can't scan for tachyons yet because they're only theoretical, and if you scanned an object built in 2010 and sent back in time in 2011, it would date as a year old based on whatever sort of molecular decay occurs in its metals; you would not get a negative number on its age! I am also mildly curious why the Xindi would send a little dinky warning probe to kill seven million people, thus warning the billions of others on the planet of their existence, rather than simply waiting and destroying Earth all at once. And then there's Mayweather, who thankfully gets to save the ship for once, but it's implementing a strategy Archer thinks up that has a lot in common with Kirk's hiding-in-the-nebula-from-Khan plan.

But these are really minor nitpicks, for the episode looks fantastic, plays engagingly and raises all sorts of questions and issues for next season. Will Enterprise let them pay off, rather than going for sweeps month pon farr gimmicks and gratuitous appearances by the Borg? I really hope so.

I know the ratings are down, I know that traditional Trek fans have supposedly abandoned the Star Trek franchise, I know that there aren't any female characters on Enterprise with half the strength of Kira or once-upon-a-time Janeway, I know that there's a lot of annoying jingoism and superficial politics and weak characterization and mediocre science fiction. Nonetheless, as Enterprise's second season draws to a close, I have to admit:

This show has really grown on me. In fact, I'm pretty darned attached to it. One might even say that I really like it.

Two years ago at this time, I was swearing that I'd watched my last hour of Star Trek. I even wrote an essay on this topic and posted it on my web page alongside cast interviews and critical commentary, though I ended up revising it when I came to my senses and remembered that there were worse jobs than reviewing television. Last year at this time I was lamenting that while Enterprise didn't infuriate me the way Voyager had in its last seasons, I didn't really like it. I felt a bit like a sellout, reviewing a series for a fan site when I didn't love it as a fan.

Somehow that changed.

I'm still worried. I still want to shake Archer, often, even more often than I wanted to shake Janeway in fact, for not seeing the big picture so much of the time, for behaving like a reactionary instead of the leading progressive of the human race, even just for being a good ole boy in a 22nd century captains' club that looks less diverse than the current space program. I want Sato and Mayweather to get something to do on a regular basis other than open hailing frequencies and go to warp five. Tucker is my favorite character but he's been in some really dumb episodes, and I cannot sit through another cheesy faux romance; if we must have a token womanizing jerk on this show, let's let it be Reed. I'll happily assume he's running away from an alternative lifestyle anyway.

And I am trying not to like T'Pol. The catsuit alone should be reason not to like her. She's far more emotional than I expect of my Vulcans. She can be wildly inconsistent in her application of logic and her philosophical beliefs. I am reading intimations from various actors that next season she could become romantically involved with either Archer or Tucker, which makes me glance up at the Janeway/Chakotay "Coda" picture that despite everything is still hanging over my desk, and I must remind myself that this would be bad bad bad news. Maybe I need to put up a picture of Chakotay and Seven from "Endgame"; no, maybe I need to send Messrs. Berman and Braga copies of the thousands of fan reviews decrying that relationship as the single worst mistake in a half-decade of mistakes on Voyager so they never try anything like that again.

I don't know if this show can be great; I loved Deep Space Nine, but I didn't believe it could be great until the sixth season, and I held onto my doubts firmly until the final arc. But I remind myself that the original series was often not great, and was frequently rather, well, stupid. But its heart was in the right place. I'm not sure what faith of the heart Enterprise has to offer, but I don't want it sold out to ratings panic or mistaken beliefs about the most desirable demographics and what they want to watch. I believe that sci-fi fans are better educated and more interested in ideas than the people who watch reality TV. For this show to succeed, it needs to be intelligent and expansive in scope. That's all I ask.

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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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