Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “The Andorian Incident”

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“The Andorian Incident”
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Fred Dekker
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Season 1, Episode 7
Production episode 007
Original air date: October 31, 2001
Date: June 19, 2151

Captain’s star log. Enterprise is passing near a planet called P’Jem, which houses a three-thousand-year-old Vulcan monastery where monks undergo the kolinahr ritual to purge all emotions. Archer would like to visit, and T’Pol agrees, though the conditions under which they can go down, and the rituals they must follow, are lengthy and complex, causing Archer to snidely comment to Tucker, “And I thought Starfleet training was tough.”

They take a shuttlepod down, and there are several things that make the landing party—especially T’Pol—uneasy. The door has been bashed in and there’s broken pottery on the floor. However, the elder who greets them says that sometimes the work of purging emotions results in violent outbursts. But another red flag for T’Pol is the fact that the elder is alone in the atrium, which is surprising and unusual.

In the reflection of a vase, Archer sites a blue-skinned alien hiding behind a wall. Once he exposes the alien, the jig is up, and the other aliens show up with rifles brandished: these are Andorians. They have been in conflict with the Vulcans for some time, though there is currently a treaty. The Andorians are convinced that P’Jem is hiding a sensor array that is being used to spy on Andoria. The Vulcans insist there is no working technology anywhere on this world.

Screenshot: CBS

Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker are brought to a room where the other Vulcan monks are being held prisoner. The elder explains that this is the third time the Andorians have come to search P’Jem, and found nothing. Enterprise’s arrival is unfortunate, as it only flames the paranoia of Shran, the Andorian commander. Shran tortures Archer for information on how and why he’s collaborating with the Vulcans, his insistence that he’s pretty much just here as a tourist falling on deaf antennae. Shran also smashes all three Starfleet communicators, after warning Reed that any attempt to land more troops on the planet will be met with violence.

The elder says there’s an old transmitter in the catacombs, which are hidden. There’s a secret passage to the catacombs, which the Vulcans hadn’t used for reasons that aren’t clear, though the implication is that the expectation that the Andorians will leave once they don’t find anything, so the Vulcans are just going to wait them out. The transmitter is busted, but Tucker is confident in his ability to fix it.

Sure enough, he puts it back together again and contacts Enterprise, giving Reed orders to wait. Reed is not happy about that at all.

Tucker saw a pattern of three lights in one of the catacomb walls that he thinks is near the atrium, and Archer wonders if that’s light coming through the eyes and mouth of a relief sculpture of a face that’s in one of the atrium walls.

Testing the theory, he allows himself to be questioned further by Shran, providing them with such useful “information” as the fact that 70% of the organisms on Earth are bacteria, that someone in Canton, Ohio rolled a ball of string six meters in diameter, and that astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel. While being beaten up for his effrontery, he surreptitiously tosses a statuette through one of the holes in relief face. Tucker catches it on the other side.

Reed beams down to the catacombs with a security team, setting charges behind the atrium wall. A running firefight soon ensues, with Andorians and Starfleet trading phase-pistol fire while the elder bitches that they’ve turned a sanctuary into a war zone. However, inside the reliquary they uncover a huge metal door, which turns out to hide the very listening post the Andorians accused the Vulcans of hiding. Oops.

Screenshot: CBS

A furious Archer insists that T’Pol give her hand-scanner to Shran, so the Andorians can have evidence that the Vulcans broke the treaty. T’Pol hesitates for a moment, but not only gives Shran the scanner, but also borrows Reed’s communicator and orders Enterprise to let the Andorian ship leave P’Jem unmolested. Shran tells Archer that the Andorians are in his debt.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? A security guard is reluctant to go through the transporter, as he’s “heard stories, sir—it might not be safe.” Good thing he hasn’t seen The Motion Picture

The gazelle speech. Archer is very eager to visit the monastery on P’Jem and learn more about Vulcan culture, which is a nice change from his usual attitude toward Vulcans.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol has been using a nasal numbing agent to deal with how stinky humans are to Vulcan noses.

Florida Man. Florida Man Fixes Alien Radio In Record Time.

Optimism, Captain! Phlox has a pointed conversation with T’Pol in the mess hall, reminding her that her reluctance to visit P’Jem is not only at odds with Enterprise′s mission statement, but also with the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

Screenshot: CBS

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined… Vulcan High Command has hidden a long-range sensor array beneath the temple on P’Jem, which is in not only in violation of the Andorian treaty, but also in violation of the Vulcan philosophy of not lying. It’s not clear if the entire monastery is in on it or just the elder and the one snotty initiate.

Also Archer notices that a protostar that they looked at recently isn’t on the star charts Vulcan provided them, meaning they may be incomplete…

Blue meanies. The Andorians and the Vulcans are in a cold war of sorts, and the Andorians are convinced that P’Jem is hiding a long-range sensor array—rightly, as it turns out.

Andorian makeup has been redesigned since it was last seen on TNG (in “The Offspring“), as for the first time, their antennae are articulated.

More on this later… The Andorians were established as important members of the Federation in the original series’ “Journey to Babel,” and were seen in “Whom Gods Destroy,” “Yesteryear,” “The Time Trap,” and The Voyage Home, and referenced periodically in the spinoffs. This episode provides humans’ first contact with the species.

Also Reed bitches that landing parties checking in regularly and scanning for alien ships when entering orbit should be standard procedure, which it will be, as seen on all the other shows…

I’ve got faith…

“You say this is a place to purge emotions? Looks like somebody had to purge pretty bad—he bashed the door in.”

–Tucker upon seeing the sanctuary door, which was actually bashed in by Andorians.

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Lots of familiar faces in this one. We’ve got Bruce French as the elder; he previously played a Betazoid in TNG’s “The Drumhead,” an Ocampa in Voyager’s “Caretaker,” and a Son’a in Insurrection. We’ve got Steven Dennis as Tholos; he previously played aliens in Voyager’s “Night,” “Think Tank,” and “Warhead,” as well as an Equinox crew member in the “Equinoxtwo-parter. We’ve got Jeff Ricketts as Keval; he previously played the Axanar captain in “Fight or Flight.” We’ve got Jamie McShane as the security guard; he will be back on Picard in the recurring role of Zhaban.

And, the biggie, we’ve got the great Jeffrey Combs as Shran, a role that will continue to recur throughout the series. It’s his third recurring role on Trek, having also played Brunt and Weyoun on multiple episodes of DS9, and he also played Tiron in DS9’s “Meridian,” Mulkahey in DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars,” and Penk in Voyager’s “Tsunkatse,” and will go on to play Krem in “Acquisition” and AGIMUS in Lower Decks’s “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.”

Combs, Ricketts, and Dennis will all return in “Shadows of P’Jem.”

In addition, Richard Tanner plays the smarmy initiate.

Trivial matters: The events of this episode will be followed up on in “Shadows of P’Jem.” P’Jem will continue to be referenced several more times on the show, and is also seen in the games Star Trek Online and Fleet Command, and in your humble rewatcher’s novel A Singular Destiny.

That Vulcan and Andoria were in proximate star systems was first established in DS9’s “In the Pale Moonlight.”

The ritual of kolinahr was first seen in The Motion Picture, when Spock tried and failed it. Tuvok was also established as having undergone the ritual earlier in life in Voyager‘s “Flashback.”

The Vulcan motto of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations was first mentioned on the original series’ “Is There in Truth No Beauty?

Archer mentions Surak, established in the original series’ “The Savage Curtain” as the founder of Vulcans’ philosophy of logic and suppressing emotions, where an image of him was played by Barry Atwater. Surak will be seen in “The Forge” and “Awakening,” played by Bruce Gray.

Tholos makes some snotty comments about Vulcan mating rituals, including a rather simplistic description of the kal-if-fee ritual during the pon farr, as seen in the original series’ “Amok Time” and Voyager’s “Blood Fever.”

Reed is established as being next in the chain of command following Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker.

This is the first of ten episodes of Enterprise directed by Roxann Dawson, who played B’Elanna Torres on Voyager, and who has gone on to be a hugely in-demand TV director over the past two decades.

While Archer’s trivia about bacteria and Tycho Brahe are true, we must assume that the person in Canton who made the six-meter twine ball did so between 2001 and 2151, as there is no such gigunda twine ball on record coming from that city. (The largest ball of twine in terms of diameter currently is a twelve-and-a-half-meter one in Branson, Missouri.)

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “Don’t get your antennas in a twist.” All right, let’s take care of the (pink?) elephant in the room first: the worst thing about this episode, and every subsequent episode in which the Andorians appear on Enterprise, is the use of the epithet “pink-skin” to refer to humans. Every time I heard Jeffrey Combs use it, I winced like a big giant wincing thing. Yes, he only had the two points of reference in Archer and Tucker, but still. I mean, Crayola changed their “flesh-colored” crayon to peach in 1962, you’d think the producers of Enterprise could find an epithet that didn’t signal that the only humans who matter are the white folks forty years later.

That aside, this is a fantastic episode of Enterprise, doing exactly the sort of thing a prequel can do well. One of the running background themes of Trek—which is, admittedly, a byproduct of it being a show made on this actual planet—is that humans are the center of the Federation. Earth is the Federation’s capital, and Earth comes across as the guiding force.

Episodes like this lean into that sometimes unconscious tendency by making it a feature rather than a bug: throughout the course of Enterprise, we’ll see humans being the ones who bring people together, and it starts here with Archer caught in the middle of a heretofore unknown conflict between Vulcan and Andoria.

In fact, the conflict is with a heretofore unknown species. Despite them being stellar next-door neighbors to Vulcans, who have been mentoring humans for the better part of a century now, there’s been seemingly no contact whatsoever between humans and Andorians in that time. Archer finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, as the Vulcans are accusing him of messing up the situation (Shran and the gang probably would have left before long if Enterprise hadn’t shown up) and Shran is torturing him to give up secrets that he doesn’t actually have.

Which makes his outrage at the end all the more palpable, because he’s been assuming that the Vulcans are telling the truth, that they really are monks living without technology, so to have the rug pulled out from under him is devastating.

And in the end, he not only does the right thing, but he also takes a step in making Earth a player in galactic politics, and not just a planet being mentored by the Vulcans. We know what the long-term endgame is—Andorians were introduced as members of the Federation, after all, way back in 1967, so we know that there will be peace among these three worlds a century hence—but having it start out as a contentious relationship gives the stories somewhere to go, and the arc of how the Andorians and Vulcans and humans all come to a rapprochement will be one of the more compelling storylines of the series moving forward. Indeed, the most appealing aspect of doing a prequel like this is to sow the seeds of what we know will come later, but it’s a philosophy the show only embraced every once in a while, at least prior to the final season.

The actual plot here is a pretty straightforward hostage story, though it does fall victim to the same thing that every TV show and movie ever falls victim to, that being people being imprisoned with no surveillance or guards. It makes no sense, none, that Shran wouldn’t leave a guard with the prisoners, but if he did, the plot falls apart, since they can’t go into their secret passageway if there’s an Andorian in the room. (At least the lack of technology in the monastery explains the lack of electronic surveillance…)

But what makes the bog-standard plot work, beyond how it fits into the overall tale of humans’ first stumbling out into what will eventually become Federation space, is the acting. Archer’s genuine desire to visit the monastery is well played by Scott Bakula, as is his outrage when the sensor array is revealed, and it’s a mode that is more appealing for the character than the borderline racism toward Vulcans we’ve gotten up until now. John Billingsley does a lovely job in his only scene reminding T’Pol of what’s important in his usual effacing, friendly manner. Dominic Keating does a nice job with Reed’s exasperated efficiency. And, as always, Jeffrey Combs is magnificent in portraying Shran’s fury, which turns out to be a righteous one in the end.

But the best performance is the very restrained one given by Jolene Blalock. She subtly plays her lack of comfort with visiting P’Jem when Archer brings it up, and she lays it on thick with the detailed instructions on how to approach the monks in an obvious attempt to intimidate.

Where she knocks it out of the park, though, are in two scenes. First when Archer questions her loyalty, and she tartly reminds him that she has never disobeyed an order of his—and then punctuating the point by swiping the blanket Archer offered to share with her.

This is called back to at the very end, when Archer orders her to turn over the scanner readings to Shran. Blalock’s face hardens with restrained fury, as she is in an even worse position than Archer. These are her people she’s being asked to betray—but her people also betrayed the treaty. And then, mindful of her very words to Archer earlier, she borrows Reed’s communicator to once again do her duty as his first mate and order Enterprise to leave the Andorians be.

It’s unfortunate that we have to wait eight episodes for there to be consequences for this, as this is the sort of thing that should (and will) upend local politics sooner rather than later. Still, it’s a strong building block for the aspect of Enterprise that would prove the most interesting.

Warp factor rating: 8

Keith R.A. DeCandido is very much looking forward to 2022 sucking less than 2021.

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