Azati Prime: Enterprise arrives at Azati Prime and uses a shuttle captured from the Xindi insectoids to infiltrate the system and find the weapon. Then, Archer decides to return to the weapon with explosives to destroy it, but is informed by Daniels (first seen in “Cold Front”) that he must not sacrifice himself and that the Xindi have been told by aliens from the future that humanity is a mortal threat. Archer decides to try to blow up the weapon anyway — it’s too close to being completed — but is captured (Archer gotta be Archer, right?). He uses the opportunity to try to sway Degra (who doesn’t remember anything from “Stratagem”) and then learns that the Xindi reptilians have discovered where Enterprise is hiding and have sent ships to attack. The episode ends with Archer being taken to a detention center and Enterprise nearly destroyed from a brutal assault.
Damage: With the ship very nearly destroyed, the reptilian attack is called off by Degra and his supporters on the council. T’Pol and the crew commence repairs and Archer is sent back to Enterprise in a small Xindi vessel — all arranged by Degra and Co. As Archer and T’Pol assess the damage and count up dead crew members, they realize that the warp coil is fried — and that they need another one to get to their next meeting with Degra. An alien ship comes along asking for assistance with repairs from anomalies — and Archer asks if he can trade for the warp coil. The alien captain (played by old buddy Casey Biggs) says no … so Archer crosses an ethical line and decides to steal the warp coil (!). The mission is a success (and Archer leaves the aliens food to help them survive until they return home on impulse power) and Enterprise heads to the meeting with Degra.
The Forgotten: Enterprise is still in tatters and 18 crew members are dead. The ship meets up with Degra and his supporters and Archer makes the case that the Xindi are being manipulated into destroying humanity, showing evidence from previous episodes, including “Harbinger”. Degra comes around and decides to start helping Enterprise, even going so far as to assist with repairs (despite having to work around Trip and his anti-Xindi feelings). Degra also orders the destruction of a reptilian vessel that happens upon the meeting, ensuring that Degra’s fate is now directly tied with humanity’s.
Why it’s important
A lot happens in these episodes, as noted above. Most of the significance is self-explanatory — the events are obviously key in saving Earth. The T’Pol subplot (she’s been injecting a Delphic Expanse substance into her bloodstream for months to tap into her emotions and must beat an addiction and long-term effects) is a key development for the character. It likely prompted the relationship with Trip (a big domino for the series) and made the character more interesting than the passive Vulcan we saw for most of the first two seasons (though she had started to lighten up previously).
What doesn’t hold up
It’s hard to swallow that the Xindi wouldn’t have stopped the stolen insectoid shuttle earlier. Even if it was one of their ships, wouldn’t there be identification protocols indicating that shuttle shouldn’t have been anywhere near Azati Prime? This is likely why they locked down the weapon after the initial recognizance by Trip and Mayweather, but still.
There’s also the 180 from the end of “Azati Prime” to the beginning of “Damage”. Essentially, one more shot from the reptilians could have ended everything — and Degra and his supporters were able to call the attack off JUST in time. It’s odd that they could do that when the reptilians were moving in for the kill in the previous episode and didn’t seem to answer to the other members of the Xindi council.
I’m also kind of amazed that alien technology always works so well together. That warp technology developed so similarly on so many different worlds is hard to believe. It’s a necessary conceit for “Damage”, but it’s too bad that the characters didn’t talk more about how Archer’s gamble assumed that the aliens’ warp coil could work with Enterprise’s systems.
Criticisms aside, this is a truly great stretch of episodes.
Consider that Enterprise, through two seasons, was considered dull, and even dated. Second-generation Trek had been on the air for 15 years at that point, and was showing its age. Even if you’re a Voyager defender, few would argue that it reached the heights of TNG or the daring of DS9, and as good as DS9 was, it was never as popular as TNG. Enterprise took a big risk in season three — but it sort of had to. And, thanks to what happened starting around “Proving Ground” (coupled with some good tie-ins from the first half of the season) the Xindi arc became a success.
And, yes, it likely shocked some fans that the hero of a Trek series would essentially commit piracy (among other things). But putting Archer in such a situation was likely necessary if the creators wanted to avoid the dullness of seasons one and two. His dialogue with Mayweather in “Azati Prime” about how he had to fly the mission to destroy the weapon because he had to take questionable actions in the expanse — and his lines to Trip and T’Pol in “Damage” — show that while Archer had to walk a line and occasionally move across it, he didn’t lose his humanity. It is too bad that we didn’t see him come to terms with what he’d done or face consequences, but more on that later.
Also, consider that Archer ends up working for a peaceful solution even after he’s captured in “Azati Prime” and even after he sees that at least some of the Xindi can’t be reasoned with. Granted, some Xindi end up going rogue, but the events of this season almost seem to pave the way for Archer (and humanity’s) enlightenment. It’s been a long road, after all.
Coming next week …
We wrap season three.