A weird sphere pops up over Earth and attacks, killing 7 million. Enterprise is recalled and on the way home, Silik and his future guy boss tell Archer that a species called the Xindi is responsible — as they think humanity will destroy them in the future — and that an even larger attack is coming. Archer makes his case to Starfleet, over the objection of Ambassador Soval, and sets course for coordinates given to him by future guy, which Soval says are in a particularly nasty part of space called the Delphic Expanse. Without clearance from Soval, T’Pol resigns her commission to help Archer with the mission. Enterprise has to deal with some Klingons out to get Archer (wrapping up a mini-thread from late in the second season) but makes it to the expanse as the episode and season end.
Why it’s important
Well, the entire series basically changed in this episode. The attack on Earth is hugely important for Enterprise and Trek generally, and the ship’s mission in the third season truly needed to succeed for everything we saw in previous Trek to still have happened. No Earth, no Federation, no Starfleet, no Kirk singing around the campfire with Spock and McCoy, no Picard rolling his eyes at Q’s jokes, no Sisko fooling the Romulans into a war and no Janeway going through shuttles like Pez.
Interestingly, the fact that we knew the creators wouldn’t undo all of that sort of undercuts the drama in the third season — we know Earth won’t be destroyed — which basically makes the Xindi arc about HOW Archer will save Earth, not whether he would.
What doesn’t hold up
Well, big picture, I can’t not mention that in all the Trek that takes place after Enterprise, we never hear of the Xindi or this attack. There are plenty of lines in Star Trek about how some threat to Earth is the biggest since the “last World War,” (or something similar) without any mention of the death of 7 million and the possibility of another, more cataclysmic attack. The only way you can write this off is to figure that the events of Enterprise are in an alternate timeline, perhaps created by all the time travel in previous series. Maybe Data winning at poker in 19th-century San Francisco is to blame? Or that time Chekov left a Klingon phaser behind in 1986?
Lastly, why did the Xindi mount a small attack before the big one? That’s probably the biggest logical issue with the entire Xindi storyline, because without the initial attack — which wasn’t necessary from the Xindi perspective, as the final attack was aiming to destroy the entire planet — Starfleet wouldn’t have known to send Archer to the Delphi Expanse.
I’m a big fan of season three of Enterprise, but that logical flaw is something that takes away from the overall quality.
The attack, of course, is an obvious parallel to 9/11, which occurred about 18 months before this episode aired. Interestingly, much of the first season was shot before 9/11, even though it didn’t air until after. That’s one explanation I’ve heard regarding the first season’s unevenness — and the show’s general inability to connect with audiences.
Now, not a lot of fans liked where the series went after “The Expanse” and were probably unnerved by how the Archer/Trip scene in this episode indicated a darker, non-Roddenberry approach to the third season that clearly was meant to echo the politics of the early aughts. While that’s certainly a fair criticism at points, it’s not a major problem (IMO) if you watch the ENTIRE third season. It never QUITE gets to the point where the the characters aren’t at least torn up about their actions. Despite some dabbling (to be kind) in moral ambiguity, Archer and Co., as we’ll discuss, eventually get back to Trek idealism. Stay tuned on that.
All that said, Trek is at its best when it makes you think. And whether you like season three or hate it, it’s not the sometimes boring, by-the-numbers fare that we saw for much of early Enterprise that made the show feel dated. Put another way, season three’s ambition beats the malaise of much of seasons one and two, at least, in my humble opinion.
Last point: T’Pol’s decision to remain with Enterprise is one of the high points for the series. Her growing respect and even devotion to Archer was a well-crafted part of Enterprise’s first two seasons — as it developed slowly and believably over time. We pointed this out in our previous review, but it’s worth noting that the Archer-T’Pol relationship was as multi-faceted as (or close to) anything we saw in Trek — though it helps to forget that the absolutely horrid “A Night in Sickbay” ever happened. And it’s unlikely Archer’s mission in the Delphic Expanse would have succeeded if T’Pol had left the ship.
Coming next time …
The season of “This isn’t open for debate” begins.