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4-07 The Forge
reviewed by Kevin Thomas Riley
Oh my God! Wow, I don't think there are enough superlatives to describe my feelings about The Forge, the first episode in the Vulcan arc. This was mind-blowing awesome! Fantastic stuff! Probably the best Trek to hit the small screen in ages. This has the possibility of becoming a modern Trek classic. An excellent story from the Reeves-Stevenses writing pair. This is what Star Trek: Enterprise should've been from the beginning - a true prequel.
Critics have lambasted ENT for not being true to Trek canon, especially concerning the Vulcans. The die-hards will probably sneer at this as nothing more than damage control, something done to bring the 22nd century Vulcans more in line with the Vulcans we know from the original series and onwards. Technically they're right. But the ENT Vulcans were conceived from the beginning to be different, more arrogant and big brotherly. While I doubt that the creators had thought about how the Vulcans were going to change they had made a conscious decision to portray them differently for a reason - drama. No civilization is ever static, they evolve over time and it's not unreasonable to imagine that that also applies to the Vulcans. Depicting events that change the Vulcans are great drama and this episode (and the following) is proof of that. Thankfully there are now very talented writers and producers in charge to make this story very compelling and interesting.
In the ENT era the Vulcans are not yet the withdrawn, contemplative but still curious and exploring people we've gotten to know. They act as the masters of this part of the galaxy, policing and "guiding" other worlds, including Earth. Their attitude is superior and patronizing. They have little interest in exploration. In many ways, they have stagnated and are content with the status quo. Some Vulcans feel that they have strayed to far away from the true teachings of Surak. They've gathered around an individual called Syrran, who calls for a return to the ancient ways, which coincidently are the Vulcan way we know in later centuries. Of course the present rulers want to suppress the Syrrannite movement.
It seems that the Vulcans are rather afraid of Humans. We are a contradictory species that nevertheless invokes respect. For many we remind them of how they once were and the fact that Earth in a hundred years have accomplished more than the Vulcans did in over a thousand strikes fear in the High Command. There is a great conversation about this between ambassador Soval and admiral Forrest - right before a bomb explodes at the Earth embassy, killing our favourite Starfleet flag officer.
While I recognize the dramatic impact of the death of Forrest I still feel bad about it. Remembering all the obnoxious Starfleet brass we've had to put up with on every other Trek Forrest was a welcome exception. He was always likeable and reasonable, something of a surrogate father to Captain Archer. So I felt for his unfortunate demise. What I didn't really like in the episode is that we didn't see the full impact of this on Archer. His Captain's Log about it felt flat and unemotional. It was only in the scene with him and Soval with the flag draped coffins we got a whiff of how this troubled Archer, and indeed Soval too. For all his grumpiness I rather suspect that from all the years they spent together on Earth, Forrest was the closest thing to a real friend Soval ever had. In fact, Soval is as adamant as Archer and his crew in wanting to find the real culprits behind the bombing.
While Soval over the years have become a character many viewers have gotten to love to hate, in this episode he really comes around and surprises us. He is one of the good guys who are sceptic of the current state of affairs on the Vulcan High Command. He willingly co-operates with the investigations conducted onboard the Enterprise. His interactions with acting-Captain Tucker are great. You can see the mutual trust building up between them. Soval even goes so far as in performing a mind meld, a practice despised by the present Vulcan leadership, on an injured witness to the bombing. This raises a serious question. It seems Soval is no stranger to this outlawed practice, said to possible to perform only by a select few Vulcans. Has Soval been something of a rebel all along? And is it really true that only some Vulcans are able to do it or is that just something the High Command wants the rest to believe? In any case, revealing what he has done to the Administrator V'Las has effectively made Soval an ex-ambassador. And from what he learned from the meld it is clear that the High Command is responsible for the bombing.
One wonders why the Vulcan rulers would sink to such a despicable act. Yes, they're afraid of the Humans but will this really drive us away or pacify us? Doubtful. But they may just want to have an ally while striking down at the rebellious Syrrannites. In that they're sorely mistaken as Archer and T'Pol on their own have travelled to the Forge, an inhospitable desert area on Vulcan, to seek the dissidents out.
Great points must be given for creating a very believable alien atmosphere in the forge of the Vulcan desert, with firestorms (electrical sandstorms) and everything. We even get a glimpse of a sehlat, a large predatory animal first mentioned in the original episode Journey to Babel and seen in the animated episode Yesteryear. Spock had a domesticated one as a pet when he was a child and here it is revealed that T'Pol had one too. There is a funny line when she says that Vulcan children are never late with dinner for their pets. You can also see the difference with how Archer the Human and T'Pol the Vulcan handle the situation in the desert. Archer is sweating, drinks constantly, has trouble breathing and keeping up. T'Pol, while revealing the protection from her inner eyelid (nod to the original Operation: Annihilate), sarcastically says that her "species evolved on this planet" and can go without water for days.
Archer and T'Pol meets a Vulcan calling himself Arev in the Forge and he agrees to take them to the Syrrannites, who've taken refuge literally following in Surak's footsteps. He tells them about the dissidents and makes further references to other Treks. Some years ago, the vessel containing the katra (the Vulcan "soul", from The Search for Spock) of Surak was found, as was shown in the episode teaser. Now it's supposed to inhabit a Syrrannite and while not spelled out it's not hard to guess whom. And right before Arev (whose real name obviously is Syrran) dies from a blast from the firestorm he obviously transfers his(?) katra to Archer - remember the word "remember". After that Archer has no trouble locating the Syrrannite hiding place.
I find it hard that Arev didn't know from the beginning who Archer and T'Pol were, even if he feigned ignorance until he saw the IDIC medallion given to T'Pol by her mother. They were wearing uniforms with insignia and everything, Archer even sporting an NX-01 cap. That IDIC symbol is also a nice touch, going back to previous Treks - Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. And as speculated T'Pol's mother T'Les is a Syrrannite, so her forced resignation, on behalf of the Security Ministry, from the Science Academy made sense. T'Pol's husband Koss knows this which leads one to wonder, as I have done ever since Home, if his family aren't Syrrannites too.
Still, there's not any love lost between T'Pol and her arranged husband. When they meet on the Enterprise you can really see her hostility towards him, the man that came between her and Trip, her true love now seemingly lost forever (still, T'Pol can't seem to take her eyes off Trip before stepping onto the Transporter). T'Pol and Koss don't even seem to touch each other in that Vulcan mates' finger touch. While Koss might not be a bad guy in the sense that the Vulcan High Command is, he nevertheless has participated in an act of forced marriage. If his family are Syrrannites too, then they're not altogether "good" either. They're just applying logic and a form of utilitarianism to further their goals - returning Vulcan to the true Surakian path. T'Pol's wishes has no bearing on this.
For a change Travis gets something else to do besides manning the helm, when he helps Reed with investigating the bombing of the Earth embassy. And there was a good scene with the crew playing basketball. These little scenes, which we need more of, shows that this is a group of people who really care about each other and enjoys spending time together. Even Phlox participated - and he has ball sense! And one shallow observation here, Hoshi looked nice in her shorts and tank top. And while we're being shallow, T'Pol got to wear the favourite white desert/tropic catsuit, if slightly modified Yay!
All in all, I cannot give this episode anything but a full 10+, even if the other episodes in this arc are going to be even better. I may just have to downgrade my 10 for the Soong arc since this was better. And this is no slight to the Soong arc, it just shows how consistently good ENT has gotten sine Manny Coto took over the helm. This is Trek at its best, with an epic feel. I can't wait for the next instalment.
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