Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Babel One” |

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Babel One”

“Babel One”
Written by Mike Sussman & André Bormanis
Directed by David Straiton
Season 4, Episode 12
Production episode 088
Original air date: January 28, 2005
Date: November 12, 2154

Captain’s star log. We open with the Andorian ship Kumari, commanded by Shran, being pounded to pieces by what appears to be a Tellarite ship, Shran is forced to abandon ship ahead of the warp core going boom.

Enterprise is being tasked with escorting Ambassador Gral of the Tellarites to a peace conference on Babel. Because Tellarites like to argue and insult people as part of normal conversation, Sato practices a conversation with Archer that involves lots of both of those things—but we don’t know that at first, so it just looks like Sato and Archer are being mean to each other for no reason.

Because the route between Tellar Prime and Babel involves going through Andorian space, and because Earth is mediating the peace talks, Starfleet gets the job of taxi service, since the Andorians are less likely to fire on a Starfleet ship than a Tellarite one. (Tucker expresses annoyance at that, as they’re supposed to be explorers.) Archer endears himself to Gral by being nasty to him when he comes on board. However, Gral is also skeptical of the humans’ ability to be impartial in these negotiations given the role the Andorians played in saving Earth from the Xindi.

Enterprise picks up Shran’s distress call. Mayweather confirms that there are no Andorian ships in range of the communiqué, but it will only cost Enterprise two hours to divert. Archer gives the order and has Sato inform Babel that they’ll be late.

They find the debris of the Kumari, and rescue nineteen of the eighty-six people on board. Among the casualties are the Andorian ambassador and his staff, who was being brought to Babel by Shran. Shran—already pissed about the loss of his ship and many of his crew—is ripshit to learn that there are Tellarites on board.

Screenshot: CBS

It doesn’t make sense to Archer that the Tellarites would agree to Earth helping out with peace talks, going so far as to have Enterprise transport Gral, and then attack the Andorians. However, the Kumari was definitely attacked by Tellarite particle weapons, and the sensor logs show that it was a Tellarite ship that attacked them. When shown this evidence, Gral denies it, saying it must be fabricated, as his people would never attack when there’s peace talks scheduled—though the Babel conference has been postponed indefinitely after all this.

Confusing the matter further, an Andorian ship attacks Enterprise. It ignores Shran’s request to stand down, and when Shran provides a method of destroying their shields, it doesn’t work.

The ship retreats, its power grid fluctuating, but not due to anything Enterprise did. Gral is convinced that this is all an elaborate setup by the Andorians, that the Kumari was deliberately destroyed to frame the Tellarites, while Shran thinks the Tellarite ambassador is lying to cover up his people’s cowardly attack.

Complicating matters is that T’Pol’s scans reveal that the Tellarite ship that attacked the Kumari and the Andorian ship that attacked Enterprise each have the exact same power signatures. Which is unlikely.

An attempt by Archer to get Gral and Shran to talk it out fails miserably, as the two almost come to blows.

Enterprise can detect the Andorian ship’s warp trail, and so they follow it. Shran’s not happy about that, but if they continue to Andoria, they’ll lose the trail.

We cut to a darkened space that looks like the bridge of a ship. In the center is a being covered in a helmet and gloves that hide the person’s identity, though that person seems to be controlling everything. In charge are two Romulans, Admiral Valdore and a scientist named Nijil. They detect a vessel approaching: Enterprise, which has tracked the ship that attacked them to a different-looking ship with an unknown configuration. T’Pol’s scans a whole mess of subspace transceivers, multispectral emitters, and no life support, and she’s not sure what to make of it.

A team beams over, including Tucker, Reed, and two MACOs. Tucker tries to get life support online while Reed and the MACOs explore the ship.

Nijil reports to Valdore that the propulsion matrix on the ship is still not operational. Valdore orders Nijil to prepare to destroy the ship, as they can’t let it fall into Starfleet’s hands.

Screenshot: CBS

The away team is tossed around the corridors while the ship fires on Enterprise. Archer tries to beam back the away team, but the hull plating of the enemy vessel has been reinforced and they can only beam out one at a time. After beaming the MACOs off first, weapons fire damages the transporter catastrophically.

Archer has no choice but to run so they can lick their wounds, leaving Tucker and Reed behind, but promising to come back for them. Those two have their own problems, as Reed’s air hose is compromised and he only has a bit of air left in his tank now. Tucker shares some of his, but they need to find more air. Tucker can’t find anything that even remotely looks like it controls life support. They work their way to the bridge, figuring that, at least, must have life support…

Archer has Mayweather take the upgraded injectors out for a spin, and get all the way up to warp 5.06 before they lose the ship. Based on the readings the away team sent back, T’Pol hypothesizes that this might be a Romulan ship, as there are some broad similarities to the Romulan minefield they were in. Archer and T’Pol speculate as to why the Romulans would try to sabotage the peace conference.

Shran is suspicious of Gral, still, and thinks Archer is being naïve. He and Talas manage to get past the MACO guarding their quarters by beating him up after an attempt to seduce him fails miserably. They go to Gral’s quarters and interrogate him at riflepoint.

Nijil detects a panel being opened manually. Valdore orders internal sensors to be activated, and they see Tucker and Reed. After Valdore confirms that there are no inertial dampeners on the ship, he orders evasive maneuvers, which tosses Tucker and Reed all around.

T’Pol and Sato determine that the emitters on the Romulan ship’s hull are holographic projectors, which enable them to look like any other ship, and their weapons have tri-phasic emitters that enable them to mimic the signatures of other types of energy weapons.

A security alert sounds from Shran and Talas’ escape, and Archer and the MACOs show up at Gral’s quarters and get the Andorians to drop their weapons. A Tellarite aide then grabs Talas’ weapon and shoots her, only for Archer to shoot him right back.

Tucker and Reed finally make it to the bridge—which looks just like where Valdore and Nijil are, but it’s empty and also without life support.

We cut to Valdore and Nijil in what seems to be the bridge, but which is actually a room in a building on Romulus.

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Tucker finds oxygen to put into Reed’s air tank so he can breathe. Here’s the problem: tanks in EVA suits (and scuba suits) don’t have oxygen in them, they have air in them, which is only twenty-one percent oxygen. Breathing pure oxygen is damaging. Mind you, most folks who write dramatic fiction get this completely wrong, but a) it’s still wrong and should be called out especially when b) the episode is co-written by the guy whose first job in the franchise was as the science advisor.

The gazelle speech. Archer speculates that the Romulans see that peace is developing in their little corner of the galaxy—the Andorians and Vulcans are talking, and now the Andorians and Tellarites are talking, plus Earth avoided a war with the Xindi. He thinks that maybe the Romulans don’t like that idea, and fear an alliance.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. Koss informs T’Pol that their marriage is officially dissolved.

Florida Man. Florida Man Not Present When Ship Goes Faster Than Warp 5.

Good boy, Porthos! Tellarites apparently consider canines a delicacy. Sato warns Archer to keep Porthos away from the ambassador’s delegation.

Better get MACO. The MACO’s job is to protect the crew. Therefore, they should never have allowed themselves to be beamed off first. But they don’t have speaking parts, so they don’t get to be stranded.

Meantime, the MACO guarding Shran and Talas thankfully doesn’t even come close to falling for Talas’ seduction attempt, and he puts up a good fight against her, as well.

Screenshot: CBS

Blue meanies. The Andorians and Tellarites have been at odds for quite some time, but they were on the way to peace before the Kumari’s destruction—and even before that, there wasn’t a huge amount of trust there…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. It takes all of half a second for the news of T’Pol’s divorce to fly through the ship’s grapevine, and while they’re trapped on the Romulan ship, Reed asks Tucker what his intentions are now that T’Pol’s a free agent again. It’s unclear, thanks to the helmet of his EVA suit, whether or not he waggles his eyebrows when he asks.

In addition, Shran and Talas are now a couple, the latter having put the moves on her commander. Shran says he had a choice between taking her as a lover or arresting her for assaulting a superior officer. Wah-HEY!

More on this later… The rivalry between Andorians and Tellarites was baked into their very first appearance in the original series’ “Journey to Babel.” Speaking of that episode, it was the one that established Babel as a neutral planet for negotiating purposes, though in both the 1967 episode and the 2005 one, we never see the ship actually making it to Babel…

I’ve got faith…

“I’m told this ship is the pride of Starfleet. I find it small and unimpressive.”

“Funny—I was about to say the same thing about you.”

–Gral and Archer making Tellarite small talk.

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. A whole lot of Trek veterans in this one. We start with recurring regulars Jeffrey Combs as Shran (back from “Kir’Shara”) and Molly Brink as Talas (back from “Proving Ground”).

The others are all in new roles. Brian Thompson plays Valdore; he was previously Klag in TNG’s “A Matter of Honor,” Inglatu in DS9’s “Rules of Acquisition,” Toman’torax in DS9’s “To the Death,” and another Klingon in Generations. Lee Arenberg plays Gral; he previously played three different Ferengi (one of whom was also named Gral) in DS9’s “The Nagus,” TNG’s “Force of Nature,” and TNG’s “Bloodlines,” and also a Malon in Voyager’s “Juggernaut.” And J. Michael Flynn plays Nijil; he previously played a Mazarite in “Fallen Hero” and an Angosian in TNG’s “The Hunted.”

All of the above will be back next time in “United.”

In addition, stuntman Jermaine Soto gets a few lines of dialogue as the MACO that Talas fails to seduce.

Trivial matters: The is the first of Enterprise’s last three-parter, continuing next time in “United” and concluding in “The Aenar.”

Shran came to Earth’s aid against the Xindi in “Zero Hour.” Koss agreed to dissolve his and T’Pol’s marriage in “Kir’Shara.” Enterprise first encountered Romulan technology in “Minefield.” The NX-01 got upgrades to the vessel, including their shiny new injectors that get them over warp 5, in “Home.”

Archer and Shran share a drink from the supply of Andorian ale that Shran gave to Archer in “Proving Ground.”

This episode had a record low number of viewers. Several days after it aired, UPN announced that the show would not be renewed for a fifth season.

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “We seem to keep running into each other, Captain.” It’s funny, the Andorians and Tellarites were considered important to Trek lore in ancillary fiction for years thanks primarily to “Journey to Babel.” But once new Trek started being produced on the regular in 1979, the Andorians and Tellarites were barely a factor onscreen—at least until 2001. What’s fascinating is how little there was to go on. One of the things Enterprise has done supremely well is flesh out the Andorians based, mostly, only on the (excellent) performance of Reggie Nalder as Shras in that original series episode.

Tellarites have been seen less often prior to this, mainly only in “Bounty,” and that was a story that gave us very little about Tellarite culture. (Indeed, the two Tellarites in that episode were painfully generic.)

It was a surprise that Enterprise initially gave us, not an Andorian-Tellarite conflict, but rather an Andorian-Vulcan one. It’s not until this episode that we finally get the rivalry between the blue folks with antennae and the folks who look somewhat porcine that “Journey to Babel” established.

And it’s one of Enterprise’s best episodes, in part because it does what a prequel series can do well.

One of the dangers of doing a prequel to a science fiction show is that the notion of what the future will look like changes. Hell, it’s a danger of doing a science fiction show generally. In the 1960s, hand-held communicators and video conferencing both looked incredibly futuristic, but a plurality of humans had devices that looked like communicators by the time this episode of Enterprise aired, and video conferencing is an everyday occurrence in 2023. In the 1990s, the handheld padds used by the crews of the Enterprise-D, Deep Space 9, and Voyager looked incredibly futuristic, and now it looks quaint to watch them all handing iPads to each other.

And when Paul Schneider wrote “Balance of Terror” in 1966, it made sense to posit a war in the future between Earth and Romulus where there was no visual communication and no contact between the two species that fought. But in 2005, that notion was ridiculous, at least in part due to the march of technology in the real world that made a lack of visual communication a step backward.

Enter “Babel One,” which provides a lovely notion as to how that might work while also giving us one of the single most effective cliffhanger endings in Trek history: remote-controlled ships. It’s beautifully set up, too, as throughout the episode things seem a bit off with the orders Valdore is giving to Nijil. Why are there no inertial dampeners? Why does he have to turn the internal sensors on? Why is he going to blow up the ship if he’s in it? (That, at least, you figure is the Romulan willingness to fall on their proverbial swords, which we saw in their very first appearance in “Balance…”) But once we pull back from the “bridge” and see that Valdore, Nijil, and their helmeted mystery person are all in a room on Romulus, it all comes together and makes sense.

And the episode leading up to that cliffhanger is also excellent. Enterprise is at its best when it’s showing Earth stumbling its way into being a major player in the forming of the Federation, and this episode is a magnificent culmination of the (annoyingly few) episodes that have had that theme, starting with “The Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem,” continuing in particular to “Cease Fire,” and most recently with the Vulcan trilogy. Earth has already played a role in easing tensions between the Vulcans and Andorians, not to mention standing up to the Klingons a few times and helping usher in a new era on Vulcan. Now we see them specifically requested to be in the middle of negotiations between Andoria and Tellar Prime.

The episode also provides a nice retcon that makes Sarek less of a racist. In “Journey to Babel,” Sarek commented, “Tellarites do not argue for reasons—they simply argue.” It’s a pretty horrid remark, all told, but this episode makes it clear that Sarek isn’t engaging in racial stereotyping, but rather in cultural observation. As established in the hilarious scene between Sato and Archer after the opening credits, arguing and insulting people really is how Tellarites communicate.

Speaking of the opening credits, kudos to writers Mike Sussman and André Bormanis for giving us a vanishingly rare occurrence: a teaser of an Enterprise episode that actually teases the episode! Opening with Shran’s ship going all asplodey with Shran angrily giving the order to abandon ship is a much better way to lead into the long road that leads from there to here than the show’s usual.

The plot involves the Romulans, who do not want to see peace in the galaxy, as their empire is much more likely to be successful if the other powers remain at each others’ throats. So they use an experimental ship to sabotage the peace talks. What I especially like is that it would’ve worked but for Enterprise’s compassion. Only the fact that Enterprise rescued Shran and the other survivors is what enables the holoship’s deception to be exposed. Shran’s presence on Enterprise is what makes it abundantly clear that the “Andorian” ship that attacks the NX-01 is not what it seems, given that they ignore Shran’s communiqué and aren’t vulnerable where an Andorian ship of that class should be.

Even with that, Valdore’s plan almost works. Several Andorians and one Tellarite get shot on Enterprise before Archer’s able to even come close to restoring order, and the lack of trust between Shran and Gral is palpable. Throughout the episode, Gral is convinced that Archer is conspiring with Shran against him, and Shran is convinced that Gral is fooling Archer. Meanwhile, Archer’s trying to get at the truth, and the only one acting like a grownup. Which, I gotta say, is a very nice change from first-season Archer, who was usually the least like a grownup in a situation. One suspects that the trauma of the Xindi mishegoss—not to mention sharing his brain meats with Surak’s katra—did him some good.

For the third time, Enterprise has commenced a three-parter with a strong opening. Next week we’ll see if the Andorian trilogy will do a better job of living up to its opening than the Augment trilogy or the Vulcan trilogy…

Warp factor rating: 10

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s latest work is The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, co-edited by him and Wrenn Simms, on sale today from Whysper Wude. It features alternate takes on the end-of-the-world quartet, such as the four PTA Moms of the apocalypse, the four cats of the apocalypse, the four Hollywood executives of the apocalypse, the four lawyers of the apocalypse, and so on. Among the contributors are Star Trek scribes David Gerrold, David Mack, Peter David, Derek Tyler Attico, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, and Aaron Rosenberg, as well as New York Times best-sellers Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, and Jody Lynn Nye, and tons more.


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