Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.
The Andorian Incident is a strange little episode. On the surface, it’s a fairly standard and competently-executed hostage thriller. However, that only scratches the surface. The Andorian Incident is an episode that promises so much more, teasing the potential of Star Trek: Enterprise to evolve into perhaps the most “Star Trek-y of Star Trek shows”, exploring the foundation of the United Federation of Planets and how mankind really found its place in the wider cosmos, building a intergalactic confederation build on peace and tolerance.
The Andorian Incident seems more like a statement of intent from the show, which is a crucial part of any first season.
The Andorian Incident is really the first time that Enterprise has really played with world building. Up to this point, the show has been very episodic. Sure, there are a number of recurring themes and plot points, like humanity’s attitude towards Vulcans, but the show’s first six episodes are all stand-alone adventures. The Suliban have yet to recur. When Archer encounters the Klingons again in Unexpected, only the most fleeting of references is made to the first contact in Broken Bow.
As such, The Andorian Incident marks a bit of a change for the show. While still a stand-alone done-in-one science-fiction action adventure, the episode holds the promise of something more. It’s the first episode that touches on the idea of founding the Federation. Given that Star Trek: Enterprise unfolds in the gap between Star Trek: First Contact and the original Star Trek show, it makes sense that the series would explore the foundation of the United Federation of Planets.
The Andorians are a rather curious piece of the Star Trek mythos. The aliens were created for the second season of the classic Star Trek, appearing as part of the Federation delegation dispatched in Journey to Babel. Despite only featuring in minor roles in three more episodes of the show – Gamesters of Triskelion in the second season, along with Whom the Gods Destroy and The Lights of Zetar in the third season – the Andorians caught on among fandom.
They endure as one of Fred Phillips’ best make-up designs for the original Star Trek. Phillips considered them among his favourite designs, and had conceded in interviews that they were brought back for background shots in Star Trek: The Motion Picture because they were fan favourites. There’s a wealth of supplemental tie-in material around Andorians, from The Starfleet Medical Manual in the seventies through to the nineties Last Unicorn Games’ RPG guide, Among the Clans.
However, the Andorians featured less frequently within the films and shows themselves. They popped up as extras on the Federation Council in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Make-up tests were done for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, even though the alien never made it to screen. They appeared twice in the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, once as a potential body for Data’s child Lal in The Offspring and once in the background on Risa in Captain’s Holiday.
They were mentioned a bit more frequently. They were mention twice in the third season and twice more in the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They were mentioned five times on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and once more on Star Trek: Voyager. An Andorian can occasionally be glimpse in the background of Odo’s office, as one of the most wanted criminals in the sector. However, that’s about it for twenty-fourth century Andorians.
Why were the Andorians featured so rarely in the later Star Trek shows and films? Apparently Tracey Tormé has originally wanted to include an Andorian in the episode Conspiracy during the first season of The Next Generation, but was informed by a producer that, “We don’t do antennae on this show.” As such, the Bolians seem like a compromise – blue antennae-less aliens. Similarly, Deep Space Nine writer and producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe conceded that producer Rick Berman did not care for the antennae, and noted that, “if we’d been allowed to, I guarantee we’d’ve put an Andorian on the show so fast your head would’ve spun.“
And yet, despite this, a mythology had built up around the Andorians in fan circles. Because of their appearance in Journey to Babel and the Andorians featured on the Federation Council, fandom constructed a history for the blue-skinned aliens. Despite the fact that it was never confirmed on-screen until Zero Hour in the third season of Enterprise, the commonly-held fan consensus was that the Andorians were among the founding members of the Federation.
So featuring an episode called The Andorian Incident seven episodes into the first season of a Star Trek spin-off carries a great deal of weight. Given that Enterprise is a prequel exploring the franchise’s fictional future history, drawing the Andorians into the show so early and so prominently suggests that the series is going to make an effort to explore the genesis of the Federation. It is going to examine the roots of the intergalactic body that has been at the heart of all the previous shows.
That is a significant commitment to make this early in the show’s run. Of itself, it is enough to earn The Andorian Incident a passing grade. The first season of a show is very much about marking territory and defining direction. Bringing back the iconic blue-skinned aliens is a bold step for the show, and one that suggests Enterprise might be willing to look at telling long-form stories about the development of the Federation, reconciliation between the Vulcans and Andorians, and mankind’s place in the stars.
Given that the last two episodes have been Unexpected and Terra Nova, the very premise of The Andorian Incident represents a step in the right direction for the fledgeling show. It is easy to see how The Andorian Incident could place second in a poll of “fan favourite” episodes of Enterprise held towards the end of the show’s fourth season. Even if the episode itself isn’t stellar, that’s excusable – it’s an episode built on the promise that the show has decided at least one direction in which it wants to go.
Michael Westmore never gets enough praise for his work on the franchise, and his reinvention for the Andorians is delightful. He manages to retain absolutely everything that made the Fred Phillips design so classic, with the addition of motorised antennae is inspired. Particularly noteworthy is the way that Jeffrey Combs incorporates those remote-operated antennae into his performance, working with the operators to come up with consistent “antennae language” to help Combs convey Shran’s mood, which is a wonderful fusion of actor and prosthetic.
That said, the forehead ridges do appear a little excessive. The blue skin, antennae and white hair are enough to mark the Andorians as distinct from most of the other Star Trek aliens, and adding a forehead “bump” – even relatively subtly – can’t help but prompt the stock “rubber forehead” criticism. The Andorians would arguably look even stranger without the forehead prosthetic, which has become one of the franchise’s shorthand ways of identifying aliens and a Star Trek cliché of itself.
Still, that’s little more than splitting hairs. The Andorians look quite wonderful, an example of Star Trek embracing one of the cheesier and sillier aspects of its own history. With their pale blue skin and swiveling antennae, the Andorians are more visually distinctive and memorable than most Star Trek aliens. Fans complaining that Enterprise was “ashamed” of its Star Trek heritage or trying to downplay its ties to the franchise need only look at the Andorians as proof of how hard the show was working to respect that heritage, albeit in its own peculiar manner.
On its own merits, divorced from all this larger context, The Andorian Incident is a perfectly serviceable hostage thriller. To be fair, this is a relatively novel genre for Star Trek. There are obvious examples of hostage thrillers in the franchise’s long history – Whom the Gods Destroy comes to mind, as does The High Ground, Power Play and arguably Civil Defense – but it’s not a genre that has been particularly over-explored. In fact, the franchise tends to add a science-fiction twist on top of it, like the body possession plots of The Assignment or Power Play.
The hostage crisis in The Andorian Incident is remarkably straight-forward. It’s an episode that could be transposed to just about any other show with considerable ease. Our heroes blunder into a hostage situation by chance; they pretty quickly get taken captive themselves. As their allies attempt a rescue operation, our heroes have to deal with the rising tensions inside the hostage situation itself.
The hostage drama is a format that is very popular among television shows. It’s easy to see why. It is an easy source of dramatic tension and suspense; the stakes are immediate and visceral. Similarly, the hostage situation provides a nice showcase for actors and characters, locking a bunch of characters in a room together under the threat of pending violence. The hostage crisis is also adaptable. It’s the rare sort of accessible story that you can do on just about any show. You can do it on a sitcom, on a science-fiction show, cop show.
It’s worth noting that hostage crisis episodes also carry a sense of prestige with them. It’s worth noting that The X-Files won its first Primetime Emmy for Duane Barry, a show about an abductee who took a bunch of hostages at a travel agent. It’s the type of very raw and very grounded drama that helps to make a show relatable and understandable. Doing a pretty straightforward hostage-crisis story is something that makes Enterprise feel a lot more like a regular television show than a Star Trek spin-off, fulfilling the show’s stated goal to make Enterprise a show that feels a lot more “human.”
The Andorian Incident is hardly a stellar example of the genre. It never ratchets up the tension as well as it might. As wonderful as Jeffrey Combs is as Shran, the character doesn’t feel like a fully-formed antagonist at this point. There’s no sense of a game of wits between Archer and Shran; no sense of psychological warfare. Shran asks Archer some questions, Archer doesn’t answer, Shran has Archer hit. They repeat this process. It’s all very rote.
There are no real twists along the way, and no nail-biting suspense at any point in The Andorian Incident. The episode almost goes out of its way to avoid some of the more obvious means of raising the stakes. Only once do the Andorians threaten to kill other hostages in order to exert pressure on Archer, and in an off-hand manner. Archer himself never seems like he’s under any really stress aside from the occasional bruise, which he seems to endure quite readily.
Indeed, The Andorian Incident really solidifies quite a few of the tropes and conventions associated with Enterprise. As with Fight or Flight and Strange New World, Archer blunders into a situation that he doesn’t understand, gets caught up in something he is not prepared for, and manages to escape with absolutely no cost or consequences. Of course, given the casting of Jeffrey Combs as Shran, it seems quite likely the role was meant to be recurring – and making him a “frenemy” would have been difficult with the blood of Archer’s crew on his hands.
Archer’s initial insistence on visiting the monastery is disconcerting. When T’Pol points out that it’s a spiritual site for Vulcans seeking meditation and enlightenment, Archer’s response is incredibly self-centred. “It’s not every day we get to see an ancient Vulcan monastery,” he remarks, as if the universe exists for him to gawk at. It’s strange that he is so insistent and yet strangely hesitant once the ship enters orbit. “I don’t like dropping in on people unannounced,” he tells T’Pol, even though it seems quite late for this to come up.
The episode also introduces the concept of Archer as “the Star Trek captain who gets beaten up a lot.” Over the first few years of Enterprise, the show works hard to demonstrate that Archer isn’t quite the action hero that one expects to lead a Star Trek show. As a way of demonstrating that Archer is unprepared for what awaits him in the larger universe, the show has the character beaten up; a lot. “You must enjoy pain,” Shran remarks, in what seems more like an honest observation than a serious threat.
To be fair, it is a way of immediately differentiating Archer from Kirk. Indeed, Picard, Sisko and Janeway were also capable of acting like certified badasses when the situation called for it. Picard got to play John McClane in Starship Down. Avery Brooks confirmed his own action hero bona fides in Dramatis Personae when Sisko knocked a would-be assassin over a safety railing and then jumped in after him. Janeway got to hunt giant killer space viruses around Voyager in Macrocosm.
So having Archer get beaten up a lot is a way of deconstructing that Star Trek trope, while also addressing the idea that maybe the character is over-confident. In theory, it adds a nice bit of nuance to Archer’s character and demonstrates that Enterprise is willing to tweak audience expectations a bit. In practice, it gets a little repetitive over the first two seasons and can be quite dramatically unsatisfying. (Although the third season arguably swings the pendulum too far in the other direction.)
All that said, it’s the ending of The Andorian Incident that arguably provides the biggest shock. It turns out that the Andorians are correct; the Vulcans are using the monastery at P’Jem as a listening post to spy on their opponents. This was a rather controversial revelation among fans. Much like fandom had created a whole mythology around the Andorians, they had taken Data’s assurance that “Vulcans are incapable of lying” from Data’s Day and Spock’s difficulties with the concept of exaggeration to heart.
Vulcans are a rather intriguing part of the Star Trek mythos. In a large part thanks to the appeal of Spock as a character, Vulcans are a core part of the franchise’s core mythology. Their arrival on Earth at the end of Star Trek: First Contact is a dramatic pay-off that works for both ardant fans and casual viewers alike. Spock is something of a pop culture institution, and there’s a reason that Leonard Nimoy serves as the ambassador from the classic show to JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek.
However, despite the place they hold in the heart of fandom and within the larger Star Trek mythology, it’s hard to argue that Enterprise’s portrayal of arrogant and manipulative Vulcans is out of character. In Amok Time, Spock’s wife manipulates Spock and Kirk to her own end. In Journey to Babel, Sarek is obstructive and dismissive, and he may be the most pleasant pure-blooded Vulcan in the franchise. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Valeris is a traitor to the Federation.
This portrayal continues into the twenty-fourth century spin-offs. In Sarek, the eponymous ambassador’s Vulcan aide clandestinely conspires to conceal his master’s impairment. Vulcans fare little better on Deep Space Nine. The Maquis presented audiences with a Vulcan terrorist. In Shakaar, the Vulcan playing O’Brien is a condescending jerk. In Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Sisko reveals that he was bullied by a Vulcan. In Field of Fire, a Vulcan snaps and becomes a psychotic murderer.
On Voyager, in Blood Fever, Vorik practically rapes his commanding officer rather than seek professional help. Even Tuvok is probably the second most “difficult” member of the Voyager ensemble, behind Seven of Nine. In Prime Factors, for example, his logic leads him to betray a life-long friend and undermine the decision made by his superior in pursuit of what he deems the greater good. In Meld, his own curiousity about Suder’s violent impulses puts the rest of the ship at risk. In Gravity, he refuses to try to meet Paris or Noss halfway.
So, despite all the protestations that Enterprise “ruined” the Vulcans, the vast majority of Vulcans to appear on-screen before the prequel were not paradigms of enlightenment. Despite all these individual counter-examples, Star Trek fans seem fixated on the idea of Vulcan culture as some sort of romantic ideal, when the franchise was been reasonably consistent in its portrayal of Vulcan characters. In many ways, it is similar to the way that fandom tends to romanticise Gene Roddenberry, who is a very complex figure in the larger scheme of Star Trek.
And so, despite the on-screen evidence, fans are quick to try to “fix” these perceived problems, with various tie-ins and fan theories seeking to account for these actions. Most notably, writers have spent a great deal of time trying to account for Valeris’ actions. In her novelisation of The Undiscovered Country, J.M. Dillard tries to argue that Valeris wasn’t a properly trained Vulcan. James Swallow does something similar in Cast No Shadow.
Indeed, Enterprise itself would succumb to the temptation to “fix” this portrayal of Vulcans during its fourth season with the show’s Vulcan trilogy – The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara. This was arguably one of many examples of how the fourth fiction was essentially writing (some very enjoyable) “fix it” fan fiction for the television screen. If anything, the new enlightened Vulcan of Awakening is harder to reconcile the rest of the franchise than anything from the first two seasons.
So the idea of Vulcans constructing a listening post inside a sacred shine to spy on their neighbours is not out of character. It’s a perfectly rational decision for a culture that prides itself on cold logic. The monastery is just bricks and mortar, the catacombs home to the bones long-deceased masters. While there is some value to preserving all those aspects of Vulcan culture, it would be irrational to let that trump present-day security concerns.
However, there is some distinctly uncomfortable subtext to The Andorian Incident. The episode aired a few months after the 9/11 attacks, in a rather heated political climate. The American popular consciousness was trying to come to terms with the attacks, and with the people responsible. As such, the coding of the P’Jem sanctuary as generically “foreign” and then revealing it to be a facade for sinister plotting feels like it plays into the worst of the rumours that went around the wake of 9/11 and attitudes concerning the Islamic faith in the west.
More than that, The Andorian Incident leaves little room for ambiguity. While the audience might not expect the revelation about the Vulcans, Archer does. He is a character who has been portrayed as stubborn and bitter in his attitude towards the Vulcans, insisting that they are arrogant and morally compromised. Archer’s views seem downright xenophobic, despite the fact that T’Pol’s Vulcan advice in Strange New World was entirely correct.
The audience has been waiting for Archer to learn tolerance and understanding, but The Andorian Incident turns this on its head. Archer is right, the audience is wrong. It makes for a perfectly satisfying story development, but it feels like something that misses the morality associated with Star Trek. It feels strange that there is no middle ground here, that Archer is entirely correct in his borderline racist in outlook.
Arguably, this solidifies the impression that Enterprise is very much Star Trek for the George W. Bush era. Archer is forced to act almost unilaterally to oppose an obvious evil, discovering that he cannot count on his so-called allies for support. It evokes evoked the “go-it-alone” label so often applied to George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which is – of course – a gross oversimplification of American foreign policy, but one that persists in the popular imagination and has become enshrined in popular history.
Far from being the consensus-builder that one might expect to help form the Federation, Archer feels more like a stereotypically macho cowboy. “Just try and stay out of the way and everything will work out fine,” he advises the Vulcans, suggesting the macho clichés that Bush himself invoked in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps this is an attempt to hark back to the more black-and-white heroism that defined William Shatner’s portrayal of Captain Kirk, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that world is a complex and multifaceted place.
Things are simple. Archer is entirely correct here, and the Vulcans are entirely incorrect. For the first half of the episode, Archer complains about the Vulcans’ passive resistance to the Andorians. “You know, I came here hoping to gain a little insight into the Vulcan mind,” he remarks. “It looks like I’m getting it. You people think you’re so damned enlightened.” T’Pol tries to counter, “We don’t believe in responding to violence with violence.” It’s a commendable philosophy, but the episode strips the Vulcans of any moral authority.
The problem is that – by just about any internal logic – Archer’s decision shouldn’t be entirely and unequivocally correct. He hands over evidence of Vulcan wrong-doing to the Andorians. This is something that could start a bloody war between the Vulcans and the Andorians that could cost hundreds of lives. It could damage the alliance between Vulcan and Earth. It could lead to pressure on Archer to resign his post. Yes, Archer does the textbook “right thing” in this situation, but the lack of consequences reduces the complexity of the world around him.
To be fair to Enterprise, the show does revisit the issue in Shadows of P’Jem, but – even there – it feels like Archer gets off very light. It isn’t even a matter for conversation during the very next episode, Breaking the Ice. One imagines that the events of The Andorian Incident might account for the Vulcan ships mysteriously following Enterprise, and that Archer might want to clear the air with Vanik about what happened on P’Jem.
At the same time, it’s hard to be too critical of the ending of The Andorian Incident. It would be too much to expect Enterprise to embrace serialisation so readily and so completely. This is a show that has been designed to be episodic, so it is no surprise that it is reluctant to commit to long-form plotting immediately. Even Deep Space Nine spent three years warming up before committing. The Andorian Incident represents a step in that direction, if not an enthusiastic bound.
(There are a few more minor frustrations with the episode. Was it necessary to have Tholos threaten T’Pol in such an overtly sexual manner? When T’Pol is first taken hostage, he remarks, “I’ll enjoy having you… as a prisoner.” Later on, he threatens to kill Trip to impress her. There’s no nuance to it, as Tholos threatens to wander into “I have you now, my pretty!” territory. It adds an uncomfortable subtext of sexual violence to the episode, one that feels a little too cliché and trite; particularly when the show has already worked so hard to creepily sexualise T’Pol.)
The Andorian Incident is a flawed episode, but is at least an ambitious one. It demonstrates that Enterprise is consciously and clearly trying to engage with the history of the Star Trek franchise, which one would expect from a prequel series. It’s an episode with a wealth of interesting ideas, but one that stumbles in the execution somewhat. Still, that’s perfectly excusable. That is what first seasons are for, after all.
- Broken Bow
- Fight or Flight
- Strange New World
- Terra Nova
- The Andorian Incident
- Breaking the Ice
- Fortunate Son
- Cold Front
- Silent Enemy
- Dear Doctor
- Sleeping Dogs
- Shadows of P’Jem
- Shuttlepod One
- Rogue Planet
- Vox Sola
- Fallen Hero
- Desert Crossing
- Two Days and Two Nights
- Shockwave, Part I