Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Proving Ground”

“Proving Ground”
Written by Chris Black
Directed by David Livingston
Season 3, Episode 13
Production episode 065
Original air date: January 21, 2004
Date: December 6, 2153

Captain’s star log. The Andorian battleship Kumari is flying through the Delphic Expanse, trying to find Enterprise. Lieutenant Talas thinks this is a waste of time, as there’s no way the humans could’ve survived in the Expanse, but Commander Shran has faith in Archer and the gang’s ability to navigate the region.

Degra has called a meeting of the Xindi Council. He’s very close to a test run of the weapon. He’s almost ready to test it on a moon, which the weapon should completely destroy, and the test will be livestreamed to the council chambers.

On Enterprise, T’Pol and Sato have been trying to reconstruct the database that D’Jamat deleted last week. But they also have finally picked up the tracker in the kemocite that they put in Gralik’s shipment of same.

Unfortunately, the route to the trace involves going through a really really dense anomaly field. They try to go through it, and it’s all fine until two anomalies merge to form an even bigger anomaly, and the entire ship goes blooey.

However, they are then rescued by the Kumari. Archer is rather surprised to see Shran here. Shran says that they came to assist the humans, showing support of their efforts to retaliate against the attack on Earth that the Vulcans sure as heck ain’t showing. Shran also offers his crew’s assistance in making repairs.

Several Andorians come over to Enterprise to assist Tucker and Reed in fixing the ship. Reed and Talas start out sniping at each other, with Reed initially not willing to accept any aid from her, and Talas being snotty when she happens upon him taking his first break in twelve hours, before they finally start acting like professionals and actually work together.

At one point, Archer and Shran have dinner, with the latter gifting the former with several bottles of Andorian ale, one of which they open for dinner. Shran says he volunteered for this mission, as he knows humans better than anyone else in the Imperial Guard, and he says that he’d like this to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Earth and Andoria.

Screenshot: CBS

Tucker has a conversation with Shran also, in which they bond over siblings lost. In Shran’s case, it was his older brother, who enlisted in the Imperial Guard and died in a border skirmish with Vulcans. Shran agrees to give Tucker one of the Kumari’s fancy-shmancy antimatter injectors, which are way better than the Starfleet ones.

The Kumari navigates them through the anomalies, and they hover outside the Calindra system. While Enterprise’s sensors aren’t good enough to scan that far, Kumari’s are, and Shran orders their sensor telemetry to be shared. They quickly deduce that this is where the weapon is being tested, though they’re too far to determine if the weapon is there yet. They have to get closer.

Under the guise of being a ship from the Andorian Mining Consortium, Shran approaches the moon, asking if they can mine for “Archerite,” a very rare and valuable mineral. Degra tells them to pound sand, and Shran buggers off, chiding them for the lost financial opportunity.

They were there long enough to confirm that there’s a larger version of the weapon that attacked Earth present, though it’s not large enough to destroy Earth. It might be enough to destroy the moon, however.

Shran points out that observing the test will be very useful for everyone, and Archer agrees. From outside the system, via the Andorians’ shared sensor readings, they watch the test—

—as does the Xindi Council from their chambers. It does not go as planned, as it “only” splits the moon in half and has to be shut down before it overloads.

Archer is pleased, as he believes that the kemocite was sabotaged further by Gralik. The Xindi Council is not pleased, as this is not the result they wanted.

Shran is both pleased and not pleased. The weapon is everything they’d hoped, but it quickly becomes apparent, via a communication between him and an Andorian general back home, that their intent is to betray Starfleet and steal the weapon for themselves. Shran questions the general as to whether or not it’s wise to antagonize the humans, who could make valuable allies. The general tells him to shut up and follow orders.

Archer wants to steal the weapon to bring it back to Starfleet. T’Pol says it’s putting out too much radiation for it to be safe to do so at the moment. Shran says that Kumari’s cargo holds have sufficient shielding to be able to safely grab it. Archer agrees, but only if he’s on board Kumari supervising the retrieval. Shran reluctantly accedes to this condition.

Screenshot: CBS

Talas is looking at the Enterprise sensor array, which surprises Reed. She gives an excuse, which Reed pretends to buy.

Enterprise distracts the Xindi ships long enough for Kumari to swoop in and grab the weapon. However, instead of going to the rendezvous point, Kumari sets course for Andoria. Shran apologizes to Archer, saying their mission all along was to find the Xindi weapon so they themselves could use it against the Vulcans. Archer says that Enterprise will fight for the weapon, and certainly not stand for it being used against their allies. Shran retorts that Talas sabotaged Enterprise’s sensors so they won’t be able to find Kumari. Archer is livid that Shran would sabotage any potential alliance with Earth for this, and socks Shran in the jaw, saying he owed him that. Shran leaves Archer in an escape pod for Enterprise to find.

Enterprise does find him, and Reed has already corrected Talas’ sabotage, so they catch up to Kumari. One thing they got from the sensor telemetry Kumari provided is the startup sequence for the weapon—which Archer activates when Shran refuses to turn the weapon over. Shran orders it ejected from the ship, but he doesn’t do it fast enough to avoid damaging his own ship. However, Shran politely refuses Archer’s offer of assistance with repairs.

Later, Enterprise receives a hidden transmission from Kumari, disguised as subspace static: it’s the full sensor telemetry from the weapon. They may not have the thing, but they know how it works now. Archer smiles and invites T’Pol to join him in a bottle of Andorian ale to celebrate.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Andorians have better sensors, better weapons, better radiation shielding, and better antimatter injectors than Enterprise.

The gazelle speech. Archer thinks he’s bonded with Shran—and he has, kinda—and accepts the offer of friendship, but he knows better than to entirely trust him. Not that it helps much in the end…

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. Shran uses T’Pol’s resignation from Vulcan High Command as a major part of his argument that Earth should dump Vulcan like a bad boyfriend and start dating Andoria instead.

Florida Man. Florida Man Bonds With Alien Captain Over Sibling Death.

Blue meanies. Andoria is solely interested in obtaining the Xindi weapon for themselves to use against the Vulcans in their seemingly endless conflict. Shran is too much a patriot to go against that order, though he does express reservations, and either he or Talas (it’s not clear, as both now have shown admiration for humans) do surreptitiously provide Enterprise with the full sensor data on the weapon in the end.

Screenshot: CBS

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. At one point, Tucker offers the opinion that T’Pol is avoiding him, seeing him only when duty or their neuropressure sessions permit. T’Pol assures him that isn’t the case, which is probably a big fat lie, as she likely feels weird around him after her smooch of Sim before he died.

I’ve got faith…

“The last time I saw weapons like this was during my early tactical training.”

“I’m sorry I wasted your time on our primitive systems.”

“Not at all—I found it nostalgic.”

–Talas and Reed stumbling toward bonding.

Welcome aboard. It’s almost entirely recurring characters this week, one of whom makes her debut: Molly Brink as Talas, who will be back in “Babel One.” In addition, we’ve got Scott MacDonald as Dolim, Tucker Smallwood as the Xindi-Primate councilor, Rick Worthy as Jannar (all three last seen in “Rajiin,” all three next to appear in “Azati Prime”), Randy Oglesby as Degra (last in “The Shipment,” next in “Stratagem”), and, of course, the great Jeffrey Combs as Shran (last in “Cease Fire,” and who’ll be back at season’s end in “Zero Hour”).

In addition, Granville van Dusen plays the Andorian general. He last appeared as a Klingon magistrate in “Judgment.”

Trivial matters: Gralik aided the Enterprise crew in sabotaging and tagging the kemocite Degra uses in “The Shipment.” The Xindi database was erased by D’Jamat in “Chosen Realm.” T’Pol smooched Tucker’s doppelgänger Sim in “Similitude.” Archer owed Shran a punch in the jaw from their first meeting in “The Andorian Incident” when Shran had Archer tortured. Archer first tried Andorian ale in “Cease Fire.”

Archer makes reference to Bikini Atoll, the Pacific islands where the United States performed tests of nuclear weapons in the mid-twentieth century.

Ted Sutton originally played the Andorian general, but he was unavailable for reshoots of his scenes, so—since the role was entirely over a viewscreen in any case—he was replaced by Granville van Dusen.

The Andorians’ desire to use the Xindi weapon against the Vulcans will be a plot point in the fourth-season three-parter “The Forge,” “Awakening,” and “Kir’Shara.”

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “The Andorian Mining Consortium runs from no one.” Sigh. They’re still using “pink-skin,” and it’s a term used, not just by Shran, but by the general, too, so it’s obviously a common term used by Andorians given to us by the still-unthinking, mostly white male writing staff. Yes, I know, I’ve beaten this drum before, and I will continue to beat it every single time it’s used, because it’s that awful.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s the only significant criticism I have of what is easily the best episode of the season so far.

For starters, we have the triumphant return of Jeffrey Combs as Shran. One of the many flaws of season two was only bringing this character (and the Andorians generally) back for one episode (especially since it was one of the season’s better offerings). This story services several of Enterprise’s most compelling threads—the Vulcan-Andorian conflict, the character of Shran, the growing respect between Shran and Archer—and also gives the Xindi storyline that the season is supposed to be about its first significant forward movement since “The Shipment” six episodes ago.

Shran’s sudden-but-inevitable betrayal works mainly because everyone is in character. Most Andorians are likely to view humans as little more than the Vulcans’ pets, even taking the events of “Cease Fire” into account. Shran knows better, and he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place—either betray someone he’s come to respect and sabotage a potential ally, or follow orders. The latter is really the only choice he can makes—if he’s court-martialed and tried for treason, everything will happen the same way anyhow—but at least he mitigates it by helping Archer out at the end.

If it was him. One nice touch is the growing respect between Talas and Reed as they do repairs, as they both have similar backgrounds. We don’t know who sent the sensor data to Enterprise at the end, and it could just as easily have been Talas as Shran who did so. And, by the by, I greatly approve of the fact that Reed and Talas bond over their shared military backgrounds, something that’s usually only reserved for male characters—better still, the two of them are never written as a potential romantic pairing, which is a vanishingly rare treatment of a male and female character thrown together on a TV show. Bravo to writer Chris Black and the producers for that one.

The storyline of the trip to the Delphic Expanse was sold on several concepts, including a change to the status quo, the exploration of a dangerous region of space, and a sense of urgency to forestall a (second) vicious attack on Earth. Too many episodes this season have failed to deliver on that promise, or done so poorly, but this episode accomplishes all of that, and does so in a gripping and compelling manner.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s first Trek fiction in thirteen years will be a DS9 story called “You Can’t Buy Fate” in Star Trek Explorer #7, which will be on sale tomorrow, 18 April 2023, which is also Keith’s fifty-fourth birthday. He is also scheduled to have stories in issues #8 and 9.

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