ENT S03E13 Proving Ground (4.5 out of 5 stars). Andorians are now searching the once-deadly-now-merely-a-bit-wibbly Expanse for any sign of the (sigh) “pink-skins”. And the Xindi Rotary Club is ready to test its new prototype weapon – not on Earth, the way they did the last one, but on an uninhabited planet instead for… reasons. Shran is almost too eager to help out the Earth ship with their repairs and it’s all Malcolm can do not to chuck their Lt Talas out the airlock.

The politicking is nifty, and the amazing Jeffrey Combs continues to add layers to what could have been a much more simplistic character. The arc-plotting continues to be soggy, if not actually nonsensical, but the story-of-the-week stuff is really good here, managing to deliver a series of rug-pulls that continue to surprise, make sense and not just be frustrating. The push-pull between Shran and Archer is very real. As usual, this is the Archer and T’Pol show with Shran and Talas getting more lines than several regulars, but that’s just what we’ve come to expect by now.

Archer is back to a close shave, but Jolene Blalock’s real eyebrows can clearly be seen growing back under her pointed ones. That and the bare-bones Andorian bridge set (which feels awfully Lost in Space) contribute to a tiny nagging feeling of “will this do?” but there’s plenty to enjoy elsewhere – and even some nice character stuff for Malcolm.

ENT S03E14 Stratagem (4 out of 5 stars). Cover-of-a-comic-book time as Archer and Xindi Quartermaster Degra have escaped together after three years in an Insectoid prison. Something about this whole set-up gives me Mission: Impossible vibes – and yes, that’s exactly what it turns out to be, a glorified flight simulator in which the Enterprise crew hopes their prisoner will spill his guts. But even if the reveal isn’t much of a surprise, it is nice – and very Star Trek – to have mortal enemies have to work together and learn to empathise with each other just a little, even if it is only pretend. This seems a far better method of interrogation than those airlock shenanigans from a couple of episodes ago, and Randy Oglesby is good value as Degra. Once he figures out the deception, the air goes out of the balloon somewhat, and it’s also true that the once terrifying and unknowable Xindi here deteriorate further into a bunch of squabbling dummies who are constantly outwitted and outmanoeuvred, by outsiders and by each other. But overall, this is good solid stuff and it’s nice to see Phlox again, he’s been AWOL for several episodes now. Second (and last) script for future Picard showrunner Terry Matalas and it’s another impressive piece of work, setting us up for the Xindi endgame at last.

ENT S03E15 Harbinger (1.5 out of 5 stars). Watching Royal Navy brat Malcolm Reed bellyache pointlessly about having to work with the militaristic MACOs makes me long for Roddenberry’s no-conflict-on-the-bridge rules. And that sets the tone for a dull, unfocused and sour episode, which sees the return of a lot of Enterprise’s bad habits, after a run of very strong stories. Once again, Trip is written as a horny teen rather than an experienced officer, and Malcolm like a playground bully. Once again, Archer uses painful torture to extract information from a prisoner. About half the run time is devoted to massage sessions with scantily-clad women. And I guess it’s now officially too late for me to keep saying “Stop trying to make Trip and T’Pol happen,” pon-farr or no pon-farr.

ENT S03E16 Doctor’s Orders (2.5 out of 5 stars). You can’t make a dull story captivating by telling it out of order, but that doesn’t stop hopeful writers from trying to conceal weaknesses by shuffling up the sequence of events to create fake mystery where none intrinsically exists. It’s becoming a go-to move for this show, and when it’s used to underline a deception as in Stratagem, it can be very effective, but more often than not, it’s used as here, to create an artificially strong opening to a flabby script. Phlox lying in bed, doomscrolling and talking to Porthos, is an image which has become far more potent with the passing years. Overall, I preferred this story when Voyager did it and it was called One. There it was about digging into just who Seven of Nine is. Here it’s the Doc going nuts because that’s more interesting than him not (just about). The big scene between Phlox and T’Pol earns this an extra half star, as the two best actors in the show give it everything they’ve got. I almost took it off again for the very silly closing twist, but if you didn’t see it coming, that’s your good fortune and my bad luck.

ENT S03E17 Hatchery (2.5 out of 5 stars). This is all good solid Star Trek stock. Our crew of intrepid explorers, led by the brave captain, goes prowling around in some moderately convincing caves, somebody (probably the brave captain) gets whammied by some belligerent local biology – and then we go out of our way to protect the aggressors. With a show that’s struggling to find its identity as this one is, it’s downright reassuring when familiar story shapes start to reassert themselves. Saving the insectoid nest requires fixing their technology and as usual the ship’s chief engineer recruits the tactical officer and helmsman to help him with this engineering problem (as he doesn’t know the names of any of the other engineers on board). When it comes to Malcolm vs MACOs vs Trip, instead of being able to see everyone’s point of view, the way you can in good drama, I find everyone equally childish and stupid, which is disappointing to say the least. But the most disappointing aspect of this episode by far is the revelation that Archer’s moral decision to protect the Xindi eggs was the product not of his own enlightened ethics but instead being zapped in the opening minutes. So – he only fought to save all those innocent lives because alien venom was eating his brain? My hero! Nice to see T’Pol in uniform again. And as usual the sharpshooting, militaristic MACOs are all bested by the science officer and her pals.

ENT S03E18 Azati Prime (4.5 out of 5 stars). At long last we arrive at the Xindi Gentlemen’s Golf Club where, as luck would have it, the superweapon is ready to be deployed. This is all procedural problem-solving stuff, but the stakes feel incredibly high and the problems genuinely epic. This little ship, years from home is going to try and save the world. And there are ethical conundrums too. Archer is forced to destroy an entire Xindi facility to give Travis and Trip a chance as they try and sneak through the detection grid on their reconnaissance mission. That leads to a Star Wars style bomb run to take out the superweapon, which Archer insists on flying himself, whereupon bloody Daniels shows up with more stories from the future. The frequently dumb Xindi storyline and the faintly irrelevant Temporal Cold War storyline here get braided together, and remarkably the combination manages to somewhat strengthen both, when it could equally have fatally weakened either or both. The trouble is that again we have gung-ho, shoot first, kill-the-bugs Archer who has to be talked out of his murderous ways by T’Pol (her “I don’t want you to die,” is lovely). But in his absence, even Trip of all people manages to step up, giving T’Pol unwanted but accurate leadership advice. Her snarling at him when he attempts to stop her from going after the Captain is genuinely shocking.

It’s only when kidnapped that Archer attempts a diplomatic solution using the information he learned in Stratagem, and the further byplay between Bakula and Randy Oglesby is just as engaging as it was then. And we end on pretty much the best cliffhanger since The Best of Both Worlds. With just a touch more of that open-hearted Star Trek optimism, this would be a five-star show, but I can’t overlook Archer’s kill-or-be-killed philosophy, which – as the Xindi point out – he only abandons when it is no longer viable, and not for any more noble reason. Xindi prisoner protocols seemingly do not included searching captured combatants. These Xindi are crazy.

So… what did I think of The Star Beast?
So... what did I think of Wild Blue Yonder?