the story: The crew finds itself in the middle of a conflict between Vulcans and Andorians.
what it's all about: If the first handful of Enterprise episodes seemed tentative, "The Andorian Incident" kicked the door down. It brought back in sensational fashion aliens who'd appeared in the original series ("Journey to Babel"), unique in their appearance, and yet only glimpsed in the four series and nine films that followed. Even if this had been a one-off appearance (and it certainly wasn't), "Incident" would still have been a monumental moment.
But let's put aside the Andorians for a moment. It's the Vulcans who really got the initial benefit from the episode. The pilot of the series introduced the premise that humans and Vulcans were at odds, a shocking development for fans accustomed to thinking of them as steady allies, that reassuring image of Kirk and Spock as best friends among the most famous legacies of the franchise. Yet the Vulcans of Enterprise were suspicious of humans, distrustful of their maturity. But what about the Vulcans themselves? This was the first opportunity to see them at their own level. We discover that they are actually on the defensive, more scared of their Andorian neighbors than concerned about humans. In fact, "Incident" might be said to explain why Vulcans behave toward humans they way they do in Enterprise, because they're afraid they've found another Andorian problem.
All of this is to say, the Andorians are actually good guys in this episode. Even if you need to trace back from what happens after this episode, the relationship that develops between Archer and Shran and how it helps build the foundation of the Federation, you can see that for yourself. If "Incident" itself seems to have antagonistic Andorians, it's only because they're trying to expose Vulcan deceit, and Archer gets caught in the middle. (And even there, you can see the seeds of the future, where the series posits humans as gaining their intergalactic significance mostly for helping solve conflicts like this between the more established players, including the Tellarites.)
It's also well worth talking about Shran himself. Jeffrey Combs, the actor who plays him, had already had two recurring roles in Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi Brunt and the Vorta Weyoun. He gave two different performances in those roles, and he produced a third one, a far more volatile one, for Shran, and he gave new energy to Enterprise itself through it. Without him the Andorians would still have been a notable appearance for the series, but even on his credibility alone he gave them additional meaning, and by portraying Shran with enthusiasm he made the character seem all the more important. Simply put, he made a big moment bigger, and in a lot of ways he singlehandedly gave the series its impetus to break out into more serialized storytelling, using him as a template in its third and fourth seasons.
- franchise - Reclaiming Andorians as signature Star Trek aliens.
- series - And ensuring their significance to Enterprise itself.
- character - The introduction of Shran, who would become a defining recurring character.
- essential - In a lot of ways, a more important episode than even "Broken Bow" in the early series.
Jeffrey Combs (Shran)