the story: Xindi-Reptilians attempt to engineer a bio-weapon in Earth's past.
what it's all about: Episodes set in the current day tend to feel like money-savers. The original series did it first, naturally, only to do it again in the movies with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and eventually Voyager did it, too, the Bill Gates-evoking "Future's End" two-parter. "Carpenter Street" at first glance looks like a waste of such an opportunity, but it really isn't.
It's actually got a lot going on. The most convenient angle, and probably what ultimately made the Temporal Cold War look most like a cheap gimmick, was using Daniels mostly as a kind of time-traveling cab driver (although that would be a fantastic gimmick!), bringing Archer and T'Pol to the exact moment they need to thwart the latest Xindi plan. "Thwart the latest Xindi plan" sounds as bad as trivializing Daniels, but it's actually the second best thing about the episode. Or best, depending how much you like the next thing I'm going to talk about.
The present day (2004) is represented mostly at night, and by a scuzzball whose major contribution to showing Archer and T'Pol what 2004 looks like is having them bring him to the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant. We'd already seen this guy scarfing down delivery pizza. The drive-thru scene is classic, especially as T'Pol clearly wants no part of it, right around the time when our real world culture was transitioning away from taking fast food burgers for granted and seeking healthier alternatives. Yet this guy lives on the stuff! Take everything else out of the story, and having our future characters experience the present this way...absolutely perfect.
But the scuzzball is also unwittingly a pawn of a Xindi faction. Up till now, the various Xindi species hadn't really distinguished themselves. "The Shipment" had focused on a Xindi-Sloth, and we'd begun to suspect that Xindi-Humanoid Degra was probably going to be more important than he seemed. What about the others? Were any of them truly nasty? "Carpenter Street" answers that in a big way, and also foreshadows the later truly nasty turn the Xindi-Reptilians take. The Walking Dead's infamous bat-swinging Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, plays one of them, and apparently seriously contemplated quitting acting because he hated the prosthetics process. I know some characters who would've been happy if he had...! But it also sucks that Star Trek actually had Morgan in an episode, and we didn't even get to see his face. In the words of McCoy (circa Star Trek Beyond), "Typical."
- franchise - The tradition of visiting the present day maintained.
- series - Yet it actually proves incredibly relevant in hindsight.
character- Daniels, and the whole Temporal Cold War, kind of feels sabotaged.
- essential - The drive-thru scene is a classic. And prescient!
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Matt Winston (Daniels)