Thursday, April 19, 2018

Enterprise 3x8 "Twilight"

rating: ****

the story: Archer's long-term memory is compromised.

what it's all about: There's only one, flimsy, reason not to love "Twilight," and that's if you're a grump.  Being a grump in this instance means either that you hate "reset button" episodes, or you hate subsequent series chasing after Next Generation's "The Inner Light."  Which itself was chasing after the classic "City on the Edge of Forever."  Basically an episode that sort of exists out of continuity, its events technically never having happened.

So let's get that out of the way, because they're both the same issue.  A "reset button" episode is one where the ending means the characters somehow manage to erase the events of the story from ever happening.  One of the more obvious ones would be Voyager's "Year of Hell," where for two episodes the crew literally spends a whole year with everything going wrong, but by the end of it a solution is found (destroying the time ship that helped make it possible) that means they can relive that same period with a completely different experience.  "City on the Edge of Forever" is the classic episode where McCoy jumps through a time portal and does something that erases reality as he and his colleagues (and viewers) knew it.  Kirk eventually figures out that McCoy saves someone who was supposed to die, and the heartbreaking final moments of the episode see him prevent that from happening, even though Kirk has fallen in love with the woman he has to restrain McCoy from stopping getting run over in the street.

Next Generation's "Inner Light," meanwhile, is a more exotic story.  An alien probe gives Picard the experiences of someone else's lifetime.  The more he settles into it, the sadder it becomes to know that at the end of the episode, walking away from this means that man's life is essentially a tragedy.  Picard gets to resume his life, but he retains all the bittersweet memories he shared and even participated in.  Deep Space Nine's "Inner Light" episode was a deeply personal, poignant experience between Sisko and his son, "The Visitor," in which Jake becomes separated from his father because of an anomaly, and lives the rest of his life trying desperately to reunite with him.  It's routinely listed as one of the best episodes of the franchise.  Voyager's was "Timeless," in which a guilt-ridden Harry Kim, years into the future, tries to rewriter history so that he and Chakotay can get everyone else home, and not crashed on a desolate ice planet a long ways from home. 

So if you have no idea what "Twilight" is, that's its tradition.  But like the episodes from the other series, it's an experience that's deeply intrinsic to Enterprise.  "Visitor" was all about a bond unique to Deep Space Nine, "Timeless" is tied up in Voyager's premise, Picard's particular cerebral nature made "Inner Light" typical of him, and no character no matter how often they followed his tendencies could've sold the impact of "City on the Edge of Forever" quite like Kirk.

"Twilight" is in a lot of ways the Xindi arc in a nutshell.  If you were to skip the rest of the season, this one experience would explain the whole story perfectly.  In a larger sense, it also explains T'Pol's bond not just with Archer but the crew around her, an association that made no logical sense to her at the start of the series, but something she found increasingly hard to walk away from later, despite a number of clear opportunities.  In a sense, it is a "shipper" experience.  If Voyager never came closer than "Resolutions" in exploring the potential of a Janeway/Chakotay relationship, "Twilight" is the ultimate "might have been" between Archer and T'Pol, who otherwise pursued a real, and very complicated, relationship with Trip, notably throughout the Xindi arc.  A lot of fans saw equal potential with an Archer romance, which aside from "Twilight" never materialized.

"Twilight" makes it very clear why their relationship happens, and is a quiet tragedy for T'Pol.  While viewers only experience her explaining events to Archer once, this is something she must do on a routine basis, every time Archer's short memory needs reminding of an increasingly elaborate sequence of events, growing longer with every passing year.  Thanks to the reset button, events do play out differently, and much more happily, as far as the Xindi arc goes, but it's hard not thinking of the experience as being as much about T'Pol's endurance as the outcome of their mission.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Part of a long and prestigious tradition in Star Trek lore.
  • series - Yet intrinsically a part of the season narrative.
  • character - A bold exploration of both Archer and T'Pol.
  • essential - One of those episodes you can very easily recommend as exemplifying the whole series.
notable guest-stars:
Gary Graham (Soval)

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