Sunday, May 6, 2012


PAUL: My mother was a terrible cook.

STAN: Yeah, well, my mother was the worst cook ever.

DOUG: No way. My ma's cooking was so bad, she could burn delivery pizza.

JOE: My mom could burn water.

DOUG: Hell, my mom could burn ice cubes!

STAN: True story: My dad made a living as an exterminator. Someone called him about cockroaches, he went over there with a plate of my mom's leftovers. It never failed. The roaches would flee.

PAUL: Oh yeah? My mom's cooking has been studied by the Department of Defense. I hear they use it to interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

JOE: They sent my mom's pancakes up on the space shuttle. And I mean on it. Tougher than asbestos, those pancakes. If they'd thought of it earlier, the Columbia wouldn't have burned up.

DOUG: My brother and I played a trick on our ma one time. We swapped the labels on all the jars in her pantry. Sugar, salt, baking soda, flour... But it backfired. Her cooking improved.

PAUL: My mom can't make lasagna anymore. The neighbors kept calling the police, finally took out a restraining order on her.

STAN: That's nothing. There's a city ordinance against my mom's liver and kidney pie.

JOE: There should be a law against anybody making liver and kidney pie.

STAN: Yeah, but my mom could make liver and kidney pie after starting with a brisket.

PAUL: I once said to my ma, "Hey, this chicken-noodle soup is pretty good." And she says, "Shut up, dickhead. It's a Caesar salad."

DOUG: You think that's bad? You remember when my folks went to Hawaii and left a freezer full of leftovers for me to eat? Long story short, my dog died.

STAN: So? What does that have to do with anything?

DOUG: He starved to death because I ate all his dog food. It was better than mom's leftovers.

PAUL: I used to pour my medicine over my mom's cooking, just so I could choke it down.

JOE: Well, my mom is such a bad cook that we hired your mom to cook for us.


PAUL: Arrgh!

STAN: Dude, you just...

DOUG: That's inside baseball!

The Helper

I preached this sermon, based primarily on John 16:5-16, today at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. Thanks to brother Alan Kornacki for lending me his pulpit!
What with stores being open seven days a week, there are ten shopping days between now and Ascension Day. Then there are nine shopping days between Ascension and Pentecost. A week later, we will celebrate the Holy Trinity. So the next handful of weeks are packed with days whose Christian meaning we would do well to pause and ponder. But more likely, we will not pause to ponder much. Life goes on at its rapid pace. Even to many who worship regularly, those squares on the calendar represent no more than any other Sunday, when perhaps we will roll our eyes and check our watch and wish the preacher wouldn’t ramble about today’s importance in the church year.

Actually, today is no more special than any other Sunday. The Divine Service for this Sunday has a name—Cantate—but that’s only because the Introit begins with the words Cantate Domino, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” This Sunday doesn’t celebrate any person or happening, other than the regular, every-Sunday celebration of Christ and His rising from the dead. Mother’s Day isn’t until next week. So what is it about today that’s worth getting up and dragging yourself to church? The answer is: The word of God.

But… When are we without the word of God, especially on Sunday morning? You can find the Word of God any week, and any day of the week, if you know where to look for it. But this Sunday’s selections from Scripture are so rich, I want you to notice what they have in store for you. If you do, you might become, like me, a fan of Easter 5. Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, give us so much. They give us Jesus’ teaching about Ascension, and Pentecost, and the Trinity, weeks before their scheduled time. Jesus tells us what the proclamation of His word is all about, what it will lead to. Together with the lessons from James and Isaiah, today is rich in testimony to the power of God’s Word.

Let’s consider first what Jesus has to say. It’s the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. He has been talking to His disciples about going away for a while, then coming back again. The disciples are too disturbed by these sayings to ask any intelligent questions. So Jesus says, “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

So let’s ask the question Jesus’ disciples didn’t ask: “Where was He going?” A careful interpreter could stand here all day and shwaffle over whether Jesus is talking about His death and resurrection, or about His ascension and return on Judgment Day. But let’s cut through the shwaffle. When Jesus talks about the Helper coming after He goes away, He is clearly foretelling the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, ten days after His Ascension. The Spirit proceeded from Jesus as He died on the cross. Jesus breathed the Spirit on His disciples after He rose from the dead. This same Spirit, Jesus promises in today’s Gospel, would finally be poured out in a mighty, miraculous way after His Ascension. The Spirit’s job is to help the disciples after Jesus stops being visibly present on earth. After Jesus has ascended far above the heavens to fill all things, after Jesus has sat down at the right hand of God, then the Helper comes.

And what is the Helper supposed to do? Jesus says: “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” That sounds impressive, but how many of you understand it? Not to worry; Jesus explains: “Of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Oh, thank you! That is so much more clear!

Actually, this isn’t as mysterious as it sounds. Impressive, yes; mysterious, no. The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world, or to bring the world to a conviction—in other words, to convince people concerning three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. The messages of sin and righteousness are as simple as our familiar friends Law and Gospel. By the message of Law the Holy Spirit must convict you of sin. Why? Because you are indeed a sinner, by nature unable to please God. Unless you are convinced of this, at best, you will go on trying to please God by your own deeds and virtues. You will never truly know God or how to find favor with Him, unless the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin.

Likewise, by the message of the Gospel the Holy Spirit must convict you of righteousness. Why? Because the righteousness of the crucified and risen Christ covers your sins and makes you righteous in God’s sight. This is a gift that you can only receive through faith in Christ. And yet this is such a foolish message that no one would accept it without a Holy Spirit-powered miracle in the heart. So the message itself creates in you the ability to believe what the message promises: forgiveness of all your sins, for Jesus’s sake. When the Spirit does this miracle in you, He convicts you of righteousness.

The third message—judgment—is a reminder that Jesus is not going away forever; He will return to settle accounts, punish evil, and reward good. This is a warning against those who remain unconvinced by the Spirit’s teaching of sin and righteousness. But it is a message of comfort to all who believe. Why? Because in our daily struggles against the temptations of the flesh, the sorrows of the world, and the flaming darts of Satan, we have the assurance that our victory has already been won. The ruler of this world has been judged. The devil has already been defeated. And He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

So we know three things, and we know them only through the help of the Helper: Sin, because of which we can do nothing without Christ; Righteousness, our new status before God, which is a gift purchased in Jesus’ blood; and Judgment, because God expects us to live from now on as though freed from sin and growing in righteousness—and yet because of our weakness we need to be constantly assured that our Judge’s final verdict has been locked in since Jesus raised his voice on the cross and cried, “It is finished!”

Now back to our original question, the one Jesus’ disciples were afraid to ask: Where was Jesus going? Or rather, why did He have to go? The answer: Jesus has gone away so that the Holy Spirit can use the means Jesus appointed to bring many, many more people to faith. And that is what happened, not only along the Lake of Galilee or on the Mount of Olives, but throughout the world. Jesus has gone away from us, not to hurt our feelings or to put us to the test. Rather, Jesus has withdrawn His visible presence so that His word and sacrament can have free reign throughout the world. Now the living voice of Jesus can be heard wherever His message is preached—neither more here than there, nor less. Now the preaching of Law must convict us of sin, because within each of our hearts there is still an unbeliever. Now the Gospel must convict us of righteousness, because Jesus isn’t here to show us His nailwounds. Now our victory over Satan, sin, and death must be proclaimed to us in the power of the Spirit, because our experiences often raise doubt as we daily stumble, as we succumb to temptation, as we suffer in body and mind, in family and career, and in so many ways we do not understand.

The Holy Spirit works to create these convictions not only through the spoken Word, but also through the sacraments, which I may be forgiven for calling “God’s sign language.” I’m not saying the sacraments are only signs. God’s word clearly reveals that Baptism washes away sins and causes us to be born again. God’s word teaches that when we receive the Lord’s Supper, our mouths are really eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood, and so we receive a medicine for sin and death that operates on our bodies as well as our souls. The Sacraments are not only signs; but like the message preached and taught, they are a kind of language that God uses to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment—and so the Sacraments are also vessels of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a peculiar slander that Pentecostal Christians like to hurl at Lutherans. It’s implied by a poster I recently saw, showing a blown-up image of an electrical plug and the words: “The Christian who neglects the Holy Spirit is like a lamp that’s not plugged in.” The implied question is: “How can you think you’ve got Christianity right when you neglect the Holy Spirit?” This type of question had led a lot of Lutherans to be seduced into Pentecostalism. Is it true, though? It is true that our focus is centered on Christ, on His cross and resurrection, on His word and sacraments, and on His promises, chiefly the forgiveness of sins. It is true that, unlike many Pentecostals, we do not dwell at length on so-called spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, prophecy, faith-healing, and so on. But does this make us guilty of neglecting the Holy Spirit?

This is where the second half of today’s Gospel comes in. Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

Here Jesus tells His disciples they are not ready to be told every detail of what the church will believe, teach, and confess. But He adds: The Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, will lead them to understand the whole truth. Mind you, this Spirit will teach them nothing new. This “whole truth” will be lifted directly from what Jesus taught, just as everything Jesus taught was grounded in Old Testament Scripture. Everything that is of God belongs to Jesus. Everything that the Holy Spirit gives will come from Jesus. All Scripture points to Jesus. And all truth comes to us by interpreting Scripture through the lens of Jesus.

So it comes to this: The Holy Spirit will work only through Word and Sacrament—that is to say, through Christ-centered teaching, preaching, and worship. The Holy Spirit is only active when this teaching is faithful to the word of Christ. The Holy Spirit breathes life into Christ’s promise-filled sacraments, and that life comes into us through them. The Holy Spirit is not to be sought elsewhere than through the means Christ has given. And the Holy Spirit gives all glory to Christ, points to Christ, leads to Christ, and derives His authority from Christ. The Holy Spirit does not sound a signal of His own. He does not fly colors of His own. Like the best preachers, who serve beside Him and under Him, the Holy Spirit’s goal is to get out of your way, or to become transparent, so you see only Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

James the elder writes: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” In other words, don’t focus on the exceptions to the rule. When Jesus says that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without being born again by water and the Spirit, or without eating and drinking His body and blood, we immediately spring up, like a knee that jerks when your doctor hits it, and exclaim: “What about the thief on the cross? What about all those who came to faith before they were baptized, or who died before they could be baptized, etc.?”

James wants you to understand: God does not change. He has only told us so much about how disciples are made and how Christ’s righteousness is applied to sinners. He has not revealed any other way to create and sustain faith than through teaching, baptizing, absolving, and communing. He does not want us to reason like the serpent who hissed in Eve’s ear, “Did God really say…?” He does not want us searching for our own way to catch the Spirit or to become God’s people. He is not inviting us to bring Him the best that we can find or create for ourselves. In word and sacrament, He gives us gifts—gifts that James calls “good” and “perfect”—and it is the unchanging will of our unchanging Lord that we receive the gifts He gives.

James writes further: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak… Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” It could not be clearer than this. We have not come forth like volunteer herbs in your kitchen garden. We did not plant ourselves. We are spiritually alive because God planted us, or rather He planted in us His word of truth. He has grown us, and is still growing us, so that we bear fruit. And it isn’t because we prayed a sinner’s prayer or decided to accept Him. It’s because Christ gave Himself for us while we were still unrighteous, wrathful, filthy, and overflowing with wickedness. He made us righteous by His blood. He applies that righteousness to us through faith. And even that faith is His gift, planted in us through the living and imperishable seed of His Word.

And so with Isaiah we may say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid… Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted… Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!’”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Enterprise Season 3

More than a year after I stopped watching TV except to play videos, Season Three of the fifth Trek series aired, now titled Star Trek: Enterprise (as opposed to simply Enterprise). In the 24 episodes of its 2003-2004 season, Trek embarked on the franchise's largest-scale experiment in serial storytelling. The previous record, held by the final half-season of DS9, is impressive enough. But now the voyages of the starship Enterprise constitute a single plot arc, spanning from the season finale of Year 2 through the third episode of Year 4, and including the entire third season.

When we left the Enterprises at the end of Season 2, they were entering the Delphic Expanse, a region of space so densely packed with space-time anomalies that, in essence, the laws of nature have no jurisdiction there. Their mission is to confront the Xindi, a mysterious civilization that has decided to exterminate mankind in order to prevent its own future destruction. And this is their mission throughout Season 3. Although some episodes have a standalone storyline, the conniving of the Xindi Council forms at least a recurring subplot throughout the season.

Since we see these same Xindi councilors over and over, and because of the Enterprise's extra personnel (the MACOs, or space marines), Season 3 also has a considerable cast of recurring characters. And because there won't be space within the episode reviews to showcase them, let's meet them now!

First, be it known that the Xindi civilization comprises not one but five species. Representing the Xindi-Reptilian species is Commander Dolim, pictured here. Played in eight episodes by Scott MacDonald, whose four previous Trek roles included a Romulan and a Jem'Hadar, Dolim is a war hawk who tirelessly pushes for the (ahem) coldblooded annihilation of the human race.

Next, there are the Xindi-Arboreals, the descendants of some kind of macaque, and the least warlike of the five species. Their representative on the Council is Jannar, pictured here. In spite of his peaceful inclinations, Jannar is at first willing to see Earth destroyed if it will save future generations of Xindi. Later, he begins to have doubts. Rick Worthy, whose five previous Trek roles included a Klingon and two different androids appearing in one episode, puts in ten appearances as Jannar.

Also appearing in ten episodes is Xindi-Primate (i.e., humanoid) scientist Degra, pictured here. He is played by Randy Oglesby, whose previous six Trek roles included a pair of twins and an insane Cardassian. Though he is the one who actually designs the super-weapon for the purpose of destroying Earth, Degra later becomes the first Xindi leader to switch sides, ultimately giving his life for his efforts to save mankind. Meanwhile, previous DS9 guest Tucker Smallwood, late of Space: Above and Beyond, plays the unnamed Primate Councilor in nine episodes.

The other Xindi species are the Xindi-Insectoids and the Xindi-Aquatics, both represented by digitally animated characters. An extinct sixth race, the Xindi-Avians, is also mentioned. How these five (or six) species somehow constitute one race is difficult to understand, but it seems to have something to do with a bunch of shared DNA. Like the droids and Wookiees in Star Wars, the Insectoids and Aquatics have a strange way of communicating with the other Xindi species. Unable to form the vocalizations of standard Xindi-speak, they understand what the Reptoids, Humanoids, and Arboreals are saying, while the latter understand perfectly the Insectoid language of buzzes and clicks, and the Aquatics' whalesong. Still, it must be awkward for five sentient races to share a world...

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise side of things, Season 3 benefits from five appearances by Stephen Culp (who played RFK in Thirteen Days and had recurring roles on JAG and Desperate Housewives) as MACO Major Hayes. Also, previous Voyager guest Daniel Dae Kim, also known for his roles in 24, Lost, and the B5 spinoff Crusade, appears in three episodes as Corporal Chang. Previous DS9 guest Nathan Anderson appears in the first two episodes of the season as Sergeant Kemper, the guy whose Duluth upbringing Hoshi detects in his vocal inflections. And one Sean McGowan makes four appearances as the ill-fated Corporal Hawkins.

The Xindi kicks off the new season with a glimpse into the Xindi Council chamber, as well as the Enterprise's new Situation Room, where both sides of the Xindi-Earth conflict are planning their next move. Besides introducing these new standing sets and most of the recurring characters named above, the episode mainly depicts Archer leading his people on the trail of any information they can find about the Xindi, who at this point are largely a mystery to the earthlings. For example, the Enterprises are only just now learning that the Xindi race encompasses multiple species. The character pictured here is not, however, one of them. What he or his species is called, we don't know; only that he is the foreman of a facility that mines a blue ore that (as we eventually learn) is the key to insulating a starship against the space anomalies that have turned previous visitors to the Expanse literally inside out. The foreman, one of the most flamboyantly disgusting characters ever depicted on Star Trek, is played by the same Stephen McHattie whose Romulan character on DS9 made the words "It's a faaaake!" a versicle in the fan cultus. And playing the Xindi humanoid who wades through sewage with Archer and Trip is three-time Trek guest Richard Lineback.

Anomaly features Babylon 5 co-star Robert Rusler (pictured here) as one of a band of marauders who rob the Enterprise blind while its crew is coping with its first taste of the Expanse's wacky scientific bylaws. Our guys also have their first encounter with a Xindi ship, though its crew is already dead due to their own brush with an anomaly. But by far their coolest discovery, made while pursuing the marauders, is a gigantic sphere (sort of like the Death Star) constructed inside a cloaking device whose distortion field is so powerful that a starship can get lost in it. It seems the marauders have been parking their booty inside the sphere, but after all the shots have been fired, questions remain unanswered as to who built the sphere, and why, and how...

Extinction brings Archer, Hoshi, and Malcolm as close as any human could ever get to completely understanding an alien race: namely, they become the aliens. At first it seems like the kind of thing that can happen at any time in a realm of space where natural laws are woefully under-enforced. But later it turns out that they have fallen victim to a virus left behind by a species that became extinct millennia ago. The denizens of Urquat (as they call their now-ruined city) wanted to keep their civilization going, so they booby-trapped their planet with a microbe that almost instantly changes any alien visitor into a member of the old gang. Together with a homing instinct hardwired into their new genes, this virus has proven so effective that a neighboring civilization was almost wiped out, and now these aliens are so worried about the chances of the bug spreading again that their policy is to shoot flame-throwers at anybody who gets infected, just to be sure. Even as Phlox rushes to formulate a cure based on the immunity in T'Pol's Vulcan blood, it's going to be a close race to save Archer and Hoshi from being toasted. Roger Cross of 24 fame guest-stars.

Rajiin is the name of the alien sex slave who, in spite of Starfleet's wise policy against owning people, successfully appeals to Archer to take her away from this dump of a planet (pictured). At first she seems like a nice enough girl, as out-of-work sex slaves go, but then she turns out to be a spy who uses a combination of deep-scanning gizmos and memory-wiping technology to plunder the Enterprises of information certain members of the Xindi Council think could help them build a bio-weapon, which might step up the timetable for their important destroying-Earth project. When the Xindi Reptilians and Insectoids show up to reclaim their (ahem) asset, an impressive amount of carnage and destruction results. Meanwhile, T'Pol and Trip try to synthesize that Trellium-D stuff which is supposed to protect ships from Delphic Expanse anomalies, but their first batch proves almost as destructive as the Xindi attack. Good times. The merchant who sells Trip the formula for Trellium-D is played by previous TNG guest Dell Yount.

Impulse brings the Enterprises into contact with a Vulcan ship that disappeared into the Expanse years ago on a mission to rescue another Vulcan ship that had disappeared in the Expanse. The crew of the Seleya turns out to be alive, but not well. In fact, they have all gone batshit crazy and spend the Enterprises' entire visit trying to put a zombie smackdown on Archer, T'Pol, Malcolm, and Corporal Hawkins (the MACO equivalent of a red shirt whose survival at the end of the episode violates all the conventions of Star Trek script writing). While T'Pol begins to suffer the same fate (due to the freaky side effects of that all-important trellium on Vulcan brains), Trip and Travis pilot a shuttlepod into a tricky asteroid field where the laws of motion are off bubble. The episode ends with a scary nightmare sequence, emphasizing how close T'Pol came to not getting off the Seleya on time.

Exile features this beauty contestant: an enigmatic alien named Tarquin, who first makes contact with the Enterprises through a psychic connection with Hoshi. Exiled due to his mental powers to an alpine fortress on an otherwise uninhabited planet, Tarquin hopes to persuade Hoshi to become the latest in a succession of companions he has sought out with the aid of a device (also in the picture) which extends the range of his powers. He's a lonely guy, especially since his long lifespan has led him to outlive each of his previous companions. In return for a chance to mess with Hoshi's mind during an extended stay in his fortress of solitude, Tarquin offers to help the Enterprises learn more about the Xindi weapon. In the end Tarquin does not prove very helpful, but nor does he play the role of a villain with full conviction, and it is Hoshi who comes off looking a bit cold. It's a Bluebeardesque episode with a certain "Original Series" feel to it, albeit with a disappointing lack of sexy chemistry and a general shortage of stuff happening. Still, it bears noting that it was the first Star Trek episode to be broadcast in High Definition.

The Shipment features three-time Trek guest John Cothran, Jr., as a Xindi Arboreal technician who runs a lab specializing in the refinement of kemocite, a maguffin substance that seems to play a key role in his people's projected Doomsday Weapon strike against Earth. Archer and his team kidnap Gralik and try to wrangle the secrets of the super-weapon out of him, but he knows so little about it that he is actually appalled to learn what his work-product is being used for. So, eventually, he sabotages the shipment right under the noses of Degra and the Reptilians, who have arrived ahead of schedule to pick it up. This gives Archer an alternative to blowing the facility up, which, in turn, enables the Enterprises to continue chasing the super-weapon without showing their hand to the Xindi.

Twilight starts out on a bit of a downer, with an obviously disoriented Archer learning that he has been relieved of command, then forcing his way onto the bridge just in time to see the Xindi weapon destroy Earth. From this bleak beginning, the story jumps ahead twelve years to find Archer waking up every morning with no memory of the day before, and living in a refugee camp with the last surviving 6,000 or so humans, defended by the scarce handful of starships that have so far survived the ongoing Xindi campaign of genocide against the human race. T'Pol has sacrificed her career to serve as Archer's live-in nurse, obligated by her sensibility that her former captain got the brain injury that made him this way while saving her life. Phlox, meanwhile, has dedicated his career to finding a cure for the captain's condition, which an early test shows to be surprisingly effective. You see, the technobabble parasites that have burrowed into Archer's brain are not only killed by Phlox's treatment regimen, but are actually erased from history... So, if they can finish the treatment regimen, the captain's memory problem will have never happened, the events leading up to the destruction of Earth will have unfolded differently, and mankind may get a second chance. Unfortunately, the Xindi have followed Phlox to the refugee planet, so we get to see every main character on the show killed in the final battle to determine whether the Enterprise will blow up before, after, or (gulp) during the Captain's cure. Uh-oh... Could it be the last one they ever made?

North Star finds the Enterprises incognito on a planet where a small colony of humans live an Old West lifestyle, along with an oppressed minority of aliens called Skagarrans (or, to those who are oppressing them, Skags for short). Evidently these Skags, or rather their ancestors, abducted the ancestors of the human colonists from Earth in the 1800s and forced them to work in their mines. The humans resisted so effectively, and so ruthlessly, that the few Skags who survive are totally cowed by a code of laws that bar them from marrying, going to school, owning property, and anything else that could conceivably lead to their gaining power over humans ever again. Even after Archer reveals to the local sheriff that he comes from a much more advanced Earth, where racial intolerance is no longer tolerated, the Enterprises face tough opposition from a band of yahoos and vigilantes. The episode features five-time Trek guest Glenn Morshower (best known as the sheriff on CSI) as the sheriff, and two-time Enterprise guest James Parks (who played a deputy in Kill Bill) as the corrupt deputy.

Similitude is the Emmy-winning (for music) episode which begins with what appears to be a funeral service for Trip. Then it skips back in time to reveal how Trip was gravely injured, and the Doctor's only idea for saving him is a controversial procedure involving a giant alien grub that, when injected with a DNA sample, grows into a fast-maturing, sentient  clone of Trip. "Sim," as they call the youngster, remembers all of Trip's memories at the same apparent age, while experiencing childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in eight days flat. He saves the ship, declares his love to T'Pol, and comes to terms with the fact that even if he wasn't going to be sacrificed to provide donor brain tissue to save the real Trip's life, he wouldn't live above fifteen days anyway. It's an episode full of disturbing implications for medical ethics, but also a very touching story which gives a new dimension to the T'Pol-Trip relationship. Among the three young actors who briefly appeared as early stages in Sim's development is Shane Sweet (pictured), who as a much younger child played a recurring character named Seven on Married... With Children.

Carpenter Street is the one in which time cop Daniels sends Archer and T'Pol back to 2004 Detroit to stop the Xindi Reptilians from unleashing a bio-weapon on 21st-century Earth. There they find a blood-bank tech, played by four-time Trek guest Leland Orser, drugging and abducting representatives of different blood-types so that the Xindi can calibrate their weapon to attack a wider slice of the human pie graph. If you have seen Orser's other Trek roles, you may find it hard to believe, but it's true: His character in this episode is as disgusting as they get, perhaps surpassed only by Stephen McHattie's foreman character in the season opener. Also guesting in this episode is Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen fame, here unrecognizable under Xindi Reptilian makeup that reportedly almost drove him to quit acting.

Chosen Realm stars three-time Trek guest Conor O'Farrell, also known for his recurring role as a villainous undersheriff on CSI, as the leader of an extreme sect of a religion that worships the makers of those mysterious spheres the Enterprise keeps finding all over the Expanse. With a homicidal intolerance of the tiniest dissent from their wacky beliefs, and with their very bodies armed as biochemical bombs, D'Jamat and his followers take advantage of being rescued by the technologically superior Enterprises and quickly seize control of the ship. They then plan to use the ship's fast engines and powerful weapons to annihilate the opposing sects on their home planet. A canny Archer manages to fake his death and work from behind the scenes, taking back the ship just in time to show D'Jamat that his planet has already been wiped out, so make that your last battlefield, sucka!

Proving Ground is the episode that brings those squirrelly Andorians into the Expanse. Shran explains that they have come to help the Enterprises in a show of friendship that should put the Vulcans to shame. And they actually do help, up to a point, in relieving the Xindi of a prototype of their Earth-destroying weapon after they test it on an uninhabited moon. But Shran is under orders to hoodwink his friend Archer, because the Imperial Guard's policy is to use the Xindi super-weapon as a deterrent against anybody (such as the Vulcans) saying boo to Andoria. Archer out-maneuvers Shran (and even, at one point, draws some bright blue blood from his lip), destroying the weapon so that nobody can have it. It's interesting to see Archer pitted against an unwilling adversary who is so clearly upset by the orders given him, and so willing to pass the advantage under the table to his friendly enemy. Maybe this episode is as much a step toward the development of the Federation as it is a chance to see blue antennae above Archer's head (don't ask). Granville Van Dusen, playing Shran's superior officer, also appeared in Season 2's "Judgment" as the Klingon judge at Archer's trial.

Stratagem is a reversal of the normal order of Trekisodes involving an elaborate deception via a simulated reality. Usually one of our hero characters is the target of the con, facing telepathic illusions, holograms, life-mimicking machines, or even painstakingly detailed life-size replicas of an entire starship, intended to trick them into making some kind of futuristic blunder. This time, it's the Enterprises who pull the trick, and Degra of the Xindi Primates is the mark. Using medical means to wipe the weapon-designer's short-term memory, Archer & Co set up a fake alien shuttle in the cargo bay, give it a shake now and then (to simulate tubulence), and let Archer try to convince Degra that they have just escaped together from an Insectoid prison, years after the destruction of Earth and the breakup of the Xindi alliance. The plan is to gain Degra's trust long enough to get him to reveal the location of the base where the super-weapon is being built, then wipe his memory again and return him to his ship as though nothing had happened. Though Degra turns out to be a more sympathetic character than one might have expected before now, he proves very hard to trick. Making his second appearance as Degra's assistant is Josh Drennen, who in a subsequent episode was replaced by another actor.

Harbinger gives us our first glimpse of the Sphere Builders, the transdimensional aliens responsible for the colossal objects that make the Expanse such a hotbed of space-time anomalies. First contact takes place when the Enterprises pluck what looks like an escape pod from a really wicked anomaly. Inside the pod is the guy pictured here, hooked up to a bunch of gizmos that appear to be measuring his life signs. As soon as he enters normal space, the alien (played by umpteen-time Trek guest Thomas Kopache) begins to suffer an agonizing death by molecular disintegration, but Archer orders the doctor, against his ethical objections, to revive the patient so he can be questioned. The alien at first claims to be the unwilling subject of a test (perhaps of the feasibility of his people invading normal space), but later proves to be a slippery enemy, evidently sent to destroy the ship. This episode is important for several reasons, as it reveals the spooky power behind the spheres and hints at the connection between it and the Xindi plan to rain genocide down on humanity. There is also a "B" story in which the rivalry between Malcolm and Major Hayes comes to blows, and a "C" story in which T'Pol seems to experience jealousy when Trip flirts with (and even does Vulcan neuropressure with) a hot female MACO. As a result, this is the episode in which Trip and T'Pol first consummate their passion. Except (poor boy) Trip finds himself feeling used afterward!

Doctor's Orders is basically a remake of Voyager's episode "One," with Phlox in the role of Seven of Nine. (Eurgh.) When the ship has to take a shortcut across an anomaly whose technobabble has corrosive effects on the nervous system of conscious humans, the Doctor puts everybody in a medically induced coma except himself, Porthos the beagle, and T'Pol. Essentially that means that he is alone all the time, a very stressful situation for a Denobulan accustomed to the vibrant social scene of a densely populated planet. Indeed, Phlox becomes so lonely that he begins to suffer hallucinations, which an earlier episode established as a healthy Denobulan mechanism for dealing with stress. It may not be so healthy for his shipmates, however, as his hallucinations begin to involve Xindi insectoids, ambulatory crewmen, and other situations that tempt the doctor to wake people up and/or fire his phaser in their general direction, either of which could prove fatal. T'Pol, meanwhile, shows signs of losing her ability to think straight, turning her into a useless ditz just when Phlox needs some technically brilliant tips on warping the ship out of the anomaly before it's too late for everybody. The final surprise is... not going to be spoiled here.

Hatchery is the episode in which the Enterprises plot a mutiny against their captain. Their excuse is a good one. While investigating a downed Insectoid ship, Archer gets a faceful of fluid squirting out of an egg-sac in the one part of the ship the Insectoid crew sacrificed themselves to save. You guessed it. The fluid turns out to be a neuro-technobabble which causes a kind of reverse imprinting. Basically, Archer believes he is the baby insectoids' Momma, and becomes insanely protective of them—even to the point of endangering his ship, its crew, and their mission. With the senior officers locked up and the MACOs in command, and conditioned to obey any orders from a superior officer no matter how pie-faced he or they may be, the situation seems to be a deadlock. But when their ship, captain, and planet are in jeopardy, the Enterprises are a force to be reckoned with!

Azati Prime is the one where the Enterprises finally catch up to the Xindi super-weapon, under the waters of a planet named—guess what. Trip and Travis, flying an Insectoid shuttle, bluff their way past the planet's security and check the device out, while their shipmates hide behind a moon. Forced against his conscience to order the cold-blooded destruction of a listening post on said moon in order to keep their cover, Archer decides he has to be the one to go back and sabotage the weapon, in spite of time cop Daniels' revelation that Archer must survive in order to forge an alliance with the Xindi—a Federation of Planets, if you will—which will stop the Sphere Builders from destroying the galaxy. Archer arrives at the weapon's construction platform only to find that it has already been launched. Then he is captured and brutally interrogated by the Reptilians before he has a chance to talk with Degra. For now, thanks in part to Daniels, Archer has enough evidence that the Sphere Builders are up to no good to get at least some of the council to reconsider destroying Earth... if only he has time to convince them!

Damage brings Archer back aboard the Enterprise after an escape from Reptilian custody mediated by the Aquatics. He finds his ship beaten up even more badly than himself, thanks to the previous episode's battle with the combined Reptilian and Insectoid fleet escorting the super-weapon out of the Azati system. While the crew struggles to keep the ship in one piece, it has bigger problems, such as: How will they make it to their next rendezvous with Degra on time without warp drive? And, how will T'Pol get her [bleep] together when the Trellium-D, to which she has become addicted, is stored in an uninhabitable part of the ship? The answer to T'Pol's personal problem involves a hair-raising space-walk and a pep-talk from Dr. Phlox, who doesn't think she will ever regain her emotional control. The solution to Archer's problem—the warp coils—involves another compromise with his conscience. No longer the victims, the Enterprises become the marauders, inconveniencing a peaceful alien ship whose captain is played by the same Casey Biggs who played the recurring Cardassian Damar on DS9.

The Forgotten focuses on the continuing repairs to the Enterprise, while Trip struggles with writers' block in a letter to the family of an engineer who was among 18 crewmen killed during their recent battle with the Xindi. The drama is heightened, on the one hand, by a scene in which Trip and Malcolm risk being cooked alive in a space-walk to stop a jet of burning plasma shooting out of the ship's hull and, on the other hand, by the dead woman's ghost appearing to Trip in a dream. Archer, meanwhile, shows representatives of the Xindi Humanoids and Arboreals enough evidence to convince them that it is the Sphere Builders, not humanity, who will destroy the Xindi, unless a future Xindi-human alliance stops them. Degra demonstrates the depth of his conviction on this matter when he blasts a Reptilian ship out of space and gives Archer directions to the Xindi Council Chamber, where it is hoped that his evidence can persuade the Council to abort its plan to destroy Earth. FYI, this seems to be the 700th episode of Star Trek!

is one of Trek's time-travel episodes in which the Enterprise meets itself going and coming. The going version (Archer's ship) is headed toward a subspace conduit that is supposed to get the ship to the Xindi Council Chamber. The coming version, manned by descendants of the crew who flew through the conduit and were thrown 117 years back in time, maneuvers to stop them. While our Enterprises get a kick out of meeting their great-grandchildren, Archer and his half-Vulcan successor Lorian (played by JAG's David Andrews) fall out over how the Enterprise should plan to get to its appointment with the Xindi Council. Should they fly through the conduit and risk being thrown back in time again, or soup up their warp engines and risk being late for their own funeral? At one point Lorian becomes so convinced of his rightness that he attacks Archer's ship to harvest parts his ship needs to carry out its mission. Archer talks Lorian into running screen-defense against the aliens whose hostile input caused the temporal whatsit in the first place, enabling at least one (and, as it turns out, only one) version of the Enterprise to make it through the conduit. Guess which ship. If this story sounds a bit familiar, see DS9's "Children of Time."

The Council is where Archer makes his appeal to the Xindi to hold off on destroying Earth for the time being, at least until he can prove his contention that the Sphere Builders (whom the Xindi call "the Guardians"), are not actually looking after the Xindi's best interests. Somehow, in spite of the data they have collected on the spheres that dot the Expanse, the Xindi haven't worked out that the spheres are creating the anomalies that are gradually converting normal space into a type of space more hospitable to transdimensional beings. With the Primates and Arboreals already on his side, Archer now needs to convince at least the Aquatics to join his side. Meanwhile, however, the Insectoids and Reptilians are being influenced by a Sphere Builder who offers them dominance over the other Xindi species if they will just launch the weapon already. The upshot is a schism in the Xindi Council, with two species making off with the weapon—and kidnapping Hoshi Sato into the bargain—while the other three can only pursue and hope to stop them before they attack Earth.

Countdown is the episode in which the Reptilians do hideous things to Hoshi until she is forced to hack the Aquatic launch codes for the super-weapon, which requires the consent of at least three of the five Xindi species to be armed. By the time the MACOs rescue her at the cost of Major Hayes, the damage has been done and the weapon is hot on course for Earth. Meanwhile, in order to secure a commitment from the Aquatics to back them up, the Enterprises have to agree to bring down the Sphere Builders' network of anomaly-causing spheres, while a crack team of Archer, Hoshi, Malcolm, and some MACOs board the Xindi weapon in hopes of disabling it.

Zero Hour probably doesn't need a synopsis, since it's obvious (seeing that this wasn't the end of the show) that the Earth isn't destroyed in this episode. Obviously the Enterprise, under the command of T'Pol and Trip, manages to take down the Sphere Builders' network, canceling out the anomalies that enable them to interfere with the other characters' efforts to stop the Xindi weapon from blowing up Earth. The aforementioned crack team led by Archer, obviously, succeeds in fighting off the Reptilians and destroying their weapon before it can fire its Beam of Death at our dear planet. In addition to all this, Shran and his Andorian crew provide some timely tactical support, and time cop Daniels gives Archer a sneak peek at the founding of the Federation as an incentive to... well, it's hard to tell what kind of psychology Future Dude might be trying to pull. Everybody who counts beams off the weapon in time to survive its explosion, though none of them know that Archer did so. The final twist, dovetailing into the opening arc of Season 4, has the other survivors of Archer's team trying to land in San Francisco and being shot down by World War II fighter planes, while in a Nazi field hospital a badly burned Archer gets a visit from an alien in a German officer's uniform. You don't know it yet—indeed, I didn't know it until I looked it up just now—but this is our first glimpse of the Na'kuhl, a temporal cold war adversary featured in the opening two-parter of Season 4.

At the risk of contradicting what I said about DS9 Season 7, the whole-year arc of Enterprise Season 3 turns out to be Star Trek's most ambitious experiment in continuous storytelling to-date. And although the main characters frequently allude to their wish to go back to being a peaceful ship of exploration, I think the show benefited from this season's locked-and-loaded look and feel. Captain Archer grew up from the soft-hearted, wide-eyed idealist of Seasons 1 and 2 to become a taut, tactically sharp leader, albeit with a struggle to reconcile the decisions he must make with his conscience. In spite of a night of passion together, the relationship between Trip & T'Pol continues to fly a rising trajectory towards love, with plenty of distance yet to go in spite of the progress made. For one year, the ship and its crew showed itself capable of independent action, without constantly having Starfleet or the Vulcan High Command looking over their shoulder. And most importantly, each episode kept you interested in what was going to happen next.

Really, I think Star Trek: Enterprise arrived at a good place with this season. How the series went from there to ignominious cancellation in one year flat is something I have yet to discover. I know just enough about the final episode to be quite sure that "ignominious" is the right word. After the triumph of Season 3, how could the writers and producers have fumbled things so badly? With this question in mind, I look forward to Season 4 with a mixture of fascination and dread.

For more on spaceship-based TV series, see my reviews of Star Trek: TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of Voyager seasons one, two, three, four, five, and six; and of Enterprise seasons one and two. See also my review of Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four; of Firefly; and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, four, and five.