630. Broken Bow
FORMULA: Caretaker + Redemption + Relativity
WHY WE LIKE IT: Lots of promise. Looks great.
WHY WE DON'T: The temporal cold war. Gratuitous sex.
REVIEW: After Voyager broke the timeline in Endgame, the TNG/DS9/VOY era was no doubt unusable [/snark] so Enterprise is, what else, a prequel. Personally, I really like the idea, even if it came with its own problems. Sure, yes, it's hard to reconcile the more modern look of Enterprise with the super-retro future of the Original Series, but you know what? It's hard to reconcile the PRESENT with the look of TOS! Set 100 years after First Contact and 100 years before TOS allows the show to strike the right balance. It looks like something that would be made today, while still presenting technology and attitudes that are retrograde to those of Kirk's time.
The ship is certainly prettier than the original USS Enterprise, but it's still obviously less streamlined, more claustrophobic and filled with ladders and walkways. Gone is the tractor beam, replaced with the very cool grappler. There's but one primitive industrial transporter that no one wants to use, with two shuttlepods being taken out on most away missions. Instead of phasers, we have bulkier plasma pistols and phase pistols. The warp engine can take it to a whopping Warp 4.5. Slower communications. There's a handheld universal translator that has to be updated by a linguist to work on new species. A decontamination room is required since the crew can't go through a biofilter. Artificial gravity still leaves "sweet spots" where you can float away. There are no replicators, but there's a chef aboard. Communicators are back to their TOS selves (more or less, but same chirp), and Spock's viewfinder makes a comeback too. The good thing about more primitive tech is that the show will rely a lot less on technobabble solutions!
As far as attitudes go, there's a definite "astronaut" vibe to the show. The crew is competent, but not up to Starfleet's almost blasé levels. Everything is new to them, and it even freaks them out a little. Prejudice is still a part of the human condition and a policy like the Prime Directive are still decades away. We're stumbling into the dark unprepared. Or at least, that's what the Vulcans would like us to believe. 100 years after Cochrane's flight, they're still holding us back, slowing our development for fear of what we might do to ourselves and others. It's a tension between allies that will be interesting to watch develop. If you liked the political aspects of Deep Space 9, like I did, then Enterprise is worth watching for near space politics. Our struggling "nation" brushing against all these greater powers. How will we become instrumental in founding the Federation?
Enterprise's production also makes a break from the previous three series, whose continuum I believe trapped them in an antiquated look. Because they all followed each other, they sort of had to match. Enterprise looks far more contemporary. Letterbox (HD) format. More source lighting. More steady cam. More flash cuts. Subtitles. Cuss words. Baseball caps and zippers. People weren't unanimous about the new theme song and montage on the opening credits, but I personally like it despite its power ballad roots. A clean break from the earlier series, the montage shows the history of exploration (and indeed, the series is about Star Trek history), and the song is definitely the captain's theme.
So let's talk about those characters, shall we? There was a lot of buzz at the time about Scott Bakula being cast as Captain Archer, and later some backlash about whether or not his performance was different enough to his work on Quantum Leap. While both characters are earnest and decent, I've never had that problem. Archer is harder character, with definite issues about the Vulcans having stalled his father's dream, but still willing to keep an open mind by the end of the pilot. He's got a good sense of humor and a really cute dog (nobody dislikes Porthos that I know of). His best friend and engineer is Trip Tucker, the first southerner we've had on a cast since McCoy. He and Archer make a genial pair and the early heart of the series. Trip is a bit of an idiot too, which makes him endearing as hell. The other friend Archer brings on board is Hoshi Sato, a maverick linguist who'll be acting as translator and communications officer. My early favorite, Hoshi isn't quite at home aboard a starship, more neurotic than any character we've seen since, well, Barclay, and it plays great. It helps that she can pronounce alien languages so perfectly too.
There are also two aliens aboard, despite this being Starfleet's first big mission outside human space. The first is T'Pol, a Vulcan assigned as first officer and chaperon because we lowly humans can't take care of ourselves. She's smug and superior and clashes with Archer and the rest of the crew, but it turns out that her knowledge is invaluable and that she can see the big picture and be loyal to Archer when need be. I'm afraid I'm not a big fan of T'Pol, and it's largely due to the casting. With pouty, plastic surgery-enhanced Jolene Blalock, they've tried to recapture the magic of Seven of Nine. She's too fake to be truly sexy, in my opinion, and there's something really icky about gratuitous scenes like the one in the decontamination chamber, where she and Trip are rubbing oil into each other in indiscreet places. If that's how they're going to keep things "saucy", I'm afraid it's not working for me (just like the butterfly-eating strippers). The other alien aboard is the total opposite. The ebullient Dr. Phlox is a great joy in every way. His optimistic, devil-may-care attitude always keeps his scenes bouncing along, and he's made very different from past (future) doctors by his use of a traveling menagerie of creatures with healing properties. Don't tell them the medication's made of dung, Doc! His weird smile is shown here for the first time, barely scratching the surface about what makes his species (unnamed, but Denobulan) different.
There are two other characters, but they remain largely ciphers in the pilot. Helmsman Travis Mayweather has the most potential (and potential it will largely remain) as the rookie who is also the veteran. He was raised on starships, albeit slower ones, all his life, and he demonstrates knowledge about ship life and alien encounters that make the others look like rubes in comparison. His busom buddy (in a sort of reverse Tom Paris/Harry Kim set-up) is Malcom Reed, a Brit who's actually allowed to be a Brit on the show, is weapons officer. He's got an eye for the ladies... maybe. They just don't do much with him here. One thing that's well set up in Broken Bow is that the crew (aside from the aliens) are just regular people. They have the same sense of wonder, the same fears and anxieties, the same kinds of relationships and way of speaking, we do. Everything is more relaxed, less military, but by making the characters less extreme and more like real people, it's also softened them. None of their personalities especially stand out.
The plot is simple enough: A Klingon crashes on Earth chased by evil aliens and the Enterprise must return him to the Klingon Homeworld so he can deliver whatever message the aliens don't want him to. Along the way, Enterprise finds out what's really going on, loses the Klingon, gets him back and makes good on the delivery. And there's a lot of slam-bang action here. If Kirk and crew were "cowboy diplomats", Archer drops the "diplomat" part. There's more than one extended fire fight, some fist fighting, ship-to-ship action, the capture of an enemy ship which must then be flown by the seat of Trip's pants (don't let this guy parallel park), and lots of explosions. The sequence in the teaser where a corn silo is destroyed sets the tone for a more action-driven era.
What's unfortunate in my view is that the plot (i.e. those evil aliens) is driven by something called the Temporal Cold War. Its inclusion is a mistake. There's so much else going on, so much to see and experience for the first time, so many holes in Star Trek history to fill in, that a time travel element is hardly necessary. More than that, it gets in the way of the story, and it never pays off. Part of the problem is no doubt the fact that the identity of the mysterious figure instructing the Suliban was never even decided by the show's creators. Not only was it then never revealed, but it made it hard to understand why he was doing X or Y to the timeline. How can you have a coherent agenda for a character with no identity? In this one, he wants to manipulate the Klingon leadership, but we never find out why, nor is it something that's followed up on. I thought an eventual series finale might pay it off using that shot of T'Pol in Archer's flashback, but I guess she was just a dream and never visited him in the past.
In a sense, the Temporal Cold War might have helped make sense of the other type of problem Enterprise opened itself to. The show was in a unique position to contradict established Star Trek history if it wasn't careful. Why was the NX Enterprise never mentioned or seen (in processions of ships with the name, just like in Archer's drawings) before? Is this episode really the "disastrous first contact" between Humans and Klingons that would plunge them into war? What about T'Pol sort of, kind of stealing Spock's place in history as Starfleet's first Vulcan? If the timeline is being manipulated in and around Enterprise, then maybe these are changes to the timeline. Maybe. At the same time, the show's unique position allows it to fill in the blanks and make interesting reveals, such as Cochrane here first pronouncing the speech "Space... the final frontier..." that Kirk and Picard would later repeat. I don't think that takes away anything from previous series, it adds to them.
The worst of it is, the Suliban are a pretty cool enemy race, using their own DNA as a weapon rather than the usual technology. We know Earth struggled with genetically enhanced tyrants, well here's a whole race of them, with an arsenal of ever-changing superhumanoid abilities. They have a distinct look, the ability to be creepy, and a cool recurring leader in John Fleck's Silik. I don't see why their impatience with natural evolution couldn't have been built into their culture, cutting out the help from "Future Guy". I remember people criticizing them for never having been seen before, but they are supposed to be a specific Cabal of Suliban, probably not associated with the main race, and potentially erased from history at some point.
In fact, everything seems rather close to Earth here, with Q'onoS a mere 80 days away at Warp 4.5, but that doesn't contradict episodes in other series. Earth, Vulcan and Q'onoS seem to be real close to the Alpha and Beta Quadrant borders, along with other early Federation members, which is no doubt why most allied to stand up to the other. We also see one of the Rigels, a recurring planet name on TOS and even later. There are plenty of homages to the early Trek history, in fact, from Admirals all named after the original cast's first names (and a Vulcan named Tos) to a miniature statue of Zeframe Cochrane. A big thumbs up to the effects. Even if some of the Suliban effects are a little hokey, the outer space stuff is gorgeous and the matte shots incredible (especially wintry Q'onoS and snowy Rigel X).
LESSON: Vulcan nipples WILL scratch you.
REWATCHABILITY - High: While I can't stand behind the time travel element (too soon!), I really like the way Enterprise has begun. Already, the series is less reliant on technobbable and ST characters haven't been this fallible since Deep Space 9 (if not ever). As a diehard Trekkie, the potential for telling stories that build on Trek history is exciting, and the series has a more contemporary, mature look. Now if it can only remember than "mature" does not mean "raunchy".