Star Trek 630: Broken Bow

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".

24 comments:

snell said...

Yeah, the whole "Temporal Cold War" thing was a non-starter, a bad idea that was never properly thought out. Why the producers thought the series needed an external meta-narrative, but never bothered to figure out what it was before writing it into the show, was always a mystery (not to mention its own form of technobabble). If the Big Bad isn't going to turn out to be someone we know, either personally or by species, why bother going to such length to hide his appearance?

Siskoid said...

The producers' commentary on the pilot episode has them give a few possibilities they thought about, including a Borg (what the?!).

I say it was Janeway all along.

De said...

While I didn't mind the idea of a Temporal Cold War, I agree that the pilot was a bit too soon to introduce it.

The really unfortunate aspect of Enterprise was timing. Four spin-off series of Trek had already aired and the fanbase was pretty fragmented and bitter when the pilot premiered. The worst were the constant arguments about the canon and how Enterprise constantly violated it (it didn't).

Madeley said...

I wanted to like Enterprise so much when I first watched it. The astronaut vibe, their uniforms, the almost submarine-type design of the ship. But they just had to bring the time-travel thing into it. No matter how much they tried to make it distinct from the rest of Trek, for me it just ended up being another run-around of the same old concepts.

They lost me with the episode where they get stranded on a world that drives them nuts. I couldn't believe they pulled that old trope out again so quickly.

Siskoid said...

Some of Enterprise's elements are surprisingly fresh considering that the same old team who worked on Voyager was working on it, but of course, it's the same old team and they couldn't help falling back into old patterns.

While DS9 also fell into old patterns in its first year (and occasionnally after that), it's distinctiveness was largely due to having a different producer at the helm (IMO).

Definitely, Enterprise suffered from Trek fatigue, both the makers' and the viewers'.

On Smash said...

First you left out the gaffe the Vulcan ambassador made about "Klingon Warbirds", that proved to me that the producers were just tired & didn't really care this time around.

I still call Capt Archer "Capt Snippy" he always seemed pissed off about something.

Also about the Vulcans holding back the humans. To me it doesn't make sense to give advanced technology to a species that just had a global nuclear war. They just let the humans develop at their own speed.

The crew especially Archer all came off as ugly Americans.

Siskoid said...

Enterprise remains a polarizing show among fans, I see.

Warbirds: I try not to review as if this were an entry in the Nitpicker's Guide, so not every inconsistency is mentioned. Sure, that's a continuity gaffe, but I can take practically any episode of any series (even your favorite) and find such a nit.

Vulcans: They did more than that, according to the show. When Humanity was ready to go out among the stars, they used their influence to delay it. So left alone (no first contact), we would have gone out at Warp 5 a generation sooner. Arecher's resentment stems from exactly that: His father was the one whose generation got shafted. And his arc is the start of the Star Trek philosophy of tolerance and cooperation.

Also, if you're a fan of continuity, this all helps explain why there's so much racial tension regarding Spock on TOS.

The Mutt said...

The biggest problem I had with Enterprise was eye-rolling, lip-chewing, sighing-with-exasperation Vulcan.
Worst Vulcan ever.

Teebore said...

Agreed, this pilot is definitely filled with a lot of potential. I remember being very excited when watching it for the first time, and that excitement is still there when I rewatch it, even knowing that while some of that potential will be realized, some of it won't.

The continuity gaffes didn't bother me as much (Star Trek has always played a bit faster and looser with continuity, imo, than other properties).

I certainly could have done w/o the gratuitous "look at us kids, we're cool and sexy!" scenes.

The Temporal Cold War is one of those things that I liked in principal (time travel and an overarching story arc) so at the time, I was intrigued. Only in retrospect did it become inane, pointless and a waste of time to me. I HATE it when an overarching story line is begun without the creators of it knowing, at the very least, the major beats, including the ending.

Looking forward to your continued examination of the series!

Jeff R. said...

I liked the Temporal Cold War pretty much up until it became clear to me that the writers had no idea who Future Guy actually was. (That style of writing annoys me in any medium: see the Bierbaum Legion and the sealed canister anti-macguffin, among other things.) (My personal favorite theory, maintained until the obvious point in the 4th season, was that Future Guy was from the Empire of the Mirror Universe, and the Cold War was over which history would be the 'real' one. Sure, some 'expanded universe' material puts the breakpoint long before this era, but at least one (the DC comics version) used the Klingon war as the divergence between the two universes, which would have worked fine.)

I think a bigger failure in this series was that the characters were completely stripped of the dignity that Starfleet officers 'ought' to have. I mean, when we first see Archer, he's on all fours, obsessively searching for a squeaky patch on the floor. Just try to imagine any of the other Captains in that scene...

Siskoid said...

That's his first scene in the next episode, actually. It didn't really bother me, seeing as this was the very start of Starfleet.

The "good old boy" feel of many characters made me think of a continuity with First Contact's Zefram Cochrane.

Great idea for Future Guy though!

Doctor Mi said...

I thought the Temporal Cold War was a cool concept. However, the way they sometimes used it as a Deus Ex Machina and the fact there was no closure.

I guess no one wants to commit to planning a series for like 80-100 episodes so that every arc is logical and complete. At least though they did a full season like that (the Xindi arc).

Siskoid said...

They didn't have to plan out the entire series, only decide who their main enemy was when they actually introduced him.

Rob said...

long-time reader, first-time commenter.

siskoid - love your reviews, looking forward to reading your impressions of ENT.

trek lost me in the late 90s; i loved DS9, but hated (and still hate) VOY with it's lame premise, TNG-lite plotlines, overreliance on and ruination of the borg, and the impossibly annoying characters.

i was relived and excited to hear that ENT would be a prequel show, a clean break with the whitebread utopia the non-DS9 24th century had become. ENT didn't always fully deliver on it's potential, but it draw me back in as a regular weekly viewer.

i loathed the theme music, though. still do. mall-metal was embarassing in 1987. i don't think there was even a word for what it was in 2001. i can't fault the producers for wanting to try something new with the opening credits (which - visually - were IMO the best since TOS), but they fell flat on their ass with the music, and should have changed it immediately (i favored borrowing james horner's TWOK theme as TNG borrowed goldsmith theme for TMP, but it never happened).

watching "broken bow" years later, there's a freshness to it, as if the producers (most of whom were tired ex-VOY people) were actually TRYING again. i found, and still find, that refreshing.

one thing: while i was never a huge t'pol fan, i could never understand the rage focused at the character for usurping spock's "first vulcan in starfleet" standing. where did that idea even come from? i never, in 30+ years of trek viewing had the impression that spock was anywhere near the 1st vulcan in starfleet. it wasn't ever alluded to in an episode or movie.

the only thing that ever bugged me about the temporal cold war was the producers' inexplicably just seeming to lose interest in it toward the end of season 2, and the lame resolution of it in season 4. from the beginning, i took the TCW as a device to potentially bring in characters from other series in crossover shows, which - while totally predictable - would have been a lot of fun.

anyway, looking forward to your ENT reviews!!!

googum said...

OK, just throwing this out there as someone who hasn't watched it in a while (and missed a lot of episodes here and there):

I was hoping for more of a throwback to TOS in the sense that space is dangerous. Space is full of monsters, godlike entities, disease, aliens, aliens that actively dislike you, bizarre phenomenon and conditions, and perhaps worst of all, other people. I wanted more of a feeling that this was a risky business; and I don't think I got it.

And I hated the theme music. I was working in a music store at the time, and one customer bought the CD (ever) and I openly gaped. The toys, however, weren't bad.

De said...

I believe the notion of Spock being the first Vulcan in Starfleet came from Gene Roddenberry's comments in The Making of Star Trek.

On Smash said...

The Warbirds thing wasn't about nitpicking, Bergman & Braga were the producers & writers for over a decade this should have been picked up right away. This points to me a certain tiredness in the producers feelings toward Trek. Remember that when Enterprise came on it was just Enterprise & not Star Trek: Enterprise until the Fourth season. Manny Coto came on & treated the show as Star Trek.

Braga went on to do Threshold (not another Trek show) & I really liked it especially Carla Guidino

On Smash said...

Sorry that Carla Guigino

Also that's a good pick up on the racial tensions against Vulcans on the old Trek series. At least on Dr. McCoy's part.

Jeffrey said...

I agree that the Temporal Cold War should have been completely thought out before the first word was put on paper. I also liked the way the Vulcans were portrayed. It made Spock more unique. Of course, then they killed it with T'Pol. Wouldn't it have been better if there was always a Vulcan ship trailing them in the first season?

Sigh.

The possibilities. Have to say, I was more excited by this trek than Voyager.

The Dude said...

Despite whatever draw backs Broken Bow had it was the only good pilot of all the Star Trek series. DS9 was a great series but outside of the opener with the Wolf 359 battle flash back was nothing to write home about. but even so it was light years ahead of the TNG and Voyager pilots which i don't know anyone could ever sit through more then once.

Siskoid said...

Actually, Voyager's is pretty good! Well, by the series' standard.

I think I like DS9's more than you do, but then, I would.

The Cage is a classic, Where No Man Has Gone Before is pretty good.

So that leaves Encounter at Farpoint as the lesser pilot in my book.

The Dude said...

point taken on the Cage. i was thinking in terms of pilots in every star trek series since the original.
by the way Siskoid, care to take a guess at the trivia question on my latest post? probably not much of a trivia question to you though.

Siskoid said...

I saw the post, but didn't come up with the name right away. I'll have to flip through some key issues to get it.

Right now, I'm on overtime at work, so I haven't had the chance.

The Dude said...

man i thought you would have nailed it right away. well here's a clue for you when you get some down time. the Spaceknight in question only appeared in one issue and it was in a ROM annual.

 

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