Star Trek Enterprise: Broken Bow, Parts 1 and 2

Admiral Forrest: "For nearly a century, we've waded ankle-deep in the ocean of space. Now it's finally time to swim."

By nature I love brevity*: Enterprise kicks off its run with a decent and serviceable pilot that gives us exactly what it needs to and not a whole lot more. A few areas of concern, most of which regard the direction the series as a whole is headed, rather than this episode itself.

I should preface this review by mentioning that Enterprise is not my favorite of the Trek shows. I love all of Star Trek, and Enterprise is certainly included in that. But Enterprise, especially for the first two seasons, really played aspects of the franchise I'm not a huge fan of, and de-emphazised the things I feel make the franchise special. So I will try to review this series with as much objectivity as I can muster, but you should know that I have a slight bias against Enterprise, especially the first two seasons. This will help you better weigh my opinions.

I have to say, though, I really do like 'Broken Bow'. It's nothing special, but it has a lot going for it. Sure, there are some downsides, but as I mentioned earlier, those are more problems with Enterprise as a whole. So let's jump right in to the plot of 'Broken Bow'.

We open with a young boy painting a model of a ship and uttering the immortal words first heard by our ears from the mouth of James T. Kirk. We'll later learn this is Jonathan Archer, the captain of this new series. He has a brief conversation with his father, in which we discover that Henry Archer works on this very vessel his son is modeling. But, as we find out from young Jon, the human progress in their space flight programs are being hampered by the Vulcans, particularly Ambassador Soval (Gary Graham). This establishes everything we need to know about the world of this era of Trek.

Fast forward 30 years, to a cornfield in Oklahoma, of all places. Here in this field something is happening that we don't see too often: a Klingon is being chased. As he runs out of the field and into a barn, we can see the pursuing aliens are not a species we're familiar with. The Klingon runs into the barn and shuts the door, but the aliens are able to flatten their bodies and slip under it. Their prey leaps out a door on the second floor, turns, and promptly shoots the barn, blowing it up real good. The farmer comes out to investigate, and shoots the intruder.

Understandably, this is not the greatest of first contacts, and Starfleet and the Vulcans quickly get involved. Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), who'll be commanding Starfleet's new Warp 5 ship, is pulled from his shuttle flight around the new vessel to a meeting to discuss the difficult situation. The Vulcans, knowing Klingon customs, want to let the visitor die. It will bring him honor to die on a mission for the empire, after all. Archer won't have it. He wants to try and return the Klingon to his people. Admiral Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong), Archer's superior, thinks this is the perfect maiden voyage for Archer's new ship.

My first impression of Archer, based on this episode, is a positive one. He's certainly not perfect, but at first here he is decidedly human. His reaction to the Vulcans and their approach to things is rash and overly frustrated, certainly, but well justified. The Vulcans are pretty much jerks so far, and Archer is understandably annoyed at their constant judgmental attitude towards humanity. This is the eve of humanity's biggest step in the exploration of the stars since Apollo 11, and it's overshadowed by a race that believes we're not ready.

The ship wasn't scheduled to launch for another three weeks, and the crew has to frantically prepare to meet the new schedule. This provides a handy way to introduce the cast.

We've already met Charles 'Trip' Tucker III, the ship's engineer. He's a southerner and very human, which has led some to decry him as a McCoy wannabe. I tend to disagree with this assessment, because Connor Trinneer gives the character a very different style from McCoy's. Are there similarities, and therefore parallels to be drawn? Absolutely. But I don't think he's a copy of McCoy, in any sense of the word. Insert 'the real McCoy' joke here.

Dr. Phlox, the ship's physician, is one of the two aliens in this new cast. We're given two introductions of sorts to him; the first as he examines the Klingon, and the second when he moves into Enterprise's sickbay. Phlox is a very interesting character, with a charming yet almost off-putting demeanor. He's extremely eccentric, and his openness and desire to learn about alien cultures is deeply rooted in Star Trek as a franchise. John Billingsley delivers a delightfully quirky performance as the good doctor, though he will be taking it down a notch or seventeen for the rest of the series.

Malcolm Reed is the Weapons Officer and Chief of Security. Malcolm is a no-nonsense Brit with a rigid sense of duty and discipline. He likes things in order, and is constantly frustrated by the on-the-fly jury-rigging Enterprise's systems require at the moment. The parts he ordered aren't delivered, the targeting scanners are misaligned, and their sidearms haven't been distributed yet. But Reed's devotion to duty and attention to detail make us feel he must be a very competent officer. I happen to be a fan of Dominic Keating's portrayal, though I'm aware some are not. I feel he gives the character the right rigidity and discipline, without making him seem unfriendly or unable to have fun.

Introduced along with Reed is helmsman Travis Mayweather. Mayweather is a space boomer, which means he's lived on various spacefaring vessels his whole life. He's never been as fast as Enterprise can go, however, nor has he been as far out as the ship's mission will take him. We get the sense that Travis is excited about the mission of exploration, but that's about all we get of his character for now. Nothing much can be said of Anthony Montgomery's performance thus far, since he hasn't had much of weight to do. I'm withholding my judgement; look at how far Alexander Siddig came over the course of DS9's run.

Linda Park's Hoshi Sato is one of my favorites out of the bunch. She's a linguist with a phenomenal ear, and Hoshi fits right in with the curious minds aboard Enterprise. But she also has an inherent fear of the unknown. Curiosity has gotten her out here, but that curiosity is tempered by her fear of being outside her comfort zone. It's this balance that makes her interesting.

Here we come to arguably the most divisive character of Enterprise: T'Pol. T'Pol and Jolene Blalock's portrayal of her have been widely criticized by fans, citing the general Un-Vulcan quality they see in the character. Others consider her a great character, not really caring about how she aligns with other Vulcans, or even approving of the differences. I tend to fall (as in most things) somewhere in the middle. Blalock's performance is definitely a bit off in this episode, but I'm willing to chalk it up to finding the character. We have yet to see if she will temper out as the series goes on; the longer she lives among humans, the more believable it will be that she is different from the other Vulcans.

After a little travel time, the Klingon patient wakes up. Klaang, as his name is given, was carrying a message to his people when the aliens came after him. He demands to be given back his ship before his brain quits on him and he starts spouting jibberish. Then the lights darken, and the aliens return to take Klaang. "Suliban," Klaang whispers before he is taken. In the scuffle, one of these Suliban is killed, allowing Dr. Phlox to do an autopsy of their enemy. He's not your typical Suliban, Phlox explains. His DNA has been genetically altered, giving him abilities not native to the species.

This seems a good time to discuss the Suliban. They are extremely effective antagonists, at least in this episode. It's just creepy watching them climb the walls, and because they're genetically altered, there's no telling what any given Suliban will be able to do. Their leader (John Fleck) is less intimidating, simply because he's given a face and lines, but even he still carries an air of mystery about him.

I won't be going into the Temporal Cold War just yet. All I will say is that here, it seems like an interesting concept, and a large plot line that could be successful. Then again, time travel has an iffy track record on Star Trek, and at this point it's not clear how well they'll handle it. Reserve your judgements until later.

Enterprise follows a lead on Klaang to Rigel, where they encounter a different group of Suliban from the ones they've been facing off against. This group is led by Sarin, who tells Archer that the Suliban have been meddling in Klingon affairs as a strategic move in the Temporal Cold War. Sarin offers to help Archer and co. find Klaang, but before she can, they are attacked by the evil group of Suliban and Sarin is killed. Archer, too, is wounded in the escape, and incapacitated for a good long while. This puts T'Pol in command; her Vulcan rank supersedes anyone else's. She's been against this mission and against Archer's choices this whole time, and this is her chance to return the ship to Earth. But she chooses instead to act along with Archer's wishes, and keep looking for Klaang.

They track a Suliban ship from Rigel to their base - the Helix. Enterprise grapples a Suliban ship, and Trip and Archer dock the vessel with the Helix in order to rescue their quarry. Klaang is quickly located, and Archer tells Trip to take the Klingon back to the ship, then come back for him. Thus left alone, he continues prowling the Suliban Helix. This leads him to a very intriguing conversation with the Suliban leader. The concept of the room where you can see everything before it happens is a fun one, and it makes for an interesting fight scene. We don't really get any answers from this confrontation, but you wouldn't expect those from the pilot yet.

Meanwhile, aboard Enterprise, Trip and T'Pol are having another difference of opinion. T'Pol is not planning to let Trip go after the Captain. She says it's her duty to interpret his orders, and she's choosing not to mount a second rescue mission. But she's not leaving Archer behind. Just in the nick of time, Enterprise swings around and uses the transporter to beam Archer aboard. Before long, the Klingon is returned home, and all is settled. Admiral Forrest orders the ship to continue out from where they are, starting their mission now. T'Pol agrees to stay aboard as science officer. And so the show establishes itself, setting off to venture into the unknown.

So what are the problems I see with this show right now? The first is undoubtedly one you noticed yourself. Much of the show is designed for the purpose of being Real Sexy™. I should clarify that it's not necessarily a bad thing for the show to feature characters who are attractive. Nor is it inherently bad for the audience to happen to notice this at some point. What is a bad thing is when the camera lingers excessively on portions of these people's bodies, forcing the fact that they are attractive down our throats. It's bad when the story bends over backwards to put the characters into situations that will show off their attractiveness. It's just not right, and it pains me to watch it.

The second problem is a slight lean in the show's portrayal of the Vulcans. I like the idea that they don't think humanity is ready, and are trying to make us wait until they believe we are ready. But there's a tendency in the show's Vulcan scenes that goes beyond the belief that we are not ready. The Vulcans come across as petty and judgmental, putting us down simply because they don't like us. Soval, for example, tries his best to dispel the humans' desires to get out into space immediately. But then, when he doesn't get his way, he raises his voice and gets angry at Archer. That's not a Vulcan way of doing things, and it's hard to draw a connection between the Vulcans of Enterprise and the Vulcans of TOS. But it's possible we'll find these Vulcans moving towards the TOS way of doing things over the course of the series. They do have a hundred years or so to get there.

Pensees (Thoughts):

-I will freely admit that I love the theme song, and sing along every time. I will not apologize for this behavior. I do, however, also sing a parody version, 'Faith of the Lungs.'

-The Klingons here look like they do in TNG through VOY, not like they do in TOS. This doesn't seem to fit the timeline.

-The intro to the ship and Archer is pretty great, and it helps us to get to know both better.

-Archer seems to be rather fond of the word 'ass', to understate the matter.

-The use of the transporter in this show is just perfect. It's a new technology that they're wary of using yet. That feels right.

-The launch scene for Enterprise is appropriately grand.

-I liked the dinner scene. I found it effective in demonstrating the differences in culture between the Vulcans and the humans.

-It's nice to have a language barrier for once, and not have the Universal Translator getting everything right on the first try.

-We went to Rigel, and the Klingon mentioned Tholia.

-I love the idea of the Suliban Helix. It's just so cool.

-Did the Suliban whose ship they grappled really eject out into the middle of a gas giant? I mean sure, they're supposed to be able to breathe lots of different stuff, but that strikes me as a poor decision. And why does the ship have an ejection system? Isn't it in space most of the time?

-I find myself wondering what Sarin is doing when she 'measures trust'. It seems to me like the equivalent of a kid role-playing and including a weapon that only shoots bad-guys in his story.

-Happy Star Trek Day to those of you who read this on the day it posts!

4 out of 6 ejection systems in space

Quotes:

Trip: "Since when do we have Vulcan science officers?"

Phlox: "If you're going to try to embrace new worlds, you have to try to embrace new ideas. That's why the Vulcans initiated the Interspecies Medical Exchange."

(alarm beeps)
Archer: "What's that?"
Trip: "Travis said not to worry about that panel."
Archer: "That's reassuring."
Why isn't Travis flying this mission, again?

Travis: "I'm reading an ion storm on that trajectory, sir. Should I go around it?"
Archer: "We can't be afraid of the wind, ensign."

*'By nature I love brevity' is a quote from John Calvin, in volume 3, chapter 6 of his 'Institutes'. This amuses me, and basically nobody else.
--
CoramDeo sees five lights, and cannot fathom why you might see anything else.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome review! Even though I do not actively watch Star Trek myself, I got a clear sense of what was going on just by reading this. I look forward to reading more!

Kodi A. Van't

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, CoramDeo!

I remember really loving this pilot, even though it wasn't perfect. Maybe because of Scott Bakula. I also really liked Connor Trinneer right away. And I also liked the later seasons better, so we're in agreement there.

Billie Doux said...

And Happy Star Trek Day to you, too!

(The first episode of original Star Trek was broadcast today, back in 1966.)

lisa menaster said...

I'm a bit confused about the Klingons having honor on Enterprise. In TOS, it was never mentioned Klingon were big on honor. That aspect of their race wasn't introduced until TNG. So, they had honor on Enterprise, didn't have it on TOS, but then got it back inTNG?

CoramDeo said...

lisa menaster, everything about the Klingons on Enterprise is confusing and weird, even after they explain it. There will be a few explanations in later episodes, and I will discuss the issues when I review those episodes. For now, just know you're definitely not alone in finding anything about the Enterprise Klingons all kinds of confusing.