Star Trek Enterprise: Cold Front

Daniels: "This must be overwhelming."
Archer: "Overwhelming doesn't quite cover it."

By nature I love brevity: As much as Enterprise's creative team dropped the ball with the Temporal Cold War (hint: that's a lot), 'Cold Front' is good - very good, in fact. Actually, this might be the best episode of the series yet. It's nowhere near perfect, but many of the problems that concern me with most of this show's episodes don't show up here.

Let's start with what didn't work. Surprisingly, there isn't any one major element that failed for me. The only thing I found particularly unsatisfying was Matt Winston's performance as Crewman/Temporal Agent Daniels, but that's only because he didn't quite give off the level of charm I think they were going for. But as far as major elements go, that's pretty much it. The rest of my problems with this episode consist of minor gripes and plot holes.

So what did they avoid that so plagues other Enterprise episodes? The character balance, for one thing. Everybody got something to do in this episode that didn't involve them simply going about their everyday duties. Here's what I mean by that. Travis shows up in every episode of this show. So does every member of the main cast. But Travis' appearance is usually just him piloting the ship in the background. His lines are things like 'Aye sir, course and heading set.' The same applies to Hoshi, Reed, and Phlox. But these lines and actions are just filler. I, the viewer, don't notice these things because they're unimportant, and they're exactly what you'd expect the helmsman or the communications officer or the tactical officer to be doing. It's part of their job. It's when they do something that's not a part of their job that I notice it. My brain thinks, 'Huh. That's not what normally happens. Maybe it'll be interesting.' And it pays attention.

Take the scenes on the bridge in this episode. Hoshi and Travis, the two Ensigns among the main cast, have unimportant side conversations in the dull moments when nothing is happening and nobody is on the bridge. But these moments, because they are in addition to the normal performance of the characters' duties, catch my interest. And it's here that characters are developed, here that you make the audience care. In most other episodes, I care about Travis or Hoshi only because they're main characters and I'm supposed to care. But here, I care because they're average people like me. They live and they work, they have fun and they go to movies. And they totally geek out about sitting in the Captain's chair on the bridge of the Enterprise. That's what makes me care about characters - relatability. This episode gives Hoshi, and Travis especially, some much needed doses of that relatability.

Phlox and Reed both get their spotlights in this episode, too. Phlox is relatable as our sense of curiosity, our drive to explore. Reed is the cautious, reserved part of our personality. Both of these are given little moments to shine here, and it pays off. And the focus on more minor characters doesn't even feel like it's detracting from the appearances of the big three. Far from it, the better balance actually elevates the appearances of all of the characters. It's exactly what happens when you use more of an ensemble cast than a hierarchical one.

But we do have to get to the story itself. The plot of 'Cold Front' is simple. The ship meets up with a group of aliens here to see an astronomical event that they find religiously significant. During the friendly exchange of culture that follows, one of the aliens slips away from the main group. He disconnects some conduit in Engineering, then quickly rejoins his comrades. It's clear to the audience that this man is Silik (John Fleck), the Suliban Archer fought in 'Broken Bow' - in the episode's teaser, Silik was ordered by his superior to complete another mission. But then there is a problem in Engineering. A cascade is moving toward the warp reactor, and it stops and fizzles out in the conduit Silik disconnected. Trip says if the conduit hadn't been modified, the ship would have been destroyed.

Enter Crewman Daniels, whose sudden named appearance and subsequent presence in three scenes probably tipped you off to his importance. Daniels brings Archer to his quarters, where he activates a device he calls a 'Temporal Observatory,' and explains that he is an agent for a faction in the Temporal Cold War. Daniels provides a plausible history for the war, and informs Archer that the Suliban takes orders from a different faction that disregards the rules of time travel that have been established in Daniels' time. Now this might all seem very cut-and-dry, until you remember that Silik actually prevented the destruction of the Enterprise. Archer asks the obvious question: does that mean Enterprise was supposed to be destroyed that day, and Daniels was supposed to make sure it happened? Then, too, T'Pol's reaction throws some doubt. The Vulcan Science Academy, she says, has examined the question of time travel very thoroughly, and determined that it is impossible. She brings up some very reasonable questions about Daniels' story as well. Why didn't he simply go back and prevent Silik from boarding Enterprise? This perspective puts Daniels' story firmly in a gray area. We truly aren't sure.

And that's the point. Daniels shows up, tells us a seemingly plausible story, uses some futuristic technology, and then gets shot by Silik. Silik saves the ship, steals Daniels' technology, and throws doubt on Daniels' story. The whole thing builds up very well to make us - and Enterprise - feel like tiny pawns in a huge game that we can't control. It's very unsettling, and the episode accomplishes this purpose with great skill.

One last thing I love about this episode is the aliens and their interactions with Phlox and the rest of the crew. This is the way that I would hope first-time inter-cultural and inter-religious interactions would go. The two groups meet, ask each other about their beliefs without commenting on how much sense they seem to make, immerse themselves in each others' cultures entirely voluntarily, and then watch a remarkable event together, each appreciating the significance or lack thereof that it may hold for the other. This is very nice and refreshing, after the less-than-stellar alien encounters we've seen thus far. Phlox is the perfect person to choose for this encounter. His curiosity and openness are just exactly the right fit.

So, in summation, 'Cold Front' is a great episode. It balances the show's characters effectively, accomplishes exactly its purpose, and is a lot of fun to watch as well. I'm sure I've overanalyzed this enough, so let's wrap this up.

Strange New Worlds:

No planets this time around. We did visit a stellar nursery, though.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The aliens didn't get a name here, but Memory Alpha lists them as Borothans. There was another species there, too, but there weren't any major differences. They were very interesting, and a couple of them looked almost like Jem'Hadar under those hoods. Also, Daniels says he is 'more-or-less' human, so he might have DNA from species we haven't met in him.

Pensees:

-Silik wasn't named the first time he showed up. This is the first time we hear what he's called.

-Daniels' reason that Archer should trust him is that he always brings him his eggs cooked the right way? I get that he's really talking about the fact that Archer's known him for a while, but the line didn't work because of Daniels' aforementioned lack of charm.

-For those of you thinking you'd be a little bit calmer about sitting in the Captain's chair for the first time, go visit the TOS set replica in Ticonderoga, NY. Trust me, you won't be calm about it.

-Daniels' poor roommate probably doesn't have a clue what the heck happened. Poor guy.

-Daniels is the first of Enterprise's crew to die.

-Interestingly enough, Phlox's story about attending mass at St. Peter's Cathedral is the only evidence of any surviving remnants of Christianity in Star Trek. Some of the aliens in 'Bread and Circuses' worship the Son of God, but that's the only other mention of Christianity in Star Trek.

Quotes:

Hoshi, to Travis in the Captain's chair: "Nice fit."
Travis: "Bridge looks a lot different from here. Think anyone would mind if I fired a torpedo?"
Reed, coming in: "Permission to take my station?"

Trip: "When matter and antimatter collide, it creates a whole lot of energy, and we channel that energy through those conduits over there; they lead to the two large, glowing cylinders you may have seen on the outside of the ship."
Sonsorra: "The nacelles."
Trip: "That's right."
Sonsorra: "Which contain warp coils that create the subspace displacement field."
Trip: "I see you... already know a thing or two about starship engines."
Sonsorra: "I'm a warp field theorist."
I love this moment. Men of faith are often just as scientific and intellectual as the next guy.

Captain Fraddock: "I spoke with every one of them."
Trip: "How about the warp theorist?"
Fraddock: "Him too. None of them went anywhere near that conduit. If I told you I did it, would there be some kind of reward?"
Archer: "Thank you, Captain."
Fraddock: "Well, maybe it was the cycle of renewal."
Archer: "If anyone comes forward, you'll let me know?"
Fraddock: "Oh, you'll be the first."
Michael O'Hagan's performance really makes this one hilarious.

5.5 out of 6 Great Plumes of Agosoria.

---
CoramDeo sat in the Captain's chair, and he definitely freaked out.

2 comments:

Dustin said...

Re Christianity in Star Trek. In the final season of DS9, Kassidy Yates claims her mother would prefer she were married by a minister. Possibly circumstantial evidence, but I doubt mom wanted her to be married by a minister from the Bajoran Provisional Government.

CoramDeo said...

That's a good point, Dustin. I don't think I've ever noticed that.