Star Trek Enterprise: Shuttlepod One

"To the brave men and women of the starship Enterprise."

By nature I love brevity: What a nice episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Enterprise.

One of the odd things that characterizes Enterprise is its ability to completely veer off from the focus of the show as a whole, while simultaneously managing to tell a good story with it. This episode is a good example of that, although it's not as much of a departure from the show's focus as some other episodes are. In 'Shuttlepod One,' we have just the sort of character-focused bottle show DS9 loved to do. It does contain elements of the Enterprise flavor, but the show's core conflict of caution vs. curiosity is barely present.

But it is a good story, and ought to be treated as such. At its simplest, and it's pretty simple to begin with, 'Shuttlepod' is a story about two men bonding over a shared harrowing experience. The focus, to the episode's credit, is kept mainly to Trip and Malcolm, but I think I would have preferred that it be entirely locked onto those two characters. It's not like the scenes aboard Enterprise did anything for the episode, except maybe explain what hit both the ship and the shuttlepod. But that has practically no bearing on the story, and it isn't interesting enough to warrant its inclusion. It would also have greatly increased the tension had we not been immediately shown that Enterprise was alright. If we'd stuck with Trip and Malcolm as they went from thinking all was just fine to discovering what they believed to be the wreckage of Enterprise, I think it would have helped us feel their emotional journey better.

Trip and Malcolm have never really interacted on this show before, so we didn't really have a sense of their relational dynamic. That seems fitting, since they don't seem to have a sense of it either. They've talked before of course, within the confines of their duties, but I don't get the feeling that they've really spent any time together. And, as often happens when two people who have never spent much time together are suddenly confined to a small space with only each other to talk to, they get on each other's nerves. This will remind many longtime Trekkies/Trekkers of O'Brien and Bashir's first relationship-defining episode, 'Armageddon Game.' The two episodes differ significantly, but the core idea of two men who dislike each other trapped in a dangerous situation remains the same. Actually, Trek likes to do these sorts of two-character episodes a lot, and it often serves to expand the two chosen characters in a deeper way than we've seen.

So what does 'Shuttlepod One' reveal about Trip and Malcolm? Let's start with Malcolm, since he's arguably the focus. Malcolm spends the bulk of the episode, and the start of nearly every scene, recording letters to his family, friends, and exes. Besides annoying the heck out of Trip, this serves to show us that Malcolm is actually a person who cares very deeply about the people in his life. He has the same feelings as anyone else, but he has a very hard time expressing them to people, so he can never get close. That's why he records letters, because he can't bring himself to say these things to people when he has the chance in their normal interaction. This combined with his stark realism gives Malcolm a bit of a tragic side, and it's also very relatable. How many times have you had things you wanted to say to people, but you can't bring yourself to just tell them? How many times have you drafted an email or a text message, and never sent it? I know I have this problem all the time. It's harder to speak to someone to their face, but it's ultimately better. Malcolm can't manage to do that.

Trip, on the other hand, couldn't possibly be any more direct. He's also an eternal optimist, preferring to keep hope alive even when there doesn't seem to be any reason for it. I like to think this stems from his other characteristic in this episode – his sense of responsibility. Trip is a leader, and as a leader he feels responsible for the people under his leadership. Because of this, he has to stay optimistic, because if he doesn't, his people will give up. This remains true even in this situation, when there isn't really anyone's hopes to keep up. He also feels the great weight of his responsibility for other people's lives, which comes out in the climax.

The climax of this episode is amazing, and probably my favorite part of the whole thing. A lesser show would have put the climax when they found out Enterprise was alright. The solution of detonating the impulse drive would have come from the cooperation of the two characters, and they would have been saved. But it doesn't do that. Instead, they detonate the drive, and have no idea whether or not it worked. They don't know if they're safe or if they're dead for sure. The climactic moment, rather, is when Trip tries to sacrifice himself for Malcolm, and Malcolm won't let him. It's exactly right to make this about character rather than plot, and it works beautifully. Trip, all out of options, finally takes what he sees as his last responsibility on himself. He does it without hesitation, as soon as it occurs to him, and it seems honorable. But Malcolm won't have it. Because for all their dislike of each other, for all their quarrels, Malcolm respects Trip. He respects him more than he could ever express in words, so he does it by action. Malcolm would rather take the one-in-a-thousand chance that both of them will survive, than the sure thing that he will live and Trip will die. They may not agree on anything, or like each other, or get along, but Trip and Malcolm respect each other. And that won't ever change.

Strange New Worlds:

Echo Three, where Trip and Malcolm resolve to send the shuttlepod, is actually not a planet but a subspace communications array.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Tesnians are the reason the Enterprise is away from the rendezvous point, but never appear onscreen.

Pensees:

-This is the only episode of Star Trek ever to feature no guest or background actors. Only the seven main cast members are in it, and Travis never appears onscreen.

-I like the technology that heats up their rations. It seems very deliberately like a step back from the sort of tech Star Trek has in the future.

-T'Pol and Archer argue over nothing in most of their scenes, and there is no resolution to that plot line whatsoever. Kind of indicative of their relationship in this show, actually.

-Reed likes T'Pol. That'll be important later, in one of the worst episodes of the entire series. Trip apparently does not, which will change.

-Travis watch: One line, offscreen. Never change, Travis.

-I didn't mention this earlier, but I should. This is my favorite episode of Enterprise's first season.

Quotes:

There are so many amazing lines that I can't put all of the ones I like. Here are a few favorites.

Trip: "I'll have you know that Superman was laced with metaphor."

Trip: "If I don't waste some oxygen sleeping, I'm gonna start getting real cranky. And you don't want to spend your last nine days cooped up with me when I'm cranky."

Trip: "Live a little. That's an order."

Malcolm: "With the crew of the Enterprise, it was different. I was really starting to feel comfortable with them. And now the only one that's left thinks I'm the bloody angel of death."
Trip: *blows out candle* "All of a sudden, five or six more minutes sounds kinda nice."
What a moment.

Malcolm: "Is it just the galaxy giggling at us again?"
Trip: "It can giggle all it wants, but the galaxy's not getting any of our bourbon."

Malcolm: "How does it feel to be slower than a snail?"
Trip: "I saw a great cartoon once. There were these two snails sitting on the back of a big old turtle. One snail turns to the other and says, 'Hold on, Fred. Here we go.'"

Malcolm: "I've invested far too much time trying to figure you out, Mr. Tucker. I'm not about to accept that it was all for nothing."

5.5 out of 6 microsingularities.

1 comment:

CoramDeo said...

Boy, this one's been in the pipeline for a long time. Enterprise reviews may start up more regularly in the coming months.