Enterprise Redux: Broken Bow

A few years back, I blogged about my slow, sometimes agonizing attempt to watch through the entirety of Star Trek: Enterprise. And then, a miracle happened: Midway through season two, the show developed purpose and definition. Season three tackled an extended story arc, and season four became a series of mini-arcs that wonderfully recaptured the essence of classic Trek.

That project was meant to be a journey through the whole of Star Trek, but it became derailed when I moved away from San Francisco. The only time I ever have to watch videos is while I’m exercising, and I’ve been without a proper exercise setup for more than two years (as my oversized midsection will attest). But I’m finally back in business, as my wife bought me a new elliptical machine which I’ve set up in a corner of our garage along with a tiny, decade-old HD television and a cheap Blu-ray player. And I’m going to do it right, by starting this project over.

Mainly, I’m curious to see what I’ll think upon revisiting Enterprise. It was kind of a hard sell at first, but it became much better as it progressed, and I suspect I will find that a lot of things I found unbearable about the series initially will play a lot better now that I know the endgame it was aiming for. I also suspect many things will be unbearable regardless. So anyway, back to the beginning.

S1E1: Broken Bow

Broken Bow had a lot riding on its shoulders: It had to set up the premise of the show, introduce us to a new crew, establish its bonafides within the Star Trek universe without grossly contradicting established canon, and still offer an entertaining two hours of television. It succeeds in all these things to a certain degree, though lord knows it ain’t perfect. Still, it gets the point across. We know:

  • Vulcans are kind of jerks, uncharacteristically so—something that goes down more easily in hindsight, as later episodes make a significant plot point of the fact that most of Vulcan society has lost sight of Surak’s teachings and mainly use their commitment to logic and emotional control as an excuse to be sanctimonious rather than as an actual way of life. Humans and Vulcans have been pals since First Contact, but Vulcans are suppressing human development into space (with some justification) and humans are whiny about it (also with some justification).
  • The Enterprise is the first Earth vessel designed to travel at warp 5, the point at which genuine transgalactic travel becomes feasible. Its captain, Jonathan Archer, is the son of the scientist who developed most of Earth’s warp technology. He’s especially grumpy about Vulcans.
  • Humans have no idea who Klingons are, and vice versa. Likewise for most of the rest of the galaxy’s races.
  • There’s some weird overarching plotline about a “temporal cold war,” which turned out to be a lot more uncomfortable than intended thanks to the use of a race called the Suliban as proxy combatants in much the same way Americans used the Taliban as a proxy in Afghanistan. Of course, Enterprise debuted right around the time of 9/11, so the Taliban went from being “one of America’s many regrettable but forgotten imperialist ventures” to “whoa we really boned it” around the time the series went to air.

The Enterprise crew is remarkably bland. The utilitarian uniforms don’t help, but there are a lot of white dudes without much personality. The black and Asian crew members, Mayweather and Sato, fare a little better. Everyone kind of seems like warmed-over retreads of more beloved characters from the past, e.g. T’Pol is Spock with Seven of Nine’s figure; Tucker is Dr. McCoy subbing for Mr. Scott. Dr. Phlox is great, though! Like a more competent Dr. Zoidberg, an alien responsible for tinkering in the guts of humans.

On the whole, “Broken Bow” set things up as decently as any pilot episode could be expected to. I don’t care enough about the minutiae of Star Trek continuity to have spotted any egregious errors, though it would have been nice if the Klingons here had more closely resembled the ones in the original series—though, again, this is something explained much later in the show. So it’s cool.

Stuff that works:

  • The Enterprise NX-01. It feels utilitarian and limited, like the midpoint between NASA tech and the Enterprise NCC-1701. It’s a crying shame we never got to see the evolved refit.
  • Tech limitations. When the show bothers to adhere to them, things like the unstable transporter create some decent dramatic tension—they’re all too error-prone or underpowered to be an easy get-out-of-jail-free card.
  • Ensign Mayweather. The most likable crew member, and despite his rank also the most seasoned spacefarer in the ship.
  • Dr. Phlox. Again, a refreshing change for the surly alien crewmen who begrudgingly coexists with humans; the eternally optimistic Phlox finds humans quite likable and relishes the opportunity to live among them.

Stuff that doesn’t work:

  • The temporal cold war. This whole thing never really goes anywhere. Supposedly the show runners were going to reveal the shadowy future figure as Archer further down the line, but it’s difficult to reconcile Future Dude’s actions this episode with that reading.
  • Tech limitations. Trek is never very good at combat. A single shot or two can debilitate a starship’s systems, but when plot requires a ship can also soak up an armada’s fire. That happens here in the incursion into the Suliban cluster, where the Enterprise is initially weak as a paper towel but somehow manages to absorb a ridiculous amount of punishment as it makes its dramatic swoop to collect Archer at the end.
  • The security chief dude. I can never even remember his name. He’s the most boring character ever to appear in Star Trek. He makes the rest of the ensemble feel less interesting with his mere presence.

So, an OK start to the series by and large; some of the big-picture things that seemed out of place at first (especially the Vulcans and Klingons) get resolved later in the series, while others (the temporal cold war in particular) don’t.