Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: Hardly informative or conclusive, but pretty fun.
Plot description: The Enterprise discovers a strange and mysterious vessel
that may have come from the future, and is subsequently besieged by Suliban
and Tholian pursuers who stake a claim to the craft.
Enterprise: "Future Tense"
Airdate: 2/19/2003 (USA)
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by James Whitmore Jr.
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"Wondering about the future and knowing it are two different things."
"If Daniels came here and offered you a chance to go to the 31st century,
you wouldn't take it?"
"Some things are better left a mystery."
"And you call yourself an explorer."
"Where's the fun in exploring if you know how it all turns out?"
-- Trip and Malcolm
"Future Tense" returns us to the temporal cold war storyline, and delivers
an entertaining, if inconclusive to the degree of meaninglessness,
action/adventure plot. There's precious little to learn from watching this
episode, but what it does it does fairly well and at a nice clip.
Let's face it: The object in question here -- a mysterious, broken-down
craft that's apparently from 900 years in the future, with a
long-dead-and-decomposing human pilot -- is simply this week's sci-fi
MacGuffin. The Enterprise has it, everybody else wants it, and the chase is
on. That we never find out what it means or why it's here is of little
consequence. It could very well have been anything (say, for example, a
deluxe temporal Sno-Cone maker); the only important thing is that
ill-intended people will hunt the Enterprise down to get their hands on it.
It helps, however, that the MacGuffin feels like part of the milieu and
exhibits Weird Sci-Fi Properties. There's a strangeness factor to some of
the proceedings that gives this episode its appeal, and unlike "Shockwave,
Part II," there's a sort of believable flow to the story and its weirdness;
it doesn't feel like the plot is forcing itself from a cliffhanger to an
obviously predetermined resolution. Both beginning and end seem less
preordained, and the story doesn't have to jump through
credibility-straining hoops to get where it's going. Well, not too many,
The Enterprise tows the ship into the launch bay for analysis. There's
initially a nice little Trek-lore nod here: The crew briefly considers the
possibility that the human corpse is that of Zefram Cochrane, who went on a
lone mission decades ago and was never heard from again. It's sort of an
interesting little snippet of speculation. The dead pilot is taken to
sickbay for an autopsy. Phlox discovers that, in addition to being human,
the pilot also has Vulcan DNA, among several other species. Phlox's
conclusions indicate the pilot has a lineage of generations of interspecies
breeding -- something impossible in the current year solely because of the
fact humans have only known the Vulcans for 90 years, not to mention the DNA
patterns of other species.
Then, when the Suliban show up staking a claim to this craft, Archer beings
suspecting the only logical explanation to these developments are that the
craft is from the future. T'Pol continues to be extremely skeptical of
anything related to time travel, which becomes a minor annoyance; I would
think the body of evidence in front of her plus "simple logic" would lead
her to decide that the Vulcan Science Directorate's conclusion that time
travel is impossible is at the very least subject to some new scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Trip and Malcolm enter the small craft to further study the
situation and realize -- in what is one of the show's better moments of
weirdness -- that the ship is larger on the inside than on the outside. They
open a hatch that in theory should exit through the bottom of the craft, but
instead it opens up into a whole lower deck. How this is physically
accomplished is never explained or even theorized, for which I am grateful.
I was in agreement with Reed on his initial reaction: "You're not going down
And Trip's decision to, yes, go down there and look around is made amusingly
believable through his dry, what-the-heck approach ("Gotta get my spanner
back"). I'm not so sure it's a bright idea -- at the very least, they should
contact the captain and explain what they're seeing -- but it tracks with
what these two characters have done in the past when unwisely crawling
themselves into potentially dangerous situations. (Remember when they
crawled through an air shaft to try to find the main computer in "Dead
Stop"?) It's kind of funny how in these situations Trip is always the leader
and Malcolm is the reluctant but ultimately relenting follower.
Later, there's some more weirdness to witness when Trip and Malcolm find
themselves repeating the same moment in time when they are near the
spacecraft. This is again not explained or theorized aside from that it's
some sort of time-shattering effect caused by close proximity to the craft.
While this is not fresh material, the presentation was oddly enough depicted
that it caught me off guard and piqued my interest. The effect is one of two
people experiencing deja vu and both slowly coming to the realization that
time is actually looping rather than being an anomaly of perception. I liked
the eerie realization of the third trip through.
Indeed, Trip and Malcolm get many of the show's better scenes, including a
mildly philosophical discussion on whether it's a good thing to know about
the future. Trip argues in favor of the unknown destiny while Malcolm
wouldn't mind having certain answers given to him in advance. This scene,
which is philosophic in a very easy and straightforward way, manages to
debate time travel in simple human terms that are nonetheless interesting.
It's low key and well acted; I like.
Also in this episode is the series' first use of the Tholians. Long-time
fans will of course recognize the mysterious Tholians from the TOS episode,
"The Tholian Web." The Tholians always had cool ships, even in 1968, and
bringing them to the party on Enterprise could prove interesting. At the
very least, the Tholian ships -- sleek and pointed -- seem like they belong
in a modern Star Trek production with current special effects and sound
design. There's no sign of the famous "web" here, but like the Suliban and
their pod vessels, the Tholians are another foe that operates on swarm
mentality. The episode leaves them shrouded in mystery (we hear them but
don't see them, and we don't know why they want the ship) but is clear that
they are somehow involved in the temporal cold war mess. Here's hoping this
leads somewhere in future episodes.
Eventually there's a battle between the swarm of Tholians and the swarm of
Suliban while the Enterprise sits in the middle, apparently seen as the
victor's prize. This is a somewhat clever way for the episode to feature
pyrotechnics without requiring the Enterprise to take implausibly serious
Noteworthy is how this episode shows Archer making a command decision and
trying to see that decision through. His belief -- not an unreasonable
one -- is that because the mysterious craft has a human pilot, it's his
responsibility to fully investigate the matter and make sure this apparent
piece in the temporal war doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Just what would
happen should it fall into the wrong hands -- or the right hands, for that
matter -- is a prospect that, let's face it, the story is not about to
answer. What's important is that it puts Archer in a position where he's
risking his ship and crew for the uncertain possibility of getting answers,
as well as the crew of a Vulcan ship, which is set to rendezvous with the
Enterprise and provide support from the pursuing enemies.
T'Pol asks Archer point-blank if this is a risky stand he should even be
making considering the number of unknowns. Archer believes that it is, but
he's only willing to go so far before taking alternative action with Time
Running Out [TM]. In addition to Trip's technical mission to activate a
homing beacon that would presumably allow the ship to be retrieved through
time by the "right" people, there's also the backup plan of putting a bomb
in the craft and blowing it up so it ends up in nobody's hands.
This leads to another idea I kind of enjoyed, where Archer and Reed find
themselves once again dismantling a bomb a la "Minefield." But since they
take apart the torpedo while standing right next to the temporal craft, you
see, they find themselves in a time loop where they dismantle the bomb three
times while time everywhere else is running at a normal rate -- sort of a
temporal twist on the Time Running Out plot device. This is all admittedly
pretty silly, but I was amused by Archer's matter-of-factly delivered line
upon restarting the bomb disassembly for the third time: "Let's hope we've
got it down by now."
On the less tech-headed side, I must again voice my distaste for the level
of arrogance in this series' version of the Vulcans. There's some running
dialog here where T'Pol basically dismisses out of hand the possibility of
children born from a human/Vulcan couple. (As Archer puts it, apparently
we'd just be an offensive pollutant to their superior genome.) Gee, whatever
happened to the Vulcan subscription to Infinite Diversity in Infinite
Combinations? Apparently, the concept has not been invented in the 22nd
century (sneer). Oh, well -- at least we know we'll be good enough for them
within roughly the next hundred years. Perhaps the future of Enterprise as a
series will be to establish the Vulcans as people that have respectable
qualities rather than so many insulting ones. I look forward to such
Anyway, this episode gets the job done, supplies some mysteries, and
introduces some new players. But I'd also stress that for all the
'splosions, sci-fi craziness, and references to the temporal cold war, this
is a plot that doesn't supply much that's tangible in terms of the temporal
cold war storyline. It's more a means to an ends -- the means being the
storyline and the end being sci-fi action. An ideal situation, of course,
would probably have those particular elements of means and end reversed.
But as sci-fi action goes, "Future Tense" is enough fun and puts forward
enough teasers to be worth the time spent watching it. If that's what you're
looking for, you could do far worse.
Next week: A prison colony known as (Begin Big Trailer Title) CANAMAR.
Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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