110[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Broken Bow"
- Oct 9, 2001Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the series premiere
of Enterprise, "Broken Bow." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: A typical pilot episode -- does a decent job introducing the
concept and characters and comes with assorted pluses and minuses.
Enjoyable, though not groundbreaking in any way.
Plot description: When a Klingon is captured on Earth following a mysterious
incident, Captain Jonathan Archer prepares for the launch of Starfleet's
first deep-space starship and its crew in a mission to return the Klingon to
Enterprise: "Broken Bow"
Airdate: 10/3/2001 (USA)
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by James L. Conway
Regular cast: Scott Bakula (Captain Jonathan Archer), Connor Trinneer (Chief
Engineer Charles Tucker III), Jolene Blalock (Sub-commander T'Pol), Dominic
Keating (Lt. Malcolm Reed), Anthony Montgomery (Ensign Travis Mayweather),
Linda Park (Ensign Hoshi Sato), John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox)
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"You better be careful. I'm a lot bigger than you are."
-- warning from Captain Archer
"The Star Trek saga has a new beginning," say the taglines for the fifth
series in the franchise -- three of which have existed within the confines
of just over the past two years. "Broken Bow" supplies the kickoff story
that launches Enterprise, the vessel and the series. It's hardly a great or
groundbreaking start, but it's not bad and works as escapist entertainment.
It is, in short, adequate. Not too shabby.
I might as well confess that reviewing a pilot episode can be sort of like
shooting in the dark. It wasn't easy last year when I had Andromeda's "Under
the Night" in front of me, nor is it here, where all of Star Trek is
essentially starting over from ground zero -- a "new" ground zero that has
so far been left unexplored by the canon material. Also, analyzing the level
of success of a pilot that aims for general entertainment has to be gauged
on those more general terms. A certain amount of scrutiny for significance
will have to come later.
Which is not to say "Broken Bow" is insignificant. I suppose it just wasn't
as significant as I had hoped. It's sold more as an hour of conventional,
mainstream, escapist TV for the middlebrow masses than as a show that takes
new risks or fills in the questions many of us might be wondering about when
it comes to the early days of Starfleet, living apart from a Federation that
doesn't yet exist.
Does "Broken Bow" get the job done? On its bottom line, yes. Am I blown
away? No. Do I like the Star Trek prequel concept? Yes, but as we've seen
before, concept is only part of the equation; what's done with that concept
it the rest.
The title refers to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, where a bizarre incident takes
place in the show's opening minutes: A Klingon is running through a
cornfield where he lures two mysterious aliens (who have a weird ability to
stretch and compress their bodies) into a silo. He then blows up the silo,
killing the two aliens, before being shot by the farm owner and turned over
to the authorities in critical condition.
Most humans have never seen a Klingon before. "It's a Klingot" says a
Starfleet official (perhaps too obviously ignorant), who is quickly
corrected by his Vulcan counterpart. The wounded Klingon, named Klaang
(Tommy "Tiny" Lister), becomes a crucial element the story hinges upon:
Returning him to the Klingon homeworld, Kronos, would be a worthy mission
that might coincide nicely with Starfleet's planned launch of its new warp
five-capable starship, the Enterprise NX-01, which has the ability to timely
reach other worlds where previous starships could not.
The ship's captain is Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), son of Henry Archer
(Mark Moses in flashback sequences), the man who designed the Enterprise's
engines. For his entire life Archer has dreamed of realizing his father's
vision and taking the ship on its maiden voyage, but standing in the way for
decades have been the Vulcans, who believe humans aren't ready to face the
delicate matters of interacting with others in the vast interstellar
One of these Vulcans is Sub-commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), who is quick
to accuse Archer of human volatility, to which Archer responds, "You have no
idea how much I'm restraining myself from knocking you on your ass." That's
a glib cowboy line, which might be the point.
The events of "Broken Bow" take place in 2151, nearly 90 years after Zefram
Cochrane's first successful warp flight as seen in "Star Trek: First
Contact" (1996). One of the show's nicer moments is when it plays a historic
speech by Cochrane that was recorded nearly a century earlier. James
Cromwell has a cameo, reprising the role he played in the film five years
ago. Trek fans live for these kinds of connections, and this is a nice one.
Unfortunately, this may be the last real moment in "Broken Bow" where Trek
die-harders who are interested in the history of Starfleet's foundation will
likely find themselves awed by the mythos. We never get much information
about how Starfleet itself came about. Much of the rest of the episode is
the stuff of middlebrow action/adventure.
Except, I guess, for one element -- namely, the Vulcans. I must say that I'm
particularly leery about the way the show depicts the Vulcans. In short,
they're not supplied the dignity the Trek universe has typically given them
and are instead shown as stodgy bureaucratic obstacles without a
well-reasoned point of view. This makes them almost look like
quasi-villains, which is unnecessary and could've been avoided if there were
better motives supplied for their constant skepticism. Conflict is nice, but
conflict is better when it's well reasoned through more than one point of
view (witness the Sisko/Kira tension of the early DS9 episodes) rather than
forced by the mechanics of the plot. The way "Broken Bow's" early acts play
out make the Vulcans look like they're being pains in the ass for pains in
the ass' sake. Not enough is done to suggest that maybe the Vulcans are
right -- that humans *aren't* completely ready to contend with all the
issues that face them out in deep space. But perhaps better understanding of
such issues will grow from T'Pol becoming first officer on Archer's ship,
where she serves as official liaison between Starfleet and the Vulcans.
Archer's crew is your typically diverse Trekkian bunch; in keeping with the
Trekkian tone, the regular characters are represented by actors of assorted
racial/national/regional background. That's great, but unfortunately for
"Broken Bow," several of these characters fade into the background and come
across as pretty bland.
As expected, we get a good dose of Archer and T'Pol and their head-butting.
Character #3 in the pilot's importance hierarchy is Archer's friend and
chief engineer Charles Tucker (Connor Trinneer), who comes equipped with a
direct, "straight shooter" mentality and a mild Southern drawl. There's also
linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), a.k.a. the Asian Chick; helmsman Travis
Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), a.k.a. the Black Guy; armory officer
Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), a.k.a. the Brit, and Outside Human
Perspective Alien Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), a.k.a. the
I jest, but several of these characters are plot vessels and largely come
across as boring. Sato is the story's frightened, green character (hopefully
not Harry Kim Redux), jumping with every strange noise on the ship.
Mayweather was raised on cargo vessels but that's about all we learn, unless
we're particularly amused that he experienced firsthand that the women of
one particular species "have three." Phlox is a somewhat-chatterbox who
resembles a Garak/Neelix love-child and has an eccentricity that initially
borders on annoying (thankfully Archer seems to notice this too). Reed is
... well, I have no idea, because the story doesn't spend more than a minute
on him outside the action. Aside from Archer, T'Pol, and Tucker, none of
these characters have any fresh edge. Time will tell if they'll get better
My first impression on the main actors here: I like Bakula, who exhibits
conviction and comes across as a natural leader and anchor for the show.
Trinneer works well with his contemporary take on Tucker. I'm less
enthusiastic about Blalock (a.k.a. "Vulcan of Nine"), who seems here like a
Seven clone but not nearly as effective an actor as Jeri Ryan, though it
will be some time before any real verdict can be placed on her, or anyone
else for that matter.
The Enterprise's mission takes the vessel on its course toward Kronos. Along
the way they run into some strange new aliens called the Suliban, a race
bent on extreme genetic alteration for their betterment. The Suliban invade
the Enterprise and kidnap Klaang, who was apparently made aware of a plot
the Suliban had to undermine the Klingon Empire. Subsequently, Archer
follows the clues to a nearby world to investigate Klaang's kidnapping in
hopes of retrieving him. Archer is met by a female Suliban operative named
Sarin (Melinda Clarke), an ally of Klaang, who explains the Suliban Sinister
Plot [TM] to Archer in one of those back-alley conversations that's destined
to shortly become the landscape for a sudden outbreak of violence.
Apparently part of the Suliban, the Cabal, is willing to go very far in the
interests of "self-improvement" via genetic engineering. Sarin is among the
Suliban who oppose that group (i.e., one of the "good guys"). She is
subsequently and quickly killed when Suliban Cabal operatives open fire in
this alley. Lesson #1: As a guest character, once you've served your purpose
in a plot like this, you'd better duck down quick, because you're expendable
and especially vulnerable to gunfire.
With new information, Archer & Co. follow warp trails to a planet where they
believe the Suliban have taken Klaang. This scene, alas, is heavy on the
technobabble that Berman & Braga have been promising Series V would be
devoid of. Funny how a Starfleet admiral calls it a "Klingot" and yet no one
on this relatively young crew has trouble deciphering starship jargon.
One aspect that will certainly have to set this series apart from the other
Trek shows will be its more limited technology. In "Broken Bow" the
transporter exists and is supposedly safe, but it's still somewhat feared;
no one wants to actually go through it themselves. Also nice is that the
Universal Translator is not as magical a device as in the previous series,
hence the need for a skilled human interpreter. And we have grappling hooks
in place of tractor beams. But with the lesser technology comes an even more
emphasized responsibility for the writers to steer clear of worthless
Of course, any review of "Broken Bow" would be remiss if not to mention one
of the most transparently gratuitous exploitations of shallow sexuality in
the Star Trek canon -- a moment that redefines the term gratuitous. I'm
referring, of course, to the "decontamination scene" involving T'Pol and
Tucker. The scene's motives are so obvious it will have many viewers rolling
on the floor: T'Pol in a tank-top showing her midriff and with Visible
Nipple Action. Jolene Blalock may be this series' Unabashed Hottie Presence,
but this scene is beyond shameless.
It draws so much attention to itself that all dialog in the scene becomes
irrelevant, because the dialog is no longer the point (and we can't hear it
over our own groans and snickers anyway). My thoughts here apply logic,
probably futilely: We as viewers know what the point of this scene is. The
writers know what the point of this scene is. The actors and director know
what the point of this scene is. And yet we have characters who seem
completely oblivious to the sexual element, as if it's not part of the
equation here at all. Come on, people! It's an insult to our intelligence,
somewhat mitigated only by how funny and blatant it is. I guess anything
goes in the name of demographics, but at least make your gimmicks halfway
plausible. Jeri Ryan never endured a scene in this spirit that was quite so
It's worth noting, however, that Enterprise believes in Equal Opportunity
Sexual Exploitation: Tucker appears shirtless with boxer shorts in the
decontamination scene, and later we also get Archer in boxers (which makes
more sense in context considering he's lounging privately in his quarters).
Overlong digression. Anyway: If sexuality is still handled as a relentlessly
juvenile enterprise on Trek, then I should hasten to point out an obvious
strength that Enterprise will certainly have going in its favor, and that's
the visuals and production design. This is a visually striking show, with
top-notch production values, sets, and special effects -- a feature-film
look that maybe surpasses even Voyager in its vision. I liked the Suliban
space station, composed of hundreds of individual pods connected to a core.
Even the worn-out phaser fight idea manages to work better because it takes
place on a roof during a snowstorm, seemingly giving the scene more space to
Maybe somewhat less effective is when Archer ends up in an elevator filled
with flashing strobe lights. I call this elevator the Rave Room. And once
the elevator stops, Archer steps out into another room that exhibits some
sort of temporal delay effect. He walks into this room and waves his hand
around in the weird atmosphere; I'm thinking he's on ecstasy or some other
mind-altering substance, like many others before him who have just stepped
out of a rave.
The plot doesn't resolve with great insight its strangest element -- that of
a "temporal cold war." What the hell is that? Not sure, but the Suliban are
involved; we learn that they use this weird room to talk with people (who is
uncertain) from the future and alter events by changing the past. Does this
portion of the plot make sense? Not so much, because it's been reserved --
or at least I hope -- for future storylines.
Also of scant development are issues involving Earth's current role and the
Enterprise being granted its continuing mission after the successful mission
to return Klaang to Kronos. What is this lone ship's role in the galaxy? If
there are problems, who will help them? Is Starfleet building any other
ships? What will be Starfleet's general campaign in space travel? What are
the Vulcans' interstellar role at this point in time? Why in the world were
two Suliban and a Klingon running around Earth? For that matter, how far
have humans traveled prior to the Enterprise launch? Freight-ship workers
like Mayweather have apparently gone farther than a lot of people who have
been sitting around in Starfleet, but I'm not sure who has seen what, or how
far out here humans have been.
For the sake of comparison, it's my opinion that "Broken Bow" is not as
engrossing as the other recent Trek pilot stories. "Emissary" (DS9) and
"Caretaker" (Voyager) both had superior pilots that did better jobs of
establishing their entire casts. "Emissary" had emotional notes of internal
struggle (Sisko's angst) and genuine exploration of new ideas (first contact
with non-linear lifeforms), while "Caretaker" had an immediate goal
(bringing together two crews in the wilderness to get home). "Broken Bow" is
generic exploration and more simpleminded adventure. It's about those who
Boldly Go, but without many underlying complexities.
Enterprise, by the definition of its concept, has promise. Humans have a
new, less jaded, and more wondrous (we hope) perspective concerning space
travel compared to all Treks since The Original Series. There's the
possibility to see how the building blocks for the as-yet-nonexistent
Federation will be laid, which could be fascinating for long-time fans and
newbies alike. The pratfall in this concept, of course, comes not simply
with the obvious potential of demolishing existing continuity in the Trek
canon, but in the difficulty in keeping Trek itself fresh and exciting.
Rearranging timelines and giving the saga a "new beginning" is not all it
will take to create a series that seems fresh. The attitude, climate, and
characters must be sustained through solid stories that feel new on their
own merits, not simply because they're recycled stories filtered through a
new perspective (though the new perspective will help).
"Broken Bow" is a fun start, featuring a sharp look, efficient and effective
direction by James L. Conway, a workable (if uninspired) story for a general
audience, and a promising concept. Now it's time to use it.
Note: The opening title sequence is appropriate given the premise, featuring
clips of various ships (of all types) named Enterprise, as well as video
clips of progressive stages of space travel. The theme, by Diane Warren and
performed by Russell Watson, is a rock song that's acceptable but might tire
more quickly than a traditional orchestral piece and is not as memorable as
past Trek themes. The episode's music is a traditional score along the same
lines of the last decade of television Trek, composed by long-time Trek
composer Dennis McCarthy.
Next week: Our new crew finds its first ship full of alien corpses.
Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...