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110[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Broken Bow"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Oct 9, 2001
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      Warning: 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
      his homeworld.

      -----
      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
      community.

      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
      outside-human-perspective alien.

      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
      development.

      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
      technobabble.

      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
      absurd.

      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
      breathe.

      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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