128[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Cold Front"
- Jan 12 12:56 PMWarning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's "Cold
Front." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: Entertaining and intriguing, albeit with no possible answers and
an indication that the whole arc-to-be is the ultimate paradox plot.
Plot description: As the Enterprise plays host to visitors on a religious
retreat, Archer is made aware of a Suliban intruder who may be part of a
conspiracy waged from centuries in the future.
Enterprise: "Cold Front"
Airdate: 11/28/2001 (USA)
Written by Steve Beck & Tim Finch
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"It's good to know Earth will still be around in 900 years."
"That depends on how you define Earth."
-- Trip and Daniels
Time travel rarely makes any logical sense, and it doesn't make much sense
in "Cold Front," where characters from the future explain to characters in
the past that they're trying to keep other characters from the future from
altering history from the way it "should" play out. How in the world is one
supposed to know the way history "should" play out? If you're a product of
everything that came before, how can you possibly exist as any sort of
sentient constant that can identify one timeline as correct as compared to
another? Even assuming you could exist as a constant that was created from
one possible reality, to assume that is the "correct" one is little more
than making an arbitrary judgment based on what you think you know.
That's the quandary in "Cold Front," which establishes what may be a major
story arcs on this series -- that of the "Temporal Cold War," first hinted
table, but that might be the point; Captain Archer is thrown for about as
much of a loop as we in the audience are. By the end of the story, he has no
answers -- only more questions -- and we're in the same boat.
To be sure, I liked "Cold Front," which is in the spirit of solid
entertainment rather than deep significance. I didn't quite love it, perhaps
because it lacks the ability to blow us away with truly compelling drama or
grounded storytelling. Most of the concepts here are well traveled in
Trekkian lore, as is much of the execution and the inherently circular
logic. But I liked the underlying spirit: This is, simply, two doses of
elusive weirdness and one dose of reaction with heavy trepidation. Captain
Archer finds himself completely out of his element, which I found
gratifying. Time travel isn't a known proof here as it was on the other Trek
shows; to Archer, it's more like science fiction.
The mystery is laid out when crewman Daniels (Matt Winston) comes to Archer
and tells him that a Suliban operative named Silik (John Fleck) has boarded
the Enterprise disguised as one of the peaceful guests who are on board to
witness a nearby cosmic event. Daniels has been a part of Archer's crew all
along, but he has apparently never been *just* an ordinary crew member; he's
an operative from roughly 900 years in the future assigned to stop timeline
manipulation in the 22nd century. Silik is the Suliban whom Archer fought at
the climax of "Broken Bow"; he works for a mysterious entity from the future
(but from earlier than Daniels' time frame) who employs the Suliban to
manipulate the timeline by proxy.
The Temporal Cold War, according to Daniels, is the struggle involving those
possessing time-travel technology -- between those who maintain the idea
that interfering with the past cannot be permitted, and those who would
change history to benefit themselves. Daniels, much to Archer's dismay and
amazement, takes the captain to his quarters, where he uses a device that
shows how people from the future monitor the intersecting timelines of the
past. It's a massive, graphical 3D array of streams, colors, and icons
representing, I guess, all of known history.
Scott Bakula's performance is key in his scenes, where Archer's universe is
revealed to him as a toy to be manipulated by those who are hundreds of
years in the future. Archer is astonished and overwhelmed; Bakula sells
these scenes with an understated performance that conveys his surprise
through a sort of stunned quiet.
The bizarre irony here is that Archer finds himself in a situation where
motivations and consequences go in opposing directions as far as the
Enterprise is concerned. Archer's ship is caught in the middle of a mess far
bigger than its own role in it. Consider, for example, that Silik prevents
the Enterprise from being destroyed in a near-cataclysmic accident (or was
it an accident?). When Daniels lays everything out on the table for Archer,
the dilemma is complicated by the fact that Silik is allegedly working on
the amoral side of the Temporal Cold War ... and yet his mission was to
*save* the Enterprise from destruction. Was history "supposed" to include
the Enterprise being destroyed? Daniels doesn't say.
Should Archer even trust Daniels? He obviously has information about things
that no one else does. But as T'Pol points out, does that necessarily make
him a time traveler? (Up to now, no one in this century has any evidence
that time travel really exists; the Vulcans treat the matter with
skepticism.) More importantly, if Daniels is a time traveler who says he
needs Archer's help, how can Archer know that Daniels is the good guy? Just
because he says so? Archer's situation is an impossible one to be in,
because he has to make important decisions based on woefully incomplete
information. I submit that a big reason Archer trusts Daniels is because
Daniels is human. Or, as Daniels curiously says, "more or less" human.
I'm not sure this is a great idea on Archer's part, since manipulation by
gaining the trust of those in past timelines would be a perfect way for an
operative to change history. In one scene, Archer is confronted by Silik,
who makes that very point. Daniels' claims could simply be servicing his own
ends, for his own faction in the temporal war. Indeed, how can Archer
possibly choose a side in this conflict at all? Damned if you do; damned if
That question is part of what makes "Cold Front" fascinating. Here's a
situation where we're not sure what to make of the players -- where the
various sides of the struggle are shrouded in gray areas and we don't know
what's right or wrong, what's true or a lie, and even if we did, making the
right decision could mean the Enterprise "should" end up destroyed. Good
luck, Captain Archer.
What's a little disappointing is that the story itself doesn't play this
aspect more prominently. It would rather choose to make Daniels our friend
and Silik the enemy, and favor a conventional chase premise over more
detailed examination of the logical dilemmas. Ultimately we have Silik
blasting Daniels into oblivion, and Archer tracking Silik through the ship
and walking through walls with Daniels' phase-shifting technology (which is,
conveniently, smart enough to know not to let Archer's feet pass through the
floor). When Archer has Silik apparently cornered, Archer talks rather than
taking action, allowing Silik to slip away, and earning Archer a D-minus for
the day in my grade book for intruder capture.
This at least leads to a payoff that is a great visual image, where Silik
escapes the Enterprise by opening the launch-bay doors and jumping right out
of the ship, floating toward a Suliban vessel waiting to rescue him. Now
*that's* a dramatic escape. I also enjoyed the ominous take on Daniels'
quarters, which Archer has sealed until further notice. This is a
contrivance to postpone dealing with fallout from this story until the
writers feel like it (why wouldn't Archer investigate Daniels' quarters
*right now*?), but at least it's a contrivance done entertainingly, with
tones of menace.
Of course, there's one other underlying issue to briefly discuss, which is
that the Temporal Cold War could be held up as an excuse for explaining away
things on Enterprise that contradict events that happened on the previous
series. Are we witnessing a sly device the writers have created to let
themselves off the hook for things they might contradict? Nah, probably
not -- the canon timeline would inevitably be the same one as created (or
altered, wink, wink) in this version of the past. Unless, of course, the
writers themselves have beamed over to another reality.
In any case, something like the Temporal Cold War is a nightmare for
logicians and a paradise for those who enjoy paradoxes. Perhaps we should
just concede that if it's entertaining, it's effective.
As for anyone who claims to pass through centuries of history in an effort
to keep the timeline "right," I hereby submit them as another Trekkian
puzzle for the Timeline Gods to sort out.
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...