Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's
"Breaking the Ice." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: The plot is slight at best, but there's value to be found in the
characterization and human/Vulcan interaction.
Plot description: Archer finds his patience wearing thin when a Vulcan ship
watches over the Enterprise as it conducts a routine survey mission on a
Enterprise: "Breaking the Ice"
Airdate: 11/7/2001 (USA)
Written by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton
Directed by Terry Windell
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"Your inexperience and your arrogance are your enemies, not us." - Vanik
I will say that without a doubt the plots so far for Enterprise have been
uninspired. That's perhaps an understatement. After seeing "Breaking the
Ice" I've developed a new theory that says any show where space explorers
build a snowman on the surface of a comet is not exactly trying to make us
feel awed about the wonders of space travel.
And yet the snowman idea fits the tone of this show perfectly, which is
laid-back and irreverent, more about characters and relationships than about
strange new worlds or seeking out new life and new civilizations.
The subject of exploration here: a comet. Correction: a comet containing a
unique mineral. My brain unconsciously forwards the message to my typing
hands: "Whoop-de-do." But I've long maintained that good things can be done
with pedestrian premises, just as is the case the other way around.
"Breaking the Ice" is a character-driven story of trust and friction between
ideals -- and, for that matter, personality types. I frankly don't care
about the comet. What I do care about is the way a Vulcan ship shows up just
as Archer is about to get a survey mission of this comet under way. The
Vulcan captain, Vanik (William Utay), expresses his desire to "observe" the
proceedings. This is not the first time the Vulcans have wanted to observe.
To the Enterprise crew, the Vulcans are increasingly bearing resemblance to
babysitters, trying to hold their hands as they try to cross the street.
"Stay as long as you want," Archer tells Vanik -- a line perfectly delivered
by Bakula as Archer tries to mask his annoyance behind neutrality.
Should the Vulcans be out here, watching over every little thing this
experimental human crew does? It's a good question, still unanswered; Archer
has neither been proven capable nor incapable of interacting with the
interstellar social universe. The Vulcans, meanwhile, are stodgy to the
point of being control freaks. Would they have preferred to wait *forever*
until humanity was truly "ready" to venture out? And now that we're out
here, are they going to look over our shoulders for petty things like
The episode finds the right notes for events that aren't groundbreaking, but
are telling nonetheless. Consider, for example, the whole issue of the
encrypted message that the Vulcan ship sends to T'Pol's quarters. The
transmission is detected and raises Archer's suspicions, who reacts with a
sort of saddened disappointment. Is T'Pol secretly communicating with the
Vulcans? Briefing them on how the Enterprise operates? I like the fact that
Archer *wants* to trust T'Pol, but is still unable to.
Trip has the message decrypted. He reads it, only to find that it has
nothing to do with the Vulcans talking behind Archer's back, but instead
that it's simply a personal letter. Very personal. In this case, distrust
only leads to embarrassment. Trip decides to come clean with T'Pol so he can
clear his conscience. T'Pol is clearly unhappy about her personal situation
being discovered by someone else, and I liked her Vulcan response -- giving
a cold shoulder but without being overly emotional or holding a grudge.
Jolene Blalock turns in her best performance to date in another role that
demands her never to get excited or step outside the boundaries of complete
control that have typified her thus far. I'd read reports that T'Pol would
be envisioned as a more "sensual" Vulcan, but that certainly has not been
the case so far. T'Pol is calm, composed, distant, and incredibly
introverted. "Sensual" is about the last word I'd use to describe her.
Her personal situation here is tantamount to a fork in the road of her life.
She has an arranged marriage awaiting her on Vulcan -- and if she's going to
go through with it, she must make the decision now. She has little emotional
stake in her would-be spouse; she's only met him a handful of times since
the arrangement was made when they were children. Should she adhere to
Vulcan traditional values or continue her mission aboard the Enterprise? We
of course know the answer, but the way the issue is filtered through dialog
and characters is effective.
She confides in Trip on this matter because, naturally, he's the only one
who knows about her situation and she'd rather not share it with any more
people. Their discussion plays the obvious notes of human individuality
versus Vulcan traditionalism, but it's nice to see these two characters have
a genuine personal discussion. Based on this episode, it would seem the
seeds are planted for T'Pol allowing herself to learn from and adjust to the
human mindset around her. It's also likely that these are the seeds of a
personal relationship between Trip and T'Pol -- perhaps an actual
friendship, if T'Pol allows herself to have friends. Like various characters
in all Trek series before her, she has the outside perspective on human
values, and she's peering in. Here's hoping that the learning process will
be a two-way street.
There's also a scene of exposition that is brilliant in its way (and
simultaneously silly), where the bridge crew records answers to questions
sent from Earth. These particular questions are from fourth-graders. The
idea allows the scene to explain a few unanswered technical questions to the
audience while having a reason to do so. You know, the important stuff --
questions involving the universal translator, dating on the ship, the food
supply, and using the toilet. (Trip: "A poop question, sir?" Archer: "It's a
perfectly valid question.") It's a bit obvious and overly cute, but I think
the story manages to get away with it. It would makes sense that there's a
lot of interest in Enterprise's mission back on the home front. I only hope
we get to see more contact with Earth in better depth, used in a less
Perhaps my favorite sequence is Archer's attempt to host dinner for Vanik.
Sure, Vanik accepts Archer's invitation, but as a guest he's about as
useless as he can be. All of Archer's attempts to start a conversation are
utterly futile, because one can't have a conversation with someone who
refuses to bring anything to the table. Vanik responds to each of Archer's
comments with as few words as possible ("No," or "I only drink water"). This
is a mildly funny sequence, played for some low-key laughs. It works because
the humor is based on a truthful premise that most of the audience will be
able to identify with. (William Utay nails down a performance that masks
Vanik's superior indignation behind an artifice of laconic indifference.)
When you have an uncomfortable social situation, the only thing you want is
for it to end. Archer ends it by having an officer escort Vanik to the
launch bay. The lesson to be learned here is that at some point being a
gracious host simply outlives what you get out of it.
It might've been nice to tie the tensions with the Vulcans back into the
issue from last week's "Andorian Incident"; given how cold Vanik is here,
some sort of reference would've been a prudent way to hint at continuing
problems of trust. Continuity between episodes is so far not of much
importance on this series.
Reed and Mayweather become the lucky ones who get to go down to the comet
surface and drill for the rare mineral. Mayweather has never seen snow
firsthand, so this proves to be its own reward. There's something corny and
yet completely in line with the tone of the episode when the two of them
build that snowman. I should, however, point out that the lack of any sort
of edge in Mayweather is really beginning to show -- and rankle a bit. For
someone who has spent his whole life in space, he strikes me more as the
latest take on Mr. Green. He's the youthful, wide-eyed kid with the
perpetual Pepsodent smile. I thought Enterprise was supposed to have "edge,"
but this guy is so far the hollowest shell of a character. Yes, these
characters are going to take awhile to develop, but Mayweather so far is
beyond bland, having nearly nothing in terms of opinions or personality.
Here's hoping this changes soon.
The story's turning point comes when our away team falls into unexpected
jeopardy. The comet rotates toward the sun, the ice melts and cracks,
Mayweather is injured, and the shuttle falls into a chasm of ice. Suddenly
the survey mission becomes a rescue operation where the Enterprise crew must
retrieve the shuttle with grappling hooks. This turns out to be difficult,
at which point the Vanik -- still silently monitoring the situation --
offers to help with his ship's tractor beam.
This is a moment where Archer must make a choice: Handle the crisis on his
own, or swallow his pride and accept the Vulcans' offer of help. I was glad
to see him swallow his pride. Ensuring your people's safety is far more
important than preserving your dignity. And as T'Pol points out, Archer
would be playing into Vanik's hands by ignoring the offer and proving right
the stereotype of humans being arrogant and hard-headed. To the Vulcans,
human independence is not a trait that impresses.
This storyline makes for a good microcosm of the tensions between humans and
Vulcans. It's nice to see Archer's mindset being challenged. The Vulcans may
be righteous and arrogant in their own ways, but they've also been out in
space much longer than humans have, so they certainly have points worth
learning from. All this, despite the fact one almost gets the feeling the
Vulcans were hanging around for something to happen so that they could say,
without saying, "I told you so."
Humans will have their own way of dealing with situations in space, but we
don't know everything, and I'm glad to see this episode acknowledge that.
And just as the Vulcans can help humanity, maybe our human characters can
help our Vulcan character think outside her own box.
"Breaking the Ice" uses some routine story elements to bring these relevant
issues to the surface where character development can begin to emerge.
Next week: Perhaps a lesson for why we need the Prime Directive?
Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...