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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Cold Front"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Cold Front. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Entertaining and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2002
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      Warning: 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
      at in the pilot. "Cold Front" brings little in terms of useful logic to the
      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
      you don't.

      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.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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