[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Shockwave"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: Compelling, absorbing, intriguing, convincing. I think the season
ends on a high note.
Plot description: The disastrous destruction of a mining colony resulting in
more than 3,600 deaths leads to the possibility of Starfleet and the Vulcans
canceling the Enterprise's mission.
Airdate: 5/22/2002 (USA)
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ****
Archer: "Can't you ever give a straight answer?"
Daniels: "Depends on the question."
"Shockwave" is bookended with some chilling images that burned themselves
into my mind. Those images are enough to elevate an already standout story
into the realm of memorable excellence. Trek hasn't absorbed me in this way
in some time. And I'm pleased also to report that there's a depth and
emotional arc to this story that's convincing.
But more than anything, I think what makes "Shockwave" truly work is its
tone of unrelenting weightiness, which is masterfully pitched. I suppose the
credit should go largely to Allan Kroeker and the actors, who bring
conviction and importance to every scene, in a restrained, understated
way -- not an easy task.
The episode opens with a startlingly potent image: the surface of a moon
being incinerated by a wave of cascading explosions, destroying a mining
colony and killing 3,600 people. It's a disaster on a large scale, and
initial evidence indicates the Enterprise shuttlepod's plasma emissions
accidentally ignited atmospheric gases during a landing approach. The
evidence is conflicting; Reed explains in no uncertain terms that procedures
to avoid this possibility were followed to a T, even while forensic-like
analysis reveals byproducts that could only have been produced by the plasma
igniting the atmosphere.
I especially liked that the episode didn't merely use this disaster as a
plot launcher, but also as the basis for Archer's soul searching. A quietly
effective scene where he silently scrolls through a seemingly endless list
of colonist names -- with pictures attached -- says it all. Archer submerges
himself into a pit of self-punishment; as captain, he feels directly
responsible for all the deaths.
Meanwhile, news from Starfleet suggests that the Vulcans (particularly at
the behest of Ambassador Soval) will use this incident to cancel the
Enterprise's mission and try to bottle Starfleet back inside our solar
system for the next 10 or 20 years. Overreaction? Certainly. Someone needs
to argue in favor of the value of Enterprise's mission. But being in his
guilty pit of self-punishment, Archer seems content to accept whatever is
handed down from above without a fight. Trip is in disbelief: "That's guilt
talking, not Jonathan Archer."
Even T'Pol recognizes the absurdity in the Vulcans recommending the mission
be canceled. She also recognizes that Archer's guilt is getting the best of
him, and in a good scene where she shows herself trying to be an effective
first officer doing what's best for the mission, she visits Archer in his
quarters and asks him bluntly, "Is this what humans call feeling sorry for
These notes are played just about perfectly. We can understand Archer's
guilty reactions just as we can understand that they must not be allowed to
take complete control of him; emotions must not prevail in allowing a
knee-jerk verdict go the distance.
It's about here where an intriguing sci-fi plot all but rescues Archer from
his own predicament. While I'm in favor of seeing characters resolve their
problems instead of having the plot do it for them, in this case the plot is
so clever that I was more than happy to go with the flow. Archer turns off
the light in his quarters and suddenly wakes up in his apartment on Earth in
the past. I liked the visual of Archer looking out a window over the city
skyline -- like a dream image, it's a visual that feels familiar and yet
doesn't belong -- and I liked Archer's puzzled but muted responses to this
strangeness ("If you're telling me the last 10 months were a dream, I'm not
buying it," he says, not even sure if he's talking to anyone but himself).
The not-so-dead-after-all Crewman Daniels (Matt Winston; see "Cold Front")
pulled Archer into this past because it seemed to Daniels like a good hiding
place away from the front lines of the Temporal Cold War. Or something.
Daniels tries to explain the collision of past and future in the terms of
how certain events haven't happened yet, to which Archer responds, "That's a
load of crap and you know it" -- a perfect line of dialog. Daniels then
proceeds to explain that the accident that destroyed the mining colony was
engineered by the Suliban as a frame-up in an attempt to undermine
Enterprise's mission and change history.
If there's a complaint to be made about the plot machinations here, it's
that the information supplied to Archer from Daniels is so correct and
comprehensive as to make Daniels storyline-omniscient. But then that's the
whole point about this war waged through timelines -- he who has the best
In this case, Archer comes back to the present with a wealth of information
that makes it possible to collect evidence proving the Suliban frame-up. The
Enterprise crew does this by tracking down and disabling a cloaked Suliban
ship, boarding it, and stealing data that documents the frame-up. Clever.
(Perhaps even too clever, too perfect.) The action here is the polar
opposite of Andromeda action; stealth, skill, and planning take the place of
brute force and mindless shoot-outs, to the point that I don't believe we
see a single Suliban get hit with a phaser beam. Whaddayaknow.
This raid subsequently prompts recurring Suliban villain Silik (John Fleck),
under orders from his mysterious superior from the future, to track the
Enterprise down and target it for destruction unless Archer agrees to
surrender himself, for reasons not yet made clear. Archer agrees to
surrender and places T'Pol in command of the ship, in a scene that is played
with such earnestly serious gravity that it borders on being Earnestly
Serious Gravity, but without going too far.
What can't come across in a review is the effectiveness of the material's
tone throughout. When Archer turns the ship over to T'Pol, for example, it
comes across as a major concession of defeat even as the actors and director
remain restrained with dead-on delivery. Less proves to be so much more.
The ending is a time-manipulation twist in which Archer finds himself
suddenly pulled into the 31st century by Daniels, who finds to his own
dismay that this causes the 31st century to be radically altered for the
worse. Here we get compelling shots of a city long since laid to waste. The
season ends with Archer and Daniels apparently trapped in an alternate
future no one had predicted. I loved the final zoom-out shot with the
wrecked city landscape and skyscraper shells -- a haunting image that
conveys an apt sense of isolation.
Of course, the funny thing about the Temporal Cold War is that it has no
knowable direction and therefore no actual substance. By definition, we are
in the dark, because it's not about what has happened or is happening, but
what maybe "should" happen in one possible future. And in situations like
this, writers have a knack for letting themselves off the hook in ways that
aren't satisfying to the audience. It's the one worry that comes built into
a setup like this.
One might also reflect that by its very nature, the Temporal Cold War (or
any sort of time-altering premise, for that matter) is fundamentally
ridiculous, since the participants think they can control history merely by
manipulating certain events in the timeline. Just once I'd be interested in
seeing a sci-fi time plot that plays closer to my own belief in ultimate
chaos: If there's one tiny detail or even molecule out of place, the
timeline is thus significantly changed in ways that can no longer be
predicted ("Run Lola Run" supplies one of my favorite cinematic examples of
this school of thought).
I digress. In a way, "Shockwave" is like a melding of Star Trek and "The
X-Files." Most important to note is that it's like the early seasons of "The
X-Files" that used to interest me (as opposed to the infuriating self-parody
that its later seasons became) -- a show that was sold on the genuine
evocation of mystery, intriguing images, and characters who reacted to the
bizarre with muted disbelief.
"Shockwave" contains a lot of familiar sci-fi ideas that can't be described
as "new." But what I'm enthused about is that the episode puts them together
in such a way that the storyline itself *feels* new. It seems capable of
going anywhere, and indeed it does go in directions we might not have
anticipated at the beginning. Even for the Trekker who has seen everything,
"Shockwave" manages to bring plenty to the table. Can the follow-up next
season pull the characters out of this dilemma plausibly? I'm not sure. But
until then, I'm completely satisfied with this episode on its own.
Here's a plot that's a mess ... but what an entertaining, well-executed, and
absorbing mess it is.
Keep an eye out for my Enterprise season recap sometime this summer.
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...