Monday, July 27, 2009

Enterprise - Second First Impressions

The Fall that Enterprise began to air, I was a new, full-time graduate student, working a full-time job on the midnight shift, in a new city. I have a slight but specific memory of watching Broken Bow, the Enterprise pilot episode, in my stuffy studio apartment one evening. I realized recently, though, that it might not have been possible that I was watching the episode in that setting, under quite those circumstances. I remembered, correctly, that it was a Wednesday night, and I know I hadn't started my new job yet, but I'm not sure I'd moved into that stuffy, studio apartment in Washington, DC, by September 26th, 2001. Where could I have watched it between couch surfing, sleeping in my car, making the long drive back to Connecticut for the large part of the week that I didn't have classes, and staying in the "hotel" near campus that had old rabbit ear TVs in some rooms? (I remember one night watching a beauty pageant on one of those TVs, but I picture myself in that studio apartment watching Enterprise...)

If my memories of the circumstances around watching the episode are questionable, could I trust my memories of my impression of the show itself?

But then I realized that my memories of the episode itself are... well, basically nonexistent, so I guess it doesn't matter. Whatever I had thought in September 2001 of Enterprise, clearly it did not hook me. I don't think I watched the whole pilot. I may have, out of some sense of duty, tuned in the next week and had the show playing in the background as I tried to get my life in order. Whatever it was, the show did not leave much of an impression on me except a notion of ... well, not digging it. I was vaguely put off by it.

A couple weeks ago, Disc One of the first season of Enterprise arrived from Netflix. Here we go...

The first thing I noticed when Broken Bow began was that it felt weird to have the show start out very Earthbound. "Well, durr, that's the point," I reminded myself. "They haven't even started exploring yet." Also, I initially had thought the title referred to the bow of a ship, not a place in Oklahoma likely named after, you know, an archery bow.

So, the gist of the plot is this: The very opening of the show features a young Jonny Archer, building a model of a ship with his Warp engineer dad, and expressing a dislike for the Vulcans who have been guiding humans move toward deep space travel since the events of First Contact 60 years earlier. Big Brother Vulcans seem to have been holding back baby brother Humans, who they think aren't ready yet to explore the far reaches of space using a Warp 5 vessel, even though in that short time, Earth has become peaceful and prosperous. Like, seriously . In First Contact, people are wearing ratty clothes and living in dusty, makeshift camp colonies built out of scraps, post WWIII. When Enterprise begins, Earth is pretty and green and abundant and boys build models with their engineer dads and everything is good.

Thirty more years later, a Klingon and some other aliens have a little bit of an action adventure chase on some poor guy's farm in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. The Klingon is injured. What to do? The Vulcans, aware of Klingon culture, want to let the Klingon just die, with honor, as is the Klingon way. The humans, of course, want to impose their own ethics on the situation and keep the Klingon alive, insisting that returning him to his home world even a little bit alive would be the better thing to do. Since the Vulcans can't really force the humans to do anything, Captain Jonathan Archer puts together his crew a little bit ahead of schedule and sets off to return the Klingon to Qo'Nos.
  • Here is where I noticed, in her first scene, female Vulcan Subcommander T'Pol's boobs are weirdly accentuated by her Vulcan outfit with its quilted top and jacket thing. Of course they are. She's going to be our resident sexy alien in a skintight space suit. We must meet her and her boobs right away.
  • Also, the Vulcans seem to have a little bit of personality and even express some subtle emotion, in my opinion, in their expressions and inflections. At least, moreso than I expect for a species who are known for suppressing all emotion in favor of logic, which is, to my recollection, too often demonstrated by an annoyingly flat affect. (Although, I'm getting ahead of myself. Most of this assessment is based on the few later Enterprise episodes I'd seen earlier this summer, and it might be a poor sample to judge on.) Anyway, the Vulcans seem smug and annoyed, which challenges my existing concept of Vulcans.
  • Zefram Cochrane is shown giving a speech 60 years after First Contact,and it is really interesting, having just watched that movie, seeing him as the hero the TNG crew idolized, -- a concept which the man himself, a self-interested drunkard during that era, had been reluctant to embrace.
And so, the Enterprise NX-01 sets off prematurely on its first mission out into deep space.
  • People get the first look at the Transporter. Understandably, they find it freaky.
  • Captain Archer sends the Enterprise NX-01 off on her voyage with the command "Let's go", which is much less exciting than "Engage!" or "Punch it!".
  • Dr. Phlox, who was treating the Klingon on Earth, is a Denobulan and is part of some kind of alien doctor exchange program, has come along as the ship's doctor. From the beginning, he is very annoying. "OPTIMISM, CAPTAIN!" he says to Archer, and his voice is far too similar to the goofy head alien Mathesar in the movie Galaxy Quest. Also, they seem to have done some CGI thing to his face to give him this creepy, creepy smile at the end of that scene.
  • Speaking of special effects -- more money and technology allows the crew to do wacky, show-offy things like demonstrate Zero G and fly around uncomfortably.
  • During a meal with the Captain and Chief Engineer Trip Tucker, Subcommander T'Pol, on board as the Science Officer (setting precedent for Spock?) informs us that Vulcans don't eat with their hands, and painfully uses her ability to master eating a crunchy breadstick with a knife and fork as a lesson that "With proper discipline, anything is possible." To which I say "Really? Weak!"
  • T'Pol and Hoshi (the ensign communications officer and genius linguist) are really bitchy to each other on the bridge.
  • Also, they acknowledge they are all speaking English (T'Pol says she was ordered to speak English after Hoshi rudely mutters something to her in Vulcan), instead of pretending there is a fabulously, miraculously effective Universal Translator (UT) properly functioning at all times. And they do refer to it as English, not, I don't know, "Earthican" or something.
So, on the voyage, stuff happens. The aliens (eerily named the Suliban, purportedly named after the Taliban, even before the 9/11 attacks made that a household name in America the very month the show premiered) that were after the Klingon at the beginning sneak aboard the Enterprise with their superior technology and genetic modifications that allow them to be very stealthy, and they steal back the Klingon. T'Pol thinks that since they can't complete their mission, they should go back to Earth, but Captain Archer decides to try to get their Klingon back. This brings them to some outpost on Rigel 10, where they poke around for a bit. They find another Suliban who is sympathetic, and she explains that they are in the midst of a... Temporal Cold War? Yeah... Anyway, more action and adventure ensue as they escape the other, angry Suliban.
  • Upon return from the Rigel 10 trade outpost, T'Pol and Trip apparently have been exposed to some kind of contaminant. They have to spend a bunch of time together in their underwear in this little, sexily blue-lit decon room, rubbing gel all over each other. Really, Enterprise? What is this show rated, with this weirdly sexual gel-rubbing? (Also? Visible nipples are totally distracting.)
  • Early on, they are clearly throwing Trip, the Vulcan-distrusting human, and T'Pol, the smug Vulcan, together.
  • Hoshi embodies the apprehension and anxiety about going on these missions. It is something you don't see in the later crews, of course, who know what they are getting into, and is one of the things that I think is supposed to set this series apart from the others.
T'Pol is able to modify the sensors so they can track the Suliban ship to some crazy Suliban compound at a gas giant planet. Because they don't have Tractor Beams, they use "the Grappler," a giant cable thing that shoots out of the ship and attaches to stuff, (I want to call it "The CLAW!") to nab a Suliban shuttle and get on the compound and get their Klingon back. And they have to use the Transporter for the very first time to save the Captain at the last minute. The crew delivers the Klingon to Qo'Nos, where he is able to deliver his special message about the Temporal Cold War... blah blah blah.

And, because of their success, Starfleet allows the NX-01 to continue on a mission of exploration, and the Vulcans let them keep T'Pol.

What I've learned:
  • Vulcans are patronizing a-holes who don't like to eat with their hands.
  • Humans have a lot to learn about cultural relativism still in 22nd century.
  • Space travel is exciting and scary.
  • Alien microbe decontamination requires slathering gel on each other in our underpants in a dark room (not a special shower, for instance).
  • If I can eat a crunchy breadstick with a fork, I can do anything.*
*Especially if I have Faith of the Heart.


  1. I kind of wish that we were watching these together, despite not being super interested in Star Trek. Deconstructing the show a little and being amused at its flaws sounds fun if we were doing it together! But alas, that would be a huge PITA I think.

  2. @Shanna, I wish we could watch them together, too! It would be really interesting... you with your newcomer perspective on Star Trek and me with my newcomer perspective on Lost.