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Star Trek: Enterprise – Broken Bow (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Broken Bow is probably the strongest pilot in the Star Trek canon, with Emissary and The Cage vying for second place.

That’s not saying a lot. Broken Bow is still a troubled production with some rather sizeable issues marring what is otherwise an ambitious début for a new Star Trek show. Watching, Broken Bow – as with watching most of the first few years of Star Trek: Enterprise (or just Enterprise) – it feels like the show is at war with itself. It wants to be something new and fresh and exciting, but it also wants to be an important part of this larger tapestry. And the episode has difficulty reconciling that.

New (old) frontier...

New (old) frontier…

So we get new aliens like the Suliban, but a plot that revolves around the Klingons; we get an entirely new crew with a Vulcan science officer and Southern gentleman as the Captain’s best friend; we get a ship without most of the conveniences that we take for granted on Star Trek, but with substitutes and a resolution that relies on technological gimmickry; we get to explore an uncharted part of the Star Trek canon, but with the intrusion of the future to help make it feel a little more familiar.

From the first episode, Star Trek: Enterprise seems to exist as a show trapped between what it could have been and what it has to be. It’s a premise rich with potential, but which still feels a little too much like everything that came before.

Into the sunset...

Into the sunset…

Star Trek: Enterprise launched only weeks after production wrapped on Star Trek: Voyager. Many of the production staff returned after short holidays to start producing the final Star Trek spin-off. It would be easy to imagine fatigue setting in, and many of the early interviews with the cast and crew touch on the topic, somewhat obliquely:

“It’s inexplicable,” admits a similarly surprised Brannon Braga, who co-created the series with Rick Berman and serves as executive producer, “but a lot of people feel exactly the same way. The general reaction we’re getting to the concept and what people are seeing is kind of a renewed excitement about Star Trek. If you really stop to think about it, there hasn’t been a new Star Trek show introduced in seven years. What I’m hoping is that it’s just a cool concept, with cool-looking people and great characters. I’m hoping that’s what it is.”

That’s a rather wonderful way of framing the launch – arguing that this is the first launch of a new Star Trek show in seven years. It seems to rather shrewdly avoid the issue that it will only really be the first Star Trek episode in just over four months.

Again with the Klingons!

Again with the Klingons!

Even Scott Bakula found himself fielding the question in pre-release interviews:

“People are wondering if Berman and Paramount should have waited a while — maybe laid low for a year — before doing another spinoff, but I’m sensing a groundswell of excitement,” Bakula said during a recent on-the-set interview with TV Guide. “I think the fans are very ready to re-enlist.”

The fact that the issue of Star Trek fatigue was part of the standard promotional interview should not have boded well for Enterprise.

Little green women...

Little green women…

In hindsight, most of the major creators involved in Enterprise have admitted that the show was rushed into production. Speaking around the time of the show’s cancellation, Berman admitted:

“There are a lot of people who criticized us for saying what I’m about to say, but I do believe that there was some degree of fatigue with the franchise,” Berman said in a conference call interview. “I think that we found ourselves in competition with ourselves. Enterprise in many markets was running against repeats—whether it be cable or syndication—of the original series, Next Generation, Voyager [or] Deep Space Nine. And I think that after 18 years and 624 hours of Star Trek the audience began to have a little bit of overkill with Star Trek, and I think that had a lot to do with it. And I think if you take a look at the last feature film we did, Nemesis, which I still believe was a fine movie, it did two-thirds the business that the previous films had done. So I think it’s, again, another example of the franchise getting a little bit tired.”

Berman has confessed that he “begged” Paramount executives to let the franchise lie fallow for a little while before committing to the launch of a new series.

Snowed under...

Snowed under…

Still, UPN wanted a show to fill the void in its schedule left by the end of Voyager. As such, Berman and Braga decided to try something a bit different. Enterprise would try to escape the familiarity and routine of twenty-fourth century Star Trek and offer viewers something a little bit different. After twenty-one seasons of Star Trek spread across fourteen years, it was a perfectly rational approach to the franchise.

Star Trek: Voyager had been accused of working too hard to emulate Star Trek: The Next Generation, so Star Trek: Enterprise would be its own unique thing. The duo seized upon the idea of doing a prequel series; perhaps inspired by the high-profile success of the then-current Star Wars prequels. Digging back into the history of the Star Trek universe, the writers could find a new angle to approach the material.

Seeing red...

Seeing red…

The initial plans for Star Trek: Enterprise were ambitious. On the In Conversation special feature, Braga explains that the two had planned to offer viewers something radically different from what ultimately materialised:

When we first talked about the show, weren’t we talking initially about doing something that was originally purely a prequel? There was no futuristic element originally. There was no temporal cold war- that was added later in the development process. Something even more grounded; did we at one time talk about setting part of the first season on Earth? With the construction of the first ship? And really launching that ship?

Doing something that – quite frankly – scared the studio? They wanted something set in the future, first of all. They wanted something set in Next Generation’s time. And a prequel made them nervous. And doing something too prequel-ly made them even more nervous.

While Broken Bow was produced under a UPN administration that was still relatively friendly to Star Trek – a major transition in power occurring in the following year – this was far too radical a departure for the network.

It took dogged determination to get the episode to screen...

It took dogged determination to get the episode to screen…

There is no way of knowing how that season – or even half-a-season – set on Earth might have played out. As with Star Trek: Phase II, it’s an interesting idea that could easily have gone any number of directions. It could have been brilliant and thoughtful and insightful; or it could have been pretentious and self-important and dull. Arguably audiences would get a taste of this alternate version of Enterprise in the late second season episode First Flight, which was an interesting – if flawed – episode.

No matter how it might have turned out, the reality was that television was changing. It was now 2001, almost fifteen years since Gene Roddenberry had resurrected Star Trek on television with The Next Generation. In the intervening years, the reality of television had changed. It was a process that had arguably begun with Hill Street Blues in the eighties, but the face of television was rapidly changing.

Talk about corny!

Talk about corny!

HBO was emerging as a powerhouse with dramas like Oz and The Sopranos. While that was on cable, there were rumblings felt throughout the industry. In the nineties, networks had launched several high-profile shows that embraced aspects of serialisation and long-form plotting – shows like ER and The X-Files. At the dawn of the new millennium, network television was engaging with prime time serialisation in popular shows like The West Wing and 24.

UPN itself was an example of the changing industry. No longer dominated by the three big networks, deregulation of the industry meant that television had diffused. There were a wide range of channels producing a wide range of programming for a wide range of audiences. The History Channel was launched in the mid-nineties. The Biography Channel began broadcast in 1999. Even The Sci-Fi Channel had begun to branch into original programming towards the end of the nineties with shows like Farscape and G vs. E.

Tripping himself up...

Tripping himself up…

As Alan Sepinwall noted in The Revolution Was Televised, the times were a-changing:

When I start at the Ledger in the summer of 1996, you had the broadcast networks, and then you had everyone else. (And within the network universe, Fox had only begun to be treated as anything but a novelty; the WB and UPN were runts fighting over table scraps.) HBO had a few original comedy series and its movies, but if you wanted scripted television, you mostly went to ABC, CBS, NBC and occasionally Fox.

A few years before, Bruce Springsteen had put out a song called ’57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)’, whose title because almost instantly dated on both ends. Soon, everyone’s cable package was ballooning way past 57, and channels that had been satisfied airing nothing but reruns and old movies began putting on their own original programmed – and the mass audience that had been the bread and butter of television began to fracture into a group of ever-smaller niches.

Commercially, this presented a hug problem for a business built on a big-tent philosophy, where you succeeded with the broadest, most palatable, least challenging work. Creatively, though, the fragmented audience was the best thing that could have happened to television. Certainly, some corners of the TV business leaned heavily on programming that was as broad and/or cheap as possible (the year after The Sopranos, Survivor set off the reality TV boom). But many smart executives realised that they could do very well making shows those smaller audiences would care passionately about. You could make money on a show watched by three million people, if they’re the “right” three million people, paying close attention.

It is worth noting that when Enterprise‘s falling ratings began to briefly stabilise during the show’s third year, they stabilised around the three million mark.

Looking back on it all...

Looking back on it all…

This was a much larger audience than the audience that would flock to the space-opera science-fiction poster-child of the new millennium, Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. Of course, Battlestar Galactica only cost a fraction of what Enterprise did, and enjoyed much broader critical (and fan) support. In short, it was a science-fiction show for the new millennium, one much more aligned to the demands of broadcast television in the twenty-first century.

In contrast, Enterprise ultimately felt like it was just the same old Star Trek with a new coat of paint. There were changes, but they were mostly cosmetic. An opening historical montage celebrating (an American-centric vision of) the space race rather than a voyage through outer space; a pop song rather than an orchestral theme; the dropping of the words “Star Trek” from the title. And yet the show’s stories and structures and beats remained the same.

"Get off my cornfield!"

“Get off my cornfield!”

Part of what’s interesting about Enterprise is that the show seems to have been conceived more as a prequel to The Next Generation than to the original Star Trek. As much as the publicity materials cited Jackson (later Jonathan) Archer as “Kirk’s childhood hero”, the show seemed to draw most comfortably on the mood and aesthetic of the recent spin-offs. The production design on the show seemed to largely by-pass Matt Jefferies’ iconic sixties designs in favour of more primitive versions of more recent Star Trek designs.

Barring a few hints slipped in here and there, like knobs and sliders or T’Pol’s viewer or the flashing primary colour boxes on the background bridge screens, Enterprise avoided the look of the classic Star Trek. Grey was the colour of choice for the design of the new ship, recalling the production design of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager more than the primary colours of classic Star Trek. The layout of the bridge, with a long helm console manned by a single operator and various stations facing inward, evoked Voyager.

They're hardly turning the franchise upside down...

They’re hardly turning the franchise upside down…

The exterior of the Enterprise evoked the rough texture of the new Enterprise from Star Trek: First Contact, and had a design evoking the Akira-class glimpsed briefly in the combat sequences at the start of that movie and in Deep Space Nine. As Herman Zimmerman explained to Star Trek Communicator, the goal was to create something unlike the ships that had headlined the previous shows:

For a while we were actually going to have a ship that looked very similar to the original Motion Picture Enterprise, and somewhere along the line after having made a very sweet-looking ship we decided that it was too right on, it was too close to the original. We needed something that the Motion Picture starship would be derivative of, but not a carbon copy of it. So we went to several different styles of combinations of nacelles and saucers and engineering sections and airframes, and we decided to eliminate the engineering section as a separate entity and make it part of the hull. Brannon and Rick decided they didn’t want a ship that would separate; that would be something that would happen some time in the future.

While it’s an understandable and entirely justifiable design decision, it meant that Enterprise looked a lot less like a glimpse of the past leading up to the original Star Trek and more like a prelude to The Next Generation.

Eye see trouble ahead...

Eye see trouble ahead…

Naturally, fandom seized on these choices as an excuse to criticise the series. Creator Brannon Braga has been particularly blunt in addressing these criticisms. In the To Boldly Go documentary, he laments:

Boy! We got a lot of sh!t about that, you know? Why does it look more futuristic than Kirk’s ship? I guess something bad happened, like the economy took a downturn in the Federation, because Kirk’s ship looks like a jalopy. I don’t know, must have been some cut backs there. Who cares? You’ve got to at some point take some license.

Again, this is perfectly valid creative choice. There’s a vocal element of Star Trek fandom that engages in debates about issues of “canon” or the history of this fictional universe. That’s not really the problem here.

Just deserts...

Just deserts…

After all, Star Trek is a franchise that has often had difficulty defining and mapping out its shared universe. The first season of classic Star Trek couldn’t seem to agree on who Kirk worked for or the history (or name) of Spock’s native planet. Treating Enterprise as a documentary about the history of a fictional universe that has never managed to keep its own internal chronology straight is to miss the point a bit.

The problem isn’t that the Ferengi in Acquisition violate what we know – or had been led to believe – about the Star Trek universe. The problem is that they are just more of the same. They’re a relic carried over from a show and a universe that Brannon Braga and Rick Berman consciously wanted to get away from. They are an example of the way that Enterprise seemed trapped between desperately wanting to be its own unique thing and deeply longing to be part of the larger and more expansive twenty-fourth century mythos.

Beaming with enthusiasm...

Beaming with enthusiasm…

This desire to connect with the twenty-fourth century mythos means that Enterprise feels like a very weird prequel – a prequel that doesn’t seem too bothered with the earliest iteration of Star Trek. It’s easier to imagine Enterprise as something of a sequel to First Contact – which is why Regeneration works so well. Rick Berman conceded as much in In Conversation:

The key to the development of Enterprise, to me, had to do with First Contact. Because First Contact – which had been done in… 1996? – we had based somewhat on Star Trek canon. Which is something Manny respects and Brannon and I don’t.

Rumour has it.

I’m being facetious. We had a sort of post-apocalyptic Earth where things were a mess and we had James Cromwell as an alcoholic scientist and he creates the first warp drive. This is all connected with a story having to do with our Next Generation characters finding a way to go back in time to save the world – which is what every movie was about!

The idea that in the 21st century – it was the late twenty-first century when Zefram Cochrane invents warp drive – and then the twenty-third century, you’ve got Kirk and Spock and a perfect Earth and Starfleet and the Federation and these huge spaceships with hundreds of people on board. What happened between those two things? What happened between First Contact when we first meet an alien – the Vulcans, at the very end – and Kirk – when there were hundreds of worlds they were traveling.

Indeed, the established character who passes the torch to the new Enterprise is not a character particularly associated with the original Star Trek, although the character did appear in a single episode of that show. James Cromwell appears briefly to wish the crew luck, reprising his role as Zephram Cochrane from Star Trek: First Contact.

That Klingon went pretty far afield...

That Klingon went pretty far afield…

In another example of how Star Trek fans seem to fixate on weird minutiae, these similarities quickly became the subject of various crazy theories. One such theory suggests that Enterprise might have been the result of the time-travel in First Contact creating an alternate timeline. This particular fan theory gained so much weight that Braga had to actively deny it in an interview with Star Trek Monthly:

Yes, it is definitely a prequel. It’s not an alternate timeline, of course not. …

In terms of the alternate timeline, I don’t understand why people think that. I’m not exactly sure. What’s changed? What’s so different that they think this must be an alternate history? In terms of the Temporal Cold War stuff, I don’t really think anything has happened to change history. With the Borg, some people said, ‘Oh my God, Archer was not the first person to encounter the Borg. Picard [Patrick Stewart] was. You’ve changed the timeline.’ My answer to that was, ‘Well, that got changed in the movie First Contact.’

In that idiosyncratic way that Star Trek fandom does, they had identified an issue with Enterprise, but somehow struggled to articulate it. The problem was that – essentially – Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had promised a prequel to Star Trek and instead delivered a sequel to First Contact.

Not phased in the slightest...

Not phased in the slightest…

Even watching Broken Bow, there’s a sense of familiarity to all of this. The Enterprise might be superficially less advanced, but in no substantial way. The ship may not have a tractor beam, but it does have a grapple gun that performs pretty much the same function in a slightly different way. Even before Reed gives Archer and Tucker the “phase pistols”, the crew use similar enough technology on the surface of Rigel. Later episodes would introduce “phase cannons” and “spatial torpedoes”, synonymous with “phasers” and “photon torpedoes” respectively.

The climax of Broken Bow hinges on the use of the transporter as a way to get Archer off the Suliban space station. While the plot works hard to articulate how dangerous and risky the device actually is, it’s very hard to get excited about an episode resolution that hinges on a tried-and-tested Star Trek gimmick. By the end of the pilot, Archer’s Enterprise has a working transporter and his crew have phase pistols. None of these feel particularly earned. They haven’t been absent long enough for their return to be welcomed or refreshing.

A temporal disruptor...

A temporal disruptor…

However, the futuristic technology is not all that Enterprise carries over from The Next Generation and Voyager. Rick Berman argued that the appeal of the show was getting to see humanity evolve into the characters we know and love – to witness the creation of utopia. Hearing Berman and Braga talk about Enterprise, it seems like the show is an opportunity to bridge the gap between humanity’s flawed present state and the idealised humans presented in Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

Enterprise struggles with this for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Roddenberry hadn’t fully settled on the idea of a hyper-evolved humanity until Star Trek: The Motion Picture or the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the original Star Trek, episodes like Errand of Mercy and Day of the Dove explore the idea that Kirk is far from an ideal human. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is fairly brutal in its criticism of Kirk. Even when it came to the twenty-fourth century, Deep Space Nine was willing to play with Roddenberry’s utopia.

"A Vulcan Science Officer? That's crazy talk!"

“A Vulcan Science Officer? That’s crazy talk!”

So Enterprise is clearly operating from a mistaken assumption, a common and romanticised misconception about Star Trek. It buys wholeheartedly into the mythology that Roddenberry himself retroactively developed around the show. Rick Berman has admitted that he was perhaps a bit too conservative in how he approached Roddenberry’s retroactive and evangelical vision of Star Trek, and the fact that Enterprise buys so readily and so uncritically is a problem.

As is the fact that Broken Bow effectively handicaps the series by starting Enterprise at a point in the future where Earth itself is practically unrecognisable. “How about war, disease, hunger,” Trip goads T’Pol over dinner. “Pretty much wiped ’em out in less than two generations. I wouldn’t call that small potatoes.” As such, Enterprise ceases to be a show about how humanity gets from the present day to a utopian future. It is instead about how humanity gets from a world without “war, disease, hunger” to a utopian future. Which is a much less interesting hook.

Ha! Even Kirk didn't get to do this!

Ha! Even Kirk didn’t get to do this!

In the documentary Uncharted Territory, producer David A. Goodman singles out that line for criticism:

If you’re going to do a prequel, I think you really need to mess with it. I think you really need to say that everything on Earth is not fixed. That was one of the lines in the pilot that really bothered me. Trip says, “Fifty years, we ended hunger and famine and war… that’s not too bad!” And to me, that’s what the prequel should have been! How did that end?

So, immediately, Enterprise starts out at a disadvantage. With Broken Bow, there’s a sense that the franchise isn’t being pushed as hard as it might be.

It all blurs together...

It all blurs together…

That’s a constant struggle for the first two seasons of Enterprise, as the show struggles to figure out how to convey this sense of adventure and excitement and novelty despite the fact that it all feels very familiar. While those first two years are incredibly rocky, the show does attempt it. There is a notable attempt to get away from the techno-babble that troubled Voyager. Episodes like Fight or Flight and Cogenitor do try to wrestle with the idea that this is a bold new world. Then, of course, there are episodes like Acquisition or Two Days and Two Nights.

To be fair to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, two producers vilified by Star Trek fandom, they were working with a network that seemed unsure of what it wanted from Star Trek. Star Trek: Voyager had helped to launch UPN back in 1995, standing as the flagship of the network. In 2001, Broken Bow broadcast to the second-largest audience in the history of the network. However, UPN seemed to be drifting away from the bold young pup that had dared to challenge the bigger networks.

"Trust me, we're some of the least dickish Vulcans in the franchise."

“Trust me, we’re some of the least dickish Vulcans in the franchise.”

In 2002, UPN underwent a change in management and a shift in focus. Cynics argued that UPN was in the process of becoming “CBS 2.0”, with the network eagerly taking on cancelled shows like Wolf Lake from the larger broadcaster. By the time that Enterprise finished its run in 2005, the network’s target demographic had shifted from the kind of people who watch science-fiction space opera into young women. This was the corporate mindset that led to things like the infamous “boy band suggestion.”

However, even during the first season, there was a sense that the executives were decidedly risk-adverse in dealing with Star Trek. The franchise had been the goose that had laid the golden eggs, so the executives were reluctant to upset the applecart. This meant more of the same – more episodic stories, more aliens of the week, more adventuring. In many retrospective interviews, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have talked about trying to resist that sort of imposed inertia.

A tried-and-tested storytelling engine...

A tried-and-tested storytelling engine…

In the documentary To Boldly Go, Braga talks about how the studio was even reluctant to engage with the idea of a prequel, and the whole “Temporal Cold War” plot was inserted to make them feel a bit more comfortable:

They ultimately relented to the idea of doing the prequel. But they insisted that there be something futuristic beyond Voyager about it. They wouldn’t let go of that idea. So I had an idea I had been developing for a different television show about a Temporal Cold War. I was always interested in time travel and I had the ultimate time travel adventure series planned in my mind.

I was going to reveal that in 1997 – unbeknownst to anybody – time travel was discovered in the United States. It was also co-developed by China and one other Middle Eastern country and it was this undercover arms race. And somebody tried it – somebody went back and they did something and it ended in a disaster and no one except them knew about it, because we don’t perceive changes in the timeline. Twenty million people were blinked out of existence.

And all these nations agreed, “Nobody knows this happened; but we know.” It was the temporal equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off. We have to sign a temporal accord to stop this from happening again.” And, of course, everyone agrees. But everyone’s paranoid that other people are sending agents back.

I really loved this idea, and I had to pull it out; because I didn’t how – short of jettisoning the prequel idea – I was going to get the future in there.

This perhaps explains why early Enterprise feels so much like a retread of The Next Generation and Voyager: that’s exactly what the studio wanted.

A shady figure...

A shady figure…

It is, of course, interesting to note that while the aesthetic and structure of Enterprise is informed by the Berman-era spin-offs, the show made a conscious effort to engage with the original Star Trek in the most awkward ways possible. While both Deep Space Nine and Voyager featured astonishingly diverse casts, Enterprise features a predominantly white crew. Even the alien crewmembers – T’Pol and Phlox – are quite identifiably white.

The main cast features two minority characters, Ensign Travis Mayweather and Ensign Hoshi Sato. These are cast in roles quite similar to the more diverse members of the original Star Trek crew. While the African American Uhura manned the communications station and the Asian Sulu flew the ship, Enterprise reverses the roles. African-American Travis Mayweather flies the ship while Asian Hoshi Sato works on communications. While their roles are minor, at least these supporting characters get first names.

Initial focus groups were thrilled...

Initial focus groups were thrilled…

David Greven is rather scathing in his assessment of diversity among the crew of the first Enterprise:

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, the security officer, is British and given little screen time; it is also revealed in the last season that he works for the shadow conspiracy group of the Federation, Section 31, a “subtle” suggestion of the untrustworthy nature of foreign members of the community. Tellingly, the show’s inclusive representation of the “foreign” is an Englishman, whereas Classic Trek had the Russian Chekhov. Ensign Hoshi Sato is an Asian-American linguist and the Communications officer. Prone to fearful fits and generally seen as ineffectual in any terms other than the linguistic aspects of her job, Hoshi is the resident screamer. Ensign Travis Mayweather, the helmsman, is African-American and a complete blank, rarely getting even one non-technobabble line an episode; without the slightest exaggeration, it is entirely accurate to say that Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura on Classic Trek had more lines of dialog.

It is quite hard to disagree with Greven based on the facts.

Phaser to his head, Silik admitted that Broken Bow was the best Star Trek pilot...

Phaser to his head, Silik admitted that Broken Bow was the best Star Trek pilot…

To be fair to the production staff on Enterprise, the first season makes a point to include episodes focusing on these characters. If anything the first-season Reed is neglected at the expense of Sato and Mayweather. Hoshi Sato is the focus of Fight or Flight, the first episode to air after the pilot, while Travis’ background is the basis of Fortunate Son. Unfortunately, the two characters wind up shuffled to the back of the deck in the later seasons of the show, while Reed comes into his own as the most developed of the three background players in the regular staff.

In contrast, much like the original Star Trek, Enterprise decides to focus on a lead triumvirate of decidedly white characters. There’s Archer, the all-American hero; T’Pol, the cold and logical Vulcan; and Trip, the Southern good ol’ boy. The obvious intention is to evoke Kirk, Spock and McCoy. That said, at least one member of the trio gets to be female this time, instead of focusing on a bunch of straight white men. It’s just straight white people.

A good ol' Earth welcome...

A good ol’ Earth welcome…

In many respects, Enterprise can be seen as “Star Trek for the George W. Bush era.” While that became more obvious in the third season, it was present from the outset. Discussing the Xindi arc, Ina Rae Hark’s Star Trek notes that this just pushed first season elements back to the fore:

It also returns to the immediate post-9/11 universe of Enterprise’s debut, a time when the Suliban (named for the Taliban) could easily be seen as radical Islam and Archer’s American human chauvinism, his mixture of resentment, arrogance a time when the Suliban (named for the Taliban) could easily be seen as radical Islam and Archer’s American human chauvinism, his mixture of resentment, arrogance and cluelessness, could be read as mimicking George W. Bush’s desire to go it alone and reject the cautious multilateralism recommended by the Vulcan High Command (read: ‘Old Europe’).

The show’s emphasis on intangible “heart” over intellectual “reason” and even Archer’s motivation by his father’s failures – one of the most common (and reductionist) pop psychology takes on George W. Bush – all anchor Enterprise in the George W. Bush era, even though the pilot was written and filmed before the 9/11 attacks.

Henry Archer only got to Warp 4 and only served a single term as President of the Cochrane Institute. Jonathan showed him.

Henry Archer only got to Warp 4 and only served a single term as President of the Cochrane Institute. Jonathan showed him.

While on the topic, the decision to saddle Archer with daddy issues also feels just a little bit cliché, as if Enterprise is seeking comfort in the most familiar and least challenging storytelling tropes possible. The idea that Archer is still trying to impress his father – and trying to live up to that legacy – feels like the easiest possible character arc for our lead character. It contributes to the general regressive feel of the pilot.

The casting feels positively regressive, particularly when the show makes a point to emphasise Archer and Trip’s xenophobic attitudes. Trip is particularly obnoxious in his dealings with T’Pol. When Archer points out that Vulcans have a heightened sense of smell, Trip responds, “I took a shower this morning. How about you, Captain?” While Archer apologises, he doesn’t reprimand (or even chastise) Trip.

Oh, shoot!

Oh, shoot!

For his part, Archer pretty much immediately accuses T’Pol of being a Vulcan spy. “What’s said in this room and out on that Bridge is privileged information,” he warns her. “I don’t want every word I say being picked apart the next day by the Vulcan High Command.” Even after T’Pol has demonstrated her loyalty, Archer is still too proud to officially admit that it’s a good idea to keep her around. “A Vulcan Science Officer could come in handy, but if I asked you to stay it might look like I wasn’t ready to do this on my own.”

It’s quite clear what the writing staff are trying to do here. This does represent an attempt to portray a somewhat flawed and troubled humanity that has a way to go before reaching the idealised future portrayed in the other shows. Unfortunately, the level of bigotry on display here goes a little beyond “slightly flawed” and into “outright racist.” Archer and Trip would really be facing human resources today for those attitudes and comments. Coupled with the fact that Enterprise is very much focused around a bunch of white characters, it is a decidedly unsettling set-up.

"I'm telling you, 'phasers sound much better than 'phase cannons'!"

“I’m telling you, ‘phasers’ sounds much better than ‘phase cannons’!”

(There are all sorts of interesting minor touches in Broken Bow. When Archer laments the secrecy of the Vulcan High Command, his father remarks, “They have their reasons. God knows what they are.” The idea of obstructive Vulcans doesn’t feel too radical for Star Trek, but it’s interesting to hear the capital-G “God” invoked so casually by a human character. Roddenberry’s future was aggressively secularist, and it’s amazing how much a single word can feel so subversive on Star Trek. It’s a shame Enterprise never explored the idea of human religions and the cosmos.)

That said, even if the presentation is somewhat flawed and the implications rendered unfortunate by some of the casting decisions, this is a fairly interesting idea. The notion that humanity and the Vulcans might not get along is a pretty brilliant twist on the standard Star Trek set-up. It’s a nice way of demonstrating that not everything about Star Trek is sacred, and that – just because this is a prequel – not all assumptions should be taken as fact.

Cutting criticism...

Cutting criticism…

More than that, as future Enterprise writers Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens noted in an interview with Cinefantastique, it played into some nice larger Star Trek themes:

“Sometimes we think we were the only ones in the universe who watched that first episode, Broken Bow and saw the nasty Vulcans and thought that was absolutely brilliant, because one of Star Treks greatest themes is that our enemies become our friends,” Garfield says. “The Klingons were the enemies of Captain Kirk and they are becoming friends in the era of Captain Picard, and it made perfect sense and was a brilliant story move that the Vulcans who are our friends in Captain Kirk’s time actually didn’t start out that way.”

And it’s worth noting that this characterisation of Vulcans as untrustworthy and stubborn dates back to at least Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, if not Journey to Babel and Amok Time. The idea that Vulcans are agreeable and relatable is a concept that generally begins and ends with Spock.

"Boy, K'mpec really did some work with this place, eh?"

“Boy, K’mpec really did some work with this place, eh?”

The other attempt that Enterprise tries to borrow from the classic Star Trek is the idea of doing “sexy” science-fiction. The twenty-fourth century shows tended to be quite sterile, despite touches like Jeri Ryan’s catsuit or Deanna Troi’s cleavage. From the outset, Enterprise clearly aspires to be a bit more sexy and flirtatious than the other contemporary shows. So we get touches like the infamous “decon” scenes or Archer kissing a sexy green-skinned space babe played by the sultry Melinda Clarke.

Of course, this glosses over the fact that the original Star Trek was a product of a very different time, and played in the context of some very different beliefs about sex and sexuality. One of the problems with the first season of The Next Generation was the way that Roddenberry tried to play sixties sexuality straight in the eighties, with episodes like Haven completely missing the fact that feminism and AIDs had happened in the intervening years. Here, T’Pol stresses the possibility of catching a space STD. “Doctor Phlox isn’t concerned with the food and water, but he does caution against intimate contact.”

"It rubs the lotion on its skin," quoteth Phlox...

“It rubs the lotion on its skin,” quoteth Phlox…

To be fair to Enterprise, it at least acknowledged that sexual objectification was a two-way street. Although T’Pol’s uniform was a rather blatent attempt at eye candy when compared to her male counterparts, actors Scott Bakula and Connor Trinneer were also frequently featured in varying degrees of undress. Trip has to save the ship in his underwear in Acquisition. On the 2012 commentary for Broken Bow, Braga cracks wise about the joy of freeze-framing Connor Trinneer’s “bulge.” So it’s nice that eye-candy is equal opportunity.

On the other hand, the show had a tendency to indulge a little bit too readily in straight-up sexism. While Trip had to save the ship in his underwear, he never quite endured the same level of audience-titillating nudity as Hoshi (Shockwave, Part II) or T’Pol (Harbinger). More than that, science-fiction nostalgia was frequently used to justify episodes like Bound, which was an episode so in the spirit of classic Star Trek that it captured that sixties sexism perfectly. And unironically.

"I'm sure I'll become a recurring villain inseparably associated with the show. It happened for John DeLancie and Marc Alaimo."

“I’m sure I’ll become a recurring villain inseparably associated with the show. I mean, it happened for John DeLancie and Marc Alaimo.”

More than that, there’s the fact that the heightened sexual content wasn’t actually sexy. In Broken Bow, Trip and T’Pol effectively rub each other down with hospital santizer while the episode hits the necessary character beats. With the blue lighting and the skimpy underwear, as well as Phlox providing the gel and instructing through a viewport, it feels like a sleazy exploitation sequence than anything actually hot. (It is, essentially, a twelve-year-old’s version of “sexy.”)

The scene between Archer and Serina works a little better, mostly due to the fact that Melinda Clarke does “smouldering” rather well and Scott Bakula has the qualities of a more classical leading man. “I have been given the ability to measure trust, but it requires close contact,” Sarina explains, which is a flimsy justification for a kiss, but not the worst pick-up line a Starfleet Captain is likely to hear.

Trip invents Oo-mox...

Trip invents Oo-mox…

It’s worth noting that Enterprise is an aggressively heterosexual television show. While male and female characters get to rub each other down with decon gel, and women get to rub women, there’s not even a hint of male-on-male sexuality over the course of the show. In fact, Two Days and Two Nights plays into various unfortunate transphobic (and homophobic) stereotypes when it is revealed that the two beautiful women who seduce Reed and Trip are actually men.

To be fair, Star Trek had always been very conservative when it came to issues of homosexuality. David Gerrold’s Blood and Fire was passed over in the first season; David Livingston famously ran down to the set to stop two extras of the same sex holding hands in The Offspring. While this sort of approach arguably made sense in the late eighties and the early nineties, prime time television had shown a willingness to embrace gay actors and characters towards the end of the previous millennium.

The early description of Malcolm Reed as “shy around women” led to some speculation that he might even be the first gay character Star Trek. As actor Dominic Keating explained in an interview with Starlog towards the end of the first season, the show went out of its way to affirm his heterosexuality:

“I thought I was going to be the first gay character in space,” Dominic Keating mock-complains. “I read all about it. I was in the supermarket and I saw it in TV Guide, so I rang up Brannon Braga and said, ‘What’s this all about?’ He said, ‘It’s going to be fantastic, Dominic. You’ll be outed in November. You’ll be on the cover of TV Guide.’ But he was jesting with me. We’ve just shot a couple of episodes that make it self-evident that he’s not, in the end, gay.”

Despite this, some of the subtext remains. Keating has confessed that he played the character “so gay”, and there’s a fairly plausible reading of Malcolm Reed’s character that suggests he might be a closeted gay man over-compensating slightly. At the same time, it remains frustrating that the franchise was unwilling to make something like this explicit.

Indeed, Reed even appears to be somewhat over-compensating in Broken Bow. Searching the compound with Mayweather, he makes a big deal of how fascinated he is by the sexy alien lady dancers. He’s a little too interested, to the point where he is almost unprofessional. (Of course, given Reed’s later inability to distinguish between phaser fire and lightening, it is quite possible that he is just terrible at his job. There is also a case to be made in favour of that argument over the course of Enterprise.)

And, yet, his attempts to engage with the pimp feel rather… strange. “Are those real butterflies, or some kind of holograms?” he asks, as if to emphasise he’s watching the wrong element of the sexy show before him. There are two practically naked ladies doing sexy dances, suggestively demonstrating the dexterity of their tongues; Reed asks about butterflies. In a deleted follow-up to that scene, we get to see a bit more of Reed and Mayweather’s adventures on Rigel X. Travis laments, “I can’t believe we fell for that.” Reed responds, “We are explorers.” Which sounds like the stereotypical red-blooded heterosexual man thing to say, am I right?

And yet, despite all these problems – despite all these forces pulling Enterprise in a variety of different directions – Broken Bow works surprisingly well as a pilot. For one thing, it is very representative of the show in question. It certainly feels more indicative of Enterprise than Caretaker was of Voyager or Emissary was of Deep Space Nine. Although Enterprise would reboot itself twice, it’s still quite possible to see traces of those future versions of the show in Broken Bow.

It’s also just a well-constructed episode of television. The people making Star Trek were very good at their jobs at this point. James L. Conway is a fantastic director, and Broken Bow features his best work outside The Way of the Warrior. The sequences on Rigel X or the Suliban Hub are all wonderfully atmospheric and effective. Conway can produce wonderful action on a television schedule and budget. He is one of the best directors to work on the franchise, and his work isn’t lauded nearly enough.

While Enterprise had problems with its writing staff in the first year, Brannon Braga and Rick Berman do a good job crafting Broken Bow. There are some very serious problems with the episode, but it has a relatively tight structure. It’s much more efficiently plotted and paced than the other Star Trek pilots. The plot is fairly linear – Archer tries to drop a recovered Klingon home, loses him and finds him again – but there’s no point clogging up a pilot with a convoluted and messy story. Broken Bow flows smoothly.

The production design on the show is great. Sure, the CGI has dated (quite a bit), but the design of the ship is pretty solid – if overly familiar. More than that, there are a number of clever gimmicks at work here. The Suliban are a more effective threat than the Kazon ever were, and are both visually and conceptually distinctive. Those arguing about the fact that nobody ever mentioned the Suliban in any of the other spin-offs are missing the point somewhat.

As an aside, it is worth noting that attempts were made to retroactive integrate the Suliban into the Star Trek canon, at least in tie-ins and spin-offs. In Voyages of Imagination, writer Christopher L. Bennett talks about trying to include a Suliban character in his 2003 Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Aftermath:

The Vulcan worker in the opening scene was originally written as a Suliban. I figured that, since the Suliban were nomads and most of them weren’t in the Cabal, logically some groups of them weren’t in the Cabal, logically some groups of them would be unaffected by whatever fate eventually befell the Suliban on Enterprise. So I didn’t think including one would step on any continuity toes. Apparently others saw it differently, though. I guess following up on twenty-fourth-century Suliban will have to wait for a later work.

Eventually the Suliban would be referenced in the twenty-fourth-century novel The Red King, published years after Enterprise went off the air.

The Suliban are interesting because they touch on transhumanism, something that Star Trek has always been surprisingly tetchy about for a franchise about exploring the potential of the future. Apparently using technology to enhance the human condition (eliminating war and famine and poverty) is perfectly justifiable, but to use technology to enhance the human body as abhorrent. From Space Seed through to Q Who?, the franchise has been decidedly skeptical about the idea of using technology to enhance the organic form.

“I’m a member of the Cabal, but not any longer,” Sarin tells Archer. “The price of evolution was too high.” When Archer wonders what she is talking about, she explains, “Some of my people are so anxious to improve themselves that they’ve lost perspective.” As such, the Suliban provide an interesting contrast to Starfleet. While Archer and his crew are boldly pushing into the future on their own terms, setting their own course and charting their own destiny, the Suliban instead actively invite the future back into their world.

And – paradoxically and brilliantly – the Suliban’s future is Star Trek‘s past. As much as “Future Guy” appears to be a spectre of the future imposing himself on to the present, he is also an embodiment of Star Trek‘s past. He’s a representation of the hyper-advanced future that Enterprise seeks to leave behind, trying to imprint itself on to the show. As such, it makes sense that “Future Guy” was added to Enterprise at the behest of the network. “Future Guy” is very much an outside force trying to distort the narrative, trying to edit the show from the inside.

What exactly “Future Guy” is trying to do is a mystery – it’s always the way with network notes. However, it’s telling that “Future Guy” has a plan that involves “pitting the Klingons against each other.” He’s basically trying to enact a classic Star Trek plot – the arc with the Klingons on The Next Generation leading to the Klingon Civil War in Redemption. This makes a great deal of sense. Braga’s first on-screen Star Trek credit was on the episode Reunion with Ronald D. Moore, and Farmer Moore seems like a shout-out to the famous architect of Star Trek Klingon stories.

As such, “Future Guy” is really just trying make Enterprise seem a bit more “Star Trek-y.” It’s the plotting of “Future Guy” that forces Klaag to Earth, which causes Starfleet to bring the launch of the Enterprise forward; thus curtailing the idea of a first season set on Earth leading up to the launch of the ship. It’s “Future Guy” who effectively turns Broken Bow into a story about the Klingons, the most over-used of Star Trek aliens.

In other words, “Future Guy” seems to exist primarily as a stand-in for the network. He’s the link to the later Star Trek shows given form, and a character who exists force the show conform to the generic template of Star Trek. As much as he might be “Future Guy”, he is also the Ghost of Star Treks Past. Much is made of the fact that nobody had any idea how the Temporal Cold War was meant to play out and that the arc lacked a clear structure. While this a perfectly valid criticism, the concept works well as a piece of self-commentary.

On a purely pragmatic level, the Temporal Cold War also provides a fairly effective way to excuse any number of violations of Star Trek continuity. Why haven’t we heard of the Suliban before? Well, before the Temporal Cold War, they were “a somewhat primitive species” – probably unworthy of note. Similarly, Broken Bow seems to avoid the “disastrous contact” between Klingons and the Federation that Picard alluded to in First Contact, which makes sense given Klaag only ended up on Earth due to the Temporal Cold War.

As such, the Temporal Cold War works better as a justification than as a recurring plot element. While the show never bothers to explain what is going on or who “Future Guy” is, the whole time travel element allows Enterprise to drift away from canon and continuity where necessary – much like Nero and the Nerada’s arrival in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, it’s something that excuses departures from the previous canon.

It’s worth stressing that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tinkering with continuity points established over decades of Star Trek. Critiques of Enterprise that hinge on its breaches of continuity tend to gloss over the fact that the franchise as a whole has never had too firm a grip on its own fictional history. More than that, much of what we learn about the history of the Federation in the twenty-fourth century shows exists as background for events unfolding in those stories, rather than as fodder for stories about these earlier events.

Very few writers are thinking “this will make an exciting story for the prequel” when they add some future history to Star Trek. Take, for example, the idea that no human has ever seen a Romulan. This is a great hook for Balance of Terror, giving weight to the reveal of Mark Lenard’s pointed ears. However, it’s less interesting as a story in its own right. It would make the idea of a Romulan War arc rather awkward.

Then again, these restrictions may have provided the impetus for some great storytelling – the oft-quoted anecdote about the Chinese word for “crisis” comes to mind – but there is a larger debate to be had about whether an off-hand line from a television episode produced more than thirty years earlier should serve to dictate entire seasons of a contemporary television show. Even leaving aside the fact that Balance of Terror aired before Star Trek decided that the Federation existed, it is a massive restriction to impose on a storyteller.

That said, it is perfectly reasonable to counter this suggestion by pointing out that these sorts of problems come with choosing to do a prequel in the first place, but the Temporal Cold War provides a nice escape clause. If anything is different, obsessive fans can take comfort in the fact that it is because of time travel. And – to be fair to Enterprise – the show does try as hard as it can to stay within the lines while exploring the Star Trek universe, even if it seems to consciously skirt those lines at certain points in the run.

There are larger issues here. There are very serious questions to be asked about prequels as a storytelling form – debates about the limits they impose upon writers and whether adherence to what came before should trump good storytelling. Enterprise grapples with quite a few of those big questions over the course of its run. There are points (notably in the third season) where it seems completely disconnected from the particulars of Star Trek continuity while engaging with its themes, and points (notably in the fourth season) where it seems to wallow in minutiae.

Broken Bow also works because it at least acknowledges the idea that Archer may not be entirely ready for the dangers of outer space. His attitude is decidedly unilateral and over-confident, as he insists that mankind is quite capable of navigating the stars on their own terms. In later episodes of the season, the show seems to almost embrace Archer’s philosophy, but Broken Bow at least suggests the possibility that mankind may still be grossly under-qualified for this phase of space exploration.

After all, the plot of Broken Bow should be straight-forward. Archer is returning Klaag to the Klingon home world. It’s fairly routine as Star Trek plots go. Picard would do that between episodes. However, he somewhat carelessly manages to lose the Klingon along the way. While trying to find Klaag, he manages to get himself shot and incapacitated. Broken Bow makes much of how little the human crew seem to understand the cosmos, and how eager they are to meddle in affairs they don’t fully understand.

Some of the best sequences in the episode feature Trip confronting the wonders and horrors of Rigel X. The alien seems truly alien here, whether its noises and shadows moving behind closed doors or children struggling to breath oxygen as part of their natural development. Trip is overly eager to wander into these situations and impose his own morality on world-view on there. There’s no grasp of cultural relativism at play, no understanding that other species may – just may – be radically different than our own.

“You should learn to objectify other cultures, so you know when to interfere, and when not to,” T’Pol advises Trip, and Broken Bow ends with Archer’s concession that she may have a role to play on the ship, helping to welcome mankind into the wider cosmos. It’s a surprisingly nuanced take on the relationship between mankind and the Vulcans, accepting that their attitudes may be infuriating, but they do have a point. It’s a shame that so many of the later episodes seem to unquestioningly embrace Archer’s perspective.

Broken Bow is a very troubled episode of Star Trek, but it’s also one that has some absolutely fantastic moments. As such, it is perhaps the most perfect pilot in the history of Star Trek – the pilot that most perfectly captures the spirit of its show, for better or worse.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

14 Responses

  1. An interesting review, though I’m not sure I really buy the association of George W. Bush with whiteness – he won the largest share of the Hispanic vote of any Republican candidate since Eisenhower (a legacy immediately squandered by his party afterwards), pushed for immigration reform and his Cabinet was arguably just as diverse as Clinton (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22082-2004Dec23.html).

    I’m not saying Bush was a misunderstood progressive and that there weren’t huge problems with racial equality during his era but I’m somewhat sceptical about the association.

    • Fair point. I’ve trimmed that from article. Still, I think the predominantly white male cast feels a little regressive for the show, perhaps reflecting a conservative trend at the start of the new millennium.

    • I wonder what those numbers of Hispanic support would be if you deducted Texans…and how many followed up in the next election.

      As an American living overseas in that era, I can tell you it was a bad look all round. Good riddance.

      Anyway, great article, as always.

  2. Please let this “again with the Klingons” be a running joke. It reminds me of the old days in college when I was reading Neal Bailey’s ongoing rage at Smallville. Every time they popped over to Smallville General Hospital (every single episode), he’d cry, “AGAIN WITH THE SQUEAKY SHOES”

  3. And…listen, there’s no highbrow way to say this. Archer as George W. Bush in space is the best summation of ENT I’ve ever heard or read.

  4. There is something I found interesting if you view the Star Trek shows chronologically (Enterprise to Voyager).

    We begin Enterprise with white leads and token black and asian characters, with a very human centered focus and a deep racism of Vulcans and other species. As the shows go on though a larger and richer universe unfolds. By the time of DS9 and Voyager we have a more diverse crew as main characters and we get more opportunities to see perspectives outside of humanity and the Federation, like Bajor and Cardassia.

    I’m probably reaching though, but I thought I’d say something about it.

    • It’s a fair point. I only wish that I could believe it was a conscious decision on the part of the creative team, rather than a more generic “the crew needs to be whiter.”

      (I do think the third and particularly fourth seasons of Enterprise do open themselves up to outside perspectives like the Xindi or the Andorians or the Klingons. Not as much as Deep Space Nine did, but more than Voyager, I’d contend.)

      • Oh I’m not saying that it’s perfect or anything, and it sure doesn’t excuse some of the unfortunate aspects of Enterprise. Hell I wish that they really did go for that.

        I just thought I’d point out something i thought was interesting to me.

  5. I am not against tension between humans and Vulcans but from the beginning it goes well into over the top melodrama. I don’t mind mistrust or even straight up bigotry, but the barely restrained (when even that) racial hatred on display here gets bloody ridiculous.

  6. I like the uniforms on this show. They’re quite workmanlike, more like coveralls, and the strips of color are understated rather than popping off the screen. The uniforms emphasize that these are people doing a job and not out on a pleasure cruise.

    • My favourite Star Trek uniforms are then Next Generation movie and late Deep Space Nine era ones, which look suitably official while also futuristic enough.

      • This reply is way late, but now that I’m doing another pass through the Enterprise reviews, I’ll say the TNG movie and late-DS9 uniforms are the best. They were an acquired taste for me, having grown up on the TNG uniforms, but I think you’re right. They’re the best blend of colour and professionalism.

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