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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shockwave, Part I (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.

Re-watching a television show with the benefit hindsight is a particularly intriguing experience. Knowing that certain plot lines or character threads will or won’t pay off can be a liberating experience. While a disappointing ending to a particular story can undermine a lot of what came before, foreknowledge of the inevitable anticlimax allows the viewer to manage their expectations and temper their enthusiasm. It stops the viewer from getting too involved with threads that lead to dead ends, and heightens appreciations for those that pay dividends.

The Temporal Cold War plot on Star Trek: Enterprise never went anywhere. This is rather obvious in hindsight, given that it has been a decade since the end of the show. However, it’s worth acknowledging that many viewers correctly predicted as much on the initial airing of Broken Bow in late 2001. None of the questions raised will be answered, none of the plot threads will be resolved. It will just sit there, nestled snugly in the heart of this Star Trek spin-off, possibly embodying the show’s unfulfilled potential.

Enterprise isn't quite going to make it to seventh (season) heaven...

Enterprise isn’t quite going to make it to seventh (season) heaven…

While the Temporal Cold War lacks a clear resolution, it does provide the impetus for some pretty good storytelling on its own terms. In many respects, the plot works best when it exists as a driving force in the background of an episode – rather than being pushed to the fore. This is probably why Cold Front and Shockwave, Part I work much better than episodes like Shockwave, Part II – episodes that use the Temporal Cold War as a jumping off point to character work and development, rather than an end of itself.

Shockwave, Part I is notable for ending the first season of Enterprise on a cliffhanger. This was the first time that the opening season of a Star Trek had show had closed on a cliffhanger. The other shows closed out their freshman season with open-ended stand-alone stories, with the last episodes in the first seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager emphasising how far their cast had come. In contrast, Shockwave, Part I closes the first year of Enterprise on an honest to goodness “to be continued.” And a good one at that.

Seeking a friend at the end of the world...

Seeking a friend at the end of the world…

The decision to end the first season of Enterprise on a cliffhanger is an interesting one. On the one hand, it contributes to the sense that the show is quickly becoming “Star Trek as usual.” With Shockwave, Part I, it feels like the Star Trek franchise is just continuing a familiar pattern of season-ending cliffhangers that have been a feature of the franchise since The Best of Both World, Part I. There is a reason for that, of course. The climax of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is one of the best Star Trek moments ever produced.

With the broadcast of Shockwave, Part I in mid-2002, it had been six years since a television season had closed without a Star Trek cliffhanger in one form or another. In the case of 1995, network and studio meddling played a key role. The open-ended closing scene of The Adversary from the third season of Deep Space Nine had been intended as a more dramatic stakes-changing cliffhanger; UPN’s decisions about the broadcast of the final episodes of Voyager‘s first season had upset Jeri Taylor and the other writers.

Silik is green with envy...

Silik is green with envy…

So ending on a cliffhanger feels like a continuation of the inevitable cycle of season-ending cliffhangers that began on Star Trek: The Next Generation and ran through Star Trek: Voyager. Coupled with the visit to Risa in Two Days and Two Nights and the casting of former Star Trek regulars like Ethan Phillips and Rene Auberjonois in episodes like Acquisition and Oasis, it’s easy to argue that the tail end of the first season of Enterprise seemed to be assembly-line Star Trek.

This summary isn’t entirely fair. The first season of Enterprise is more adventurous than most give it credit for, even if its more ambitious attributes seems to be tempered with a certain narrative conservatism. Inventive and strange episodes like Breaking the Ice or Dear Doctor or Shuttlepod One exist alongside generic Star Trek adventures like Civilisation or Rogue Planet or Sleeping Dogs or Vox Sola. However, it seems fair to concede that the show did seem a little fatigued as it reached the end of the season.

"This is going to come up in my quarterly review, isn't it?"

“This is going to come up in my quarterly review, isn’t it?”

So perhaps the decision to end the first season of Enterprise on a cliffhanger reflects this sense of fatigue. After six years of season-ending cliffhangers on Voyager, it would likely provide a much more comfortable way of closing out the year. Trying to encapsulate and wrap up an entire year of television is hard work, and it’s worth noting that Enterprise is the first Star Trek show to produce a full twenty-six episode season since the first year of The Next Generation back in 1987.

However, there is another factor at play here. The times were changing. Star Trek: Voyager had been launched as the flagship of the United Paramount Network. While the first season could hardly be described as an unqualified ratings success, Voyager was the only show broadcast on UPN’s first night to get renewed for a second season. Star Trek had been one of the top performers on UPN, to the point where the network actively pressured producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to produce a new Star Trek show hot on the heels of Voyager.

Archer did not respond favourably to the pre-release screener of These Are the Voyages...

Archer did not respond favourably to the pre-release screener of These Are the Voyages…

Enterprise launched with a degree of self-confidence and certainty. In an interview with Linda Park early in the first season, veteran Star Trek journalist Ian Spelling noted:

No one can guarantee Enterprise will fly for seven years, as Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager did, but a Trek series remains as close to a sure thing as there is in latter-day Hollywood.

Scott Bakula boasted that the Enterprise cast were assured that they were going to be “the next movie franchise.” Of course, Enterprise would become the first live action Star Trek spin-off to last less than seven years.

"It was all a dream!" Or, you know, a holodeck program!

“It was all a dream!”
Or, you know, a holodeck program!

Change was in the air. Rather dramatic change. In late 2001, it was announced that UPN would undergo a change in management. After years of financial failure, CBS President Les Moonves was brought in to stop the bleeding. He took over in January 2002, mid-way through the first season. Moonves would become something of an infamous figure in Star Trek fandom; he would eventually be directly responsible for the cancellation of Enterprise during the show’s fourth season.

This represented a changing for Enterprise. Up to this point, the Star Trek franchise had been allowed to do its own thing at Paramount in the best, with the studio and network trusting Rick Berman to manage the property in a responsible manner. There were exceptions of course, but Berman had generally been allowed a wide degree of latitude in how to run Star Trek. However, he quickly discovered that the new management was a lot more hands-on than they had been before.

The ball is in their court now...

The ball is in their court now…

In the Uncharted Territory documentary, Berman recalls this rather sharp change in management style:

There was a big change of administration. The new administration that came in had been told, “We leave these guys alone; they come in on budget and they do their thing.” They had an attitude, “You gotta be kidding. That’s not the way we work.” So we started getting notes. And there were some classics.

There are a wealth of stories and anecdotes (both hilarious and terrifying) about this phase of the franchise’s history.

Reed chips in...

Reed chips in…

In light of all these changes taking place behind the scenes, it should be noted that Berman first signaled his desire to wrap up the first season of Enterprise on a cliffhanger in an interview with The Star Trek Communicator in mid January 2002, shortly after that change in management. Given that the Temporal Cold War seems to exist as a metaphor for network interference with Enterprise, tying that cliffhanger to the Temporal Cold War makes a great deal of sense.

A season-ending cliffhanger is built on the assumption that there will be a following season – that there will be a resolution to that cliffhanger. It’s a way of trying to reassure the audience a show’ll be back. Indeed, the decision to end Zero Hour – the third season finalé of Enterprise – on a cliffhanger was massively controversial precisely because the threat of cancellation loomed large. There was a sense that the duo might have been taunting the network and the studio with the prospect of a dangling cliffhanger that might make the show harder to syndicate.

The season's parting shot?

The season’s parting shot?

Shockwave, Part I plays like the Star Trek franchise is uncertain about its future for the first time in quite a while. Although it seems unlikely that anybody was openly talking about the prospect of cancellation at this stage of the game, it’s not too hard to imagine a few frightened whispers among the staffers. Star Trek was no longer the jewel in UPN’s crown, and the franchise no longer had the carte blanche it had previously enjoyed.

The show is nominally about the loss of three thousand lives in a horrific accident, but Shockwave, Part I never seems too concerned with the thousands of lives that are extinguished in the teaser. Instead, the episode is focused on the consequences of that accident. “The mission’s been cancelled,” Archer tells the crew at one point, adopting the language and terminology that feels more applicable to managing a network schedule than manned space flight. (He stops short of calling it “the program.”)

The hazily-defined shape of things to come...

The hazily-defined shape of things to come…

Archer even seems to acknowledge the repeated suggestion that it might be worth “resting” the Star Trek franchise to cope with “franchise fatigue.” Archer reflects, “From what the Admiral tells me, Ambassador Soval will use this to convince Starfleet that we need another ten or twenty years before we try this again.” It’s a line that seems particularly ironic in light of the fact that Star Trek itself was resting for less than five years before a highly successful reboot. (Or, er, relaunch, to preserve the metaphor.)

Admiral Forrest seems to get oddly sentimental for a supervising officer. Addressing Archer on a television screen, he remarks. “After all you’ve done, I would have hated to see this end.” After all, earlier episodes had painted Forrest as something of a fan, eagerly waiting on Earth for the latest transmission from the Enterprise. Archer responds, sincerely, “Thank you for believing in us, Admiral.”

A captain and his dog...

A captain and his dog…

The crew talk among themselves about where they plan to go from here. “Well, I did expect this posting would last a while longer,” Phlox reflects, as if aware of the contract that John Billingsley signed on joining the cast. “But I’m sure an equally adventurous opportunity will present itself.” Hoshi suspects she’ll be able to slot back into her own role, while Mayweather contemplates whether he’ll accept a less prestigious posting.

Of course, this isn’t something that was meant to happen. This is all down to time travelers meddling with the time stream – outside forces warping the narrative and messing with the flow of history. When Daniels tries to “fix” the time line, it’s telling that he brings Archer back before the pilot – the night directly before the opening scene of Broken Bow. He informs Archer that this is a place where the other factions in the Temporal Cold War cannot see him. Of course, because this is before Enterprise actually began.

A piece of the puzzle...

A piece of the puzzle…

In a way, this seems to be a piece of self-criticism. The only way to fix Enterprise would be to go back to the start and re-work it. After all, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had originally conceived the first season as taking place on Earth during the development of the warp five engine, a prospect that the network had aggressively resisted. UPN insisted that the show dive to the familiar Star Trek tropes as quickly as possible.

In a bid to save the timeline, Daniels doesn’t just pull Archer back to before Enterpise began. He pulls Archer back into the original concept of the show. Archer receiving a late night call from Trip about the three inspection pods feels like it might have been an element of this alternate version of Enterprise, as Archer and his team scramble to get the ship off the ground – dealing with all manner of diplomatic and practical complications along the way.

The Suliban weren't expecting us. The alert level is set to "mood lighting."

The Suliban weren’t expecting them. The alert level is set to “mood lighting.”

It is worth noting that Daniels practically destroys the timeline by following the ill-advised instructions given by his superiors. Tinkering with the timeline in order to appease them, Daniels inadvertently wipes out an entire history of the future. “Then I was instructed to bring you here,” Daniels explains. “Someone was very mistaken.” In Shockwave, Part II, Archer explicitly describes it as a “utopia”, while Daniels mourns the loss of the Federation. This outside meddling effectively destroys Star Trek.

It is worth noting that Archer and Enterprise are doomed by their own blind trust in the people controlling Daniels. Archer is told that the Suliban will not follow him, so he engages in an attack on a Suliban ship. He is told that events will play out a particular way, only for things to go horribly wrong. Once again, Daniels’ mysterious superiors cause trouble with their meddling and their instructions.

An army of meanwhiles and neverweres...

An army of meanwhiles and neverweres…

However, the subplot involving the Suliban also reflects another meta-textual concern of Enterprise‘s first season. When Malcolm asks why the Suliban won’t simply hunt Enterprise down to recover the data, Archer replies, “Just like those old Bible movies, Malcolm. It wasn’t written.” Invoking the bible and knowledge of the future? It seems like Archer is discussing the Star Trek continuity – the “canon”, as it is affectionately (or not so affectionately) known.

In many ways, this typifies the problem with writing a prequel – the ending is already know. A prequel often finds itself written into a corner, struggling to find a way to tell an interesting story while still lining up perfectly with what came before. Enterprise has to meet a certain set of requirements imposed by the larger Star Trek canon, and the show could easily seem like it is colouring within the lines.

This is probably the point where you stop trusting Daniels just because he can remember your breakfast order.

This is probably the point where you stop trusting Daniels just because he can remember your breakfast order.

So here, Enterprise finds itself acknowledging this conflict between the need to tell its own stories and the need to adhere to what has already been written. It isn’t enough to say that something must happen because “it is written.” It’s a pretty crappy story if the Suliban don’t pursue Enterprise, allowing Archer and his crew to feel vindicated with a minimum of risk. It lowers the stakes, and undermines the credibility of the Suliban, making it all feel too easy.

Daniels and his superiors seem to represent more traditional approaches to Star Trek. In Cold Front, it was the rival faction that had to save the ship; suggesting that Daniels’ faction would have been content to see Enterprise destroyed early in its run. Here, they operate from assumptions based on the Star Trek canon. The Suliban are native (and unique) to Enterprise, so of course they cannot pose a credible risk. After all, if they were that important, they’d have been mentioned before, right?

The curious incident of the captain in the night time...

“We have to go back, Jon!”

The Temporal Cold War serves as an effective metaphor for the conflicts that ran through Enterprise – the changes forced on the show from the outside, the meddling of the network, the difficulty reconciling the show with the rest of the franchise. The Temporal Cold War serves as a way to address and explore those within the narrative – objects that don’t belong, that distort the story around themselves. So it’s only appropriate that it also provides a glimpse at another outside factor that significantly impacted the development of the show.

Broken Bow had been broadcast two weeks after the events of 9/11. “It was an extraordinary time and a terrible, devastating time,” Scott Bakula recalls. “We had guest stars come in who had lost friends in the tower. Everyone was affected on so many levels.” It was inevitable that 9/11 would affect Enterprise. This became most obvious during the third season, but the second half of the first season – from Shadows of P’Jem onwards – was heavily affected by the events of 9/11.

It's the end of the world as he knows it...

“Don’t worry, you’d be surprised how frequently somebody breaks the timeline.”

As such, it seems significant that Shockwave, Part I opens with the death of over three thousand people that were not meant to die. It is worth noting that the “three thousand” figure cited repeatedly in the episode (actually “three thousand six hundred”) would seem rather small for a major off-world colony, but is approximately the same as the number of people killed during the attacks. Similarly, 9/11 is evoked in the devastation wrought at the climax of the episode  – a devastated urban skyline populated with crumbling skyscrapers after an unspeakable horror.

The events of 9/11 changed America and global politics. It goes without saying that they also changed Enterprise. Here, it seems like the event not only warped the franchise’s past, but also distorted its future. The first half of the season had been a show enthusiastic and excited about exploration, while the show quickly became a bit more cynical and jaded. It is quite difficult to imagine what Enterprise would have looked like had 9/11 not occurred.

Archer refuses to play ball...

Archer refuses to play ball…

Although the Temporal Cold War doesn’t make any sense in the context of the show, it is fun to try to make various pieces fit together. As with Cold Front, there’s a weird sense of ambiguity to all the meddling here – a sense that the conflict isn’t necessarily being waged between forces that can be clearly labelled “good” and “evil.” It helps that we never really get a clear sense of what each faction wants, and that both are clouded in secrecy. The climax of Shockwave, Part I suggests that Daniels is just as much a blind unquestioning follower of these unseen forces as Silik is.

Sure, Archer seems to assume that Daniels is the good guy in all this. There is something a little unsettling about this. As with so much about Archer, it suggests an unsettling racist outlook – he seems to take Daniels at his word simply because he looks more human than Silik. In spite of this, the plot gives every indication that Daniels’ faction is either morally ambiguous or simply massively inept. In Cold Front, Daniels isn’t the one to save the ship. Here, his meddling breaks the timeline and leads to the capture of Enterprise and the torture of her crew.

Cruisin' for a bruisin'...

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’…

Of course, it goes without saying that Silik is a thug. We got to see scenes of him torturing Klaag in Broken Bow. He will torture both T’Pol and Reed in Shockwave, Part II. However, Silik is just as capable of helping the crew – as seen in Cold Front or even Storm Front. He is a blunt instrument used by the mysterious “Future Guy.” Based on Rann’s suggestions about what to do when the Suliban lose contact with Future Guy in Shockwave, Part II, perhaps the Cabal is just trigger-happy.

We never get a proper read on Future Guy’s motivations. One can assume that he’s not a “good” guy, given he directed the murder of three thousand people, but he has also never accidentally destroyed the timeline. Here, his instructions are direct, but he doesn’t provide a justification. “Have your ships bring me Archer,” he directs. “Allow Enterprise to continue.” It’s worth noting that – as of Shockwave, Part II – the certain members of the Cabal seem to have interpreted that as “if Archer’s not there, torture the crew for a bit and maybe blow up the ship or something.”

"Oh boy..."

“Oh boy…”

We never get a sense of what Future Guy actually wants with Archer. Brannon Braga has boasted that they planned to reveal that Future Guy was Archer, but it’s not entirely clear that the production team had made that decision at this stage. (Or, in fact, before the show finished up.) Still, if Future Guy was Archer, it seems unlikely that he would kill his younger self. Indeed, had Silik successfully abducted Archer, it’s quite possible that the Temporal Cold War might actually have revealed some info and moved closer to a resolution.

(Then again, it’s entirely possible that Future Guy is just a generic bad guy. He does get to spout clichés like “you know what happened the last time you failed me” while cloaked entirely in shadow. The show stops just short of giving him an evil laugh and directing Silik to do his bidding while referring to him only as “foolish mortal.” Still, the complete lack of any development or exploration of his character creates all sort of nooks and crannies where interesting ideas might develop.)

What do you bet the only signal anybody can pick up is a Romulan transmission from Alpha Centauri?

What do you bet the only signal anybody can pick up is a Romulan transmission from Alpha Centauri?

Shockwave, Part I is a fascinating exploration of changing circumstances that had rocked the first year of Enterprise, structuring them into an exciting and fast-paced (and surprisingly thoughtful) story. It’s an episode that seems quite proud of the show’s potential, engaging with a number of the problems and questions that have haunted the season. It’s an episode that ends with the promise that – while things are uncertain – the future might yet be saved.

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

6 Responses

  1. Great metatexual reading.

    A Star Trek prequel was always going to be challenge, to the mind as well as the stomach…. Even if ENT side-stepped four prominent wars (WWIII, Eugenics War, and the looming Romulan/Cardassian wars.) Have you noticed that the earthlings seem to shrink in stature as the franchise goes on, and the Vulcans end up leading us by the hand? Could this be an allegory for the decline of western hegemony and the rise of a new eastern coalition?

    For westerners especially, it’s hard to visualize a “future” for us beyond the war on terror. Certainly any “positive” outcome is going to going to leave us in the lurch somewhat. We’ll be riddled with debt, no longer leaders but followers, technologically as well as culturally. Because Star Trek was so eurocentric to begin with, 9-11 and the new millennium must have been a huge shock to the creative system.

    • I hadn’t really noticed that trend – good spot!

      Rewatching Enterprise has given me a greater sympathy for it. It was just a disastrous combination of factors at play that culminated in an incredibly dull first two years.

      I think I mentioned it before, but I stopped watching Star Trek regularly (after about a decade) midway through the second season. It is just a draining and depressingly lifeless season of television so far behind both reality and the rest of the medium.

      • You said it, brother. I gave season three and four a taste, but– well, it says quite a lot that T’Pol is the most likeable character in that morass.

        It’s not even well-acted part. But one does tend to develop beer goggles watching Enterprise…

      • I’m actually a bigger fan of season three than most, because I think that Enterprise needed to talk about that stuff at some point. The second season is packed full of episodes that try to be traditional Star Trek while also reacting to 9/11, leading to an incredible “wrongness.” It is hard to make a show about exploring when your default response to something strange and unusual is a paranoia that the show pretty much justifies for you. At least the third season put those big issues front-and-centre. And I think that the third season does a nice job of wandering back towards Star Trek’s philosophy after it gets some unpleasant things out of its system.

        (The narrative ends on a very “let’s be friends” idea of peace and reconciliation, while the techniques that Archer uses on the Xindi soldiers at the start of the season are mirrored by the way that the Xindi treat Hoshi towards the end of the season. It’s not unproblematic, but I think it starts in an awful place and lets the show wander back towards the franchise’s core. Which – and I might just be being optimistic here – I suspect was always the intention. In The Expanse, after Archer has his big “whatever it takes” moment, he immediately refuses to kill Duras in cold blood.)

  2. Watching Shockwave with the benefit of hindsight with regards to all the things that 9/11 indirectly led to since the publication of this review, it really feels eerie.
    It perfectly captures the sense of pure existential horror that 2020 seems to specialise in, as well as the idea that such a tragedy could be so powerful it could actively distort the fabric of reality.
    What is a Time War, at the end of the day, but a post-truth age spanning the entire cosmos? Nothing is certain anymore. The Suliban’s not following the Enterprise “wasn’t written,” but it happens anyway.
    The only semi-serious cynical side of me wonders if a contemporary production of Shockwave might have had Archer add that “facts don’t care about your feelings” to truly underscore just how meaningless “facts” are nowadays to certain people.
    And the “ten or twenty years before we try this again” feels particularly ironic in hindsight given we’re nearly 20 years out from Enterprise’s beginnings and the franchise *is* having a resurgence on television.
    So I guess I lean more now, with the benefit of hindsight, towards a “political reality” reading than a “network interference” one, simply because while the franchise didn’t become the wasteland envisioned at the end of the episode, what is America in 2020 if not a mangled, ruined industrial nightmare?
    Maybe Star Trek wasn’t what people really should have been worried about…

    I want to thank you once again for your excellent reviews. They’ve been as integral a part to my watching of the show throughout this first season as the show itself. I just figured I’d add my 20 cents.
    Enterprise Season 1 is fascinating to me, if not always good. It’s caught between two competing visions, and the results of that conflict aren’t always spectacular.
    I haven’t heard great things from your comments on Season 2, but I will venture forth regardless.
    Thanks once again.

  3. I’m not really good on Trek history, but the Vulcan (and Starfleet) reaction on Archer’s “failure” keeps bugging me. I understand this sets on the pre-Federation timeline, but why does the Vulcan acts more like a colonist rather than an ally? If they say human can’t handle deep space mission for at least another decade, why Starfleet bother to agree–let alone bow to–this decision?
    With the human-centered/jingoistic nature of the first season, and how they portrayed Vulcan as complete A, I was quite surprised they didn’t make Starfleet just break the alliance then and there.

    It really is a weak premise in my opinion. I also don’t really buy Archer’s motive in defending T’Pol position in his ship. With how poorly T’Pol’s character development, I barely see any chemistry between her and any of the crew.

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