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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.
Shockwave, Part II is not one of the stronger episodes of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Then again, we really should exact as much at this point. As a franchise, Star Trek has generally been better at set-up rather than pay-off. This was true of most of the cliffhangers on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although it was still very well put together, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II can’t measure up to the episodes either side of it. There’s a laundry list of two-parters that raise the stake to almost impossible levels in the first part, only to struggle with providing a resolution.
As a rule, the two-parters with the stronger second halves generally fell into two categories: the episodes written and broadcast as two-hour television films, as with All Good Things…, The Way of the Warrior; or episodes where the first part of the show is very clearly building towards the entire status quo of the second episode, rather than simply building to a shock climax, as with The Chain of Command, Birthright or Unification.
There are a lot of mundane reasons why Shockwave, Part II does not work. There’s the fact that this all seems like it has been recycled from Star Trek: Voyager two-parters. The idea of a time-traveller destroying his world provided the basis of Future’s End. The series’ new big bad aliens took control of the ship in Basics, forcing characters in the secondary plot to launch a resistance from inside a captured space craft.
You could argue that this is all rather self-aware, much like Shockwave, Part I seemed to explore the series’ anxieties about the change in management at UPN in late 2001 and early 2002. What better way to acknowledge that Star Trek was facing an uncertain future than to have Archer face it along with the franchise? If Shockwave, Part I was built around externalising the show’s insecurities and anxieties, then surely the same argument could be made for Shockwave, Part II?
One of the strongest creative conflicts on Enterprise was over the show’s relationship to the franchise. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman wanted to do something fresh; the studio and the network wanted more of the same. Shockwave, Part II could be read as a rather ironic twist on that instruction. Shockwave, Part II is very much the definition of “more of the same.” It’s a second helping of Star Trek two-parters, mixing familiar ingredients together to produce a result which feels like leftovers.
Even if this is the case, it doesn’t excuse the shoddy plotting. There is a way to remix classic Star Trek elements to produce an exciting and compelling piece of television. After all, the fourth season of Enterprise is basically a collection of bits and pieces the franchise has collected over its run, stewed together to produce a more appetizing result. The fourth season manages to basically do Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the fourth time in the franchise’s history, and still turns it into an enjoyable piece of television. So, there’s no excuse for this.
Instead, Shockwave, Part II feels incredibly stale. It’s an episode that treads water as the show waits to get back to the status quo. Of course Archer returns to his present. Of course Enterprise is exonerated in the deaths of three thousand people. Of course the future is restored. Of course the Suliban are fought back. So much of Shockwave, Part II feels like gratuitous padding leading up to the point, as the show is packed to the brim with pointless scenes like the torture of T’Pol or the Hoshi losing her shirt.
It goes without saying that there are more important things the show could be doing. It could be providing information about the Temporal Cold War. Given that the arc was never really plotted in advance, it may be too much to expect answers. However, the episode could at least provide some interesting questions – it could spur us on or provide some food for thought or something to chew over. Instead, it is just marking time.
Consider Archer and Daniels’ conversation about time-travel. Arriving in a dystopian future where everything has been destroyed – including civilisation and time travel itself – Archer right wonders about how (a.) he could have been brought here in the first place; and (b.) why Daniels is still there when everything else is gone. These are legitimate plot nitpicks, albeit nitpicks that can be covered by a shrug and a handwave. After all, who is to say how time travel works?
Daniels is rather blunt in his response. “You’re thinking of time travel like we’re in some H.G. Wells novel,” he remarks to Archer. “We’re not. It’s far more complicated. There’s no way for you to understand.” On top of being massively condescending, it is a terrible non-answer. Where’s the tease? Where’s the fun? Where’s the witty acknowledgement that the reason time travel works that way is because the script needs it to? Daniels’ answer lacks even the intriguing ambiguity that marked his conversations with the crew in Cold Front.
Of course, the reasons are ultimately little more than “the plot demands it” – something the show can get away with because time travel doesn’t actually exist, so the audience can’t criticise the internal logic too much – but it’s a decidedly half-hearted handwave. Compare the wonderfully nonsensical and magical “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” from Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who, a similarly substance-less counter to any time travel logic criticism, but on that playfully acknowledges the goofiness of the set-up.
Inevitably, all of this conspires to push Shockwave, Part II towards a techno-babble solution – the kind of nonsense that Enterprise spent the first season trying to avoid. Most of Daniels’ dialogue in the second half of the episode could be reduced to “if I can just tech the tech…” and nothing would be lost. It’s hard to get too invested or excited, because it’s a magic solution with no real stakes. Archer and Daniels wander around a little bit, Daniels whips up a magic time travel device, and Archer goes home. It’s hardly compelling viewing.
It doesn’t feel earned. It doesn’t feel essential. We might be able to excuse the lack of high-stakes plotting if these scenes provided some interesting character interaction or back story. We might be able to excuse the lack of interesting character interaction or back story if these scenes had some high-stakes plotting. Instead, the scenes with Daniels and Archer in the future are just sort of there… eating up time until the end of the episode.
This would suggest that Archer and Daniels are stranded in the secondary plot of the episode – that the main point of Archer’s trip to the future is a pragmatic attempt to keep away from the events unfolding on Enterprise. However, that storyline feels similarly shallow. We get a couple of scenes of Silik torturing the crew; then Trip fakes a warp core breach and the Suliban fall for it hook, line and sinker. It’s a pretty dumb ruse. It’s very much the “sick prisoner” routine, but with an entire ship rather than an individual.
All this feels a tad unnecessary. It feels like a miscalculation to open the second season of the show with another plot about T’Pol being brutally victimised by a male character. Given that T’Pol spent an inordinate amount of the first season being victimised or objectified, it doesn’t get the second season off to a good start. Then again, given where the second season takes T’Pol, you could argue that it starts as it means to go on. It’s a short distance from here to A Night in Sickbay or Bounty.
Enterprise itself feels strangely empty while under siege. It doesn’t seem like anybody but the senior staff are left on board with the Suliban. While Silik tries to torture information out of the crew, it never occurs to him that he has a ship full of people as leverage. It also seems like Reed should be working with his security teams to help re-take the ship, rather than relying on senior staff members whose expertise lies outside siege and combat. (Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a small trained security officer instead of using Hoshi to ferry tools between cabins?)
It seems like nobody exists on the ship outside the main cast and a few anonymous extras. No Chef, no Cutler, no Roslov. Star Trek shows have a long history of assuming that the main cast do everything, and there’s a valid dramatic reason for that. However, here it feels like there’s no acknowledgement of the fact that running a top-of-the-line ship should probably take more than four or five people.
It doesn’t matter, though, because the Suliban are idiots. To be fair, they correctly deduce that the crew have taken back engineering and are planning a warp core breach. However, they don’t see through this as an obvious ploy to force the Suliban to retreat – instead seeing it as an attempt at mass suicide. Of course, it turns out that a warp core breach is apparently conveniently easy to reverse once it is in progress, and Trip can handily stop it and turn the engines back on once the Suliban have left. It’s just as trite a techno-babble solution as the resolution to Archer’s plot.
But, hey, let’s talk about the Suliban for a moment. Let’s talk about Silik. Because – like Matt Winston as Daniels – John Fleck is very good as Silik, even if the material doesn’t always give them enough to work with. There’s something beautifully condescending about how Silik insists on calling Archer “Jonathan”, right down to Fleck’s delivery. Watching Fleck as Silik is a joy, as he shifts the character from sinister calm in his interrogation of the crew to frantic desperation as he tries to re-connect with his mysterious benefactor.
In many respects, it is like watching Marc Alaimo as Dukat on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Although lacking the exposure of Khan, Dukat really sets the standard for Star Trek baddies, and a lot of that is down to Alaimo. In particular, Alaimo had a knack for balancing Dukat’s confident swagger with chronic insecurity. Fleck does something similar, albeit with a sense that Silik might be a tad more self-aware than Dukat. (Dukat would never allow himself to acknowledge needing an ally as Silik does here. He’d convince himself he merely tolerates them.)
The idea that Silik could develop into a recurring adversary is intriguing, based on Fleck’s performance alone. However, the writing simply can’t keep with the performance. There’s no sense of nuance to Silik. There’s no depth or sophistication. For all that Fleck’s portrayal suggests a ruthless desperation, the scripts never allow Silik to seem particularly smart. Here, it never occurs to him here to threaten any other hostage to leverage information from the crew, rather than playing into the crew’s selflessness by torturing them one-at-a-time.
Shockwave, Part II reinforces the sense that the Suliban really don’t exist as anything more than a race of generic henchmen, doing the bidding of a more powerful external source. To be fair, this dynamic is markedly different from the portrayal of other servant races we’ve seen on Star Trek before – the Suliban don’t feel quite like retreads of the Vorta or the Jem’Hadar from Deep Space Nine. However, they feel different because they lack any of the defining features associated with the Vorta or the Jem’Hadar.
The Suliban are neither as devoted as the Jem’Hadar nor as cynical as the Vorta. They really just seem like a nebulous collection of evil henchmen with no agency of their own. It might have been interesting to explore their relationship with Future Guy. Do they treat him as a religious figure? There were certainly hints of faith in Silik’s description of the relationship in Cold Front. Are they just in it for themselves? Do they plan to make use of their enhancements and advanced technology for their own gain, rather than simply as an instrument of Future Guy?
They are the muscle for a big bad, existing primarily as a hurdle for our heroes to defeat. Still, there is a hint of an interesting plot here. What happens to these sorts of goons when they get cut off from the brains of the operation? Silik’s desperation is palpable, his paralyzing inability to make his own decisions is intriguing. However, Shockwave, Part II doesn’t do much with this sort of existential quandary beyond suggesting the Suliban aren’t a credible threat on any significant level.
After all, one would imagine that losing contact with Future Guy is a pretty big deal for Silik. What do the Suliban plan to do if the Vulcans show up looking for Enterprise? How will this affect the Cabal’s war against the Tandarans? Without Future Guy to protect them, surely the Klingons will pose a significant threat? However, Shockwave, Part II makes a few small nods towards these concerns and instead concentrates on Silik pushing buttons and seeming a little irritated.
(The scene where Silik is too busy trying to re-establish contact as the crew re-take Enterprise with Future Guy is quite wry. Ignoring hails in favour of pushing buttons and tinkering with tech, he seems to shrug off the idea that he has not only lost Archer, but also possibly the entire ship. “Will you alert the tractor teams?” Raan asks, urgently. “You do it,” Silik replies. “I’m busy.” It’s like that time my gran got a VCR. The only thing the episode is missing is a scene of Silik wearing his reading glasses trying to make sense of the instructions.)
Still, Fleck does manage to make Silik seem almost pitiable. Silik seems to be crying out into the darkness, completely helpless. “He’s never failed to respond before,” Silik insists. “Why isn’t he responding? I need instructions.” Later on, as he tries to get the technology working, he speaks to the absent Future Guy as if praying to an omniscient deity. “I need instructions. I don’t know how to operate this device. I need your help.”
Of course, Silik manages to bring Archer back to the present, but the most interesting aspect of that scene is how Silik is still fixating on Future Guy. Archer presses a weapon against his head, but Silik is more terrified of his master than he is of the vengeful Starfleet captain. Even though Future Guy is not around, he begs to the invisible room, “Can you see? I’ve brought you Archer! He’s here! Archer’s here! There’s no need to punish me.” It’s a shame that Enterprise never brought itself to develop Silik more as a character.
(That sequence where Archer returns to the present works quite well, if you buy into the whole “Future Guy is really Archer” line that Brannon Braga has been pitching in the years since Enterprise went off the air. Having Archer return to the present by posing as Future Guy might even have seemed like clever foreshadowing had the series actually managed to deliver on that idea. Sadly, it’s just another dangling loose end for the series.)
While there is something interesting about Silik’s helplessness and desperation, it does mean that the Suliban are – by definition – going to be less interesting than Future Guy. Given that Future Guy is a black shadow that talks in supervillain clichés, that is not a good sign. It’s a shame that Enterprise never really bothered to put any work into developing or expanding the Suliban, fleshing them out into a vaguely interesting adversary for the show.
Shockwave, Part II ends with what amounts to a reset. Everything goes back to the way that it was. All that matters is that Archer can prove that he wasn’t responsible for the deaths of three thousand people. There’s no meditation on those deaths, no interest in bringing the Suliban to justice for mass murder. Archer has Silik – the leader of the Cabal – with him on the Suliban ship he uses to escape. However, Archer immediately cuts Silik loose. “By the time he wakes up,” Archer boasts, “we’ll be long gone.” Surely Silik must be considered a terrorist or war criminal?
Similarly, one wonders how Archer was able to prove the innocence of his ship. When Silik boards the ship to reclaim the data discs, he makes sure that they weren’t copied. “They haven’t been duplicated,” one goon insists. “We didn’t have time to make a copy,” Hoshi admits. The final scene with Starfleet Command and the Vulcan High Command suggests that Archer was able to secure the discs somehow. Which solidifies the sense that the Suliban are morons. Either they left the discs on Enterprise, or left them somewhere Archer could pick them up quite easily.
All of this culminates in Archer’s “gazelle” speech. Scott Bakula is a good actor. After all, he has four Emmy nominations and one Golden Globe from his time on Quantum Leap. However, he is not an actor who is best suited to giving speeches. He lacks Shatner’s theatricality, Stewart’s grace or Brook’s presence. Instead, Bakula’s strengths lie in his folksy charm. To use an analogy that arguably (albeit ironically) cements the show as an artifact of the George W. Bush presidency, Archer was probably the Star Trek captain you were most likely to have a beer with.
Bakula plays Archer as a character whose enthusiasm can be infectious. He is, after all, a test pilot who has found himself charting strange new worlds in command of a top-of-the-line starship. He is on first name terms with his crew, and likes to keep things more casual than the other Star Trek captains. For example, in Silent Enemy, he is as concerned with finding out Malcolm’s favourite food as he is with mysterious aliens stalking the ship; it is a contrived set-up, but Bakula brings it closer to working than any of the other leads probably could.
So ending an episode with Archer giving a big speech feels like a mistake. Even ignoring the fact that the speech is incredibly cliché, it’s a creative decision that doesn’t play to Bakula’s strengths as an actor. It’s a moment that feels like it was included so that the episode might better fit the standard Star Trek template. The franchise does like its big summary speeches, after all. In a way, it foreshadows some of the problems with the second season, where it seems like the writers are trying to plot generic Star Trek stories rather than playing to the strengths of this show.
Of course, there’s another interesting aspect of Shortwave, Part II. While Shockwave, Part I was the first time that a Star Trek spin-off had closed out its opening season with a cliffhanger, Shockwave, Part II represents the last time that a Star Trek season would open with an episode serving as the conclusion to the last episode of the previous season. Even Storm Front, Part I cannot be argued to really be the second part of Zero Hour – it just builds off a stinger at the end of the episode.
As such, this is the last season-bridging two-parter of the Rick Berman era. In a way, it’s another artifact that Enterprise carried over from the nineties – a sense that the cliffhanger at the end of a season should be resolved in the first episode of the next season, setting almost everything back to the status quo for the second episode of the season. It’s a very old-fashioned way of looking at a television show, positioning the cliffhanger as an “event” that makes the opening and closing of a season feel like a big deal, with a minimal impact outside those two episodes.
These days, season finalés tend to serve as bookends to an entire year of television, or set up plot threads for the year ahead, or both. It’s something that Deep Space Nine seemed to grasp in the mid-nineties, with shows like The Jem’Hadar and A Call to Arms radically altering the status quo in a way that could not be fixed in forty-five minutes the following September. The traditional “break everything but make sure you put it all back when you’re done” approach to Shockwave feels practically antiquated in 2002.
This is the last gasp of this type of Star Trek storytelling. The franchise may never have hit the dizzying highs of The Best of Both Worlds again, but the approach did serve the franchise well. While Shockwave, Part I can be counted as a worthy example of this approach to Star Trek season finalés, Shockwave, Part II ends the tradition on a sour note. Enterprise would close out its second season with The Expanse, an episode that ended on a bold statement of purpose rather than a shocking twist.
Shockwave, Part I seemed to close out the first season by playing to the strengths of that freshman year. After all, it was an episode that was rather thoughtful and introspective, allowing room for characters and for reflection on some of the troubles unfolding behind the scenes. In contrast, Shockwave, Part II seems to open the second season by forecasting the weaknesses of the sophomore year. It’s functional, but barely so. It feels like it is treading water. It feels generic. It has no sense of purpose or direction.
The second season of Enterprise would be a crucial one for the show – and for the franchise as a whole. Shockwave, Part II does not bode well.
- Shockwave, Part II
- Carbon Creek
- Dead Stop
- A Night in Sickbay
- The Seventh
- The Communicator
- Vanishing Point
- Precious Cargo
- The Catwalk
- Cease Fire
- Future Tense
- The Crossing
- The Breach
- First Flight
- The Expanse
Filed under: Enterprise | Tagged: Archer, continuity, daniels, enterprise, john fleck, paramount, Scott Bakula, shockwave, shockwave part 2, silik, star trek, star trek: enterprise, suliban, Television, Temporal Cold War |