WARNING: Put your feet up, have a drink, and meet these nice spoilers for "Breaking the Ice."�
In brief: Some interesting ideas and some moments, but overall very thin (no ice pun intended).�
"Breaking the Ice" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 7 Written by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton Directed by Terry Windell Brief summary: While Reed and Mayweather explore an exotic comet, T'Pol faces a personal crisis.
Where last week's "The Andorian Incident" called to mind various traditions from the original series, "Breaking the Ice" has at least one element that is a hallmark of more modern Trek series. Unfortunately, that element is a weak point more often than a strong one, and its use here was no more helpful.
That element is the use of an A, B, and in this case C plot to fill out an hour. There's certainly nothing wrong with having several parallel-track storylines in an episode -- certainly, serial shows do it all the time, and many modern-era Trek episodes have put it to good use. (The example that leaps most immediately to mind is "Birthright, Part I" from TNG, which included Worf questing after his father and Data's search to interpret his dreams.) That approach works best, I think, when the storylines complement one another rather than just sitting there, but if both plots are exciting it can work well. ("Fight or Flight" is a good case from this series: you had the jeopardy plot with the alien ship, and Hoshi's crisis of confidence. The two were certainly strongly related, and you often had both of them advancing in the same scene.)
Unfortunately, the risk of combining multiple plots in the same show is that both plots can wind up getting short shrift, or the two can just mesh badly. I'm not entirely certain which flaw overwhelmed "Breaking the Ice," but it's an episode that ironically feels underplotted despite three separate running plots.
The show begins with the jeopardy plot, and the most literal use of the title: Our Heroes discover a nearby comet -- the largest one humans, and possibly Vulcans, have ever seen. Upon discovering through initial scans that the comet's rich in a mineral so rare that it's difficult to study, Reed and Mayweather offer to head over and drill out some core samples.
Just as that decision is made, however, the other plots get underway. First, T'Pol reads a message in her quarters that leaves her distinctly ... distracted. Second, a Vulcan ship shows up out of nowhere and says it's just observing -- specifically, it's Enterprise's own investigation which interests them. This leads Archer to suspect espionage, and those suspicions are only heightened when he discovers T'Pol has received an encrypted message from the ship in question. Once Hoshi decrypts the transmission for Trip to read, however, Trip finds that the communication is nothing more than an *extremely* personal letter, which causes him and T'Pol to form the most unlikely of bonds.
On the face of it, this should be a workable combination of plots. If the comet investigation is what causes the Vulcan ship's involvement, and if the Vulcan ship's involvement is what precipitates T'Pol's concerns with her personal life, then it's at least plausible to have all three happening at the same time. In fact, there's a subtle hint at work here: we know that Archer's been concerned about frequent appearances of Vulcan ships, and we know T'Pol's been getting a lot of personal letters lately that were too time-sensitive to entrust to normal Starfleet channels. That suggests that the Vulcan ships may not have been interested in Enterprise in the slightest, but may simply have been playing courier. It wasn't said explicitly, and it's entirely possible that my interpretation is way off, but I think it's an interesting hint.
The plausibility of these plots affecting one another, though, doesn't change the fact that a couple of them were basically somewhat dull. The biggest scene involving the Vulcan ship, for example, has Archer deciding to invite Captain Vanik over to Enterprise for dinner and a visit, hoping to put both parties more at ease. Naturally, the dinner winds up a disaster, with Vanik not proving even remotely personable or helpful, and Archer essentially orders him off the ship rather quickly.
That dinner scene was intended to be uncomfortable and off-putting - - for Archer. For the viewer, though, it also needs to be compelling - - if you're just watching a dinner party gone wrong with no real interest or entertainment value, there's no reason to endure the discomfort. In that respect, I think the scene failed, and in fact felt way too long. Some of Vanik's points are well taken (in particular the line, "If we were spying, Captain, you would have never detected our presence"), but the scene felt more drawn-out and excruciating than it did tense.
Compare this to another scene that should by rights have felt a lot more like filler, but wasn't: the scene where Archer records a greeting and a Q&A session for a fourth-grade class back on Earth. This was in some ways exposition, and in almost every way peripheral to the rest of the episode -- the only connections were the children's drawings we saw in the teaser and Archer's mention of the comet towards the end of the transmission. It should have felt like complete filler, but it didn't. I, at least, found it awfully charming: it reaffirms the sense that deep-space travel is a very new thing, it gives the characters more of a connection to home, and it plays nicely on several core personalities. (And, of course, Trip's outburst about "a POOP question, sir?" is one of those love-it-or-hate-it moments; I laughed like crazy.)
T'Pol's storyline is another mixed bag. On paper, it sounds great: Trip winds up finding out more than he should about T'Pol's problems with her upcoming wedding, and in apologizing manages to make himself a confidante of sorts when T'Pol is troubled about it. Sure, Trip's an unlikely candidate for the job, but both he and T'Pol acknowledge that at the outset. In the end, Trip's words are not only enough to convince T'Pol, but good enough that she turns almost those same words back on Archer when he's being bullheaded about accepting Vulcan assistance. This should have been a great story.
It should've been ... but at least for me, it wasn't -- and I think a lot of that has to do with T'Pol. In the last couple of weeks I generally found T'Pol a worthy contributor to her stories, but I still haven't bought into her as an actual character yet, and certainly not as a convincing Vulcan. T'Pol is faced here with a conflict of personal choice vs. tradition -- but everything about her appearance in most episodes conflicts with that tradition already. The close-ups we got of her this time didn't suggest conflict; they suggested that the main tradition in question was that of "okay, sweetheart, now pout for the camera." Some of that, I think, is a problem with Jolene Blalock's portrayal, but I'm becoming more convinced that it's bound up in how the writers, producers, and in this case directors are attempting to shape the character. Pretty much all the right words were there; they just didn't manage to ring true in several of the scenes.
(They did, on the other hand, work pretty well early on. T'Pol's reaction when Trip confesses his snooping, while sharp-toned, seemed to fit the character completely, and the T'Pol/Phlox scene in sickbay, however brief, carried things forward nicely and felt honest in the process.)
The best use of T'Pol's story, really, was the springboard it gave to her argument about accepting Vulcan help. Most of her speech, suggesting that he prove Vanik's opinions of humans wrong by accepting help rather than insisting on going it alone, was a strong speech that could've worked regardless of the rest of the show. Her last line, however, "You're human -- you're free to choose," complemented everything leading up to it very well, and rang true to, if not the character, at least the situation. General praise here. (T'Pol's speech there is probably one of the character's top three speeches to date -- and she's had several.)
Vulcans in general are still not coming off well. Overprotective parental attitudes towards humans I can buy for the most part; deceivers I can buy in isolated pockets; complete and utter ciphers who have no interest in the very environment they inhabit do not work for me. We've been told Vulcans have no passion for exploration, and now Archer says that curiosity "doesn't sound very Vulcan to me." Okay, yes, this is Archer, who's hardly unbiased -- but given subsequent events we're certainly meant to take it at face value. No way: if Vulcans were so uninterested in space travel and astronomical phenomena, how the hell did they advance so far in the first place? An overreliance on "standard protocols" and getting the details right makes perfect sense to me, but casting Vulcans as complete dullards without any real positive traits is just revisionist history and poor characterization.
That leaves the comet investigation, which for the most part worked except for one huge detail. On a character level, the story was great: Mayweather's enthusiasm about seeing snow, Reed's general willingness to play while trying to look dignified, the Vulcan snowman ... all felt true to the spirit of exploration we're getting from the series, and flowed out of the characters nicely. (Reed's slight annoyance that the big crater he created lacked symmetry was a beautiful example.) The jeopardy, while not unexpected, was plausible enough, and it all led to T'Pol's speech convincing Archer to accept Vanik's help. For the most part, this was just escapist adventure.
There's only one thing that bothers me -- unfortunately, it's a beaut. Comets, even ones as big as this, are awfully small bodies, and since they're pretty much just mixtures of snow and rock there's not a lot of mass there. There shouldn't have been enough gravity for Reed and Mayweather to walk -- and more importantly, there's no way the shuttle should have fallen as quickly as it did down into the chasm. (Physics geek that I am, I did some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations to check my gut feeling: even with really generous estimates of the comet's density, I'm still getting surface gravity that's only a few millionths of Earth-normal.) Change the whole thing into a fairly large moon and I'm fine with it, but unfortunately that sort of explodes the entire "check it out, it's a big comet!" sense of the episode. It's not my fundamental objection to the episode -- that's more the items I mentioned earlier -- but it's a little frustrating when something so basic is ignored. (Reed's explosion changing the rotation of the comet, however, *does* make sense given the comet's size, so at least we're one for two.)
Other small thoughts:
-- What is it with Trek and pecan pie? Janeway was shown to have a passion for the stuff at one point, and now Trip's not only enthusiastic, but he's getting T'Pol into it too. No objection; I'm just curious about why that specific dish is getting so much good press.
-- When Phlox tells the kids that germs can be found anywhere, I had a sudden worry that we might be in for a "Space Germs Found on Big Comet, Infect Two Crewmen" story. I'm glad I was wrong.
-- Archer griped at one point that T'Pol "promised not to speak to the Vulcans without telling me," but I'm betting she stuck to the letter of that promise. All we saw is that she *got* a transmission; there's no evidence she sent one. Ah, logic is a wonderful thing.
That pretty much does it. "Breaking the Ice" didn't annoy me the way "Unexpected" did, but a lot of it alternated between feeling stretched thin and distracting me from what it was trying to show. It's not horrible, but I'd definitely file it under "better luck next time."
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Pedestrian, but mostly okay. Directing: Presenting T'Pol this way really didn't work for me; most of the comet scenes were magnificent. Acting: Solid in the light moments (and folks like Billingsley, Keating and Montgomery were solid throughout), okay in the deeper ones.
OVERALL: 5. Not rotten, but not one for posterity either.
Archer founds the Kirk tradition.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Vanik expects you to refuse his offer. He sees humans as arrogant,
prideful. Why not prove him wrong?"
-- T'Pol, playing a great card
Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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