[Apologies for the lateness of this review -- the combination of a weekend away, a temperamental VCR, and an extraordinarily busy week. --TWL]
WARNING: If spoilers for ENT's "Cold Front" make you shiver, then you'd best be advised to avoid this article.�
In brief: Best of the season so far.�
"Cold Front" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 10 Written by Stephen Beck & Tim Finch Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill Brief summary: The "Temporal Cold War" heats up when Suliban agent Silik arrives on the Enterprise.
Back when "Broken Bow" first aired, I considered the "temporal cold war" angle the show raised to be a somewhat mixed bag: it certainly opened up the field for potentially interesting stories, but it also opened up the field to throw any and all established Trek lore out the window just for the sake of an individual episode. Up until now, there hasn't been a chance to see which avenue the series might wind up following, since the war apparently hasn't involved our characters at all.
With "Cold Front," that changed -- and so far, I'm pleased to say that the positives are far outweighing the negatives. One can certainly argue that in part, that's because nothing "historical" has actually been threatened of yet ... but a lot of the strength of this episode, at least, is more due to some intentional, and surprising, ambiguity on the part of the writers.
That ambiguity, simply put, is that so far we don't really know who to believe. "Crewman" Daniels is certainly presented as the more sympathetic character (probably in part because he *looks* like a good guy, as opposed to the more snakelike Silik), but he rarely gives any sort of straight answer to Archer and Trip, and Silik's claim that Daniels' group is merely "another faction" in the war rather than a set of above-the-fray "good guys" is left utterly unanswered. Do I honestly think that the Suliban and their mysterious benefactor are on the side of the angels in the war? No. Do I think it's possible that neither side is particularly interested in the 22nd century for its own sake, or particularly interested in preserving history? Yes, very much so -- and as I didn't expect the waters to be this muddy this early, that's a pleasant surprise.
(Of course, it's arguable that I simply *want* to see this ambiguity where it doesn't exist -- after all, T'Pol chastises Trip for much the same reason at one point. However, even given my likely bias towards John Fleck's nice performance, I still think the ambiguity's intended.)
The episode was also effective in the way it kept the characters in the dark. We knew from the outset that Silik and the Suliban were going to be involved; they're the only characters that appear in the teaser, after all. (Said teaser has to be one of the shortest on record, by the way -- a whopping 37 seconds.) However, the Enterprise crew isn't on their guard, and doesn't even have a clue that the Suliban are around -- the first Archer hears of it is when Daniels comes and finds him, more than a third of the way into the show. Letting the viewers figure something out ahead of the characters can be risky, as you risk making the characters look like idiots -- but simply letting the viewers in on something before letting it all play out can be very effective, and it was here.
Rather than worrying about the Suliban, the Enterprise crew are off trying to ingratiate themselves with the locals, stopping by a stellar nursery to say hello. (Just once I'd love to see someone tell them, "Hey, we're in the middle of filming something and you're blocking the shot -- bugger off!" but that could just be a symptom of having spent eleven years in Los Angeles.) It turns out that the one of the protostars sends off a flare of sorts at regular intervals, and this "Plume of Aggasoria" is considered a sacred event in some cultures. Naturally, Archer invites some of the pilgrims aboard ... and one of them is a disguised Silik.
Rather than hopping into the crisis straightaway, we then see Archer giving a tour, which while potentially frustrating from a plot standpoint actually allows for some of the most natural character interactions we've seen in a while. Reed leaves Mayweather in command for a few minutes, and Hoshi immediately coaxes him into trying out the captain's chair. A bit childish? Sure. In character for two relatively green ensigns, at least one of whom is quite young? Absolutely -- and true to form, as soon as Travis is sitting in the chair he can't resist playing with some of the captain's toys. Hell, it's probably what I'd do. :-) Phlox, meanwhile, takes a substantial interest into the pilgrims' beliefs, and the pilgrims in turn ask Archer where he stands on the question of faith. Those moments, along with other ones like everyone grousing about the horrible movie shown the previous night, really help an awful lot to make these characters seem like people rather than caricatures or plot points. More, please.
(The one exception, perhaps, is Trip's "lecture" in engineering which is interrupted when he realizes he's talking to experts. It turned the image of these pilgrims as simple people on its head, perhaps, but the volumes and volumes of technobabble blunted the edge.)
In any event, soon afterwards a plasma storm causes an antimatter cascade, and Enterprise is only saved from annihilation by Silik's earlier act of sabotage. Apart from the really cheesy effect the cascade had on ship's systems (panel after panel blowing up in a shower of sparks -- yes, yes, move along), this did a nice job of making Archer and Trip wonder who their reluctant savior was, while making us all wonder, "Silik *saved* the ship? What the heck?"
Daniels' big "revelation" scene to Archer could easily have come off as a lump of exposition, but generally managed to avoid that, primarily by *not* telling us anything. Daniels doesn't know who Silik's working for (or claims not to), but knows they're from a time that predates his own -- that still gives a timespan of several centuries to play with, so these could be people concurrent with "modern" 24th-century Trek, or it could be a civilization well past that time. Daniels is human ("more or less"), but says as little as possible about the actual organization he represents. The only thing we, and Archer, can definitely be sure of is that Daniels wants Archer's help in stopping Silik. My suspicions were certainly roused here, but I might well have done the same things Archer did: decide to help, but check with some of the crew first.
Trip's and T'Pol's reactions are about what you might expect: Trip's fascinated by the idea of talking to someone from another time, looking for some inside dirt on the immediate future and any information about Earth 900 years hence. (Daniels' "that depends on how you define Earth" is a beautiful throwaway line, though it's one I suspect we won't see followed up for a long time, if ever.) T'Pol, meanwhile, is profoundly skeptical of Daniels' claims, saying that Vulcan science has never seen any hint of time travel. I'm ever so slightly skeptical about that -- given that Kirk seemed to come across means of time travel every six months or so, you'd think the Vulcans would've found *something* by now -- but can buy it for the moment. (It's also possible that T'Pol is keeping that knowledge hidden, or that some of the Vulcans know about it and she doesn't.)
Once Daniels gives his side and Archer reluctantly starts searching for Silik, Silik beats Archer to the punch by waiting for him in his quarters. Silik looks like he's being groomed as a very personal nemesis for Archer, and I'm not entirely certain I like that -- after all, the last time we saw someone become an Arch-Nemesis it only came about by ripping Gul Dukat's characterization to shreds -- but for now, both characters and actors seem to be playing off one another nicely. The fact that it really *wasn't* clear where Silik stood this time was a big plus -- he was an antagonist this time, but not necesarily a villain. (He never, for instance, made any serious effort to kill Archer, even in the heat of battle.)
Once Silik breaks into engineering and kills Daniels, the rest of the show is pretty much action through and through, but meaningful and very well-directed action. Archer uses the walk-through-walls McGuffin Daniels left behind to pursue Silik through the ship, and after various fights decides that while he won't kill Silik directly, he also won't let Silik take Daniels' information back with him, and destroys the information. (An obvious solution, perhaps, but nicely shown.) Silik's final escape plan took full advantage of what we knew about the Suliban: he opens a shuttle bay to space and dives out into vacuum, guiding himself ever so slightly towards his escape pod. Only Silik could get away with doing that, and the whole scene made the Suliban far more impressive than they were the first time around. (It would've been a *huge* shock had the preview not already spoiled it, too. Hmph.)
Did the heroes win? Not really -- the immediate threat was resolved, but they know almost nothing more than they did before, their one alleged connection to the Good Future Guys is dead, and they have every reason to believe that they might be targeted at some future date. Not very reassuring to them, perhaps, but definitely indicative of a long-term story ahead for the show, which is generally a good sign.
-- If Daniels *was* legit, he missed a better way to get his point across. When Archer muses that he hasn't heard of any organization doing what Daniels does, my immediate reaction was, "Yes, and if we do our jobs correctly no one *should* ever hear about us." Daniels' "That's because it hasn't been invented yet" is probably true, but glib.
-- Okay, technically once the air left the launch bay during Silik's escape we shouldn't be able to hear Archer banging around on the catwalk, but I'm willing to give that the benefit of the doubt -- and the generally lousy shape he was in afterwards was a welcome touch.
-- For a change, all the guest characters seemed well-sketched as well. Captain Fraddock wasn't exactly three-dimensional, but certainly came off as not much more than a neutral party in all this ... and Prah Mantoos, the main pilgrim, felt extremely sympathetic. There's not much cause to see him again, but I wouldn't mind.
-- Dr. Phlox's eagerness to embrace the rituals surrounding the Plume of Aggasoria felt like something which could eventually rebound on him -- the danger of wanting to try everything is that eventually you try something that's probably none too good for you. I'll be interested to see if this goes somewhere.
-- For an instant, when we closed on the shot of Daniels' quarters I thought we were going to see some Spooky Evidence [TM] of something else going on. I'm glad I was wrong.
-- Speaking of which, how many of you think Daniels really *is* gone for good? I wouldn't put money on it, but I suspect we might see him again.
That pretty much covers things. "Cold Front" is a nice way to head into rerun season, and a good way to whet appetites for the rest of the season -- if nothing else, it's guaranteed to spark a lot of conversation. Sounds like a plan to me!
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Very few false notes -- I'd like to have seen a little more of Daniels before he died, but very solid overall. Directing: Slow spots were few and far between -- well paced and well presented. Acting: No complaints.
OVERALL: 9.5 -- it didn't blow me through the wall, so I have to hold off on the 10 ... but very, very good work.
NEXT WEEK: Reruns, for several weeks. See you all in January.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"And you didn't grow up in Illinois?"
"Oh, I'm from a place called Illinois, sir -- just not the one you're
"It's good to know Earth'll still be around in 900 years."
"That depends on how you define Earth."
"Beg your pardon?"
-- Trip and Daniels
Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to
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