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Shockwave, Part II

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WARNING:  This article contains time-shifted spoiler information for the second-season premiere of Enterprise, "Shockwave, Part II." Be warned.�

In brief:  Not exactly flawless, but quite satisfying.�

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"Shockwave, Part II" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 1 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by Allan Kroeker Brief summary:  As Archer attempts to make his way back from the 31st century, the Enterprise crew is taken captive by the Suliban.

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Cliffhanger resolutions usually disappoint me.  It's especially problematic when the cliff in question towers over three months' worth of hiatus, since by that time half of me is already in the mindset of "this better be worth it," combined with "they've had three months to plan this, so it better make sense."  Having a season-ending cliffhanger is a tried and true ratings stunt, but in some ways I think it's also taking a big risk that people won't stay beyond the actual resolution.

Fortunately, "Shockwave, Part II" exceeded my expectations.  It had some of the same problems I saw in Enterprise's first season, certainly, but to a lesser degree -- and the story kept me a lot more engaged than the first half did, which is quite the rarity for cliffhangers.

One of the two crises we were left with over the summer involved the Enterprise itself, facing imminent destruction by a horde of Suliban cell ships.  The immediate threat is resolved pretty quickly:  T'Pol continues to insist that Archer is no longer on board, and invites Silik on board to check for himself.  Apart from having Trip momentarily come down with a case of Idiot Allowing For Exposition Syndrome by protesting the boarding party, this worked well enough, especially since Silik quickly notes a "temporal signature" in the turbolift from which Archer disappeared.

Over in the 31st century, meanwhile, the stakes are apparently higher than Archer initially realized.  Daniels lets slip that a certain monument has disappeared -- a monument to the Federation. Archer's mission is, it seems, instrumental in leading to the Fed's founding -- either directly, or through later missions it inspires.  Thus, by removing Archer from the 22nd century, Daniels accomplished the very disaster he was trying to avoid, and that the Suliban apparently wanted.  The only way for him to rescue his own century is to return Archer -- which'll be a neat trick, given that there appears to be no technology left any more.

Back when the first part of "Shockwave" aired, I noted that Daniels' statements were so cryptic that it sounded as if Berman and Braga were just playing coy with us (especially the one about Silik killing him "after a fashion").  I had a little bit of that feeling here as well, but not nearly as much.  We have no idea how removing Archer destroyed the timeline, or how his future actions will lead to the Federation ... but there's every reason for Daniels not to let that information go, even if he knows it himself.  That's more foreshadowing than anything else, so I'm satisfied there.  (Daniels' remark about Archer "treating time travel as if we were in an H.G. Wells novel" was a little more annoying, but not much.)

In fact, the only real objection I've got to what we're given in the 31st century is that it seems to remove some of the "who's on the right side?" ambiguity that was so delicious in "Cold Front" last year.  I realize that it'd be difficult to sustain that kind of ambiguity over a really long term (though it's doable, and I'd point to much of the Narn/Centauri conflict on B5 as an example), but at the moment we're in a much more simplistic place than we were previously, and that's a little disappointing.

In any case, I definitely DID appreciate the fact that Archer and Daniels didn't have to actually assemble a full-fledged time machine out of only two porcupines, an exercise wheel and six tons of Raisin Bran, but instead just had to send a message back through time and manipulate Silik into bringing Archer back instead.  There was still some serious MacGyvering going on in the wreckage of the 31st century, but it felt a lot more plausible than most of the alternatives, particularly given Daniels' note that sending a message back into the past is 300-year-old technology that he used to do regularly in high school.

Archer tries to contact T'Pol using his new-fangled Wizard of Oz gadgets, but it takes a while for her to really understand that she's talking to him.  In the first place, she was always the one who was openly skeptical about time travel anyway ... but more importantly, she's also just returned to her quarters after being tortured by Silik.

All of this begs the question, by the way, of why Archer aimed for T'Pol in the first place and not someone like Reed or Trip.  He wouldn't have to do nearly as much convincing to get them to believe it was him.  Granted, it's entirely possible that T'Pol was somehow the easiest to contact (look for the only Vulcan, for instance), but a little justification might have been nice.

Once T'Pol convinces herself that it's actually Archer, however, the scheming begins.  With Trip having previously managed to open communications without using the comm system, the senior officers all confer from their respective quarters.  We don't know exactly what they're up to, but we know that one of them has to pick up something from Phlox and get it to Reed.  Unfortunately, the only way through the ship is through conduits which can become a very tight squeeze, and they're too small for anyone to do except, possibly, Hoshi. Reluctantly, and somewhat claustrophobically, she agrees.

To note the obvious gripes here:  yes, the path doesn't look like all that tight a squeeze, and yes, this seems to be a bit of a contrivance to give Hoshi something to do in the episode.  I'll agree with the latter, but where the former's concerned, I think it's plausible that it's only a tight squeeze in a few places (such as getting into and out of the conduits), and that we saw the moments that were easier to film.  :-)

And, of course, Hoshi's shirt gets snagged as she drops into the hallway, so she arrives at Reed's quarters topless.  Was that gratuitous?  A bit, certainly, but I think it worked a lot better than some of its predecessors like the decon scene in "Broken Bow" or Trip in his underwear for half of "Acquisition."  Mostly, it was handled with a far lighter touch:  it wasn't lingered on, it wasn't particularly leering, and Linda Park projected just the right mix of embarrassment and acute annoyance.  Were I in a mood to object, I'd object far more to the fact that when Silik tortures T'Pol he strips her down to a tank top, whereas Reed's later torture just involves getting smacked around a lot.  That's a significant double standard.

(Of course, that opinion is in no way shaded by the fact that I find Hoshi orders of magnitude more appealing visually than T'Pol.  Not in the slightest.  No, sirree.)

After that, things get moving.  Hoshi frees the others, and T'Pol lets herself be attacked in order to draw two Suliban into an ambush (and get their weapons, if memory serves).  The unconscious Suliban are left in Hoshi's quarters under guard, Reed heads off on an undisclosed mission, and Trip and T'Pol head for engineering.

The ambush was necessary, I'll grant, but I'm not quite sure about T'Pol's tactics.  In particular, her semi-hysterical screams of "No!" at the end sounded so exceptionally non-Vulcan that I think it should have put the Suliban on their guard.  But perhaps that's just me.

Anyway, Reed's mission takes him to Daniels' quarters, where he retrieves something.  Successful, he emerges ... only to find himself surrounded.  Under torture, he "confesses" that just before Archer left, he told Reed to get the device and destroy it so that Silik couldn't use it "to contact someone -- I don't know who."  Silik, who's been trying to contact his shadowy associate for two days to get new instructions, is quite pleased, and takes the device away to make contact as soon as he can.

T'Pol's feint didn't surprise anyone, I'm sure, but Reed's managed to keep me off balance just for a few seconds.  Once he actually "confessed" what the device was for, of course, it was obvious that he was feeding Silik a line, but I initially wasn't sure at all whether Reed being caught was part of the plan or a significant snag.  Nicely done.

While Silik preoccupies himself with his new toy, Trip and T'Pol fake loss of antimatter containment and a possible core breach.  The Suliban decide to leave and to tow the Enterprise away in order to save the Helix, but as soon as they do, the Enterprise's fireworks "mysteriously" solve themselves and it flees at high warp.

This sequence was fine, if not quite edge-of-my-seat material.  What I find interesting, both here and in the way Silik's portrayed, is how incredibly ineffectual the Suliban are when they're not getting their advice from the future.  One part of that struck me as some writing mistakes -- in particular, for the Suliban to just stand around like idiots during the engineering takeover seemed entirely counter to everything we've seen about their abilities -- but for the most part, it's something that I could see as an interesting character flaw for this race.  If the Suliban were getting so much help from the future, it's entirely plausible to me that they'd start leaning on said support as a crutch and not quite know what to do when it's removed.  If this is something that's portrayed consistently, I'm all for it:  if it's just a one- time thing here, then that's entirely too convenient.

Silik's plan, naturally, backfires just a bit.  The device he "appropriated" from Reed calls up the image of a shadowy figure, all right, but it turns out to be Archer.  There wasn't a lot of surprise in this sequence, but I don't think there was meant to be -- and I'll admit that having Archer materialize and kick Silik across the room was a pretty good moment.

By taking Silik hostage, Archer manages to return to the Enterprise and stop the Suliban attack on it, but the story's not over.  Even with proof in hand that the Enterprise wasn't responsible for the destruction of the Paragan colony, the Vulcans are convinced that Archer's a menace to the quadrant, and want his mission cancelled. Starfleet is prepared to consider the matter, even after an impassioned speech from Archer ... until T'Pol adds her voice in support of Archer's cause.  Archer talks of humans learning from their mistakes, and T'Pol adds that Vulcans should know all about that, given their past and especially the incident at P'Jem.  Specifically, she notes that "I would hope that our people have learned from those events that using a sacred sanctuary to spy on others was a dishonorable practice to say the least."  It's unclear whether the Vulcans are convinced by this argument, but Admiral Forrest and Starfleet's command council certainly are -- and Enterprise is left free to continue on its way.

This had some of the best moments of the show, in my opinion, but also a couple of serious frustrations.  Both Archer's and T'Pol's speeches worked quite well for me -- T'Pol's because it played up the level of how much she's come to trust Archer (*much* better than V'Lar's simply coming out and telling us was at the end of "Fallen Hero"), and Archer's because he essentially admitted that he made a lot of mistakes during year one.  If the powers that be stick with that, and we get to see him actively learning from past mistakes, that resolves one of the more serious qualms I had about the show's first season.  If this was just paying lip service, I'll be a lot less thrilled ... but it had a ring of sincerity to it, so far as I could tell.

The frustration?  Why did we need to wrap up the "status of the mission" in five minutes at the end of the show?  Given that next week's episode appears to be mostly flashback, the frame story could have easily involved waiting around Earth for Starfleet's decision, and it would have felt a lot less impulsive on their parts and a lot less forced on the part of Berman and Braga.  They've already established that episodes don't have to have completely clean and pat endings every time, and this would have been a great opportunity to make the whole "gasp!  will the mission be cancelled?" seem like a bit more than a tempest in a teapot.

Some shorter thoughts and observations:

-- When Archer contacts T'Pol, I found the shot of his reflection in her eye at the end of the scene a really striking shot.  Well done.

-- Catty comment for the week:  doesn't T'Pol have *any* undershirts that actually fit her?  Get that woman some clothes that actually look comfortable!

-- When Archer visits T'Pol at the end of the episode, he gets concerned about being seen by a crewman, even though T'Pol notes that said crewman is generally known for discretion.  That felt decidedly odd, as though Archer were worried about having his intentions misread.  Does his crew really not know him in the slightest?

-- With all of the Archer/Daniels scenes, I have to wonder if we'll be seeing a Crewman Midland sometime soon.  Just in time for the US elections in November, maybe?  (If you've no idea what the reference is, don't ask -- it's not worth it.)

-- Daniels notes that Silik's backers come from somewhere about 300 years prior to his time, which would make it the 27th century.  That would seem to rule out any connection to "modern" Trek eras (meaning TNG/DS9/Voyager), but we'll see.  (Then again, given that Archer's time-jump is mentioned in the same scene as 800 years and a thousand years when it's actually somewhere closer to 900, I could be reading a lot into that.)

-- It would have been nice to know how exactly Archer and Daniels suspected Silik might be having trouble contacting his associate. There's an obvious line of supposition (since the future's been altered, the Suliban's contacts may not be the same people any more), but as it is the whole thing feels a little bit like a *very* lucky shot in the dark. (Another possibility, of course, is that Reed might have been able to use the thing himself to get Archer, but this was a good backup plan in case he was caught.)

-- Back in "Fallen Hero," we heard that the hastily-installed phase cannons couldn't fire at warp.  Mr. Reed has apparently found time to fix that problem, which is a good thing.

-- "The Romulan Star Empire?  What's that?"  "Maybe you shouldn't be reading that."  Heh.  (And the use of the full name is interesting, since it's not one that gets used that often.)

-- "I still don't believe in time travel."  "The hell you don't."  A great closing exchange.

Overall, then, "Shockwave, Part II" did an awful lot of what it set out to do.  The simultaneous plots fit together well, we got just enough information from the future to get a sense of Archer's importance, and we got to cheer the good guy and hiss the bad guy.  It's not the sort of show I want to see every week, but as a cliffhanger resolution goes I'm pretty satisfied.

So, wrapping up:

Writing:  A few fairly mild contrivances or breaches of character         intelligence, but really not very much -- and some decent         fake-outs as well. Direction:  A couple of really nice shots (especially, as noted, the         reflection-in-the-eyeball shot of Archer), and generally well         paced throughout. Acting:  Aside from relatively generic Suliban who weren't Silik, no         complaints.

OVERALL:  Call it an 8.5 for now; we'll see how it ages.  A good start to season 2.

NEXT WEEK:�

Vulcans in the 1950s?  Does Joe McCarthy know about this? Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*>
Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what's on the other side?
        R.I.P. Jim Henson, 1936-1990; we shall never see your like again.
"Please repeat what you said."  
<THWACK>  "I said you're an ugly bastard."
                -- Silik and Archer
--
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
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