Thursday, May 6, 2010

Star Trek Enterprise Retro-Spective: "Broken Bow"


My wife and I recently made the fairly major investment of buying a used copy of the whole of "Enterprise" on DVD. It is interesting that, if I'm correct, Enterprise is more popular now than it was during its short original run on UPN. Considering that, as well as renewed activity in Trekdom (the reboot movie, Star Trek Online, the upcoming relaunch of StarTrek.com, as well as continued books coming out), I thought it might be interesting to watch the series from start to finish, "Broken Bow" to "These Are the Voyages..." and do a bit of a retrospective look at the series. Not as involved as a full-blown review, because there are lots of reviews out there already, but a discussion. A "retro-perspective", or Retro-Spective.

I'll start with the title. The words "Star Trek" were intentionally left out, to show that this was going to be different. And it was decidedly different. While it wasn't the first theme to have lyrics, (Gene Roddenberry wrote lyrics to accompany Alexander Courage's amazing theme for the Original Series in order to get writing credit, though they never made it onscreen), it was the first to air the lyrics with the theme. Many fans violently disliked this, but I didn't. I found it rousing and inspiring, and a great breath of fresh air. It is my second favorite Trek theme (right behind A. Courage's theme).

The first scene of "Broken Bow" changed the course of Trek history, pushing up, by decades, Earth's 'disastrous' first contact with the Klingons. That disaster was supposed to help to bring about the Prime Directive. We can only assume that Earth tried to interfere with the Klingon culture or their development. As it turns out, that still played a part, because while Archer's determination to return Klaang to Qo'noS was proper from a human point of view (and obviously served the greater good), the Klingons didn't like a human imposing their values on them. It is easy to speculate that Enterprise's first mission could be regarded from a historical perspective, as the start of more than a century of unremitting hostility due to a perceived lack of respect for Klingon values and culture. Certainly it changes the history books a bit, but that was always going to be a result of the temporal cold war. And for you canon-purists out there, just remember that canon was taking hits before TOS finished its three year run. (McCoy once made a reference to Vulcan being conquered. Later on in the series, Spock said that Vulcan has never been conquered. So I'd say it isn't worth worrying about). I could also point out that Enterprise takes place post-"First Contact", so some details can show how Zephrame Cochrane was influenced by people from the future, from an organization called Starfleet, on a ship called Enterprise. So a case can be made, I think. Indeed, that is addressed in the fourth season episode "Regeneration" (many of the series' detractors cite that episode as a major violation of canon, apparently without having watched the episode, but I'm getting way ahead of myself).

Back to "Broken Bow". The Klingon Klaang is carrying evidence back to Qo'noS that the Suliban are behind attempts to start a Klingon civil war, and he is being chased by members of the Suliban cabal when his ship crashes in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. He kills the Suliban, but is then confronted by a farmer named "Moore". Moore shoots Klaang, and that sets up the episode. According to the Vulcans, the Klingons were going to attack Earth because of this when the Vulcans agreed to return Klaang's corpse to Qo'noS. The only problem is that Klaang isn't dead, nor is he really dying. After some arguing, Captain Jonathon Archer essentially bullies the Vulcans into 'allowing' him to return Klaang to his home alive, with a Vulcan 'chaperone'. That is the mission.

Along the way, we have introductions to the crew. They are all experts in their field, all uniquely qualified to be aboard Earth's first warp five starship. And as with every series premiere, we see short scenes to tell us about the main characters. All of the characters struck me as interesting. For example, the concept of a 'space-boomer', a person who was born in space and spent most of his life in space is something never before explored in Trek. Otherwise, we've seen Vulcan science officers. We've seen alien crewmembers. Of course, there is the controversial idea of rude Vulcans as an obstruction to Earth and Starfleet. In this case, Jolene Blalock's performance as T'Pol made what could have been an annoying character an absolute joy to watch. Her chemistry with Archer and Tucker is unmistakable, and I knew right off that I was going to enjoy watching these characters as the series went on. And of course, the interaction between T'Pol and Archer's beagle Porthos was hilarious. She doesn't like dogs, she doesn't like their smell, but Porthos instinctively likes her. That was an absolutely true-to-life moment, and again, I knew I was going to enjoy seeing more develop as the series progressed. There are only two real issues that I have with the otherwise excellent "Broken Bow". There is an early, inexplicable reference to Klingon warbirds. No such thing, until they started to add them in various places following Enterprise's run. Star Trek researcher Richard Arnold blew that big time. And right at the end, Travis Mayweather warns Archer of a nearby ion storm along their course. Archer says "You can't be afraid of the wind." An ion storm presented a danger to the much sturdier, more advanced Constitution Class a hundred years later. The NX Class would probably be destroyed. So you should be afraid of that particular wind.

Enterprise was meant to harken back to the idea of a tough, lead from the front captain, a ship largely on its own, without a starbase to fall back on, and an untamed galaxy. Literally boldly going where noone had gone before. With "Broken Bow", it did just that. Humanity pushing the envelope, taking chances, doing what they were told was too risky. In short, Star Trek got back to "risk is our business". "Broken Bow" was, to me, probably the strongest Trek pilot episode. It gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me.

Next up: "Fight or Flight"

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