Summary: When a trip to an alien colony results in its destruction, acting on a tip from the future, Archer launches a covert operation against a Suliban stealth vessel that goes disturbingly wrong.
Traditionally Star Trek first season finales have been more somber affairs, as with TNG’s Neutral Zone or DS9’s In the Hands of the Prophets they occasionally dealt with emerging threats, but avoided cliffhangers and high stakes action shows and major plot threads being unwound. But then again most Star Trek pilots have also been more subtle affairs than Broken Bow. This is a recognition that Enterprise is operating in a more competitive environment where there may be no second chances and so Shockwave, like its name, is not particularly subtle. Not only does it feature a cliffhanger, but in Best of Both Worlds style, it features a cliffhanger with a missing Captain, intrigue and plot twists resembling an X-Files episode more than an Enterprise episode.
None of these are bad things of course, nor should they be reserved for season finales. But they do make it hard to review the episode, mainly because unlike most Star Trek two-parters that feature an obvious dilemma and an obvious enemy, Shockwave features much less than half the plot of a two parter. Many of the episode’s key elements are up in the air, especially since unlike previous Star Trek season finale cliffhangers (e.g. Best of Both Worlds or Scorpion), the final plot twist leaves everything we knew until now up in the air. That alone marks it as a stylistic departure from Star Trek as we know it.
Shockwave also serves as a serious departure from much of this season by having Archer actually face a dilemma and deal with it so that it results in emotional growth and a display of leadership ability. Contrary to what many might have expected from Brannon Braga — who co-wrote the script — Shockwave’s use of time travel is subtle and even moving as Archer experiences something close to a religious revelation in his sleep as he takes refuge from his guilt and failure in a time before the disaster and puts his faith in Crewman Daniels: only to have that faith brutally shattered in the final minute of the episode. In that minute, Daniel’s temporal guidance of Archer moves from a Deux Ex Machina to an all too flawed technology in the hands of fallible humans.
For once, Archer’s awe and wonder at another ‘first’, namely traveling through time, is well done and even well acted. Poignant because that wonder will ultimately be shattered by the knowledge of its mundane cost. This is precisely the lesson that Archer refused to learn about space travel. Exploration has its price and quite a few of the explorers in the Enterprise opening montage knew that quite well. Yet Archer has remained fixed to a boy scout idealistic view of space leading to a naivete so thorough, it bordered on idiocy. Shockwave seems to have begun the process of tempering that naivete with harsh realism, that episodes like Fight or Flight and Silent Enemy began but never carried through.
Shockwave also features Archer attempting to form a command bond with T’Pol as someone he can emotionally, as well as tactically, rely on. Although T’Pol rebuffs him by refusing to ‘believe’ in time travel, she nevertheless plays that role when she tries to shake Archer out of his stupor and depression. That this scene takes place in Archer’s quarters heightens the sense of intimacy that is created. Especially as Archer once again puts his life, his ship and probably the future of the Federation in her hands. Despite the hype coming from Berman and co, this is the closest the two of them have ever been to a real Kirk\Spock moment and the forming of a Human\Vulcan bond worthy of mention in the same sentence.
Though the focus of Shockwave remains on Archer and to a lesser extent, T’Pol, Hoshi and Mayweather have a nice moment together as they discuss their future plans. post-Enterprise. Trip manages to top his shocked look in Two Days and Two Nights when Archer announces the mission’s cancellation and Reed underplays battle dialogue to an almost comic extent. Dr Phlox’s reaction demonstrates that he still needs to develop a genuine bond to Enterprise and its mission, something the writers might consider tackling in the second season.
While the actual Suliban themselves remain an underwhelming foe, in part for conceptual reason as well as poor makeup and effects, the true menace seems to come from their hidden operator and one hopes that the Suliban are simply a temporary proxy who will be replaced by more dangerous ones. The strongest elements of the raid remain the timing and precision of the actual action itself, while the Suliban clambering up the walls are more amusing, than menacing. The final shot was effective, but still a somewhat poor idea, in light of recent events and far too reminiscent of some of the aftermath footage. The scene could have been done just as well, and cheaper too by pulling out from the open window to show the top of San Francisco buried entirely by sand. It would have also been a more realistic outcome if Earth’s major cities had been sitting around deserted and unpopulated for a few centuries. John Logan’s SF film, The Time Machine pulled similar FX shots in favor of showing climactic changes overrunning the area.
Next week: Summer O’Reruns.