Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Enterprise 2x1 "Shockwave, Part 2"


I love Enterprise.  I quickly became one of its biggest fans and defenders, necessitated by the fact that a lot of fans weren't so keen on it or Star Trek in general at the time.  As time has passed, little has changed about my attitudes concerning the show except possibly in one crucial area.  The Temporal Cold War.

Part of this may be my growing disappointment at how the series abandoned the arc unceremoniously at the start of its fourth and final season, leaving its resolution in a cloud of ambiguity.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I still find the concept to be fascinating, and there is much to recommend it.  Yet its importance and specifically how its use is now reflected years after the fact becomes more problematic the more perspective I try to gain on the series as a whole.  The biggest victim of this changing attitude is the second season premiere, "Shockwave, Part 2."

Following the first season finale, in which the Suliban, agents of the shadowy Future Guy, attempt to sabotage Archer's mission and provoke the Vulcans into withdrawing their crucial support after a disastrous incident at a mining colony, Daniels has whisked Archer away in an attempt to salvage a contaminated timeline.  The problem is that the changes his foes have wrought leave Daniels in a future that has been completely altered.  (Yes, the Temporal Cold War may as a whole be compared to the exceedingly clever two-part Voyager episode "Year of Hell," and it's this episode that makes it most clear.)  

While the crew of the Enterprise attempt to combat invading Suliban forces, Daniels and Archer attempt to get past their bad break, which is made easier by the fact that Daniels was studying time travel when he was in grade school.  It all leads to Archer getting back to his own time and essentially overlooking the dire developments of the previous episode.  

So yes, "Shockwave" attempts to play both ends of the Enterprise story at that point, the Temporal Cold War and Archer's destiny to lead a successful mission and help found the Federation (you know that's his fate because Daniels can't seem to avoid saying so every time he appears).  The problem making an episode like this so early in the series is that it trivializes everything.  Not only is there a distinct lack of consequences, but it also proves how easily the Temporal Cold War can be resolved, no matter how grim the circumstances can get.  It's a far more interesting concept when used by proxy, as the series figures out in later episodes and indeed whole arcs, except when the creators decide to listen to the fans who probably only had "Shockwave" in mind when they decided the whole thing was a giant waste of time.

Daniels is a great character, but he's done no favors in this one.  Silik is similar interesting, except in this one. Seeing a pattern?

"Shockwave," and specifically this part of the story, is a moment that was incredibly important at the time, but its significance is weakened when compared to other developments, especially the speedy resolution.  When an overriding high-concept arc can find any kind of resolution in what most other incarnations of Star Trek had routinely done in season finale and premiere two-part episodes, there's a problem.  It's the "Descent" problem, the story that began Next Generation's final season, where the Borg have been completely neutered.  It would be like Deep Space Nine attempting to resolve Sisko's role as the Emissary in anything but the final episode.

That's why I'm extremely reluctant to recommend "Shockwave" as anything but an episode you might want to watch as part of the series as a whole.  It could so easily have been something of greater significance.  But it's just an extremely awkward moment, a rare moment of true miscalculation for a show that was far better than most fans were willing to admit.  Now that some of them are softening those views, it's important to recognize that there were indeed some problems, and "Shockwave" was one of them.  But don't let this one episode color everything in its mediocre shade.  It's an exception.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Gary Graham
Vaughn Armstrong
Matt Winston
John Fleck
James Horan

Memory Alpha summary.

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