Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Cold Front"

***

Air date: 11/28/2001
Written by Steve Beck & Tim Finch
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It's good to know Earth will still be around in 900 years."
"That depends on how you define Earth."

— Trip and Daniels

In brief: Entertaining and intriguing, albeit with no possible answers and an indication that the whole arc-to-be is the ultimate paradox plot.

Time travel rarely makes any logical sense, and it doesn't make much sense in "Cold Front," where characters from the future explain to characters in the past that they're trying to keep other characters from the future from altering history from the way it "should" play out. How in the world is one supposed to know the way history "should" play out? If you're a product of everything that came before, how can you possibly exist as any sort of sentient constant that can identify one timeline as correct as compared to another? Even assuming you could exist as a constant that was created from one possible reality, to assume that is the "correct" one is little more than making an arbitrary judgment based on what you think you know.

That's the quandary in "Cold Front," which establishes what may be a major story arcs on this series — that of the "Temporal Cold War," first hinted at in the pilot. "Cold Front" brings little in terms of useful logic to the table, but that might be the point; Captain Archer is thrown for about as much of a loop as we in the audience are. By the end of the story, he has no answers — only more questions — and we're in the same boat.

To be sure, I liked "Cold Front," which is in the spirit of solid entertainment rather than deep significance. I didn't quite love it, perhaps because it lacks the ability to blow us away with truly compelling drama or grounded storytelling. Most of the concepts here are well traveled in Trekkian lore, as is much of the execution and the inherently circular logic. But I liked the underlying spirit: This is, simply, two doses of elusive weirdness and one dose of reaction with heavy trepidation. Captain Archer finds himself completely out of his element, which I found gratifying. Time travel isn't a known proof here as it was on the other Trek shows; to Archer, it's more like science fiction.

The mystery is laid out when crewman Daniels (Matt Winston) comes to Archer and tells him that a Suliban operative named Silik (John Fleck) has boarded the Enterprise disguised as one of the peaceful guests who are on board to witness a nearby cosmic event. Daniels has been a part of Archer's crew all along, but he has apparently never been just an ordinary crew member; he's an operative from roughly 900 years in the future assigned to stop timeline manipulation in the 22nd century. Silik is the Suliban whom Archer fought at the climax of "Broken Bow"; he works for a mysterious entity from the future (but from earlier than Daniels' time frame) who employs the Suliban to manipulate the timeline by proxy.

The Temporal Cold War, according to Daniels, is the struggle involving those possessing time-travel technology — between those who maintain the idea that interfering with the past cannot be permitted, and those who would change history to benefit themselves. Daniels, much to Archer's dismay and amazement, takes the captain to his quarters, where he uses a device that shows how people from the future monitor the intersecting timelines of the past. It's a massive, graphical 3D array of streams, colors, and icons representing, I guess, all of known history.

Scott Bakula's performance is key in his scenes, where Archer's universe is revealed to him as a toy to be manipulated by those who are hundreds of years in the future. Archer is astonished and overwhelmed; Bakula sells these scenes with an understated performance that conveys his surprise through a sort of stunned quiet.

The bizarre irony here is that Archer finds himself in a situation where motivations and consequences go in opposing directions as far as the Enterprise is concerned. Archer's ship is caught in the middle of a mess far bigger than its own role in it. Consider, for example, that Silik prevents the Enterprise from being destroyed in a near-cataclysmic accident (or was it an accident?). When Daniels lays everything out on the table for Archer, the dilemma is complicated by the fact that Silik is allegedly working on the amoral side of the Temporal Cold War ... and yet his mission was to save the Enterprise from destruction. Was history "supposed" to include the Enterprise being destroyed? Daniels doesn't say.

Should Archer even trust Daniels? He obviously has information about things that no one else does. But as T'Pol points out, does that necessarily make him a time traveler? (Up to now, no one in this century has any evidence that time travel really exists; the Vulcans treat the matter with skepticism.) More importantly, if Daniels is a time traveler who says he needs Archer's help, how can Archer know that Daniels is the good guy? Just because he says so? Archer's situation is an impossible one to be in, because he has to make important decisions based on woefully incomplete information. I submit that a big reason Archer trusts Daniels is because Daniels is human. Or, as Daniels curiously says, "more or less" human.

I'm not sure this is a great idea on Archer's part, since manipulation by gaining the trust of those in past timelines would be a perfect way for an operative to change history. In one scene, Archer is confronted by Silik, who makes that very point. Daniels' claims could simply be servicing his own ends, for his own faction in the temporal war. Indeed, how can Archer possibly choose a side in this conflict at all? Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

That question is part of what makes "Cold Front" fascinating. Here's a situation where we're not sure what to make of the players — where the various sides of the struggle are shrouded in gray areas and we don't know what's right or wrong, what's true or a lie, and even if we did, making the right decision could mean the Enterprise "should" end up destroyed. Good luck, Captain Archer.

What's a little disappointing is that the story itself doesn't play this aspect more prominently. It would rather choose to make Daniels our friend and Silik the enemy, and favor a conventional chase premise over more detailed examination of the logical dilemmas. Ultimately we have Silik blasting Daniels into oblivion, and Archer tracking Silik through the ship and walking through walls with Daniels' phase-shifting technology (which is, conveniently, smart enough to know not to let Archer's feet pass through the floor). When Archer has Silik apparently cornered, Archer talks rather than taking action, allowing Silik to slip away, and earning Archer a D-minus for the day in my grade book for intruder capture.

This at least leads to a payoff that is a great visual image, where Silik escapes the Enterprise by opening the launch-bay doors and jumping right out of the ship, floating toward a Suliban vessel waiting to rescue him. Now that's a dramatic escape. I also enjoyed the ominous take on Daniels' quarters, which Archer has sealed until further notice. This is a contrivance to postpone dealing with fallout from this story until the writers feel like it (why wouldn't Archer investigate Daniels' quarters right now?), but at least it's a contrivance done entertainingly, with tones of menace.

Of course, there's one other underlying issue to briefly discuss, which is that the Temporal Cold War could be held up as an excuse for explaining away things on Enterprise that contradict events that happened on the previous series. Are we witnessing a sly device the writers have created to let themselves off the hook for things they might contradict? Nah, probably not — the canon timeline would inevitably be the same one as created (or altered, wink, wink) in this version of the past. Unless, of course, the writers themselves have beamed over to another reality.

In any case, something like the Temporal Cold War is a nightmare for logicians and a paradise for those who enjoy paradoxes. Perhaps we should just concede that if it's entertaining, it's effective.

As for anyone who claims to pass through centuries of history in an effort to keep the timeline "right," I hereby submit them as another Trekkian puzzle for the Timeline Gods to sort out.

Previous episode: Fortunate Son
Next episode: Silent Enemy

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15 comments on this review

Alex - Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
Hard to believe that Storm Front was the conclusion to the TCW. I can't believe they used this concept with no plausible way to conclude it. Big mistake for the series in my opinion.
Derek - Wed, May 7, 2008 - 11:00pm (USA Central)
This was my favorite episode of the series, at least early on. I later realized that they had no freaking clue about what they were going to do with the TCW plot, so a potentially important early episode like this that COULD HAVE set up a ton of integral pieces a la Babylon 5's "Signs and Portents" ended up being a useless action adventure.
davidw - Sat, Apr 18, 2009 - 6:35pm (USA Central)
The problem is that time travel is not necessary in this episode. You could just have two people, who both proclaim to be good guys and the other guy is evil. Usually, though it is solved in a more interesting way than for one guy to simply shoot at the Captain (or protagonist) and hence prove he is the real enemy.

Good time travel episodes *have* be time travel episodes. City on The Edge of Forever, the most famous time travel episode, prevents Kirk from saving what's her name because of something in the future will happen. That is necessary and substantial (given the well developed relationship).

All Our Yesterdays was saved solely because of it's effect on Spock - who now has the psychology of his race thousands of years in the past.

But Cold Front is a good episode, it just isn't a good time travel episode. In fact, of all the time travel episodes, I think the only one that covered interesting ground was the one where the meet future versions of themselves. Now *that* required time travel and character development and was a great show.
Elliot Wilson - Tue, Feb 16, 2010 - 12:08pm (USA Central)

What is WRONG with you people???!! Jesus Christ it's a science-fiction story, a gripping and a sometimes pondering one at that, but still a STORY! Not real. So why do you all hate time travel so much? I can see why when it's not done correctly, but like I said, IT'S ONLY A FICTIONAL STORY.

@davidw: It might not be ncessary but I still liked it. Why didn't you?

Of minor note is the way T'Pol completely disregared Daniels's claims. I can sort of understand why she did it, but it seemed like she was refusing to even consider that it might, somehow (gasp!) be TRUE. That is narrow-minded and she's only saying that because she doesn't want it to be true. Way to drop the ball there, T'Pol. *shakes head*
James - Sun, Mar 14, 2010 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
@Elliot: Dude, the only person overreacting here is you. (With all caps-lock and multiple exclamation points no less)

As for me, I definitely echo the "decent episode in itself, but ultimately meaningless in the long run" sentiment.
Jay - Sat, Dec 18, 2010 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Trip offering up all kinds of schematics to strangers. Is nothing classified?
Cloudane - Thu, Apr 21, 2011 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
Wow, an Enterprise review with comments on it other than mine! XD

Although it's STILL not groundbreaking (come on, I'm sure even Voyager had a 3.5 or 4-star by now) I'd say this is the best episode so far.

One of the things I actually enjoyed the most was the background story - the traditional TNG-like focus on the "meeting new civilisations" aspect of the Starfleet mission. Thank goodness it's not like Voyager (everyone hostile, extremely few exceptions) but it also has a certain amount of realism to it. I couldn't help but grin at the experienced captain of the other ship who's obviously not as new and wide-eyed as the humans and is more like "er, yes hello. What do you actually... want?" - to him, I think the Enterprise is like an inquisitive toddler going "Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" and this impression rings true.

The others were a charming people and it's good seeing Archer meeting them in a manner not too dissimilar to Picard: a little uncertain like he often was and with more of an impression of inexperience (as you'd expect), but with a deep respect for the mission of meeting other cultures that seems to follow through to a deep respect for the cultures themselves. This is Very Trek (the way I view it anyway). The solar flare type event seems like a nice way to mark the beginning of these encounters.

That leaves the main time travel plot, and it's so muddled (inherently for time travel plots, not really any fault of this particular one) that I don't have a lot to say about it. It seems to set things up for Big Things To Come, and as long as what's coming is *good* (sadly going by the comments, perhaps not) I appreciate this being left open and highly ominous at the end.

As for time travel itself, I prefer to take Captain Janeway's advice: don't even try to think about it. What's the point? You only end up annoyed at the supposed plot holes and paradoxes. I think we're meant to accept that it's just something completely beyond our comprehension until about the 29th century (i.e. what causes what) and thus certainly beyond our comprehension right now. However surely you have to give it some credit for using T'Pol as the viewer's skeptical and strictly logical viewpoint. It kind of acknowledges the issue (and implies that it must simply be something even Vulcans can't understand or accept as logical yet so what chance do WE have), which is the first time I know of that any Star Trek series has ever really done that, and so effectively too.

Oh and one other little thing - after a short while with the cargo bay doors open, the blast of air... STOPPED. (The air ran out). This has been done 1 other time in the whole of Trek that I can think of and it's nice to see that kind of attention to detail (and even the air escaping again for a moment as Archer dashes into the airlock). Makes a change from infinite air escaping in a huge blast that goes on indefinitely until the doors are shut.

There's no alternative Trek timeline being created at this stage that I have heard of. Leave it to that retarded reboot movie 9 or so years later.

Apologies for wall of text that possibly rivals the length of the review itself. I guess it's a good sign that Enterprise finally has me tap-tapping to this degree.

P.S. Is this the same Elliot from the Voyager reviews.. just need Michael and we're all set for strongly opinionated commenters that trigger flame wars :)
Michael - Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - 10:10am (USA Central)
"According to out sacred texts, this is where the universe began."

Oh, brother...

Dr. Neelix does the "holy" "invocation: "Gorontonia agasoria yureya yuralen porprogust..."

Just shoot me.

Archer continues with his uber-pacifistic dogma: Instead of shooting the alien to smithereens--or at least stunning him, seeing as violence is unacceptable come hell or high water--, he engages in none-too-witty repartee and, as is always the case in such situations, pretty soon ends up overpowered by the guy he'd had cornered. An epic superhero-like fight and chase ensue. He gets the alien again and actually shoots him *gasp* but only in his hand *phew* Archer nearly snuffs it, the alien escapes, the future device is--what--lost or taken by the aliens... - but so long as nobody used any guns or lethal force.

Repeat after me:
Guns are bad.
Violence is bad.
All hail political correctness.

Other than that retarded (sorry: I meant, differently-mentally-advantaged) part, this was a swell episode. Definitely one of the more enjoyable thus far.
Michael - Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - 10:18am (USA Central)
@Cloudane:

hehehehe Well, I'm here! A flame war? Perish the thought! Nay, I wish to discuss my feelings, if you will, particularly my passive-aggressive obsessive-compulsive disorder, which may stem from when my mommy wouldn't buy me a Hershey bar when I was 3 years old. Scarred me for life and here I am? How do I deal with that? Can we devote a whole 45-minute show to it, please?

Enough frivolity though. Latching on to your cargo bay point: If the air escaped into the cosmic vacuum, then wouldn't Archer be dead? Besides, with that kind of decompression, there's no way he'd have been able to hold on to the railings; he should have been sucked out in an instant.

Physics is not my strong suit, but I thought I knew that much. Am I mistaken?
Nathan - Wed, Nov 16, 2011 - 2:01am (USA Central)
"a potentially important early episode like this that COULD HAVE set up a ton of integral pieces a la Babylon 5's "Signs and Portents""

I had the same thought. It doesn't hurt that Archer reminds me of both B5 heads.


"If the air escaped into the cosmic vacuum, then wouldn't Archer be dead?"

You can survive in vacuum for a bit. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about this back in 1957 ("Take A Deep Breath" from "The Other Side of the Sky"). Here's some information from NASA: imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970603.html
I don't know about the forces involved, but it's not inconceivable that a strong person could fight it.
Captain Jim - Wed, Jul 4, 2012 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
Time travel may not make any logical sense, but I still love time travel stories, and this is no exception. I found the mystery surrounding this Temporal Cold War really compelling in Enterprise's early days. Unfortunately, though I don't recall the details, I seem to remember that the ultimate resolution was pretty unsatisfying.
CeeBee - Thu, Aug 30, 2012 - 3:14pm (USA Central)
I think the whole concept of the time travel or TCW wasn't thought out at all by the various writers. The consequence of Daniels' action is indeed that Silik should be stopped, meaning that Enterprise would be destroyed, including Archer. Yet at the end of season one we learn that Archer was paramount to the formation of the federation. His disappearance caused havoc in the future. Not to mention thatt in 900 years the Earth still exists. The same guy who tells Archer that Earth in 900 years "depends on how you define it" , he brings him to Earth how we define it: a regular future with regular features.

Time travel episodes are the most funny episodes for me, including the ones in this series, but even Voyager did this better with captain Braxton both in the LA visit double episode and the hidden time bomb episode with 7of9 timetraveling her implants out of her head. At least the inconsistencies were not so obvious and badly - or better, not at all - thought through.

Nveretheless a good episode.

And you can't fall in space. Neither will you instantly die in vacuum. Your body is a sturdy vessel. And it's not sucked out but blown out , sir :) Yes Data, we know.
Annie - Sat, Nov 3, 2012 - 8:54pm (USA Central)
Archer is such a boor! If a group on a religious pilgrimage tells you they traditionally fast but will make an exception, they are just being polite. So graciously offer to postpone the meal.

I LOL'ed when Daniels took Archer to his quarters because it wasn't safe to talk in Archer's ready room, and the very next scene is Archer briefing Trip and T'Pol... in his ready room.
Markus - Fri, Jul 12, 2013 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
I REALLY enjoyed this one. Everything thrilled me, not much, but more than all the previous ten episodes together. Especially worth noting is the music which supported the odd feeling the images convey, foremost the last scene with the door of Daniel's quarters sealed. Great stuff. For the first time I really feel at least a bit home on the Enterprise. Paradoxically in a very, well, paradoxical episode.
Moonie - Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
I think this is my favorite episode so far. It's the first one of ENT that made me want to jump straight to the next. I'm watching ENT on TV so I have to wait until next week which has become an unusual experience these days.

Definitely getting better. I am getting used to Archer, and this episode is the first one where I noticed the music.

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