In brief: Average fare. Not bad on the character level; the plot is largely forgettable but nicely functional.
"Fight or Flight" doesn't do much for me one way or the other. It works on some levels that are important, but as an hour of entertainment I find it to be simply average, nothing more or less.
We're still feeling out the characters at this point, and I guess that's why it's a good thing this is a show pitched primarily as a character-perspective piece: We have one character's main problem — Hoshi Sato's fears of her new, prolonged deep-space assignment — and much of the story is filtered through what she experiences.
Early on she discusses with Dr. Phlox her apprehension about living in space. At heart, she's a linguist, not a space pioneer. She'd rather be teaching than sitting at a starship console. But on the other hand, out here she has an unprecedented opportunity to encounter all sorts of completely new languages. (Plus, it can't hurt the ego being one of the captain's assets.)
It would seem Hoshi is not one who easily accepts change. There's a scene where she asks Captain Archer if she can switch quarters to the other side of the ship because she's used to seeing the stars in her window move in the opposite direction. A request like that makes you wonder about a person's toughness — although I'll be the first to say it will be nice if not everyone on this show is tough. This sort of space travel is, after all, a new thing for these people.
The Enterprise comes across a vessel dead in space. Scans for life are inconclusive. Against T'Pol's recommendations, Archer decides to take a small party to board the ship. Among his party is, of course, young Ensign Sato, who is not particularly looking forward to a dark, mysterious away mission. She tries to convince Archer to replace her, but Archer needs a translator for anything that might resemble a first-contact situation. I guess I should point out that Hoshi's apprehensions here display character continuity from "Broken Bow," where she was constantly nervous and on-edge.
Also among this episode's goals is tackling the certain-to-be-ongoing subject of Archer and T'Pol and their disagreements. What we have here is a fundamental difference in motive and nature: Archer is an explorer who believes certain risks are worth taking, while T'Pol seems relatively bloodless and willing merely to chart empty space. Vulcans aren't interested in exploring in the sense that humans are, she notes. Well if that's the case, then why are the Vulcans even out in space? Is it because they want to be control freaks and make sure the galaxy stays stable enough to conform to their purely logical outlook? "Broken Bow" presented Vulcans who were little more than arbitrary obstacles for humanity, and I can't say I really understand the notion here that space travel is done for purely "logical" and not explorative purposes. (Some of these attitudes make me wonder why the Vulcans didn't just become isolationists.) I think this series will have a fine line to walk in portraying the Vulcans; they seem much more stodgy and obstinate than the Vulcans of the 23rd and 24th centuries, and I wonder if that's an arbitrary characterization or something that will be dealt with.
The plot involving the ship floating adrift is functional more than it is imaginative or interesting. Archer's boarding party finds nothing but the corpses of its crew, hooked up to machines that are pumping fluids from their bodies.
Hoshi screams at the gruesome sight. Later, back on the Enterprise, she beats herself up for her moment of fear, and says to Phlox: "I'm a translator. I didn't come out here to see corpses hanging on hooks." Linda Park does a good job of creating a vulnerable young ensign as well as hitting the right notes in the appreciated fact that she knows (and is somewhat discouraged by) her own weaknesses and limitations.
I also was interested in Archer's actions through the story. He takes T'Pol's suggestion of leaving behind the dead alien ship, whose killers apparently will be back for them — probably a fight not prudent to be caught in the middle of. But later Archer finds himself increasingly appalled by what has happened, and dissatisfied with his response to the situation. He's determined to go back and see if there's some way to find this crew's homeland and ensure that the dead are properly laid to rest. Scott Bakula is good with the speechmaking; Archer seems to be making points to Tucker and T'Pol as if also trying to use his disgust as a self-motivation for action.
This leads to a conflict where the Enterprise's performance under fire is tested right alongside Hoshi's, as she must decipher the alien language and use it to communicate to another captain who has come across his people's dead crew, while the perpetrators of the crime simultaneously attack the Enterprise. (We never learn who these perpetrators are, because they're faceless devices used to drive the action.) I liked the confusion and chaos conveyed by this sequence. Hoshi is unsure what she's even translating but must try to convey a convoluted message nonetheless; she very literally becomes the ship's only hope in a situation of increasing desperation.
Meanwhile, I find it interesting how the Enterprise finds itself completely outmatched: Not only are the ship's computer translators only partially effective, the defensive systems are relatively crude (earlier in the show, a weapons test shows trial and error at its finest).
And yet it all seems a little too routine. I honestly don't have that much of substance to say about "Fight or Flight." It's a lightweight offering that inspires little in terms of analysis and left me largely unmoved. At the same time it's certainly adequate in its attempts to showcase at least one of the supporting characters (though I could've done without the alien slug as a metaphor for Hoshi being out of her element, a notion so obvious it borders on silliness). And the episode fares reasonably in showing a lower-tech Trek at work, with a human crew on the low end of the galactic totem pole.
Note: Enterprise has elected to use the more common network-style four-act story structure, abandoning the five-act structure used throughout the runs of TNG, DS9, and Voyager.
Next week: Planet LSD.