Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Breaking the Ice"

***

Air date: 11/7/2001
Written by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton
Directed by Terry Windell

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Your inexperience and your arrogance are your enemies, not us." — Vanik

In brief: The plot is slight at best, but there's value to be found in the characterization and human/Vulcan interaction.

I will say that without a doubt the plots so far for Enterprise have been uninspired. That's perhaps an understatement. After seeing "Breaking the Ice" I've developed a new theory that says any show where space explorers build a snowman on the surface of a comet is not exactly trying to make us feel awed about the wonders of space travel.

And yet the snowman idea fits the tone of this show perfectly, which is laid-back and irreverent, more about characters and relationships than about strange new worlds or seeking out new life and new civilizations.

The subject of exploration here: a comet. Correction: a comet containing a unique mineral. My brain unconsciously forwards the message to my typing hands: "Whoop-de-do." But I've long maintained that good things can be done with pedestrian premises, just as is the case the other way around.

"Breaking the Ice" is a character-driven story of trust and friction between ideals — and, for that matter, personality types. I frankly don't care about the comet. What I do care about is the way a Vulcan ship shows up just as Archer is about to get a survey mission of this comet under way. The Vulcan captain, Vanik (William Utay), expresses his desire to "observe" the proceedings. This is not the first time the Vulcans have wanted to observe. To the Enterprise crew, the Vulcans are increasingly bearing resemblance to babysitters, trying to hold their hands as they try to cross the street. "Stay as long as you want," Archer tells Vanik — a line perfectly delivered by Bakula as Archer tries to mask his annoyance behind neutrality.

Should the Vulcans be out here, watching over every little thing this experimental human crew does? It's a good question, still unanswered; Archer has neither been proven capable nor incapable of interacting with the interstellar social universe. The Vulcans, meanwhile, are stodgy to the point of being control freaks. Would they have preferred to wait forever until humanity was truly "ready" to venture out? And now that we're out here, are they going to look over our shoulders for petty things like studying comets?

The episode finds the right notes for events that aren't groundbreaking, but are telling nonetheless. Consider, for example, the whole issue of the encrypted message that the Vulcan ship sends to T'Pol's quarters. The transmission is detected and raises Archer's suspicions, who reacts with a sort of saddened disappointment. Is T'Pol secretly communicating with the Vulcans? Briefing them on how the Enterprise operates? I like the fact that Archer wants to trust T'Pol, but is still unable to.

Trip has the message decrypted. He reads it, only to find that it has nothing to do with the Vulcans talking behind Archer's back, but instead that it's simply a personal letter. Very personal. In this case, distrust only leads to embarrassment. Trip decides to come clean with T'Pol so he can clear his conscience. T'Pol is clearly unhappy about her personal situation being discovered by someone else, and I liked her Vulcan response — giving a cold shoulder but without being overly emotional or holding a grudge.

Jolene Blalock turns in her best performance to date in another role that demands her never to get excited or step outside the boundaries of complete control that have typified her thus far. I'd read reports that T'Pol would be envisioned as a more "sensual" Vulcan, but that certainly has not been the case so far. T'Pol is calm, composed, distant, and incredibly introverted. "Sensual" is about the last word I'd use to describe her.

Her personal situation here is tantamount to a fork in the road of her life. She has an arranged marriage awaiting her on Vulcan — and if she's going to go through with it, she must make the decision now. She has little emotional stake in her would-be spouse; she's only met him a handful of times since the arrangement was made when they were children. Should she adhere to Vulcan traditional values or continue her mission aboard the Enterprise? We of course know the answer, but the way the issue is filtered through dialog and characters is effective.

She confides in Trip on this matter because, naturally, he's the only one who knows about her situation and she'd rather not share it with any more people. Their discussion plays the obvious notes of human individuality versus Vulcan traditionalism, but it's nice to see these two characters have a genuine personal discussion. Based on this episode, it would seem the seeds are planted for T'Pol allowing herself to learn from and adjust to the human mindset around her. It's also likely that these are the seeds of a personal relationship between Trip and T'Pol — perhaps an actual friendship, if T'Pol allows herself to have friends. Like various characters in all Trek series before her, she has the outside perspective on human values, and she's peering in. Here's hoping that the learning process will be a two-way street.

There's also a scene of exposition that is brilliant in its way (and simultaneously silly), where the bridge crew records answers to questions sent from Earth. These particular questions are from fourth-graders. The idea allows the scene to explain a few unanswered technical questions to the audience while having a reason to do so. You know, the important stuff — questions involving the universal translator, dating on the ship, the food supply, and using the toilet. (Trip: "A poop question, sir?" Archer: "It's a perfectly valid question.") It's a bit obvious and overly cute, but I think the story manages to get away with it. It would makes sense that there's a lot of interest in Enterprise's mission back on the home front. I only hope we get to see more contact with Earth in better depth, used in a less condescending way.

Perhaps my favorite sequence is Archer's attempt to host dinner for Vanik. Sure, Vanik accepts Archer's invitation, but as a guest he's about as useless as he can be. All of Archer's attempts to start a conversation are utterly futile, because one can't have a conversation with someone who refuses to bring anything to the table. Vanik responds to each of Archer's comments with as few words as possible ("No," or "I only drink water"). This is a mildly funny sequence, played for some low-key laughs. It works because the humor is based on a truthful premise that most of the audience will be able to identify with. (William Utay nails down a performance that masks Vanik's superior indignation behind an artifice of laconic indifference.) When you have an uncomfortable social situation, the only thing you want is for it to end. Archer ends it by having an officer escort Vanik to the launch bay. The lesson to be learned here is that at some point being a gracious host simply outlives what you get out of it.

It might've been nice to tie the tensions with the Vulcans back into the issue from last week's "Andorian Incident"; given how cold Vanik is here, some sort of reference would've been a prudent way to hint at continuing problems of trust. Continuity between episodes is so far not of much importance on this series.

Reed and Mayweather become the lucky ones who get to go down to the comet surface and drill for the rare mineral. Mayweather has never seen snow firsthand, so this proves to be its own reward. There's something corny and yet completely in line with the tone of the episode when the two of them build that snowman. I should, however, point out that the lack of any sort of edge in Mayweather is really beginning to show — and rankle a bit. For someone who has spent his whole life in space, he strikes me more as the latest take on Mr. Green. He's the youthful, wide-eyed kid with the perpetual Pepsodent smile. I thought Enterprise was supposed to have "edge," but this guy is so far the hollowest shell of a character. Yes, these characters are going to take awhile to develop, but Mayweather so far is beyond bland, having nearly nothing in terms of opinions or personality. Here's hoping this changes soon.

The story's turning point comes when our away team falls into unexpected jeopardy. The comet rotates toward the sun, the ice melts and cracks, Mayweather is injured, and the shuttle falls into a chasm of ice. Suddenly the survey mission becomes a rescue operation where the Enterprise crew must retrieve the shuttle with grappling hooks. This turns out to be difficult, at which point the Vanik — still silently monitoring the situation — offers to help with his ship's tractor beam.

This is a moment where Archer must make a choice: Handle the crisis on his own, or swallow his pride and accept the Vulcans' offer of help. I was glad to see him swallow his pride. Ensuring your people's safety is far more important than preserving your dignity. And as T'Pol points out, Archer would be playing into Vanik's hands by ignoring the offer and proving right the stereotype of humans being arrogant and hard-headed. To the Vulcans, human independence is not a trait that impresses.

This storyline makes for a good microcosm of the tensions between humans and Vulcans. It's nice to see Archer's mindset being challenged. The Vulcans may be righteous and arrogant in their own ways, but they've also been out in space much longer than humans have, so they certainly have points worth learning from. All this, despite the fact one almost gets the feeling the Vulcans were hanging around for something to happen so that they could say, without saying, "I told you so."

Humans will have their own way of dealing with situations in space, but we don't know everything, and I'm glad to see this episode acknowledge that. And just as the Vulcans can help humanity, maybe our human characters can help our Vulcan character think outside her own box.

"Breaking the Ice" uses some routine story elements to bring these relevant issues to the surface where character development can begin to emerge.

Next week: Perhaps a lesson for why we need the Prime Directive?

Previous episode: The Andorian Incident
Next episode: Civilization

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12 comments on this review

Alexey Bogatiryov - Fri, Mar 27, 2009 - 12:48am (USA Central)
I felt that theme of building up Vulcans as interstellar "babysitter" was a nice and slow brewing storyline for the first season. I was very intrigued and found it very plausible!
Marco P. - Tue, Sep 7, 2010 - 3:17am (USA Central)
For once, an episode which does a few things wrong and many things *right*. The trend in the series so far, needless to say, has been quite the opposite. This is also the first episode since the pilot NOT written by Berman and Braga... coincidence?

I guess I'll start with the nitpicking, and get it out of the way.
• The Q/A session with the 4th-graders (in itself a good idea) could have been handled/filmed much better. It was long, some of the questions overly silly, and the scene could have benefited greatly by being montage'd with the comet drilling. Instead we get something mildly endearing, not particularly informative (we already knew about the universal translator), and frankly for the most part, boring.
• Archer's dinner with captain Vanik serves two purposes: underline the human distrust of Vulcans, as well as the Vulcan belief of superiority over humans. Alas, to my mind BOTH captains lose the verbal jousting: Vanik for his lack of edge and Archer for his lack of intelligence. I'm still on the fence whether these are intentional character traits, or further evidence of the script's flaws (probably the latter).
• Sci-fi facts: explosions in space make no noise (noise is the vibration of air, there is no air in vacuum), a comet would probably have very low gravity thus making Travis's and then subsequently the shuttle's fall very unlikely at that speed.

Other than that, I agree with Jammer. I didn't care about the mineral in the comet either, but rather how we got from point A (arrival) to point B (retrieval) through character interaction. The Vulcans were made a little bit one-dimensional, but I thought the T'Pol sublot was quite interesting (albeit the biggest of classics... who has never heard of an arranged marriage?). Of particular interest was the confidence she showed with Tucker, and I too am curious to see where this will lead in future episodes.
Cloudane - Sun, Apr 17, 2011 - 5:48pm (USA Central)
"maybe our human characters can help our Vulcan character think outside her own box."

*snickers at the double entendre in the context of her decision not to get married*

So far still nothing massively inspiring (had the episodes mixed up, haven't watched Andorian yet). It's a long way from the easy 4 stars some episodes of TNG and DS9 had. But it continues to be worth watching, at least as a Trek fan.

The Q&A was a good idea - answers some of those long standing questions people have in a way that makes sense. And next time anyone says their boots are s**t I guess they're right!

The tensions between the Humans and Vulcans, whilst sometimes a bit overdone (he was so rude at the dinner table) seem very believable. Compare it with a teenager or young adult trying to gain independence while the parents still want to keep an eye on them and sometimes seem to go out of their way to prove that the offspring isn't ready for it yet. They're far from enemies... it's just a bit of tough love.

Agreeable rating.
Michael - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 11:08am (USA Central)
I find it difficult to believe that an intellectually advanced race like the Vulcans would retain backward norms such as patriarchy, tribalism, cultural conformance. People have spent centuries trying to overthrow the shackles of physical and mental tyranny, and continue to do so worldwide, and yet, we are supposed to defer to arranged (a.k.a. forced) marriages of the Vulcans. I may be speaking from my Western perspective--how politically-incorrect of me--but personal freedom exercised responsibly vis-a-vis the enveloping society is, currently at any rate, the apex of communal achievement. I find it extremely difficult to accept that Vulcans would still cleave to such notions.

Then again, Star Trek has Klingons--who are routinely portrayed as too imbecilic, impulsive and obdurate to operate a tricycle--kicking ass across the quadrants, so I resign to accepting T'Pol's situation. And I'm sure her "situation" will give rise to many a merry moment of Dr. Phil-esque introspection in episodes to come.

Here endeth my lesson.
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 9:55pm (USA Central)
Why are the two pioneers of Earth's space history -- Chocrane and later Archer - portrayed as uneducated, highly emotional, and impulsive? Archer's conversation with the Vulcan commander is embarrassing. Why not someone of learning and class, like Picard, who can talk the Vulcans on their own terms? OF course this portrayal makes it seem more realistic -- but humans must seem to be idiots to the Vulcans. On the old wooden boats it was customary for officers to be educated; apparently not in the 22nd century.
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 10:18pm (USA Central)
My last comment was too harsh; I rescind it. Archer demonstrated that he can learn, that he is not arrogant. So did T'Pol (symbolized by the pecan pie at the end, representing her freedom to choose for herself, to opt out of an arranged marriage). I think the point of the episode is that the two cultures are learning from one another, that it is not a one-way exchange of knowledge from Vulcan to human. The humans are gaining their "space-feet" (to use a phrase from Scotty).
CeeBee - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 6:11pm (USA Central)
A comet with a diameter of 80 kilometers? Get out of the shuttle and jump to the surface. Don't jump too hard, you might drift away into space. No need to call in the Vulcans.

Why weren't Break-a-leg Mayweather and Reed secured to the ground to prevent them from drifting away in the first place? Is this comet a neutron-comet with Earth gravity on a 80 km ball of super dense ice? Not even science fiction, but unscientific bunkum.

Fro the rest: stupid Vulcans, stupid humans. This does not bode well for the future.
Arachnea - Tue, Feb 5, 2013 - 12:57am (USA Central)
Well, obviously, the plot is very forgettable, but the characters interactions are great. The first season is based on a commentary about prejudice, distrust, grudges and misconceptions. Here, we have a perfect example.

Some say Archer isn't intelligent and should be more of a diplomat. I agree to some degree. But I'd like to point out that vulcans (before finding their true philosophy) aren't the epitome of diplomacy, as depicted here by Vanik. He's, by humans standards, very rude and so is Archer by vulcan standards.

At this point, I agree with Jammer about Mayweather and I'm liking Trip a little more every episode: he's flawed and impulsive but honest with a great heart. On top of that, he's easily the best actor of the regular cast.
mike - Sat, Mar 9, 2013 - 8:28pm (USA Central)
Doesn't this show have a technical advisor? Reed and Mayweather are walking around on this comet like it has earth-normal gravity. Then the shuttlepod tumbles into a crevice despite having thrusters that were running at the time. This is just too ridiculous. That little comet would have to have the same mass as Earth to have gravity that strong.


As for the plot itself it's rather thin. I understand the need to do a lot of character-driven stories early on but to do it against a backdrop of such bad science is in excusable.
Moonie - Thu, Sep 26, 2013 - 3:51pm (USA Central)
I liked this one. Thin story, but as Jammer remarked, good character development.

I'm watching ENT with a Star Trek virgin and I always feel like defending the Vulcans. The way they are portrayed, makes me sad on Spock's behalf (I know, stupid, right?!). I also often feel compelled to utter things like "This NEVER would have happened under Kirk's command" or "Picard NEVER would act like that". But yeah... it's still Star Trek... and while the whole crew was pretty color- and lifeless initially, they are growing in their roles, especially Trip who's becoming my favorite character. This was also a good one for T'Pol.

As usual, suspension of disbelief required. I don't have much of a mind for science but even I wondered about gravity on the comet. Oh well. I write stories as a hobby and I know how hard it is to create thrilling or exciting stories and scenarios while keeping things "realistic". I mean, it's not like you can *really* travel through time in a slingshot around the sun, either, and that has happened a few times in Star Trek.

My problem with ENT is that I watch TOS and TNG at the same time (as a newbie, I'm currently doing a ST marathon) and a lot of times, it looks really bad in comparison. The only thing that might be better, may be the special effects. The stories, the acting, the chemistry among the characters - all so much better in TOS and TNG.
Jack - Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - 11:28am (USA Central)
I find the concept of pre-arranged marriages among Vulcans every bit as disqualifying to Federation membership as the Bajoran djarras that were flirted with would have been. Both strip away a person's free will to decide a fundamental aspect of their lives.

It certainly makes little sense that such a long standing tradition would suddenly be abandoned by the Vulcans after the Federation came into existence just because of that reason, but then it's safe to assume that Sarek's marriage to Amanda, a human, wasn't arranged in their childhood.
NoPoet - Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - 3:41am (USA Central)
I hated this episode when I first saw it. I found so many episodes of Enterprise S1 to be so underwhelming that I literally couldn't believe this was coming from the people who made Voyager, a show which I loved and which has attracted way more than its share of silly criticism (of course, some of the critique was indeed valid).

On my second and subsequent viewings, I found that this episode is a lot better than I first thought. I began to appreciate that this is a relaxed episode where we get to see the crew engaging in unprofessional behaviour - in other words, existing outside their job - and the snowman scene is very funny, especially Reed's immature chuckle when he sees it and his addition of large Vulcan ears.

The dinner scene is one of the best scenes in Trek IMO for its comedy value, even though I was as horrified as anyone else at this show's portrayal of arrogant, excessively formal (always a Vulcan problem), cold, aloof Vulcans. In retrospect, Manny Coto explained this by having the Vulcan command being effectively run by a Romulan or Romulan sympathiser - brilliant! Pity we didn't get this conclusion sooner, but at least the Vulcans were fixed.

Anyway, the dinner scene was funny, awkward and highly embarrassing, and Archer's mounting frustration was probably Bakula's best acting this season. (Not that his acting in S1 and S2 was anywhere approaching good - he seemed stilted, amateurish, with the charisma of a block of wood.) I love it when he snaps and says, "I'll trouble you with one last question. How long do you plan on spying on us?" which causes Tucker's amusing reaction.

The idea of putting crew members in peril was simply tacked on, and Archer's plea to the arrogant Vulcan captain for help seems to have had no lasting impact on anyone, but I really like this episode.

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