Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Shockwave, Part I"

****

Air date: 5/22/2002
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Archer: "Can't you ever give a straight answer?"
Daniels: "Depends on the question."

In brief: Compelling, absorbing, intriguing, convincing. I think the season ends on a high note.

"Shockwave" is bookended with some chilling images that burned themselves into my mind. Those images are enough to elevate an already standout story into the realm of memorable excellence. Trek hasn't absorbed me in this way in some time. And I'm pleased also to report that there's a depth and emotional arc to this story that's convincing.

But more than anything, I think what makes "Shockwave" truly work is its tone of unrelenting weightiness, which is masterfully pitched. I suppose the credit should go largely to Allan Kroeker and the actors, who bring conviction and importance to every scene, in a restrained, understated way — not an easy task.

The episode opens with a startlingly potent image: the surface of a moon being incinerated by a wave of cascading explosions, destroying a mining colony and killing 3,600 people. It's a disaster on a large scale, and initial evidence indicates the Enterprise shuttlepod's plasma emissions accidentally ignited atmospheric gases during a landing approach. The evidence is conflicting; Reed explains in no uncertain terms that procedures to avoid this possibility were followed to a T, even while forensic-like analysis reveals byproducts that could only have been produced by the plasma igniting the atmosphere.

I especially liked that the episode didn't merely use this disaster as a plot launcher, but also as the basis for Archer's soul searching. A quietly effective scene where he silently scrolls through a seemingly endless list of colonist names — with pictures attached — says it all. Archer submerges himself into a pit of self-punishment; as captain, he feels directly responsible for all the deaths.

Meanwhile, news from Starfleet suggests that the Vulcans (particularly at the behest of Ambassador Soval) will use this incident to cancel the Enterprise's mission and try to bottle Starfleet back inside our solar system for the next 10 or 20 years. Overreaction? Certainly. Someone needs to argue in favor of the value of Enterprise's mission. But being in his guilty pit of self-punishment, Archer seems content to accept whatever is handed down from above without a fight. Trip is in disbelief: "That's guilt talking, not Jonathan Archer."

Even T'Pol recognizes the absurdity in the Vulcans recommending the mission be canceled. She also recognizes that Archer's guilt is getting the best of him, and in a good scene where she shows herself trying to be an effective first officer doing what's best for the mission, she visits Archer in his quarters and asks him bluntly, "Is this what humans call feeling sorry for themselves?"

These notes are played just about perfectly. We can understand Archer's guilty reactions just as we can understand that they must not be allowed to take complete control of him; emotions must not prevail in allowing a knee-jerk verdict go the distance.

It's about here where an intriguing sci-fi plot all but rescues Archer from his own predicament. While I'm in favor of seeing characters resolve their problems instead of having the plot do it for them, in this case the plot is so clever that I was more than happy to go with the flow. Archer turns off the light in his quarters and suddenly wakes up in his apartment on Earth in the past. I liked the visual of Archer looking out a window over the city skyline — like a dream image, it's a visual that feels familiar and yet doesn't belong — and I liked Archer's puzzled but muted responses to this strangeness ("If you're telling me the last 10 months were a dream, I'm not buying it," he says, not even sure if he's talking to anyone but himself).

The not-so-dead-after-all Crewman Daniels (Matt Winston; see "Cold Front") pulled Archer into this past because it seemed to Daniels like a good hiding place away from the front lines of the Temporal Cold War. Or something. Daniels tries to explain the collision of past and future in the terms of how certain events haven't happened yet, to which Archer responds, "That's a load of crap and you know it" — a perfect line of dialog. Daniels then proceeds to explain that the accident that destroyed the mining colony was engineered by the Suliban as a frame-up in an attempt to undermine Enterprise's mission and change history.

If there's a complaint to be made about the plot machinations here, it's that the information supplied to Archer from Daniels is so correct and comprehensive as to make Daniels storyline-omniscient. But then that's the whole point about this war waged through timelines — he who has the best information wins.

In this case, Archer comes back to the present with a wealth of information that makes it possible to collect evidence proving the Suliban frame-up. The Enterprise crew does this by tracking down and disabling a cloaked Suliban ship, boarding it, and stealing data that documents the frame-up. Clever. (Perhaps even too clever, too perfect.) The action here is the polar opposite of Andromeda action; stealth, skill, and planning take the place of brute force and mindless shoot-outs, to the point that I don't believe we see a single Suliban get hit with a phaser beam. Whaddayaknow.

This raid subsequently prompts recurring Suliban villain Silik (John Fleck), under orders from his mysterious superior from the future, to track the Enterprise down and target it for destruction unless Archer agrees to surrender himself, for reasons not yet made clear. Archer agrees to surrender and places T'Pol in command of the ship, in a scene that is played with such earnestly serious gravity that it borders on being Earnestly Serious Gravity, but without going too far.

What can't come across in a review is the effectiveness of the material's tone throughout. When Archer turns the ship over to T'Pol, for example, it comes across as a major concession of defeat even as the actors and director remain restrained with dead-on delivery. Less proves to be so much more.

The ending is a time-manipulation twist in which Archer finds himself suddenly pulled into the 31st century by Daniels, who finds to his own dismay that this causes the 31st century to be radically altered for the worse. Here we get compelling shots of a city long since laid to waste. The season ends with Archer and Daniels apparently trapped in an alternate future no one had predicted. I loved the final zoom-out shot with the wrecked city landscape and skyscraper shells — a haunting image that conveys an apt sense of isolation.

Of course, the funny thing about the Temporal Cold War is that it has no knowable direction and therefore no actual substance. By definition, we are in the dark, because it's not about what has happened or is happening, but what maybe "should" happen in one possible future. And in situations like this, writers have a knack for letting themselves off the hook in ways that aren't satisfying to the audience. It's the one worry that comes built into a setup like this.

One might also reflect that by its very nature, the Temporal Cold War (or any sort of time-altering premise, for that matter) is fundamentally ridiculous, since the participants think they can control history merely by manipulating certain events in the timeline. Just once I'd be interested in seeing a sci-fi time plot that plays closer to my own belief in ultimate chaos: If there's one tiny detail or even molecule out of place, the timeline is thus significantly changed in ways that can no longer be predicted (Run Lola Run supplies one of my favorite cinematic examples of this school of thought).

I digress. In a way, "Shockwave" is like a melding of Star Trek and The X-Files. Most important to note is that it's like the early seasons of The X-Files that used to interest me (as opposed to the infuriating self-parody that its later seasons became) — a show that was sold on the genuine evocation of mystery, intriguing images, and characters who reacted to the bizarre with muted disbelief.

"Shockwave" contains a lot of familiar sci-fi ideas that can't be described as "new." But what I'm enthused about is that the episode puts them together in such a way that the storyline itself feels new. It seems capable of going anywhere, and indeed it does go in directions we might not have anticipated at the beginning. Even for the Trekker who has seen everything, "Shockwave" manages to bring plenty to the table. Can the follow-up next season pull the characters out of this dilemma plausibly? I'm not sure. But until then, I'm completely satisfied with this episode on its own.

Here's a plot that's a mess ... but what an entertaining, well-executed, and absorbing mess it is.

Keep an eye out for my Enterprise season recap sometime this summer.

Previous episode: Two Days and Two Nights
Next episode: Shockwave, Part II

End-of-season article: First Season Recap

Season Index

11 comments on this review

Marco P. - Thu, Nov 4, 2010 - 4:52am (USA Central)
You know it's funny. "That's a load of crap and you know it" is something I tell myself very often during ST Enterprise viewings, particularly just before I press PLAY on a new episode. Something else you mentioned Jammer, "no knowable direction and therefore no actual substance" about the Temporal Cold War, could easily be applied in my eyes to the script/story of the entire first season.

I think the reason you gave this 4 stars is not because of the episode's value in itself, but rather how it stands compared to the mediocrity of its brothers. YES! For the first time the action/story is not completely non-sensical, and despite its silliness in nature the Temporal Cold War might be something the viewers could get interested in. Part of why this works in the episode is because, like you rightfully said, "we are left in the dark": the possibilities of where the story might go from here are left to our imagination which, let's face it, is often limitless and seldom leaves us disappointed. I mean hell: in my imagination, the last Star Trek series to date isn't a complete waste of time, but I digress.

Of course from here on out and in season 2, the challenge for the writers is to actually fulfill our expectations with much "meat & potatoes". I mean, could Brannon & Braga actually succeed at ridding us of the notion this "Temporal Cold War" is nothing but another load of BS, and that it might actually be something that gets the Enterprise story somewhere? Could this turn into a (semi) watchable show at the very last??

One might as well believe in pink elephants.
RussS - Mon, Nov 8, 2010 - 6:43am (USA Central)
The Vulcans were right.

Regardless of fault, Archers presence led to the incineration of 3600 people. That and all the other havoc they've wreaked so far justifies ending the mission.

This childish 'it might not be our fault' mentality was implausible. Like Starfleet would care who is at fault. Like Archer would be consumed by guilt. Come on.

Then again, maybe they are trying to appeal to audience of 13-year-olds.
Cloudane - Tue, Jun 7, 2011 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
Well that was more like it. I actually got really into this, even if it does get a bit "wibbly wobbly timey wimey".

Apart from what has been mentioned.. I liked the infiltration of the Suliban ship. Everything just came together beautifully, it was like... sometimes you hear the term "waltzing in", it's almost like a literal definition of that. Too perfect? Perhaps. I call it a show of professional Starfleet competence, I got a feel that they were extremely well trained and well prepared and it just makes a nice change seeing it flow so well.

Of course then everything gets turned upside down. The strength of this episode relies, as per, on Part 2 not being a clunker (which sadly they usually are in Trek).

I think perhaps it'd been a meatier story if it really was their fault the atmosphere went kaboom and spent the episode exploring in full the consequences and the fight to continue the mission, but I have no complaints about the direction it took.

A great finale to an otherwise mediocre season though, here's hoping for better in season 2.
chris - Tue, Oct 18, 2011 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
"A great finale to an otherwise mediocre season "

I totally agree with this statement, and I am already convinced to buy and watch season 2.

It is me or this was the very 1st episode where Archer said the word "dismissed"???
Captain Jim - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 10:00pm (USA Central)
Fantastic episode. I'm firmly convinced that some of you are already convinced you're going to hate every episode before you ever watch it.
Rosario - Fri, Nov 9, 2012 - 4:32pm (USA Central)
I'm convinced I'm going to hate it before I even watch but I still enjoyed this one. Well the beginning with Archer guilt-tripping was sort of meh and the whole, "we're stuck in the future" bit at the end had my eyes rolling right out of their sockets but when Archer got his info he acted perfectly like a quarterback who had just been magically handed the playbook of the opposing team with every play they were going to use. In order. The middle acts are fantastic as for once the crew really clamps down and stops asking questions, just acts professional, gets it done and kicks ass.

No one else saw any 9-11 parellels? The whole, "we followed protocols!" thing seemed obvious to me. I dunno but before the sci-fi kicked into high gear with time travel, the episode seemed to paint a small, sympathetic picture of a guilt-ridden George W. But, then we time travel. Small picture.
Rosario - Fri, Nov 9, 2012 - 4:39pm (USA Central)
Jammer: "If there's one tiny detail or even molecule out of place, the timeline is thus significantly changed in ways that can no longer be predicted "

I agree, the very presence of the time traveller contaminates the timeline. Out of curiosity I checked a website that I enjoy about time travel theories, specifically, making them work within popular sci-fi. According to that site, Run Lola Run isn't actually about time travel but more about the choices we make and how they affect our lives. I tend to agree with him there. Not very sci-fi or really about the time travel. But, all the same I know what you mean and agree with it's essence.

"mjyoung.net/time/terminat.html"

That article helped me to enjoy Terminator as genuine sci-fi rather than just an action movie. Fantastic stuff if you can get through it!
John the younger - Sun, Dec 9, 2012 - 9:48am (USA Central)
Eeeeeeeeasily the best episode of what was an otherwise mind-numbingly dull season.

3.5 for me.
Mahmoud - Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - 10:53pm (USA Central)
I guess I'm the only one that thought this was a good episode but didn't like that the show went there...

The problem with a "temporal cold war" plot is that it's pretty much designed with The Reset Button (TM) built right in, something we've all come to hate from Voyager. But that's not my problem. My problem is that this plotline could be used for any sci-fi series. There's so much more that befits a prequel to Star Trek than a generic timetravel good-guy/bad-guy action flick.

I wanted Enterprise to be like some of the politics-heavy episodes out of BSG. We're looking at the birth of The Federation, humanity's coming into age in a world of many species and galaxies full of different people. So much potential, so many backstories to fill in, so many different plotlines that could have been travelled; but alas....
Cloudane - Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - 5:39am (USA Central)
Jim says "I'm firmly convinced that some of you are already convinced you're going to hate every episode before you ever watch it."

Heh... there's a ring of truth to that. I'd heard from everyone else how terrible Enterprise was (and how mediocre Voyager was) and went in with low expectations.

Overall I was not a fan of ENT at all, looking back. Especially a certain arc that drags itself out through season 3 and magnifies the least desirable aspects of a certain character I already didn't like much (American anger over 9/11 just had to be channelled through Trek. Forget all the Trekkian principles and morality, the eagle is angry! Bleh.) But like any Trek series it had its golden moments that make me glad to be able to say I've seen every single Trek episode - this is one of them.
Shane - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 5:39am (USA Central)
"If you don't comply, I have permission to destroy Enterprise."

"How do I know you won't destroy Enterprise anyway?"

"Captain Archer is no longer aboard Enterprise."

Ugh. I HATE that clunky dialog. The writer's insistence that everyone to refer to it solely as Enterprise no matter what is so damned annoying to me.

Toss in an occasional "the Enterprise", "the ship", or "my ship" dammit!

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer