Star Trek: Enterprise

"Silent Enemy"


Air date: 1/16/2002
Written by Andre Bormanis
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You looking forward to seeing Earth?"
"Sure. I just didn't think I'd be seeing it so soon."
"This time we won't be leaving before we're ready."
"Are your ears a little pointier than usual?"

— Archer and Tucker

In brief: Quite average. Moments of mild interest alternating with moments worth shrugging at.

"Silent Enemy" might as well be called "The MacGuffin Enemy," because that's what the enemy here is — a big MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is, of course, simply a device that could be anything or anyone, as long as it serves its purpose of propelling the characters into action through the story. The silent aliens here are an excellent example of a MacGuffin because they're, well, silent. By definition, there's no depth to them because they never say anything. Archer talks to them, but they're not listening.

Eventually, they attack with no reason or warning, and after firing a few shots and damaging the Enterprise, they scurry off. Later they come back and attack again. They strike without provocation or any known motivation. This very silent enemy serves as a device to make Captain Archer realize that the Enterprise simply cannot adequately defend itself, which is a prudent realization considering recent encounters with better-armed foes like those in "Civilization" or "Fortunate Son." I for one am glad to see the matter directly acknowledged with dialog.

One of the show's key moments is when Archer realizes that it's time for the Enterprise to turn around and head back to Jupiter Station, where the ship's weapons systems can be finished. Phase cannons were supposed to be installed before the Enterprise was launched, but apparently there was no time once the events of "Broken Bow" forced a quick departure of the ship.

But hold on a second. Wasn't the ship finished and ready to go — and in fact being held back by the Vulcans — for some time before the incident at Broken Bow, Oklahoma, even happened? It would seem the writers are revising originally implied intentions for the benefit of the story at hand · which, I concede, is a necessary thing in developing a television series. It just needs to be done carefully. I suppose this is just careful enough.

Trip tells Archer that his engineering crew has the skill and manpower to install the phase cannons themselves. Archer permits the attempted in-house upgrade but still plans on heading for home for fine-tuning. Archer's attitude is a sensible one — if we're going to be out here we should get it right — which seems like a bit of a different attitude compared to what he might've done a few months back. Perhaps he's been learning the value of caution. Which is good; I like that.

Of course, one logical question becomes just why Trip's engineering teams haven't been chipping away at the task of bringing the phase cannons online for weeks if not months already. They've been out here long enough to know what kinds of dangers they're up against. To suddenly realize here, "Uh-oh, we're really outgunned!" and finally starting to make upgrades only when seriously threatened seems awfully shortsighted, especially since the upgrades aren't presented as a jury-rigged solution but rather a plan all along.

The issue of whether turning around is necessary is made moot by the fact that the silent enemy has a faster ship and pursues the Enterprise regardless of its retreat, attacking it again. They damage one of the warp nacelles, making it impossible for the Enterprise to run, and they board the ship (the aliens are portrayed through an intriguing CG design) for reasons that seem to extend beyond simple curiosity and come across with more sinister overtones. Archer chases them off with a phase-pistol blast, but it seems more like they leave voluntarily than because they feel threatened.

I sort of liked the presentation of this mysterious, silent enemy — in technique anyway. They have a very "alien" sense to them in the way they pounce and then inexplicably retreat. On the other hand, it's impossible to make anything of them; they are, in the end, MacGuffins with no hint of insight or meaning provided by the writers. That may be the point, but the writers also make no sense of their bizarre hit-and-run tactics. Their attack methods seem to be providing a convenient way for the writers to artificially regulate the story's pace. Did this bother me a lot? Not really, but I also didn't find the whole series of exercises all that interesting.

The story's underlying message becomes one of old-fashioned persistence and hard work in the face of a challenging situation. Trip has his engineers working around the clock to get the phase-cannons working in preparation for the next assault. This leads to some scenes that I liked, such as the discussion between Archer and Trip about taking risks, which is then reflected in the interaction between Trip and Reed on how big a risk cutting technological corners can be.

And speaking of Malcolm Reed, "Silent Enemy" finally tries to look at this guy in terms of character development. He's so far been very limited in what we know about him, and, indeed, Archer says exactly that to Trip, after realizing that nobody really knows much about Malcolm. The line almost plays like a shrewd acknowledgement on the part of the writers, as if to say, "We don't know anything about this guy either and it's time to tackle him."

Alas, the writers think of nothing remotely approaching deep significance for him. Archer assigns Hoshi to find out what Reed's favorite food is so they can surprise him for his birthday — not exactly the most compelling or hard-hitting idea ever hatched. Hoshi finds this assignment more difficult than initially thought, because Reed is something of a keep-to-himself loner — pleasant but not at all outgoing, and a hard worker. Hoshi talks to Malcolm's parents on Earth, and to his old academy friends — and finds out little that's useful because he isn't the type to have strongly voiced preferences.

This is not unpleasant in any way, and I'm glad the writers tried to take a look at where this guy came from — but it's just too lightweight, essentially telling us there's nothing interesting to find in Reed's past. I suppose the intention here is to reveal Reed as an everyman, a worker. But we don't actually learn much about him, and when shoehorned between more pressing scenes involving the mysterious alien attacks and the weapon upgrades, Reed's story quickly loses urgency and relevance. I found myself asking why in the world Hoshi was assigned to such a trivial research project with everything else that was going on.

The "everything else" here is of more focus and ultimately hinges on a slightly botched weapons test that's akin to firing a gun and being shocked by the severity of the recoil. I liked Archer's steely resolve in not being intimidated by aliens who refuse to negotiate and insist on mind games. He tells them in no uncertain terms that the Enterprise will stand and fight if need be, and armed with the new cannons, the ship is more prepared to back up Archer's determination with action.

The ending finds itself in a bit of a tricky situation involving how powerful the writers can permit these cannons to be. During the initial test, the powerful discharge was a malfunction that resulted in damage to the ship. When working properly as designed, these cannons are still not powerful enough to penetrate the enemy's energy shields, so Trip and Reed must find a way to overload them without damaging ship systems. I like the idea of an improvised solution, but the solution here is one of those dreaded technobabble contrivances that is heavy on meaningless jargon and lacking in real drama. A better ending might've figured out a way for the crew to get their big bang, but at an actual cost rather than with free magic.

In the final analysis, I'm giving a thumbs-sideways to this episode, because there's nothing really about it that jumps out about it one way or the other. It held my attention and addressed the important issue of weapons upgrades. It took a character and dealt with him, even though there was little in terms of depth and the biggest question turned out to be, "What's his favorite food?" (The answer is pineapple for those keeping score.) I'm glad to see the supporting characters getting mixed into the Enterprise balance, but I think we need to ask much tougher questions than that.

Footnote: "Silent Enemy" was scored by Velton Ray Bunch, a new composer to the Trek franchise who previously did work for the Bakula-starring series Quantum Leap. I haven't formed an opinion of his style as of yet, but some new blood on the composing tier is probably a good thing. Enterprise also continues to employ long-standing TV Trek composers Dennis McCarthy, Jay Chattaway, David Bell, and Paul Baillargeon.

Next week: Phlox looks to be getting the spotlight with a pre-Prime Directive issue.

Previous episode: Cold Front
Next episode: Dear Doctor

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19 comments on this review

Sat, Apr 18, 2009, 6:43pm (UTC -5)
"which seems like a bit of a different attitude compared to what he might've done a few months back. Perhaps he's been learning the value of caution. Which is good; I like that."

I liked this episode precisely because for the first time in Trek we actually have a character evolving and growing reasonably relating to his new found fascinating environment. Archer changes from happy go lucky Starship captain to angst ridden commander. Unfortunately for the rest of the series, we get more and more of this, until Archer gets real bitter and starts torturing people (the 'Bush' effect). But it's incredible to risk the central character, and I don't think it has been done like this before. Certainly Kirk and Picard were nearly always the same from start to finish. Sisko found a bit of religion and Janeway apparently got a bit more tough. But it is definitely unusual.
Tue, Aug 11, 2009, 4:21pm (UTC -5)
Well, "macguffin" (however you spell it) or not, the aliens stood out in this episode. I have to correct one comment that you made; you see, the aliens *were* listening, chillingly proven in their 'cut and paste' use of Archer's own statement to declare that Enterprise is defenseless, and that they should surrender.
Sat, Dec 12, 2009, 3:18am (UTC -5)
Well at least at this episode there were some real aliens that means aliens that were alien and not some humanoids with a slightly different nose. And their goals were also really alien that means not understandable and so it felt a little Trek. I think that the Reed b story was trivial and uninteresting. It would be better if the alien story was the only one.
JakE TaYLoR # 7
Fri, Jun 25, 2010, 3:13am (UTC -5)
Overall one of the more enjoyable viewing of Enterprise for me, just starting at season 1 on I felt the Reed backstory to be uninteresting, but was fascinated by the aliens enough to hold interest in the story. I find it odd that they are dropping the communication ECHO relays since i don't understand the purpose of them. It seems like Archer chats real time w Admiral Forrest all the time. Something thats always bugged me. GR mentioned not to treat space as small. I didn't understand the technobabble about why the cannons didn't overload the systems again, but who would? I hope to see more of these aliens in the future, and am glad they aren't just another bumpy forhead humanoid. I give it 2 and a half popcorns!
Marco P.
Thu, Sep 9, 2010, 8:42pm (UTC -5)
Jammer wrote: "It would seem the writers are revising originally implied intentions for the benefit of the story at hand ยท which, I concede, is a necessary thing in developing a television series. It just needs to be done carefully. I suppose this is just careful enough."

Disagree with you there. If anything, this is further evidence that no clear technological, sociological, or even character setting has been developed for this series prior to its launch. The writers are basically winging it, changing key pieces of information as we go along to suit the weekly script, and even when they make the effort to (supposedly) build the background of a main character the result feels... hollow (Reed in this episode being an example). So Malcolm Reed likes to keep to himself and pineapple. Great. I suppose some people are like that. So? Why should I care? What makes Reed in any way interesting enough that the viewer would care to know a little bit more about his background? Other than, you know, "We don't know anything about this guy (...) and it's time to tackle him."

To steal an expression from Jammer, I was expecting a lot more "meat and potatoes".
Thu, Apr 21, 2011, 7:01pm (UTC -5)
The opening with the drop of the subspace repeater reminds me just how far CG had come at this point. It's pretty ironic that the series set the earliest is also the most technically advanced in terms of SFX. Needing these repeaters is also a nice little touch to remind us that this is the early days and things aren't as easy as they are in the 24th century.

As for the plots, with the aliens being so completely faceless I found the Reed story more interesting :/ To be fair, when it comes to these characters at the moment, every little scrap of information we can get is worthwhile, and it was kind of a cute story I guess.

I was still expecting him to say "Pineapple.... I... HATE pineapple". That would've been funnier :)
Sat, Oct 29, 2011, 1:12pm (UTC -5)
A super episode: Dynamic, unpredictable, different.

Too bad about the Reed B-story. Why do they insist on assimilating everyone into a Dr. Phil collective!? I would be seriously cheesed off if my colleagues at work started digging thru my personal life in order to throw me a surprise party. And to violate doctor-patient confidentiality is beyond unforgivable; it's criminal. Let Reed be Reed, for gossakes. Marco has the right idea: Who gives a s!@# about Reed's background, culinary tastes or relationship with his family?? You want that, watch Gilmore Girls. I hope Enterprise doesn't fall into the trap Voyager did, which drove me insane. "The Barge," anyone? *barf*

Good to see Archer de-wussifying himself and deciding to install some badass cannons on the ship as well as actually using them. The way he was going, I would have expected him to order the crew to paint a rainbow across the hull and shoot ticker tape at his enemies instead.
Joseph B
Sun, Aug 5, 2012, 8:19am (UTC -5)
I actually *really enjoyed* this ep! In particular, I loved the "alieness" of the aliens. There was some "technobabble" regarding the phase cannons, but it wasn't overdone.

The ship got an upgrade, Malcolm got an upside-down Pineapple cake, the aliens found out that humans actually are resourceful (Or *did* they? Part of the charm of the ep is that we couldn't figure out what the heck made the aliens "tick".) ... Heck, a solid "Three Stars" from me!
Tue, Aug 7, 2012, 7:45pm (UTC -5)
I watched the series when it was new and am going through again. I am actually impressed with how on the mark these are, or should I say on the arc. Writers are definitely preparing us for events and relationships down the road, much more than was done for Voyager. Oh, and I would be quite flattered if someone went to this much trouble to find out my favorite food.
Sun, Nov 4, 2012, 12:28pm (UTC -5)
I quite liked this episode, even the B story. It's nice to have a character who's introverted and yet not an asshole.

A few LOL moments with Reed's family: Archer's "As you probably know, your son's birthday is coming up." The dialogue in this show is sometimes really terrible. And when Reed's sweet sister asked Hoshi if she could talk to her brother and Hoshi told her no! Haha. Still a solid and enjoyable episode, with some good exposition and development.
Michael gives dry BJs
Thu, May 30, 2013, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
Bad even by Voyerprise standards.
Gary pleace
Mon, Nov 4, 2013, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
The scenes involving the alien boarding of Enterprise featured memorable suspense building cues. With all due respect to Mr McCarthy and co., most of the music on tv Trek in general seems formulaic and interchangeable and ultimately forgettable. Is the score for this episode available anywhere?
Fri, May 30, 2014, 8:32pm (UTC -5)
I liked the episode. It wasn't the best combination to let Hoshi keep on sleuthing while Enterprise was in such a dire situation, but Archer is prone to make such bad decisions. Too bad he didn't refer to Fortunate Son and that he had learned its lesson. Now you get the impression that boomers are not allowed to use violence against pirates, yet Archer can against similar hostile aliens. My guess is the writers have already forgotten that episode.
But it had suspense, real aliens and a feeling of being alone and far out. No need to have the Vulcans at two days away. Just be out there without any help at all. Finding your own solutions. Again, rather a fun episode IMO.
Tue, Jan 13, 2015, 8:26pm (UTC -5)
I liked this episode. Finally, really ALIEN ALIENS.

I liked how our inability to KNOW the aliens was mirrored to our inability to KNOW Reed.
Sun, Feb 8, 2015, 10:48pm (UTC -5)
Agree with Trent and Gary pleace - very well executed scenes with the boarding of Enterprise - again - despite its problems sometimes with scripts and story telling - ENT does still look really good.
Sun, May 31, 2015, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
If a bad guy is required to talk to be menacing, you must have *hated* the classic film Dual, arguably one of the most suspenseful pieces ever written, where the villain never utters a single word throughout the film.

I found this ep to be very good, with the exception of the B-story, which really dragged the rest of it down, but I find that happens quite often. It's a rare dual plot episode where both stories are equally good.
Wed, Jun 17, 2015, 11:12am (UTC -5)
I liked the episode, but from a realistic perspective it would have improved the episode to show Hoshi being forced to put off her "find Reed's favorite food" mission in the wake of the alien attacks. It seemed too unrealistic to me that Archer would have wanted her to keep on such a relatively trivial task after the first attack. For an analogous situation, imagine the captain of a US aircraft carrier at Midway doing this shortly after a bombing run on the Japanese fleet. Something tells me there wouldn't have been sufficient time beforehand to research favorite foods and make the dish, especially with wartime rationing going on. Not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea.

My ideal ending would have had them defeat the aliens, but leave the senior staff unable to hold more than a cursory birthday celebration for Reed due to the damage caused by the attacks as well as the phasers - er, I mean phase cannons overloading. Reed understands the situation but appreciates the gesture, helping to break the ice between him and the senior staff members. The episode as presented wrapped everything a bit too much in a neat little bow for my liking.

I did like the alien design - very creepy. A bit too MacGuffin at points, but it got the job done.

Still one of ENT's better offerings of season 1, and one I would watch again. 3 stars.
Diamond Dave
Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 3:42pm (UTC -5)
I liked this, even if it doesn't offer anything too deep at all. Just like the unresolved ending last time out, we're left here with no real clue as to who the aliens were and what their intentions were. Of course, in reality they're just a device to move the plot forward, but I enjoyed the fact that Archer has moved on from his gung-ho enthusiasm and realised that the Enterprise is actually a fairly small fish in a very big pond. It does show some interesting character development.

Elsewhere the shootiebangs were extremely impressive, and I rather enjoyed the Reed B-story. It's a brave and unusual writing move to give a major character no character at all, so fair play to them. 3 stars.
Mon, May 30, 2016, 4:33pm (UTC -5)
Really Dr. Phlox, you showed a screenful of your patient's medical records to a person who had no business viewing them, while acknowledging it wasn't exactly the right thing to do? For.. pineapple cake?

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