Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 2/19/2003
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by James Whitmore Jr.
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Wondering about the future and knowing it are two different things."
"If Daniels came here and offered you a chance to go to the 31st century, you wouldn't take it?"
"Some things are better left a mystery."
"And you call yourself an explorer."
"Where's the fun in exploring if you know how it all turns out?"
— Trip and Malcolm
In brief: Hardly informative or conclusive, but pretty fun.
"Future Tense" returns us to the temporal cold war storyline, and delivers an entertaining, if inconclusive to the degree of meaninglessness, action/adventure plot. There's precious little to learn from watching this episode, but what it does it does fairly well and at a nice clip.
Let's face it: The object in question here — a mysterious, broken-down craft that's apparently from 900 years in the future, with a long-dead-and-decomposing human pilot — is simply this week's sci-fi MacGuffin. The Enterprise has it, everybody else wants it, and the chase is on. That we never find out what it means or why it's here is of little consequence. It could very well have been anything (say, for example, a deluxe temporal Sno-Cone maker); the only important thing is that ill-intended people will hunt the Enterprise down to get their hands on it.
It helps, however, that the MacGuffin feels like part of the milieu and exhibits Weird Sci-Fi Properties. There's a strangeness factor to some of the proceedings that gives this episode its appeal, and unlike "Shockwave, Part II," there's a sort of believable flow to the story and its weirdness; it doesn't feel like the plot is forcing itself from a cliffhanger to an obviously predetermined resolution. Both beginning and end seem less preordained, and the story doesn't have to jump through credibility-straining hoops to get where it's going. Well, not too many, anyway.
The Enterprise tows the ship into the launch bay for analysis. There's initially a nice little Trek-lore nod here: The crew briefly considers the possibility that the human corpse is that of Zefram Cochrane, who went on a lone mission decades ago and was never heard from again. It's sort of an interesting little snippet of speculation. The dead pilot is taken to sickbay for an autopsy. Phlox discovers that, in addition to being human, the pilot also has Vulcan DNA, among several other species. Phlox's conclusions indicate the pilot has a lineage of generations of interspecies breeding — something impossible in the current year solely because of the fact humans have only known the Vulcans for 90 years, not to mention the DNA patterns of other species.
Then, when the Suliban show up staking a claim to this craft, Archer beings suspecting the only logical explanation to these developments are that the craft is from the future. T'Pol continues to be extremely skeptical of anything related to time travel, which becomes a minor annoyance; I would think the body of evidence in front of her plus "simple logic" would lead her to decide that the Vulcan Science Directorate's conclusion that time travel is impossible is at the very least subject to some new scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Trip and Malcolm enter the small craft to further study the situation and realize — in what is one of the show's better moments of weirdness — that the ship is larger on the inside than on the outside. They open a hatch that in theory should exit through the bottom of the craft, but instead it opens up into a whole lower deck. How this is physically accomplished is never explained or even theorized, for which I am grateful. I was in agreement with Reed on his initial reaction: "You're not going down there!"
And Trip's decision to, yes, go down there and look around is made amusingly believable through his dry, what-the-heck approach ("Gotta get my spanner back"). I'm not so sure it's a bright idea — at the very least, they should contact the captain and explain what they're seeing — but it tracks with what these two characters have done in the past when unwisely crawling themselves into potentially dangerous situations. (Remember when they crawled through an air shaft to try to find the main computer in "Dead Stop"?) It's kind of funny how in these situations Trip is always the leader and Malcolm is the reluctant but ultimately relenting follower.
Later, there's some more weirdness to witness when Trip and Malcolm find themselves repeating the same moment in time when they are near the spacecraft. This is again not explained or theorized aside from that it's some sort of time-shattering effect caused by close proximity to the craft. While this is not fresh material, the presentation was oddly enough depicted that it caught me off guard and piqued my interest. The effect is one of two people experiencing deja vu and both slowly coming to the realization that time is actually looping rather than being an anomaly of perception. I liked the eerie realization of the third trip through.
Indeed, Trip and Malcolm get many of the show's better scenes, including a mildly philosophical discussion on whether it's a good thing to know about the future. Trip argues in favor of the unknown destiny while Malcolm wouldn't mind having certain answers given to him in advance. This scene, which is philosophic in a very easy and straightforward way, manages to debate time travel in simple human terms that are nonetheless interesting. It's low key and well acted; I like.
Also in this episode is the series' first use of the Tholians. Long-time fans will of course recognize the mysterious Tholians from the TOS episode, "The Tholian Web." The Tholians always had cool ships, even in 1968, and bringing them to the party on Enterprise could prove interesting. At the very least, the Tholian ships — sleek and pointed — seem like they belong in a modern Star Trek production with current special effects and sound design. There's no sign of the famous "web" here, but like the Suliban and their pod vessels, the Tholians are another foe that operates on swarm mentality. The episode leaves them shrouded in mystery (we hear them but don't see them, and we don't know why they want the ship) but is clear that they are somehow involved in the temporal cold war mess. Here's hoping this leads somewhere in future episodes.
Eventually there's a battle between the swarm of Tholians and the swarm of Suliban while the Enterprise sits in the middle, apparently seen as the victor's prize. This is a somewhat clever way for the episode to feature pyrotechnics without requiring the Enterprise to take implausibly serious damage.
Noteworthy is how this episode shows Archer making a command decision and trying to see that decision through. His belief — not an unreasonable one — is that because the mysterious craft has a human pilot, it's his responsibility to fully investigate the matter and make sure this apparent piece in the temporal war doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Just what would happen should it fall into the wrong hands — or the right hands, for that matter — is a prospect that, let's face it, the story is not about to answer. What's important is that it puts Archer in a position where he's risking his ship and crew for the uncertain possibility of getting answers, as well as the crew of a Vulcan ship, which is set to rendezvous with the Enterprise and provide support from the pursuing enemies.
T'Pol asks Archer point-blank if this is a risky stand he should even be making considering the number of unknowns. Archer believes that it is, but he's only willing to go so far before taking alternative action with Time Running Out [TM]. In addition to Trip's technical mission to activate a homing beacon that would presumably allow the ship to be retrieved through time by the "right" people, there's also the backup plan of putting a bomb in the craft and blowing it up so it ends up in nobody's hands.
This leads to another idea I kind of enjoyed, where Archer and Reed find themselves once again dismantling a bomb a la "Minefield." But since they take apart the torpedo while standing right next to the temporal craft, you see, they find themselves in a time loop where they dismantle the bomb three times while time everywhere else is running at a normal rate — sort of a temporal twist on the Time Running Out plot device. This is all admittedly pretty silly, but I was amused by Archer's matter-of-factly delivered line upon restarting the bomb disassembly for the third time: "Let's hope we've got it down by now."
On the less tech-headed side, I must again voice my distaste for the level of arrogance in this series' version of the Vulcans. There's some running dialog here where T'Pol basically dismisses out of hand the possibility of children born from a human/Vulcan couple. (As Archer puts it, apparently we'd just be an offensive pollutant to their superior genome.) Gee, whatever happened to the Vulcan subscription to Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations? Apparently, the concept has not been invented in the 22nd century (sneer). Oh, well — at least we know we'll be good enough for them within roughly the next hundred years. Perhaps the future of Enterprise as a series will be to establish the Vulcans as people that have respectable qualities rather than so many insulting ones. I look forward to such open-mindedness.
Anyway, this episode gets the job done, supplies some mysteries, and introduces some new players. But I'd also stress that for all the 'splosions, sci-fi craziness, and references to the temporal cold war, this is a plot that doesn't supply much that's tangible in terms of the temporal cold war storyline. It's more a means to an ends — the means being the storyline and the end being sci-fi action. An ideal situation, of course, would probably have those particular elements of means and end reversed.
But as sci-fi action goes, "Future Tense" is enough fun and puts forward enough teasers to be worth the time spent watching it. If that's what you're looking for, you could do far worse.
Next week: A prison colony known as (Begin Big Trailer Title) CANAMAR.