Star Trek: Enterprise

“Future Tense”

3 stars.

Air date: 2/19/2003
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by James Whitmore Jr.

"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

Review Text

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™. 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.

Previous episode: Cease Fire
Next episode: Canamar

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Comment Section

37 comments on this post

    I generally liked this episode. But, I was really turned off by all the "Vulcans and humans can't mate! That's ridiculous!" talk going on. I felt it was brought up way too many times. It was is the writers were physically nudging me in the rib cage and adding on a "har har" every time it was mentioned. I mean, seriously, it felt like they were five seconds away from flashing a giant subtitle at the end that would read "SPOCK WAS HALF HUMAN! Remember?" followed by one thay says "That's why all this pointless dialogue is funny! We, the writers are so clever to use all this denial in a prequel. You love it.".

    This episode is one of the only ones that made me feel really foolish - when Trip and Malcolm repeated themselves, I skipped forward a little because I thought something was wrong with the video file.

    I just loved the closing lines:
    "I wonder if they'll believe that humans and vulcans will be swapping chromosomes one day"
    "they're more likely to believe in time travel."
    We may not agree with the attitudes displayed, but the use of humour in this series can sometimes be dead-on :)

    Thing is, it got interesting then.... ended. Wut? I expect continuation.

    Loved the reminders of Cause & Effect with the time loop, and that it was just as well directed IMO. Indeed, when you blink and _realise_ you're watching a time loop happen (rather than being told) you know it's done well.

    A nod to Doctor Who? It's bigger on the inside, it time travels, the person inside (dead? Nooooo!) is part human...

    Is it a good thing to know about the future? Heavens, no. I'd have loved that to be explored more. E.g. if they knew that next week the ship would explode and they'd all die. Would you want to know that? I sure wouldn't!

    Anyway I enjoyed it. Wasn't perfect. Gets a 3 from me.

    Cloudane said, "A nod to Doctor Who? It's bigger on the inside, it time travels."

    Hard to imagine that it isn't. :)

    And, of course, to find out what *really* happened to the missing Zefram Cochrane, one needs to watch TOS episode, "Metamorphosis."

    I found Future Tense to be a fun and foreboding episode. Three stars is about right.

    I meant to mention above, it seems that this mysterious spaceship was a genuine TARDIS. :)

    Eh, this episode was fine. I was just disappointed by the lack of a resolution. The ship just disappears. Huh. Cop out much writers?

    The writers of Star Trek seems to have the misguided conception that the mind and the body are separate. It really annoys me, in this episode as well as others (TNG's Cause and Effect comes to mind) that the crew always goes 'duh I think we did this all before!'. It's a time loop god damn it! Why would the human brain somehow be insulated from time!? If it's reset, it's reset - brain and all. There would be no memory of anything that happened before. Grrrr... really detracts from the enjoyment of the story.

    Yeah! I demand more realistic time travel and its biological effects in my science fiction shows! And what's the deal with transporter peanuts?

    In which the Enterprise crew encounters their very own TARDIS.

    Fun episode. Not groundbreaking, but a worthwhile use of an hour.

    I don't know if its the after effects of a couple of Andromeda episodes but this was a reasonably succesful outing and kept me entertained throughout. Average but acceptable.

    It's getting tiring that they keep making Vulcans looks terrible, now being portrayed as bigots for their anti-miscegenation views. Vulcans are/were one of the most beloved aliens on Trek, and Enterprise is just angering long-time Trek fans with this mistreatment. Another reason why fans started to abandon the show in the second season.
    The Tholilan ships were cool, but was there ever any follow-up with them? The plot was more entertaining than usual, but no resolution at the end was kind of frustrating.

    I thought it was amusing how they throw caution to the wind, both in opening and exploring the vessel. I can't keep believing, howeve, that they are so short staffed that their chief tactical officer is helping Trip with little mechanical projects. Hand me the screwdriver, etc. I love Malcom but I'd rather see him in his own element... for example, shirtless and practicing martial arts.

    Once again the show runs out of time before anything can develop. Everyone looks pretty bored except T'Pol, who probably is picking up more than a human accent.

    Enjoyed this a lot. Fast paced, exciting, intriguing elements, even if ultimately a little unsatisfying. I particularly enjoyed the direction of the first time loop, I also thought there was a technical problem with the DVD at first! Nicely done. 3 stars.

    I was hoping that Tholians would spin their radiation force field from TOS again but alas not.

    Maguffins aren't that bad.... hell, I just watched Star Trek Beyond!

    Ha! Great stand alone episode here!!

    The Tholian's kicking some Suliban ass!! :-) I would have been disappointed had that not happened.

    All good fun. Exciting twists and turns... fast pace...

    I really felt like NX-01 and crew where in a WTF senario!

    3.5 stars from me.

    I jjst realized the way you described the ship - it's the TARDIS from Doctor Who. Wait, what?

    This is a cool episode. Seeing the Tholians back (I recall a line about their world being like 200 degrees and them being non-humanoid) is great and watching them kick the Suliban was pretty cool.
    More of this Temporal Cold War -- just seems to create some interesting stories but without any answers. Not sure how much longer that can go on. It's fine to leave some things hanging for 1 or 2 episodes but we should get some more clarity.
    I don't know what purpose the little time loops were for. I did do a double-take with Trip and Malcolm the first time. For now, it seem almost a non-sequitur.
    But the writers have been getting away with this TCW and conveniently ending episodes with stuff disappearing (corpse and ship in this case at the end).
    But one of the things Trek is missing is more non-humanoid aliens - which would up the sci-fi factor. Good to bring back the Tholians. Wonder what role they'll play going forward, if any. Did they disable the Vulcan ship?
    I too don't understand why T'Pol and the Vulcans are so narrow-minded about time travel.
    A pretty interesting episode from start to finish, but would like more answers on the TCW. Still, 3/4 stars for me.

    2.5 stars

    A so so episode. I appreciated that the show tried to pull off a TNG sci fi type mystery.

    The mystery elements were intriguing. Adding a new TCW faction with Thr Tholians was cool. Liked the way the crew thought pilot may be Zeohram Cochrane but ultimately the payoff to the mystery was anticlimactic and go hum. And didn’t care for the Cause and Effect stuff in the cargo bay and the battle at end was rather ordinary

    I liked that you never found out why the ship was there or why it was so important to the Tholians and the Suliban. It helped to create a sense that the Enterprise crew were trying to make the best decisions based on very little information about an hidden conflict of vast importance. Episodes like this help to build a sense of mystery about the Temporal Cold War - mystery that I hope is eventually resolved in a satisfying way.

    Just in case no one is into the games this ties into a few of the Temporal operative stories in Star Trek Online. And yes Daniels and Kal Dano (the mixed species human) is part of it. Also the entire Temporal Cold War is relived through that game

    3.5 stars.

    The things I might add is that this should have been a 2 episode story. The Tholians seemed to want the vessel gone since they left at the end. Not enough exploration of the extra space inside the vessel. No consequences of the Sulliban ships being destroyed. The Vulcan ship was unnecessarily added unless 2 part series. 40 minutes to cram this in.

    Good story though with action.

    Decent episode, with time travel episodes I always have more questions than are answered. All in all, I was enteretained, pace was pretty good, regulars acted convincingly. I would have been happy to have this spread over 2 episodes to explore the cold war and develop more of the Tholian and Sulibans arc.

    What mystifies me about this episode:

    Once Trip got the beacon working on the mysterious craft from the future, the location of the ship would have been known throughout all time.

    ...So, why couldn't the people in the future simply reach back just a little further and retrieve the vessel even before the Suliban or the Enterprise found it? After all, they had a fix on its general location and point of existence in time, so it should not be particularly hard to extrapolate its location a day or so prior to that...


    “Entertaining but meaningless” sounds about right. What was the ship’s purpose? Why did it end up in the 22nd century? Why do the Suliban and Tholians want it? *shrug* The point here is to deliver sci-fi weirdness, and the episode succeeds on that level. Plus, it’s fun to see the Enterprise caught in the middle of a shootout where we have no idea what anyone wants or why it’s happening. Fitting for a show about humanity taking our first steps into a broader world far beyond our understanding.

    What pushes this into three-star territory for me is the low-key, enjoyable Trip / Malcolm friendship. As Jammer points out, their dynamic is just like “Dead Stop,” fitting because both episodes are written by Sussman / Strong. I’m sure the nod to “Minefield” with Archer and Malcolm defusing the bomb is deliberate too.

    And I personally didn’t mind the winking references to future human / Vulcan coupling (i.e. Spock). I like that T’Pol shows some resistance to the idea biologically and philosophically. That way, there’s room for growth and showing T’Pol / the Vulcans reaching a more enlightened perspective. I personally have always appreciated Enterprise’s take on the Vulcans, in theory if not always in practice. The point is to show them at an earlier stage than we’re used to in the 23rd and 24th centuries, just like humanity, and demonstrate that all societies grow and change. If they’re enlightened already, where’s the story?

    I spent most of this episode being angry at how stupid they're being. They've dealt with any number of weird contagions and mysterious gases in their explorations, so they should know to be careful. They even have that whole decontamination chamber.

    But when they find a derelict pod, they just take it into Enterprise and open it up. The hull even blocked them from sscaninginside! They have no idea what's in there. Could be a chlorine armosphere or something. Could be that whatever made it go derelict is still lurking inside, too. But no, they just stand around it with no protective gear and open it up.

    Then later with the Trip and Malcolm scenes, they're not even wearing gloves. They're just touching everything (including objects covered in strange fluids) with their bare hands. It was icky to watch.

    But I guess the writers had told them that this was not a "mysterious disease" episode so they had nothing to worry about.

    Trip is a horrible leader/commander. It seems like he only has his position because he is friends with Archer.

    The ship was the McGuffin of the week, yes, but we're kinda handed out a couple very plausible answers to the two questions that keep on being asked here:

    · What was the ship’s purpose? Why did it end up in the 22nd century?
    A ship that is basically impossible to detect but does NOT have Cloaking technology (so, no angry Romulans if the ship is found in the 24th century, give or take a hundred years) with a single occupant, no weapons at all (as far as has been shown in the episode)... It almost sounds like one of those hidden observatories we saw in TNG, where the Federation tries to observe pre-warp civilizations without contaminating their development.

    It even helps a bit that Daniels specifically mentioned (and Archer repeated in this episode) historians doing EXACTLY this, following strict protocols. Why, the ship even had its own recall beacon McGuffin within the McGuffin- obviously, something went wrong, but it kinda looks like this is what it was designed for.

    · Why do the Suliban and Tholians want it?
    As was stated in Shockwave, not all factions of the Temporal Cold War hail from the same century, or have access to the same level of technology. The Cabal's leaders, for example, can communicate with the past, but they cannot actually travel.

    For the Tholians, we're told within this very episode they're likely to be members of yet another faction... They did not want the ship destroyed, so their motives weren't to keep it off other's hands, so they likely wanted it, too, for the same reason.

    I mean, the episode is entertaining enough not to really need to answer all questions; but some, like these, are actually answered.... Within the limits of the information that the Enterprise has access to. Maybe not definite told-to-your-face-by-Q-himself answers.... But educated guesses made by the characters based on all that's happened before, nonetheless.

    For those who mused about the "bigger inside" capsule - the script for this episode literally says in a comment, "Let's start calling it a Tardis, shall we?" and refers to it that way from then on.

    I’d give this one 3.5 stars. Maybe it was just nice to step out of the pool of mediocrity that was season 2 and see something relatively fresh. Yes, some of the themes are familiar but at least it shows glimmers of the Enterprise taking its place in the larger tapestry of the show, and not just a means to an end.

    Having seen it before, two things stood out to me this time. 1) Archer's always talking about how their mission is space exploration. Well, this is one of those episodes in which the exploration is less about space, and more about time, and elements associated with it. And this time, Archer does not get help from Daniels in person as before--just through Daniels' database from the future--so it's up to Archer to decide what to do. And 2) when T'Pol and Phlox are dining and she asks him if he believes in time travel, he replies, "Surprises, Sub-Commander. I believe in embracing surprises". That's what I think a lot of this episode was about--surprises and the unknown, questions without answers. Some of the previous commenters asked, about the ending when the ship disappears, "Is that it, is that all?" The Memory Alpha Star Trek site says, "The ending of the episode was not exactly what co-writer Mike Sussman had hoped for. In an earlier version, a time traveling character from the 31st century (similar to Crewman Daniels) appeared on the bridge at the end of the episode. He claimed the time ship and the body inside, revealing to the crew that the corpse was actually his. This unnamed character also gave Archer some additional clues about the Temporal Cold War and the Tholians' role in it before departing".

    So just saw the episode for first time and the thing that stuck out most was the speed. They are traveling at wrap yet the Vulcan ship which was 600,000km away takes almost 20 seconds to get to. Speed of light (Warp 1) would take two seconds but wrap 5 took several times as long,

    Almost as bad as when someone will call out a time say 10 sec to impact and 20 seconds later they call out 5 sec to impact

    A great episode! I love these timey-whimey plots! I think it was also neat to bring in the Tholians. And to make them a bigger threat, or more dangerous, as implied by how they handily beat the Suliban, who are so far seen as the big baddies of this show.

    Amtep: "Could be a chlorine armosphere or something. Could be that whatever made it go derelict is still lurking inside, too. But no, they just stand around it with no protective gear and open it up."

    Yes - this episode needed, instead of Malcolm and Tripp, to swap in the Sam Rockwell and Tony Shaloub characters from Galaxy Quest!

    (Then just re-use the GC dialog from when the shuttle landed on the planet....)

    Thumbs down:
    Archer, Trip, Malcolm bringing an unknown and unscannable ship onboard. Trip and Malcolm exploring without any backup or fallback plan.

    Archer leaving the bridge during a battle to help Malcolm. Surely there's someone else equally qualified to help and less critical to the ship.

    Thumbs up:
    The surprise of seeing the Vulcan ship disabled. The plot did a good job of building them as the savior -- to see them out of action was a shock.

    Leaving the meaning of the ship a mystery. Don't cover over the TCW with technobabble.


    I guess I don’t mind Enterprise copy-catting TNG stories, but they are very poor facsimiles!

    The deja vu poker scene in “Cause and Effect” cannot be beat!

    I enjoyed this ep regardless. Thumbs up!

    I liked the whole screwed up spatial geometry within the ship thing. I wonder what would have happened of they had blasted a hole in the hull with a phaser when they were down in that secret chamber? Would they be in the cargo bay then, or was it in another dimension? The rest of the plot was a little too confusing to follow though, maybe it's just me, 3.5 stars.

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