Star Trek: Enterprise

"Future Tense"

3 stars

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™. 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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23 comments on this review

Fri, Dec 17, 2010, 11:54am (UTC -5)
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.".
Sun, Aug 28, 2011, 4:18pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, May 25, 2012, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
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.
Captain Jim
Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 9:34pm (UTC -5)
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.
Captain Jim
Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
I meant to mention above, it seems that this mysterious spaceship was a genuine TARDIS. :)
Sat, Sep 15, 2012, 3:05am (UTC -5)
Eh, this episode was fine. I was just disappointed by the lack of a resolution. The ship just disappears. Huh. Cop out much writers?
Thu, Nov 8, 2012, 5:14am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, May 31, 2013, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
Yeah! I demand more realistic time travel and its biological effects in my science fiction shows! And what's the deal with transporter peanuts?
Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 4:36pm (UTC -5)
In which the Enterprise crew encounters their very own TARDIS.

Fun episode. Not groundbreaking, but a worthwhile use of an hour.
Fri, Apr 10, 2015, 8:12pm (UTC -5)
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.
W Smith
Sat, May 2, 2015, 1:44pm (UTC -5)
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.
mallory r
Tue, Jul 14, 2015, 8:49pm (UTC -5)
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.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Apr 16, 2016, 10:36am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Jun 13, 2016, 8:14am (UTC -5)
I was hoping that Tholians would spin their radiation force field from TOS again but alas not.
Fri, Jul 22, 2016, 6:30pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Jan 20, 2017, 10:49am (UTC -5)
I jjst realized the way you described the ship - it's the TARDIS from Doctor Who. Wait, what?
Mon, May 15, 2017, 10:36pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Nov 13, 2017, 9:45pm (UTC -5)
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
Wed, May 9, 2018, 4:13am (UTC -5)
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.
Jeffrey Montgomery
Wed, Aug 8, 2018, 8:34pm (UTC -5)
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
Sherman Jones
Thu, Mar 14, 2019, 8:55am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Mar 17, 2019, 4:17pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Jul 2, 2019, 11:57pm (UTC -5)
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...


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