Cold FrontBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 29, 2001 - 4:18 AM GMT
See Also: 'Cold Front' Episode Guide
Plot Summary: When Enterprise enters a stellar nursery and encounters a group of aliens on a religious mission to witness a neutron burst, Archer invites the spiritual pilgrims to tour his ship. As Tucker gives them a tour of the warp reactor, one of the aliens sneaks away from the group and tears a conduit loose inside an antimatter junction. When the ship later encounters turbulence during a plasma storm, a power surge creates an antimatter cascade that nearly destroys Enterprise, but the deadly phenomenon stops when it reaches the broken conduit. Tucker insists that no one in engineering performed the life-saving alteration, and none of the aliens takes credit either.
Crewman Daniels asks to speak with Archer in private because he believes one of the religious pilgrims is Silik -- the Suliban whom Archer fought on the helix. Astounded, Archer listens as Daniels claims to be from 900 years in the future and shows the captain a portable temporal observatory that lets him keep an eye on the space-time continuum. Daniels says that he must discover who is giving Silik orders, for although he knows the people come from a century earlier than his own, he doesn't know why the 22nd century has become a front in the temporal cold war. Learning that Silik saved Enterprise by tampering with the warp conduit, Archer is reluctant to help capture him, but he orders T'Pol and Tucker to work with Daniels so he can track the Suliban.
While Daniels makes modifications in engineering with a device that lets him walk through walls, Silik attacks Archer in his quarters, claiming his pursuers are the ones trying to alter history. When the Suliban catches up with Daniels, he kills him, then removes the temporal observatory from his quarters. Using the futuristic equipment, Tucker tracks Silik, allowing Archer to confront the alien and destroy the device in a launch bay. But Silik opens the launch bay doors, sending both the equipment and most of the air out into space. He then leaps toward a small vessel flying past Enterprise. When Archer recovers from near-asphyxiation, he orders Daniels' quarters sealed off.
'Cold Front' is a superb episode from start to finish. What's best about it is the sense of continuity, not only with 'Broken Bow' but really all the episodes to date. There may be Suliban mucking with Enterprise's timeline, but the show's writers are doing a fine job with Enterprise's. Finally Trek tackles time travel without reset buttons, in an era when the entire concept seems like science fiction to the crew. The Vulcans don't even believe in it.
Archer deals well with the first major challenge to his command -- a guy from 900 years in the future who requests permission to use his ship to trap a bad guy who has apparently just saved them from destruction. The captain doesn't understand why Silik would rescue his ship after trying to kill him a couple months back; Daniels is either unable or unwilling to tell him, and we never get a satisfactory explanation. It's a good thing for Daniels that Silik behaved so badly the last time Archer met him, though, because Daniels himself inspires no trust. He can't stop smirking when he announces that he knows a lot more than Archer does about the Temporal Cold War and when he declares that he works for a group so top-secret, they don't even exist yet. His demeanor seems a cross between those of Q and Section 31's Sloan.
In the face of this remarkable crisis, Archer remains remarkably calm. He's a bit overwhelmed by his glimpse of the temporal observatory (one of the series' most enjoyable effects so far), but he's not particularly fazed by the discovery of a device that lets him walk through walls (ditto). I'm a bit disturbed by Archer's apparent lack of concern about how close his ship comes to destruction; Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway all would have spent hours trying to figure out if the antimatter cascade could have been rigged and how to prevent such problems in the future, even while dealing with time-traveling hostile aliens and a major spiritual astronomical phenomenon. Still, Archer is of a different era than those later captains, all of whom also would have been more wary after the sabotage about inviting the alien guests back onto the ship.
We see nice contrast between gung-ho Archer and travel-weary Fraddock, who schleps the religious aliens to the stellar nursery -- the only real excitement from Fraddock comes when he thinks maybe he can get a reward for figuring out who saved Enterprise. There's also strong balance among Archer, T'Pol and Tucker in their varying reactions to Daniels' assertion that he's from the future. Though he may not want to believe that the guy who serves him breakfast could be a time traveler, Archer never seems to doubt it after seeing the observatory, even though such a thing could be faked using technology of which Archer is unaware.
Although Tucker's the one who suggests it might be holograms, he's also enthusiastic about meeting people from other centuries and seems puzzled why T'Pol won't at least consider the possibility. The Vulcan reiterates her people's research to the contrary, voicing a question viewers are sure to ask as well -- why couldn't Daniels go one day back and prevent Silik from boarding Enterprise in first place? An open mind is different from believing something you want to be true, T'Pol insists. But she seems muted and doesn't resist when Archer orders her to help Daniels further his agenda, whatever it might turn out to be. It's too bad we don't get to hear her analysis of the device that lets people walk through walls -- proof that there are more things in heaven and space than are dreamt of in Vulcan philosophy.
Sato and Mayweather remain in the background of the main plot, but they're solid, entertaining supporting players this time who provide welcome humor, and the actors all seem to be having a great time. Neither of them enjoy the screening of Night of the Killer Androids on movie night (thank goodness -- no Captain Proton on Enterprise), and they have a healthy desire to check out the big chair on the bridge. Reed's a bit of a spoilsport -- on the one hand he doesn't give Archer enough credit to keep the aliens away from the armory, but on the other hand he's absolutely right that offering tours of the ship provides ample opportunity for meddling, as we promptly observe. Maybe Voyager had the right idea giving the security job to a Vulcan, who's supposed to seem dour.
I'm sorry we don't get to hear Sato talk a bit about the aliens' religious chants, which reminded me of monks chanting in Latin at one point. It's non-human Phlox who identifies the parallels between the aliens' spirituality and Earth religions. Now we know that Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity will survive in some form into the 22nd century -- something about which I have very mixed feelings. We know from 'Bread and Circuses' that the bridge crew on Kirk's Enterprise was familiar with Christ, yet Gene Roddenberry was always adamant that 20th century religion had no place on Star Trek. Now we learn that after first contact, aliens studied human religions in sites that are associated with them today. Yet Archer suggests that he's a skeptic, and we still haven't seen a Jew or Muslim (or anyone obviously of Jewish or Islamic background) on any Trek show. Obviously this is an explosive subject with the potential to alienate large numbers of viewers, yet it also needs to be dealt with in some form. If the Pope is still in Rome in Archer's era, I'd feel better knowing that there are mosques and synagogues somewhere.
The loose ends during the conclusion of 'Cold Front' will probably thrill some viewers and infuriate others. Silik, who somehow manages to fall straight towards his rescue ship despite the fact that there's no gravity in space, apparently can survive in the void and may be back to haunt Archer soon. The aliens have left the captain a clock, which may be a friendly gift or something more ominous. Daniels' quarters have been sealed off, but the episode concludes with a shot that suggests we haven't seen the last of their contents -- nor, perhaps, of Daniels, who hasn't even been born yet.
Those of us who have been burned by The X-Files, not to mention Star Trek: Voyager, are undoubtedly nervous about whether Enterprise can pull off a long-term arc -- particularly a conspiracy story with an infinite number of reset buttons built into it. Deep Space Nine created a multi-year war story with more than a dozen character through-lines, yet Voyager couldn't even keep focus from season to season. We get little hints about the mysterious leader of the Suliban's master plan -- primarily that he's upset the Klingon Empire remains intact after the events of 'Broken Bow' -- but it's impossible to see a larger pattern. We learn an important piece of information about a recurring character when we discover that Porthos may be able to sense Suliban, yet when Archer is searching his ship for Silik, it doesn't occur to him to let his dog loose.
This is a very minor detail, but in truly great conspiracy arcs, every little detail gets used. Can we count on this writing staff to weave a story complex enough for devotees, yet accessible to casual fans? Andromeda's producers apparently don't have confidence that their viewers can follow the relatively clear-cut storylines on that Roddenberry-based series, for they fired former Deep Space Nine producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe and made statements about the plot becoming too complicated for them. On the other hand, Babylon 5 didn't really hit its stride until it entered syndication, because so many fans who missed early episodes felt like they could never catch up with the entangled storylines later on. Enterprise must walk a fine line to succeed.
I'm sticking to my theory that if Enterprise's evil manipulative alien isn't the Spirit of the Abyss from Andromeda, it must be James T. Kirk, trying to protect his legacy as the first Enterprise captain by wiping Archer out of existence. The fact that we never heard about him, or the Suliban, or T'Pol, or lots of other Enterprise staples on original Star Trek suggests to me that he succeeded. Imagine an entire series ending with a reset button that wipes years off the calendar. Silly, no? Unfortunately, after Voyager, I can't help believing it's possible.
Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.