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The Trek Nation - First Flight

First Flight

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 15, 2003 - 3:48 AM GMT

See Also: 'First Flight' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Archer wants to investigate what seems to be a dark matter nebula that Enterprise has discovered, but his plans for a mission are interrupted by a call from Admiral Forrest to tell him that his longtime friend A.G. Robinson has died in a mountaineering accident. Archer wants to go into the nebula alone to collect his thoughts while he scans for dark matter, but T'Pol reminds him of Starfleet regulations that do not permit the captain to leave the ship unattended and insists on accompanying him.

Archer tells T'Pol that he wouldn't be on the Enterprise if it hadn't been for Robinson. The two men were in competition to be the pilot on the first NX Alpha test flight, and Robinson was chosen. Archer was sad, because his father designed the engine, but his priorities were to see the program and the engine succeed. During the test flight, Robinson pushed the engines to warp 2.2 though he was ordered to drop to impulse when the warp field began to collapse as the ship reached warp 2.1. The ship exploded and Robinson barely managed to escape.

Upon his return, Robinson blamed the engine design, saying that the warp field became unstable. The Vulcans declared the ships unsound and convinced Starfleet to scrap the NX program, though a young engineer named Tucker insisted that there was nothing wrong with the engine that couldn't be fixed. Furious at Robinson's refusal to take responsibility for pushing the engines too hard, Archer got into a brawl with him in a bar, then concluded that Robinson might have been right about the problem with the matter-antimatter intermix and figured out how to compensate. Robinson suggested that they take the NX Beta for a test ride to prove their theory. Against Forrest's direct orders, they took the ship up and proved that it could achieve warp 2.5 with a stable warp field.

T'Pol is impressed that Archer was not court-martialed and notes that the particle density has increased. They fire charges designed by Tucker, lighting light up the dark matter surrounding them — something not even the Vulcans have ever done. Archer looks at the light show and says that this is why he wanted to be in space. TP suggests that they name the dark matter nebula the Robinson Nebula.


Analysis: Archer proves that he has The Right Stuff and that his first NX flight was no Apollo 13, because he certainly wouldn't want himself and Robinson remembered as Space Cowboys who only got From the Earth to the Moon. All right, "First Flight" feels derivative of at least half a dozen other space dramas, yet delightfully so.

The closest thing to which I can analogize it, in fact, is the feeling I get watching the opening credits of Enterprise, when images from the real space program cycle forward into fictional footage of Star Trek's invented future; we see doomed explorers like Amelia Earhart alongside Apollo astronauts, the failures as well as the successes. It's strange to feel nostalgic for a future that has not yet been, but so many elements are familiar — the chat about flight simulations, the brawling astronauts, even the white boys' club comprising the space program of the 22nd century.

It helps that Scott Bakula gives one of his finer performances of the series, that we sense the warmth between him and Tucker in the past and between him and T'Pol in the present, that his grief for his friend seems as sincere as it does conflicted. Ironically, he seems older as the flashback Archer than he does as Enterprise's captain, at least until he borrows a starship and suddenly resembles Captain Kirk. Archer is at his sternest in the control room, and he lectures Robinson like he's his father before blowing up explosively when accused of being prejudiced about his own father's engines.

Bakula and Keith Carradine play well off one another, never quite dropping the bravado, the posturing to see who can stand taller. The friendship between Archer and Robinson isn't instantly comfortable like that between Archer and Tucker, but is always edgy and competitive. It's fun to imagine what Robinson would have been like as the captain of the Enterprise, though it's suggested that he's really too reckless for the job; his untimely death during an extreme sport sort of clinches that notion.

Jolene Blalock has the thankless job of asking obvious questions and trying to look sympathetic without seeming un-Vulcan. She acquits herself very nicely, as does Connor Trinneer playing a convincing younger version of his character. The rest of the earthbound characters are written as hopeless clichés, though Vaughn Armstrong's Admiral Forrest nearly steals the episode with his promise to try to keep Archer out of jail if he'll turn the NX Beta around; it's a very funny moment, with the Vulcans watching and Forrest absolutely impotent to act once his best and brightest steal the ship.

This is a superbly filmed episode utilizing many new or redesigned sets. The scenes in the bar make good use of the space so that it never becomes static like so many restaurant scenes, the NX prototype launcher looks fantastic — part rocket launcher, part roller coaster — and the dark matter visual effect at the end is stunning even though I'm sure someone is going to write to me to tell me that there's no way any flare could make dark matter light up the way it did, no matter what particles were involved.

This episode must have taken a bite out of the budget, yet it's sweetly low-key, a character story about how Archer discovered that there was more to being a captain than becoming the best pilot and champion of his father's engines. It's lovely to see how he and Trip met and why they became friends, and to get a look at Archer's complicated past with Forrest and the Vulcans, though allegedly this incident isn't on record anywhere — I don't see how that can be, given the Vulcans at Starfleet, but we'll let it slide. I'd love to see more of the transition between the horrific conditions of Cochrane's time and the nascent space era of Archer's. Despite the anachronism of the all-American space program, it leaves a very hopeful feeling.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.