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The Trek Nation - Minefield

Minefield

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 4, 2002 - 6:46 AM GMT

See Also: 'Minefield' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Archer and Reed's uncomfortable breakfast chat ends when T'Pol hails to tell the captain about an uncharted system along their course. The ship drops out of warp, but as Archer begins to discuss landing parties, an explosion rips a hole in the side of Enterprise. Soon he learns that the ship has drifted into a cloaked minefield, and before they can navigate free, another mine has attached itself to the hull near the impulse reactor. Reed suggests to Archer that he go outside in an environmental suit to defuse it.

The captain reluctantly agrees, telling Tucker to work on a backup plan to detach the section of hull to which the mine has attached itself. While unidentified aliens pursue the ship and send messages the translator can't decipher, Reed works on the weapon. It sends a metal spike filled with circuits through his leg as it bolsters its grip on Enterprise's hull. So Archer puts on a suit and goes outside the ship to help Reed defuse the mine. While the lieutenant talks the captain through the disarmament, he criticizes Archer's command style. Archer insists that on a mission such as theirs, he needs friendships among his crew and honest opinions.

Sato is able to translate the hostile messages, which come from the Romulan Star Empire and warn Enterprise to leave the system immediately. But the ship cannot go to warp until the mine has been defused. While Archer continues to work on it, Reed confesses that he didn't follow his relatives into the Royal Navy because of his fear of drowning. His great-uncle went down with his ship despite a similar fear. Now Reed wants Archer to detach the panel with him trapped on it for the safety of Enterprise. When Archer refuses, Reed detaches his own oxygen supply, but the captain revives him.

Near the end of the disarmament process, the mine triggers a sub-detonator that could take days to defuse. Since the Romulans are threatening to blow up Enterprise if it does not leave the system at once, Archer brings a pair of shuttlepod blast doors onto the hull with him and tells Tucker to detach the plating to which the mine is attached. Then the captain cuts through the spike in Reed's leg, which triggers the mine, though not before the two men have protected themselves from the blast with the shuttlepod doors. The crew retrieves them before going to warp.


Analysis: Chekhov (the writer, not the Star Trek character) once said that in any story, if there's a gun on the wall at the beginning, it should go off by the end. I suppose the same should hold true for a bomb or a mine, though in a lot of genre stories -- The Abyss and The Running Man come immediately to mind, though there are hundreds of other examples -- the story hinges instead upon whether the armed weapon can be stopped instead before it does any damage. The difference between a great story and a terrible one is timing -- does the bomb tick off at the obvious moment, or does something unexpected happen?

If you're watching action television, you can be certain that it will either die off or go off five minutes before the show ends, unless the writers are really creative. You can also be sure that if two characters have ideas for defusing the bomb, and one of those ideas is immediately labelled "the backup plan," that's the one they'll end up having to use when their Plan A fails. So as soon as Tucker says they can detach Enterprise's plating if necessary, we know that plate will be floating away by the final moments. On Star Trek the rest is usually technobabble, but since Archer doesn't like to concentrate on science even when his life hangs in the balance, we get the lovely distraction of Reed's personal history instead.

Never again will I complain about Hoshi being scripted as the ship's scaredy cat, now that we've seen Malcolm's stiff upper lip trembling. He puts a brave face on the pain of having his leg impaled -- maybe it's Phlox's wonder-drugs. But once Archer gets under his skin, he gets doe-eyed and blurts out the story of his great-uncle, who shared his terror of drowning, yet stayed aboard his vessel when it was hit by a mine -- ha! -- and died his worst nightmare to save the rest of the crew. Malcolm tries to live up to this by committing suicide right there with Archer watching, but it's hard to believe he doesn't know full well that the captain will pull him back somehow. "Please, sir, may I have some more?" indeed.

In fact it's hard to believe Reed doesn't want Archer to prove him wrong about everything -- the need for companions, the hazards of fraternization, the risks a weapons officer won't take but a captain might. The big selfless dramatic gesture was undoubtedly written to create drama in an otherwise formulaic episode that takes no risks, but in terms of the character's psychology, it suggests not the desire to die nobly so much as the desire to be saved. Oh dear, now I'm singing the Smallville theme song. "Somebody save me...let your waters break right through..."

If I weren't sure I'd just watched an episode of Enterprise, I'd swear I just witnessed a piece of hurt/comfort fan fiction complete with manly emotional revelations, fears of inappropriate fraternization, over-the-top threats of suicide, and the titillation of the captain telling the tied-down lieutenant to pee in his spacesuit. When Archer stuck his oxygen tube into Reed's suit to save him, I felt like I was reliving The Love Test episode of Space: 1999. Not that I'm complaining -- those were the good parts of "Minefield," given the by-the-numbers ticking-time-bomb plot and the now-you-see-them-but-you-don't Romulans.

We've been told along with the Nemesis hype that the aliens are coming, but we also suspect we aren't going to get to see them because we know no human ever laid eyes on a Romulan before Kirk did, and it's too soon after "Shockwave" to do something that would require setting a timeline straight. So we get to see Birds of Prey -- boy those ships stuck around a long time! -- and to hear T'Pol explain how to pronounce "Romulan," and that's supposed to be satisfying. It seems a bit early for the Roms to have developed such sophisticated cloaking for their ships and mines, given that in The Enterprise Incident, Starfleet was relatively naive about cloaking devices. But I'm no expert on the timeline of stealth development so I'm glad the Romulans weren't interested in taking over pre-Federation Earth, because it looks like they might have kicked butt.

Can I say "kicked butt" in this review...what the heck, I already said "pee." Which brings me to a major nit: don't those futuristic spacesuits have whatever kind of absorbent bags NASA currently sews into EVA suits for urgent astronauts during spacewalks? If they do, why is easily-embarrassed Reed telling Archer about his problem, and if they don't, isn't there a chance he could drown in his own bodily fluids floating around inside the suit? Trust me, if you watch television with a nine-year-old boy, he's going to ask such questions, and I don't know how much urine it would take floating around in a helmet to pose a health threat. I don't really want to know. If the writers decided to risk TMI syndrome by bringing up bodily functions usually neglected on Trek, couldn't they have gone that extra step to explain space-peeing, like Apollo 13?

I should probably have other nits about Sato's instant-translation capabilities and Reed's ability to defuse a sophisticated mine with a cloak based on its superficial resemblance to a Triton-class spatial torpedo, though maybe the Tal Shiar stole the designs and maybe the Romulan language has resemblances to ancient Vulcan though you'd think T'Pol would have noticed by now. Visually "Minefield" holds attention because the external images are superb -- the Romulan ships rising over Enterprise, the hull lighting, the design of the mine itself. It's also well-paced even if we could all guess the precise moment when the mine would re-arm itself -- in my house we counted it down.

I'm glad Reed's gotten over the British superiority bit from "Shuttlepod One" and his urge to record messages for everyone he ever met when he realizes he may be near death. Dominic Keating gives a truly excellent performance, subtle and moving, as he did in that oh-too-similar earlier episode. I like this Reed a lot better than the one who blabs about T'Pol's bum. I'm sure the other one will reappear, but if he gets on my nerves, I'll remember him lying gratefully in Archer's lap.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.