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The Trek Nation - Shockwave

Shockwave

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 23, 2002 - 9:37 AM GMT

See Also: 'Shockwave' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Archer plans to pay a visit to a mining colony of a matriarchal society, but as the shuttlepod drops into the atmosphere, a massive explosion destroys the colony. Although it appears that plasma must have ignited the atmospheric byproducts of mining, Reed insists that the shuttle's plasma ducts were sealed closed, and the sensor logs agree. Admiral Forrest calls an emergency meeting of the command council, where Soval and the Vulcans insist that Enterprise's mission be cancelled. The Vulcan High Command believes that humans need another couple of decades before venturing into space again, and Archer, wracked with guilt, isn't prepared to challenge them. The captain orders Enterprise to return to Earth.

Then Archer goes to bed, and wakes up in his home in San Francisco on the night before Klaang crash-landed in Oklahoma. Crewman Daniels -- who was killed by the Suliban several months hence -- appears to tell Archer that he isn't dreaming. The explosion at the colony never happened in Daniels' timeline, which means that someone has been tampering with Archer's. Daniels allows the captain to discover that the Suliban planted a device to generate a plasma stream on the shuttlepod. He also gives Archer the specifications to build beacons that will expose cloaked Suliban ships and weapons that can damage the futuristic alien vessels. Though Tucker says much of the quantum engineering sounds impossible, his crew goes to work building the necessary devices as Archer orders the ship back to the colony.

On a planet near the site of the disaster, Archer's crew finds a cloaked Suliban stealth ship and attacks. With T'Pol and Tucker, he takes a shuttlepod to retrieve several data discs from the Suliban. As Enterprise takes off at warp four to rendezvous with the Vulcans, T'Pol uses an interface to read the Suliban data and watches proof that an alien vessel planted a plasma stream generator on their shuttle. Forrest is delighted with this news, but the futuristic humanoid from whom Silik takes orders is not; he orders Silik to abduct Archer. When Reed discovers that Enterprise's warp field is out of balance, Archer realizes that cloaked Suliban ships have followed them from the colony. Silik hails and tells Archer that if the captain will turn himself over to the Suliban, he will spare Enterprise and the crew.

Archer agrees to these terms, turns command over to T'Pol and gets into the lift to board a Suliban shuttle. But the moment he enters the lift, he finds himself in an unfamiliar locale filled with demolished equipment. As Silik prepares to destroy Enterprise because Archer has failed to surrender himself, Archer stands with Daniels in the wreckage of a city that Daniels says was intact ten minutes earlier. He had been ordered to bring Archer to the 31st century to protect the timeline, which he had been told would not be safe if Archer boarded the Suliban ship. Archer says to send him back so he can take his chances with Silik if it will restore the 31st century, but Daniels says that all the time portals have been destroyed; there's no way to return Archer to his own era, nor to restore the future.


Analysis: 'Shockwave' has solid dialogue, great action sequences and decent performances. But watching it felt sort of like watching The X-Files finale, and not in a good way. It's a strange combination of déjà vu and the shock of the new -- namely, elements derived from dozens of earlier time-travel treks along with a level of quantum technobabble not even approached by Voyager. In 'Future's End,' Voyager was involved in the destruction of Earth in the 29th century; now Enterprise is involved in similar carnage in the 31st. The stakes keep getting bigger, the devices more complicated, yet the human connection gets more and more tenuous.

At the end, I half-expected Dean Stockwell to show up and stop Archer's quantum leaping, but that would have been too much fun. It's something Andromeda might have pulled off, but not Enterprise. And that about sums up my feelings about Enterprise's first season: the show is reasonably stable in terms of characters and action sequences, but the Temporal Cold War leaves me cold, and even the thrill of new space exploration doesn't seem much fun for the people experiencing it. The structure of the original series may bolster this new Trek, but it's got none of the heart and soul.

The Temporal Cold War has become the major arc of the series -- it's now gotten more screen time than either the meddling Vulcans or the menacing Andorians. To quote Captain Janeway, it gives me a headache. When X-Files' Cancer Man proves evil aliens will end the world in 2012, it's hard to care, let alone take it seriously; when some dead techno-nerd proves evil aliens will end the world in a thousand years, it's beyond hard. We know perfectly well (from TNG's 'A Matter of Time,' 'Time's Arrow,' 'All Good Things' etc. plus Voyager's 'Time and Again,' 'Future's End,' 'Relativity,' etc. etc.) that Archer's proper timeline will be restored. Even if the writers don't reverse everything at the start of next season, it just means they'll take several more years to drag out the twists, manipulating the arc with more temporal anomalies until most viewers are so befuddled that we no longer care which timeline is the right one.

Save the world or blow it up...this is science fiction, with a very heavy emphasis on the 'fiction.' We have to care about the characters, to believe in their intrinsic value, even in the face of impossible odds. X-Files lost most of its audience not because of the holes in the black-oil-alien-clone-government-conspiracy arc, but because after the fourth fake return of Mulder's sister, nobody could maintain any level of emotional investment in the storyline. Once viewers hit that point, the show starts on a downward spiral from which there's no returning. Enterprise hasn't even hit the high points of older series, and it's already jerking viewers around. We're not getting the promised thrill of early space exploration, we're getting a story that rewrites itself around us. Maybe for people who have never watched Star Trek before, that seems like a novel and intriguing concept, but for those of us with any previous genre television experience, it's utterly hackneyed.

As in earlier episodes, T'Pol goes on at some length about the impossibility of time travel. Again she looks foolish and narrow-minded because viewers get to see first-hand that of course it's possible. Yet T'Pol is right that time travel is illogical, from a dramatic standpoint as well as a practical one. It requires lots of evasiveness about exactly how it works and lots of phony scientific terminology. Daniels ducks all the interesting questions Archer poses, which doesn't create a sense of intrigue and wonder so much as a belief that the show's writers can't possibly come up with a plausible theory. The real problem is that it shouldn't matter.

In 'City on the Edge of Forever,' time travel isn't the subject tof the episode, but the device by which Kirk faces an impossible conundrum: kill his lover or let the Nazis win World War II. How the Guardian of Forever works is irrelevant. Similarly, in 'Shattered,' Chakotay passes through several eras coexisting aboard Voyager. What matters isn't the mechanism that allows him to move between the time periods, but his exploration of people he knows at different moments in his life, his need to convince Janeway of this reality and to help her make them all work together to set things right.

But 'Shockwave' is about temporal technobabble far more than characters. Of course Archer's depressed when he thinks his crew somehow accidentally killed thousands of people; we don't need a proclamation by Phlox to realize this. Of course T'Pol and Trip want to snap him out of it and fight for their mission; that's hardly character development. Of course Mayweather thinks life on a transport will seem boring by comparison to Enterprise, of course Reed is upset that his plasma ducts have been blamed for the deaths of thousands. There's no growth whatsoever (unless one counts the discovery that Hoshi will feed the captain's dog as well as bake birthday cakes for his buddies, but let's not go there). And really, there's no furthering of the Temporal Cold War plot -- no new information about the Suliban and their motives, or their strange dark leader and his agenda, or Daniels and his coalition. It's just the same old folk making the same old ominous statements about Archer being the key to everything.

So Archer and T'Pol's spirited dialogue about time travel falls flat, not because the actors aren't trying, but because the whole debate seems incredibly contrived. And Tucker's attempts to perk up his captain's spirits are sweet but irrelevant, since we know Archer will snap out of it at the moment he inevitably discovers that his crew didn't kill all those miners. It's annoying that he gives up looking for the proof and accepts Starfleet's condemnation so quickly; Picard would have sent a team out in environmental suits to scour the hull with flashlights, and Janeway probably would have gone out there herself. Admiral Forrest's paternalistic praise for Archer seems very misguided; the only reason things turn around for Starfleet is because someone from the future decides to take the captain into his confidence. I'm starting to wonder if maybe the Vulcans aren't right and these particular humans aren't ready to head into space.

Some perspective on Enterprise's first season? Next Gen wasn't much better plot-wise at this point, though the two characters who ultimately turned out to be the most memorable -- Picard and Data -- left a much stronger impression than anyone on Enterprise has so far, while most of the rest of the 1701-D crew had gotten more to do than the junior 01 officers. Deep Space Nine finished its freshman year with two masterpieces, 'Duet' and 'In the Hands of the Prophets'; Voyager went in hiatus early at UPN's behest, but the planned last episodes for its first season, 'Projections' through 'The 37s,' were fairly strong, and the characters had all been solidly established and well-integrated -- even minor folk like Kes and Harry Kim. Of the five Trek series, Enterprise at this point ranks behind three of them and only slightly ahead of the fourth. The producers have their work cut out for them.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


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.