Sunday, March 10, 2013

Opening Big, Bold, And Blah, “Broken Bow” Starts Enterprise In A Mediocre Fashion

The Good: Interesting adversaries, Decent initial characterizations, Some initially competent performances
The Bad: Jolene Blalock’s acting, Stupidly salacious directing, Lousy characterization for the Vulcans, Fairly pointless flashbacks, Ridiculous medical regression.
The Basics: “Broken Bow” presents a revision of Star Trek history when Brannon Braga takes the reins and rewrites the origins of the franchise in his image.

At the outset of my review of Enterprise, I have decided to get my biggest gripes out of the way. They might bear repeating with each new episode, but rather than get monotonous, I shall dispense with it here. Enterprise is a big kick in the groin to Star Trek fans. Brannon Braga, one of the two executive producers and co-creators of Enterprise was quoted many times before the inception of the show saying he was not a fan of the original Star Trek and that Enterprise would attempt to create a new generation of fans, as opposed to catering to the loyal fanbase that made Star Trek a billion dollar phenomenon for decades. Well, Brannon Braga said “fuck you” to the fans, so – as a fan – it seems only fitting to open my review of Brannon Braga’s shittastic prequel to Star Trek by saying “Fuck you, Brannon Braga.” And, while we’re at it, “Fuck you Rick Berman and fuck you CBS/Paramount.” I mean, really, what kind of morons think it’s a good idea to put a prequel in the hands of guys who openly admit they hate the source material that the prequel will be building up to?!

So, from the outset of Enterprise (it takes two seasons before the producers admitted it was a huge tactical mistake to mortgage the fans and the show becomes Star Trek: Enterprise), Brannon Braga is using Gene Roddenberry’s universe to tell his own stories, continuity (and sensibility) be damned. It is also worth noting here, at the outset, that my reviews of Enterprise are not “pure.” Enterprise is the fifth series in the Star Trek franchise and it is masquerading as the first. But, as with any prequel, I look at how the work stands on its own and how it fits into the context of the franchise as a whole. Because I generally loathe Enterprise for the way it sloppily tells stories, retells stories told in other Star Trek series’, and has no problem saying “to hell with continuity!”, each of my Enterprise reviews will include what I consider the three biggest continuity gaffes. This will prevent my Enterprise reviews from being taken up entirely with long lists of bitchings about such things.

“Broken Bow” starts Enterprise and it might be mediocre television – it is legitimately tough to do a pilot episode that does not rise above “average,” especially the longer the series goes on and the writers/producers/actors all find things that work for the characters and stories that were not evident at the beginning – but it is pretty lousy Star Trek. “Broken Bow,” however, gives viewers a pretty good idea of what to expect episode after episode by including a lot of action, a sizable amount of t&a and conflict so forced, one might think the writers were all angsty teenagers (with a nod toward Star Trek whenever the show does something original for the first time, like meeting the Klingons, breaking a new warp speed, or teleporting a human being).

Thirty years after Jonathan Archer and his father build model warp engines together, a Klingon crashes in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Pursued by two lizard-like aliens, the Klingon destroys a silo with the aliens before getting shot by a human. When the Vulcan Ambassador resists giving the humans too much information on the Klingons, Admiral Forrest decides that returning the Klingon to Kronos will be the first mission of the new starship Enterprise, which should be able to get up to speeds of Warp 5. Archer assembles his command staff – including the first officer/chief engineer who has only been off Earth a few times and a translator who is nervous about everything – and is forced to take on a Vulcan science officer as an observer. En route to returning Klaang, the Enterprise is boarded by invaders from a cloaked ship. They steal Klaang’s body.

Reviewing their logs, Hoshi and T’Pol deduce that Klaang’s last stop, the port of Rigel X might be where the invaders took Klaang. The invaders are Suliban, a very minor race that has never posed a threat. The Suliban who invaded Enterprise, however, are genetically modified in several ways that allow them to be shapeshifters, see beyond the normal visual spectrum, and stick to surfaces (like moving along ceilings!). On Rigel X, Archer meets a Suliban who has left the cabal that is rushing their races evolution. She reveals that the cabal is taking orders from forces from the future, who are part of a “Temporal Cold War” and they are trying to destabilize the Klingon Empire in the past. By returning Klaang, Archer hopes to promote goodwill with the Klingons and stop the mysterious forces from the future. After Archer is wounded on Rigel X, T’Pol takes command and Tucker convinces her to follow the Suliban ship that abducted Klaang. When Archer is healed by Phlox’s eel therapy, the Enterprise tracks the Suliban to a gas giant where they confront their new enemy and their space station!

It is hard to ignore how “Broken Bow” regresses the franchise and humanity. Gone are technologies readily available now – like air-propelled injections – to be replaced by eels (essentially leeches) and salves. “Broken Bow” does not make it at all believable that the citizens of Earth would have taken such a dramatic step backward in the years between Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) and the beginning of this series.

Captain Archer is presented as a remarkably bland StarFleet Captain. He bursts into a sterile medical environment for no particular reason other than to get answers about Klaang’s medical status when he should have been able to see the medical diagnostic equipment to confirm what he wanted to know (that Klaang was not, in fact, dead, as the Vulcans asserted). The episode also features entirely pointless flashbacks throughout the episode to Archer as a child with his father, who worked to develop the technologies used on the new NX-01 Enterprise. Unfortunately, these flashbacks serve only to confuse the issues; how is it Henry Archer has a tractor beam around the house for making a model with his son, but thirty years later, the starship has to use physical grappling technology?!

The other characters are given a decent amount of time to provide initial characterization, save Reed (who is the security chief, who is prepared to use the new phase pistols, yet idiotically mistakes alien weapons fire in a snowstorm for lightning?!). The helmsman, Travis Mayweather, has travelled quite a bit and is technically adept (he also likes sitting on the ceiling in the gravitational anomaly all starships have). Hoshi Sato is an adept translator, but is afraid of everything. Charles “Trip” Tucker III has a friendly relationship with Archer and knows his personal history and desires and wants to help the Captain succeed. The most adventurous of the bunch is Dr. Phlox, an alien who was part of a medical exchange program on Earth and who leaps at the opportunity to join the crew for his own sense of personal growth.

Then there is T’Pol. T’Pol is a Vulcan science officer whose Vulcan rank makes her believe that she can take command in Archer’s absence. T’Pol is played by Jolene Blalock, who smirks her way through almost all of her scenes, instantly earning her the notation of “worst Vulcan actor/actress” yet. But, her performance is not the real reason Blalock was hired. Instead, “Broken Bow” wastes no time getting her down to underwear and a tank top while the camera luridly washes over her as she and co-star Connor Trinneer wipe lotion over one another. And, to illustrate how different Enterprise will be from Star Trek: Voyager, viewers are treated in the first episode to the perky nipples of the series’s sex symbol poking out to eliminate any doubt as to why she is on the show. But, for those who want substance, the substance of Blalock’s performance is utterly terrible; she speaks of logic and not being emotional, yet emotes through her eyes and at the corners of her mouth in a way that is clearly emotional.

Blalock’s performance is not the only piss poor Vulcan and, oddly, the writers of the episode even knew what they were doing! Gary Graham’s Vulcan Ambassador Soval raises his voice in anger and Archer calls him out on it . . . but that does not change the lousy rendition of the Vulcan characters.

The special effects in “Broken Bow” are wonderful and the Suliban are intriguing adversaries, but the idea of the Temporal Cold War is instantly distasteful. It seems intellectually lazy to market the series as the history of the Star Trek Universe, but start altering it in the very first episode. But, that is (sadly) par for the course for Enterprise; at least we know it from the outset.

The three biggest gaffes in “Broken Bow:”
3. In “First Contact” (reviewed here!), Picard references the first contact with the Klingons as “tragic.” “Broken Bow” has no tragic consequences with the Klingons. In fact, given how the episode is resolved, with humans helping to prevent a Klingon Civil War, the contact is anything but tragic,
2. The Vulcans are not unemotional or logical in “Broken Bow;” they are just jerks. Especially considering how the Vulcans seemed ready to welcome humans into the spacefaring universe in Star Trek: First Contact, their keeping humans stunted and controlled for a hundred years makes no sense. As important, the presence of a Vulcan on a StarFleet ship decades before Pike and Kirk makes it seem entirely ridiculous that so little would be known about the Vulcans (medically, culturally, etc.) in Kirk’s time,
1. The introduction of the Suliban, an entirely new race never before seen in the Star Trek pantheon, makes no sense for a prequel. Given that the Suliban are at least on par with humans technologically, they either need to be wiped out entirely by the end of the series or their lack of an important presence in the franchise – when the other nearest planets (Vulcan, Tellar, Andoria, etc.) are ALL members of the Federation – is utterly ridiculous.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!

For other Star Trek pilot episodes, be sure to visit my reviews of:
“The Cage” - Star Trek
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” - Star Trek
“Encounter At Farpoint” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Emissary” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Caretaker” - Star Trek: Voyager


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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