Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Menace To Enterprise Grows In “Cold Front”

The Good: Good plot development, Sense of tension
The Bad: Low on character development, Scott Bakula’s performance, Costume/effects issues.
The Basics: “Cold Front” puts the Enterprise in a Stellar Nursery and at the mercy of Silik, who may be working for the crew!

For all of my complaints about Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s decimation of the Star Trek franchise, otherwise known as Star Trek: Enterprise, when the pair followed their own agenda, they actually did some stories that had good internal continuity. In other words, their own stories may have not been a natural precursor to the familiar Star Trek, but the episodes that they used to recreate the Star Trek universe in their own image fit together fairly well. Following “Broken Bow” (reviewed here!), the next Temporal Cold War episode – which illustrated the producer’s willingness to do serialized television – was “Cold Front.”

“Cold Front,” I discovered after very little research, is exceptionally low on continuity problems. I could have sworn that the “stellar nursery” mentioned in the episode was not the first mention of one of those phenomenon, which would have made the study of one in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the detour in Star Trek: Voyager utterly pointless, but to the credit of the writers, this is a new to the franchise stellar phenomenon, so it works conflict-free. In fact, the main issue in “Cold Front” is that the episode is so plot-heavy, it provides little room for genuine character development and Scott Bakula’s performance rather suddenly takes on a Shatner-esque quality that is unsettling.

When Silik, the villainous Suliban who tried to incite a war between the various Klingon houses a few months ago, has the modifications to his eyes removed under the direction of his taskmasters from the future, he is assigned to another mission to thwart the Enterprise. The Enterprise, for its part, is exploring near a stellar nursery when it encounters an alien ship, commanded by the reticent Captain Fraddock. Fraddock is ferrying a group of alien pilgrims to witness a cyclical energy discharge they know as the Great Plume Of Agosoria. Archer invites the pilgrims to visit and tour Enterprise, unwittingly bringing Silik aboard his ship. Silik appears to sabotage the Enterprise, but when a plasma discharge hits the ship, it is only the broken connection Silik created that saves the starship from a warp core breach.

The nearly-averted disaster brings Crewman Daniels out of the woodwork to Archer’s attention. Outing himself as a Temporal Agent, Daniels alerts Archer to some of the principles of the Temporal Cold War. While Daniels, Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker work to find Silik aboard Enterprise, Silik squares off against Archer and tries to enlist him in hunting down the human Temporal Agent. While Archer and his crew wonder whom to trust, Silik makes his move, attempting to take a piece of technology Daniels brought back in order to aid his mysterious benefactors from the future.

“Cold Front” is a decent conspiracy story that forces Archer to ask who is really on his side and it accomplishes that goal in a generally engaging way. As far as the plot development goes, the most severe issue with “Cold Front” is that Silik never truly lands it; he is utterly unconvincing as a potential ally. I thought it would be pretty cool if there was an X-Men-esque reversal where Silik was not after anything to do with Enterprise (i.e. he needed Enterprise to survive the plasma discharge in order to keep one of the pilgrims alive, etc.), but alas, there is nothing quite so clever in the episode. Moreover, from a temporal mechanics perspective, “Cold Front” makes no real sense. Silik’s mission has to do with determining who on board is the Temporal Agent, so the moment that is accomplished, there is no rational reason why his handlers would not simply send another agent back to an earlier point. After all, at any moment when Daniels is bringing Archer his food, the technology in his quarters is vulnerable. Or, better yet, go back to an earlier point and replace Daniels’ roommate. But, alas, the episode is not so clever with that either.

Instead, Archer is put in a pseudo moral quandary with two sides who have unconvincing evidence as to their trustworthiness. Also odd in “Cold Front” are the special effects. One of the pilgrims who visits Enterprise is clearly wearing a Bajoran Vedek’s robes, which is a bit distracting to fans of the overall franchise. And for the great stellar phenomenon that the pilgrims are visiting, director Robert Duncan McNeill cheats the effects and goes for an underwhelming effect with a greater emphasis on the reaction shot, making for something of an anticlimax.

While “Cold Front” tries to play Archer as in a moral quandary, the episode’s primary character elements come from Dr. Phlox. Phlox is once more characterized as an inquisitive, highly intelligent alien who embodies in a very pure way Enterprise’s mission. He embraces a cultural exchange with the aliens and proves himself to be a true explorer. T’Pol, on the other hand, is used as an instrument to discount the concept of the Temporal Cold War, but her bland assertions that time travel is not possible do not even come across as a Scully-esque need for empirical evidence.

But, for a change, it is not Jolene Blalock’s performance that might unsettle the viewer, it is Scott Bakula. It is virtually impossible not to watch the way he, as Archer, invites the alien pilgrims to the mess hall for “. . . something” to not feel like he is simply channeling William Shatner’s over-the-top performances in “Cold Front.” In fact, actor John Fleck seems more grounded and menacing underneath his extensive make-up for Silik than Bakula does without any. Fleck is slowly building Silik into one of the more interesting Star Trek adversaries and in “Cold Front,” he plays Silik as a compelling pawn.

“Cold Front” is necessary to understanding the Temporal Cold War plot of Enterprise, but it does little more than advance that plotline.

[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 works with John Fleck, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Weeds - Season 6
"Alice" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Search, Part 1” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Homecoming” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Babylon 5 - “The Gathering”
Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Mind’s Eye”


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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