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"Future Tense" Provides Healthy Dose of Action, But Deus Says Story's Strength Lies in the Quieter Moments

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Posted: 06:57:20 on February 20 2003
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: ENTERPRISE Reviews
Reviews Ex Deus

Written by O. Deus, edited by Steve Krutzler

"Future Tense"

Summary: The Enterprise encounters a ship from the future whose possession is immediately contested by both the Suliban and the Tholians.

The X-Files is often brought up when discussing Enterprise's Temporal Cold War arc and with good reason. Like the X-Files, it's full of mysterious forces, secret conflicts and strange mysteries. Also like the X-Files,the arc often seems light on content and heavy on suggestion. But where "Broken Bow," "Cold Front" and "Shockwave" pursued conventional storytelling approaches via traditional action and suspense stories, "Future Tense"'s real story is focused around the discovery of a ship from the future and the impact of the implications of that discovery on the crew. From T'Pol coming to terms with the reality of interspecies mating to Trip and Reed pondering whether it would be better to know the future or remain in the dark, this is what "Future Tense" does best and what it's meant to do.

The action component of "Future Tense" though, which consists of Enterprise running from one place to another while being chased by CGI ships to be capped off by a Deus Ex Machina ending, is weak and peripheral to the core story. The action component mostly seems to exist in order to inject some excitement into a Sweeps episode and provide a reason for Enterprise to dispose of the 31st century ship. While the Tholian's first appearance is intriguing, we've all seen Enterprise being chased around and blasted away at by Suliban cell ships more than enough times by now. It all feels formulaic and unnecessary especially when dangerously mounting radiation levels from the ship, or perhaps the fear that humans weren’t ready for such advanced technology, could have provided all the plot justification for activating the beacon in the first place.

Dropping Pandora's Box into the lap of the characters is a standard SF plot and has been done on Star Trek plenty of times before but thanks to Enterprise's prequel premise, "Future Tense" can open that box and show surprises inside that link directly to the back story not merely of the series but of the entire franchise. Enterprise has often mishandled this material by having Archer directly reference aspects of the future he couldn't possibly know with terminology that was too on the nose ("Dear Doctor"), but FT gets it right by having the revelations come directly from the future in an unexpected way. In "Cold Front," Daniels suggested that he was not entirely human and "Future Tense" explains what he meant as by the 31st century, a significant portion of the human race has apparently interbred with other species resulting in a hybridized humanity that is a significant and intriguing change. It's also one that gives the Enterprise-era Humans and Vulcans in the pre-Spock era food for thought.

The 31st century ship itself, which in a Dr. Who vein, is bigger inside than outside is also a nice demonstration of future technology that also allows the set designers to save money by using a smaller model. Thusfar TREK has not been very good at coming up with futuristic technology that would genuinely surpass anything we had seen in the 24th century, but this space-saver starship is the first futuristic technology to make it in. Trip and Reed's Groundhog Day Effect juxtaposed with their topic of conversation served to give the ship's powers credibility along with a real life demonstration of the impact of knowing what will come next and did it in a clever and offbeat way in a series that all too often delivers predictable dialogue and scenes that tell rather than show. "Shockwave 2" came far too close to giving us the distinct impression that the 31st century holds the same relationship to the 24th century as the Enterprise era does to our own; namely that the people were the same and the gadgets had improved a little but were still completely recognizable. "Future Tense"'s tesseracting starship helps to restore some of that sense of mystery the 31st century is supposed to hold.

Like the aforementioned X-Files, FT does suffer from the problem of being an arc episode that unlike "Cold Front," "Broken Bow" or "Shockwave" fails to significantly advance the story. It doesn't reveal anything that moves the story forwards, it doesn't develop the Tholians or the Suliban any further and it doesn't really tell us much we didn't already know. Its strength is in the character moments; it works best as the characters respond to the revelations as in the conversations between T'Pol and Dr. Phlox, T'Pol and Archer, and Reed and Trip. Its weakness comes about because an episode that should have stayed with those character moments is grafted onto action and fight scenes that aren't really necessary and don't work. In an attempt to inflate what should have been a smaller story into a bigger event episode, "Future Tense" almost loses touch with what makes the story work in the first place.

Next week: Archer's beatings return as a major story focus as he goes off to Alien Prison.

ENTERPRISE "Future Tense" Opinion Poll
How do you rate the latest episode in comparison to the best and the worst of all previous STAR TREK episodes?
10: Excellent 5: Average
9: Great 4: Below Average
8: Very Good 3: Mediocre
7: Good 2: Poor
6: Above Average 1: Bad
Current Results
About the Author
O. Deus has been a TrekWeb visitor since the site's 1996 inception. Along with being an ardent poster, he is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Deus has written reviews and columns for TrekWeb for over two years.

Past Reviews
  • "Future Tense"
  • "Cease Fire"
  • "Stigma"
  • "Dawn"
  • "The Catwalk"
  • "Precious Cargo"
  • "Vanishing Point"
  • "Singularity"
  • "The Communicator"
  • "The Seventh"
  • "Marauders"
  • "A Night In Sickbay"
  • "Dead Stop"
  • "Minefield"
  • "Carbon Creek"
  • "Shockwave, Part II"
  • React to this story below and see what others are saying at the STAR TREK BBS.
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    TREKWEB TALKBACK
    (30 comments)
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    Wow!
    By Noxmagic ( ) at 20:41:20 on February 21 2003
    URL: | User Info
    Can it be? Has Ent. made that magical series turn which took TNG and DS9 until their third seasons to achieve? After three very good episodes in a row, I'm hoping Ent. has indeed reached that point in its run where it begins to churn out top notch episode after top notch episode (I'm not sure Voyager ever did so). But I digress. I agree with Deus' insightful review, although I do disagree on one point. Where as Deus did not seem to like the action, I thought it played very well with the episode's overall flow. And, as usual, the level of the special effects was outstanding (my vote for best looking Trek series goes to Ent. already).

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    • RE: Wow! by Admiral Brandon @ 01:25:01 EDT on 25 Feb
    • RE: Wow! by Anslem1701 @ 21:35:16 EDT on 21 Feb
      • RE: Wow! by Steve Krutzler @ 09:00:47 EDT on 22 Feb
        • RE: Wow! by Akita1999 @ 09:51:58 EDT on 23 Feb
    "Future Tense"
    By Michaelj ( ) at 15:10:14 on February 21 2003
    URL: | User Info
    What planet were Dues and Steve on when they penned their enthusiastic comments on this latest mediocrity? I'm not sure, but I assume it's located in the parallel universe where competent, involving episodes of Star Trek are still being made.

    Is a fun but ultimately beside-the-point slew of continuity references all it takes to satisfy the Trekweb audience anymore? (And on the subject of continuity, I'll still take Vulcans who manage to act like Vulcans over references to the Vega colony any day.) Whatever happened to drama, the idea that the Captain had to make hard choices in far-off space, often without the benefit of Earth support? To stories where something of genuine moral or philisophical import was at stake?

    Instead of Archer making tough calls, we get witless banter between him and T'Pol about humans and Vulcans sharing genetic material (they're attracted to each other, get it??) and some lively but hollow CGI space battles. We don't even get any neat time travel twists, though they end up ripping off "Cause and Effect", one of Braga's more noteworthy TNG efforts, which just underscores how creatively bankrupt Enterprise really is at this point.

    The retro Tholian ships were indeed fairly cool, though the producers apparently couldn't be bothered to get their distinctive hive-mind voices right. But otherwise, "Future Tense" was yet another colossal waste of time, talent and money, with nothing meaningful at stake, and thus no reason for an audience to care.

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Happy Days Are Here Again!
    By Edzo ( lordedzo@hotmail.com) at 09:54:57 on February 20 2003
    URL: | User Info
    Hands down, this was the best action/adventure and suspense-oriented ENTERPRISE since the first season's "Fight or Flight." Definitely, it was also the best all-around episode of season two thus far.

    While it could have included a bit more involvement for Mayweather and Sato (she seems mighty depressed lately), the cast turned in a terrific team performance. This is finally starting to shape up into a crew I enjoy seeing together. Congrats to writers Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong for crafting such an intriguing episode with good characterization; also to James Whitmore, Jr., for deft direction, and to B&B for getting this thing made.

    The visual effects were, as usual, stunning and of movie-quality.

    The Tholian ships, despite their lighting enhancements over the TOS model, are instantly recognizable — even if the translation of their language wasn't (but it was still pretty creepy). Great first appearance for this classic series villain, and long overdue.

    Don't forget that Klaang mentioned "Tholia" in "Broken Bow," along with "Rigel" and "Sarin." This last name turned out to be a Suliban female who was hiding on Rigel 10 and opposed the Cabal. Perhaps the Tholians also oppose the Cabal, which is why they and the Suliban ships immediately engaged one another in "Future Tense."

    T'Pol made the mistake of asking the Tholians to "wait" while Enterprise prepared to surrender the temporal ship. The Tholians, who will be renowned in the 23rd century for their punctuality and precision, do not like to be kept waiting.

    The temporal craft started emitting some type of high-energy particles, which could have been chronitons. The time loops were reminiscent of TNG's "Cause and Effect."

    There were some great teasers taken from TOS episodes. Archer wonders if the dead pilot is Zefram Cochrane, who disappeared in space. Admiral Forrest supposes that the temporal craft might have launched from Vega Colony, which is where Christopher Pike's Enterprise was headed in the original ST pilot, "The Cage."

    Great sci-fi concept in the temporal ship being larger on the inside than on the outside. This recalls the compartment in Daniels' quarters, which is deeper than it appears.

    "Future Tense" foreshadows Spock, when Archer wonders if a child born of human and Vulcan parents would have pointed ears. (The answer is yes.) T'Pol says that Vulcans would embrace time travel before this ever happened. (She was wrong.)

    Finally, the temporal dematerializations sounded a lot like Borg transporters. You don't think ...?

    ---

    Lord Edzo!

    "The Imperious Leader and I are of the same series, the IL Group. Why he was chosen over me, I'll never understand!"

    --Lucifer, "Battlestar Galactica"

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    The Turning Point?
    By Cinepixel ( cinepixel@mail.ev1.net) at 09:52:37 on February 20 2003
    URL: | User Info
    Definitely the best episode yet...and better than Voyager.

    This could be the turning point (for me anyway) of the series and getting people to tune in.

    Excellent episode! Berman and Braga may finally be listening to fans. I just hope it's not a fluke.

    Cinepixel

    ---

    "See this? This is my BOOMSTICK!!!"
    Ash from ARMY OF DARKNESS

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Best Episode Yet!
    By Brian Langlois ( ) at 09:12:11 on February 20 2003
    URL: | User Info
    It most assuredly was the best Enterprise yet. I had all the sci-fi story that Dead Stop had, plus some great action and a few surprises (references to Zephram Cochrane were cool). I absoluteley loved the time loop with Trip and Reed. At first, I thought my cheap local UPN affilliate had screwed up the tape, but I was okay with it because they were just re-showing the scene. But, that was not the case at all, and it made for a great entertaining experience when I realized what was happening. I was also so sure, this would be a "Vulcans Bail Us Out" ending, but they hit us with another twist! This was a fantastic episode, and I think it stands out, even though I usually enjoy Enterprise. This one was truly special and it makes me want to see more of the Temporal Cold War. What a great episode!

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Best ENT Ever
    By Steve Krutzler ( s_krutzler@trekweb.com) at 08:16:51 on February 20 2003
    URL: http://trekweb.com/brittandsteve | User Info
    I wanted to repost a message I put on the Suliban Helix forum already, but I did want to make a few extra points:

    First of all, while Deus is clearly positive about this episode, I don't think he gives the show enough credit. He rightly (to my mind) points out that the strength of the show isn't the action cues or the phaser fights, but the prequel-era crew reactions to the ship and the concept of time travel. The discussion b/w Trip and Reed about the implications of time travel, and then having it play out with the time-lapses was really effective.

    But watching this episode I really think the action cues were anything but stale. In fact, this is the first episode where the Enterprise-on-the-run DIDN'T feel formulaic to me. I think one major component that Deus doesn't address in his review is the music this week. I cannot explain how much the music added to this episode. It was easily half the show. From the very beginning we had very present, loud, interesting, foreboding music that raised the level of suspense and during the battle scenes were had rousing accompaniment that really got my blood rushing and feeling more excited than I have since "Broken Bow" (felt a little of it last week during "Cease Fire").

    "Future Tense" is everything ENT should be, in my opinion. STAR TREK prides itself on looking past just mere eyecandy, and while Deus contends that the battle scenes here amounted to just that, I disagree. Here the battle and phaser fights and chase sequences all naturally flowed in the plot, and the execution was so well done finally that it all just worked beautifully. Remember, STAR TREK has always been part intellectual, part action/adventure. Just look at the original series to see that truth. FT finally blended a meaningful, prequel-specific take on time travel WITH an excellently written and performed adventure story all in one.

    Could this be the first time that a superb episode was followed up by one even better? After "Cease Fire" I figured it'd be May before we saw anything nearly as good.

    (Rest of comment from BBS post)

    ****

    Well this episode just did it for me. The action-packed beginning, the ROUSING MUSICAL accompaniment, the in-command Archer, the exciting battle scenes, the mystery of the multi-species corpse, the time lapsing... wow, everything in this episode was superb. Better than last week's "Cease Fire," which was also above average for ENTERPRISE. I think one of the biggest things FT did was great music; it was like a movie music and clearly for Sweeps Berman let the composers go wild. I think Sussman and Strong are clearly some of the show's best writers and the dialogue between everyone was very good, much sharper than usual.

    I was struck by the level of excitement and tension in the episode. I found myself saying "cool!" and "woo!" during the battle scenes and my heart actually pumping. I was rooting for Archer and didn't once cringe at a poorly written or badly delivered line.

    Some have mentioned in other posts how they thought the end was rushed. I didn't think so at all. I thought the usage of the time shifts in the final act fit in perfectly and did a great job of generating suspense and excitement while the Tholians were kicking Suliban ass. Archer's dressing down of T'Pol and his expert, more natural comm conversations to the various aliens were all very good and I felt like Archer, along with last week, is finally taking charge, making important decisions.

    Here's something else I noticed: if this were TNG or DS9 or VOY we'd have to hear a bunch of Picard or Janeway or someone else blathering on about how they can't contaminate the future etc. etc. But here, the ship is in danger and there's Archer saying, "hey, let's get some HELP from the future!" That right there is one of the big differences in ENT and frankly, I think it rocks.

    I know "Canamar" and "The Crossing" don't sound as interesting from their synopses but I am slowly regaining faith in ENTERPRISE. I'm eager to find out what the season finale is going to be about--obviously the TCW and hopefully the Tholians. I also hope there's another Andorian episode before the end of the year. There are four more episodes to learn of before the season is done so hopefully May Sweeps is as engaging as Feb Sweeps has been in the last two weeks.

    ---

    -Steve Krutzler
    ==V/-/== Rocks

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]

    Loved this episode
    By Akita1999 ( ) at 08:06:10 on February 20 2003
    URL: | User Info
    Enterprise scores another win, and Deus gets it right again. I can't add more than what Deus has already said especially regarding the so-called "quieter moments." The reverse continuity (making the past fit the future) was very well handled in this episode. I also liked when Archer was excited by the prospect that the capsule might contain the remains of Zephram Cochrane, a nice homage to TOS.

    The Suliban and Tholian chase scenes were formulaic. But I don't think they were distracting. The Tholians look to be formidible enemies and apparently support any entirely unknown faction in the TCW. Perhaps they are a faction unto themselves in the TCW.

    Enterprise has been especially strong the last three weeks. It's amazing how much better Enterprise is when Berman and Braga let the writers craft the story. I hope the next episodes can compare.

    [ Reply to This | Parent Comment ]