Reviews Ex Deus
Written by O. Deus, edited by Steve Krutzler
"First Flight" and "Bounty"
Summary: While on a mission with T'Pol Archer recalls the rocky history of the Warp program. Archer is taken by a Tellarite bounty hunter as T'Pol's mating drive kicks in
By airing two ENTERPRISE episodes on the same night UPN has given viewers the chance to compare two different approaches to the show. Both are clearly priority episodes and both have excellent production design and outstanding special effects and are professionally and capably directed by LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson, respectively. The difference lies in the stories they tell and how they tell them. "First Flight" is a relatively subdued episode mostly told in flashbacks by two people in a shuttlecraft. It features very little action and its entire strength rests on an evocation of the risks and emotional drives of space exploration. "Bounty" by contrast goes to the well yet again by putting Archer in peril and featuring a sexually exploitative storyline for T'Pol with Klingons and a space battle thrown in for anyone who might be losing interest. By the logic of the school of plot development, which STAR TREK has often been accused of subscribing to and says an episode needs to put its main cast members in danger, include some T&A and deliver some action scenes to keep viewer interest, "Bounty" might be considered the better episode. But in actuality "First Flight" is far superior.
After the Columbia shuttle disaster there was talk of how ENT might commemorate the tragedy; intended or not, "First Flight" serves as a valid homage to the sprit that drives space exploration and the costs along the way. For all the solemn grandiloquence of the historical montage that opens every episode, the series has never come as close to the sprit of those discoverers, explorers, aviators and astronauts as it does here. Like VOYAGER's "One Small Step" it offers a look back at the time when the future was made possible but "First Flight" is able to deliver on ENTERPRISE's premise of the Birth of STAR TREK by showing that that time is now.
The series had promised to deliver this but its premise seems to offer just another starship with a slightly more rugged interior and just another crew slightly greener around the edges while substituting friction with the Vulcans for a genuine look at the progression of events between history and the future. "First Flight," though, does what ENT up till now had only tried to accomplish with occasional references to the continuity of Starfleet's warp program by actually showing just how raw and precarious the process that led from first contact to the 23rd century was. Countless episodes have gone back in time but "First Flight" is one of the few that actually orients itself and the series it's part of in time.
Co-written by John Shiban and Chris Black, two of the staff's best writers, and for once an episode not [apparently] originated by Berman and Braga, "First Flight" has Archer piloting a shuttlepod on a mission of exploration even as he ponders and tries to find meaning in the death of a man who was his rival and who helped make him the Captain he is today. With T'Pol along to serve as his confessor, "First Flight," as one of the last episodes of the season turns the tables on one of the first, reversing "Carbon Creek"'s setup by having Archer tell T'Pol a seemingly unbelievable story about the past in flashbacks. It also reverses TNG's "Tapestry," which showed the young Picard as a risk taker by showing the younger Archer as a 'by the book' officer. The flashbacks don't only show a less mature Archer but a less mature Starfleet in the form of Commodore Forrest, who finally gets some character development of his own, as he nervously tries to appease the Vulcans. Trip makes an appearance to show the origins of his relationship with Archer but Trip is just too cartoonish a persona to allow for any character development by the contrast of his past and present selves. The flashbacks also ground Archer's anger against the Vulcans in real complaints by showing that their refusal to fully share technology could have cost lives and how close they came to nearly derailing the entire space program in contrast to his contemporary grudge which has often seemed petty and prejudiced.
The process of the search for nebulae itself by Archer and T'Pol parallels the psychological process in which, even as she uses the shuttlepod's instruments, T'Pol searches out what is bothering Archer and as he fires the charges that illuminate space, he comes to terms with the chain of events that brought him here. He also copes with what no captain has been shown to confront before: the possibility that maybe the best man for the job was the one who wasn't chosen. Kirk's rival Finnegan was so very clearly a bully and a fool. Picard's friends in "Tapestry" were sidekicks like Trip. Anderson though, while at times reckless and unsympathetic, seems a more plausible candidate for the job than Archer does. It's his idea that salvages the warp program and it's the friction of his character that drives Archer to become more reckless and gregarious. And even at the end Archer hasn't entirely let go of his jealousy so that it falls to T'Pol to suggest Anderson as the name for the newly discovered nebula. The nebula's illumination, though, serves as closure for both the scientific and psychological search as Archer finds the drive for exploration that brought him here.
"Bounty" is in its own way an odd sort of episode. On the surface it appears to be designed as the ultimate sweeps episode and to that end it throws in just about everything imaginable to peak viewer interest. In a single episode the captain is kidnapped and threatened with death, T'Pol experiences her mating drive and there's a space battle with Klingons. The only thing the producers seem to have left out are the Borg and they were on last week. But with all that content the actual episode mostly turns out to be a lukewarm story about a Tellarite captain with an unnatural attachment to his impounded ship. The problem might be that the episode is based on yet another Berman and Braga story and that the final script seems to have contributions from five different writers each of whom may have had a different episode in mind. But whatever happened behind the scenes the end result has a Tellarite Bounty Hunter getting more camera time than anyone else as he tells his listless story of woe involving the Klingon department of traffic enforcement and ship impoundment while T'Pol begs Dr. Phlox for sex.
"Bounty"'s premise is a nice touch of continuity in that it follows up on the events of "Judgment" and even bases on an episode around its repercussions. It is good to see ENTERPRISE developing the Klingons as a hostile and expansionistic alien race, as they should be in this time period of TREK, even accounting for this series's warped continuity. If Archer's rescue of the refugees led to the events in "Judgment" open hostilities between Enterprise and a Klingon vessel should have even more serious consequences. And Archer being kidnapped by an alien bounty hunter makes for an interesting premise.
Unfortunately, "Bounty"'s premise does not involve an alien bounty hunter ruthlessly kidnapping Archer. Instead its premise has an alien bounty hunter kidnapping Archer and then complaining about his sad lot in life. On the way to the docking bay Trip reminds Archer that Tellarites are belligerent and aggressive, unfortunately he failed to remind the writers of this since the Tellarites we see are all depressed and whiny. Yes the Bounty Hunter is kidnapping people and taking them off to be disemboweled by the Klingons but that's only because he really wants his ship back. And of course that makes it all right. Any number of people who have had their vehicles impounded by the traffic department probably have the urge to buy a gun and go around the country hunting down people to pay off their fines and could probably sympathize with Skalaar. Unfortunately while Robert O'Reilly is wasted on a minor part, the part of Skalaar is tepidly acted with all the energy of a Prozac medicated Ben Stein. That leeches any remaining momentum out of a storyline whose few twists and turns are borrowed respectively from "Precious Cargo," "Canamar" and "Dawn"; all from this very season.
That leaves us with "Bounty"'s B-story, undoubtedly gleefully thought up by Team B&B, that has T'Pol going into premature Pon Farr. It's ironic that Roxann Dawson directed "Bounty" as she was stuck with the same ridiculous and degrading storyline in VOY's "Blood Fever." The difference is that this time she gets to be on the other side of the camera. John Billingsley has no such luck and even though Phlox has managed to keep his dignity in some pretty bad scenes and some pretty bad dialogues in the past, Billinglessly not only can't redeem the scene but loses Phlox's dignity too. Meanwhile ENT's writers demonstrate that not only can they not keep track of STAR TREK continuity, they can't even keep track of their own, as Dr. Phlox--despite being part of an interspecies medical exchange program and possessing expertise with large numbers of species--doesn't know about Pon Farr while both Hoshi and Trip do. It can be hard to remember now that the original Pon Farr episode was a heartfelt and powerful production written by talented Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. It wasn't about sleaze, or snickering gags about mating urges but about the power of the bond between two colleauges and friends. It's an episode these writers might do well to review before they touch on the subject again.
To some fans each STAR TREK series creates new low points going lower than any spin-off has gone before. As "First Flight" presents one franchise high point, "Bounty"'s scenes with T'Pol present a new low point. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment for any series to pull off in one night.
Next Week: Hostile aliens probe Earth as Archer looks resolutely into the camera.
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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.