Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Enterprise, Season 1: Broken Bow

Enterprise, Season 1
"Broken Bow"

Airdate: September 26, 2001
1 of 97 produced
1 of 97 aired


Jonathan Archer has been champing at the bit to launch Starfleet's newest experimental vessel, equipped with a Warp 5 Engine, but the Vulcans have been discouraging humanity from striking out so boldly. Things come to a head, however, when a Klingon courier becomes involved in a firefight with mysterious aliens on Earth. 

Hey, he looks pretty good for 90+. But not as good as he's going to look!


Kevin: I like the idea of showing that Vulcan would be paternalistic to Earth in a way they would bristle against. It's fun seeing the humans get treated the way they will eventually treat other species. There's a flip side to the good intentions of the Prime Directive and it's fun to see the the shoe on the other foot. It's also fun to see humans make so many well-intentioned mistakes barreling into situations they actually know nothing about. I think there's a lot of potential in mining the messy politics of Earth's entry to the intergalactic stage. I do think the Vulcans are leaning too hard into withholding information to the point of creating the problems they think they are avoiding, but overall, it's an idea with a fun potential.

Matthew: I think the episode was a little thin for a feature length show. If I were given a stab at notes or feedback, I would say the back end was bloated and the front end was anemic. Far too much time was spent shooting and running around, and too little was spent on character introductions. Hoshi got a pretty good recruitment scene, but Phlox and Travis were given very little to do or say, while Trip and T'Pol were given screen time but not back story. We were given a good deal of Archer back story, but even there, I would have liked extended scenes with Admiral Forrest, Ambassador Soval, and the like. Instead of telling us about the Vulcan Compound in Sausalito (home of humpback whales George and Gracie), why not give us a scene there? The basic plot idea of returning Klaang to Kronos is fine enough, especially given that he has sensitive political information, but as I say, it's a bit thin even for a regular length episode. If they were going to use the Temporal Cold War to stir interest, they should have given us a bit more.

Kevin: The fan service is...fine, I guess. I found Cochrane's cameo charming enough, but the shoehorning of the intro into the speech was just a bit precious. It's certainly not at the oppressive levels of Kurtzman Trek or even later episodes with superfluous Borg or Ferengi. In the minus column, I don't think the episode makes a strong enough case for why they chose to do a prequel. We know how first contact with the Klingons goes and approximately the next two hundred years of human-Klingon relations in a fair amount of detail. There's some fun to be had in the granular details of the story, but I don't think it's enough to sustain a whole series. And the more I think about the Temporal Cold War, the more annoyed I get. I'm going to lay out a theory here and see how it pans out. I think a lot of what I don't like about the Abrams and Kurtzman universes can actually trace a not-insignificant amount of its roots to Enterprise. It's a prequel for no other apparent reason than they want to rehash existing IP. We get the major, galaxy spanning conflict that we had never heard of in four prior series. By definition, it's a mushy reliance on time travel with all the attendant narrative sloppiness that allows. And as much as the show is more consistent with prior Trek overall, I think this show's ultimate failure paved the way to making the case for the 'edgier' version. That's a lot to heap on the premiere, and I'm pulling a lot of that assessment from the rest of my recollection of the show, but I want to lay this out now to see how it holds up.

Matthew: The Zephram Cochrane scene was pitched perfectly. It rewards viewers of past shows, but still functions on its own. It doesn't contradict past stories, instead adding a small layer to them. It's as if the people writing the scene actually know the character and have watched (and/or written) past Star Trek. But I am going to have to try hard not to absolve Enterprise of its sins because it's better than Kurtzman Trek (which it most certainly is, even after one episode). As such, I agree that the show overall does not really justify its prequel nature. It whiffed on the main brief, which was detailing the emergence of the Federation and humanity's ascendance to becoming a galactic superpower politically. But I can't lay that on this episode. Within the walls of this particular story, the basic ideas and conflicts are fairly compelling. The Vulcan-Human antagonism makes sense, the portrayal of humanity not mastering its technology yet has a certain charm, and Archer's desire to assert his and his species' independence is a solid character motivation. I am on record saying the prequel was a mistake, but that's with hindsight. Prequels are hard. It's hard to be dramatic enough when you know what's coming, and it's hard to make everything square in terms of continuity (on that note, I still think the ship should have had a different name - Challenger perhaps?). But this start is not bad. The story works. The same goes for Future Guy and the temporal cold war. It's an incredibly hard story line to do well - and Enterprise almost does it before giving up on it entirely. The scenes within this episode are reasonably interesting, and the time room had a neat visual gimmick.

Kevin: I saved my critique of the show's awkward attempts to be sexy for last. The decon chamber is dumb, and it's a level of dumb that on par with what would otherwise outrage us about Kurtzman Trek. There's just no way doing that manually would be as effective as a spray. What if only one person is affected? Is there a yeoman provided to get your back? It's painfully obvious the only reason it's in the script is to put two attractive people on screen in their underwear. And don't get me wrong, I love attractive people in their underwear, but that's not what I come to Star Trek for. There's a fine line between fun and tacky, and this scene is about parsec over that line. Even the decision to have T'Pol in a jumpsuit reeks of this. Vulcans of all genders in Star Trek to this point have pretty much worn robes or Starfleet uniforms. So why? She's in a jumpsuit because Seven was in one.

Matthew: I watched this with my kids, and I was grossed out by the decon scene. I would really put this more in "production values," because in my memory later scenes were not so gratuitous. It seems like a directing choice (the director, James L. Conway, does have TNG "Justice" to his credit, but not any other conspicuously titillating episodes). The problem isn't the story idea per se, but the lingering shots on T'Pol's midriff, breasts, Trip's butt, etc. These shots were sexually objectifying the characters in a sleazy way, and detracted from their dialogue, which was actually meaningful to the plot. Similarly in this category were the bug eating strippers and the dialogue about three-breasted aliens, which while less egregious, still stuck out as tone deaf and cringey.

Kevin: And now my real last comment just because. In the list of star systems that T'Pol names, Rigel is the one we actually already know, unless Vulcans know a different system named Rigel. It's a tiny thing, but it feels like something someone should have caught.

Matthew: I definitely noted that as a writing snafu. We named Rigel. It's an Arabic name.


Kevin: I think everyone here was good, but I'm not sure how much they really got to do. The most emotions on display were Archer and T'Pol being snide at each other, and they both turned in solid performances. Bakula is a veteran of television science fiction and I think that comes through. To the extent I think Trineer was a bit one note as Tucker this episode, I don't think the script asked for more than that. He needed to object to T'Pol in a Southern accent, check and double check. The rest of the cast was good, but overall, I don't think most of the cast got to do anything other than react to things.

Matthew: I think Linda Park did a good job both of delivering alien dialogue (always hard) and portraying Hoshi's nervousness with space travel. Connor Trinneer is certainly a charming fellow, and his accent is the real deal. I think Bakula is indeed the grounding presence that you say. I found Jolene Blalock a bit too snotty in this outing, but she eventually finds a groove. The character with the greatest challenge, I think, is John Billingsley. Phlox bears more than a passing resemblance to Neelix, and much of his dialogue could have been delivered by Neelix, too. You'll notice I have nothing to say about Anthony Montgomery's Travis Mayweather. That's going to become a running theme, I think.

Production Values

Kevin: In the plus column, I like the uniforms, and think they did a good job of bridging the gap between modern day astronaut jump suits and introducing what would eventually be Starfleet details. I like the general attempt to marry a TOS style with the fact that early 21st century technology had already past it. I'm a stickler for tonal consistency in the story, but am happy to let the tech details and style choices be a little looser. As far as the ship itself, it certainly fits the general aesthetic of other Starfleet ships, though honestly it doesn't set me on fire. I'm certainly not saying it's bad, but it also never really cracks the top of my list. 

Matthew: I hated the ship when it first premiered. My feelings have certainly softened given what has transpired in the franchise since. With some distance, I can see that it has enough external details that place it before TOS. I have no reservations about the uniforms or interior sets, though. The style, the buttons and knobs, the screens, they all look good and create a real sense of place and time. And the unis have visible rank insignia, which I am very much a stickler for since, as a show depicting a hierarchical organization, Star Trek needs an easy way to tell the viewer who's who.

Kevin: Where I think the production falters in the reliance on CGI. It certainly hasn't aged well, and even being charitable, I just don't recall being that impressed with at the time. We critiqued Voyager more than once for CGI that looked like a video game, and if anything Enterprise appears more reliant on it. Particularly for scenes like the Suliban talking to the the temporal Romulan guy was two CGI people in a CGI room with a bunch of swirling CGI light effects and it just doesn't really stand up to any close scrutiny. That said, while it still looked like a video game cutscene, the sequence in the planet's atmosphere by the Suliban base looked like a really good video game.

Matthew: Yeah, every time they tried to render a humanoid, the CGI looked extremely dated. Also pretty bad were green screen effects looking out windows. There's a reason TNG used a black curtain with sequins on it - it photographs so much better. You could see greenish outlines around Archer and T'Pol.  Ship shots were not as bad, though. Not up to today's standards, but no worse than, say the TOS remade effects.

Kevin: And I know it was divisive in its day, but I'm pretty agnostic on the theme song. I get that it's a pop song with words and that's different, but while it's not my favorite, it didn't outrage me as it did some parts of the early internet. The visuals themselves are lovely. Including the shot of the Phoenix is kind of the sweet spot of fan service. A non-fan would just assume it was fictional midpoint between the real world and the show (which of course, it is) and the fan appreciates the inclusion of something that would be conspicuous in its absence if the show is in continuity. Great, and more importantly subtle work, everyone. More of that, less of paying James Cromwell to read a teleprompter of shoehorned references.

Matthew: The theme song grew on me pretty quickly. Did I enjoy it ironically at first? Sure, I've belted it out more than a few times with a certain level of snark.  But you know what? Paired with the well-chosen and timed video montage, at this point it just works for me. It's been a long road, but I've gotten from there to here on it.


Kevin: I've been a little picky on this episode, and I'm trying to judge this episode for itself and not how I think the rest of the series, at least early on, turns out. I recall watching this in college, and my impression at the time was "This is fine." My impression after watching it is "This is fine." The effects are solid, even if the CGI doesn't age well. The acting is good, if not extraordinary. The story is fine, but beyond portraying the friction of early Earth/Vulcan relations, I don't have a sharp sense of the show or the characters, and the action/espionage plot wasn't sharp enough to really get past "fine." This is a 3 for me.

Matthew: I think the narrative emphasis on action over character development and scene setting hampers this slightly. It's by no means bad, and I like the narrative tensions it set up. I was entertained and interested in the plot while I watched it with my boys, but wasn't super satisfied with the level of exploration given the plot ideas. Overall, I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.


  1. And so, we are under way. I don't expect smooth sailing, but there will be vistas worth viewing along the way, as well as some genuine nostalgia. :)

    I guess the big thing we're going to disagree on is that theme song. I am so good at judging how far ahead to jump on the track to avoid it without losing any of the story. I would pay good money to have a set of discs where there is even no sound at all when it's supposed to play.

    1. The theme song is the definition of "divisive" ;-)