Thursday, July 28, 2022

Enterprise, Season 1: Shuttlepod One

 Enterprise, Season 1
"Shuttlepod One"
Airdate: February 13, 2002
15 of 97 produced
15 of 97 aired


When Trip and Malcolm discover the wreckage of a destroyed Enterprise on an asteroid, they find themselves stranded in a sub-light shuttle pod with no way to contact help and only ten days of air remaining. 

Oh, the humanity!


Kevin: So I think this episode is a good episode that was one rewrite away from being a great episode, like legendarily so. But I'll start with what I liked. This is basically a story of two people, whose relationship is at one state at the start the story, experiencing something big, and then their relationship is in a different state as a result of the shared experience. That is just efficient and effective storytelling. And it works. I buy their grief at the apparent loss of Enterprise and their diverging reactions make sense with their established characters. Even though I knew they would eventually be rescued, the things they experienced had enough narrative heft to them that the episode is still worthwhile for its effect on the characters, even if we know they'll be safe in the end.

Matthew: I think what this episode does really well is pay off the development of Reed's character. They had such a hard time even discovering his favorite food, and Reed's letters call back to his parents in Malaysia. To quote the Dictates of Poetics by T'Hain of Vulcan, a character's actions should flow from their established traits. Enterprise has done the work with Reed, which is why these scenes work so well. They're not trying to cram intro, development and conclusion into 5 minutes of a big dumb action episode and expecting us to feel something.

Kevin: So now for what didn't work quite as well. The set up is too neat. We see way too early that the Enterprise is fine and the sequence of events to create the mistake is just too neat. I think the bolder storytelling gambit is make this a true bottle show. Just the two of them in the shuttle the whole time until like minute forty-four out of forty-five. I think it would help underscore the loss to not see the crew for the episode. It's almost chickening out to reassure us basically at the top of Act One that everyone is really fine. And the dream sequence was just dumb, bordering on mood-killing.

Matthew: I personally also wish the "Enterprise Reveal" had been held until later in the episode (I'd make it, say, minute 35). While of course we know that the Enterprise will have survived, having the scenes intercut with each other lends a certain comic quality to Trip and Reed's suffering that I think would have been better avoided until the ticking clock aspect of things had been added.  And yes, the particular spate of damages to the shuttle was extremely convenient - the transmitter to contact for an early pickup, and the sensors to determine the true nature of the wreckage? Come on, now. Of course convenient damage has occurred in other Star Trek (looking in your direction, transporter systems), but making it the crux of a life or death story setup is a lot to swallow. It is our caring for the characters (references above) that allows us to suspend disbelief, but only just.

Kevin: My other thought is that this episode needed to be slotted maybe four or five episodes down the line. I think Reed's reveal that he is finally comfortable with the Enterprise in a way he was not with anyone else in his life hasn't really been portrayed yet. It's not as bad as Discovery, where this would be episode two and have been carried entirely by music cues, but it does feel slightly premature and not quite fully realized yet. There needed to be one emotionally halted follow up to the birthday cake to really set the stage for this episode. That said, even though I think they are not showing their work just a little, I do think it works overall, since again unlike Discovery, we sit with the story for most of the episode. Letting these scenes breathe sell the basic arc, and smaller notes like Reed acknowledging his romantic history is broad but shallow all really work, and help soften what I think was going too hard on making him a literal cipher in Silent Enemy.

Matthew: It may be that my dramatic senses have been deadened by 6 years of Kurtzman Trek, but I think they did the work well enough for this episode to be effective. I will say that it is possible Reed believes internally that he has warmed up without any signs of this being evident on the outside. One thing I really liked about this episode, character work and setup aside, is the realism of times and distances in space. Saying it will take years to reach the next star system undoes a lot of the fantasy aspect of superluminal travel in a series like Trek. In many ways, warp drive is too easy, and it makes going to other planets like visiting a neighboring state in the US. An episode like this underscores the stupendous distances involved in space travel.

Kevin: This episode also really starts a thread of Reed and Tucker becoming friends a la Bashir/O'Brien, right down to their lives being in danger as the start of their friendship. And I will say, I can see it. The actors and characters have chemistry and the clash of Trip's Southern charm with Reed's British standoffishness really crackles. So this is less a criticism of the show, more a thought experiment. As I do any time I see two men yelling at each other, when I saw Trip and Reed yelling at each other, I thought to myself "Kiss already!" And after I giggled to myself at that, I couldn't help but think I think that's the braver, more interesting resolution. I'm not saying I need to see them date, though they are both attractive and that would be fun, but I think if at the brink of death, Reed came out, it would actually be the most interesting path for the character. I would have an easy time believing that this prejudice was the last to go, even in Trek utopia, and it would make the near pathological isolation they were spinning in Silent Enemy really make sense. It even makes his father's absolute lack of concern for his son make sense rather than be a silly joke. And while Will & Grace would still have beaten the show to the punch, I think it still would have been brave in a way Trek hasn't been in a long time. Even in its current iteration with its focus on diversity, it's chasing societal norms rather than getting ahead of them as they once did. And I think the chemistry between the two characters in the episode we got would have supported this interpretation. I don't even think Trip would have to reciprocate (but again, would totally watch if he did), but Reed having a crush on the beefcake rather than the cheesecake of the crew really could have taken the character and the show somewhere really interesting.

Matthew: Obviously I do not have as much personally riding on characters in my favorite thing being gay. So for me it comes down to whether it makes sense for the characters and the actors. I will admit to not really buying the "everyone is kind of bi" thesis, whether in real life or in drama. I don't think, if the chips were down, and I thought I was going to die within the next day or three, that I would find the nearest dude and say "let's kiss." Because I'm just not anything but heterosexual. So the question is whether it makes sense for these characters and actors. I agree it makes a certain amount of sense for Reed today, as it would explain his social reticence, although that would posit that homosexuality or bisexuality were something to be embarrassed by in the 22nd century, which I sure hope isn't the case. I don't think it makes a ton of sense for these actors, though. They are both straight men. Wouldn't it be better to hire an actual gay actor to play the role? Ultimately, it's a miss for the series to not have had an out gay character. But I can't really penalize this episode for that.


Kevin: This is basically a two-hander of a play. You could literally stage this episode as a play and it would require almost no alteration, so that means it's going to live or die on the strength of the actors, and both Keating and Trinneer nail it. Their bickering was believable and leavened rather than diminished the action and they had enough chemistry to make me seriously wonder about the show taking it in a romantic direction. I stand by my assessment that we haven't really seen Malcolm warm up to the crew yet, but that does take away from Keating acting like he has quite effectively.

Matthew: Connor Trinneer really nailed the range of emotions he was called upon to create. I believed his annoyance, his stubborn persistence, and his eventual warming to Malcolm's frailties.  Dominic Keating has the more challenging role, perhaps, laboring to show emotion under a layer of reserve. I think his best scenes were probably when he was flirting with T'Pol, or when he was drunk. He still seemed emotionally stiff, but was able to indicate that his emotional shields had failed due to extenuating circumstances.

Production Values

Kevin: This is the ur-bottle show. And I will say, maybe even more than the bridge, the shuttle does a great job of bridging the gap between NASA era command modules and the TOS era designs. 

Matthew: The shuttle pod interior is surprisingly great. It is more confining than a TOS shuttle (as it should be) and yet there was something of visual interest in basically every frame. It felt like a real place, and a real spaceship, which really heightened the drama. My only criticism is the buttons Reed was using to rewind and advance his log recordings. We got a close-up of them and they seemed to have nonsense labels as opposed to playback labels. The only question I have is whether mashed potatoes could really withstand the pressure differential involved in a micropuncture of the hull.


Kevin: So I think the decision to prove the Enterprise was fine too early holds this back from a five. It's just wasted time full of technobabble and undercuts the drama the scene on the shuttle is trying to build. But that's a comparatively small problem with the three act play going on in the shuttle is that well realized. Do I really wish they had made Reed gay or bi off of this episode? Sure. But I will content myself with what I am sure is an absolute library full of slash fiction set in and around this episode. For otherwise being a well realized, eminently watchable human drama, this gets a 4 from me.*

Matthew: I think this is somewhere in 3 or 4 territory, as I agree the basic setup and structural choice undercut some drama. They could have gone harder core with the absurdity of some space deaths (such as the Apollo 1 crew dying on Earth during a test) or they could have held the "mystery" out for longer. But the character work works, and the acting really carried the day. SO I think this just squeaks into a 4, for a total of 8.

*But seriously, if they had the stones to make Reed queer, I would have given this episode a 6.

1 comment:

  1. I think this episode epitomizes a lot of the first two seasons of ENT (minus the Temporal Cold War arc, about which, well, the less I say the better.)

    It showcases great acting. There are seriously capable actors on board, and letting them do their stuff works.

    It correctly places the show between today and TOS (including visually as you point out). It's dangerous out there from simple vacuums and stuff hitting the vessel and puncturing it. And there is only so much breathable air on board, and you may have to improvise with the equivalent of chewing gum. (At least that made the food acceptable to Chekov, I guess.)

    And finally, it needs a little more polish in the writing. It reaches for the sexy when there's no call for it, it could be more audacious as TOS was, and the structure is a little clunky at times (all of which I agree with you on).

    At any rate, a highlight of the season, and I think the series. Though not entirely for the good.