Monday, August 15, 2022

Enterprise, Season 2: Minefield

Enterprise, Season 2
Airdate: October 2, 2002
28 of 97 produced
28 of 97 aired


The Enterprise collides with a cloaked mine, and then is visited by the minefield's creators, the Romulans.


Reed Alert!




Matthew: So this is a straight "submarine" episode, with defusing a mine taking center stage. For me, if a plot like this is going to work, it needs to really reveal something about the characters, or about the world. "Balance of Terror" is the submarine episode par excellence, because it does both (we learn about the Romulans, as well as about the crew's bigotry and Kirk's command style). This episode does a decent job with the defusing drama, but I can't really say it illuminates much else. We've already trodden some of this story ground with Malcolm Reed (his past in a navy family, his stoicism and seeming fixation on self-sacrifice) in "Shuttlepod One."  And neither we nor the characters learn anything about the Romulans. So ultimately I have kind of a reasonably effective technical drama, and that's it. I liked the dialogue portions of the defusing scenes much more than the defusing itself. 

Kevin: This is a good a place as any to lobby this critique, though I suppose it's less a critique and more another unavoidable problem of the prequel. The reason the Vulcans don't know who the Romulans are is that the first war between the Romulans and the Federation took place by 'subspace radio' so no one ever saw each other. That made sense in the 60s where video communication was the reach technology. However, as with many Trek technologies, the real world has lapped them. There isn't really a way to write yourself out of the problem, since it just doesn't make sense we can't facetime the Romulans. I'm not like mad mad at it, but it always seems weird whenever the Romulans come up in Enterprise that there was no way any of these people laid eyes on each other. Now that that is out of the way, my main complaint with this episode is that the writers are confusing character traits with characters. Reed is reserved and slow to make real connections, particularly in the workplace. Great. Making him visibly uncomfortable at the thought of breakfast with his captain is slightly a bridge too far, particularly, as Matt points out, we went over a lot of this in Shuttlepod One. It still largely works since the setting is tense and both actors are carrying it, but they keep stepping on this one thread of Reed's personality and it's starting to derail character growth. They either need to realize they put Reed somewhere on the spectrum and write that character, or give him some shading in terms of his ability to form emotional connections. Either is fine, but the uniform inability to for connections can't be this man's only personality trait.

That all said, the threat and Archer's solution all moved really well and gave the episode a nice tempo and tension. I really believed that Reed was resigned to dying as the safest way to save the ship and I believed that Archer would not take that course of action if there was any chance of saving him. So happily, to the extent I am nagged by larger writing choices, I was still nicely entertained by the story on the screen.

Matthew: In terms of advancing the overall story of the series, this was a real punt. I enjoyed the callbacks to reading about the Romulans with Daniels and Reed's personal history. It always pleases me when continuity is respected even while individual episodes remain their own self-contained stories. I do have some questions, though, about the relationship between the Vulcans and the Romulans. If the Vulcans have Warp 7 ships, and they've been exploring the galaxy since at a minimum the 2060s, I just don't see how they could have avoided having a bit more information about the Romulan Empire. Looking at a map of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, it just seems implausible. I also have a hard time understanding how the Universal Translator couldn't lock on to anything in the Romulan language, if it originated on Vulcan, even if this was a few thousand years prior.

Kevin: The UT is Enterprise's replicator. If it is VITAL that we know what they are saying, the syntax is too syntactical or something. Introducing the Romulans now and in this way starts to stretch the idea that no one knows they have pointed ears for another hundred years. The clear implication of Balance of Terror is that the first war, due to distance and technology limitations, was practically conducted as a chess by mail game, and having them meet like this stretches that a little too thin for my tastes.


Matthew: Obviously this was a Dominic Keating/Scott Bakula showcase, and they did a great job with their lines. As cheesy as I thought Reed sacrificing himself might have been, I believed his motivation and Archer's reaction to it. Their interplay with respect to Reed's disapproval of Archer's command style was also amusing and revealing. 

Kevin: Agreed. They didn't exactly bond, given the story, but they had a nice rapport that helped give the defusing scenes some tension and stakes. My ongoing complaint for Reed's character so far is that they turned the dial up too high. Worf was reserved, but still had deep connections that informed his character. Reed is practically violating the laws of thermodynamics in his ability to isolate from a system, which even if you do the work to justify it, it's just not that interesting to watch. I liked watching characters interact, not watching characters work furiously to not interact. Between this and Shuttlepod One, I hope the writers notice they can let him open up a little and that it makes for good episodes.

Matthew: The crew got some nice scenes. Phlox keeping Hoshi in sickbay was well done, Travis sweating out his maneuvers, and Trip being, well, chief engineer, were all pretty good. All in all, everyone on the ship did nice work - non-speaking extras included in the Engineering and Sickbay scenes.

Kevin: Agreed here as well. Everyone contributed to the sense of tension but working together to solve it. The ensemble is definitely starting to stabilize.

Production Values

Matthew: There were a lot of nice elements in this episode. The explosion on the ship was pretty good, with exposed decks and such. Still not as good as the cross section from Best of Both Worlds, but the CGI is getting closer to the model work at least. The exterior set of the ship upon which Reed and Archer worked was really nice. I liked all the little panel labels. The detaching sequence was a well done melding of actors and CGI. The Romulan ships also looked really good - a good cross between the TOS bird-of-prey design ethos and the green TNG ships. The silhouette was instantly recognizable even while the ship was different. And the mine itself was complicated and technically interesting to look at. I do wonder why mine builders would create all these complicated doo-dads that are related to defusing it, but they looked nice either way.

Kevin: I liked the styling of the Bird of Prey and agree that all the scenes on the hull were great. I think the mine probably had about one layer too many doodads to feel credible. That's just a bunch of stuff to break when you actually want it to work. It almost like a video game version, but still the piece itself felt nice and substantial. Overall, a really solid outing design-wise.


Matthew: I think this is a reasonably entertaining episode, with good "technical" drama, but it lacks a certain level of ambition from a storytelling perspective. Acting and production values overcome this lack of ambition to land this at a soft 3 for me.

Kevin: I'm a little more bullish on the 3. I wasn't seriously considering a four, but I could see 4 on the horizon. The narrative problems are there, I agree, but the finished product was tense and moved really well. The bulk of my season one complaints boiled down to lack of energy to keep my interest, and at least for the last few weeks, they've been fixing those. That makes a total of 6. 

1 comment:

  1. If anyone would make their mines overly complicated, it would be the Romulans! :) I think it was Riker who said that Picard always say that it's a 'chess game' with them.

    As usual, I'm in overall agreement with you. I like that they are going to do something with the damage to the Enterprise in the next episode. They could have had 'striking a cloaked mine' be a quick start then, but instead they took their time with it. I like that.