December 27, 2012

Free Enterprise #25: "Shockwave, part I"

Yes, Scott Bakula gets his shirt off again.
A first contact mission with a mining colony goes horrifically wrong - a plasma leak from the Enterprise's shuttlepod ignites a planet's atmosphere, searing the surface and murdering 3,000 alien colonists in their homes. The Enterprise is ordered back to Earth in disgrace - the mission is cancelled, the Vulcans are taking control and humans will not be permitted to explore the stars for another few decades.

Or will they?

"Shockwave" opens with a genuinely shocking (no pun intended) disaster, and the episode doesn't let up for a second. From the first explosive disaster to the final cliffhanger, it manages to not only act as a thrilling Star Trek season finale but also tie up a lot of the plot threads and themes of the first season as a whole.

The episode begins with the Enterprise at its lowest ebb, and it ends somewhere near its final hour. It returns to the Temporal Cold War story arc that's gently lurked in the background and advances it into high gear.

There's an intriguing change in this episode compared to previous time travel episodes of Star Trek. Archer is reunited with the time-travelling Crewman Daniels, only for once instead of the episode pursuing a "do not interfere" agenda, Archer is actively fed future technology and intelligence to gain the upper hand over the Suliban. All the time travel also allows Archer and T'Pol to get even closer together: she insists time travel is scientifically impossible, he wants her to trust him as a friend. The characters have come such a long way over the past 25 episodes.

If there's one criticism I have, it's that we haven't actually seen enough of this story arc. When it was used to launch the series, I originally rolled my eyes - time travel again in Star Trek - but now that we're a season in it feels like it should have been more central. Certainly the Suliban have cropped up a few extra times, but it feels like something should have been pulled into shape before this point. As the first part of a two part story, it's all very open-ended. Perhaps the Season 2 premiere will make things a little clearer and give us a better idea of what Archer and his crew are up against.

Viewed on its own merits, however, "Shockwave, part I" is a great action-packed episode with strong character development, multiple story arcs and threads and some stand-out action scenes. The shootout in the cloaked Suliban vessel is particularly well-staged and paced.

So it's a thumbs-up for the finale, leaving Enterprise Season 1 with 16 good episodes out of 25. That's a final season score of 64%. I have to admit I'm surprised by that, given how much I disliked this series when it was originally aired.

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