Kenny Madison is a guest writer on the Axanar blog.
Pilots are rarely indicative of the television show they will turn into. Dynamics aren’t quite established, rhythms are being sorted out, and it’s probably just going to be lackluster. There are very few stellar pilots in the world, so it’s kind of a miracle if you are able to garner a modicum of entertainment out of an audience with your first episode.
“Broken Bow” has the unenviable job of being the pilot of Enterprise, the sixth television incarnation of Star Trek. Its most basic function is to introduce the show to viewers, which is already a tough enough job. More importantly, “Broken Bow” had to re-invigorate the Star Trek franchise.
“Broken Bow” is the first episode of the new incarnation of Trek and it starts off with the tried and true. In Broken Bow, Oklahoma, a Klingon is sprinting through a cornfield. He’s being chased by three aliens called Suliban, who have the neat power of bending and squishing their bones down, much like my ex-girlfriend’s cat when she doesn’t want her nails clipped (the cat, not my ex). The Klingon barrels into a silo, where the Suliban follow him, and then is able to sneak out and blow up the silo. Eventually, the Klingon is shot by an Oklahoma farmer and taken to Starfleet.
That’s where we meet our new captain, Jonathan Archer. Archer volunteers to take the Klingon back to his homeworld against the Vulcans’ wishes. You see, the Vulcans want to kill the Klingon because it would be more honorable for the Klingons’ culture. Archer doesn’t see eye to eye with them, so he assembles his crew and sets sail for intergalactic adventure.
Enterprise is certainly more oriented in the action department, as evident by the fistfights and the shootouts. Gone are a lot of techno-babbly solutions, replaced now with some good ol’ fashioned drama. Roddenberry’s credo for the 24th century and beyond was that human drama was gone, so now that we’ve gone backwards 200 years, humans can yell at each other again. Also, it gives us a direction to go towards in terms of emotion. We know the outcome, so we can trace the steps of how we get to Star Trek emotionally. Right now, we get to see the humans argue and, boy, do the humans argue. More on that later, though.
Scott Bakula as Archer is wonderful. He’s bold, rugged, a manly man.. .he’s definitely proto-Kirk, much rougher than his eventual successor. His portrayal of Archer is also imbued with a certain enlightenment. Archer’s rough, but he’s learning. He’s defensive, but also quite vulnerable. He lets himself be corrected when he’s wrong. Archer is new at this and Bakula plays it with a cowboy cadence.
While the premise of letting people argue is successful in theory, it fails in practice. “Broken Bow” is a two hour pilot that could have made a breathtaking hour long pilot.
The concept is so simple, it’s genius. Get the Klingon to his home. Things get in the way. Archer and crew fight them because they’re eager to prove themselves as astronauts and it’s the right thing to do. They succeed. There is a solid narrative that is simple enough, it can reinvent the franchise by getting it back to its shoot-em-up roots.
The emotional through line is complex enough to be relatable, yet compelling. J.J. Abrams utilized this emotional through line in nuTrek and it was a billion times dumber and more clichéd than how they used it here (I’m a fan of nuTrek, just to be clear).
Unfortunately, they’re telling this simple story utilizing 1987-style narrative devices (read: slow). At this point, Trek needed an adrenaline shot to the chest. Far too many scenes of Harry Kim playing clarinet had contributed to franchise fatigue. Action is great, but what was lacking was narrative brevity. Now, the narrative is clear. Every single bit makes logical sense. For every effect, it feels like there is a cause. There is just no brevity to it all.
So Berman & Braga went back to what made Trek special, but took the most superficial (and familiar) elements to fill it out character wise. Archer’s more impetuous than Kirk, but he’s still Kirk-like. T’Pol is passive-aggressive, but she still does things logically. Trip is McCoy. He’s…he’s just McCoy. Character-wise, Phlox might be the only original one. He’s just happy and weird all the time. An eternal optimist, he loves people, new situations, and egg drop soup. It’s an original character for Star Trek. So that’s a plus.
Other than that, you’ve seen all of these characters before.