Enterprise, Season One, Part 3--The Problem With Time-Travel Plots

  • Civilization
  • Fortunate Sun
  • Cold Front
  • Silent Enemy
  • Shadows of P'Jem

One of the go-to plot points in Star Trek is time travel.  Of the twelve (12!) Star Trek movies, three of them featured time travel as a core plot point (if you are scoring at home--Star Trek IV [where Kirk et al. go to modern San Francisco to pick up a whale], Star Trek: First Contact [where Picard et al. go to about 100 years before Enterprise to fight the Borg and watch the meeting with the Vulcans], and the Abrams Star Trek reboot [where the bad guy, and Spock, go back in time to destroy/save Vulcan].

Despite the fact that those three movies are pretty good, I don't really like time travel plots very much.  I understand it is a trope of Star Trek, but like other Star Trek tropes (i.e., "the Holodeck episode"), it has big problems that are baked-into the concept of time travel as a storytelling device.  It's hard to care about the outcome, since any particular resolution is either ambiguous or artificial.  It strikes me as lazy story telling.

Take for example the episode "Cold Front."  The Enterprise ends up hanging out with a bunch of alien religious pilgrims who are going to see some kind of stellar event.  In the course of going and having a look at the nebula or whatever, the warp engine springs a leak, and the ship is about to blow up.  Only, it miraculously does not--someone saved the ship by pulling out some kind of conduit or something.

Meanwhile, a guy a named Daniels comes up to Captain Archer and tells him he has important info.  Daniels, it turns out, is from the future, and his job is to "police the timeline"--stop folks from mucking around with history--and shows him some weird device that allows him to see the "time stream."  I would note that "policing the timeline" is the plot of the movie Timecop, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, which does not speak well of it as a plot.  In any event, Daniels tells Archer that the Suliban guy that Archer fought back in the pilot is working for the bad guys who are trying to screw up the time stream, the "Temporal Cold War" that was mentioned in the pilot.  And then, casually, Daniels mentions that the Suliban was the one that saved the ship, presumably because he knew what was going to happen.

Here's the problem with this plot, which becomes clear as the episode progresses--Archer and the Enterprise crew have no stake in this outcome.
"You need to help me, because otherwise bad things will happen to the future/the past/whatever," is not compelling.  Changing an event in the future has no impact, as I don't know what was going to happen otherwise anyway.  Changing an event in the past would alter my present, so I'll never know the difference.

Moreover, how would Archer know that the changes Daniels is trying to prevent wouldn't be advantageous to him and his ship?  When the Suliban confronts Archer, he raises this possibility--maybe Daniels is the bad guy, and the Suliban is the good guy.  After all, the Suliban did save the ship, right?  The Suliban has a legitimate point, and there is no way to sort that out, because Archer has no way to figure out what is truly at stake here.  Alas the writers, perhaps realizing that they wrote themselves into a corner, has the Suliban shoot Archer for no reason except to establish his bad guy bona fides.  The Suliban then kills Daniels (or, at least, appears to), has a fist-fight with Archer, and then jumps out the airlock onto a passing ship.  The end.

It was really a WTF episode, with no pay-off whatsoever.  I would like to see less time travel going forward, but since this Temporal Cold War is one of the two plot arcs so far, I suspect I will be disappointed.

The other plot arc--the Vulcans being dicks--is far more satisfying.  "Shadows of P'Jem" shows the Vulcans doubling-down on dickishness.  The Enterprise ends up on a planet called Coridan, where the Vulcans have set up a puppet government so that they can mine at will.  No, seriously--the Vulcans are running a banana republic, complete with rebels seeking freedom from colonial rule.  The rebels take Archer and T'Pol hostage, and they are ultimately rescued by our new friends the Andorians (i.e. the blue skinned, antenna guys), with an assist from Tripp and Malcolm.

I'm all in on the Andorians, and their head honcho Shran.  He said that he rescued Archer to repay him for discovering the secret Vulcan spy post, and that they are even now.  Hopefully not, as I am enjoying these plots very much,  More Andorians, please.

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