“Broken Bow” launched the fifth live-action Star Trek series 20 years ago.
Until last week, I hadn’t seen “Broken Bow,” the pilot episode of Enterprise (it wouldn’t be rechristened Star Trek Enterprise until its third season), since September 26, 2001. I remember enjoying “Broken Bow” when it aired well enough. But its establishment of a difficult and at times hostile relationship between Earth and Vulcan in the century after First Contact upended all my assumptions, leaving me with a sour taste. I watched the show’s first two seasons from some sense of fan obligation, bailing before the third and—once I heard from fans I trusted that the show had finally found its legs—coming back for the fourth and final year.
Thankfully, no Trek series relies on any single fan’s reaction for its success! Since Star Trek Enterprise went off the air in 2005, it has continued to enjoy a large following. Professional Trek novelists, notably Christopher L. Bennett in his Rise of the Federation books, have continued its plotlines. Fans have called for its revival. And it’s even achieved the distinction of being the only Trek series whose continuity isn’t affected by the Kelvin Timeline!
As Star Trek Enterprise celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, I wanted to rewatch “Broken Bow” to see whether and how the passing of time would shape my reactions to it. Given the series’ continuing influence, the franchise’s explosive proliferation in the past few years, and my own continuing journey as a fan, what would I think of “Broken Bow” 20 years later?
“Broken Bow” gives “sexy” Trek and a skilled communications officer.
Some of “Broken Bow” hasn’t aged well, especially the unabashed way it panders to stereotypical straight males’ ideas of “sexy.” Trip and Travis gossip in the Jefferies tube about the anatomy of Draylaxian women. Travis and Malcolm gawk at the exotic, butterfly-eating dancers on Rigel X. T’Pol and Trip rub each other down with decon gel. (Full-body decontamination won’t be automated by 2151?)
All the “sexy” stuff in “Broken Bow” aligns with co-creator and co-executive producer Brannon Braga’s frequently stated desire to inject more sex appeal into Trek, as he had with the character of Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager. Ultimately, in Enterprise’s third season, the show would give T’Pol a “sexier” makeover in an attempt to raise its low ratings.
Star Trek has never shied away from sexy. Gene Roddenberry liked to quip (as he did on the 1976 Inside Star Trek album) he freely admitted using women as sex objects in his shows because he used men that way, too. But in “Broken Bow,” the objectifying all runs in one direction, and its middle school boys’ club feel is more cringe-worthy the more we as a culture, however slowly and imperfectly, move toward Star Trek’s overarching ideal of mutual respect among the sexes.
On the other hand, “Broken Bow” does exceptionally well by the second of its only two female lead characters, Hoshi Sato. No Trek series since the original has included a dedicated “communications officer” among its bridge crew. Enterprise not only brought back the position but also filled it with a character who gets to use her communications expertise more in one story than Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura got to from “The Corbomite Maneuver” through Star Trek VI. (Looking up Klingon words in print dictionaries, indeed!)
Played by Linda Park, Hoshi is a top-notch linguistics expert with an instinctual knack for the vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of languages terrestrial and extraterrestrial alike. Archer persuades her to join the mission to return Klaang to the Klingons by telling her, “You’d be the first human to talk to these people. Do you really want someone else to do it?” And during the episode’s climactic rescue mission, T’Pol relies on Hoshi’s keen hearing to locate Trip and Klaang, and thank her for it.
Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness won praise from some fans for giving Uhura more communications jobs to do than opening hailing frequencies. But in “Broken Bow,” Hoshi Sato actually gave us our first look at just how critical a communications officer can be.
Overall, “Broken Bow” impressed me as a stronger pilot than I remembered.
Although its take on the early relationship between humans and Vulcans surprised me, it injects the show’s premise with a reliable source of dramatic tension and lays a foundation for future character development. Its introduction of the Temporal Cold War, even if largely abandoned later in the series, remains intriguing enough that Star Trek: Discovery is still drawing on it. And its affection for its source material shines through.
Guess it’s high time for me to rewatch the rest of Enterprise, isn’t it?