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Breaking the Ice

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 8, 2001 - 3:59 AM GMT

See Also: 'Breaking the Ice' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Enterprise discovers the largest comet ever seen by humans. It has large deposits of psyllium beneath its surface, so Archer decides to send Reed and Mayweather to drill some core samples. The crew records a spirited message for a class back on Earth about how their technology and protocols work, but their good moods are dampened when Sato discovers a Vulcan ship closing on their position -- the same starship that has apparently been tailing Enterprise for weeks. Archer invites Captain Vanik to participate in the drilling operation, but he declines. Tucker discovers that an encrypted message has been beamed from the Ti'Mir to T'Pol's quarters.

Reed and Mayweather build a snowman with Vulcan ears on the comet and begin drilling, but the charges they use to penetrate the ice change the comet's rotation, putting them at risk from a nearby star. Archer invites Vanik to Enterprise in the hope of bettering relations with the Vulcans, but Ti'Mir's captain remains aloof and condescending. After Hoshi decrypts the file, Tucker reads T'Pol's message and is horrified to realize it is a personal letter about her impending nuptials. She is initially displeased that he knows about her private life, but later invites him to discuss the situation with her. Though T'Pol insists that she must fulfill her obligation to her culture, Tucker suggests her postponement of the wedding indicates that she wants to get out of the betrothal.

Mayweather is injured on the comet, slowing his and Reed's return to their shuttle. The little ship falls into a sinkhole as the ice melts. Captain Vanik offers to tractor them to safety, which Archer initially refuses until T'Pol explains that Vanik sees humans as arrogant and suggests Archer take this opportunity to prove him wrong. Once the rescue has been accomplished, she realizes that she, too, is free to choose, and sends a message to the Vulcan ship, presumably to cancel her wedding.

Analysis: Though it's ostensibly named after the action plot, "Breaking the Ice" has a stronger B-plot and one of the best throwaway exposition scenes I've ever seen -- too bad they didn't work it into the pilot, as the classroom chat would have done much to situate Trekkers old and new among the series' technological and social values. Now we know that the ship has limited replicator capacity along with a chef, that cold germs can survive millions of years in a vacuum and that Tucker gets embarrassed talking about waste extraction; we also know that gregarious Tucker gets stage fright, that Sato's a natural in front of a camera and that Archer likes kids as well as dogs, small but wonderful details that make these characters a lot more fun.

Overall this is the strongest character episode so far, to the extent that the visually spectacular comet sequences seem almost irrelevant. Again it's the big three who get most of the meaningful action; Mayweather and Reed try to get into the spirit by building a snowman on the comet, but unfortunately that's about the extent of their contribution, other than some amusingly slashy moments and a demonstration that Enterprise's shuttles desperately need seat belts. Sato remains mostly in the background but she performs two important tasks, first decoding the encrypted Vulcan message, then alerting the captain to the comet's altered orbit. She's also charming explaining her job to fourth-grade students, making it sound complicated and fun at the same time. Phlox gets to show off both his knowledge and his garrulousness before being silenced by Archer, but he still rubs me the wrong way; he seems much too interested in T'Pol's private issues, like he's rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect that she might confide in him. I think it was a great mistake showing him to be so sleazily interested in other species in the first couple of episodes.

For the second week in a row we get to see Archer clamp down on his resentment of Vulcans and attempt to be civil with a captain who treats him with dripping contempt. His enthusiasm about "Comet Archer" is infectious -- how can anyone not love a captain who interrupts his crew's work to tell them all to go look out the window at the cool spatial phenomenon outside? All right, I know there will be military people screaming about the unprofessionalism of that sequence and it's a darned good thing there were no Klingons sneaking up on Enterprise's tail, but it's a charming moment of recognition that he's really thrilled to be out there. He conveys the same impression during the message taping, grinning irrepressibly as his crew shows off their ship's features. But his best moment comes at the end, when T'Pol and Tucker persuade him to rethink his refusal to ask for Vulcan assistance saving Reed and Mayweather. Scott Bakula is terrific at maintaining his authority when he's playing a moment of uncertainty; he did it last week when Archer decided to turn over his recordings to the Andorians, and he does it again here.

Which makes it all the more interesting that T'Pol decides to use as a sounding board not the captain but Tucker, who has clashed repeatedly with her and demonstrated little understanding of her culture. T'Pol doesn't want to share her predicament with any more people than necessary, yet one would expect her to want the input of the man who invited her to stay on Enterprise -- does she not completely trust Archer, or conversely does she believe he thinks too much like her to be as helpful as someone like Tucker, who's about as different as can be? (I am sure some will speculate that T'Pol is conscious of the sexual tension between herself and the engineer and wants some inkling about whether he feels it as well, but then I've already seen fan fiction pairing T'Pol with Archer and Sato that's about as plausible as the stories pairing her with Tucker.)

This is Jolene Blalock's biggest episode to date -- she doesn't get to show quite as much range as she did in "Strange New World," but she must demonstrate a range of very subtle reactions. One gets the distinct impression that T'Pol is embarrassed by both Archer and Vanik during the dinner scene though she would undoubtedly deny she felt such an emotion; she also portrays something akin to annoyance when Phlox suggests that she find someone to talk to, and humiliation when she learns Tucker has read her private mail. Unfortunately the betrothal plot gets so little air time that there's no suspense about how it will be resolved, and we don't get a clear perspective on whether she resists Vulcan tradition in general or the man she's expected to marry in particular. It would have been interesting had this plot been carried over several episodes, with Archer and Tucker initially worrying that she may be spying for the Vulcans, then trying to deal with her from their respective positions and levels of knowledge as she worked through a course of action. Even though her choice is a foregone conclusion, it seems rushed in "Breaking the Ice."

Already we're seeing T'Pol move away from her Vulcan roots, which under different circumstances might bother me but on this series comes as a great relief. The Vulcans we have seen thus far are at best illogical and in constant violation of the concept of IDIC, which we've been led to believe is an ancient Vulcan concept which would not have changed radically between Enterprise's time frame and that of original Star Trek. Previously we've been told that Vulcans have been committed explorers and pacifists for centuries; even on Deep Space Nine, where Vulcan arrogance took on greater proportions than ever before, they had great integrity, commitment to their principles and compassion (or at least logical consideration) for other species. These new Vulcans are sneakier than Romulans and lie with aplomb; sure, we've seen Spock and Tuvok lie, but they either expressed regret about it or rationalized that they were exaggerating for the greater good. I don't know why Vanik is sneaking around after Enterprise and I don't care; I just want him to go away, like because this sort of rudeness and unpleasantness contributes little but a forced opportunity to make humans look good.

By contrast there's Tucker, who's human enough to feel terrible when he makes an honest mistake and reads T'Pol's mail. He's delightful this episode from his craving for pie to his complaints about getting stuck with "a poop question" to his reluctant admission that he's not really an expert on romantic relationships. And he's surprisingly sensitive to T'Pol's dilemma despite his insensitivity in general to the requirements of her culture; he doesn't really try to understand the Vulcan traditions, he just tosses out possibilities for working within them, like bringing her fiancé onto Enterprise. I have received a couple of complaints that I spend too much time praising Tucker because I think Connor Trinneer is cute, so I want to explain that when I say Tucker is attractive, I'm not talking about how he looks in his jockey shorts; I think he's appealing in the way that men who are clever, playful and witty can be attractive no matter what they look like, and Trinneer plays him with a casual ease that is sometimes a marked contrast to the stiff performances of others on the series. Tucker has had more big scenes than any other character on the series except possibly Archer, and I've never felt like he was phoning in a single line.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the visual spectacle of the sunrise on the comet and the cracking ice -- I have no idea whether it's scientifically accurate or not, but it looks great on film. Regrettably we don't get much of a look at the Vulcan ship -- everything's classified, as Vanik explains -- but we get to see T'Pol's quarters, complete with illegal open flames, vaguely reminiscent of both Spock's and Tuvok's quarters which makes for nice continuity. Overall, "Breaking the Ice" is one of the series' more impressive episodes and in terms of the major characters, it's probably my favorite.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written television reviews, interviews and other features for sites such as Cinescape and Another Universe, as well as a a number of other web sites and magazines. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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