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Future Tense

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 21, 2003 - 5:31 AM GMT

See Also: 'Future Tense' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Enterprise brings aboard a small derelict ship of unknown design. When Archer and Reed manage to open a hatch, they find a dead human inside. Archer wonders if it could be Zefram Cochrane, who disappeared in an experimental warp ship, but Phlox discovers that the corpse has Vulcan and Rigellian nucleotides in addition to human DNA. Moreover, the ship uses organic circuitry and Tucker discovers an internal configuration unlike anything they have ever imagined; though it appears to be a small pod, a ladder leads down to a large room that houses additional equipment, including a box affixed in a hidden panel that Tucker at first thinks might be a flight recorder.

Soon, however, both Suliban and Tholian ships arrive to claim the vessel. The Suliban successfully board Enterprise before Enterprise disables their ship's weapons and they flee; the Tholians warn that the recovered craft poses a threat to the humans, for it is releasing dangerous temporal radiation. Guessing from both the sophistication of the vessel and the genetically diverse human that the ship must be from the future, Archer shows T'Pol the database left behind by Daniels and discovers that the ship will be commissioned 900 years in future and is powered by a temporal displacement drive. If the Suliban get ahold of it and learn how its engine works, it could change the balance of power in the temporal cold war.

T'Pol continues to resist the idea that time travel could be possible and suggests that Archer destroy the ship rather than risk having Enterprise destroyed by factions competing to retrieve it, but he insists that they need to learn more about it first. Meanwhile Reed and Tucker study the box from the vessel and find themselves living in a brief time loop, which Phlox and Archer guess could be an effect of the temporal radiation spoken of by the Tholians. When Enterprise reaches the rendezvous with the Vulcan ship sent to tow the recovered vessel back to Earth, the crew discovers that the Vulcans have been attacked and that Suliban and Tholian ships are fighting over the right to claim the ship.

While they fight, Archer and Reed manually remove the warhead of a torpedo and hide it in the ship so that they can detonate and destroy it remotely if necessary. Archer also orders Tucker to keep working on the device found on the ship which they now suspect is not a recorder but a transmitter. The Tholians win the battle in space and get ready to board Enterprise, so Archer releases the craft and prepares to blow it up. Tucker gets the transmitter working, and the craft and corpse vanish, so the Tholians retreat. T'Pol still resists the explanation that the craft came from the future, though she suspects that the High Command will believe that more readily than they will believe that at some point in the future, humans and Vulcans will mate.

Analysis: Tucker sums up the theme of the Temporal Cold War arc very nicely in 'Future Tense' (a nice reminder of Deep Space Nine's 'Past Tense,' one of Trek's superb time-travel stories) when he says that there's no fun in exploring if you already know how everything is going to turn out. That's the fundamental problem with Enterprise -- that we know what the Vulcans are going to be like 100 years hence, that we have expectations about which species we should and shouldn't see, that we have lists of 'firsts' that this crew cannot be permitted to accomplish because we know that James T. Kirk's crew will reach them later. Thus it's necessary for the sake of dramatic tension to permit that timeline to be monkeyed with.

Starting 'Future Tense' with a mention of Cochrane is brilliant because it plays off our expectations: we know that he ended up on a planet with a Companion where Kirk and Spock eventually found him, so we know the body can't be his. Then again, this is Star Trek, where dead characters regularly turn up as themselves or their clones or their own children, so anything's possible if not necessarily plausible. Thus the Tholians, absent since 'The Tholian Web,' suddenly emerge as players who are possibly involved in mucking with the timeline. This makes sense inasmuch as we have no reason to believe they couldn't have been messing with the timeline, though their xenophobia and overall silence during centuries of Trek also makes them seem pretty unlikely candidates.

Truly, the Tholians are a tease in this episode -- we see wonderful renditions of their ship designs, which were two-dimensional on the original series, and we hear their creaky mistranslations which suggest that it may not be all that easy for humans to communicate well with them. It's never clear whether the Tholians know or care about the Cold War or if they just want to salvage the ship for reasons of their own; maybe they simply hate the Suliban, which might make them valuable allies for Archer if only they weren't so resistant to dialogue. It's never clear that the Suliban know the little craft's origins either. Perhaps they merely noticed unusual temporal readings or radiation coming from it, and have no clue that it's from centuries hence.

Which brings up the fact that, really, Archer has no firm evidence that the ship's from the future, either. He leaps to conclusions based on the DNA of the passenger, but I immediately wondered whether the unnamed corpse was going to turn out to have been abducted by aliens centuries in the past. We've gotten hints on Trek that various races may have popped in to visit Earth at some point before humans knew they were there, plus hints that humans share common ancestors with most of the bipedal species in the quadrant. Archer doesn't know about the latter but he must have heard rumors of the former -- doesn't Tucker have Fight the Future in his film night collection? It's reasonable for Archer to wonder if the ship and crew might be from the future...but is that suspicion enough reason to go mucking around in a database that itself could change the future?

I realize there's no Temporal Prime Directive yet -- there aren't even Vulcan true believers to propose one -- but common sense still dictates that the more Archer knows about the future, the greater the danger that he'll inadvertently change it. I'd lost track of it after "Shockwave" and wasn't sure it was still on the ship, so I'm glad that Archer resists the temptation to look into the crystal ball too often, but I think he may have been hasty even in 'Future Tense.' The bigger question, I guess, is why Daniels never had anyone else from his era retrieve the equipment the way they retrieved the TARDIS and the corpse; even assuming he trusts Archer with it, isn't he worried that the Suliban will try to take Enterprise again, as they tried to do this week?

I don't need a crystal ball to know that we're being manipulated vis a vis Archer and T'Pol the way we were with Janeway and Chakotay for seven years (which, I suppose, means that she is going to fall in love with Mayweather in the series finale, since he's the gratuitous hunk). On three separate occasions in 'Future Tense,' we hear her disbelief over the thought of humans and Vulcans mating -- well, producing offspring, but the production of the offspring is strongly hinted at in the subtext. Methinks the lady doth protest too much, and methinks Archer did not need to bring it up one more time at the end of the episode, and methinks Scott Bakula's embarrassed expression was entirely appropriate, if not exactly in character.

The Tucker-Reed repartee is much less strained and much more entertaining, especially when they start reciting each other's lines in the repeating time loop scene (though after awhile I half-expected them to start reciting lines from Voyager's "Coda" or TNG's "Cause and Effect"). I wish Phlox had Tucker's sense of humor, because he comes across as intolerably sanctimonious much of the time; during his scene with T'Pol I kept thinking that even McCoy had better people skills with Vulcans. T'Pol seemed far too out of sorts in this episode -- she was so emotional that for awhile I thought she was a disguised Suliban who had managed to stay on the ship. Maybe she's thrown off by the impossibility of time travel, or maybe she's completely flustered by the thought of having babies with Archer -- um, with a human -- but she seems on the verge of an emotional outburst for much of the episode.

It's nice to see a Vulcan ship trying to help out for once, and nice to see both nods to continuity and some new threats, but I'm ready for something to happen -- not the ongoing tease of aliens we can't see and a history of things to come that can be broadcast in deserted crew quarters. Nice exterior visuals and good action aside, 'Future Tense' offers tantalizing glimpses of a Trek we don't know, but leaves little of substance for its own future.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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