Enterprise‘s “Breaking the Ice” in Review
In this review by Elaine and Matt Sweatman, Elaine’s comments are in italics.
The title of this episode has a double meaning. The literal one applies to how the Enterprise crew collects a core sample from a passing comet. The idiomatic meaning refers to the thawing of relationships between humans and Vulcans, both in a general sense and on an individual basis between Tucker and T’Pol. The show continues to explore the duplicitous nature of Vulcan policies in this era, following on from the previous episode. By showing some progress in overcoming a lack of trust that has been in place between the two races since Star Trek: First Contact, does the episode succeed in “breaking the ice”?
“Such a sad-looking Vulcan!”
Drawings from a class of children on Earth give us some nice banter between Trip, Doctor Phlox, and T’Pol in the mess hall. Surprisingly, T’Pol seems less rude than usual when commenting on the children’s artistic acumen, admiring the relative accuracy of one particular drawing. It feels as if the writers are trying to soften the character somewhat, as we were entirely expecting some comment on the drawing abilities of human children compared to those of similarly-aged Vulcans. We find this softening to be a welcome development, as we’ve been slow to warm to our science officer. She notices the ship dropping out of warp; Enterprise has discovered a comet.
“Let them chase the comet! Does T’Pol know something about it she’s not telling?”
Whereas Archer is oddly excited about the comet, T’Pol seems completely disinterested in it. She’s similarly disinterested when Trip, during their off hours in the mess hall, offers her a bite of pecan pie. Scans show the comet to be rich in eisillium, which even Vulcans have been unable to study in detail. Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Mayweather are tasked with landing a shuttlepod on the comet and extracting a core sample.
A Vulcan ship arrives, and Hoshi hails the vessel. The Vulcans ask to be allowed to observe the exercise, which annoys Captain Archer to no end. It’s hard to tell if there is something about the comet that interests the Vulcans or if they are just exhibiting helicopter parenting towards the humans.
“We’re getting back-to-back Vulcan episodes!”
It’s a good time for the series to continue to examine Vulcan’s role in intergalactic affairs after the bombshell reveal in the previous episode. We are starting to see some justification for Earth’s attitudes towards their benefactors, and the Vulcan High Command’s repeated involvement in Enterprise’s mission illustrates this. We’ve commented several times on the aloofness of Vulcans on this series and have gotten frustrated at Earth’s stubbornness at accepting their assistance. To their credit, it does seem the writers are trying to show us the causes for these attitudes.
“Archer’s being a little more uptight than normal.”
The captain’s frustrations with Vulcans’ hand-holding are clearly nearing a breaking point. After Mayweather and Reed take Shuttlepod 1 to the comet, these frustrations are further complicated by Tucker revealing that T’Pol has received a coded transmission from the Vulcan ship. Archer instructs Trip to have Hoshi decrypt the message.
The Enterprise bridge crew record a somewhat embarrassing but educational message for a class of schoolkids in Ireland. Meanwhile, Reed and Mayweather’s adventures on the comet continue. There, scans are taken, and a snowman is built, eliciting a warning from Archer.
Now that Hoshi has decrypted the coded transmission, Trip becomes the only crewmember to learn of its contents, processing its translation from Vulcan. The message proves to be personal in nature and clearly Commander Tucker is feeling bad for not trusting T’Pol. Archer, trusting Trip’s judgement, chooses not to be told of the message’s contents. Tucker reveals to T’Pol that he has read her message and sincerely offers his apologies. T’Pol is clearly conflicted by both the breach of privacy and the message itself.
On the comet, Reed and Mayweather detonate charges. Captain Archer has meanwhile invited the Vulcan captain over to Enterprise for a meal, trying to determine his true intentions, but ultimately little progress is made and relationships remain tense.
Due to the actions of Reed and Mayweather, the comet’s shape has changed, and the team will soon be exposed to the light of a nearby star. This development rather clumsily provides the lone bit of suspense in the episode.
“Oh, are they starting to trust each other? Or is there going to be another box of pebbles?”
Choosing not to confide in anyone without prior knowledge of her correspondence, T’Pol asks Commander Tucker to join her in her quarters to discuss her dilemma. She is expected to return home to belatedly honor her arranged marriage engagement but clearly seems to wish to stay on Enterprise. Trip observes that, despite her belief that Vulcans do not change, humans are starting to rub off on her. He encourages T’Pol to do as she wishes despite her cultural duty. Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock play this scene well.
While retrieving the core sample, Mayweather falls, injuring his legs. It doesn’t seem like he and Reed allowed for much time to return to the shuttlepod, as the increased temperatures start to “break the ice.”
“Shuttlepods are always causing cave-ins!”
The pair get back to the shuttlepod but fail to lift off when the thrusters cause a cave-in. Nice safety margin there, Reed!
“Whoo! Archer’s gonna fly! Have we actually seen the captain fly a ship before?”
Archer takes the helm and pilots Enterprise to the comet in an attempt to rescue the crewmen. Efforts to use their grappling hook prove ineffective. The Vulcans offer to use their tractor beam to assist in the rescue, but Archer initially refuses. T’Pol breaks through the captain’s stubbornness, and using the same advice Trip gave her, convinces Archer to accept the other ship’s help.
“Look at her with her pie! They have sweet tea and pecan pie on the ship. The chef must be a southerner!”
While the danger to the crew seemed completely avoidable and tacked-on, it provided an opportunity for Archer to evolve from his stubborn attitude about accepting help from Vulcans. T’Pol evolved past her own stubbornness about favouring dutiful adherence to culture rather than her freedom to choose her own destiny. We get some wonderful character moments between Tucker and T’Pol that help to carry an otherwise weak story. Enjoy that pie, T’Pol – you’ve earned it!