Everything Old is New Again – Enterprise: “Broken Bow”
“Everything old is new again” is an expression I have heard so many times. What if it was applied to Star Trek? What if the showrunners of Star Trek, when tasked to come up with a new series, decided to go back to the origins of Starfleet? That was the premise of Enterprise and its premiere episode, named “Broken Bow”.
While Voyager was wrapping up its seventh season in early 2001, Enterprise was to debut that year, in the month of September, the latest in a continuous run of Star Trek series, beginning in 1986 with TNG. Since the forthcoming show piqued my interest, I was looking forward to the first episode of the series.
What we got was… wow!
Something I loved about the pilot was that, unlike prior series openers, the language is direct and sometimes coarse. What I also liked was the conflict in this pilot. We see humans not getting along so comfortably with the Vulcans; distrust on both ends means that a bond between the human race and the Vulcans would need to be developed – unlike in the prior series, where we all just “got along,” and the Vulcans were our friends. Here, not so much. We see the Vulcans helping humans, but to a point, not wanting us to venture out too far, like a parent wanting to wait for their children to mature before setting them out on their own, and thus the crew considers the addition of T’Pol to actually be the placement of a spy on board, for her superiors.
Captain Archer views the Vulcans as a hindrance and demands his crew be allowed to begin their first mission. The way Archer’s character was written gave him the appearance of a self-assured person who was not going to be told what to do. I liked this, it was fresh and new, and it set a tone for his character for the rest of the series.
As the crew of Enterprise prepares the ship for its first voyage, we see that this is not a sophisticated starship like those from all the prior series, yet one that looks retro, with technology that looks in line with what should have existed in 2151.
Sexuality is explored in this episode, but in a very not-so-sexy way. The decon chamber scene with T’Pol and Trip was as stimulating as having two workers discuss their jobs… in their underwear. However, also set up in this opener is some sexual tension that will be part of future episodes.
A new series needs action, and we get to see a lot of it. Shootouts, fistfights, battles between the Enterprise and the Suliban spacecraft; they gave it to us, and much more.
Every new TV series – Star Trek or otherwise – tries to set a tone for the remainder of the series with the pilot episode. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think it works here. It made me want to watch the next episode and the next and right on through to the last episode, which is considered one of the worst of all time (that’s for another episode review).
I wasn’t alone. The pilot did do fairly well, opening to a good size audience, drawing in 12.5 million viewers. They must have been excited to see a new show that was unlike any prior series! I’m sure the creators of Enterprise were very happy with the viewership for “Broken Bow” and hoped it would continue on and on, episode after episode, although the ratings for Enterprise began to tumble after the show’s big opening.
Nowadays, we can always look to “Broken Bow” as a near-ideal precedent for how to premiere a new TV series. Why do I hold this opinion? Because it was different; it was old and new all at the same time. It met my expectations, and then some. I rewatched it before I wrote this article, and I see all the reasons why I liked it so much. And now, over twenty years since its debut, the pilot is even more appreciated than when it first aired. Basing the show around the origins of Starfleet turned out to be a gamble that paid off.