Re-viewing “Shuttlepod One” as a Stage Play
The audience has arrived at the theater. Playbills in hand, the usher walks the patrons to their respective seats with great anticipation. The audience sits quietly, the lights dim, and the curtain rises.
Such should have been the opening of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s sixteenth episode, “Shuttlepod One”.
When this episode of Enterprise debuted on 13 February 2002, I had no idea what I was in for. The title alone did not prepare me for a stage play. What I witnessed was a remarkable performance by two of the series favorites: Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) and Charles “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer). The episode had a script by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga that should have been nominated for a Tony Award and a directing performance by David Livingston that brought out the best in these two actors.
The episode reminded me that Trip and Malcolm, waiting to know their fate, was like “waiting for Godot.” Why Waiting for Godot? In Samuel Beckett‘s award-winning play, the two main characters, Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting, not knowing their fate or outcome of their lives. Much as in “Shuttlepod One”, our two main characters don’t know their outcome; will they survive or will they die? This is why I say that Trip and Malcolm are also “waiting for Godot.” In both the play and this episode, Godot is the unknown, something we all can relate to. As we travel the road that is life, we sometimes must stop and determine what our fate is.
Looking at this episode like a Broadway play is the way I’ve chosen to review it. And with that, the curtain rises and…
Act One – The death of Enterprise
Our two heroes are alone in Shuttlepod 1, returning from a test of its systems to find the debris of a spacecraft on an asteroid. Further inspection confirms their worst fears: that the NX-01 was destroyed without reason. In true theater irony, that is only a portion of Enterprise, due to an accident with another spacecraft. However, Trip and Malcolm do not know this. They consider their fate and head off to send a distress message to anyone who might find it or their dead corpses.
Alone, in deep space, what would you do if you only had ten days of oxygen and the nearest planet was light-years away? Malcolm begins to dictate his personal log and a message to his parents, explaining what has happened and, in the latter case, about the loss of their son. He is the pessimist in our production. Trip, on the other hand, is sure of their survival and begins to repair the radio on the shuttle. He is our optimist, sure they will find someone in the vast expanse of space. As is usual with optimist and pessimist pairings, conflict arises (both before and after they have some dinner), and we see that we have two frightened people, not sure of their fate. The curtain lowers to end act one.
Act Two – I like you; do you like me?
The curtain rises to find Malcolm dreaming. He is apparently in Enterprise‘s sickbay; the audience is led to think that the two have survived and were rescued by Enterprise. Growing uncharacteristically intimate with each other, T’Pol talks appreciatively of his courage, Malcolm admits to having never ignored her, and the two begin to speak about their own names. He says he has always liked the name “Stinky”, and she smiles. Before a kiss can occur, Trip awakens him.
The two, after a new twist of fate involving the discovery of a series of breaches in the hull of their little spacecraft, come to the conclusion that they only have a few days to live. Malcolm and Trip begin to share notes on girls they dated and find out they have more in common than they knew. Malcolm continues making audio recordings to the various girls he has dated, which enrages Trip, as he considers it a waste of time. In turn, Malcolm admits that he never had real feelings for those women; it was the crew of Enterprise who made him feel welcome, and he cares for all his shipmates.
A discovered bottle of bourbon allows the true feelings that Malcolm has for T’Pol to come out; “She’s got an awfully nice bum,” he slurs. We see these two men – now more than teammates, but having become friends – as they drink a toast to T’Pol.
Once again, irony rears its ugly head as the repaired receiver picks up the sound of Hoshi, renewing the hopes and happiness of Trip and Malcolm, except that a new rendezvous point is beyond the time when they will run out of air. As the pair realize this, the curtain falls.
Act Three – One of us ain’t gonna make it!
The curtain rises on the last act. To help them get a message to Enterprise that they are still alive, a bit of pyrotechnics is needed, so they explode their engines to send as big a flare into the void of space as possible.
Knowing that their shuttlepod is now adrift and traveling slower than a snail, self-sacrifice is on Trip’s mind. He plans to end his life to ensure his friend has enough air to be found by the crew of Enterprise. Malcolm, having now forged a friendship with Trip, refuses to allow him to end his life and decides they will die together rather than alone.
The story ends with our two heroes recovering from hypothermia, in the real sickbay aboard Enterprise. The curtain falls as Malcolm wishes a pleasant good night to his close friend Trip, who is asleep.
In the play Waiting for Godot, the character of Godot never arrives, yet the two main characters continue their wait. In this episode, hope is Godot, hope that they might be found by someone, anyone, in the void of space. Malcolm accepts that hope is lost, Trip contends that hope is still within reach. Unlike the characters in the play, Trip and Malcolm have Godot find them, so they ultimately survive.
As I recall, this was a “bottle episode”, intended to be a cost saver thanks to the minimalism of the production. What it turned out to be was a chance to see great acting, wonderfully directed and based on an excellent script.
I met Dominic Keating at a sci-fi convention once and asked him if he had improvised the T’Pol scene. He responded that it had been in the script. And he signed a photo to confirm his thoughts about T’Pol actress Jolene Blalock’s posterior!
There were other heartwarming, emotional episodes of Enterprise to come – for example, Season Two’s “Cogenitor”, Season Three’s “Similitude”, and Season Four’s “Terra Prime”. However, “Shuttlepod One”, to me, stands out as the overall finest episode of all four seasons. I recommend you watch it yourself and come to your own conclusion.
Please be careful leaving the theater, and drive home safely…