In the eighth episode of the first season of Enterprise, T’Pol’s secret is discovered by Tucker, and Archer deals with a frustrating Vulcan captain. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
There’s a lot of heart put into this episode, and, as cruel as this sounds, I wish that same energy was put into the pacing and focus of “Breaking the Ice.” I wanted so much more from this episode, despite that certain sequences were immensely satisfying to watch. I say all of this with sympathy, though, because I’m coming to learn just how important pacing is and how hard it is to do.
Look, I’ve been running the Mark Does Stuff universe for nearly eight years. (Seriously, August is the 8-year anniversary. HOW HAS IT LASTED THIS LONG.) I was a failed English major, I’d been writing mostly non-fiction and doing critical analysis in essay/blog form for a while, but I wasn’t what I considered a “writer,” at least not until a year or so into this project. Then I stopped insulting myself and accepted that while my writing was different, it was still writing. That being said, there’s a reason why I tend to focus on things like social issues, or representation, or any number of topics that I can rant on for days. I feel more informed about them; I feel like I have something interesting or unique to say.
As a reader, though, and as someone who loves fiction both as a form of escapism and as a way to understand the world around me, I had always hoped that my savviness towards different genres or writing techniques or tropes kept me relevant. Yet I can’t deny that every so often, I felt like a fraud: how could I be a critic if I never created anything myself? How could I possibly know what I was talking about?
Of course, I don’t truly subscribe to that logic, and honestly, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do critical analysis if you’re not a creator yourself. That’s bullshit, and there is absolutely value and insight and connections to be had from people just like me and just like you. This is all a huge lead-up to say that in the past year, I have come to intimately understand just how hard it is to pace a story. I’m so used to pieces that are anywhere from 700 words to a few thousand that once I tackled a novel-length work, I was intimidating by the process of making sure that story flowed well. Trust me, y’all, I had some problems. I made things infinitely complicated by having my first novel the start of a trilogy, which meant I had a huge challenge right up front: How do you pace a story when you can’t finish it in one volume? Granted, I don’t have that issue anymore, since my book is now a standalone. But even within that, I had pacing issues after the big re-write!
It’s been a humbling thing to have to deal with shit like story beats or escalation because I thought I understood it well – and I think I had a decent understanding of them – but this episode made me think of how I had similar issues with some of my early drafts. Now, this is not to say LOOK AT ME, I AM THE SAME AS VETERAN STAR TREK WRITERS. I’m not, and I’ve got a long way to go (and a lot of shit to write) to get to the level where I might be asked to write for television. Plus, the demands of this medium are so vastly different, so here’s what I think: this feels like it needed another draft. There are two stories at play here, and they’re interesting, plausible, and engaging, but the script never figures out how much time to devote to anything. Look, I adored that sequence where the crew answered questions from kids back home, but it’s very long. That time could have been given to developing the frigid relationship between Archer and Captain Vanik. It could have been given to explaining the seeming coincidence between the Ti’Mur showing up and T’Pol getting that letter. Was Vanik actually watching the Enterprise, or were they merely trying to get to T’Pol?
But this episode’s biggest flaw is in introducing T’Pol’s arranged marriage (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and then barely addressing it. There are hints of how much anxiety it is causing her in the first third of “Breaking the Ice.” That scene where she addresses it outright to Tucker was brilliant, a perfect demonstration of how their cultures clashed. It showed us why T’Pol had been so reluctant to talk to any of the humans about this. How could they possibly understand her culture in any empathetic (or, at least, sympathetic) manner?
Yet for some reason, we never see her future husband. Or her family. Or anyone relating to this, aside from Vanik. (Who says something angry to her.) We don’t know what message she sends back to her people, we don’t know what the ramifications of her actions are… and it’s weird. The story on the ice comet is cool, but this felt like the much bigger plot, and it’s mostly abandoned in the end. What happened? Is T’Pol testing out some sort of interest in humanity or human culture? (That pecan pie suggests so.) There’s no follow-through on this story, and the same goes with Vanik. Did Vanik change his mind towards humans? Did Archer feel any different about Vulcans after they helped rescue Mayweather and Reed? I don’t know!
I’m fine with “slower” episodes, and I also don’t need every story to be the most bombastic and dramatic tale ever told. But this episode stretches out wide and never really commits to saying anything. There are hints, but in the end, I’m left guessing more than not. And my editor would probably yell at me and tell me to go re-think the structure of it all and come back when there’s something more concrete.
I still liked this episode, for what it’s worth, and I’m enjoying Enterprise, too! I haven’t stated that, so HERE I AM.
The video for “Breaking the Ice” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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