Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Breaking the Ice”

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“Breaking the Ice”
Written by Maria Jacquemetton & André Jacquemetton
Directed by Terry Windell
Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode 009
Original air date: November 7, 2001
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Tucker is showing off the drawings made by his nephew’s fourth-grade class to T’Pol and Phlox when Enterprise drops to impulse. They’ve found a gigunda comet, bigger than any humans or Vulcans have seen. Archer, who is thrilled at the opportunity, has Mayweather match course with the comet.

Later, T’Pol and Tucker again encounter each other in the mess hall, T’Pol explaining that she isn’t big on caffeine, Tucker waxing rhapsodic on the subject of pecan pie.

T’Pol discovers that there’s eisillium in the comet. It’s a rare mineral that Vulcans haven’t had much of a chance to study. The deposits are too deep to transport, so Archer orders Reed and Mayweather to take a pod to the comet. They’ll use explosive to blow a big hole and then collect the eisillium.

A Vulcan ship, the Ti’Mur, under the command of Captain Vanik, arrives, wishing to observe Enterprise. Archer doesn’t object publicly, but privately to T’Pol is pissed at feeling like he has a Vulcan chaperone.

The pod lands on the comet, and Reed and Mayweather start scanning and setting up explosive charges. They also construct a snowman…

Screenshot: CBS

Sato records a video for back home on the bridge: Some schoolkids in Ireland have sent questions to the crew, and they answer some of the more popular ones. Archer explains what they eat, and discusses fraternization rules. Sato explains the universal translator, Tucker explains what they do with their waste, and Phlox talks about how germs can survive in space.

Tucker reports to Archer that an encrypted transmission has secretly been sent onto Enterprise, directed at T’Pol’s quarters from the Ti’Mur. Archer is not happy—T’Pol had promised she would not contact the Vulcans without talking to him first—and orders Tucker to have Sato decrypt it. She does so—it’s in Vulcan, which she doesn’t feel comfortable translating and reading. Tucker, however, is concerned, and so runs it through the translation matrix—and then becomes crestfallen. He reports to Archer that it’s a personal letter, and Tucker feels like absolute crap for having read it. If they’d just sent it through proper channels and marked it “personal,” everything would’ve been fine, but they went and encrypted it and sent it secretly, making it seem way more suspicious than it actually was. He doesn’t divulge the letter’s contents to Archer, and then he goes to apologize to T’Pol.

To say T’Pol is not thrilled is the understatement of the millennium. (“I have more letters in my quarters—would you like to read them as well?”) Tucker is abject in his apologies, and T’Pol reiterates that he should keep its contents to himself, please.

Archer invites Vanik to dine with him on Enterprise, with Chef preparing some Vulcan dishes—none of which Vanik tries because he ate before he came over. The dinner is magnificent exercise in awkwardness, until Archer finally gets fed up with his polite attempts at conversation being swatted aside, and out-and-out asks why Vanik is spying on them. Vanik tartly replies that if he was spying on them, they’d never have known the Ti’Mur was there.

Screenshot: CBS

While Reed and Mayweather explore the new crater they created, T’Pol informs them that the explosion changed the comet’s rotation, and their landing zone will be in direct sunlight much sooner. The sun will fry them both if they’re exposed on the surface. They work more quickly, though Mayweather hurts his leg.

T’Pol goes to Phlox with a tension headache. He suggests she talk to someone about whatever is stressing her out, and she finds herself forced to talk to Tucker, as the alternative is to let someone else know what’s in her letter.

We learn that T’Pol’s wedding was postponed so she could continue her assignment on Enterprise. Her fiancé’s family wasn’t all that thrilled about that, and now they’re demanding she return to Vulcan for the wedding and then stay on Vulcan for at least the first year of the marriage (her prospective husband is an architect, a skill that would be of no use on a starship, so he can’t come to live with her, while T’Pol can easily transfer to a post on Vulcan). Tucker’s not all that impressed with the entire thing, likening arranged marriages to slavery. T’Pol vociferously defends Vulcan tradition, leading Tucker to wonder why she even asked for his advice. He also points out that humans have a choice in how they live their lives.

As Mayweather and Reed are boarding the pod, the ice under the shuttle collapses. The pod is stuck, and can’t get out under its own power. Enterprise tries their grappling hooks, but only one of the two hits the pod. Vanik offers the Ti’Mur’s tractor beam. Archer objects on principle, but T’Pol points out that (a) Vanik made the offer expecting Archer to be a stubborn ass and refuse, and (b) he’s human, he has a choice to not save two of his crew’s lives over a point of pride.

Screenshot: CBS

Archer asks for help and the pod is yanked out. Vanik snottily tells Tucker that the tractor beam specs are classified and then the Ti’Mura buggers off, though not before T’Pol sends a letter over there, to pass on to her fiancé’s family. Then she goes to her quarters and has some pecan pie…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The comet they find is the biggest comet any human or Vulcan has seen. Mayweather wants to name it “Archer’s Comet.”

The gazelle speech. Archer is incredibly, and adorably, nervous about talking to the kids, but is great once the camera is rolling. He’s also back to being completely shitty toward Vulcans.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol is torn between her duty to Enterprise and her duty to family tradition. She also eats non-Vulcan food for the first time. (Well, okay, the camera shows that she has a piece of pecan pie in her quarters. We don’t actually see her eat it…)

Florida Man. Florida Man Lectures Schoolchildren About Poop; Then Illegally Opens Someone Else’s Mail.

Optimism, Captain! Phlox goes on at great length on the subject of germs in space, to the point where Archer has to cut him off before he starts babbling about a colony of spores he found once.

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined… Vulcans are apparently not all that interested in comets, since it’s just a bunch of ice.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. T’Pol was affianced at the age of seven, just like Spock was, and she’s been procrastinating on re-setting the wedding date that was postponed by her posting to Enterprise. Meantime, the seeds of the T’Pol-Tucker romance are sown here, with him visiting her quarters and her deciding to try his beloved pecan pie.

Screenshot: CBS

More on this later… The Enterprise crew is introduced to the concept of the tractor beam, something that is commonplace from the twenty-third century onward. Vulcan ships are equipped with them and they are way more useful than the grapplers Enterprise has.

I’ve got faith…

“C’mon, it was an honest mistake.”

“I can’t let it go. I’ve got to tell her.”

“How’s that going to help?”

“It’s the right thing to do. At least I’ll be able to look her in the eye without feeling guilty.”

“You’re a good man. You might want to take a phase pistol with you.”

“I might need one…”

–Archer and Tucker discussing Tucker’s reading of T’Pol’s personal mail.

Welcome aboard. The only guest in this one is William Utay as Vanik.

Trivial matters: This is the first of three scripts by the husband-and-wife team of Maria & André Jacquemetton, who were story editors on this first season. The pair would go on to work on Mad Men throughout its run, getting three Emmy nominations for episodes they penned.

We get our first look at a Surak-class starship, and the general “ring” design of the Ti’Mur will serve as the template for all Vulcan High Command ships seen since on Enterprise, and also on Lower Decks.

That Vulcan marriages are arranged by parents for their children was established in the original series’ “Amok Time.”

The Denobulan home system is established as Denobula Triaxa.

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “Just help me make him go away.” There are few writing devices more tired than artificial suspense. While there’s been a sea change in television in the years since this episode aired two decades ago—with Game of Thrones probably being the most talked-about example—at the time “Breaking the Ice” aired, the notion that a character played by an actor in the opening credits would depart in a mid-season episode was laughable. It was not believable that we’d lose McCoy when he was diagnosed with a fatal diseases in the original series’ “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” or that we’d lose Riker when he was offered a command in TNG’s “The Icarus Factor.”

So it’s really hard to be invested in T’Pol’s agonizing over whether or not she’s going to stay on Enterprise because there’s been nothing in the show’s short life to date that indicates that they’re going to do anything radical.

That’s just one of the problems with this episode that should be a lot more enjoyable than it actually is. There are some great individual set pieces here, from Reed and Mayweather building a snowman while comet-walking to the crew answering letters from little kids to Tucker’s epic rant about how crappy he feels about reading T’Pol’s personal stuff to Tucker’s singing the praises of a good pecan pie to T’Pol’s whupping Archer upside the head regarding asking Vanik for help.

The letters-from-kids scene is a particular favorite, even though it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, because it’s a lovely little touch, the sort of goofy thing that a ship like Enterprise would be doing. It provides some nice characterization, too: reminding us that Sato is a teacher also, as she’s very friendly and professorial in her reply, where Phlox shows off his tendency to babble, and Tucker gets to be all outraged over getting the poop question (and you just know that at least half the kids asked that…).

Not all the set pieces work, though, particularly the interactions with the Ti’Mur. After Archer actually being friendly toward the Vulcans at the outset of “The Andorian Incident” (it was Tucker who was being a racist ass in that episode), the captain is back to being a paranoid snot, and this time he’s outmatched by Vanik, who is overwhelmingly snotty to the point of parody. Seriously, the whole dinner scene is just a mess, and trying really hard to show that Vulcans are garbage people to make Archer look justified (like having him eat before coming over for dinner, which is a pretty classic dick move). For that matter, Vanik continues to be dismissive of the comet even after Enterprise discovered the eisillium, which should pique Vanik’s interest, given its rarity.

One of the biggest problems watching this episode in sequence is that the events of “The Andorian Incident” should be coloring everyone’s reactions, especially those of Archer and T’Pol. Archer’s snottiness toward Vanik and the Ti’Mur should be straight-up outrage after the events on P’Jem, and the revelation that Vulcan High Command was using an ancient monastery as a cover for a treaty-violating sensor array is a very good reason for T’Pol to be questioning Vulcan traditions. But those events aren’t mentioned, and it makes it feel like this episode and “The Andorian Incident” didn’t happen in the same space-time continuum. It robs Archer and T’Pol of texture for their actions, reducing the former to just more racism toward Vulcans (which, to be fair, is completely reciprocated by the arrogant Vanik) and the latter to a tiresomely foregone conclusion.

Ultimately, the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Just a blown opportunity.

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido feels real loose like a long-necked goose.

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