Where Few Have Gone Before: “Silent Enemy”
Apparently, something happened to the creators of Enterprise as they approached the midway point of the first season, because for the first time in my eleven weeks of watching the show, two episodes have not only been outright, no-disclaimers-necessary good, but they’ve also suggested that someone in charge may have realized that there are other crew members on the ship that aren’t Archer, Tucker or T’Pol. Clearly, this can’t last.
Even ignoring the fun, oddly throwaway subplot of “Silent Enemy” (It’s a subplot that really shouldn’t be so throwaway, if you stop and think about it, but I’ll get to that in a second), there’s a lot to like about “Silent Enemy,” not least of which being that it’s an episode in which the Enterprise crew come up against an unknowable enemy, and by the end of the episode, still know nothing about the enemy and have barely managed to get away in one piece. Unlike other episodes which are clearly attempts to build story arcs and raise questions only to leave them unresolved by episode’s end, there’s a different type of insecurity and unknowing this time; we aren’t given hints or teases or anything about the aliens, with the audience as in the dark (Literally, when the aliens cut off power on the ship) as the characters as to what’s going on. The cosy atmosphere that the show has been slowly, and possibly accidentally, building up for awhile is unceremoniously dumped for something more than a little bit more unsettling and purposefully unsatisfying. Space exploration, it turns out, means not getting a lot of answers.
(I have no idea whether we’re going to see the aliens in this episode again, but I suspect that we won’t; they weren’t given a name, there weren’t any speeches, and they only seemed to communicate by cutting-and-pasting Archer’s speech to them via spy camera, which was wonderfully unsettling. In their own way, they were the scariest Trek aliens since the Borg’s first appearance, way back when. There’s something to be said for the faceless, unknowable, enemy.)
Interspersed with this mystery were two subplots centering around uptight armory officer Malcolm Reed, who was pushing himself and his crew to build phasers into the ship instead of having to reverse course back to the closest star base in order to have them fitted at the same time that Hoshi is trying to discover his favorite food. Both plots, of course, are pushing the same idea, that Reed is all about his work and is particularly bad at social situations. If there was a “traditional” Trek moment this time around, it’s Reed’s about-face when discovering that the cake is made with pineapple (Something he can apparently identify by sight, even when it’s pineapple jam, which seems very impressive to me); it’s funny in a “Oh, that’s so horribly cliched” way to see him laugh along with everyone else, accepting the crew as his family and so on. As with the small moments in other episodes, I enjoyed this focus on someone outside the main trio of actors, even if Hoshi’s “But what does he eat?” plot was tonally out of synch with the rest of the show (The ship is facing destruction from an enemy that isn’t communicating with them, and the communications and linguistics expert is calling Reed’s old school friends to find out if he likes fish? Really?); this, despite everything, is something that I really want to see more of in future episodes.
Coming after “Cold Front,” “Silent Enemy” restored a lot of faith in Enterprise for me. It went beyond competent to being enjoyable, suspenseful and just plain good, and made me feel a small level of hope and optimism for what lies ahead for the rest of the series for the first time in too long. Don’t ruin everything, next episode.