Minefield.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers that are extensive (and not well cloaked) for ENT's "Minefield."

In brief: A welcome return to form. "Minefield" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 3 Written by John Shiban Directed by James A. Contner

Brief summary: When the Enterprise stumbles into a Romulan minefield, Reed finds himself in a life-or-death situation.

Well, *that* was a great relief. After the waste of an hour that was "Carbon Creek," I could have done with an apology. I didn't get that, but I did get one of the stronger pieces "Enterprise" has had as a series to date. New arrival John Shiban has gotten his contribution to the series off to a good start.

The premise is relatively simple: the Enterprise comes across a planet that looks a little too good to be true, and soon discover that's because the planet's been mined by a race calling itself the Romulan Star Empire. One mine explodes against the hull, damaging the saucer section quite a bit -- and when another, slightly disabled, attaches itself to the Enterprise, it's up to Lieutenant Reed to disarm it.

A groundbreaking idea? No, though it's one that takes advantage of this century's lack of shield technology. The reason it works on a story level, for the most part, is that everyone's paying attention to the details -- the solutions tried, both successful and not, don't feel like cheats.

One of the earlier "pay attention to the details" moments comes after the second mine is discovered. Up until then, it wasn't clear to anyone on board exactly what had happened other than one hell of a boom -- but with this one visible, Archer assumes there must be others. Rather than whipping up some new goofy tech device, however, he makes use of the technology he already acquired in "Shockwave," detecting the Romulan mines by slightly modifying the same beacons he'd used to pierce the Suliban cloak. Considering all the times that Trek protagonists have acquired some useful technology that we then never see again, this was a welcome change of pace. (T'Pol's "I'll try shifting the phase variance" was the usual technobabble, though -- even "I'll try related frequencies" would've scanned better.)

Most of the issues surrounding the mine were dealing with its specific functioning -- not being an ordnance expert (particularly when it comes to the 22nd-century variety), I've no idea how plausible it sounded to those who *are* such experts, but the internal logic hung together just fine. For instance, as soon as we saw the mine, I imagine many viewers (myself included) wondered, "okay ... so why hasn't this detonated yet?" Reed answers that one rather quickly after a scan: its sensors were disabled to the point where it doesn't "realize" it's actually hit anything. Fair enough. (Visually, I liked the fact that any external shot of the ship didn't show the mines, even when the characters could see them using the Suliban beacons.)

At least as important, however, is how well this episode hung together on a character level. On the level of "small things," I appreciated that Archer, in a welcome change, doesn't micromanage when the ship's first hit -- he asks just enough questions to assure that his people know what they're doing, then he shuts up and lets them do their jobs. More, please. (Similarly, I appreciated the fact that Hoshi, even while sidelined with a concussion, finds a way to make useful contributions while stuck in sickbay.)

The feature characters, however, are Reed and Archer -- and like "Shuttlepod One," most of the episode comes down to whether you buy into their character interactions. I did. The teaser felt a little bit broad -- I can understand Reed being uncomfortable having breakfast with Archer, but there seems to be almost too much emphasis on making him a complete cipher. (Last year he had no favorite food, and now he doesn't follow any sports and has no apparent hobbies. Okay, folks -- now we've hit the level where *I* have more of a life than Reed does...)

That said, however, Reed finds himself stuck having conversations with Archer later, when he finds himself stuck to the ship -- literally. I'd heard enough advance spoilers to know that Reed somehow gets pinned to the hull by the mine, but I didn't know it was meant quite so literally. Ouch, but that's gotta sting. (It also struck a balance between showing lots of gore because they could, and being so careful that you're not convinced of the situation.)

Regardless, once Reed gets pinned, Archer goes out -- initially to attend to him, but when it quickly becomes clear that he can't free Reed without detonating the mine, Archer decides he needs to deactivate the mine himself under Reed's tutelage (and despite Reed's protests -- unfortunately, he's not exactly in a position to enforce his dictates). Archer then decides he wants to continue the conversation that was interrupted at breakfast -- apparently it helps calm his nerves. Again, fair enough.

It's here that many people will probably claim that Enterprise is ripping off its own "Shuttlepod One," since the only times Reed seems to have "real" conversations that reveal himself come when he's convinced death is near. That trait is certainly real enough, but I think it's more of a character trait specific to Reed than it is a writing crutch. If it were solely a writing crutch, Reed and Archer would have wound up the same fast friends that Reed and Trip have become -- and it looks to me as though that's not the case. Reed has a bit more respect for Archer's command style than he did previously, but what I found most interesting is how many criticisms Archer elicited. Reed's a very by-the-book officer, it seems -- which means both that he's somewhat uncomfortable when Archer isn't and that he'll never, *ever*, say such things in defiance of his captain. Most armory/security officers have had the former trait -- certainly Worf and Odo did as regards their superiors' lack of caution -- but having the added deference is an interesting twist on the idea. Assuming that this goes someplace, I'm intrigued.

(There's also every possibility that given the events of "Shuttlepod One," Archer might *think* he and Reed are now good buddies, and then get forcibly reminded he's not at some point. I'd love to see a scene like that, actually.)

We also get a further look inside Reed's past, prompted by Archer wondering why Reed didn't go into the Navy like the dozen or so generations of Reeds before him. "God knows I tried," notes Reed, and therein lies the tale. Reed was raised on the water, and had every intention of joining the family business, but for one minor flaw -- he's aquaphobic. This again struck me as an explanation that fit what we've seen of Reed -- it's something he'd see as a major character flaw and thus be unwilling to discuss, and something he'd probably also feel he had to "atone" for by being an officer above any reproach. I like it. (Of course, if we see him swimming any time soon, I'll be singing a very different tune...)

Eventually, however, push comes to shove: deactivating the last detonation circuit triggers a backup which nearly detonates the mine. The mine *cannot* be defused -- and with an angry Romulan vessel hovering not too far away waiting less than patiently, there seems to be little choice but to go with the backup plan, and jettison the part of the hull to which the mine's attached. All well and good, except for the minor problem that Reed's attached to it as well...

At this point, Reed tries to make the issue a foregone conclusion: rather than talk Archer into letting him go, he simply detaches his air hose, letting his oxygen supply leak into space. While the scene worked (and again showcases Reed's by-the-book mentality as opposed to Archer's save-'em-at-any-cost approach), I'd be wary of using anything like this too often. If Reed's frequently in a position where he's willing to sacrifice himself for the crew, it'll be time for someone to sit down and have a talk with Archer pointing out that a tactical officer with a death wish is a bad combination.

The solution they do come up with is convincing -- I've got some quibbles, but they're really on the level of quibbles only. Archer returns to the ship, gets two shuttlepod doors and brings them back out to the hull. Trip detaches that section of hull, and when the two have drifted sufficiently far away from Enterprise, Archer cuts Reed loose. The mine immediately re-arms and prepares to detonate, but from past experience Archer knows there's a lag time. He and Reed jet off into space, and position the pod doors between themselves and the mine, so that they're shielded from the blast. Enterprise finds them, picks them up, and everyone's safe. I wasn't quite on the edge of my seat, but I was keenly interested in what they were going to do, and bought into the choices they made. Need a climactic scene do much more?

The quibbles? Well, the main one is that I'm having difficulty seeing how Archer and Reed can manage to swivel in space the way they did to bring the doors around, and even more difficulty envisioning how they can *stop* the swivel when they're at the right position. Perhaps more accurately, I can see how it'd be possible using EV suit jets (assuming there's more than one on each suit), but that approach didn't seem to be used.

A related issue is one that arose throughout the show: while there are likely a million and one reasons why the transporter wouldn't solve their problem at this stage in its history, the question of its use should have come up. It's gotten them out of a couple of tight fixes already, so why not here? (If nothing else, I'd have used it to beam Malcolm away at the end, so that only Archer needs to do the stunt with the doors.)

I also wish that the show had gone on just a minute or two more. Okay, for the moment the ship is safe and Reed's under treatment ... but there's a decent-sized section of hull missing, and lots of damage from the one mine that did explode. Enterprise needs repair work that's both extensive and imminent, and I'd have liked to see that at least mentioned. The reason it's only a minor concern is that it appears from the preview for next week as though they find a repair station, so I can hope it's addressed there; if not, this'll be VOY's "Deadlock" all over again.

Lastly, there's the question of the use of the Romulans. On some level, using Romulans here was somewhat superfluous, since the plot didn't really require their presence specifically. On the other hand, since we "know" the Earth-Romulan Wars aren't too far in the future, there's no real reason *not* to use them if you can do so in a plausible way, and I think Shiban pulled that off nicely. The only real things Archer and company learned about the Romulans at this juncture are that they've laid claim to one specific system, don't like intruders, and have some nice cloaking technology. Having rewatched "Balance of Terror" recently, the use of the cloak is a bit questionable, since its existence seems to surprise Kirk's era, but that strikes me as a fairly minor tweak. (On a visual level, I also liked that the first shot we get of the ship decloaking and coming into view is *very* similar to the first such shot in "Balance of Terror," and that the front profile of the ship is very similar to that of its 23rd-century counterpart. Someone decided to have a little fun.)

Some other notes 'n' observations:

-- There were a few minor inconsistencies within the episode that struck me as a little sloppy. The number of detonation circuits is listed as both four and five, and at one point Reed tells Archer to turn a particular unit clockwise, only to have us see him do exactly the opposite. Minor stuff, but something for those inclined to pick nits.

-- I didn't buy Hoshi mispronouncing the word "Romulan." If she had a visual document in front of her, that'd make sense ... but she was decoding someone else's *spoken words*. It's hard for me to see how a lapse like that would occur.

-- I liked Reed's abrupt "I have to use the bathroom" problem, but I do wonder why EV suits aren't designed for that sort of thing in the first place...

-- I'm glad Travis got to get some serious piloting in, but the interface he used for precision flying looked awfully silly.

-- Okay, when Archer and Reed are "riding" the pod doors away from the explosion, did anyone else expect T'Pol's, "Captain, respond!" to be met by "Yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!" a la Slim Pickens? :-)

-- Similarly, having absorbed entirely too much Python through the pores of my skin at an early age, when Archer asks Reed, "so how long was it?", I couldn't help responding, "That's rather a *personal* question, sir."

-- For those wondering why Reed uses "aquaphobia," which mixes Greek and Latin roots: given that "hydrophobia" is actually an older term for rabies, using that form might have given the scene a somewhat different spin. ("I suppose I thought I'd just grow out of it." "What?" "Hydrophobia." "Archer to bridge: have Mr. Reed put down.")

That should cover it. "Minefield" isn't perfect, but it's a sound offering on both a plot and a character level. I was quite comfortably drawn in -- and in the end, that's an important bottom line.

So, let's sum up:

OVERALL: Call it a 9 for now. "Please, sir -- may I have some more?"

NEXT WEEK: A repair station is not what it seems.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "If I were the kind of captain you think I should be, I'd bust your ass back to crewman." "Begging your pardon, sir -- but if you were that kind of captain, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You'd have cut me loose by now." -- Archer and Reed Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28