Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “First Flight”

“First Flight”
Written by John Shiban & Chris Black
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 2, Episode 24
Production episode 050
Original air date: May 14, 2003
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Enterprise finds what may or may not be a dark-matter nebula. Archer and T’Pol’s good-natured argument on the subject is interrupted by Sato, who says that Forrest is calling. He has bad news: Captain A.G. Robinson has died in an accident while mountain climbing.

Tucker has jiggered some explosives that need to be deployed, and which will allow them to definitively know if this is really a dark-matter nebula or not. Archer takes a shuttlepod to deploy them, refusing Tucker’s company, though the engineer, too, is bummed at Robinson’s death. T’Pol, however, bullies her way on board, reminding Archer of the Starfleet regulation that the captain should never leave the ship unaccompanied.

It’ll take almost three hours to get to the coordinates for deploying the explosives, and so Archer opens up to T’Pol. When they were both commanders, Archer, Robinson, Duvall, and Gardner were the four candidates to be the first to fly a human-built ship past warp two.

Commodore Forrest informs Commander Archer that Robinson is the one getting to do the first flight. Later, Archer drowns his sorrows in the 602 Club, but he does allow Robinson to buy him a drink. Robinson also bluntly tells Archer that the reason why he didn’t get the gig is because he’s too by-the-book, and was trying too hard to get the nod. Starfleet isn’t just looking for pilots, they’re looking for future starship captains.

Two weeks later, Robinson is flying in NX-A, with Archer in charge of mission control. After nailing down an issue with the stabilizers, Robinson finally gets to go to warp. He makes it to warp two, but she gets shaky as he approaches warp 2.1. Both Archer and Forrest order Robinson to abort, but he insists on getting it to warp 2.2. The ship then falls apart around him and he barely is able to eject. The NX-A explodes.

When he returns to Earth, Robinson thinks it’s an engine problem. Tucker—one of the lieutenants on the engineering team—insists that the engines are fine, they’re just still trying to find the right intermix ratios.

Later, Archer sees Tucker in the 602 and they introduce themselves formally and share a drink. Forrest joins them shortly thereafter, getting Tucker to buy him a beer, and informing the pair of them that the Vulcans want to suspend the NX Project indefinitely. Archer and Tucker are both livid, especially since the Vulcans share Robinson’s belief that it’s the engine that’s the problem. Archer—whose Dad built the engine—and Tucker—who’s been working on the engineering team—both disagree loudly. Later, Robinson shows up in the bar and Archer confronts him, wanting to know what he told the Vulcans during his debrief. Archer is incensed that Robinson didn’t even cop to the possibility of pilot error, not to mention the fact that he disobeyed a direct order to disengage.

Naturally, this ends in a fistfight.

Screenshot: CBS

After they’ve both cooled off, Archer convinces Robinson that they shouldn’t give up. Yes, he’s not entirely objective about his Daddy’s engine, but he’s sure that the problem is just getting the intermix ratios right. They still have the NX-B, and Robinson suggests taking it out for an unauthorized flight. Archer has to be talked into that, as it’ll risk his career, but they both think it’s worth it—as does Tucker, who agrees to serve as their one-person mission control.

Their heist is successful, as is the flight itself, with NX-B making it all the way to warp 2.5, a new record. Robinson returns to Earth, and all three are arrested. Forrest tears them all six or seven new assholes, and while they are able to avoid a court-martial—mainly because the flight was successful in saving the NX Project—but they’re all suspended for three months. NX-D would break warp three eight months later, with Duvall in the cockpit, and five years after that, they laid the keel for Enterprise.

In the present, Archer and T’Pol determine that it really-o-truly-o is a dark matter nebula. T’Pol suggests naming it after Robinson.

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, in 2143 humans couldn’t fly faster than warp two but were able to figure out how to safely eject a pilot seat from a ship at warp speeds. Sure.

The gazelle speech. Archer was a lot more obsessive, by the book, and unfriendly as a commander than he would later be as a captain. He attributes his personality improvement to Robinson’s influence.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol recognizes that Archer needs to talk about Robinson to someone rather than stew in a shuttlepod all by himself, so she bullies her way onto the shuttle and gets him to open up.

Florida Man. Florida Man Risks Career To Aid In Illegal Flight.

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined… The Vulcan observers are ready to completely shut down the NX Project because of one disaster, which is a bit extreme.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Allegedly, Ruby had the name of her kids picked out since she was ten years old, and has promised to marry whoever guesses them. We see Tucker trying his luck (Cyrus and Rosalie are his guess).

More on this later. By the twenty-fourth century, dark matter nebulae were commonplace, encountered by the Enterprise-D in “In Theory,” Voyager in “Cathexis,” and the DS9 crew on a stolen Jem’Hadar ship in “Rocks and Shoals.”

I’ve got faith…

“You remember what Buzz Aldrin said when he stepped onto the moon?”

“No.”

“Nobody does—because Armstrong went first.”

–Archer explaining to Ruby why coming in second sucks.

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. The big guest here is the great Keith Carradine as Robinson. In addition, Brigid Brannagh plays Ruby and Michael Canavan plays the Vulcan advisor. Canavan previously played a Maquis in DS9’s “Defiant” and a Ramuran in Voyager’s “Unforgettable.” Plus, recurring regular Vaughn Armstrong is back for the second week in a row as Forrest; he’ll return two episodes hence in “The Expanse.”

In addition, three sailors who were awarded “sailor of the year” from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) have small walk-on small roles: Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 2nd Class James D. Frey, Navy Counselor 1st Class Kathleen J. Grant, and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Thomas P. Hunt.

Trivial matters: Most of this episode takes place ten years previous, serving as both a sequel to First Contact and a prequel to “Broken Bow.”

Only four of the opening-credits regulars appear in the episode: Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, and Linda Park, the latter for only one very brief moment with only one line.

This is the first appearance of Ruby and the 602 Club, which were both discussed by Tucker and Reed in “Shuttlepod One.”

Tucker’s CO on the engineering team is Captain Jefferies, a nod to Matt Jefferies, who designed the Enterprise for the original series, and after whom the “Jefferies tubes” are named (both in-universe and out of the box).

Archer and T’Pol’s discovery of a dark matter nebula is at odds with Archer mentioning seeing a dark matter nebula years previous in “Breaking the Ice.”

Robinson obviously doesn’t live long enough to be the captain of the NX-02, the Columbia. That honor will go to Captain Hernandez, as we’ll see in “Home.”

This is the first time we’ve seen a character with the rank of commodore since the original series. We’ll meet another in Picard in the person of Commodore Oh. None of the other spinoffs have shown anyone with that rank.

The other warp two flight candidates are Gardner and Duvall. The former, presumably, is the same Gardner whom Soval preferred for command of Enterprise over Archer, as mentioned in “Shadows of P’Jem,” and who will later be the admiral who takes over from Forrest after the admiral is killed in “The Forge.” The latter, presumably, is the same Duvall who was established as being promoted to captain the Shenandoah in “Silent Enemy.”

When first speaking to Archer, Tucker explains his nickname of “Trip.” It’s funny, I knew from the moment he was established as “Charles Tucker III” that the nickname “Trip” was short for “triple,” as that’s a common nickname for people who are the third straight person to carry a name in a family. But when the episode aired, lots of people wrote about it like it was this big revelation, at which point I remembered that not everybody is familiar with the nickname habits of pretentious white people…

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “We all wanted the first flight.” I really wanted to like this episode. I love this sort of look back to see where the characters were before the show started. And bits of this are wonderful, like seeing Archer and Tucker first start talking and especially seeing Scott Bakula play the much more uptight Archer of a decade prior who starts bar fights because someone insulted his old man and who is hyperfocused solely on making his Daddy’s engine work right. And it’s really hard to go wrong casting Keith Carradine, who is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best actor of the Carradine clan (and I don’t say that lightly, given how much acting talent there is in that family).

But so much in this flashback makes absolutely nothing like sense. We start with the notion that the four people who were in line to pilot the warp two engine are also the same guys who would later be tapped to captain starships, and what the what? The two skills are completely unrelated! Being a test pilot is a very particular skill set, and while there’s some overlap in the Venn diagram of that and a starship captain, it’s not that much.

And then we have Robinson and Archer stealing a ship, in essence, aided by Tucker, and even though it proved that the engine was viable, there is absolutely no way, none, that the three of them would’ve remained in Starfleet after that—or if they did, they’d be transferred to desk jobs on Pluto or something. Hell, it strains credulity that Archer and Robinson weren’t severely disciplined for the bar fight, or that Robinson wasn’t disciplined for disobeying an order that was immediately followed by his ship blowing up. And yes, I know, characters in TV shows and movies pull this kind of bullshit all the time and never suffer any consequences for it, but my patience for that trope has never been all that great, and it’s diminished as I’ve gotten older.

The script varies wildly in quality, from the workable clichés (Archer’s Buzz Aldrin comment to Ruby) to Forrest’s reaming of Archer, Robinson, and Tucker (a rare case of the usually calm Forrest cutting loose, and which would’ve been more impressive had there been any real consequences attached to it) to Robinson’s pathetically awkward speculation about future starship missions (the exact line is “When the first warp five starship is built, its captain won’t be able to call home every time he needs to make a decision. He won’t be able to turn to the Vulcans, unless he decides to take one with him,” and I half expected Carradine to turn and wink at the camera at the end there).

This should’ve been a really great episode, and it wound up being such a disappointment…

Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido is selling autographed copies of several of his books. Check out what’s available in this blog post.

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