A review by Dorian Thompson
The third episode of Enterprise’s second season, penned by X-Files great John Shiban, provided a wealth of character interaction and excitement. While not Trip-heavy, “Minefiled” offered its audience a chief engineer who was smudged, exhausted, and devastatingly competent. Mr. Shiban, ever perceptive when it comes to characterization, presented us with a less bellicose version of our favorite engineer. Too busy overseeing and directing repairs to Enterprise, badly damaged by a mine, Trip appears calm and wholly in control (working with T’Pol rather than against her) during the lion’s share of this week’s episode. In short, I liked him and I liked Minefield a great deal for other reasons which, oddly enough, reflected well on Mr. Tucker in his absence.
“Minfield” begins with a visibly nervous Lieutenant Reed (who’s been invited to breakfast by the captain) straightening his collar before entering Archer’s ready room. Incredulous at the notion that his captain has invited him solely for the purpose of sharing a casual meal, Malcolm clumsily rebuffs Archer’s attempts to engage him in conversation about sports and such. Much as Archer tries to establish an easygoing rapport with Malcolm reminiscent of the one he shares with Trip, he is unsuccessful. Fortunately their tense meeting is cut short by a call from the bridge: Enterprise’s sensors have located a new planetary system. Once on duty, Archer orders that a landing party be sent to the surface of the newly discovered volcanic planet. Suddenly, a savage explosion (which decompresses eight departments and throws Hoshi to the floor of the bridge) rocks the port side of the saucer.
Soon our intrepid engineer--dirty, exhausted and very appealing--appears on the bridge to inform Captain Archer of the extent of damage done by the explosion. Just then, Malcolm detects a cloaked object which has struck the hull near Enterprise’s impulse manifold; he determines that it is an armed mine. Adapting the Suliban anti-cloaking technology, T’Pol discovers that Enterprise is adrift in a field of mines—all capable of doing excessive damage. She warns Captain Archer that if the mine attached to the hull detonates, it will disable the ship. Noting that he has experience in disarming explosives, Lieutenant Reed offers to dismantle it. While Malcolm is outside the ship Archer orders Trip to have his team ready to detach the section of the hull plating to which the mine is magnetically sealed. They decide upon this course of action as a last resort—as detachment will expose the impulse manifold—if Malcolm cannot disarm the mine.
While outside, Malcolm sees an alien ship makes an eerie appearance in the minefield. Unable to translate its occupants’ language due to Hoshi’s being in sickbay, Enterprise can do nothing when the ship fires a warning shot close to her nacelle. Archer orders Travis to use the thrusters to get Enterprise out of the minefield, but her movement triggers the attached mine to sprout another spike that magnetizes to the ship’s hull. Unfortunately, it impales Malcolm’s leg in the process. Turning down Trip’s gallant offer to go on the hull to free Malcolm, Archer decides to go up himself—declaring that he needs his engineer on board.
Meanwhile, in a chaotic sickbay a recovering Ensign Sato insists that she wants to return to her station; however, Dr. Phlox won’t allow it. Eventually T’Pol brings Sato’s equipment to her and she is able to translate the aliens’ message: leave the system or they will soon fire on Enterprise. Outside on the hull, Malcolm and Captain Archer provide the crux of the episode’s meaningful dialogue. Warned by Malcolm that if he cuts through the spike he will detonate the mine, Captain Archer resolves to follow Malcolm’s instructions so that he can disarm it himself. Much introspective conversation follows as Jonathan once again attempts to engage Malcolm in small talk in an effort to calm his own nerves. Pinned to the hull without means of escape, Malcolm reluctantly shares the sad story of his great uncle (who, like Malcolm, suffered from a debilitating fear of water) who drowned in a terrible submarine accident after saving his crew. Two things become clear during Archer and Reed’s exchange: Malcolm thinks that Archer’s command style lacks a great deal of professional discipline and, more importantly, that Mr. Reed is far more gregarious and outgoing around the effervescent charm of Charles Tucker III.
Eventually T’Pol (via Hoshi’s skill) communicates to the Romulans that Enterprise is trying to leave the area. Ever impatient, the Romulans demand that Enterprise detach the affected section of hull plating, sacrifice her crewman and depart the area immediately. After a suicide attempt by Malcolm in an effort to get Archer to leave him behind and a scary incident in which the mine rearms itself, a keen Jonathan counts the seconds between the mine’s reactivation and his subsequent deactivation of the circuit. When the Romulans force the issue, Archer informs Trip and T’Pol that he intends to detach the hull plating to which the mine is attached. He asks Trip for two shuttlebay doors reinforced with titanium alloy. Once the hull plating section is far enough away from Enterprise, Archer cuts the mine spike; he and Malcolm surf to safety in the seconds allotted. Enterprise retrieves them and warps away just in the nick of time.
A taut, well paced episode. Its writing, directing, and acting were all top notch. John Shiban’s talent with dialogue really shines through in “Minefield.” The explosion during the teaser made me jump out of my seat and my attention never wavered throughout the episode. Thankfully, Mr.Shiban respected the fact that Enterprise is a prequel and he respected his audience enough to realize that we could figure out for ourselves why the transporter couldn’t be used. Transporters during this time period are primitive and untrustworthy; they shouldn’t be the first thing these humans think of during a crisis. I appreciated that all characters were utilized and that they were presented as competent, brave, and capable of doing their jobs. I was thrilled that Shiban presented our esteemed Mr. Tucker as a top notch engineer who didn’t allow his emotions to overwhelm him during the current crisis. I appreciated Trinneer’s demonstration of his apt abilities as an actor. Never let it be said that Trinneer cannot communicate Trip’s emotions effectively when his character is quiet or subtle, for he does so beautifully without uttering a word. When Archer informed Trip near episode’s end that he intended to detach the hull plating, one could see Trip’s sadness at his misguided inference that Jon intended to sacrifice Malcolm’s life. The last shot of the episode--Phlox, T’Pol, and Trip meeting the rescued Archer and Reed in the shuttlebay—allows another wonderful moment. One can see Trip’s happiness that Malcolm has been rescued as he kneels down and smiles at his injured friend. Even during subtle moments, Trip draws attention. One has to wonder how this episode would have played had Trip been the man on the hull refusing to sacrifice Malcolm. Keating and Bakula’s rapport is sufficiently engaging, but it lacks the humor and developing tenderness of the Keating/Trinneer connection. Overall grade: A