Tucker is able to squeeze a little more efficacy out of the atmospheric recyclers by lowering the temperature in the pod to -5 centigrade. They’ll be freezing, but it’ll buy them another half day of air. Reed begins shaving, not because of a newfound optimism, but so that his corpse will be presentable when it’s eventually found. This means it’s Tucker’s turn to point out the futility of the endeavor, reminding him that your hair and nails keep growing for a while after you die (actually, your skin recedes, but I digress).
Back on the Enterprise, T’Pol tells Archer that she’s reviewed her scans and is convinced that microsingularities are to blame for the Tesnian malfunction. She has also identified several points at which the singularities collided with Enterprise, though the ship was protected because her hull plating was polarized at the time. That being the case, Archer decides to contact the shuttlepod and set a new rendezvous point, as the shuttle is not equipped with the same sort of hull plating. On the shuttle, Reed is once again recording letters. This time, it’s a series of near identical letters to women from his past. When Tucker asks why not just record one letter, Reed insists on the subtle differences between the letters – complimenting one woman’s smile, another’s eyes, etc.
As they once again descend into petty bickering, Tucker decides to break into the bourbon. As they toast to the brave men and women of the starship Enterprise, the conversation turns heartfelt. Reed laments that Tucker sees him as “the eternal pessimist,” adding not only that he lost everyone he cared about when Enterprise was (apparently) destroyed, but that things never worked out with any of the girls he’s been writing to because he’s never been good at getting close to people, even his own family. Tucker blows out the candle, telling Reed that “five or six more minutes sounds kinda nice.” Sometime later, the two are exceptionally drunk and Reed lets slip his “appreciation” for T’Pol, to which Tucker’s response is particularly amusing, given their future relationship. As they toast to the subcommander’s hindquarters, a garbled message comes through on the subspace radio, and the two are overjoyed to recognize Sato’s voice. Tucker, now, is the pessimistic one, as he realizes that Enterprise is two days away and the shuttle only has one day’s worth of air left.
Unable to respond to Enterprise’s message, the two realize they need to find a way to get the ship’s attention and prompt them to speed up. Reed suggests they jettison and detonate the shuttle’s impulse drive, reasoning that it’s about as much noise as they can make. While the resident engineer is hardly fond of the idea of blowing up their only engine (or of being left adrift and low on air), he soon relents. After all, it hardly matters how fast they travel when Enterprise can run circles around them.
Several hours later, the two are huddled in a corner, betting the remainder of the bourbon on whether they have more or less than twelve hours of air left. With ten hours remaining, Tucker wins. After drinking their final toast – to “ten hours and two men” – Tucker does the math and decides to seal himself in the airlock, sacrificing his life to give Reed twenty hours of to live. Reed is aghast, and pulls a phase pistol on Tucker and refuses to let him do it. Far from being the pessimist he seemed to be, Reed insists that he’d rather their crewmates find them both dead in the shuttle than let Tucker kill himself if even there’s one chance in a thousand that Enterprise saw noticed their exploding impulse drive.
Later still, Reed awakens in sickbay with Archer, Phlox, and T’Pol at his bedside. They saw the explosion and arrived as the shuttle was down to two hours of air. As T’Pol turns to leave, he asks if she has anything to say to him. When she declines and walks away, he is relieved that he isn’t dreaming.
This one works really well, to the point of being a highlight of the season, if not of the entire series. It’s a wonderful episode that deals with the very real dangers inherent to space travel in ways that ‘Star Trek’ seldom had before (or since, for that matter). It’s one of the advantages of the show’s prequel setting, actually. Everything is new and the characters are flying by the seat of their pants in a way that people of Picard’s generation simply aren’t. The most common example is probably the way they often find themselves relying on Sato’s ear and talent for languages rather than a universal translator, but ‘Shuttlepod One’ takes that seat of the pants notion to its logical extreme.
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Shuttlepod One’ is the ultimate bottle show, spending much of its runtime with the episode’s leads in cramped quarters. In fact, so intimate is the show’s scope that you could easily adapt it for the stage and lose virtually nothing in the translation. That being the case, this is by definition the sort of episode that lives and dies on the strength of the chemistry between its two leads. Thankfully, that chemistry is there in abundance. The banter between the two is delightful, from Reed’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the Vulcans would have been more willing to share their technology had Dr. Cochrane been European (perhaps the most British thing to ever come out of the character’s mouth) to Tucker’s reaction upon realizing that they had both been involved with the same woman (though presumably not at the same time) back in San Fransisco.
But of course, there’s more to it than banter. The contrast between Reed’s despondency and Tucker’s stubborn hopefulness creates an oil and water dynamic between the two men that is by turns touching and combustible. And as befits an episode that essentially functions as a companion piece to ‘Silent Enemy’ (itself the show’s first real examination of the character), many of the highlights come courtesy of Reed. Or perhaps I should say “courtesy of Dominic Keating,” as Keating renders immensely sympathetic and relatable a character who could very easily have been neither of those things. Indeed, considering how uptight and buttoned down Reed had tended to be portrayed to this point, it would have been far too easy for either Keating himself or the writers to allow those traits to define him.
But what do you think? Are you as fond of ‘Shuttlepod One’ as I am? Let me know in the comments, and as always be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!