|Star Trek: Enterprise|
|Star Trek: Enterprise|
Greg, it’s time to review Star Trek’s sixth television series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which ran from 2001 to 2005.
Which is ironic because one of the things that separates the fans from the uninitiated is that people called the Starship Enterprise the Star Trek Enterprise. So now they’ve ret-conned the misnomer. Let’s recap.
ST:ENT takes place in the 22nd century, roughly 100 years before the time of Kirk, Spock and the original series and just prior to the founding of the United Federation of Planets. In a way, ST:ENT is a sequel or follow-up to the mid-1990s movie Star Trek: First Contact, which featured Zephram Cochrane’s invention of the warp drive and the Vulcan civilization’s first contact with humans. When ST:ENT begins, we see that the Vulcans have spent years obstructing Earth’s ability to attain warp speeds necessary to achieve interstellar travel. Captain Jonathan Archer carries a deep resentment toward Vulcans for their condescending attitudes and actions toward humans.
We’re introduced to Captain Jonathan Archer. His father helped build the warp drive for his ship: the NX-0. This gives him a special connection to the ship. His chief engineer is Trip Trucker – a Texas-born firebrand. His first officer is T’Pol – a beautiful Vulcan woman. Dr. Phlox was another alien who was their medical officer. Hoshi is a pre-Uhura character who was a master of linguistics and had super sensitive hearing. And.. the rest.
Greg, it’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since ST:ENT was first aired, and its debut coincided with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I remember watching the series during its first run and not being terribly impressed with it. A prequel? Really? An opening theme song with LYRICS, for God’s sake? And a rock opera? Kill me now.
Early episodes featured cheesy and gratuitous titillation scenes where we see T’Pol and Trip nearly naked and Archer in his skimpy underwear. There were also continuity issues involving encounters with alien species that shouldn’t have happened yet, and technologies that shouldn’t have been invented yet. It all seemed forced and contrived.
I stopped watching the series sometime during season three and never returned, even when I heard that there was an uptick in the quality of season four. I wasn’t surprised that the series suffered the indignity of being terminated after only 4 seasons due to low ratings.
Many years went by without any Trek on TV, and I blamed ST:ENT. If only they had done that series right, we’d live in a Trek-rich universe.
Then the pandemic of 2020 happened, and with movie theaters closed, we (meaning Greg and I) decided to revisit and review all the Star Trek TV series. This forced me to watch ST:ENT again, and I honestly admit dreading this seemingly awful chore. But I did it. And that’s when something strange happened.
I found myself loving this show.
Well, maybe loving is too strong a word. Really liking may be a better descriptor.
The opening theme song about taking chances and having faith now resonates with me. The opening images of the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and Mercury and Apollo astronauts now move me and inspire me. The submarine feel of the ship’s interior seems realistic for its era, and the introduction of transporter, phaser, replicator, tractor beam, and universal translator technologies seem to reflect good scientific evolution. Canon may be violated here and there, but I find myself not caring about that as much. Good storytelling trumps loyalty to canon.
The showrunners made a terrific choice in casting Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer, a man who begins the series as a naïve, eager puppy dog ready to conquer space and prove those nasty Vulcans wrong about human limitations. He ends the series as a wise, hardened warrior, humbled by the harshness of the universe, a statesman grappling with PTSD. The growth and transformation of Archer is fun to watch.
Another good choice made by the showrunners was the race of villains involved in the temporal cold war. The Suliban in ST:ENT are a billion times better than the Kazon in ST:VOYAGER. Yes, at times the Suliban resemble cheesy caricatures of evil, but unlike the Kazon, the Suliban have a supremely cool look, clever costuming, and interesting physical abilities.
Scott, ST:ENT held a lot of potential but for me had a lot of problems. The biggest challenge for me was the overarching storyline of someone from the future who was trying to manipulate the formation of the Federation. There were a lot of time travel elements that made the series seem to constantly second-guess itself. While the writers and showrunners may have been trying to be clever, for me it was difficult to follow.
I also was confused by the fact that the Federation was not yet formed, and yet, there were a lot of aliens in the show. Sure, the Vulcans were there since Zephram Cochran had bumped into them during the Star Trek: First Contact movie. But there were just so many other species. I couldn’t understand how they met them if Vulcans had prevented humans from venturing out into space.
I also couldn’t latch on to the point of the series. Like ST:DS9 before it, ST:ENT seemed to be a soap opera. It was more about personal relationships than it was about examining the human condition – albeit 100 years in the future. As such the episodes could easily have been set in General Hospital as easily as the burgeoning Federation.
Rewatching the series reminded me of all these problems and the shadowy figure from the future just annoyed me. There was the guy from the future who was supposed to be guiding / protecting Archer – and eventually screwed up his “mission.” It was a confounding mess of plot lines that drove me away early and every attempt to return left me confused.
It’s definitely worth commenting on the controversy surrounding the series finale episode, “These are the Voyages.” I can understand all the criticism. Berman and Braga made an error in judgment in having Riker and Troi from ST:TNG occupy center stage in what should have been the ST:ENT’s crew’s spotlight. Yet I also buy the argument that “These are the Voyages” is more of an epilog to the series, with the two-parter Demons and Terra Prime occupying the role as the true series finale.
Greg, I disagree with your criticism that ST:DS9 and ST:ENT had a soap opera element to them. There is far more substance here than a simple focus on relationships. My criticism of ST:ENT focuses on the wildly inconsistent quality of the storylines. Some episodes are pure magic, e.g., “Cogenitor” and “Regeneration” from Season Two, and much of the final arc of Season Three. But other episodes are a trainwreck, e.g., “Oasis” and “Marauders”. One thing I have to keep in mind is that every Star Trek series has its share of clunkers. I try to evaluate a series in its entirety with more emphasis on its best episodes.
I liked Scott Bakula as Captain Archer – a sort of proto-Kirk. Saddled both with the legacy of his father’s failure and the responsibility of representing the entire human race, Archer was a fairly textured character. He was a great heroic character as he was rooted with a strong sense of morality and also flawed and biased and was constantly working to overcome his biases. He ultimately grew into a statesman and became the guiding hand of the Federation. Watching Archer navigate the stars and his hero’s journey was the best part of ST:ENT.
T’Pol has an interesting character arc as well. She begins as arrogant and dismissive of the humans and gradually grows to admire and even (dare I say) love them. She takes up a relationship with chief engineer Trip Tucker that stretches credulity (if you’re a fan of ST:TOS). But that relationship played into show runner Rick Berman’s attempt to add sex appeal to the Star Trek universe. There were many… many gratuitous scenes of our heroes in the showers spreading antiviral cream on each other. However, as I’ve complained about with many other series – she “normalized” so much by the series’ end that I hardly recognized her as Vulcan.
As you point out, Scott, the series ended with more of a whimper than a bang. The writers attempted to round out the series by flashing forward to the final voyage of the NX-01 and showing us where all our heroes finish up. The mechanism for this climax was to have Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprise their roles as Riker and Troi from ST:TNG. Riker had a crisis of conscience and reviewed the final days of the NX-01 in the Holodeck – posing as the NX-01’s ship’s cook.
While this gave us an opportunity to get inside our hero’s heads, it robbed the viewing fans of a true telling of the final days of the original Starship Enterprise. It made the episode more about Riker’s little problem, and even foreshadowed a beloved character’s demise. The final scene where Archer repeats the Federation manifesto beginning “Space… the final frontier…” was spoken by all the captains of the Star Trek franchise robbing Archer and his crew of their final farewell.
Perhaps Berman knew that this was the end of the Star Trek franchise. Maybe this was his way of capping off what he thought would be the last episode of all of Star Trek. If so, it is considered by most of the Star Trek faithful to be the worst possible ending of all time.
I’ve already mentioned the transformation of Archer from naive puppydog to hardened trauma survivor. But there is also hard-earned wisdom about the balance in the universe between exquisite beauty and horrific evil. If Archer resembled Wesley Crusher in season one, by the end of season four Archer is the spitting image of Jean Luc Picard, only with ample hair. Season 4 Archer is a wise badass whose only connection to a puppy dog is his pet beagle, Porthos.
The ensemble cast also grows in their heroism in meaningful ways. For me, Trip was always an annoying character with his immature emotional outbursts. Somehow he wised up and earned his way into T’Pol’s heart. T’Pol evolves throughout the series by becoming more in touch with her emotions, a journey that Vulcans would view as a backward regression but we humans would view as growth and development. Other characters gain self-confidence, another heroic trait.
Trip’s death in the season finale was an odd and unfortunate choice. There was no point to it and ruined any chances of his character appearing in future Trek movies and series. Overall, my fondness for ST:ENT has truly grown over the years. The series almost deserves the full 5 out of 5 Reels but its limited run, plus problems I had a few too many weak episodes, force me to lower my rating to 4 out of 5. I give the heroes the full 5 hero points because of their remarkable metamorphosis over the four seasons.
Scott, I may forever be a Star Trek purist – or perhaps Amish – as I have no love for this series. It was the dullest of all the incarnations of Star Trek. For me the real joy in this series is how well they presented the emerging technology of the Star Trek universe – but with more CGI and modern technical appeal than the low-budget 1960s version. There were criticisms in the fandom regarding how ST:ENT tech looked more futuristic than ST:TOS – but for me they struck the balance right.
But… what a terrible long slog of a journey wondering what the heck this series was “about.” The personal relationships were dull. The characters were wooden and two-dimensional. The plots of individual episodes were often pointless. The story arc of time-traveling shadow-evil trying to manipulate and undermine the formation of the Federation was baffling and incoherent. Stop me if I bore you. I could find no love for this series.
But I loved Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer.
I’ll give the series 2 Reels out of 5… and our proto-Kirk 3 out of 5 Heroes.
|Star Trek: Enterprise|