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Star Trek: Enterprise – First Flight (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

First Flight is a prequel to a prequel.

First Flight unfolds before the events of Broken Bow, providing something of a belated origin story for Captain Jonathan Archer. The tale end of the second season feels like an odd place for such a story. The decision to air First Flight and Bounty as a double feature meant that First Flight premiered only a week before The Expanse, an episode that changed everything that fans thought they knew about Star Trek: Enterprise. Then again, perhaps this is the perfect place for an episode like this.

Ground Control to Commander Robinson... Ground Control to Commander Robinson...

Ground Control to Commander Robinson… Ground Control to Commander Robinson…

Much of the final stretch of the second season of Enterprise is introspective and reflective. The show seems aware that a big change is coming, and takes the opportunity of these last few episodes to look back on a classic model of Star Trek. Judgment puts Archer on trial; Cogenitor wonders whether old-fashioned Star Trek morality plays can still work in the twenty-first century; Regeneration finds the Borg lying among the (literal) wreckage of Star Trek: The Next Generation. First Flight opens with the death of Captain A.G. Robinson, a character we never met before.

More to the point, First Flight opens with the death of the man who was almost the captain of the Enterprise. On the cusp of a creative change in direction that effectively kills the show as it existed in the first two seasons, First Flight is pretty heavy on the symbolism.

... Take your protein pill and put your helmet on...

… Take your protein pill and put your helmet on…

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Millennium – Beware of the Dog (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Beware of the Dog opens with the shot of the same comet discussed at the start of The Beginning and the End, just in case viewers thought that The Beginning and the End was somehow a fluke or a deviation. The Beginning and the End was not a freak occurence, it was not some random divergence from the rest of Millennium. It was very much a new beginning for the series, harking in a bold new direction utterly unlike that marked out by The Pilot. The second season of Millennium was a new breed of animal.

And so a lot of Beware of the Dog is devoted to reinforcing this new direction – convincing the viewers at home that Millennium had reinvented itself from the ground up. Part of what is interesting about Beware of the Dog is the way that the basic structure and beats of the episode hark back to the formula and themes of the first season, but in a way that makes it quite clear that things have changed. Beware of the Dog embraces the pulpy absurdity of a show about millennial fears and anxieties, about the nature of good and evil in the world.

Call of the wild...

Call of the wild…

Beware of the Dog is a very weird piece of television. It is resoundingly and unapologetically odd. It is nowhere near as quirky and eccentric as the second season would become in episodes like The Curse of Frank Black or Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or The Time is Now, but decidedly more surreal than the first season had allowed itself to be – even in episodes like Force Majeure or Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions. This is an episode which takes the first season’s “serial killer of the week” format, and substitutes in packs of wild dog.

The result is a piece of television that is quite difficult to classify and quantify, but which feels fresh and exciting. As with The Beginning and the End, there is a playfulness and fun to Beware the Dog that was sorely lacking from extended stretches of the first season. Indeed, it seemed unlikely during the first season that Millennium would ever be classed as “playful” or “fun.” That sense of energy and vibrance imbues the second season with life, helping to carry the show across some admittedly rough episodes later in the year.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Regeneration (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It seems like a bit of an understatement to describe Regeneration as highly controversial.

The blu ray release of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise includes two commentaries for the episode, a sure sign that there is a lot to talk about. On a track recorded in 2005, writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong describe the episode as “infamous.” On a track recorded in 2013, John Billingsley describes how certain segments of fandom considered it a “jumping the shark” moment for the show. That last statement illustrates one of the perverse qualities of Star Trek fandom; one would assume that the viewers turned off by Regeneration would have already tuned out with Acquisition.

We are Borg.

We are Borg.

After all, the decision to bring back the Ferengi in Acquisition is hard to explain. Nobody was clamouring for more Ferengi episodes after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had gone off the air. Outside of Deep Space Nine, the most enduring impression of the Ferengi was that they had begun their life as “villains that didn’t quite work” and bad quickly been transformed into “comic relief that didn’t quite work.” As such, it is hard to account for the decision to bend continuity in order to introduce the Ferengi into the first season of a prequel show designed to escape the baggage of the larger Star Trek franchise.

On the other hand, it made a great deal of sense to bring back the Borg. After all, the Borg were one of the few Star Trek aliens created after 1969 to make a genuine impression on popular culture. The Borg will never be as iconic as Klingons or Vulcans, but they will always be more iconic than Cardassians or Bajorans. They were also stars of the best-loved Star Trek movie starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg are a big deal; there is a reason that Star Trek: Voyager ran them into the ground.

"Assimilate this!"

“Assimilate this!”

It is no wonder that the Borg are frequently cited in discussions around the future of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Asked if the creative team would consider bringing the Borg to the rebooted twenty-third century, Roberto Orci answered, “I think we would think about it.” Damon Lindelof was even blunter in his assessment, “You can’t talk about Trek and not talk about the Borg.” While they have undoubtedly been over-exposed and over-used since they first appeared in Q Who?, the Borg are the most distinctive and most successful addition to the Star Trek mythos outside the classic show.

While common sense and experience seemed to weigh against bringing back the Ferengi in Acquisition, it seems that continuity is the only thing holding the Borg back from making an appearance on Enterprise. That said, Sussman and Strong find a clever way around that issue, by remembering the suggestion in Broken Bow that Enterprise is as much a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact as a prequel to the rest of the Star Trek universe.

"Oh no, Cap'n, they've discovered the mood lightin' settin'."

“Oh no, Cap’n, they’ve discovered the mood lightin’ settin’.”

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Millennium – The Beginning and the End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Beginning and the End manages the impressive and paradoxical feat of both rebooting Millennium and resolving the cliffhanger at the end of Paper Dove. These two contradictory impulses become part of the thematic fabric of The Beginning and the End, an episode fascinated by duality and opposition. Can the polaroid stalker be both a serial killer of the week and the herald of something so much greater? Can Catherine and Frank Black be both united and separated? Can Millennium be the same show it was last year and something completely new?

The Beginning and the End is the start of the show’s polarising and divisive second season. To critics, the second season completely branches off from the first season of the show, replacing a framework that had grown and developed over the course of the year with a bizarre and unwieldy approach that was gonzo and surreal. To fans, the second season was an ambitious and exciting piece of television utterly unlike anything that had been broadcast before or has been broadcast since.

Up in the sky...

Up in the sky…

With Chris Carter back focusing on the development of The X-Files and the looming release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Fox drafted in Glen Morgan and James Wong to steer the second season of Millennium. The duo had helped to define the identity of The X-Files in its first year, and had produced the failed (but ambitious and prescient) series Space: Above and Beyond for the network. After working on the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium, Fox allowed the pair to produce their own pilot – The Notorious Seven.

When Fox opted not to take The Notorious Seven to series, they asked Glen Morgan and James Wong to take charge of Millennium in its sophomore season. As The Beginning and the End demonstrates, Morgan and Wong promptly made the show their own.

Looking up and wondering...

Looking up and wondering…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Cogenitor (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Cogenitor is a brutally subversive gut-punch.

Coming towards the end of the second season, on the cusp of major changes to the way that Star Trek: Enterprise would be run, Cogenitor is structured as a piece of self-aware criticism of the moral methodology of the Star Trek franchise as a whole. For most of its runtime, Cogenitor plays as a stock Star Trek narrative. Confronting a perceived injustice in an alien culture he just met, Trip takes it upon himself to set things right – to make life better for an oppressed minority. His heart is in the right place; the narrative repeatedly assures us that his position is justified.

Guilt Trip.

Guilt Trip.

However, Trip’s solution to this moral dilemma is inadequate. Trip follows the standard Star Trek rule book for a situation like this – he does not cause a scene with the alien culture, instead respectfully empowering the oppressed individual by exposing them to the wonders of the universe so that they might change their world themselves. Trip exposes the eponymous cogenitor to humanist ideals and philosophy, offering his guest a new way of looking at the cosmos. It is sweet, touching and heartwarming.

Then it goes horribly wrong. Refusing to grant amnesty to the cogenitor, which had taken the name “Charles”, Enterprise warps off into the distance in search of new adventures and new opportunities. Any other episode of Enterprise would end there, but Cogenitor affords itself a four-minute coda which reveals the oft-overlooked consequences of this sort of casual meddling in the affairs of others. Through a combination of circumstances and decisions, Archer and Trip find that what should have been a triumphant humanist narrative became a tragedy.

A literal Star Trek.

A literal Star Trek.

Cogenitor feels like a criticism of the moral methodology of Star Trek; of the familiar episodic storytelling pattern that has our heroes warp away from complex situations after imposing their own morality on a culture they only just encountered. It is not too hard to imagine similar brutal twist endings or earlier Star Trek stories like The Hunted or Who Watches the Watchers? There is a sense that Cogenitor is making a none-too-subtle criticism of the assumptions that the Star Trek franchise has taken for granted over the years.

Cogenitor rejects the idea that fleeting engagement with other cultures can be sure to have the desired result. It is a point that feels particularly appropriate at the tale end of the second season of Enterprise, as the franchise was ready to make a (relatively) clean break from that kind of rigidly episodic storytelling. However, it also reflects an awareness of more nuanced and complicated political and social realities in the midst of the War on Terror. It would be nice to believe that societies can be “fixed” as easily as Kirk or Picard suggested, but the reality is decidedly more difficult.

The water polo ball is in Archer's court...

The water polo ball is in Archer’s court…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Breach (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of a heightened franchise like Star Trek is the way that invites particular members of staff to define their own voices. On most of the Star Trek shows, it is easy to distinguish the work of particular writers from one another. Ronald D. Moore likes militarism and world-building; Brannon Braga likes time travel and classic science-fiction. There are clear voices that can be distinguished from the choir on each of the shows, for better or for worse.

Although it enjoyed a considerably shorter run than the other Star Trek spin-offs, Star Trek: Enterprise is no exception.  The Breach is a script credited to writers Chris Black and John Shiban. The two had collaborated unofficially on Canamar, a script credited to Shiban alone. The two would work together again on First Flight towards the end of the season. It is certainly a partnership that had considerable potential, if not for Shiban’s departure at the end of the season.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In many respects, The Breach feels like the product of those two voices. Xenophobia is a major theme of The Breach – as it was in Shiban’s other scripts for the season like Minefield, Dawn or Canamar. Like their last collaboration on Canamar and their future collaboration on First Flight, it seems The Breach presents a more balanced version of Archer than episodes like The Crossing or Horizon. This is a version of Archer who feels compelled to do the right thing, but without the same oppressive self-righteousness that drives his more awkward moments.

However, it seems like Chris Black provides The Breach with its very traditional and old-fashioned Star Trek aesthetic. A veteran of genre television with an understanding of the narrative conventions associated with the franchise, Black understands how Star Trek storytelling is supposed to work. The Breach is perhaps a little too formulaic and traditional in its storytelling, but it does demonstrate that – despite its best efforts – The Crossing had not completely buried a certain optimistic strain of Star Trek ethics.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Horizon (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Horizon takes us backwards.

Early in the episode, the Enterprise is redirected to investigate a strange interstellar phenomenon. “This system’s almost thirty light years behind us,” Mayweather observes. Archer responds, “Admiral Forrest assures me it’s only a temporary detour.” This is largely what Horizon feels like, a journey back to the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Horizon is a deathly dull episode, but it would be more tolerable had it aired early in the first season. At least it is not as offensive as Unexpected or Terra Nova.

"A Travis episode? I'll be right there!"

“A Travis episode? I’ll be right there!”

There is something particularly regressive about Horizon, as if the episode is a relic of the show that Enterprise used to be. It focuses on human space exploration outside of Starfleet, as promised in episodes like Terra Nova or Fortunate Son. It gives the audience another glimpse into “boomer” life and even opens with Mayweather relaxing in “the sweet spot”, the first time that the audience has seen that location since Broken Bow. Even the plot feels like a retread of first season episodes – a strange hybrid of Fortunate Son and Silent Enemy.

The character beats are no better. Horizon struggles to construct a credible character-driven story for Mayweather. Unable to figure anything out, the show decides to saddle him with the same character arc that Hoshi repeated in episodes like Fight or Flight, Sleeping Dogs or Vox Sola. The problems are compounded by the script’s lack of trust in Anthony Montegomery to carry the himself, leading to an extended (and dull) first act and a padded (and dull) subplot. If Judgment made a sterling defense of Enterprise, Horizon is a damning argument for the prosecution.

Freight stuff...

Freight stuff…

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