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Star Trek: Enterprise – Carbon Creek (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.

Although it was the second episode of the season broadcast, Carbon Creek was the first episode of the second season produced.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The fact that it only featured three primary cast members would have meant that everybody else got a little extra vacation time. With a lot of location shooting and a production design outside the Star Trek norm, it likely made sense to get it out of the way first. From a budgeting and production standpoint, the show likely benefited from a bit more time than episodes like Shockwave, Part II or Minefield.

"We come in peace...

“We come in peace…”

However, even outside of these pragmatic production concerns, Carbon Creek helps to set the tone for the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. It is a largely nostalgic and romantic exercise, a rather light stand-alone episode that feels like it wallows in the iconography and conventions of Star Trek. Indeed, the teleplay is credited to Chris Black, the only new writer to survive the writing staff departures that Mike Sussman jokingly referred to as “purges.”

Black is in many respects the first “native” Enterprise writer – the first writer to last more than a season who had not worked on Star Trek: Voyager. As such, it seems only appropriate that he should set the tone for the season ahead.

Vulcan hustle...

Vulcan hustle…

Carbon Creek is a very light episode. The plot is fairly standard, the characters are drawn rather broadly, the stakes are quite low, and the pacing is leisurely. It’s an episode that takes its time getting where it’s going, and it is easy enough to figure out the target destination ahead of time. Even the mining accident in the third act feels curiously relaxed – existing purely to introduce some stakes into the episode, it is dealt with efficiently and without too much melodrama.

And yet despite (or perhaps even because) of these aspects, Carbon Creek works remarkably well. The production design, the pacing, the acting, the design, the story and the moral are all quintessentially Star Trek. And they are all executed with considerable skill. It’s a comforting episode, one steeped in nostalgia not just for the fifties, but for the franchise as a whole.

"We made it through the season!"

“We made it through the season!”

Outside of Carbon Creek, this nostalgia would become a bit of problem for the season. The second season of Enterprise would become far too comfortable executing archetypal Star Trek plots in a very rote manner. There were exceptional episodes in the classic Star Trek mold – Cogenitor is one of the best shows the series ever did – but there were quite a lot of middling episodes that felt like “Star Trek by the numbers.” In hindsight, Carbon Creek seems to set this tone for the year ahead.

The first season of Enterprise had been a very awkward and difficult experience. There were two competing urges at play. On the one hand, there was a clear desire to do something new and provocative and exciting with Star Trek. This led to episodes like Breaking the Ice or Shuttlepod One. However, there was also a very strong urge pulling Enterprise back towards the traditional Star Trek mold. This led to generic adventures like Civilisation or Sleeping Dogs. With the second season, it seemed like the pull towards familiarity had won out.

First contact by the book...

First contact by the book…

Carbon Creek is very much a typical Star Trek plot. A bunch of characters study and alien culture and find themselves confronted with a strange new perspective. The episode ends the characters learning to accept diverse perspectives and embrace differences. Carbon Creek puts the slightest twist on the basic premise. The people studying the culture are Vulcans, and the culture is twentieth century Earth.

“It’s unfortunate that you’ll be leaving these people without experiencing one thing they have to offer,” Mestral laments to his Vulcan colleagues. “Such as alcohol, frozen fish sticks, the constant threat of nuclear annihilation?” Stron sarcastically replies. Mestral insists, “There’s much more to them. You just refuse to see it.” It’s a wonderfully sincere expression of Star Trek’s humanism. Later, he adds, “They’re on the verge of countless social and technological advancements.” He decides to remain. “There’s still more to learn about these people.”

"You mean they won't have zips in the future...?"

“You mean they won’t have zips in the future…?”

As much as the episode represents a nostalgic trip back to the fifties, it represents a trip back into the franchise’s own history. Mestral’s distinctive disguise evokes the cap worn by Spock in The City on the Edge of Forever. His hustling the natives through his mastery of mathematics calls to mind Data’s poker hustling in Time’s Arrow, Part I. Even T’Mir’s decision to reveal future tech to a local entrepreneur with little regard for the consequences evokes McCoy and Scotty’s meddling Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

The pacing is also very relaxed. This is something that was apparent even in the show’s first season – episodes like Fight or Flight or Strange New World were paced in an almost leisurely fashion. Along with the show’s largely episodic structure, this relaxed pacing made Enterprise feel a little outdated in the rapidly-changing televisual landscape of the twenty-first century. The best episodes of that season – like Breaking the Ice, Cold Front and Dear Doctor – found a way to fill the space with world-building and character development.

Strangers on a train...

Strangers on a train…

On the audio commentary for the episode, Chris Black concedes as much, explaining that the pacing stands out a lot more today than it did when the show was originally broadcast:

I think television in general – and movies in general – were paced at a slightly more leisurely pace years ago. Whether it’s people’s attention spans or they talk about the MTV Generation or… whatever it might be. Shows are a lot faster now. You took a lot of time in telling a story back then. I look at even old movies – in Bullett, the old Steve McQueen movie, there’s a whole scene of him parking his car. Now you’d just cut to him walking in the door. But I think it’s jut partially the way that shows were done. I think there’s an attempt to mimic a certain Star Trek feel, to a way the shows are structured and shot and framed. A Star Trek episode looks like a Star Trek episode.

For better or worse, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness were paced a lot more aggressively; it is likely that any return to television will see the franchise having to tighten up its pacing considerably.

"We're from out of town..."

“We’re from out of town…”

And, yet, Carbon Creek is surprisingly comforting. There’s something very friendly and welcoming about nostalgia. It’s no surprise that Carbon Creek picked up a Hugo nomination. (The other choice from the second season – A Night in Sickbay – is a bit harder to explain.) The Hugo nomination is kind of a big deal. It’s the first episode of Star Trek to receive a nomination since Trials and Tribble-ations. Then again, perhaps that’s the point. The Hugos have been accused of “blatant pandering to SF nostalgia.” Carbon Creek is both American and Star Trek nostalgia given form.

Of course, it is important to put this all in context. There was a massive swing towards nostalgia in the early years of the twenty-first century. It seemed like Hollywood jumped wholesale on the “sequel and reboot” train, enthusiastically bringing recognisable characters back to the big screen. Classic shows like Starsky & Hutch, Get Smart, 21 Jump Street, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all made the transition to the big screen, hoping to ride the crest of a wave of nostalgia. Even Star Trek would capitalise on the trend in 2009.

I see your bet and raise you an eyebrow...

I see your bet and raise you an eyebrow…

There are a lot of reasons for this. Pop culture analysts are quick to credit 9/11 for fueling the superhero and nostalgia booms in popular culture, arguing that these stories invite the viewer to return to a simpler time. Indeed, Superman has been a popular character for this sort of nostalgic approach. Debuting in October 2001, Smallville took audiences back to Clark Kent’s formative years in small-town America. Bryan Singer’s big-budget Superman Returns was a gigantic (and awkward) love letter to the classic Richard Donner films.

As tempting as it is to credit the twenty-first century fascination with nostalgia to the horrific events of 9/11, and there’s a definite aspect of that, it should be noted that the trend was already in motion before the terrorist attacks. Smallville may have premiered shortly after the attacks, but it had been in production beforehand. Enterprise is arguably another example. This is to say nothing of the early films of the superhero boom. Bryan Singer’s X-Men was released before the attacks, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was almost complete when they occurred.

Television on television...

Television on television…

It is possible to argue that this nostalgia was already in full swing by the turn of the century, with the high-profile Second World War films reflecting the nostalgic yearning of a society swept up in millennial anxieties. Then again, nostalgia has always been part of the popular consciousness – a significant amount of Billy Joel’s back catalogue is dedicated to exploring that sentiment. Still, regardless of what other factors may have played a part, it seems that nostalgia saw its stock rise considerably in the wake of 9/11.

And Enterprise was a show largely defined by 9/11. Even before the terrorist attacks, it seemed like a show consciously modelling itself for the conservative Bush presidency. The cast was largely white and American. The lead actor was not a scientist or a diplomat, but a ruggedly masculine all-American explorer out to make his mark on the universe. After the events of 9/11, the show found itself trying to adapt. Shadows of P’Jem and Detained were obviously influenced by events, but the show’s immediate reaction was to retreat into familiarity.

This would be, what, the second "stone knives and bear skins" joke in as many days?

This would be, what, the second “stone knives and bear skins” joke in as many days?

Immediately following 9/11, it seemed like Enterprise tried to fall back into the familiar Star Trek routine, valiantly trying to do “business as usual.” A significant portion of the second season is generic Star Trek, with many of the episodes feeling like they could have been done on the other spin-offs with only a few superficial changes. Barring the post-apocalyptic landscape in Shockwave, there was very little indication that anything had changed.

There was a clear urge to carry on as normal and pretend that nothing had happened. So the second season gave us even more familiar plots and familiar aliens. The Romulans showed up for the first time. The Klingons got their own recurring subplot. The Suliban were pushed very much to the background. The show would eventually tackle 9/11 head-on in The Expanse and into the third season, but the second season seemed very much about trying to do the most nostalgic and archetypal Star Trek possible.



So an episode set in the nostalgic fifties was perfect. The fifties have “an almost mythical hold on the American psyche”, and the show still aired close enough to fall within the oft-cited “forty-year itch” of nostalgia. It is easy to see why the fifties hold such an appeal. They followed the Second World War, the conflict that established “the American century.” Despite some hardship in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the fifties were economically prosperous.

Sure, the threat of nuclear holocaust loomed large, the McCarthy witch hunts were in full swing, and the Cold War simmered away, but at least people thought they knew who the enemy was. The fifties was a much more stable and consistent decade, one that came before the tumult of sixties. Things were peaceful; or, at least, they appeared peaceful. There was no sexual liberation. Women were still largely confined to the home. Minorities had yet to fully assert their rights. These facts tend to get glossed over when people think about the best decade in which to raise kids.

That's his cue...

That’s his cue…

In Screening Nostalgia, Christine Sprengler argues that television played a large role in shaping this nostalgia, allowing America to see a reflection of itself. The only problem is that it was a decidedly narrow reflection:

As such, the 1950s was the first decade to represent itself on a mass scale through a visual mass medium. While cinema offered windows on other worlds, on how ‘other’ people lived, television purportedly reflected its audience back to itself through the representation of the ‘ordinary’, ‘average’ American family. Of course, this family was narrowly defined as white, middle-class, usually suburban, God-fearing (typically Protestant), patriotic and enthusiastically capitalist.

The fifties may have been a great time to live and raise children, but only if you were white and middle-class. Even then, there’s a sense that the popular image of the fifties does not reflect the realities.

Cleaning up their act...

Cleaning up their act…

It’s telling that the Vulcans and the residents of Carbon Creek are all white, with very few references to the issues that would have been bubbling away beneath the surface of fifties American. Not only is Carbon Creek entirely welcoming of strangers and yet completely white, but there’s no mention of communism or fears about the social order. The closest that Carbon Creek comes to acknowledging the difference between the popular image of the fifties and the reality is with the character of Maggie and her son Jack.

Maggie is a single mother struggling to raise a child on her own, with very little support. There’s a sense that nobody really talks about it, to the point where her confession to Mestral is painted as a big moment – a very deep and personal confession. “He left a long time ago,” Maggie relates. “Jack used to get letters from him every now and then. The last we heard, he’d moved to Phoenix. I was hoping he would help with Jack’s college but I guess we’re on our own. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me but….”

When I was young, it seemed that life was so logical...

When I was young, it seemed that life was so logical…

The episode never really explores the implications of this plot thread. There’s no suggestion that Maggie might face a social stigma as a single mother raising a child. Outside of this scene, there’s no hint of frustration at a culture that could be so indifferent to this sort of abandonment. It’s a nice moment, and one which cleverly illustrates how the Vulcans blended so perfectly into the community – “I’m sorry,” Maggie confesses, “I’m usually better at keeping a lid on my emotions…” – but it feels like Carbon Creek never really explores the fifties as they actually existed.

Then again, the point of nostalgia is not to offer in insightful critique or thoughtful exploration of a given era. “Nostalgia is never a return to the actual time,” Molly Brown has argued. “It’s a specific reconstruction of the past, a rewriting of it, to soothe present-tense anxieties.” That is arguably the entire point of Carbon Creek, the first episode of the second season offering a metaphorical return to a very traditional form of Star Trek while offering a literal return to the fifties.

Repairing the damage they've done to this culture...

Repairing the damage they’ve done to this culture…

Chris Black’s script is brilliantly self-aware. The script is packed with various references and in-jokes which suggest that it’s more interested in being a celebratory and nostalgic piece of television than a profound exploration of a different era. It is framed as a story told by T’Pol to Archer and Trip over dinner, daring attention to its artificialness and introducing layers of fictionality. T’Pol teases that she could simply have made the whole thing up, although the closing image reveals it to be as real (and as fictional) as anything else featured on Star Trek.

There’s something rather cheeky about the premise of Carbon Creek. The original Star Trek was a product of the sixties, and inexorably connected with the era. When Kirk and Spock traveled back in time to Earth on the show – in episodes like Tomorrow is Yesterday or Assignment: Earth – it was typically to the sixties. (The City on the Edge of Forever being the obvious exception.) Given that Enterprise is a prequel to that classic Star Trek, it’s clever to have the show make a connection to the decade preceding the fifties.

"Playing fast and Lucy with the truth..."

“Playing fast and Lucy with the truth…”

(In some respects, this could be read as a potential criticism of Enterprise. One of the more frequent – and legitimate – criticisms of the show suggests that its racial and sexual politics are regressive when compared to the other Star Trek spin-offs. Hoshi and Travis are the two non-white members of the ensemble, and are the two least developed members of the primary cast. The world of Enterprise feels noticeably less diverse than the three shows produced before it, making it feel like something of a throwback.)

Constant references are made to pop culture, but primarily to pop culture as it relates to Star Trek itself. Justifying his decision to go out during the day, Mestral explains, “I need to go now. I Love Lucy is on tonight.” Of course, I Love Lucy was the brainchild of married couple Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, who founded Desilu Productions to develop the show. Desilu was responsible for producing the classic Star Trek television show. In Inside Star Trek, Herbert Solow and Robert Justman claim that Ball was on set for the filming of some Star Trek shows.

Cultural artefacts...

Cultural artefacts…

At another point, Trip interrupts T’Pol’s narrative with some sly commentary. “Two Vulcans stroll into a bar, hustle a few games of pool and walk out with an armload of TV dinners?” he demands. “It sounds like an old episode of The Twilight Zone.” The Twilight Zone had blazed a trail for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, but it is worth noting that UPN briefly revived The Twilight Zone in 2002. Produced by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine veteran Ira Steven Behr, the show premiered directly after Shockwave, Part II.

Archer and Trip also play the role of nitpicking fans as T’Pol tells her story. Occasionally interrupting the narrative to offer their own criticisms or point out glaring plot holes. “Why did the Vulcans keep this a secret?” Archer asks. Clearly having not paid attention in the first season, Trip inquires, “Hang on. T’Mir was your great-grandmother? I’d be the last person to question your math, but aren’t you missing a few generations? Sputnik was two hundred years ago.”

"And here's to Malcolm, Phlox, Hoshi and Travis having the week off..."

“And here’s to Malcolm, Phlox, Hoshi and Travis having the week off…”

Even after the story is concluded, Trip seems somewhat skeptical. “An alien is left on Earth in the 1950s, lives through, what, thirty Presidents?” he sums up. “Travels the world, and no one notices him? And what happened when he finally kicked the bucket? Did the undertaker just shrug and ignore his ears?” The tone of Archer and Trip’s commentary can’t help but evoke the sort of nitpicking done by on-line fandom, of which the production team was acutely aware.

This feels like another example of Black’s script being glibly self-aware. Archer and Trip even fall into the familiar “Enterprise continuity nitpicks” routine – sounding like Star Trek fans more interested in how this fits with larger continuity than the story being told. Indeed, when T’Pol mentions visiting “the site of first contact between humans and Vulcans”, Archer and Trip get smugly condescending. “Then you were about three thousand kilometres off,” Archer quips.

"My research indicates our hairstyles are at least reasonably period appropriate."

“My research indicates our hairstyles are at least reasonably period appropriate.”

Trip clarifies, “Every school kid knows that Zephram Cochrane met the Vulcans in Bozeman, Montana, on April 5th, 2063.” He resists the urge to flash his Star Trek continuity merit badge. However, there is something just a little bit cheeky about doing an episode that shows the “real” first contact between humans and Vulcans, just like there was something cheeky about including the Ferengi in Acquisition and the Borg in Regeneration. There’s a sense that Enterprise is somewhat playfully tweaking the nose of the continuity obsessives.

Continuity is something very awkward, particularly when it comes to Star Trek. Over seven-hundred odd episodes, there are bound to be mistakes. It’s impossible to keep every single fact straight while producing twenty-six episodes of television a year. When coupled with the continuity headaches introduced within the original show itself, it’s a miracle that the universe hangs together coherently at all. In light of that, it’s easy to forgive issues like the production design of the Enterprise or the fact that Romulans have cloaks in Minefield.

He shoots...

He shoots…

As a rule, Enterprise was generally quite good at sticking to the letter of Star Trek continuity. Producer Brannon Braga was so confident that he boasted about the show never actually violating Star Trek continuity in the gap between the second and third seasons:

“I totally and completely disagree. It’s the dumbest comment in the world and I am so tired of hearing it,” he says strongly when asked point-blank about playing fast and loose with TREK continuity … . “What have we done? Give me one good example. There are some picayune things that we have chosen to do. We have not broken the rules, but we have bent rules. But there’s nothing that important. It’s not like we’ve stated that Kirk never existed. What have we done?”

Braga continues, challenging fans to point out legitimate breaches in STAR TREK continuity.

“In fact, we’re very slavish to the continuity,” he explains. “I’ve got people on staff who do nothing but check the continuity. We’re constantly aware of it and we use it. We’re very aware of it. In fact, I enjoy figuring out the continuity. One of the reasons that I never really did anything with the Romulans, besides the fact that people didn’t really seem to be very interested in them in Nemesis, it that we couldn’t do anything with the Romulans. It had been stated that no one had seen them before. So what were we going to do? Have guys in helmets all the time? We are extremely aware. If the readers can give me examples of significant breaches in the continuity, please do.”

While there’s a sense that Braga is being overly defensive and perhaps even adversarial – there were a few breaches, but nothing seismic – he has a valid point. The only episode of Star Trek that has its continuity legitimately “broken” by anything that happened on Enterprise is Pegasus, and the solution to that problem is to ignore These Are the Voyages. Which is good advice anyway.

Vulcan love songs...

Vulcan love songs…

With Carbon Creek, the show is having a bit of fun. As with the portrayal of the Vulcans in the first season, there’s a clear sense that the show is juxtaposing what the franchise has actually demonstrably proven as compared to the continuity that fans have attempted to divine from what was seen on screen. First contact with the Vulcans only appeared in Star Trek: First Contact. There was enough ambiguity in Star Trek continuity to that point that Diane Duane could suggest humanity met the Andorians before the Vulcans in Spock’s World in 1989.

Similarly, the basic premise of Carbon Creek is nothing new. Novelist Margaret Wander Bonanno was able to write her own version of a secret twentieth-century first contact between humans and Vulcans in Strangers from the Sky in 1987. So there’s a long history of Star Trek writers playing with this sort of history, acknowledging the freedom afforded by a literal interpretation of the Star Trek canon, even (or maybe even especially) when that runs counter to the expectations of Star Trek fans.

She's got faith... (she's got) (she's got) faith of the heart!!!

She’s got faith… (she’s got) (she’s got) faith of the heart!!!

It is interesting to wonder why Star Trek fans respond so strongly to perceived violations of continuity, even when such transgressions are not literal breaches. In Fan Cultures, Matthew Hills suggests that it is a matter of trust:

This overarching intricacy of the cult narrative typically displays such a coherence and continuity that it can be trusted by the viewer, presenting the grounds for ‘ontological security.’ Issues of fan trust being central to the creation and maintenance of the cult. If one considers the fan as ‘playing’ with the cult object … then one reason for such a concern with continuity becomes apparent. The fan-viewer treats the hyperdiegetic world as a space through which the management of identity can be undertaken, such a process only becoming possible where a relationship of security has been established through the fantasy of the destruction of the object, it having survived these processes unscathed and unchanged. Breaches in continuity threaten the security of the viewer-text play relationship.

Given almost fifty years of Star Trek – over seven hundred episodes of and ten feature films – it’s easy to see why JJ Abrams opted for a soft reboot of continuity when tasked with restarting the franchise in 2009. With the freedom afforded by the show’s premise to erase its own continuity, one imagines Berman and Braga envy Russell T. Davies’ 2005 reboot of Doctor Who.

Vulcan families...

Vulcan families…

As Henry Jenkins and John Tulloch suggest in Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Star Trek and Doctor Who, fandom’s knowledge of continuity is used to convey a sense of ownership or entitlement over the work:

The fans’ particular competence is their intimate and detailed knowledge of the show; consequently any producer or script editor who needlessly breaches the continuity and coherence of that knowledge is ‘insulting their intelligence.’ Many fans particularly enjoy episodes which call up that knowledge and so address them directly as fans.

This affection for continuity explains why the fourth season of Enterprise is so beloved by fans, and perhaps goes some way towards explaining fan hostility towards Enterprise as a concept.

"Don't worry, we're much more subtle than the Ferengi were in Roswell..."

“Don’t worry, we’re much more subtle than the Ferengi were in Roswell…”

In some respects, it seems like the producers of Enterprise are trapped between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, there’s a need to tell new stories and to offer novel twists and to push the franchise forward. On the other hand, there is fandom’s discomfort with anything that deviates from their own interpretation of continuity. It is worth noting that – even as the show’s ratings were in decline – these hardcore Star Trek fans were a statistical minority of the viewers. However, they made up a disproportionate amount of the on-line chatter.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that this problem was entirely of Enterprise‘s own making. Producing a prequel series in a universe that has already constructed an elaborate continuity was always going to be dancing between raindrops. Trying to tell a compelling story while having everything play out as everybody expected was inevitably going to cause problems. Any Star Trek spin-off came chained to the franchise’s history. Enterprise had voluntarily chained its own future to that history.

"Wait, you mean I'm the only regular doing a full week's work?"

“Wait, you mean I’m the only regular doing a full week’s work?”

In some respects, Enterprise‘s reluctance to just bite the franchise reboot the franchise – or at least explicitly and immediately write off deviations from the established history as a side effect of the Temporal Cold War – seems to have trapped it. While the JJ Abrams’ reboot may have alienated some of the more hardcore segments of Star Trek fandom, it did work very hard to welcome non-fans to the franchise.

Given all the bellyaching about Enterprise‘s continuity, there’s something grimly hilarious about the fact that the show is the only Star Trek show that remains explicitly “in continuity” after the reboot of JJ Abrams’ Star TrekStar Trek contains a reference to “Admiral Archer”, while Into Darkness features a model of the ship in Admiral Marcus’ office. It’s a wonderful piece of irony, a glib karmic warning for that peculiar subgroup of fans who would conflate “in continuity” with “of objective quality” and had dismissed Enterprise on those grounds.

"You are just very lucky we didn't land in a hippie commune..."

“You are just very lucky we didn’t land in a hippie commune…”

Blalock is the only regular featured heavily here, and she does a nice job. Although not the strongest member of the ensemble, she was dealt some pretty terrible scripts over the course of the show’s run, and generally managed to salvage something from them. Frequent Star Trek guest star J. Paul Boehmer gets a much showier role as Mestral, the Vulcan tempted by the human life style. Boehmer’s distinctly theatrical style works very well in the context of the episode.

Carbon Creek is a pleasant little episode, a decidedly old-fashioned and very conventional piece of Star Trek. It is decidedly nostalgic and affectionate in its treatment of the past, even as Chris Black’s script cleverly draws attention to the artificiality of it all. Carbon Creek makes for an endearing episode – and a worthy Hugo nominee. The biggest problem with Carbon Creek exists outside the episode itself. Carbon Creek makes for an unsatisfactory template for the second season of a show that should be exploring strange new worlds.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

17 Responses

  1. If ever there was a Star Trek story that deserved a Hugo it was Best of Both Worlds” which had more action, drama, character development and suspense than most of the movies.

    Yet another fantastic review. A joy to read. I am afraid I have to admit that I am one of the continuity-barons who found Enterprise hard to grasp at first because it seemed to fly in the face of established Treklore. Once I got over this I did start enjoying Enterprise more but by then it had been off the air for about 5 years. I had stopped watching it mid-season 2 then bought Season 4 at a bargain DVD proce. Having got over the first episode which dealt with the Xindi of Season 3 I found myself watching every episode with baited breath and I maintain Enterprise had firmly found its feet in its fourth and final year and this caused me to reassess it.

    Look forward to more reviews soon

    – Tony

    • I should really read my comments before clicking POST – the spelling and grammar in that comment is awful

    • Thanks Tony.

      I accept that I’m probably in the minority when it comes to not really caring about the ins and outs of continuity for things like background references and franchise history. If it’s a good story, it’s a good story. I don’t think the quality of Enterprise was directly related to how close or how far it wandered from continuity, I think it had to do with how the writers approached basic storytelling. But, I mean, it’s not as if there’s a wrong way to feel about something like this. I’m really just trying to explain my perspective.

  2. I want to make a bit of a defense of continuity because there are some important arguments you don’t cover.

    First, adhering to continuity creates a sense of depth. I, like many people, actually find it easier and more interesting to become immersed in a world that feels real. Tolkien was an expert at this, using his own rich Middle-earth history to give Lord of the Rings a sense of history. When a show or movie has a lot of plot holes or continuity gaps, the world suddenly feels less real and I become less invested.

    Second, violating continuity can affect the drama and impact of earlier stories. OK, maybe technically Enterprise’s “Regeneration” didn’t violate continuity when the Borg showed up, but it did cheapen TNG’s “Q Who.” That TNG episode was about humanity’s first contact with a vastly superior threat, which Q also used to teach humanity a lesson in humility. That episode – and “Best of Both Worlds” – suddenly become less compelling when we learn that Starfleet faced the Borg 200 years earlier and defeated them pretty easily.

    Finally, violating continuity is usually a sign of laziness. I’m sorry, but if somebody can’t be bothered to do a bit of research before they write something, they shouldn’t be hired. Perhaps it’s because I have a background in history and politics, where we regularly have to check our facts. Reviewers regularly chastise works that make factual errors. If a writer is so lazy that he or she can’t bother to check the Star Trek Wikipedia for 5 seconds, I shudder to think how they treat the rest of their work.

    I typically find that most stories that break continuity are just examples of lazy storytelling. Enterprise did this a lot, where it broke continuity – literally or in spirit – not to tell a good story but just to throw in Ferengi, Borg, or other fan favorite aliens or characters. In pretty much all of those cases, one could have inserted some random alien species and told the exact same story.

    If one is going to break continuity, at least do something interesting! I do give the 2009 Star Trek movie credit because it could not have told its story within the existing continuity. The movie destroyed Vulcan and pushed Spock to an emotional breaking point – potentially interesting story ideas not possible in the old continuity.

    Incidentally, I don’t mean to include stories like Diane Duane’s “The Empty Chair,” which was deliberately written out of continuity (much less stories like John Ford’s “Final Reflection” written *before* changes to Klingon history). If an author understands the continuity but chooses to play around with it, that can sometimes work as an ancillary story. But I think as part of the main story of a franchise like Trek continuity problems are often a warning sign of bad storytelling.

    • But there’s a difference between what Tolkein did and what Star Trek did.

      Tolkein mapped out a fully-formed world from the mind of a single creator who imagined it holistically. (There’s the old chestnut about how Tolkein essentially came up the languages, an example of building his world from the ground up.) In contrast, Star Trek created its continuity in the same way that judges create law – it plucks it from thin air as needed, and tries to argue that it is actually part of some invisible super-structure that they are “discovering” rather than creating.

      I have no problem with Star Trek tripping up as it goes along. The first season of the original Star Trek could not decide who was signing Kirk’s cheques, let alone that he didn’t get paid. Things like Starfleet and the Federation were concepts that seemed to contradict the very earliest of continuity, and yet became essential parts of the franchise continuity.

      I’m not going to defend Acquisition, because it’s a terrible episode. But it’s not a terrible episode because it violates (or teases the violation of) continuity; it’s a terrible episode because it’s poorly written. If it’s a bad episode because of the Ferengi, it’s a bad episode because of the Ferengi in the same way that The Price or Menage a Troi is.

      In contrast, I’m going to confess to being a big fan of Regeneration, because it does play with this concept of continuity. It is essentially a show about Enterprise being invaded by a piece of continuity from The Next Generation, which feels quite appropriate given how hard the second season tries to emulate and copy The Next Generation. It is a show that quite cheekily threatens to break continuity before effectively creating a closed loop of continuity. It is designed to tweak the noses of people who let themselves get wound up about such things. It is playful and silly, but it is also energetic in a way that so much of the second season isn’t. But more on that anon.

      I’ll concede that I’m probably in the minority in really not caring about that sort of minutiae-driven continuity (in contrast to, say, character continuity), but I do think that discussions about issues of continuity on Enterprise tend to get a bit waylaid. Yes, the writing on Enterprise was lazy and distracting, but I’d argue that had nothing to do with Klingons having bumpy foreheads or the Borg showing up or the Romulans having a cloaking device.

      Treating T’Pol as a sex object is bigger problem to me; no sense of direction is a bigger problem to me; recycling plots is a bigger problem to me; running through stock story beats is a bigger problem to me. But I freely concede that doctors differ and patients die. This is all about my preferences and attitudes. I am glad to hear your opinions and insights; you do make some interesting points and I do appreciate that.

      • Thanks for your reply. I agree that those writing problems – lack of direction, T’Pol sex object, etc – are far more important than continuity. I just think sloppy continuity is a sign of laziness and goes hand in hand with other problems. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.

        Your point about Star Trek’s less than consistent world-building is well taken though. That’s why I’ve never been somebody who really cares about the inner workings of the Federation Council (and why the newer books really don’t appeal to me). For the record, I actually like how Enterprise reimagines the Vulcans as somewhat paternalistic and occasionally militant. That’s the type of change in continuity that helped the show tell better stories (if all Vulcans were coldly logical, the show would have been boring).

        I DO care about continuity violations when they detract from an earlier story. For example, as I said, one (of the many) problems with “Regeneration” in my opinion is that it undercuts the emotional power of TNG’s “Q Who.” Rather than Q providing Picard a lesson in humility and making them aware of the Borg, the episode now makes Starfleet look dumb for not keeping records of the Borg incident or ever investigating that signal sent to the Delta Quadrant. I think that’s why so many fans were upset at Enterprise. Not because it got a few facts or stardates wrong, but because in trampling over continuity it in some cases undermined much better stories from TNG and TOS.

      • No worries. Apologies about the delay in responding. I do try to reply to most comments on the site, it just takes a while!

        It’s a fair point about whether not doing research is an example of lazy writing. And I’d concede that it is, with the caveat that I think doing the research and deciding to ignore it is a valid decision. But it’s obviously something I think will differ from person to person, and I don’t think there’s an objectively right answer to it. Even if it is a problem, I think the severity varies from case to case. I don’t consider the Romulans having a cloaking device in Minefield a problem on the same scale as Trip visiting a holodeck in Unexpected. Or, well, all of Unexpected.

        Much like I suspect that Regeneration lives or falls by how seriously you tend to treat continuity. Regeneration seems to me to be a deliberate nose-tweaking of continuity. I find it playful in a way that I really wish more of the first two seasons of Enterprise had been playful. So much of those first two years are so fatigued and tired and bland that I like the idea of Sussman and Strong (and Braga) cheekily positioning a story that really doesn’t fit in continuity as essential to that same continuity.

        Regeneration does create all those inconsistencies with Q Who?, but it also turns Borg history into a perpetual circle of which Enterprise becomes an essential part linking First Contact to Q Who? And, to be honest, Q Who? was largely undercut by episodes like Raven and Dark Frontier which added the implication of earlier Borg/Federation contact before Q Who? But I do hope you return to check out that review. I suspect it’ll generate some fun discussion. (Of which I freely admit I’m in the minority.)

        (I also like Judgment, while we’re on my contrary opinions about late second season episodes that everyone hates.)

      • I definitely take your point about Voyager undermining much of “Q Who” before “Regeneration.” I also like your point about “playful” continuity slip ups. It helps if you can get the audience to laugh with you rather than at you. Deep Space Nine did that brilliantly with “Trials and Tribulations,” when the DS9 characters comment about anachronisms in the TOS era (and Worf’s comment about Klingon foreheads).

        I think part of my problem with Enterprise is that it tried too hard to stick to the letter of continuity while violating the spirit. I might have been less concerned with continuity slip-ups if I felt like the writers and audience were having fun with it. Instead, there was almost a defensiveness on Braga’s part about it all and it just became a point of contention with fans.

  3. Trek shows, like any procedural, are mostly confined to “the office”.

    Just having a flashback episode in Star Trek goes against the grain. Odo’s was “Necessary Evil”, but that (brilliantly) took place on the redressed DS9 set. Later, we met Janeway’s ancestor in 11:59, which was fun but had little to do with Janeway herself or Trek canon. Most of the wars Earth is mentioned to have fought in aren’t covered in novels, even.

    Like its predecessors (minus “Necessary Evil”), “Carbon Creek” is neither fish nor fowl. It may actually be worse than the others, because T’Mir behaves exactly like T’Pol would any day “at the office”. For all the gentle ribbing of fanboys fiercely emailing their complaints to Braga, this episode is too timid to make waves.

    • Yep.

      I mean, I like it a lot better than most of the (long) middle stretch of the season, but it’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. (I actually prefer the Minefield/Dead Stop duology.)

  4. It seems as if a trio in Vulcans in 1950’s America could have engaged in some serious — one could even say pointed 🙂 — social commentary, and it’s a bit disappointing that they didn’t. Still, what we did get was cute and sweet and fun, and I’ll take it.

    I loved the way the episode left Trip and Archer in doubt about whether the story was true but made things clear to the viewers. I’m not quite sure why it’s her PURSE that T’Mir should have lovingly preserved and passed down; I guess it was just an article that viewers would recognize easily.

    One wonders what Mestral did during his next pon farr. Perhaps Maggie was enough in love with him by then to keep his secret…

    • Yep. Carbon Creek is cute – perhaps a little too cute. But given the problems that Enterprise has, cute is good enough.

      I should probably give you a head’s up: the second season is going to be tough going. It was this season that broke my Star Trek obsession the first time around; the point at which I stopped watching the franchise “live.” It’s not because any individual episode is terrible, but because cumulatively they can be quite draining.

      • Thanks for the warning! Given what a mixed bag Season 1 was, it’s disheartening to hear that Season 2 will be WORSE. Still, although I enjoy your reviews immensely, I’m more interested in character development, while you’re more interested in politics, so it’s possible my reaction will be different than yours was. I guess we’ll see. 🙂

      • If it makes you feel better, season three and season four are huge improvements.

  5. The thing that strikes me–is Jack’s surname Cochrane? Was he Zephraim’s great-grandfather? If so, T’Pol’s act of compassion changed the entire galaxy. Talk about the Prime Directive!

  6. As a non-American, the US-focus of the show can be a bit grating. It reaches new heights when the Vulcans arrive to study a technological feat of the USSR, but the crash in America. The show would have been 100x more interesting if it had been about three Vulcans who crashed in the USSR, 4 years after the death of Stalin.

    Heck, it would be more interesting to watch Vulcans crash landing in Zimbabwe than the US at this point.

    In any event, they also lost a chance to comment on science and math education in the US, which got a huge boost after the launch of Sputnik, when America freaked out that the Soviets had surpassed them in orbital engineering.

    I am one of the continuity nitpickers, although I find that less aggravating now watching it digitally as an adult than I do with the lack of basic internal logic to the world building and character development. Maybe I am just getting old, but it all seems very cartoonish. DS9 was silly, but anchored in characters who usually acted like real people. Enterprise’s characters seem like children and they move through a world that makes no logical sense, but they never question it.

    “Oh, yet another planet with human-like aliens. Neat!”

    Oh well.

    I do prefer a slower pace to episodes, if it’s done right. That usually means good cinematography and dialogue. This episode came close, but needed a touch more ambition. I’m buckling up for the season though, because it is the one that killed Trek for me back in the day – and I was a very passionate fan of the franchise. I still am, but Enterprise was the beginning of a reality check, and this season was its apex. Here we gooooo…..

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