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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…

It almost feels pointless to criticise Horizon. The episode suffers from the same problems that have been gnawing away at Enterprise since early in the first season. The pacing is too slow, wasting too much time on set-up so there is no room to develop the actual story. The character drama is not part of any clearly formulated arc, but haphazard and repetitive. Before his conversation with Archer, we have had no reason to suspect Mayweather was unhappy with his life choices; they arise here because Horizon needs some sort of emotional investment for the character.

The plot elements and the structure are all overly familiar. One of the more interesting creative decisions about Judgment was to open the story in media res with Archer in Klingon custody, and to avoid explaining how Archer came to be in Klingon custody. After all, there are all sorts of lazy plot devices that Star Trek uses to get the plot going; he could have been on a shuttle trip, kidnapped while on an away team, lured into a trap. It doesn’t matter how Archer got to Narendra III, it matters what happens once he arrives. Judgment starts where the story starts.

Sleep this one off...

Sleep this one off…

In contrast, Horizon spins its wheels for an entire act to set up all the exposition that drives the main plot. Mayweather believes that his father is sick; then he discovers that his father is dead. He has a conversation with Archer in which he asks to visit his family’s ship; then he has a conversation with Reed about family; then he has another conversation with Archer about his daddy issues. It is all a bit redundant. It would make sense to just cut to the chase, and open the story with Mayweather coming hope, with only a line or two of exposition.

Once Horizon actually starts moving, it devotes considerable time to a subplot about T’Pol and “movie night.” The show keeps cutting away from life on the Horizon and back to our regulars staring at a pretty special effect as they try to bully T’Pol into doing something that she does not want to do. It is interesting to wonder why these choices were made. Were the production team worried about giving the cast two light weeks in a row, with Archer carrying most of Judgment and Mayweather carrying most of Horizon? Or did they not trust Anthony Montegomery?

"How come we never meet any nice aliens?"

“How come we never meet any nice aliens?”

Whatever the reason, these decisions cripple Horizon. We are almost one-third of the way through the episode before we set foot on the Horizon itself. Once we get there, Mayweather’s reunion is not only disrupted by a generic “space pirates!” story, but also by cuts back to Enterprise so we can watch the crew harass T’Pol into watching Frankenstein. This is not the first time that writer André Bormanis had had difficulty structuring the stories in his scripts for Enterprise. Horizon repeats (and compounds) many of the problems with Silent Enemy.

Both Horizon and Silent Enemy are stories with an awkward divide between the primary and secondary stories. Both primary stories involve generic predatory aliens attacking a ship, while both secondary stories are centred on banal and generic observations about characters. “T’Pol likes Frankenstein” ranks with “Malcolm likes pineapple” for sheer dullness. Neither plot tells us anything new about the characters, and sits at odds with what should be a more sombre and hefty primary plot. Neither episode is Life Support, but both suffer from a lack of balance.

"My Winter Vacation" by Travis Mayweather.

“My Winter Vacation” by Travis Mayweather.

After all, Mayweather is a chronically under-developed character. He is a character who deserves considerable focus and attention, rather than existing as a way of bulking up the cast numbers. In an interview with Star Trek Communicator, Anthony Montgomery acknowledged his character’s lack of development:

“If I can say I am dissatisfied with anything, it’s just the fact that I want to work more. As an actor, I want to act–I want to be given the opportunity to do what I do–and sometimes I’ve felt stifled in not being able to get out there and do me.”

Montgomery’s complaints are perfectly understandable and legitimate. Mayweather has been largely ignored, to the point where Harry Kim felt more fleshed-out by this point in the run of Star Trek: Voyager. An episode centred on Mayweather is long overdue, and a decision to focus on his family makes sense.

Charting his course...

Charting his course…

Taking Mayweather away from the rest of the cast is a risky move. Montgomery is not the strongest actor in the ensemble, and so isolating him from the group is a bit of a gambit. However, Horizon does itself no favours by hedging its own bets. If you want to tell a story about life outside of Starfleet and about family strife, then tell a story about life outside of Starfleet and about family strife; don’t throw in a boring subplot and a fairly generic threat to cloud the narrative. Horizon never invests or commits to its central premise, instead feeling half-assed and lazy.

The characters living on the Horizon are all shallow and one-dimensional, but most of that is because the script has no room to develop them. There is only so much time to spend with Paul and Rianna Mayweather, what with everything else going on. There are other problems with execution, to be fair. Montgomery has no chemistry with any of his on-screen family. Both Anthony Montgomery and Corey Mendell Parker are fairly wooden, even with the thankless material afforded to them.

"... And that's why I use dilithium. I'm Trip Tucker, thanks for watching."

“… And that’s why I use dilithium. I’m Trip Tucker, thanks for watching.”

There is a sense that Enterprise never really figured out how to tell stories about the early days of human space exploration. Terra Nova featured the show’s only visit to a human colony. Fortunate Son and Horizon were the only episodes to explore the “boomer” subculture. These were elements that were unique to Enterprise, storytelling opportunities that did not exist on the other spin-offs. However, Enterprise never capitalised on them. After a couple of spectacular misfires, Enterprise allowed itself to drift away from these ideas.

It is quite clear that Horizon has no idea what it wants to say about life outside Starfleet. Between Fortunate Son and Horizon, it feels like Enterprise has already exhausted all the stories it can tell about life on a freighter. There is one index card in that deck of story ideas, and it reads “space pirates.” At least the Nausicaans in Fortunate Son had some character; the bad guys in Horizon are just generic alien heavies. They exist so there can be an external threat that brings Travis and Paul together to save the freighter. It is very rote, very dull.

This certainly ain't the sweet spot of the season...

This certainly ain’t the sweet spot of the season…

Incidentally, it is interesting to wonder about the high volume of piracy on interstellar shipping routes. So far, both “boomer” freighters have found themselves targetted by alien marauders. Is this a recent phenomenon? Is it more common than it once was? Are the freighter crews responding to it? Are they trying to arm themselves? Is Starfleet considering providing protection and infrastructure so as to minimise those risks? The whole concept of “boomers” invites the sort of clever world-building that Enterprise has so far avoided like the plague.

Of course, the production team don’t care about what the frequency of pirate attacks upon freighter crews might suggest. The alien pirates exist solely so the show can generate some dramatic tension in the most obvious manner possible. It is the path of least possible resistence, one that seems to fit with the storytelling model for most of the second season. Enterprise often feels stuck in an awkward pattern, executing stock story beats without any real thought about how to make them more interesting or compelling.

It was a dark and stormy movie night...

It was a dark and stormy movie night…

This rote storytelling extends into the episode’s subplot, as Enterprise observes some strange interstellar phenomenon and Trip forces T’Pol to attend a screening of Frankenstein. This subplot feels like another hold over from the early first season. There is a clear sense that sharing and cultural commune only works in one direction. Archer sells movie night as an opportunity to experience another culture, but it seems like it is only ever T’Pol experiencing human culture. When has Archer tried Vulcan food or meditation or literature?

One of the more disheartening recurring themes on Enterprise is the sense that this is the story about other cultures learning to accept and embrace human values and culture. Judgment offered a version of Archer who was optimistic and hopefully, unwilling to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. In contrast, Horizon portrays Archer as a self-righteous bully who tries to impose his own sense of values on others. When T’Pol questions how sitting silently in a dark room counts as fraternising, he has no answer. “It’s a communal experience.” It is because he says it is.

To dine for...

To dine for…

The subplot featuring the strange interstellar phenomenon actually cuts away once the ship discovers new life. “It appears that several microbial species which live underground are being unearthed by the volcanic activity,” T’Pol reports. “See what you can learn about them,” Archer instructs. And that is the end of that plot. There is no follow-up, no summation. Did Archer and T’Pol preserve samples of this life form so that it might continue to live? Or did they just sit idly by and watch as it died? Horizon is not too bothered, so why should the audience be?

Horizon seems to consciously hark back to the early days of Enterprise. The focus on “boomers” seems like something that the show has already outgrown; the discussion of Archer’s choice of helmsman harks back to the beginning of the series; even the “T’Pol appreciates human culture” subplot feels like something that the show might have trotted out in the first run of episodes. Horizon feels like a script that could have been written before Broken Bow even aired, and it is disheartening that it does not feel completely out of place. Enterprise has only come so far.

Hug it out...

Hug it out…

This stretch of the season found ratings in free-fall, as what little audience remained seemed to abandon Enterprise. In fact, Horizon succeeded Judgment as the lowest-rated episode of Enterprise to date. While Judgment was completely undeserving of that particular accolade, it is hard to complain too much about audiences tuning away from Horizon. There is nothing interesting or compelling here. There is no life, no vibrancy, no energy. This is not sustainable – despite the sense that Horizon was just the culmination of certain trends through the season.

Horizon is a dead little episode, one that has nothing interesting or compelling to say about its setting or its characters. It is lifeless and dull, drab and predictable. Those microbial species seem more alive than Enterprise at this point in its life-cycle.

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

8 Responses

  1. Truth be told I’m still a little surprised that Trekkies abandoned ENT. Can you imagine any other fanbase being this fickle? I read reviews at the time by Neal Bailey (who wrote for another show) admitting that he still watched Enterprise and just wanted to finish things he started. And plenty of Trekkies today believe it was the most sophisticated, adult Trek yet (my God, how sad is that viewpoint?) and the fair-weather fans were too narrow minded to see the beauty in it.

    It’s the same mentality that grips all fans.

    My theory is Paramount lit the fuse in 1995 when they forced the fans to choose between two shows. The lure of a “TOS redeux” brought in guys who preferred the old stuff. All three got funneled into the same show and felt (rightfully) bamboozled. Only the die-hards and the casual viewers who had nothing to compared it to stayed.

    • I don’t know if its sad that people love Enterprise. I’m not going to tell fans that they are stupid for enjoying what they enjoy – I think fandom has too much of that. It’s not my favourite, or even my third favourite, iteration of the franchise but – if people like it – more power to them.

      But that’s a very interesting point with splitting the fandom. Makes it seem like CBS had a point when they told Jonathan Frakes that they did not want to “dilute” the franchise again by having a television show and the movies at the same time.

  2. André Bormanis wrote this one? Interestingly, he was scientific advisor to all post-TOS ST-series, but he managed to send the Enterprise in this episode 30 lightyears back in a matter of days? It bothered me the whole episode… which seems to indicate that the rest was not overwhelming as well.

  3. It seems to me that no one can possibly be as totally freaking BLAND as Anthony Montgomery appears to be. Has he been taken over by the non-corporeal entities from a couple of episodes ago? Did Dr. Frankenstein remove half of his personality in order to transplant it into his creature? I’ve seen livelier ROBOTS!

    I did like one thing about the T’Pol subplot, and that was her evaluation of the movie and her pointing out that humans’ reactions to the Vulcans wasn’t all that far from humans’ reactions to Frankenstein’s creature. Good zinger, T’Pol!

  4. What you might find more disturbing than the movie subplot is how little criticism there is in forums of T’Pol being pressured to see it. Fans are quick to rake her over the coals whenever she does wrong to Trip. I’ll admit she was terrible to him in Harbinger but some criticism of that is waaay out of proportion. Despite being a woman, I’m guilty of being part of the silent majority. As a Trip/T’Pol shipper, I was only focused on them going on a date (albeit not romantic). Although I watched this after season 4, knowing the spoilers. Are there any examples of female characters pressuring aliens to embrace human culture?

    It’s very easy to find criticism of Trip being the doormat in the relationship. Do you agree or disagree?

    • With regards to human females and alien men, Cutler kinda pressures Phlox into attending movie night in Dear Doctor. As I recall, he seems bored with it. Although he is much more open-minded than T’Pol and much more eager to sample alien cultures in general.

  5. I agree with everything you said about the A-plot and the problem with the sheer number of pirates that seem to plague human shipping routes. If i was a “boomer”, I’d rather live in the Romulan Star Empire. At least they have order. Hasn’t anyone on the writing staff read Hobbes?

    Trip is almost sneering in response to T’Pol’s idea of turning to the actual text of Frankenstein. The dialogue mistakenly refers to Mary Shelley as “the wife of a famous poet”. Um… she was rather famous in her own right. Some people think she was a better writer than her husband. In the following episode, Trip will mock geologists for studying rocks. He is consistently presented as an anti-intellectual and it’s coupled with the total lack of focus on the life they find on the lava planet. Enterprise at this point is coming off as an extremely anti-intellectual show, which I guess aligns with the time period it was in, and the folksy supposed pragmatism of G. W. Bush. It’s just maddening because it is not the Trek of TNG, and this seems quite intentional. The mockery of a book reading seems to be a direct snipe shot at the classical concerts and poetry readings in TNG’s ten-forward. Much like the joke made by Reed in this episode about the horror of starfleet carrying families, and the dig at how they’d need a counsellor – ahem…Troi.

    All of this culminates in the reversion to the 1950s-era movies, which is a direct throw back to Voyager, and the crew’s weird periodized suspension in that era. They never watch a movie from the 70s, 80s, or 90s. The apogee of disturbing anti-intellectualism and anti-humanities writing seems to come from the discussion of Frankenstein. T’Pol comes somewhat close to the meaning of the story, which only makes Trip seem confused and resentful. The book by Shelley is an amazing work, with multiple layers and meanings. One of which is a critique of technological hubris. Star Trek, as a franchise, is something that should be directly threatened by the warning in Frankenstein.

    I just wish Data would stroll in and begin talking about what the book means, because he would be the natural character to engage with the text. Soong is essential a version of Dr. Frankenstein – especially when he is compared with Lore.

    All this is ingored, but the writing acts as a sort of self-indictment.

    A very bad and boring episode. I thought Mayweather’s brother was actually the one who was right, but the universe bent itself into a pretzel to confirm Travis as a hero.

    The anti-T’Pol racism is getting very thin at this point. It’s like the USS Fratboy. I wish they’d cast at least one senior crewman as a human over 55. Oh well.

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