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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’.”

As one might expect, continuity is pretty big part of Regeneration. It would have to be. Certain sections of fandom almost had heart attacks on hearing that the Borg would be appearing on Enterprise. That included fans working on the show, like production illustrator John Eaves:

During Season II of Enterprise we got wind of a future script #49 called Regeneration. Everyone in the art dept. started to read the little teaser and we all gasped in Horror at about the same time, THE BORG!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!. We all were not feeling to happy about this new TNG alien showing up in an episode of Enterprise before Kirk… well this will throw all lines of Trek history out the window.

If fans working on Star Trek in a professional capacity were reacting emotionally, imagine what was happening on the bulletin boards. David Goodman found himself reassuring fans before it even aired, contending in March 2003 that “this episode doesn’t violate continuity. In fact… it serves it.”

"I've brought two expendable ensigns, and I'm not afraid to use them!"

“I’ve brought two expendable ensigns, and I’m not afraid to use them!”

It is quite clear that writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong care about continuity. A significant portion of their audio commentary on the episode is dedicated to ironing out perceived continuity issues with the episode. They even jokingly account for why the Borg don’t call themselves the Borg:

Boy, did we get heat for that. “The Borg always say we are the Borg!” Well…

Well, not when we can’t know who they are!

It was a bit of a cheat, it was a necessary cheat. Although the first time that Picard ran into the Borg, they did not identify themselves as the Borg either. So that’s my justification. I don’t know that we needed them to say anything. The Borg are the collective. These guys are not the collective; these guys are a little mini-collective. They are not part of the overall collective.

Over the course of the commentary, Sussman and Strong speculate on little continuity gaps – suggesting that Cochrane recanted the story after Lily caught up with him and that Starfleet might have retroactively recognised the Borg from this encounter between Q Who? and The Best of Both Worlds.

"Oh, this will not end well..."

“Oh, this will not end well…”

Sussman and Strong offer a fun commentary track, demonstrating that the duo had put a lot of thought into how Regeneration was meant to work. More than that, though, it suggests that the creative team had the right set of priorities. This nerdy fun stuff is “inside baseball.” The fannish world-building continuity-reconciliation is primarily fodder for the audio commentary on the home media release, where the few hundred people interested can digest it at their leisure. These are questions that keep fans awake at night. They will not bother the majority of viewers.

Regeneration is not a forty-five minute demonstration on how best to tick various continuity boxes; it needs to work as a piece of television first and foremost. Regeneration works for many of the same reasons that Judgment works. This is not an attempt to appease the vocal on-line Star Trek fans that will inevitably criticise anything that does not fit with their interpretation of continuity or their perspective of the franchise. Instead, Regeneration and Judgment don’t worry about preconceived notions and just jump right on into the story that they want to tell.

"This is why T'Pol won't let me read the message boards..."

“This is why T’Pol won’t let me read the message boards…”

Like Judgment, Regeneration starts at the start of the story instead of wasting time building up to the story. Both Regeneration and Judgment are completely unconcerned with logistical questions about their starting point. Judgment never explains how the Klingons captured Archer; Regeneration never explains why Starfleet is only investigating the wreckage now. According to Sussman and Strong, it never did:

Something that wasn’t addressed in the teleplay, and something that I wish we’d had time to put in, was why this debris would become uncovered. Because there is so much of it, it seems hard to believe that Starfleet or somebody would not have known that there were all these remains from a floating space ship in the Arctic. But the idea initially was that a glacier had retreated and revealed it.

There are a lot of real-life examples of parts of the Arctic tectonic plates shifting and things being uncovered that had been there two million years. That’s true of some of the ancient remains of man that they found.

This is a very logical and organic approach to storytelling, one that prioritises the story itself over needless clutter. It doesn’t matter how or why the episodes reached their starting points; there are lots of potential explanations, but going into depth would just kill the momentum of the episode. Episodes like Horizon suffer from a need to fill in all the blanks, instead of launching into the story and trusting the audience to keep up.

"They're mostly armless!"

“They’re mostly armless!”

Still, despite the fact that the script eschews this minor and incidental continuity – avoiding getting drawn into the sort of debates that develop around Klingon foreheads – it is clear that Sussman and Strong do have an interest in a broader sense of continuity. Posting on fan message boards in early April 2003, Sussman made it clear that Regeneration was designed to close a perceived gap in larger Star Trek continuity rather than creating one:

“I’ve wondered what the Borg were doing so far from home in The Neutral Zone and Q Who? (in Dark Frontier, we learn that the Borg were flitting around Federation space years earlier than we thought). What made them interested in our part of the galaxy? Did the Collective have some kind of ‘inside information’ about Earth or the Federation? Without giving too much away, I can safely say that Regeneration will present one possible answer. At the very least, I hope it’ll provide a little food for thought.”

Sussman tends to bring up that point in a lot of his discussions of the episode, very shrewdly arguing that Regeneration is a story that is supported by continuity, rather than simply running counter to it. It is an interesting example of how much of the arguments around the continuity of Enterprise tend to pit the interpretations and perceptions of fans against those of the staff.

Chill out, fans!

Chill out, fans!

Regeneration closes with the implication that the episode closes a gap in continuity between First Contact and Q Who?, explaining why the Borg were so curious about the Alpha Quadrant in Picard’s time. On the commentary for the episode, Sussman and Strong describe that resolution as a huge part of what interested them in the episode in the first place:

Again, it was an uphill fight to get the ending that we wanted for this show. I felt it was very important to tie it in to the future shows. I didn’t want to do this episode at all if it did not refer to those future episodes in this way. It seemed to me like a wonderful Terminator-like loop of causality, where we would establish that it was really this adventure which led the Borg to their discovery of Earth and the Federation hundreds of years from now. And this being a prequel show, that is one of the things I would think is the job of a prequel series – to set those things up.

If you watch Q Who? right after this one, you can see the two bookends.

As such, Regeneration seems to exist primarily as a vehicle to more fully integrate Enterprise into the Star Trek canon. By positioning the story as a “missing link” between two well-loved classic Star Trek stories, Regeneration marks Enterprise not as a definitive beginning or the end to the larger Star Trek franchise, but as part of a perpetual cycle.

You can't escape continuity...

You can’t escape continuity…

After all, one of the more interesting struggles within the first two seasons of Enterprise is the awkward relationship that exists between the show and the rest of the canon. It is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel, but on that did not yet include the words “Star Trek” in its opening credits. The relationship was complicated, as Sussman and Strong had touched upon in Future Tense. A prequel has a particularly complex relationship with its predecessors, lacking the freedom normally afforded to sequels. It often has be balance the weight of expectations with its own storytelling needs.

Like Judgment before it, Regeneration is largely driven by a desire to connect Enterprise back to the rest of the franchise. In discussing Judgment, David Goodman spoke about how he was interested in explaining how the Klingons from the original Star Trek evolved into the Klingons from The Next Generation. Regeneration is similarly fascinated about how the events from First Contact potentially aligned with Q Who? to create a stable time loop – thus making Enterprise an essential (and inexorable) part of the Star Trek canon.

"We should probably put a cork on that or something..."

“We should probably put a cork on that or something…”

The resolution to Regeneration puts paid to the fan speculation in the first season that Enterprise was somehow a branching time-line created by the events of First Contact. (Trust me, fans worry about these things.) As a way of explaining the aesthetic differences between Enterprise and the classic Star Trek, as well as accounting for the general lack of any reference to Jonathan Archer in the rest of the franchise outside of a small (and retrospectively-claimed) example in Yesterday’s Enterprise, it seemed a bit more complex than “they just wrote it later.”

The creators of Enterprise had explicitly ruled out that idea, but the first season seemed to tease the possibility on a number of occasions. Enterprise launched early in Broken Bow because of the Temporal Cold War. Enterprise was meant to be destroyed in Cold Front, only to be spared by intervention from time-travellers. However, Regeneration makes it abundantly clear that this is the same continuity. Archer even clunkily states as much in the closing scene. “Sounds to me like we’ve only postponed the invasion until – what? – the twenty fourth century?”

The Borg are part of Star Trek's DNA...

The Borg are part of Star Trek’s DNA…

There is also something quite clever (and particularly nerdy) about Sussman and Strong’s continuity fix. As of Regeneration, it is made clear that the Borg were lured to the Alpha Quadrant by a beacon generated by some time-displaced Borg. Ironically, the original introduction for the Borg was meant to follow a similar arc. Originally, the reveal of the Borg was intended to build out of the end of the episode Conspiracy, in which a bunch of creepy parasites activated a homing beacon pointing to Earth. For various reasons, the plot connection was never made.

As such, the incorporation of a very similar beacon into Regeneration feels like a sly in-joke or nod. It appears like that particularly plot point has finally been included in the Star Trek canon, almost fifteen years after Conspiracy was originally aired. It is a little continuity connection that means nothing to any casual viewer, but which demonstrates how much affection and appreciation Sussman and Strong had for Star Trek. Regeneration might have generated some concern among continuity-obsessed fans, but it plays its own clever continuity games.

"This is going right on my instagram..."

“This is going right on my instagram…”

One of the beautiful ironies of Star Trek continuity is that it seems to confound and upset the sorts of fans who worry about it most. The decision to connect the 2009 Star Trek reboot back to the preexisting Star Trek canon tried to satiate the kind of people who care about such things by effectively wiping out a huge swath of history. Those sorts of fans who find themselves objecting to the way that Enterprise affects continuity have to deal with the confirmation in Star Trek Into Darkness that Enterprise is really the only part of the franchise that is technically “in-continuity” at this moment in time.

The presence of the Borg in Enterprise was always going to be something that upset a certain subset of fans – particularly the vocal subset of fans who post on the internet. However, it works quite well in context. Broken Bow established that Enterprise was as much (if not more) a sequel to First Contact than it was a prequel to Star Trek. Regeneration seems to carry this idea to its logical conclusion. This final stretch of the second season seems to be about exorcising the ghosts of this version of Star Trek before Enterprise reinvents itself for the third season; Regeneration treats the Borg as spectres haunting Enterprise.

"It's alive!"

“It’s alive!”

The Star Trek franchise was in a state of panic by this stretch of the second season. Falling ratings on Enterprise were a huge part of that, but so was the spectacular failure of Star Trek: Nemesis. In a beautiful bit of symbolism, the Arctic debris field includes the wrecked model of the Enterprise-E saucer module from Nemesis – proving Enterprise cannot escape that legacy. The Borg become another bit of continuity carried over. They are literal franchise zombies, shuffling their way through the episode. They are the unburied dead, the franchise’s recent past returning to haunt the present.

After all, Enterprise is still largely run using the storytelling structures and rules established on The Next Generation. The show is still largely episodic in nature, still following familiar plot beats and ideas. A significant portion of the second season can be identified as variations on themes refined at the peak of The Next Generation. Dawn is Darmok. Precious Cargo is The Perfect Mate. Vanishing Point is Realm of Fear by way of The Next Phase. The Crossing is Power Play. The Borg are just one massive piece of The Next Generation coming back to colonise and assimilate Enterprise.

A cold reception from fans...

A cold reception from fans…

This is why the Borg were simultaneously so alluring and so horrifying to the writers and producers on Enterprise. They were a big iconic piece of Star Trek lore, but they were so large and so heavy that they might crush the show itself under their weight. Brannon Braga acknowledged the trepidation at doing a Borg episode on Enterprise:

I was VERY hesitant to do Borg on Enterprise, unless we had exactly the right story. Mike Sussman and I wrote that episode. That was an homage to The Thing, to John Carpenter’s The Thing.

We find a Borg in ice, whether it was literally in ice, I can’t remember. But it’s melting, and we know as an audience that it’s going to come alive, and they have no clue what they’ve found. It was The Thing. If you recall, you don’t even see the Enterprise crew at first.

Regeneration works so well because it recognises the allure and the danger of the Borg as a storytelling concept. It is aware of the almost mythic weight that they impose upon the narrative, but it is also aware that the story needs to be very good in its own right. If Regeneration were to be bad, or even passable, it would become another stick that could be used to beat the show. Well, even more of a stick than it eventually became.

"Told you we should have had a survival horror marathon before we left."

“Told you we should have had a survival horror marathon before we left.”

Regeneration works really well as a piece of television. It is just a fantastically constructed action adventure, one that makes the Borg more threatening than they’ve been since First Contact. A large part of that is down to the opening act, which unfolds completely separate from the ship and the crew. Although Brannon Braga is not credited in the teleplay, his influence is clear; the first act plays like a classic fifties horror movie about characters unearthing something horrific in the Arctic. It evokes both The Thing and At the Mountains of Madness, reaffirming the Borg as an almost Lovecraftian horror.

The opening act is also fun because it is one of the rare occasions where the show takes us outside Enterprise itself; for a show about the early days of human space exploration, Enterprise has been reluctant to look beyond this ship and this crew. (Even stories like Fortunate Son and Horizon are reluctant to move too far from our leads.) It has been hard to get a sense of what Starfleet does outside of ordering Archer around; it is nice to see they also send scientists on dangerous expeditions without showing them proper safety videos (or half-decent horror films) first.

"Tell you what, we come back and everyone's slaughtered, I owe you a Coke."

“Tell you what, we come back and everyone’s slaughtered, I owe you a Coke.”

The first act is surprisingly fun. The fact that we only spend a few minutes in the Arctic means that the team’s completely lack of common sense or survival skills does not have time to grate as much as it might. When one member of the team suggests freezing the grotesque cybernetic corpses they recovered in a field of ominous alien wreckage, his colleague replies, “Then we should leave them here. Let the regeneration process continue.” He runs quite efficiently through the “stock horror movie scientist dialogue”, noting that “there’s no reason to assume they’re hostile” and “we’ll see what happens.”

There is also just enough self-awareness that it never feels too cliché. While the scientist characters from the opening sequence of Regeneration are unlikely to rank as anybody’s favourite Star Trek guest stars, the script gives them just enough personality that they don’t grate too heavily. When Drake describes her as “jumpy”, Rooney replies, “Cybernetic corpses, digging through frozen remains in the middle of the night, why would I be jumpy?” It’s a shame the episode stops just short of putting them in red shirts.

They came, they thawed, they conquered...

They came, they thawed, they conquered…

Setting the opening act in the Arctic works on a number of levels. Not only is it nice to get out of the ship, but it also allows for a wonderful escalation of scale. Regeneration begins with two frozen Borg in the Arctic tundra, but quickly escalates to a threat to the best ship in the fleet. Ironically, despite (or perhaps because) of the fact that the Borg are playing on a much smaller scale than usual, it makes them a much more credible threat. Whereas Voyager seemed capable of humbling the entire collective, all it takes to cause this much chaos and destruction is two frozen Borg.

Regeneration manages to make the Borg scary for the first time since Scorpion or First Contact. It does this by figuring out a novel story to tell. Regeneration does not feature a direct threat to Earth, nor does it dig too deeply into the workings of the collective as a whole. Instead, it is the story about a couple of Borg who wake up on a strange planet and begin carving a course homeward, gaining momentum along the way. (Rather literally, as the freighter keeps getting faster and faster.)

Collective unconscious...

Collective unconscious…

Voyager was perhaps a little too interested in the idea of the Borg as a gigantic culture with their own motivations and history. Episodes like Unimatrix Zero and Endgame largely stripped away the mystery from the Borg, reducing them to another generic Star Trek race with their own quirks and culture. “You can’t outrun them,” Q had boasted in Q Who? “You can’t destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless.” It seemed like Voyager drifted away from that.

So it is refreshing to see Enterprise take a step back from transwarp hubs and rebellions and queens. The Borg are unknown and unknowable here. In keeping with the fifties horror vibe, the episode’s contortions to avoid the label “Borg” enhance the mood, with crew members referring to them using generic terms like “them” or “the cybernetic creatures” to enhance their sense of otherness. The Borg are highly versatile alien; appropriately enough, they are highly adaptable. As nightmarish monsters, they can stand in for just about any evil. The Borg can be communists, capitalists and anything in between.

A shot in the dark...

A shot in the dark…

Getting back to the presentation of the Borg in First Contact, Regeneration emphasises the Borg as “techno-zombies.” As with the fifties paranoia of The Crossing, it feels like this appropriation of classic horror sensibilities reflects the contemporary climate. As Publishers Weekly noted in 2009, zombies enjoyed something of a pop culture boom at the turn of the millennium:

Then came the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the national fear of a faceless horde of enemies slavishly obedient to their objective of dishing out extreme violence. Suddenly, the zombie became a monster for our time. “I think it’s interesting that the spike in zombie interest occurred right around the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War,” says Rekulak. “It’s been building ever since.”

While a cynic might argue that Regeneration was an example of trend-hopping, the decision to push the Borg back to “techno-zombies” lines them up quite nicely with the millennial zeitgeist. An enemy so blindly devoted to their own moral ideology that death becomes irrelevant resonates quite effectively with the War on Terror. (Enterprise would do another zombie episode early in the third season with Impulse.)

An explosive denouement...

An explosive denouement…

After all zombies – like the Borg – are metaphorically versatile. They are adaptable. They can stand in for just about any ideology that the writer (or the viewer) might want. Rampant commercialism? Blind ideology? Oppressed minority? As Terence McSweeney points out in The Land of the Dead and the Home of the Brave, was hard to watch zombie films in the first decade of the millennium without thinking of the War on Terror:

After the attacks on 9/11 and the escalation of the “War on Terror”, it became difficult for any zombie text, be it film, book, or videogame, not to allude to 9/11 in some way. The term “living dead” also became part of the terminology in the “War on Terror” when then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, gave his infamous “unknown knowns” comments about, among other things, the fate of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. He asserted that many of the prisoners, although they were technically alive, were officially “living dead” as they had been the intended targets of American bombs and could therefore be treated accordingly.

On the face of it, the idea of using the gigantic and monolithic Borg Collective as a metaphor for insurgent and ragtag terrorist groups with competing ideologies and basic technology seems absurd. However, Sussman and Strong (and Braga) deserve credit for finding a way to make it work. Regeneration presents a version of the Borg that works more effectively as a metaphor for terrorism than the Suliban ever did.

Beaming with enthusiasm...

Beaming with enthusiasm…

Regeneration presents a handful of Borg survivors who create a credible threat Starfleet security, hijacking a space craft in the process. Although we do get to see some traditional Borg drones in the opening and closing acts, the Borg featured in the middle of the episode are decidedly low-tech – they look more like a regular freighter crew than foot soldiers in a cybernetic army. Trip seems unable to grasp the drones’ adherence to a higher cause. “They almost overloaded the plasma regulators. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why blow up the ship if you’re still on it?”

More than that, Regeneration emphasises the Borg ability to adapt. Whatever Archer and Reed throw at the Borg, they can compensate. In fact, the more ordinance used against them, the stronger they become. It recalls the great irony of the war on terror – the fact that measures taken to fight extremists often encourage and enable. “Be glad of the good news,” Osama Bin Ladin boasted of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2003. “The Americans took the bait and fell into our trap,” Seif al-Adal bragged in 2005. Even today, drone strikes encourage anti-U.S. sentiment.

Crossed wires...

Crossed wires…

Much like extremists grow stronger from the policies intended to defeat them, Regeneration emphasises that the Borg are just as adaptable. In fact, the original draft of Regeneration was more explicit about the Borg leveraging the strengths of others against them, as Sussman notes on the commentary:

The initial idea with the Borg ship, what happens to it here… the idea that I pitched which did not go over – which I still think was a cool idea – was that they’re basically picking up ships as they go. Like a snowball rolling downhill, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And eventually, we see that it was being turned into another Borg Sphere. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Borg didn’t construct their ships the way that humans and other species do, but every Borg cube that you see really started life as one space ship and they just kept adding more and more and more. But I think it was felt that this might confuse the audience and that we needed to keep the ship a recognisable shape.

It is a rather interesting idea that would have added some nice detail to the Borg mythology. The fact that the Borg seem to have retained the shape of the freighter while simply changing the outside texture feels a little weird. Along with the sequences of the freighter cutting samples out of its victims, it provides a nice call back to Q Who?

Assimilating quite well...

Assimilating quite well…

It should also be noted the cyberpunk trappings of the Borg lend themselves to an effective War on Terror analogy. Technology has always been terrifying; however, coverage of the War on Terror has emphasised how modern terrorists exploit contemporary technology:

It is the first many-to-many communication system. The ability to communicate words, images, and sounds, which underlies the power to persuade, inform, witness, debate, and discuss (not to mention the power to slander, propagandise, disseminate bad or misleading information, engage in misinformation and/or disinformation, etc.) is no longer the sole province of those who own or control printing presses, radio stations, or television networks. Every machine connected to the Internet is potentially a printing press, a broadcasting station, or a place of assembly. And in the twenty first century, terrorists are availing of the opportunity to connect.

One of the big fears of the War on Terror is that terrorism has gone viral, exploiting the internet as a way to spread information and resist investigation. Chat rooms, video feeds, bulletin boards; these are presented as tools to be harnessed by enemy combatants – making it seem like resistance may in fact be futile.

"It's definitely getting greener..."

Going green…

Regeneration is also a nice episode for Archer as a character. At this point in the show’s run, Archer has not lost a single crew member. To be entirely fair, the fact that Enterprise has gone this long without losing a crew member feels a little contrived; somehow, it seems that space is less dangerous for Archer than it would become for Picard. Given how much emphasis Enterprise put on the novelty and adventure of Archer’s mission, and the numerous risks and mistakes made over the course of the series, the invisible body toll seems improbable.

Nevertheless, the fact that Archer’s mission has been bloodless to this point gives his character arc in Regeneration a bit more weight than it might otherwise have. With The Expanse looming large in the distance, it is interesting to see Archer face a legitimate no-win situation. Although none of his crew are at risk, Archer has to make a choice to sacrifice the lives of everybody claimed by the Borg. The weight of the choice is compounded by the fact that Phlox cures himself of the nanoprobes; perhaps there might have been a way to save the Tarkaleans, if there were time.

Phlox in a fix...

Phlox in a fix…

Like Judgment before it, Regeneration plays quite well to Scott Bakula’s strengths as Archer. Bakula plays a very likeable and relatable character; at his best moments, Archer seems like more of a regular person than most of the other Star Trek leads. There is a fundamental decency that Bakula brings to Archer; a sense that he might not be the best candidate for the job he has been given, but he will try to do the right thing. In his worst moments, the show pushes Archer’s decency into arrogant self-righteousness. In his best, Bakula plays it as a human vulnerability.

There is a sense that Archer genuinely feels pretty crappy about having to sacrifice these lives, despite the fact that he has no other options available to him at the time. “I want to take these people home, the humans and the Tarkaleans, no matter what state they’re in,” Archer assures T’Pol, a lovely little sentiment that makes the audience yearn for the inevitable “Archer writes a letter to a grieving family” scene. The fact that Archer is just as concerned about alien he doesn’t know is a nice touch – a far cry from the character’s occasional xenophobia.

Armed and dangerous...

Armed and dangerous…

There is a raw sentimentality to Archer that Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway would typically hide behind professional exterior. The fact that so much of the show works so hard to validate and vindicate Archer does the character a disservice. Episodes like Fight or Flight, Terra NovaThe Andorian Incident, The Seventh and The Crossing bent over backwards to assure viewers that Archer ultimately knows what he is doing. Even when what he is doing is pretty much crazy or xenophobic by any objective standard.

In contrast, episodes like Judgment and Regeneration do an excellent job of illustrating that Archer is a character completely out of his depth. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This does not undermine his character; in fact, it serves to make Archer much more compelling. He is the first human being to be tried by the Klingon justice system or to face down the Borg; part of the excitement of the premise of Enterprise is how out of his depth Archer must be. Archer is not an adventurer, or a diplomat, or a builder, or a scientist. As First Flight reminds us, he is a pilot.

Check the Reed out!

Check the Reed out!

In a way, it feels like Enterprise is setting up Archer’s arc for the third season, cleverly reminding audience of just how innocent and lucky Archer has been. This is one of the toughest decisions that Archer has had to make up to this point, with the obvious exception of something like Dear Doctor. There is a trepidation here, a sense of uncertainty and self-doubt. One of the more interesting aspects of the third season is the way that it tries to transition Archer into a much more ruthless character; it tries to turn him into Sisko, which makes this early hesitation interesting.

It should be noted that the production on Regeneration is absolutely top notch. The Borg costumes from First Contact and Voyager still look great, and there is a giddy little thrill in bathing the mostly-grey Enterprise sets in a sinister green light. Regeneration is the second of two Enterprise scores from composer Brian Tyler, and he proves wonderfully adept at keeping pace with the episode’s shifts and transitions. In the first act, he scores a horror movie; as the story moves on, he transitions to a more dramatic action tempo.

Fighting the future...

Fighting the future…

Regeneration also benefits from fantastic direction by David Livingston, a franchise veteran. Livingston would also direct Impulse, the show’s other zombie horror episode. It makes sense; Livingston is very good at fast-paced high-stakes action. In fact, Regeneration moved along so fast that writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong had to pad out the episode to reach the forty-two minute runtime. For example, the finished episode includes a scene of Reed testing new phasers that was filmed on the armoury sets after they’d been renovated for The Expanse.

Regeneration is an episode that could easily have gone horribly wrong. It is an episode that tempts fate; dragging the Borg into the world of Enterprise. However, Regeneration works almost perfectly. It is a late-season shot of adrenaline, and one that provides a sense of the energy and urgency that will come to define much of the third season. Regeneration provides a sense of escalating stakes that builds towards the Xindi threat; this is the first time that Archer has faced something like this, but he’ll soon face something even bigger.

"Waking them after such a long nap, they're bound to be a little grumpy."

“Waking them after such a long nap, they’re bound to be a little grumpy.”

More than that, much of the tale end of the second season seems reflective and introspective, a conscious or unconscious farewell to an extended era of Star Trek dating back to The Next Generation. Given that the Borg exist as an iconic part of The Next Generation, it feels appropriate that they should be included in that farewell tour. After all, the Borg had been somewhat overused since Q Who?, their threat diminished and undermined over more than a decade of exposure. It feels good to blow some of the dust (okay, frost) off and make them scary again.

Regeneration is a delightfully energetic episode of Enterprise, continuing an impressive late-season run. It seems almost like the show is invigorated by the looming changes.

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

19 Responses

  1. Great review!

    I admit I don’t ‘get’ the appeal of the Borg but then Zombies do nothing for me either. Anyway you make a persuasive case for their use here.

    One other aspect I find fascinating is to what degree the failure of ‘Nemisis’ was a ‘Star Trek’ failure or more speciffically a ‘Next Generation’ failure. I’ve always thought people tend to look at the ‘Next Generation’ through rose tinted spectacles, ignoring the fact that that brand was arguably in decline from as early as 1998 – yes ‘Insurrection’ was technically a hit but made a lot less money than ‘First Contact’ (and it cost more to make too.) ‘Nemisis’ meanwhile was ‘Next Generation’ to its bootstraps.

    • Yep. I think Insurrection was a pretty big part of the decline as well. (As, to be honest, were DS9 and VOY.) I think it’s just that Nemesis and Enterprise provide very high-profile failures instead of a gradual decline spaced across years.

      After all, Nemesis was very much a reaction to the (relative) failure of Insurrection at the time. That’s where the darker tone and mood came from, as well as the decision to hire an outside director. It just so happened that Nemesis ended up a much more public humiliation.

      I’m not entirely sure I’d argue Nemesis was “Next Generation to its bootstraps.” It recycles a lot of ideas from the show, but it is as much “early twenty-first century generic science-fiction action film” and “The Wrath of Khan” as The Next Generation, I’d argue. But then I’ll readily admit I (probably) don’t hate it as much as most. And I think that the biggest crimes were committed in editing, to the point I’m surprised there is not a “writer’s cut” or a “producer’s cut” out there.

      • I don’t know. I think the Romulans were a much bigger part of TNG than any other Trek show, which combined with Picardian angst and Data’s identity issues with his brother made ‘Nemesis’ feel very much a piece of the TNG era, if not neccessarily the more positive parts of that era.

        Which I suppose is my point and where I disagree with you. As I said TNG is so often looked at through rose tinted spectacles that there is a tendency to split the latter two movies into their own thing. My issue has always been that while TNG could be very good and had many strengths it was also unbelivably fortunate in timing; existing in a period before television shifted into a different model and where it was faced with few competitors. DS9 and VOY simply didn’t have that empty field to race across and neither did the later TNG films.

        That’s why I’m not entirely convinced there was a ‘post TNG’ decline when we continued to have new TNG stories told that if anything met with a worse reception than the later Trek series.

      • I certainly won’t disagree with you that TNG was timed almost perfectly. As you suggested, one of the problems with VOY and ENT is that they kept mimicking the success of TNG, ignoring the fact that the market had changed in the intervening years. Part of me suspects DS9 was a few years ahead of its time. It probably would have enjoyed much greater saturation five years later.

  2. I appreciate winding up the fans, but to what end, really? To prolong the live of this Mickey Mouse NX-01 crew? Loose continuity we can live with. A forgotten nanoprobe cure? That’s lazy.

    I don’t really have confidence in prequels lately. And stories like Regeneration kind of spell out why. It’s all there in your excellent write-up so I won’t repeat it. Suffice to say it’s not a quibble unique to me, or Star Trek. I don’t really invest time in movie remarks or video game prequels for the same reason. It’s like trotting out an old 80’s slasher villain. You can make it more grisly (First Contract) or limit there numbers, like in this one (or Alien: Resurrection).

    The problem is, even the guy hustling gyros outside my building knows who the Borg are and what their gimmick is.

    • Nah. I get it. I think that you do need to add to the mythos as you go, you can’t just rely on retreading familiar ground.

      At the same time, I can see the appeal in doing an episode about the Borg precisely because the guy hustling gyros knows about them.

      (I also think that using the Borg as part of an episode that essentially externalises the show’s identity crisis is a clever touch, because they are probably the most recognisable facet of the Berman era outside of Picard or Data or Worf.)

  3. Glad to finally see your thoughts on this one! Great write up, as always. I admit I’m one of those who thought Enterprise jumped the shark with this episode. For me, I’m OK with continuity gaffes or changes that solely affect the world-building. But when a change in continuity makes the characters look dumb or defies logic, that’s when it starts to frustrate me.

    For example, in “Q, Who” the Borg actually grew babies through some creepy but unexplained process. None of the later episodes, including “Best of Both Worlds” ever picked that up. It’s a change in continuity, but it only really affects Borg reproduction so I’m not too concerned.

    But “Regeneration” changes continuity in a way so as to make the 24th century Trek characters and Starfleet look incompetent. Using more primitive technology, Phlox found a cure for the nano probes in a few hours. 200 years later, not only can Dr. Crusher not find such an easy cure, but nobody in Starfleet ever bothered to keep Phlox’s cure on record. Why wasn’t Starlet actively preparing for a Borg invasion if they had so much warning?

    I hate to be so critical of the episode because the writers really seemed to have approached it from the right place, but the final product just comes across as contrived and unnecessary. The Suliban were a much more interesting and appropriate threat for the NX crew.

    • I’m actually incredibly frustrated by how terribly the show botched the Suliban. They are an interesting villain with a wonderfully timely resonance that was purely coincidental. A decentralised organisation engaged in seemingly random acts of violence and brutality, driven by a clearly religious faith in something beyond the perception of “outsiders”? A Star Trek villain that has moved beyond the “nation state” concept of “Star Empires” or “Unions” or “Central Commands”? And they happen to have a name that ties into the defining geopolitical conflict of our time?

      How do you mess that up?

      I can understand the decision to pull back from the Suliban after 9/11, but – in hindsight – it feels like the show was backing away from a chance at relevance and purpose, retreating back into a safe and familiar past.

    • I always assumed that, being cut off from the rest of the collective and having sustained damage both in the crash and from being frozen for so long, that the two Borg’s memory files had probably been at least partially damaged. That would mean they would need to re-learn certain things, like how to assimilate a Denobulan. And if that is the case, then Phlox’s “cure” wouldn’t have worked in the 24th century, when the Federation encountered fully functional Borg.

  4. I am of the less-than-universally-accepted opinion that the Borg became lame the minute they got a queen, reducing them to just another one of these “archaic, authority-driven cultures” they dissed in their early appearances. Yes, arguably, the queen is just be the personification of the same hive mind we all know and love, but who needs that personification in the first place? They were most effective when they were the faceless, disembodied voice threatening Picard in “The Best Of Both Worlds.”

    To me, it’s not even about the “mystery” getting lost. We know what the Borg are about – they’re a hive mind obsessed with growing and consuming everything. It’s just about the things that made them distinctive getting lost or watered down.

    • I think we’ve talked about this before, but I broadly agree. I’m not a huge fan of the Queen, even as I understand her utility in First Contact. Making her a recurring foe on Voyager really robbed the Borg of their defining identity. But I’ll hopefully get to talk about that when I get to those episodes.

      • In theory, I like that the Borg have females to entice or relate to certain prey. It’s like the Vorta in that regard.

      • It kinda makes sense in the context of Data, particularly as the android who wants to be human. Presenting an individual face to him kinda works, even if retconning her into The Best of Both Worlds causes a whole mess of issues. But First Contact is fun enough (and Krige is so great herself) that it’s hard to be too bothered in the moment.

        But I think that when you get to Dark Frontier, Unimatrix Zero and Endgame, the concept doesn’t work nearly as well.

  5. The very announcement that Enterprise would be doing a Borg episode struck me as evidence that the series was failing; embittered, I could only think “good riddance then.” To me, doing continuity cartwheels just to bring back the franchise formerly-greatest adversaries 1.5 years after Voyager seemed to suggest the show had nowhere else to go; if they were going to that much trouble to bring in the Borg, then how could viewers be expected to get excited about the Sulliban (I didn’t realize at the time that the show runners were pretty well done with the Sulliban)? How do you top yourselves when the prequel series has already beaten the franchise’s most supposedly-indomitable antagonists (regardless of how many times the Voyager crew had stolen their lunch money)? Bringing in the Borg seemed to me an admission that the series had nowhere else to go and its end was nigh.

    …Which was not entirely true; there actually was a new compelling adversary waiting in the wings (Xindi). But having already given up at the series at the time this episode aired, I (and others like me) were no longer willing to give Enterprise the benefit of the doubt – unlike the ever-gracious Darren, who makes a staunch Devil’s Advocate (and good on him – it’s a welcome respite from the internet’s typical rush-to-condemn critics).

    • Thanks for the kind words, although “ever-gracious” might give me too much credit. I’m not particularly complementary to Bounty or Extinction, to cite two upcoming examples.

      I’m actually quite impressed at how many people seem to regard the Suliban as a missed opportunity. I thought I was alone in that assessment, so I am very glad to hear it.

  6. I lived in a household that was intentionally TV-free for a couple of decades. So although I was a passionate TOS fan in my youth, when TNG came out in 1987, not only did I not see it, I didn’t even know it was on.

    I reclaimed my interest in Star Trek a few years ago, when my household’s no-TV rules were relaxed. Of course the first thing I did was watch all of TOS again. Yep, still love it. 🙂 And then I tried watching some other Trek. I’ve seen the first half a dozen episodes of TNG, the first two years of Voyager, and I’m gradually working my way through Enterprise. (I’m sticking with Enterprise because I’m watching Discovery, so I want to expose myself to the backstory that may apply to Discovery.)

    All of that history means that although I’ve HEARD OF the Borg, this is the first Borg episode I’ve ever actually seen. I’m kind of glad of that, because it means that I’m almost as naive about them as Archer is, so I found this episode extraordinarily effective. I’m glad to hear, from reading your review, that even people who’d seen a lot of Borg episodes before enjoyed this episode.

    I adored Phlox in this episode! (Well, I pretty much always love Phlox, partly because John Billingsley is such a good actor, partly because Phlox is an interesting combination of matter-of-fact, kind, and humorous, and partly because falling in love with Spock at the age of 11 has predisposed me to love Star Trek’s alien cast members.) But in this particular episode, I loved it that Phlox was so very clear-eyed about what was going on, not hiding from his condition or denying it and doing the best he could to protect the rest of the crew from the threat he posed, even when those crew members didn’t take that threat seriously. It’s what Spock would have done, and I have no higher compliment than that. 🙂

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  8. I remember when this episode aired, I was pretty enraged for the nerd reasons you cite above. But I also recognized that it was an effective and entertaining episode of TV.

    I will say that I am someone who is almost wholly against time travel, despite the integral role it has played in Star Trek from the very first few episodes. Time travel is a plot-hole generating machine that results in a whack-a-mole type writing situations, where you can never really stop dealing with paradoxes and illogical concepts once you use it.

    Like in First Contact, the Borg should just have travelled back to the 1930s or something. Or in this episode, why didn’t the Borg just assimilate all of Earth before flying off in a crappy shuttle? They could have just flown the shuttle to the nearest major city and gained 100,000 drones.

    Anyway, these are minor issues. Star Trek is clearly not meant to be hard sci fi, even if it presents itself as such. It took me until adulthood to realize that Star Wars, with all its magic and superpowers, was no more fantastical that Star Trek really. Haha

    I wish the Apple TV and other digital platformed versions of this show came with the commentaries. One thing I miss from the move to streaming services is that we have lost access to commentaries and other features – although some digital films do now come with commentaries now on AppleTV. But it is very rare compared to the DVD era.

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