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Star Trek: Enterprise – Twilight (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 August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Twilight is a fascinating piece of Star Trek.

There are some significant flaws with the episode, particularly in how it treats T’Pol as a character and the eagerness with which it grabs at the famed “reset button.” However, despite these problems, Twilight is pretty much perfectly positioned. Eight episodes into the third season, the new status quo has been established. The ground rules have been laid down. Over the past seven episodes, fans have been given a sense of how the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is supposed to work.

Keep your shirt on, Archer...

Keep your shirt on, Archer…

However, there is a palpable sense of unease about the larger arc – a question of how Star Trek can tell a story like the Xindi arc while remaining true to itself. The Shipment was an awkward attempt to impose a traditional Star Trek moral structure upon the season. North Star and Similitude are very much traditional Star Trek morality tales set against the backdrop of the larger arc. Like many of the stronger shows towards the tail end of the second season, these episodes seem to ask how you can apply old Star Trek standards to the twenty-first century.

Twilight is an episode about what happens if the Xindi arc goes wrong. Obviously, this is a story about what happens if Archer cannot save Earth from the Xindi, documenting the slow death of mankind as they are hunted through the cosmos. However, on an external level, Twilight is a story about what happens if Star Trek bungles this big grasp at relevance. It is no coincidence that the debilitating impairment that Archer develops involves his long-term memory. If the franchise forgets itself, all is lost.

Everything dies...

Everything dies…

Twilight is not just the story about the death of Earth or the death of humanity. It is a story about the death of Star Trek. Two years earlier, the franchise had seemed almost invincible; the idea of there not being any Star Trek on the air after the end of Star Trek: Voyager seemed almost absurd. However, by the time that the show had reached the third season, its existence was very much in peril. Twilight is a story about how horrible and apocalyptic the future might be; how Star Trek might find itself hobbled and then destroyed.

As its name implies, Twilight is a lament for the franchise; perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that the show was nothing more than a dead man walking at this point. The result is a surprisingly moving piece of television, a thoughtful and considerate examination of just how much is on the line for the franchise as well as the characters.

Waking dream...

Waking dream…

Twilight is an episode that is very highly regarded by fans of the show. In an on-line poll hosted by UPN in the run up to the broadcast of These Are the Voyages…Twilight placed as the number one “fan favourite” episode of the show. It was broadcast again in that context. Even while filming the episode, Scott Bakula described it as “potentially the best script we’ve had and the best show to date.” In Star Trek 101, writers Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block cite as an example of one of the best episodes of Enterprise.

It is easy to see why that it is the case. The scale of Twilight is absolutely massive. It opens with the destruction of Earth, and only gets bigger from there. The stakes are incredible. At the same time, Twilight is very firmly anchored in intimate character drama. It is something of a love story between Archer and T’Pol – one that manages to avoid the intensely juvenile outlook of stories like A Night in Sickbay or Shadows of P’Jem. This is a mature and considered love story, to the point where Jolene Blalock gets to wear regular people clothes and proper uniforms.

He's got parasites on the brain...

He’s got parasites on the brain…

On a purely logical level, it is easy to see the appeal of Twilight. It is an episode that fits quite comfortably among the franchise’s many time travel and alternate universe stories, a subgenre of Star Trek that tends to find favour among the fans. Twilight is very much an episode in the style of Yesterday’s Enterprise, The VisitorCause and Effect, Before and After, Year of Hell, Timeless. Even the idea of the captain experiencing time travel while suffering from a neurological impairment feels like an homage to All Good Things…

At the same time, the story of Twilight is specific enough to this show and this season that it never feels as blatant as mash-up script as some of the episodes from the second season. This is a story that fits quite comfortably within the context of what Star Trek is at this moment of time, without feeling like an attempt to recapture past glories. Twilight is an episode that might work outside the context of the Xindi arc, but it would not work anywhere near as well. Both the episode and the arc are enhanced by its position.

We have met the enemy...

We have met the enemy…

Writer Michael Sussman is also fond of the episode, citing it as one of his favourites. Interestingly, he originally pitched it for Star Trek: Voyager, although he admits that it works a lot better in the context of the Xindi arc:

It was originally a Voyager story — instead of Archer having a memory affliction and waking up in the future, it would’ve been Janeway, with Chakotay as her caretaker. It was my attempt at writing a love story for those two, but I couldn’t sell the Voyager producers on the idea.  It turned out to work better as an Archer and T’Pol story anyway, with the background of the Xindi war upping the stakes. It’s always fun when you can toast Earth before the opening titles.

There is a lame joke to be made about how obvious it is that Sussman originally developed Twilight as a story pitch for Voyager. It is, in many respects, a pure “reset button” episode; an episode where everything is reset at the end.

He's just going outside and may be some time...

He’s just going outside and may be some time…

This is the first (and most prevalent) of the two major criticisms of the episode. Twilight is unapologetically a “reset button” episode. Nobody except the viewer has any memory of anything that happens in the episode. Archer himself gets literally reset thanks to some not!literal!time travel. Archer is sent back in time and never develops the debilitating condition that leads to the extinction of mankind. It isn’t even as if alt!Archer manages to defeat some sinister plot or anything. He literally just prevents himself from getting sick and saves the universe.

It is an incredibly convenient resolution, and it is subject to many of the stock criticisms of these sorts of episodes. None of the characters actually grow as a result of what happens. Nothing really changes. The Xindi arc itself doesn’t really move forward in any tangible way. In fact, given the careful effort that the third season has made to build continuity between episodes, the use of a “reset button” at the end of Twilight is particularly striking. It was one thing for Voyager to bash that button on a weekly basis; Enterprise is supposed to be past that at this point.

Archer might need some time to digest this...

Archer might need some time to digest this…

Sussman himself has readily acknowledged this criticism of his script for Twilight. In initial interviews given a year after the show was originally broadcast, Sussman vehemently defended the decision to avoid any lasting consequences of the ending:

I wanted Archer and/or T’Pol to take away something from that experience, too—but to me it would have been a cheat to do that. Archer doesn’t get ‘thrown back in time’ when the parasites are destroyed; we as the writers simply decided to cut back to that point of departure where his life had changed.

So why would he have remembered future events from an alternate reality that (a) are in an alternate reality and (b) haven’t happened yet? That show was set 20 years in the future; say in the real Star Trek universe, Archer is now the first president of the Federation and he’s married to T’Pol—we could have just cut back to that and said,‘OK, it’s 20 years later,still;’ we haven’t changed the time, but we’re back in the proper timeline. Well, that would have been bizarre.

In a way, that is a quintessential Sussman-esque response. Sussman is a writer with a very clear fascination and engagement with continuity and consistency. And the ending is internally consistent, as much as not!literal!time travel logic ever makes sense.

evil!Reed!

evil!Reed!

It appears that Sussman has softened somewhat in his attitude towards that criticism of Twilight, accepting that maybe the storytelling satisfaction derived from giving weight to the ending might offset the internal inconsistency created. On a commentary for StarTrek.com:

I think something like that might have helped. At the time, when I was writing it, I didn’t believe that he would remember any of it. Because that entire timeline didn’t exist and had never happened. It’s not as if he’d been sent back in time, so why would he remember it? But we could have cheated. I don’t think anyone would have complained. It might have made a more poignant ending.

After all, a lot of tangential and alternate Star Trek stories derive a great deal of weight from the fact that even one character remembers what happened. The Inner Light affected nobody except Picard, but that final scene was devastating. The Visitor stayed with Sisko, even as he prevented the terrible future.

This is the end...

This is the end…

While Star Trek has a history of abusing “reset button” resolutions, the “reset button” is not inherently a bad thing. Stories do not have to have consequences for the characters or their world in order to be worth telling; stories do not exist to service the shared universe, they exist to satisfy the audience. Michael Piller cleverly figured out that Star Trek could serve the audience by telling character-focused stories with real substance, but there is not a single right way to tell a story. After all, hackneyed storytelling tropes become hackneyed for a reason.

There are episodes of Voyager that work despite (or perhaps even because) of the gigantic reset button. Year of Hell might have been more interesting stretched across an entire season, as pitched by Brannon Braga, but the finished episode works very well on its own terms. Deadlock goes out of its way to put everything back together at the end, but it is no less exciting or interesting for that. (Of course, it helps that Deadlock was one of the first stories to use a “reset button” on that scale.) Exploring consequences of events can make for great storytelling, but it is not a necessary requirement.

A night in sickbay...

A night in sickbay…

The problem with Voyager‘s “reset button” storytelling was not that it used the “reset button”, but that the “reset button” became the default resolution. After all, Yesterday’s Enterprise is considered to be one of the best Star Trek stories ever told, despite the fact that everything goes back to normal at the end of the episode. Sure, Mind’s Eye made it clear that Yesterday’s Enterprise would have longer term repercussions, but it isn’t as if Yesterday’s Enterprise spent a year as a crap story before the show assured fans that it “mattered.” Indeed, it is debatable whether the development of Sela undermines Yesterday’s Enterprise.

So the idea that Twilight doesn’t really “matter” is not a crippling criticism. After all, the rest of the third season tries to avoid the use of the “reset button”, so the production team earns at least one really good full-on reset. However, while the criticism of the “reset button” is a stock fan complaint about Twilight, there is another more serious criticism to be made about Sussman’s script. While the central point of Twilight is that Archer is an exceptional leader, T’Pol winds up ill-served by the story.

All our yesterdays...

All our yesterdays…

Given the type of story that this is, Twilight will inevitably be about how important Jonathan Archer is to the fate of humanity. After all, it would really suck if you could take the series lead out of the series and have it make no material difference to how things unfold. That would be a pretty damning indictment of Archer as a character – pithy jokes about terrible decisions in Extinction and Exile notwithstanding. By it’s nature, Archer’s absence has to be apocalyptic; it has to have very real and very tangible consequences.

After all, The Visitor might be fixated on the relationship between Benjamin and Jake Sisko, but it is also an episode about how Sisko’s absence has a very serious and detrimental effect on the politics of the entire Alpha Quadrant. Starfleet abandons Deep Space Nine, an event that would obviously lead to the end of a show called Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Well, unless they took it back six episodes later.) But the core point remains; stories centred around characters – particularly lead characters – tend to emphasise the importance of those characters. That’s basic and logical storytelling.

Taking a stab at defeating the Xindi...

Taking a stab at defeating the Xindi…

The problem with Twilight is how all this is presented. Twilight is a very gendered episode. Archer’s masculinity is emphasised. Indeed, he even witnesses the destruction of Earth (and the failure of his mission) while shirtless. When Archer suggests that he could be of use to the ship even outside the role of commanding officer, T’Pol states that they tried it before and Archer found himself “uncomfortable.” Indeed, Archer’s few moments of triumph in Twilight come when he reasserts his masculine strength – wrestling with a reptile!Xindi in his quarters or engaging in a fire fight in engineering.

In contrast, the episode is quick to suggest that T’Pol is better suited to the role of caretaker than commanding officer. Twilight puts T’Pol in an honest-to-goodness Starfleet uniform, but the script goes out of its way to emphasise how terrible she is as a commanding officer. Even Trip condemns her pretty directly. “What the world where you thinking when you rammed that ship?” he demands. Trip would never talk to Archer that way, even in the grip of paranoia in Strange New World or righteousness in Cogenitor.

Suits you, sir...

Suits you, sir…

There are a number of unfortunate undertones to Twilight. Most obviously, all the white men in the cast are defined as captains. Archer needs to be captain of the Enterprise in order to save the world. Trip becomes captain of the Enterprise after T’Pol retires, dying trying to protect the last remains of humanity. Reed finds himself promoted to command of the Intrepid. “Did everyone get their own ship while I was gone?” Archer wonders. “Not everyone,” Hoshi replies. Just the white male cast members.

Indeed, Hoshi does not appear to have been promoted at all. (She’s not even clearly identified as second-in-command.) T’Pol steps down after a disastrous tenure in charge of the ship, retiring to the surface to take care of Archer. Travis Mayweather is killed off quite early in the episode, to the point where he gets a single line of exposition. (“The helm’s not responding. The starboard injectors are fused.”) To be entirely fair, not all of this is down to Twilight. The cast of Enterprise is predominantly white and predominantly male. It is less diverse than any of the other spin-offs.

And the oceans boiled...

And the oceans boiled…

David Grevin is perhaps a little harsh in his assessment of the episode, but he makes some compelling criticisms. At its core, Twilight is a story about how a white male commanding officer is the last best chance that humanity has to avoid extinction:

T’Pol passionately makes the case that restoring Archer to command in the past is the only chance for humanity left. The episode not only posits that white heterosexual manhood is the necessary linchpin and sign of rational power and that its absence results in the destruction of the human race. But it also puts this rhetoric in the mouth of T’Pol, who must, in issuing forth, condemn both women and the Other to the categories of agents of social destruction and the extinction of the race.

To be entirely fair to Twilight, the episode just pushes to the fore some of the more uncomfortable aspects of Enterprise. None of these issues would be as pronounced had Sussman developed the episode for Voyager.

Waking up to a wake...

Waking up to a wake…

It is impossible to tell how the story would have worked on Voyager, but the core premise would subvert a number of stereotypical gender roles, instead of reinforcing them – with Chakotay filling the role of nurse to Janeway. It seems likely that Tuvok would have been the officer placed in command of the ship in their absence. In a way, the issues with Twilight are issues that largely come baked into the premise of Enterprise. These problems have been quite apparent since Broken Bow.

Twilight does not work particular well as an episode centred around T’Pol. T’Pol has been something of a problem character for the show since the first season – the series has often struggled with how best to approach the Vulcan regular. The fact that T’Pol often doubles as the show’s sex appeal only compounds the issue. The third season marks the point where Enterprise found a clear direction, but T’Pol remains adrift. Between the presentation of T’Pol’s command performance in Twilight and later decisions about the character’s direction across the season, the show still has no real idea what to do with the character.

Killing a civilian? That's pretty cold-blooded!

Killing a civilian? That’s pretty cold-blooded!

It is worth pausing to wonder about the logic of doing an Archer-and-T’Pol love story in the middle of the third season, on a purely conceptual level. After all, the big interpersonal dynamic of the third season is between T’Pol and Trip. Sussman himself conceded that he was worried about Twilight running counter to the season’s big plans for those two:

“I knew they were already had plans for a Trip/T’Pol arc, so I wasn’t sure they’d want to do a T’Pol/Archer ‘love story,’” he says. “But in the end, I think it fit in just fine; I think Scott was happy to get the girl! There’s a wonderful moment where he says to her, ‘Exactly how far has our relationship evolved?’ And her response — the original line of dialog was — ‘Not that far.’ And that line ended up disappearing at some point! Now she just gives him a look—which I think is great.”

It does seem like a rather strange choice. In some respects, the interpersonal dynamic of Twilight would work a lot better for Janeway and Chakotay than it does for Archer and T’Pol. It seems like this confusion and arc-breaking probably played into some other choices too. Perhaps the script has Trip react so angrily to T’Pol in order to demonstrate that their romantic arc is effectively finished.

Information brokers, eh?

Information brokers, eh?

Nevertheless, in spite of these very serious concerns, Twilight does work beautifully. While the idea of suggesting a romantic relationship between Archer and T’Pol might be questionable, the episode does an excellent job of exploring unrequited love as a quintessentially Vulcan emotion. T’Pol is living with somebody who cannot remember all that she has done (and given up) for him, somebody who regresses back to his younger self every couple of hours. While her feelings for him have obviously evolved and changed, his cannot. That is a great romantic premise, and one that plays into the idea of Vulcan repression.

One of the great aspects of Twilight is the way that T’Pol never explicitly confirms or acknowledges her feelings – the script leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether she even understands them herself. However, the nature of their relationship seems quite apparent to those outside T’Pol. “Your emotional attachment to Archer is clouding your logic,” Soval warns her. Phlox is a bit blunter. “Have you told the Captain how you feel about him? It’s obvious you’ve become quite attached. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Vulcan’s experience the same emotions as any other species. They’re simply better at hiding them.”

Where is my long-term memory?

Where is my long-term memory?

Twilight is a surprisingly affecting love story, one that uses a science-fiction premise to capture a very human situation. T’Pol has given her life to taking care of Archer, while he remembers none of it. It is a story familiar to anybody who has ever cared for a relative with a debilitating mental condition, a sense that any progress is made in inches and then erased like footprints on a beach. Even aside from all the larger ideas about the Xindi arc and the future of the Star Trek franchise as a whole, Twilight functions beautifully as an intimate drama.

Indeed, it is amazing just how much material Twilight fits into its lean forty-minute run-time. The show covers a lot of ground very quickly, which means that some details get brushed aside or forgotten. Mayweather is perhaps the most obvious example, killed off so swiftly and so brutally that the show never bothers to confirm that he is actually dead. There is only so much space in which to explore all this stuff, and it is to Sussman’s credit that Twilight manages to serve all of its masters so very well. While a lot of early third season episodes feel padded out with dull subplots, every second of Twilight is put to use.

Bedtime reading...

Bedtime reading…

On the audio commentary, Sussman revealed that there was some consideration to expanding Twilight so that it might be given room to breath. In fact, Scott Bakula – a big fan of the script – suggested that it might work better as a two-hour mini-feature:

I think it was Scott who said something after the script came out. He said something to the producers like, “Are you sure that you want to do this episode now? It seems like maybe a two-hour or an episode that might be better later on.” But there were a lot of elements that got cut out, a lot of character moments. Scott initially had a speech at the end of this scene – which was actually shot – about his grandfather, who had an Alzheimer-type…

His great-grandfather Jack? He had a degenerative neuro-disease and his grandchildren, I believe, had to explain that his wife had been dead for twenty years.

Yeah.

Bakula might have a point. Certainly Twilight is an episode that feels like it could play as a mid-season two-parter like Year of Hell or Dark Frontier, taking advantage of a format where everything has room to breath.

Vulcan love companion?

Vulcan love companion?

Twilight also has some interesting observations to make about the state of the franchise. This stretch of the third season seems particularly reflective and introspective – as if Enterprise is weighing up the risks associated with the larger Xindi plot. The Shipment plays like an attempt to reassure viewers that the show is still Star Trek at heart, despite the darker mood and higher stakes. North Star tells a classic “parallel earth” narrative in the context of the larger Xindi arc. Similitude is a classic morality play infused with extra weight by the larger season story.

In a very literal sense, Twilight is a cautionary tale – an episode that reveals what happens if Archer and the Enterprise fail to stop the Xindi. From a simple plotting perspective, Twilight allows the audience to see the stakes of the Xindi arc. Since The Expanse, the threat posed by the Xindi has seemed almost abstract. The Xindi revealed that the Xindi know Enterprise is stumbling through the Expanse, but don’t seem too bothered about the intrusion. Rajiin had the reptile!Xindi and insect!Xindi attack Enterprise, only to leave the ship in one piece. So the credibility of the Xindi threat is not too high.

It's not easy being green...

It’s not easy being green…

Destroying Earth in the teaser helps to reinforce the stakes. This is really is a battle for survival. Actually seeing Earth destroyed helps underscore just what Archer is trying to prevent. As such, Twilight is perfectly positioned in the season. The Xindi have drifted out of focus a little bit, and the show has had difficulty balancing arc-based storytelling with stand-alone adventures like Extinction and Exile. The Xindi inevitably move back into focus towards the middle of the season, but Twilight does a lot to reinforce the danger that they pose.

(However, once again, the show seems to suggest that reptile!Xindi are inherently monstrous. It seems weird that Archer and his crew never seem to find themselves confronting primate!Xindi or arboreal!Xindi soldiers, even in alternate realities. It appears that Twilight is reinforcing the sense that there are very clearly defined “good Xindi” and “bad Xindi.” It would arguably be more jarring – in hindsight – to see Degra overseeing the hunt and extermination of mankind. It would illustrate that Archer’s presence saves more than just mankind.)

Not Archer's cup of tea...

Not Archer’s cup of tea…

However, there is also a very clear metaphorical dimension to Twilight, beyond the literal plot. Twilight is very much a story about the risks facing Star Trek if the Xindi arc goes horribly wrong; if Enterprise fails, Star Trek could die. This fear is literalised in the destruction of Earth at the hands of the Xindi and the extermination of mankind. Interestingly, the figures of Zephram Cochrane and Khan Noonien Singh seem to haunt the narrative of Twilight, even if their names are never mentioned out loud. They seem to embody the best and the worst in mankind.

Of course, references to Cochrane are something of a stylistic quirk for writer Michael Sussman. The character was referenced explicitly in the scripts to Future Tense and Regeneration. He was explicitly identified as a cornerstone of the Star Trek universe in Sussman’s script for Anomaly, where Trip explained that the Expanse did not operate according the rules that Cochrane had laid out. As the inventor of the warp drive – the fictional engine that makes the literal Star Trek possible – Sussman seems to treat Cochrane as the patron saint of Star Trek; a representation of humanity’s potential.

What keeps Archer awake at night...

What keeps Archer awake at night…

So there is a great deal of Cochrane-related symbolism in Twilight. While wrestling with the reptile!Xindi in his quarters, Archer breaks his statue of Cochrane and impales the reptile!Xindi on it. Cochrane is no longer a figure of inspiration and hope; he is a weapon to be used. (Perhaps reflecting how his engine itself had become a tool of war against the Xindi, as suggested by Trip in The Expanse.) The last human colony is betrayed by Yedrin, a Yridian. Jaglom Shrek, the first Yridian to appear in the franchise, was played by James Cromwell. Cromwell would play Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact.

While episode subverts and perverts imagery associated with Cochrane, Twilight revels in its references to Khan Noonien Singh. If Cochrane embodies mankind’s utopian potential, Khan embodies mankind’s worst aspects. Soval reports to T’Pol, “Two weeks ago, the High Command received a distress call from the Earth convoy in the Mutara system. By the time our ships reached them, they found nothing but a field of debris.” This is an obvious reference to the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Khan and Kirk waged war in the Mutara Nebula.

The ascent...

The ascent…

More than that, Twilight reveals that the last human colony exists on Ceti Alpha V. Kirk marooned Khan on Ceti Alpha V in Space Seed, a decision that would have terrifying repercussions. As Sussman notes on the commentary, this was something of a mean-spirited joke:

That was obviously a continuity reference, but also a really cruel in-joke. In that, even if the Xindi never found them, one hundred years from now we all know what was gonna happen.

That Khan was gonna find them?

If Khan didn’t find them, Ceti Alpha VI was going to blow up and they’d just be screwed. It was a really cruel joke, putting them on that planet.

Sussman has a fondness for these sorts of cruel punchlines. The scripts for both Civilisation and Shadows of P’Jem come with implied genocide written into the gap between Enterprise and the original Star Trek.

Fair trade...

Fair trade…

More than that, though, it seems like mankind have found themselves exiled to the same wilderness that once housed Khan Noonien Singh. Twilight supposes a grim future where Star Trek has forsaken Cochrane in favour of Khan. Sussman seems to be articulating the central moral conflict at the heart of the third season by reference to Star Trek continuity. It is an extremely nerdy way of framing a moral debate, but one that clearly articulates the existential choices facing Star Trek at this point in its life-cycle.

(Indeed, Twilight‘s suggestion that Star Trek‘s future lies with Khan rather than Cochrane is delightful ironic in hindsight. Each of the last three feature films have all imitated The Wrath of Khan to one extent or another. In fact, Star Trek Into Darkness actually resurrects the character of Khan as one of James T. Kirk’s few recurring adversaries. Given how it seems that the movies have gotten stuck in the pattern of repeating The Wrath of Khan, it seems like Khan represents a very real existential threat to Star Trek.)

Engineering a genocide...

Engineering a genocide…

Twilight is careful to suggest that this future has a very real time limit on it. Even if the Xindi don’t find the colony, the universe itself will conspire against the last survivors of humanity. Ceti Alpha V is a ticking time bomb, albeit of a different sort than the one that Dolim targets at Earth in Countdown. In such a grim and nihilistic universe, everything dies. Even Star Trek, it seems. This is what happens if the franchise chooses Khan over Cochrane. (It is also telling that Michale Sussman positions Cochrane as a key point of historical divergence between the primary and mirror universes in In a Mirror, Darkly.)

Twilight suggests that if the franchise takes what Trip describes as a “wrong turn” with the Xindi arc, it ceases to be Star Trek. The episode posits a future where Archer and humanity are effectively land-bound, and where fuel is so scarce that the Enterprise is no longer an interstellar vessel. The Enterprise no longer explores, serving as a make-shift border patrol to keep the alien out. It is, in a way, a future more grim than the transformation of the Enterprise into an exclusively military vessel in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

A literal star fleet...

A literal star fleet…

It Future Tense seemed to tease a point of intersection between Star Trek and Doctor Who, Twilight crashes Star Trek into the revived Battlestar Galactica as the Enterprise finds itself the guardian of a ragtag fleet of humans after an attempted genocide. According to the commentary on the episode, Sussman included the fleet as an affectionate homage to Ronald D. Moore’s looming reboot:

In an early draft, there was not fleet of ships, there was just the Enterprise. And it met some other vessels. But I’d just read the pilot for the new Battlestar Galactica and I thought to do a little homage. This episode actually aired before the miniseries came out.

Written by a Star Trek veteran, Battlestar Galactica provided a grim counterpoint to the optimism of Star Trek. In a way, Battlestar Galactica is another variation on what Enterprise is trying to do with its third season – an attempt to explore the War on Terror through good old-fashioned science-fiction allegory. As such, it feels like a suitable (and prescient) point of comparison for Twilight to make.

Shoot and run...

Shoot and run…

It could be argued that Battlestar Galactica enjoyed a much greater degree of freedom than Enterprise did. Ronald D. Moore enjoyed a greater degree of freedom from the studio than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman had at this point in the run. More than that, the Battlestar Galactica reboot was so distinct from its source material that Moore had given himself carte blanche. In contrast, Enterprise was constrained and defined by Star Trek – by continuity, but also by philosophy. In fact, UPN had only recently insisted that the words “Star Trek” be added to the opening credits.

It should be stated that these constraints were not necessarily bad. Battlestar Galactica could be gritty and grim and could even border on nihilistic at points; while Enterprise could only lean so far in that direction, it is not as if one philosophical approach is inherently better. As much as Enterprise might feel constrained by the label Star Trek, optimism and utopian idealism are values that have intrinsic worth. One of the biggest struggles facing Enterprise was the challenge to adapt that utopian idealism for the twenty-first century. The show didn’t always succeed, but it did try more often than it gets credit for.

"Hey, I'm not even supposed to appear until the spin-offs!"

“Hey, I’m not even supposed to appear until the spin-offs!”

Twilight seems to make the argument that it would be very easy to turn an allegory about the War on Terror into a grim and apocalyptic science-fiction epic, but that making that change would turn Enterprise into a different show. It would cease to be Star Trek, and would instead become Battlestar Galactica. This is the heart of Twilight, a story that arrive at the twilight of the Berman era, and finds the show at a crossroads. Cochrane or Khan. Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. The choice is tough, but there is only one choice that preserves Star Trek as Star Trek.

After all, Twilight ultimately rejects nihilism and militarism. It is quite telling that all the military members of the cast are unceremoniously killed off quite early in the climactic battle as the reptile!Xindi tear the roof off the bridge. In contrast, the three longest-surviving members of the regular cast have all taken off their uniforms by the climax. As the universe falls to pieces, Archer ultimately finds himself relying on the two alien members of the Enterprise cast who are not explicitly members of Starfleet as he tries to protect the engine – a part of Enterprise recognised as symbolically import in First Flight.

Twilight is a beautiful and thoughtful piece of Star Trek, an absolute triumph. It is – for all its flaws – the perfect story at the perfect time.

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13 Responses

  1. “Written by a Star Trek veteran, Battlestar Galactica provided a grim counterpoint to the optimism of Star Trek.”

    He shares a lot in common with Vince Gilligan. They’re both very adept at taking over the shows they write for. He wrote for Star Trek, but virtually all of his scripts were brutal deconstructions of Star Trek. I think of him as a bomb-thrower (at least in the beginning) rather than a sci-fi writer per se.

    The most ambitious TV writers today are Vince Gilligan, Ron Moore, and Steven Moffat.

    • Interesting.

      I think Fuller is certainly one of the most ambitious showrunners. (And, at the risk of being horribly conventional, I’d include Simon.) But that’s a good list. Moffat, in particular, I think doesn’t get enough credit for being fiendishly clever. (Because I suspect a lot of knee-jerk fans jump to the assumption he’s fiendishly stupid.)

      • I love Moffat’s writing! Just not his characters. They’re all variations on himself, I suspect.

        The man rightfully likes to blow his own trumpet. So DW and Sherlock is increasingly about the trials and tribulations of being such a hilarious charming genius.

      • I’d argue, though, that it’s also about “being such a hilarious charming borderline sociopathic genius.” In that the Doctor/Sherlock is great fun and very intelligent, but also not nice. (“Not nice” sounds like something very primary school to say. I’m perhaps thinking of John Cena’s delivery of the observation in Trainwreck.)

        Which is a hallmark of Moffat’s earlier sitcom work as well. (Most of which he has conceded are based upon specific parts of himself.) Smart men who really don’t understand how people work, and who are great fun to be around but probably quite unpleasant to be involved with for an extended period of time. I get the sense that Moffat has his own qualms about himself.

  2. This episode had two important milestones for me. One, was this was the first good Star Trek episode I ever saw. The other was when I first saw this I was 6. Therefore, this was the first piece of entertainment that I ever saw in which people were killed like flies. I think this episode thus served as a wake up call to me that batman tas was not the only form of TV entertainment out there.

    By the way, your reviews always have so many informative quotes in them. I wonder what are your best suggestions for the best Star Trek research resources?

    Thank you for the review.

  3. I feel the need to point out that Voyager’s Deadlock does not in fact, go out of it’s way to put back everything together. In fact, that’s one of the oddities of that episode. In that episode, Voyager is split into two, which I guess has caused a paradox, causing one of the Voyager’s to become horrifically damaged, as explained in a wonderfully grim damage report by Tuvok. Just when they start going over the philosophical ramifications of destroying one ship to save the other, the “undamaged” Voyager get’s boarded by Vidians and destroyed. It’s the heavily damaged Voyager that limps away at the end of the episode, and WITH NO EXPLANATION, the ship is fine the next episode. Unlike Ent:Twilight, there is no plot device or line of dialogue that explains how the status quo got reestablished, so Deadlock has an annoying case of the unexplained reset button, which is a shame because I like that episode for how utterly grim it is.

    • It does though. alt!Harry and alt!Naomi are sent to the surviving ship so that there are absolutely no long-term consequences from the episode. Recovering from catastrophic damage between episodes is a Star Trek standard, even if Voyager took it to its logical conclusion. The Enterprise recovered from having a hole carved in it in Q Who? while DS9 replaced an entire pylon quite handily after To the Death.

      (I do like Deadlock quite a bit, but I think it very much sets the precedent for the following five seasons of reset-button bashing.)

      • I would have felt going out of their way for the reset button would have had the undamaged Voyager survive, and have alt!Harry and alt!Naomi come from the damaged ship, then have the damaged crew get their organs pilfered. The subversion of not going the predictable “no consequences” route is what made that episode interesting. The Enterprise had the resources of a The United Federation of Planets and numerous Starbases and shipyards to repair that hole the Borg left, so it didn’t suspend disbelief that it could be fixed. The DS9 pylon is harder to explain away, they did have access to Empok Nor, and DS9 still had access to the entire Starfleet Corp of Engineers to repair the thing. Voyager has nothing, it’s stranded on the other side of the galaxy, no resources to call upon, no money, and they aren’t willing to barter with technology or form alliances, Deadlock ends with the grim question on how they are going to get out of this mess? Even if the writers didn’t want to deal with the ramification, they could have added some throw away lines with Janeway being grateful they found some friendly aliens that are helping them with repairs, and have a few background extras/alien repair crews, the next episode after Deadlock involves Tuvok on a planet dealing with a shuttle crash, this wouldn’t have hurt the episodic nature of Voyager at all, given all the fights Voyager gets into, starting an episode in an alien drydock for repairs wouldn’t have been unusual at all for anyone tuning in that missed the previous episode.

        And just a small aside about Twilight, something that really irritates me about Enterprise is the sexism on display. Hoshi is intelligent and has invented revolutionary technology and helped facilitate first contact with a number of species and diffused a number of diplomatic problems: no promotion in 12 years. Trip is dumb as a bag of hammers, racist, “learned about warp cores working on a fishing boat”, will blow up the engine and cause himself severe brain damage that requires a partial brain transplant not 2 episodes from now, and this is the man then gets promoted to captain of the Enterprise??? Is that the Star Trek utopian message? That if you’re a white male, you’re on the fast track to the top, no matter how inept and incompetent?

        When T’Pol is captain (finally she gets to wear something that makes her look like a professional), it is automatically described as a “disaster”. When she desperately rams the Xindi ship, Trip viciously condemns her decision, but he doesn’t offer an alternative on what they could have done. T’Pol gets them out of a tight situation, and Trip just disrespects her authority in front of everybody and offers nothing constructive (yeah, real command material there Trip…), whereas T’Pol remains very professional cooling reminding him that she’s in charge, and that he must go through proper channels to have her removed. And we’re supposed to believe her command is a disaster? T’Pol managed to get everybody out of the Expanse alive whereas Trip’s command resulted in his death, and the death of his bridge crew in the first few minutes of the battle.

        Reed, another white male, gets to be a captain of his own ship, but at least that makes sense given that he’s competent and knows how to follow the chain of command. Though the reason he’s manning a tactical station instead of captaining his ship is beyond me. Was his rank honorary?

        The ending of this episode really grates on me. It’s not the reset button that bothers me, it was obvious that was going to be pushed the moment Earth blew up, it was how we got there. T’Pol, whom throughout the episode has slowly devoted her life to Archer, captaining a ship throughout its darkest hours and deciding to tie her fate to humanity’s…is thanklessly shot in the back to die instantly while operating controls to save the day. They couldn’t even give T’Pol the heroic moment, despite all the sacrifices she made, they have to give it to Archer, whom gets shot square in the chest and is barely fazed, then gets shot in the back by the exact same weapon T’Pol was, and he can still has the fortitude to move levers around, this despite the fact that T’Pol, being a Vulcan, has the strength of 3 humans. Jeez, what does that say about T’Pol, that she can’t even last as long as Archer, a man who loses every fist fight he ever gets in, despite her discipline and strength. And as a final indignity, Archer collapses on T’Pol’s, as if all she was good for in the scene was to have her dead body soften the fall for the real hero: Archer. Even Phlox gets to have a heroic death, with sparks flying and his body flying several feet during his last stand. Guess the best women can hope for being allowed to wear a uniform…

        Sell, horrible sexism aside, this was a great episode, combining the movie Memento with Year of Hell was an interesting idea. I do agree it should have been a 2 parter, imagine of Year of Hell as single episode, there would be no time to explore the damage or consequences. This episode I feel glosses over T’Pol’s captaincy too quickly, seeing what was left of humanity in that colony would have been interesting. Heck, how they rebuilt Enterprise’s nacelle is a total mystery, it would have been interesting to see Trip on EVA rebuilding the coil, Star Trek nacelles are hardly ever mentioned in the shows for some reason, and seeing a retro nacelle with the turbine would have been cool. So many things could have made the episode better, such as ditching the total reset button that means all of what we said never happened and had no effect. I point to the Stargate SG1 episode There But for the Grace of God where Dr. Jackson ends up in an alternate dimension, where the impending Earth invasion happens is in progress. Not only does he witness the devastation of the invasion and watch all his alt!friends die, but he also attains critical intel from that universe and brings it back into the prime universe. Everything that happened in that episode happened, while also showing what the stakes were, and providing tools for the characters to work against the problem. Archer should have gone back and retained some of the memories, even if it was a few hours of his last day. He should have taken with him some knowledge, like T’Pol’s regrets as captain, (ex. The Xindi aren’t united, we should have gotten some of them on our side, I shouldn’t have gotten high on Trellium-D, ect.), so that Archer in the present can now go forward with a plan and a direction, even if the outcome of the new direction is still uncertain.

      • Yeah, I touch on the sexism in the review. The decision to make the cast so white and male…

        Well, it felt regressive, to say the least.

  4. Pretty good episode, one of my favorite of ENT, and one of the few I’d feel comfortable putting on a “best of Trek” list. It’s no Yesterday’s Enterprise but it’s pretty fun. I find it surprising that according to IMDB and other places, this is people’s favorite episode of the entire series, given that the fourth season is usually the one that gets this sort of praise.

    • It’s a fantastic piece of television, particularly considering the fact that the franchise itself was really under threat for the first time in a decade and a half.

  5. There’s an interesting meta-reading to be made regarding the problem of “only white dudes get to be Captain, the women don’t get promoted, T’Pol’s ‘lady emotions’ make her a bad Captain even though she’s a freaking Vulcan, and they kill off the black guy in the first act.”

    If we follow your reading that the third season, and this episode in particular, are what happens if Star Trek fails… well, a big part of Star Trek’s vision has been the possibility of a diverse and equitable future. Therefore, one of the many negative things that happens in the absense of Trek’s ideals is, well, only white dudes get to be Captain… etc.

    I don’t think that’s what they intended (especially if this really was supposed to be a Voyager episode) but it’s an interesting reading of what we get here.

    • That’s a fair point, Andy.

      I’m just still astounded by how white and male the cast of Enterprise is, even after all these years.

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