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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (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.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

Damage is the bleakest point of the larger Xindi arc. When Archer decides to commit piracy against an innocent vessel in order to further his mission, he crosses a line that the Star Trek franchise would never have allowed itself to cross before. Even In the Pale Moonlight kept Sisko’s hands clean when it came to murder. Damage is the point of greatest moral compromise in the entire run of Star Trek: Enterprise, the point at which the show demonstrates that the franchise can wander into the grim self-rationalisations associated with cycles of violence and horror.

The third season of Enterprise was controversial at the time. In fact, it remains controversial to this day. It represented a massive break from what came before, and promised to engage with a highly controversial facet of contemporary culture. Given the tension that existed in the contemporary United States over the subject of the “War on Terror”, fans were understandably wary about the show grappling with such a cynical construct within the confines of a franchise known for its utopian and idealistic perspective.

Don't sweat it...

Don’t sweat it…

More than that, some fans were worried that Enterprise would become a justification for the more controversial policies of the Bush administration. Would Archer be endorsing “extraordinary rendition” or “torture”? Would the audience be asked to pity Archer all the horrible decisions that he was forced to make, ignoring the bodies left in his wake? There are episodes of the season that can be read in that light. Archer’s torture of a pirate in Anomaly and his turn to piracy in Damage are precisely what those fans were dreading, if taken at face value.

Of course, they were never meant to be taken at face value. They were steps on a journey. One of the advantages of arc-based storytelling is the freedom that it affords the storyteller to leave ideas and images hanging from individual episodes, allowing the opportunity to pay off those dramatic beats in later episodes. Archer does horrible things in Anomaly and Damage, justifying them through the standard “the ends justify the means” rhetoric. However, the third season also makes it clear that – in doing these things – Archer becomes the very thing he hates.

"Reptilians!"

“Reptilians!”

That is true in a very literal sense. In The Expanse, the Xindi launch a suicide terrorist attack against Earth; in Azati Prime, archer launches a suicide attack against the Xindi. In Anomaly, Archer is a victim of pirates; in Damage, he becomes a pirate himself. The third season suggests that bloodshed and violence can only lead to more bloodshed and violence. That is true even within the events of The Forgotten. In a literal and figurative way, Degra dooms himself when he decides to destroy the reptile!Xindi ship at the end of the episode.

The third season does contain a number of tone-deaf stories and notes when it comes to the larger War on Terror metaphor. Chosen Realm is an ill-advised attempt at religious commentary that makes Let That Be Your Last Battlefield feel like a subtle observation on race. The decision to consistently and repeatedly portray the reptile!Xindi and the insect!Xindi as monsters undercuts the third season’s central moral. This is to say nothing of smaller missteps like T’Pol’s arc or Extinction.

More power to them...

More power to them…

However, it is quite clear that the third season was always about Archer (and, to an extent, Star Trek itself) finding its way back to a utopian idealism that seemed hopelessly naive in the face of endless cynicism. As Brannon Braga argued in In a Time of War:

Some people didn’t like it, they thought it was some sort of “kill the terrorists” allegory. I’m surprised that anybody would think that, given that that’s where it begins. That’s not where it ends up. It ends up in a place of understanding. It ends up in a place of reconciliation. It’s a Star Trek feeling, at the end of the day. This isn’t some maniacal thing. We wanted Archer to be questionable in his actions; I hope that came through.

There are some problems, largely down to the writing staff’s inexperience at plotting arcs, but – by and large – it does come through. Certainly, the third season comes in for a lot of criticism it doesn’t deserve. (Although there is quite a lot that it does deserve.)

It's a dirty job...

It’s a dirty job…

As good as the final stretch of the season is, it is undercut by the problems earlier in the season. While never quite as inconsistent as Janeway on a week-to-week basis, Archer spend the first two-thirds of the season vacillating between two extremes. Episodes like Anomaly and Similitude suggest a hardened commanding officer who has reconciled himself to the tough choices that he will probably have to face. In contrast, episodes like Extinction and Impulse suggest that Archer might just be the same idealist from the first two seasons.

Archer is not the only character affected by this wavering. The Forgotten comes at the tail end of T’Pol’s addiction to trellium-d, which feels like it exists to give T’Pol something to do while Archer and Trip have larger arcs. Trip seems just as prone to variation as Archer. In The Expanse and The Xindi, Trip is thirsty for Xindi blood; however, his conversation with Shran in Proving Ground suggests that he worked through his anger off-screen. However, the topic is brought back up in The Forgotten, because it is too big an arc to resolve between episodes.

"This might not be the most diplomatic way to convey this information..."

“This might not be the most diplomatic way to convey this information…”

The bulk of The Forgotten is given over to Trip. Trip was the character directly affected by the Xindi attack in The Expanse, but the show has never given the character a chance to work through it. The Forgotten is perhaps the perfect episode to give over to Trip. Most obviously, it teams director LeVar Burton with actor Connor Trinneer, a combination that led to some of the show’s strongest episodes in Cogenitor and Similitude. Certainly, Burton is better suited to character-driven stories like this than action-driven stories like Terra Nova or Extinction.

However, The Forgotten is also perfectly positioned in the season. Following on from the long dark midnight of the soul that was Damage, it is time for Enterprise to reassert its traditional Star Trek values. The Forgotten is an episode about beginning the healing process to bring Star Trek back to what makes the franchise so unique. Given that Trip is the character who has been most personally and most profoundly affected by the Xindi attack, it is important to give the character a chance to work through that and process his trauma.

And Travis was there, too!

And Travis was there, too!

After all, Trip is just on a personal arc that mirrors the larger themes of the season. In In a Time of War, Phyllis Strong acknowledges that Trip’s journey is mirrored by the arc of the season surrounding it:

When you really looked at Trip, when you looked at what his impulse for revenge was, or anything else, you knew where it was coming from, but you also knew that you could spin it and say, “He’s not going to go all the way. He is going to forgive, he is going to learn painfully through this.”

Star Trek cannot become a franchise about retribution or revenge; it cannot be the story of an eye for an eye. The utopian power of Star Trek is anchored in the idealism of the sixties. To quote Martin Luther King referencing a classic gospel song, the idea is that – no matter how dark things get – “we shall overcome.”

Stay with the dead...

Stay with the dead…

All the darkness of the third season, whether in episodes like Anomaly or Damage, is about setting up the obstacles that the crew will have to overcome. One of the biggest problems with the first season of Enterprise was the sense that it misunderstood the appeal of a Star Trek prequel; by beginning at a point where mankind had already solved hunger and poverty, it avoided the most interesting part of the journey towards the world of Star Trek. The third season rectifies that somewhat, featuring dark days and darker deeds before our characters overcome.

The key moral theme of the third season is the idea that it is possible to work through trauma and break a cycle of violence. Horrific things happen, and those traumas only spur on more acts of senseless brutality. If things are to get better, there needs to be a willingness to work through that pain and that hurt in pursuit of a more hopeful and optimistic resolution. The universe is not perfect; utopia is a journey, rather than a destination. That does not mean that hope and idealism are childish or stupid.

"I can see why Picard enjoyed doing this so much..."

“I can see why Picard enjoyed doing this so much…”

The bulk of The Forgotten finds Trip coming to terms with his loss. The episode is hardly subtle in its allegory. The Xindi attack on Earth is very consciously a metaphor for the 9/11 attacks upon America; as such, Trip’s grief and anger becomes a metaphor for dealing with that massive trauma. In interviews, Connor Trinneer has compared his experience working on the third season to free therapy:

“Cut to season three, everybody dealt with that event in their own way and I had kind of an interesting opportunity to go through it as an actor, the idea of losing his sister and going through all of the emotions you go through after a catastrophe like that. I got to purge some of my own stuff through my craft and that’s one of the things I’ll always treasure about not just that season, but our show. I got to sort through it a little bit in a way that was a bit like therapy. I found myself feeling less helpless as I went through some of the stories that we told, especially in that season.”

The Forgotten finds Trip working through his giref over the loss of Elizabeth when he is confronted by the losses suffered during the Xindi attack on Enterprise at the climax of Azati Prime. Only by dealing with that original trauma can he come to terms with the violence that spiraled out from it. It is an effective metaphor.

"9/11 times 2356?"

“9/11 times 2356?”

It could be argued that pop culture went through its own grieving process in the wake of 9/11, serving as a mirror to the country’s shock and horror at the terrorist attacks. The first and most immediate response was one of denial. There was a sense, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, that everybody just wanted to get back to a sense of normality; to pretend that the attacks had never happened. As a result, there were no direct references to the attacks and anything that might evoke unpleasant memories was quietly removed from view.

Friends completely ignored the attack, with the only acknowledgement of the events of 9/11 coming from the complete removal of the World Trade Centre from any establishing shots of New York after the attack. The Twin Towers were removed from any shots of the city in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander, which retained a plot revolving around political assassination. Due to a plot focusing heavily on the World Trade Centre, The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson was pulled out of syndication in the wake of the attacks for fear of reminding viewers of what happened.

It's only logical...

It’s only logical…

Released more than a year after the attacks, the final sequence in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York tracks the growth and evolution of New York. However, it stops with a view of the New York skyline featuring the Twin Towers, rather than continuing to the present day and featuring their absence. According to visual effects supervisor Michael Owens, the decision that was ultimately made was to avoid referencing 9/11:

“By September 11 we had already shot the plates and were actually well into creating the shot, and suddenly it became a real issue,” Owens says. “Originally it was designed as one of those quintessential views of New York, but after September 11 some worried that the sequence might take on an entirely different meaning. We wrestled with many, many different ways to approach this, including no towers, having the towers be there and then fade out, and cutting the shot entirely. In the end, I think the right decision was made. The movie is not about September 11; it’s about New York City and its people, and about how those two entities made it what it was at that time. The final shot is about the city becoming what it is today, an amazingly great city.”

Of course, Owens ignores that it is impossible to avoid 9/11 in any cultural history of New York; certainly within any cultural history that extends to the first decade of the twenty-first century. The skyline at the end of Gangs of New York is very clearly not the city as it was at the point in time when the film was released, as much as those involved (and those watching) might wish that it were.

"We made a collage!"

If only Phlox had been less interested in making a collage and more interested in saving him…

In 2002, sculptor Eric Fischl proposed Tumbling Woman as a monument to those lost in the attacks. Depicting a woman’s form falling through air, the statue proved too controversial to remain in place. In interviews, Fischl suggested that the public’s difficulty with the sculpture had to do with issues of grief and loss – that American news coverage had avoided showing the bodies of those lost in the attacks, making it difficult to properly mourn. All of this is entirely understandable, but it also provides a clear context for The Forgotten.

Indeed, Enterprise went through its own period of denial in the first and second seasons. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Enterprise tried to pretend that nothing had happened. The first two seasons offered an attempt to continue producing Star Trek in the same fashion that the production team had during Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. This ignored the reality that the world had changed, and that Enterprise itself had changed. To pretend that it was business as usual was self-defeating.

It ain't easy bein' green...

It ain’t easy bein’ green…

The events of 9/11 began to bleed into the margins of the first two seasons of Enterprise, even as the show attempted to carry on as though nothing had happened. Episodes like Shadows of P’Jem, Detained, Desert Crossing, Shockwave, Part I, Shockwave, Part II, The Seventh and The Crossing were all coloured by reactions to events that nobody wanted to directly acknowledge. Even episodes like Minefield and Dawn suggested that the galaxy was a less friendly place than it had been before.

Trip expresses a lot of this discomfort and anxiety in his conversation with T’Pol towards the end of the episode, talking about how he tried to put some distance between himself and the personal face of the trauma. “There’s so many people dead,” Trip confesses. “I tried not to see her any differently than the other seven million, so I’ve spent the last nine months trying to pretend she was just another victim. But she’s my sister, T’Pol. My baby sister.” It is a beautiful scene that demonstrates just why Connor Trineer was the heart and soul of the show.

Wired all wrong...

Wired all wrong…

The Forgotten is about confronting and getting past grief, which is the larger arc of the season. The episode is very much the bridge between the moral quagmire of Damage and the relative optimism of The Council. Regardless of how clumsy the third season of Enterprise might have been in addressing these ideas, it was also among the first pieces of pop culture to grapple with the issues in such a direct and honest manner. The third season kicked off one day before the second anniversary of 9/11. It was pretty immediate.

Pop culture would not begin really engaging the attacks for another couple of years. In September 2005, the Discovery Channel would air The Flight That Fought Back. That same year, Steven Spielberg would confront the attacks (and their consequences) through allegory in The War of the Worlds. The following year, Flight 93 would air on A & E. Five years after the attack, American mainstream cinema dared to tackle the events directly, with World Trade Centre and United 93. Both underperformed at the box office.

Matter of record...

Matter of record…

There is undoubtedly a link between contemporary superhero cinema and the cultural response to 9/11; the genre is layered in themes and iconography associated with the attacks. Although the current boom can be traced back to films like X-Men and Spider-Man at the turn of the millennium, the genre did not really kick into overdrive until 2005 with the release of films like Batman Begins and Superman Returns. To say nothing of the escalation of 9/11 imagery into the second decade of the twenty-first century with The Avengers and Man of Steel.

The core values associated with the Star Trek franchise stand in stark contrast to the doom and gloom that has taken root in contemporary popular culture. In fact, the release of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot in 2009 was celebrated as a potential turning point for blockbuster cinema that had become increasingly cynical and nihilistic. It was described as “a blockbuster for the Obama age”, in stark contrast to the consensus that The Dark Knight was “an allegory of America in the age of Bush.” Spock was even compared to Obama himself.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley'd and thunder'd;

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d.

(As if to demonstrate that real life does not follow organic thematic arcs, and that the response to 9/11 and the War on Terror could be as uneven and haphazard as the character arcs of Archer and Trip in the first half of the third season of Enterprise, JJ Abrams’ work on Star Trek Into Darkness prompted much discussion about its own meditations and reflections on 9/11. Many pundits considered it a backslide into the politics of the Bush era, while some even accused it of harbouring “truther” sympathies.)

Much has been made of how timely a resurrection of good old-fashioned Star Trek might be. In fact, much of Star Trek Into Darkness is structured as a contrast between the type of fun adventures that Kirk wants to have and the more complicated contemporary realities. At the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk acknowledges the familiar introductory monologue as “a call for us to remember who we once were and who we must be again.” It is a variation of Archer’s fond recollection to Degra in The Forgotten that the ship was launched as a ship of exploration.

Malcolm turns a bit green when he gets space sick...

Malcolm turns a bit green when he gets space sick…

Many commentators hoping to see more Star Trek in television argue that the darkness of the current political climate would provide an effective contrast to the franchise’s upbeat perspective. “More Next Generation-style sci-fi optimism could bring more lasting hope, if only to illuminate our post-9/11 wasteland of paranoia and persecution,” reflected Scott Thill during an interview with Michael Dorn in 2012.  It is hard not to disagree with that assessment of the situation.

In many respects, the third season of Enterprise foreshadows these forthcoming discussions and debates, making an argument that the utopian and idealistic worldview of Star Trek can endure and survive even when confronted with untold horror and brutality. The third season begins as a journey into vengeance and retribution, but evolves into the story of forgiveness and reconciliation. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour exist to end the season with an action-driven climax, but the show’s heart is in the right place.

Picture this...

Picture this…

As the end of the season approaches, Enterprise has been increasingly clear that it cannot sustain this level of darkness and cynicism. Before embarking upon a suicide run in Azati Prime, Archer appealed to the crew to return to the business of exploring the cosmos in wide-eyed wonder. Here, Archer and Degra hope that it might still be possible to return to that model. In Damage, Archer wondered whether the ship and its mission had been damaged beyond all repair.

Here, it is made clear that the Xindi arc is an anomaly. The Sphere Builders are the architects of the current conflict, and Phlox insists that they are not compatible with the Star Trek universe. “I believe our universe was toxic to him,” Phlox tells Degra. “His species evolved in a different dimension with a different set of physical laws. He simply couldn’t exist here.” They are outside forces that cannot be allowed to take hold in the world of Star Trek, a physical embodiment of entropy and cynicism that seek to transform the Star Trek universe to suit their needs.

"It's definitely a container of some sort..."

“It’s definitely a container of some sort…”

Writer David A. Goodman is very proud of The Forgotten as an episode of television, and rightly so. It is his last script credit on Enterprise, and serves a suitably high note on which to end his association with the show. (Although he would return as the author of Federation: The First 150 Years.) Goodman is particularly proud of his collaboration with veteran staffer Chris Black on the show:

And then going to The Forgotten which I wrote with Chris Black – so I have to absolutely give him credit as it was a real collaboration. We split up the script and we helped each other and Chris was one of the best writers for Enterprise, if not the best writer. Writing that script with him elevated that episode for me. I worked on a lot of my episodes with other people, but that was a true one-on-one collaboration with a very gifted writer who was also very confident and understanding of what the rules were for writing for Star Trek Enterprise.

The two had worked together (with Black uncredited) on the script for North Star, and seemed to have a good relationship. Both would depart the show at the end of the third season, moving on to other jobs outside the Star Trek franchise. They each contributed a lot to the show, helping it to find (and define) its voice.

Sprung a leak...

Sprung a leak…

Goodman will always be a controversial writer among Star Trek fans. He is credited on four scripts across two seasons of the franchise, and the first script to air with his name attached was Precious Cargo – a script that is very much in the running for the worst episode of the worst season of the show. It embodies a lot of the problems with the first two seasons. (And, quite possibly, beyond those two seasons.) However, Goodman does not get a lot of credit for the other three scripts that he worked on, many of which are underrated or overlooked by fandom.

Judgment is one of the best scripts of the show’s run and perhaps the best exploration of the War on Terror in the first two seasons of Enterprise. It is the script that really changed the way that Enterprise engaged with the continuity of the larger franchise, paving the way for stories like Regeneration or Cogenitor. Although derided as goofy and silly, North Star manages to be a standalone script tying well into the themes of the season around it and to work well as an example of vintage old-school Star Trek at the same time.

"No questionable plot arcs for at least another half a season."

“My prescription? No questionable plot arcs for at least another half a season.”

There are a few problems with The Forgotten. Most obviously, there is still a palpable reluctance on the part of Enterprise to do an episode that is completely and absolutely devoted to introspective character-driven conversations. The episode features a rather pointless “ship in peril” subplot that sends Reed and Trip out on to the hull to do some techno-babble repairs under green mood lighting. The subplot adds little of material value to the story beyond providing a a few nice act breaks and serving to add stakes that are particular to this specific episode.

Still, while the leak is a distracting from a plotting perspective, it does better from a thematic standpoint. The idea of a problem that appears innocuous and quickly becomes life-threatening is an effective metaphor for the feelings bubbling away beneath Trip’s calm exterior. He can try to keep working and pretend that everything will be okay, but he really needs to confront his issues and work through them before they become all-consuming and life-threatening. Having Even allowing that, Reed almost faint on the hull does not add much to the episode.

Venting a little...

Venting a little…

That said, it’s a minor complaint. Enterprise is still learning how to make serialisation work, and is not entirely comfortable with a breather episode that does not have any stakes or action specific to that particular story. The Forgotten would be a stronger (and cheaper) piece of television if the producers didn’t feel the need to include the “ship in peril” element, but it does not distract too much from all of the good stuff on display here. Connor Trinneer is no less effective for it, nor are the interactions between Scott Bakula and Randy Oglesby.

The Forgotten is also notable for adding another connection between Star Trek and the outside world. It marks the first appearance of minor recurring character Ensign Rivers. Rivers is not a notable character of himself, appearing in a minor capacity in two episodes of the show. However, it is notable for creating a clear link between Seth MacFarlane and the Star Trek franchise. In a way, it is a small cameo that serves to connect Enterprise (and the larger Star Trek franchise) with the twenty-first century.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Seth MacFarlane!

Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Seth MacFarlane!

MacFarlane is a huge Star Trek fan. In particular, he is a huge fan of The Next Generation, appearing as a (very insightful) talking head in several of the supplementary materials produced for the blu ray releases. Indeed, there has been a great deal of fan excitement and speculation over the possibility that MacFarlane might just be the person to bring Star Trek back to televisionTed 2 arguably just an extended riff on The Measure of a Man with some extra juvenile humour thrown in on top.

Enterprise began a long and fruitful exchange of talent between MacFarlane and the Star Trek franchise. In fact, MacFarlane reunited the entire cast of The Next Generation, including Denise Crosby, for Not All Dogs Go To Heaven. David A. Goodman served as a writer on both Enterprise and Family Guy. Patrick Stewart became a recurring collaborator with MacFarlane appearing as a regular in both American Dad and Blunt Talk. Michael Dorn and Nana Visitor show up in Ted 2. MacFarlane and Brannon Braga collaborated on Cosmos.

Flight of fancy...

Flight of fancy…

In a way, MacFarlane’s recurring cameos are just as interesting a glimpse out the window into the rest of the world as the third season story arc itself. Watching the special guest stars and cameos drift by offers an indication of just how long Star Trek has been around, and just how large a portion of popular history it covers. In Manhunt, it was Mick Fleetwood under a tonne of make-up; in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it was Christian Slater; in The Forgotten, it is Seth MacFarlane.

Maybe Enterprise really was embracing a rapidly-changing world.

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