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Star Trek: Enterprise – E² (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.

Conventional wisdom treats as a bump in the road between The Forgotten and The Council, an episode that could easily be skipped on a marathon rewatch of the season. The argument suggests that the episode ultimately provides little meaningful information and advances the season’s over-arching plot by inches. The most critical of fans will consider an episode that saps the momentum out of the final run of the third season, preventing a clear home run between Azati Prime and Zero Hour.

This is certainly true from a plot-driven perspective. It would be easy enough to trim from the twenty-four episode season order without anybody batting an eyelid. At least Shran gets to make a cameo appearance in Zero Hour, while Lorian fades into discontinuity and non-existence. Like so many time travel stories, the final act of conveniently erases itself from existence. This just reinforces the sense that nothing that happened actually mattered in the grand scheme of things.

It's like looking in a mirror...

It’s like looking in a mirror…

This is another example of the complications that tend to come with serialised storytelling. The conventional way of telling a long-form story is to drive it via plot – to have a clear path along which the characters might advance with a number of clear markers along the way. In the case of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the launch of the Xindi weapon is an obvious marker; it is a plot point which the show must address before the end of the season. As such, the show’s serialisation is typically measured by whether it moves the crew in relation to that plot point.

doesn’t move the crew appreciably closer to that plot point. There is a miniature hurdle for the crew to overcome (getting into the subspace corridor to make the meeting with Degra), but it is very clearly just window-dressing on a plot that is very clearly more interested in the time-travel dynamics of having the Enterprise crew meet their descendants. The same narrative ground could have been covered by having Degra accompany Archer to the Xindi Council at the end of The Forgotten.

He's all ears...

He’s all ears…

However, plot is not the only thing important to long-form storytelling. Theme and character are just as important, as The Forgotten demonstrated. The biggest problem with is that it is a plot-driven episode of television that advances the season’s thematic and character arcs, but with a story that is disconnected from the season as a whole. Which is a shame, because the thematic and character dynamics are fascinating. This is the perfect point at which to confront Archer with the idea of legacy and consequence; to ask what kind of future might lie ahead.

As with a lot of the scripts for the third season, feels like a meditation on Enterprise‘s relationship with the rest of the franchise and where it stands at this point in its run.

"Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this."

“Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this.”

is a Mike Sussman script, and is very much in keeping with Sussman’s other third season scripts for episodes like Twilight and Stratagem. There a clear sense of anxiety about the show’s future manifesting itself in Sussman’s episodes. Both Twilight and Stratagem teased glimpses of a future where Archer failed in his mission to save Earth – and, implicitly, the Star Trek franchise. picks up on similar themes, allowing Archer to get a look at just what the future might have in store.

One of the stock criticisms of is that the script feels like it was cobbled together from a collection of fan-favourite time-travel stories. There is undoubtedly a little bit of Yesterday’s Enterprise in the episode, mixed with a healthy dose of Timeless. However, the  most obvious influence is Children of Time; it is an influence that extends to both plot and character dynamics. Both and Children of Time feature the crew meeting their descendents before getting sent back in time to create those descendents; both also advance the show’s core “will they?/won’t they?” romance.

An old soul...

An old soul…

For what it’s worth, Mike Sussman concedes these points. He tried to move the script away from the template of Children of Time in a number of different ways during the development process, arguing that the plots were too similar. One of his proposals would have seen Archer and the crew encountering the descendents of the NX-02 that had become unstuck in time. The episode itself alludes to the possibility when the ship first appears, with Malcolm suggesting, “Must be the NX-02, Columbia.”

Ultimately, Sussman’s concerns were overruled and the production team consciously pushed towards the template of Children of Time. The similarities between the two episodes have become one of the most enduring criticisms of the story, along with concern about how it effective splits the season’s final arc in half. Given the show’s tendency to recycle established Star Trek plots, this anxiety makes a great deal of sense. After the mess that was the second season, viewers might understandably be upset at the idea of another imitation of something the franchise has done before.

Talk about quality father-son time...

Talk about quality father-son time…

To be honest, the comparisons to Children of Time do no favours. Connor Trinneer is an incredibly charismatic actor whose naturalistic approach elevated Similitude and The Forgotten, and Jolene Blalock is typically better than the material she is given, but neither can hold a torch to Rene Auberjonois or Nana Visitor. Children of Time was a weird time travel romance anchored by great performances by two of the strongest leads in the franchise. simply cannot compete on that level. Inviting the audience to measure the two episodes against one another is a losing proposition.

At the same time, it also seems unclear how might work if it were built around the crew of the Columbia. It would mean losing the character of Lorian, who is a vitally important part of the show’s thematic arc. In a season that has been largely dedicated to questions about the future of the Star Trek franchise, allowing Archer to stand face-to-face with a character who is half-human and half-Vulcan is absolutely crucial. It is the most obvious and most effective way of foreshadowing both the conclusion of Enterprise‘s own internal arcs and connecting to the rest of the franchise.

Meditating on it...

Meditating on it…

Indeed, it is possible to excuse the rather blatant similarities between and Children of Time as part of the point. The episode is largely about connecting the third season of Enterprise to the rest of the franchise – the shows that are “the future” from the perspective of the characters – and it does that in a number of ways. Most obviously, Lorian evokes Spock. However, borrowing a plot (a time-travel plot no less) from an episode of the later spin-off also cements the association. (As does the reveal that there are families on this Enterprise; a next generation, if you will.)

That is not to suggest that there aren’t any flaws with the episode beyond the familiarity of the time-travel device and the recycled plot. The entire plot of feels like a last-minute addition to the season schedule; something that could have easily been set-up and hinted at throughout the season. Over the course of , Lorian suggests that his crew made a failed attempt to destroy the probe. (“Our weapons were no match for the Xindi.”) It seems weird that nobody on the Xindi Council ever mentioned that before.

Acting her age...

Acting her age…

The script tries to dance around the sizable internal continuity issues that this creates. “There may be other human ships in the Expanse,” the arboreal!Xindi mentions at a rather convenient time. Degra responds, “Those readings were never confirmed.” How terrible must Lorian’s attack have been that the only record the Xindi have of it is unconfirmed sensor readings? Who else was going to attack the probe? If that is the case, how come everybody was so relaxed about the Enterprise skulking around the Expanse?

Similarly, Archer strains to assure the audience that this must make some sort of sense in his first conversation with Lorian. “You know, finding your ship explains a few things,” he asserts. “When the Xindi took me prisoner they asked me one question over and over. They wanted to know how many ships Starfleet had in the Expanse.” Of course, that could also just be a smart question to ask when you happened to find an enemy soldier sneaking up on your top-secret genocidal weapon rather than an indication that there is a time-displaced copy wandering around.

Disappearing in a flash...

Disappearing in a flash…

Then again, plot is not the primary concern of , with the episode barely hanging together on its own terms. Even the resolution ultimately feels a little trite. Perhaps to avoid evoking Children of Time even more, the characters in never discuss the sort of paradox that might occur if Archer and his crew aren’t flung back in time over a century. As a result, the conclusion to the episode feels a little convenient and contrived; it seems odd that nobody was really too bothered that they could be erasing entire generations from existence.

Instead, works best as a meditation on where Star Trek is at this point in its life-cycle. Archer and his crew get a glimpse of the future of the Star Trek franchise, with Vulcan-human hybrids and versions of the Enterprise that carry families on board. It a story about the legacy of Enterprise, suggesting that it has an important role to play in summoning the future. “Enterprise became a generational ship,” Lorian tells Archer. “You showed your children how to operate and maintain its systems, and they did the same for their children.”

"I haven't showered since Azati Prime!"

“I haven’t showered since Azati Prime!”

The very existence of future!Enterprise is almost reassuring after a fashion. “Starfleet will be glad to hear Enterprise was built to last,” Archer observes, and it seems like a sentiment that the production team would also be happy to hear. Even with his monomaniacal fixation on completing the mission, it seems like the crew still found time for some small positivity. “You made alliances with other species, traded technology for food and supplies,” Lorian recalls. “You even acquired a few alien crew members. We did our best to carry out the mission you gave us, Captain.”

Indeed, even with the ship trapped within the confines of the Expanse, it seems like the crew aspire towards the core values of the Star Trek franchise. Lorian tells Archer that the ship was sent one hundred and seventeen years backwards through time. The choice of number seems oddly specific. Given Mike Sussman’s fascination with the minutiae of Star Trek continuity, it seems quite likely that the number is intended to mean something. This is a writer who constructed Civilisation as a brick joke tying into The Changeling.

Two'Pol...

Two’Pol…

This is precisely the same amount of time that elapses between and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Coincidentally, it is also the amount of time between the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the year after the destruction of Romulus in Star Trek. In essence, there are one hundred and seventeen years between the point the Enterprise gets flung back to and the events of , the events of and arguably the franchise’s first reboot in The Motion Picture and the events of The Motion Picture and the literal end point of the Star Trek universe.

Naturally, there is no way that Mike Sussman could have known that JJ Abrams and his writers would choose to end the Star Trek universe precisely two hundred and thirty-three years after the events of this episode. However, Sussman would have known that there was precisely the same amount of time between the events of and the cinematic resurrection of the Star Trek franchise. All this lends a sense of pseudo-symmetry to the whole exercise, particularly given the pervading sense of gloom and anxiety running through the third season.

Bridging generations...

Bridging generations…

Recounting the circumstances of the crew’s impromptu trip back in time, Lorian seems to tease out a bit of insecurity about the show itself. “Enterprise was in the right place,” Lorian assures Archer. “But it was over a hundred years early.” This might be a small nod towards those fans who felt uncomfortable at the idea of writing Enterprise as a prequel; worried that the franchise was looking too far back into its own history instead of pushing boldly forward into an uncharted future.

The flashback sequences of continue the show’s recurring fascination with stars as an object of celestial wonder. The franchise might be called “Star Trek”, but none of the other spin-offs were ever as keenly interested in the symbolic importance of stars as guiding lights. In Cogenitor, curiosity about a star provided common ground for first contact. In Damage, the optimistic and idealistic Illyrians are embarking on their own literal star trek. In Harbinger, the show acknowledged that it might be losing its way when Mayweather could no longer map the stars.

Things get heated...

Things get heated…

Here, the young navigator confesses, “Captain, the stars. They’re not where they’re supposed to be.” Things must be bad if Enterprise can no longer count on the stars. If a franchise called “Star Trek” cannot be sure of the stars themselves, how much faith can it put in anything else? One of the central tensions of the third season of Enterprise is the fear that the show might have wandered too far off course, that it might not be able to find its way back to what makes the franchise so unique and so beloved.

As much as Lorian and his crew might foreshadow the future of the Star Trek franchise, they also embody certain existential fears about how wrong things might go. Lorian is commanding a version of the Enterprise that never escapes the Delphic Expanse; he is in charge of a version of the ship that never recovers from all the damage inflicted upon it, that never returns to the mission of exploration to which Archer nostalgically appealed in both Azati Prime and The Forgotten.

"You guys haven't traded for any razors with all those alien species, have you?"

“You guys haven’t traded for any razors with all those alien species, have you?”

More than that, Lorian is also tainted by the compromises that Archer has had to make over the course of the third season as a whole. Lorian embodies a version of Enterprise that never manages to recover from Archer’s decision in episodes like Azati Prime or Damage. Tellingly, Lorian finds himself committing the same mistakes over and over again. Fittingly for a story based around time travel, Lorian is stuck in patterns of repeating behaviour that doom his crew and their mission.

Lorian is trying to honour a promise he made to Archer, trying to live up to the mantle of the man charged with saving the world. “Years ago, I swore to my Captain on his deathbed I’d save those seven million lives,” Lorian confesses. “You were the man I made that promise to.” The way that Lorian tries to save those lives is very much in keeping with the approach that Archer adopted early in the season; he does not attempt to contact the Xindi or to make peace with them. Instead, he mounts a one-ship military campaign.

Warped priorities...

Warped priorities…

History repeats. Azati Prime suggested that Archer hoped to mount a suicide mission against the weapon as an attempt at redemption or atonement. Recounting his failure to stop the launch of the probe, Lorian suggests that he considered a similar course of action. “I had one last chance. Use Enterprise itself, set a collision course with the probe.” As with Archer’s attempt to fly a shuttlepod into the weapon, it seems like Lorian and his crew were willing to engage in terrorist tactics against the enemy.

However, the parallels become even more pronounced when Lorian decides to overrule Archer and to act on his own initiative. Lorian engages in an act of piracy that would potentially strand his crew’s forbearers. “You’re going to steal them?” Karyn Archer demands. “Their warp drive will be disabled.” Lorian engages in the same half-hearted rationalisations that Archer used in Damage. “My father’s a resourceful engineer. He’ll be able to fabricate new injectors.” He stresses, “I know this won’t be easy, but we’ve had to make difficult choices before.”

Hijacking the story...

Hijacking the story…

There is a very nice sense of symmetry here. Damage was written by Phyllis Strong, and featured Archer engaging in an act of piracy. In contrast, Anomaly and are positioned at opposite ends of the season featuring Archer as the victim of piracy; both episodes are written by Mike Sussman. Sussman and Strong were writing partners for the first two seasons of Enterprise. As such, there is a very nice symmetry at work here; it seems almost as if Damage cannot be read on its own terms, it needs to be interpreted in the larger context of the season.

This is perhaps the key thematic point of . It is a firm and explicit repudiation of Archer’s “the ends justify the means” rhetoric, an exorcism of all those grim and gritty sensibilities before Archer makes one last utopian plea in The Council. Lorian might resemble Spock, but he is tainted by the original sin of Archer’s decisions over the course of the third season. Unless Archer can find a way to redeem himself, his legacy will be tainted. Lorian ends up literally “attacking [his] ancestors” in a complete betrayal of everything for which the franchise stands.

Mother (and Father) Tucker...

Mother (and Father) Tucker…

With all that in mind, it is no wonder that ends with Lorian erased from history. He could never be the future of Star Trek, instead existing as a cautionary tale about what happens if the show wanders too far off course. Archer’s decision to press ahead towards a diplomatic solution in The Council ends up negating Lorian’s very existence. Lorian is a ghost of a possible future suggested by Azati Prime and Damage, but exorcised by the choices made in The Forgotten and The Council. As such, feels like a nice statement to make at this point in the year.

There are lots of other nice touches populating the episode. The idea of having children allows the cast to feel optimistic for the first time in what feels like ages. In Damage, Hoshi seemed to suggest that she had given up on any hope of finding her way home; in , she talks about the legacy that lies ahead. The idea of having future!T’Pol tell her younger self how much Trip loves her is largely borrowed from Children of Time, but it’s the sort of weirdly pulpy heartfelt sentiment that is only possible within a science-fiction framework.

Trapped by fate...

Trapped by fate…

Indeed, even suggests that the writing staff are a bit more comfortable with the possibility that Malcolm Reed might not be a stereotypical red-blooded heterosexual. Harbinger playfully juxtaposed Reed’s feuding with Hayes against T’Pol’s jealousy of Trip, and suggests that Reed might be the only member of the primary cast who doesn’t settle into something resembling a conventional nuclear family. The show stops short of revealing that he and Hayes lived long and fulfilling lives as bachelors who coincidentally shared the same quarters, but it is an interesting point.

“Apparently the Reed family line came to a rather unceremonious end,” Reed reflects, touching once again on the sort of troubled family dynamic that the first season established between Reed and his parents that seems to hint that Reed has more complicated identity issues tied up in his family’s stereotypical military self-image than he would readily concede. “You’d think on a ship quite this size I’d have been able to find someone, but…” Hoshi reflects, “Women only make up a third of the crew. There were bound to be a few bachelors left over.”

Yes, Malcolm. You're a ladies' man. You're not overcompensating at all.

Yes, Malcolm. You’re a ladies’ man. You’re not overcompensating at all.

It is not quite as blatant as some of the hints and nods scattered throughout the run of Enterprise, but it is a little reassuring that the season has stopped so aggressively asserting Reed’s heterosexuality. That said, the conversation about Reed’s lack of a conventional family unity does lead to an awkward sequence where Reed hits on a female MACO who happens to wander into speaking distance. Then again, it could just be read as an example of Reed over-compensating because he is still not entirely comfortable with himself.

As with any of the little hints about Reed’s sexuality scattered across the four seasons of the show, it just serves as a reminder of how far Star Trek had let itself slip behind the curve. The third season of Enterprise is largely about trying to update the franchise for the twenty-first century, and it largely succeeds. Much of is about asserting the importance of remaining true to the franchise’s core ideals in the face of the current political and social climate. With that in mind, it seems like the show might have managed more than just a coy allusion to Reed’s non-heterosexuality.

Flashback...

Flashback…

It is far from perfect. Then again, the same might be said of as a whole. However, it is undeniably fascinating.

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10 Responses

  1. >Lorian tells Archer that the ship was sent one hundred and seventeen years backwards through time. The choice of number seems oddly specific.

    Another possibility is that Sussman had been playing a lot of Halo. 🙂

  2. I have always found children of time to be an underrated episode. It is one of the few great ds9 episodes that doesn’t have one their recurring characters in it. Such as In the pale moonlight or the wire. It solely focuses on the regulars and doesn’t cheat when it comes to the ending. Something, the voyager finale was guilt of. As janeway said in the episode “we can have our cake no eat it to”.

    • That’s a good spot, actually. I’d never noticed that it was one of the very few without the recurring cast, particularly from that point onwards in the run.

    • ““we can have our cake no eat it too”.

      The story of that show’s life.

      Children of Time is my second favorite episode of DS9. 🙂

  3. For a moment (a brief, wonderful and shiny moment) I thought this episode was going to head down the track of Archer making the decision to keep his Enterprise in the past, and to use what Lorian told him in the brig to make darn well sure that Enterprise’s descendants would successfully carry out the kamikaze mission on the probe.

    I was thinking, “Oh man this is gonna be good, would Archer do that? – would he throw the dice and risk his current mission on a future hope? If there’s a chance to save the seven million and prevent the first attack on Earth, wouldn’t he take it? Wouldn’t he at least THINK about it???”

    But it wasn’t even mentioned.

    *wilting sigh*

    That’s the thing that is winding me up about Enterprise (I’m watching it for the first time) – there’s so much potential, and it’s so frustrating – if only the writers just tried a little harder, pushed the boundaries a bit more, stopped playing it so safe.

    • It’s an interesting question, and it might have been discussed, but I get the sense it would be one dice roll too many. After all, Lorian already failed to stop the launch, and he knew everything that Archer could know to this point. If the choice was between trying to stop the Xindi now with a beat-up ship or trying to stop them with an even more beat-up hundred-year-old ship, I think the first option is the only one that makes sense.

      • True… it just seems that if there’s a chance, however small, to prevent the first attack from even happening, then surely Trip of all people would have brought it up?
        I think you’re right though. To quote Lost, “What’s done is done”, and to quote a good Doctor, “Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, spacey wacey.”

      • You’re right. One imagines there probably could have been some talk about it.

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