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.
There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.
In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.
Following the broadcast of Azati Prime in early March, Enterprise took a six-week break before returning with the final six episodes of the third season running from the end of April through to the end of May. Those six episodes were very well-received, and hold up rather well. However, they were overshadowed by larger discussions concerning the fate of the show. In a way, the drama unfolding behind the scenes during the final stretch of the third season was just as compelling as anything happening during the climax of the Xindi arc.
In early May, it seemed like Enterprise might be facing cancellation. This was not a surprise; Enterprise had been under siege for quite a while. The media had been circling the franchise like buzzards ever since they picked up the smell of blood following the commercial failure of Star Trek: Nemesis; the change in management at UPN towards the end of the show’s first season had meant that the production team could no longer count on the support and encouragement of a friendly administration.
The ratings were not great, but that was only part of the story. Enterprise did not fit with the bold new of UPN as a network aimed squarely at younger viewers. It was against this backdrop that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would recall having discussions with executives who wanted to have boy bands playing in the mess hall and wondering what exactly a “hull” is. The show was struggling to stay afloat, and the third season had not boosted the ratings or cemented its footing.
In early May, it seemed like Rick Berman was resigned to the fact that Enterprise was not long for the world. “As to whether it could use a rest for a while, that’s a valid question,” the producer confessed. “I think, eventually, Star Trek will be taking a breather.” It seems a fair assessment, particularly considering that Berman had advocated allowing the franchise to rest a little bit after Star Trek: Voyager. Ironically, it was also around this time that Paramount began talking seriously about a prequel movie; the JJ Abrams era stirs gently in the background.
The cast and crew were uncertain about their fate – Jolene Blalock seemed pessimistic while John Billingsley was more optimistic. Between the broadcast of E² and The Council, the industry bible Variety reported that Enterprise was unlikely to return. Mere days before UPN announced its fall lineup on 20 May, the consensus suggested that the fate of Enterprise was “up in the air”, with the network commissioning two new pilots that could take up space in the schedule. It seemed like Enterprise was on the bubble line, at best.
As the announcement approached, word filtered out that Enterprise had been renewed for a fourth season. This was confirmed between the broadcast of Countdown and Zero Hour. By the time that fans sat down to watch Zero Hour, they could be assured that the series would return. Although UPN had shifted it to the same Friday night graveyard slot that had killed the original Star Trek all those years ago, fans could take some comfort in the fact that Enterprise had passed the threshold set by the original Star Trek.
Just as they did with the original Star Trek, fans played an important part in keeping Enterprise on the air. The Save Enterprise campaign launched in late March 2004, dedicating to demonstrating the grassroots support for the show. They took out high-profile advertisements in magazines like The Hollywood Reporter. UPN set up a dedicated telephone line to handle inbound calls. Executive Dawn Ostroff credited fans with helping to save the show. Of course, it would not be enough to assure the show a full seven-year run, but it was no small accomplishment.
Although Enterprise had been assured a fourth season by the time that Zero Hour was broadcast, the production team had no way of knowing how things would work out when the show was written and filmed. As such, Zero Hour plays as something approaching a final episode of Enterprise. It wraps up the Xindi arc that ran through the third season, but it also hints more firmly at the legacy of the show beyond the seventy-six episodes produced to date. It might not work as well as Demons, but it is a better fit than These Are the Voyages…
The threat of cancellation looms large over the script for Zero Hour. As with the script for The Expanse, Berman and Braga structure the finalé to provide a nice character scene between Archer and Hoshi so as to bookend their interaction in Broken Bow. Unlike The Expanse, that scene is important enough to make it into the broadcast cut of the episode. More than any other writers on staff, Berman and Braga have a fondness for the character of Hoshi. In conversation with Archer, she even alludes to their first encounter in Brazil all those years ago.
As the Enterprise prepares to lay siege to the Spheres, T’Pol finds herself reassuring the crew that they are still alive and kicking. “We’re not dead yet,” she advises Phlox, perhaps speaking for the show itself. As their attempt to destroy the Spheres finds itself under pressure, Phlox draws attention to the looming deadline. “There must be something you can do to abbreviate your plan,” he remarks to T’Pol. It is unclear whether he is talking about reducing the season order from twenty-six episodes to twenty-four, or the show from seven seasons to four.
In keeping with this “unofficial finalé” vibe, Zero Hour also features two small (but important) roles for established Enterprise guest stars. For all that the third season is presented as a departure from what came before and a detour on the overarching plot of the show, it is worth noting that Daniels appears more frequently in the third season than in any other season of the show. Similarly, Shran appears as frequently in the third season as he did in the first season, and more frequently than he did in the second.
It makes sense for Daniels to appear so frequently in the third season, despite the complete absence of any explicit reference to “the Temporal Cold War” in the overarching plot. The third season of Enterprise is largely engaged with existential anxieties about the future of the franchise, both philosophical and practical. The Xindi arc wonders if there is any place for the franchise’s optimism in an increasingly nihilistic world. More than that, the show is contemplating its own mortality and the possibility that it might literally be the death of Star Trek on television.
In Zero Hour, Daniels shows up to confirm what had been an unspoken assumption to this point. Enterprise is the story of the founding of the Federation, and Jonathan Archer is bound to play a significant part in the history of the Star Trek universe. “If you’re killed, none of this will happen,” he warns Archer, teasing a glimpse of the very first Federation Day. “At least, not the way it’s supposed to happen.” The very existence of the Star Trek universe is under threat. “It’s essential you be a part of this,” Daniels pleads.
There is a sense of frustration and remorse underpinning Zero Hour, a funereal atmosphere that seems uncomfortable with the burden that has been thrust upon Enterprise. Without any malice or ill-intent, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga found themselves overseeing the decline and collapse of the Star Trek franchise. Even allowing for its inevitable and eventual resurrection, circumstances had conspired to bring the producers to the point where they had been in charge of the decay and erosion of a franchise that had been on the air for almost two decades.
“You can’t ignore your place in history,” Daniels warns Archer. One wonders what Berman and Braga made of that line as they wrote it, aware that Enterprise would be lucky to survive another year at best. Star Trek fandom came to villify and resent Berman and Braga for the various missteps taken during the production of Voyager and Enterprise, tending to ignore the complex co-dependency of interests that keeps a show (and a franchise) on the air. Internet fan sites and message boards became noxious pits of self-perpetuating bitterness.
Berman and Braga were hated with a tremendous passion by a fanbase that felt betrayed and disappointed in how things worked out. It goes without saying that some of the criticism was deserved, but a large proportion of it was exaggerated and distorted. Perspective tends to get lost in fan discourse. It seems quite likely that the only reason fandom has softened towards the legacy of Berman and Braga is because they are no longer running the franchise and thus can be examined through the lens of nostalgia.
Nevertheless, in the context of May 2004, both Berman and Braga knew enough about the workings of Star Trek fandom that they had to suspect that they would become known as the men who killed (or perhaps “ruined”) Star Trek. It doesn’t matter that the reality is infinitely more complex than any such fan narrative. Nevertheless, it would haunt the two producers. Even half a decade after the show finished, Connor Trinneer was fielding questions about fans who “blame” the show for killing the franchise, while Braga would dismiss the accusation as “absurd.”
In that context, it makes sense that Archer should resent having that responsibility thrust upon him. When Daniels insists that he is vital to the survival of the Star Trek universe, Archer tries to shrug it off. “Then it’ll happen some other way,” he insists. “Who’s to say whether it’ll be better or worse?” After all, Enterprise is its own show; it seems too much to saddle it with the weight of the twenty-six seasons and ten movies that came before. “My mission is to save Earth, not your Federation,” Archer remarks. There is only so much responsibility one person can take.
Interestingly, one of the ideas suggested during the development of Zero Hour was that Archer’s mission to the Xindi weapon might become a heroic sacrifice. As Brannon Braga explained in In a Time of War, the network encouraged the show to ditch its leading man in the season finalé:
My memory of this is thin, because it was not me who was involved in the trench warfare at that point. It was Rick with the network. But they suggested killing Captain Archer in the final Xindi episode saving Earth and finding a new captain – a young, exciting captain; younger. Rick was extremely against it because he loved Scott Bakula. If you kill your captain, you’re basically admitting that your show doesn’t work on such a profound level. Because, I feel anyway, that a Star Trek show is only as good as its captain. And if you killed your captain… really?
It is an interesting debate. After all, no Star Trek show had every swapped out its lead actor in the middle of it run. The closest the franchise ever came to such a switch was the transition between Christopher Pike and James T. Kirk in the gap between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before.
One of the interesting aspects of the third season is the genuine tension that exists over the fate of Jonathan Archer. After all, his character has been fundamentally and undeniably altered by the events of scripts like Anomaly or Damage. It is hard to imagine the show ever going to back to the version of the character who existed in scripts like Canamar or Judgment, an innocent and optimistic explorer who played to Scott Bakula’s charm and likability. Bakula is a great actor, but he is not as comfortable with a darker and more cynical leading role.
More than that, it seems like Archer’s death could be positioned as atonement. One of the big recurring themes of the third season is that cycles of violence tend to repeat. Archer was a victim of piracy in Anomaly and became a pirate in Damage. Archer tortured in Anomaly and was tortured in Azati Prime. Degra’s fate was sealed from the moment that he destroyed a disabled reptile!Xindi ship in The Forgotten, leading to his own death at the hands of a reptile!Xindi in The Council.
Although it does not dwell on the point, Zero Hour makes reference to the lines that Archer has crossed. He pushes Hoshi to help him find a way to disarm the bomb, even as she recovers from her own torture at the hands of Dolim in Countdown. At one point, a confused Hoshi mistakes Archer for Dolim. “You’ve got the three codes so why don’t you just kill me? Didn’t you say you’re going to kill me?” Dolim is very much a two-dimensional bad guy, but there are points where his “ends justify the means” philosophy resonates with some of Archer’s actions, including torture.
After all that Archer has seen and done, it seems like he might be too far gone to ever come back. In Azati Prime, it was suggested that Archer was willing to sacrifice himself in a suicide mission to destroy the Xindi weapon as some sort of penance for everything that has happened. The early scenes in Zero Hour suggest that Archer has no real plans of making it off the Xindi weapon alive, no matter what he might tell Reed and Sato. Sacrificing himself to save the world would be a fairly big gesture of atonement and reconciliation.
Archer’s plan to take the weapon hinges on his willingness to hang back and to let the others escape. “I’ll give everyone a chance to get to the outer framework,” he assures Reed. “You’ll be in charge of helping Hoshi.” When Reed alludes to the obvious issues with Archer’s plan, Archer promises, “I’ve no plans of dying on that weapon, Malcolm.” However, his actions seem very much at odds with that assurance, just like his actions in Azati Prime suggest that his suicide run was rooted in something deeper than a reluctance to order anybody else to their death.
One of the most interesting aspects of Archer’s character arc in the third season is the recurring sense that the character is dealing with the trauma of his actions, but is utterly unable to acknowledge or to articular that trauma. It is a piece of character subtext that is rendered as text in Home, when it becomes quite apparent that Archer is dealing with his own post-traumatic stress as a result of everything that happened during his mission into the Delphic Expanse.
According to In a Time of War, writer and producer Manny Coto was actually intrigued at the idea of killing Archer off at the end of Zero Hour:
I was in the room with Rick and he were discussing Bakula dying. And I got to admit – I love Bakula – I did think it was an interesting concept. Not so much to save the series, but I thought it was a cool idea to do a series midpoint where you bring in a new captain. And how the crew would react to that. It seemed like a great batch of dramatic possibilities. But, ultimately, it was the right decision not to kill Scott. But I just always tend to run with a cool idea.
Coto has a point; there are a wealth of storytelling opportunities there. However, it seems rather optimistic to believe that UPN would allow the production team any measure of freedom in exploring them.
The ending of Zero Hour is rather controversial. Most obviously, it ends on a cliffhanger; that is a rather bold move for a show facing cancellation. Most of Zero Hour is structured so that it might function as a satisfactory series for Enterprise if the show didn’t get a fourth season; Archer saves the world and maybe dies in the attempt, T’Pol saves the universe, the Xindi plot is resolved, the audience gets to witness the foundation of the Federation, and even Shran shows up at the last minute to help as proof that perhaps the familiar Star Trek universe is closer than we think.
So the cliffhanger is a rather strange choice, particularly given that it doesn’t quite come out of nowhere. A solid seven minutes of the episode are devoted to setting it up. In some respects, it looks like Berman and Braga were practically goading UPN into greenlighting a fourth season; imagine the internet chaos if the final image of Star Trek on television had been a creepy-looking grey alien wearing a Nazi uniform. It might even have garnered some mainstream media attention, even as it consigned Enterprise to the status of a televisual curiosity.
There are considerable urban legends around the cliffhanger ending to Zero Hour. One of the most persistent myths is that the crew actually shot a number of alternate endings to the season. In contemporary interviews, Scott Bakula joked about the series finalé:
“Well, there are all these wonderful rumors out there,” Bakula said on the show. “I think we shot three endings. One of them, we get back to Earth. One of them, we don’t get back to Earth. And one of them, the ship gets back to Earth and I’m not alive.”
Brady “oohed” and “ahhed” at the news before Bakula offered jokingly, “And the other one is something about I wake up and I’m on a couch at William Shatner’s house. Talking to him … I’m not kidding.”
Those rumours took on a life of their own, fueling speculation that there existed a cut of the episode that would have omitted the cliffhanger just in case the series was actually cancelled after its third season. Given how provocative and ridiculous that closing shot was, it is understandable.
That speculation was undoubtedly fed by the secrecy surrounding the ending of Zero Hour. Recalling his small cameo appearance in the episode, veteran Star Trek guest star J. Paul Boehmer explained:
“It was really interesting, because it was the first time that I hadn’t received a full Star Trek script in the time I’d been working with them,” frequent Trek guest actor Boehmer told the official site. “I just received my pages, with a big notice on the front saying ‘Absolute Secret,’ don’t show it to anybody, and all the ramifications if I did. Brannon [Braga] and Rick [Berman] were both very concerned about who was on the soundstage when we were shooting that, [so] it felt like a high government, Mission: Impossible kind of work doing that.”
Dominic Keating recalled receiving the script in a very security-conscious manner, as if the production team were afraid of leaks to the press and the media.
Of course, the truth is a lot less interesting that the mythology. There is absolutely no indication that any alternate ending to Zero Hour was properly considered, let alone shot. When Keating was asked about the possibility at a fan convention, he responded, “Lies! Lies I tell you!” When Scott Bakula was asked the question during an official chat on the Star Trek website in the run-up to the fourth season, he confessed, “I hate to break the news to everyone and all of the conspiracy theorists out there, but we only shot one ending.”
In fact, Rick Berman himself confirmed that the season would end with a cliffhanger that would bleed into the fourth season in the middle of the cancellation crisis. “If I tell you more right now, I will give away the ending of the season,” he admitted when pressed for details about the future of the show. There is no indication that the third season would ever have wrapped up without that striking final shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi looming over the unconscious form of Jonathan Archer.
According to Brannon Braga, the production team had actually settled on the cliffhanger quite early in the development of the third season arc:
“When we were first developing the Xindi arc a year ago, over a year ago, we knew that they’d save Earth,” Braga recalls. “And we used to joke around that they’d save Earth and we’d want to get back to Earth and have some twist where the crew gets home and giant cockroaches are ruling the Earth. It started as a joke, having some bizarre twist. Then, as we got closer to the end of Season Three, we realized, ‘You know, we could do something.’ We knew we had to wrap it up, but didn’t want to end with a Xindi cliffhanger. We knew that wouldn’t be satisfying. But then we thought, ‘Well what if we did throw a left turn in there? And what would that be?’ We went through a lot of different scenarios about what they would find when they got back home. I can’t remember who said ‘Nazis,’ but we just somehow ended up with Nazis. Then that didn’t even feel like enough, so we decided to make them alien Nazis. We decided to do something that would just be completely unexpected, yet give us something fun for next year, to kick off the season with something really interesting. So we took a stab at it.”
It seems like the team really didn’t have any ideas beyond the closing image of the season, given that it is hard to reconcile those US Air Force fighter jets with the status quo revealed in Storm Front, Part I.
However controversial that closing shot might be, it looked like Enterprise had just about accomplished its mission. Limping home after an adventure well outside its comfort zone, the crew lived to fight another day. The future was secure. For the moment, at least.
Filed under: Enterprise | Tagged: Archer, Brannon Braga, cancel, cliffhanger, Earth, enterprise, evil!alien!space!nazis, failure, Federation, franchise, future, nazis, Network, ratings, Rick Berman, Scott Bakula, shran, star trek, star trek: enterprise, upn, Xindi |