This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.
Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II arrive at a transitory time for Star Trek: Enterprise.
The third season of the show had wrapped on a somewhat unexpected cliffhanger, finding Archer confronted by an evil!alien!space!Nazi in the midst of what looked to be the Second World War. Given that the third season had been written as a single extended dramatic arc about Archer and his crew saving Earth from an alien threat, the twist seemed to come out of nowhere. Instead of allowing Archer and his crew to return home, Zero Hour threw out one final hurdle for the characters; a bump in the road home.
However, the episodes also marked a transition behind the scenes. This particular iteration of the Star Trek franchise was on borrowed time. There had been warning signs as early as the first season, but the massive reworking of the show in The Expanse suggested that the network had adopted a “do or die” approach to the future of this lucrative science-fiction franchise. The fact that the third season had its episode order cut and there were suggestions that a fourth season was unlikely suggested that the show had not “done.”
Even aside from all that, the start of the fourth season saw Rick Berman and Brannon Braga taking a step back from the franchise and handing the reins to executive producer Manny Coto. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II might be seen as the collective last gasp of the Berman and Braga era. Give or take These Are The Voyages…
Brannon Braga was, and will likely remain, a controversial figure in Star Trek history. It could be argued that the Star Trek franchise entered a steady decline as soon as the broadcast of All Good Things… ended, but Braga was the writer and executive producer responsible for the day-to-day running of the franchise at the point where its decline. It was Braga who stood over the final seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, as the show ground its formula into the dirt. It was Braga who created the first live-action Star Trek spin-off to be cancelled after less than seven seasons.
To be fair, Braga had somewhat stoked the franchise with iconoclastic interviews about how he had never watched the entirety of the original Star Trek or suggesting that certain segments of the franchise were obsessed with “continuity porn.” There are various accounts of Braga not being a particularly pleasant person to work with (or pitch to) during his time on Voyager. It occasionally seemed like Braga was poking the franchise’s hardcore on-line fandom with a sharp stick just to see how it would respond.
However, Braga received an incredible amount of bile and hatred during his tenure overseeing the Star Trek franchise. It seemed like there were entire communities dedicated to pathologically hating anything with the executive producer’s name attached to it. There were paranoid conspiracies about Braga masterminding the decline and collapse of the franchise; to the point that fandom writers could mine that hatred for (extended) parody and Braga himself has felt the need to publicly decry these accusations as “absurd.”
While there are certainly valid criticisms to be made of Braga as a writer and a showrunner, the volume of hatred he received was incredibly disproportionate. While he certainly deserves a share of the blame for various poor creative decisions made during the runs of Voyager and Enterprise, the decline of the Star Trek franchise during the late nineties and into the new millennium was down to a complex set of factors that reflected a changing media landscape, not all of which were in the control of either Berman or Braga.
The third season of Enterprise was Braga’s swan song to the franchise. It was a year-long arc focusing on issues and themes that interested the writer, attempting a more ambitious sort of story than UPN would have allowed during the later seasons of Voyager or the early seasons of Enterprise. There were certainly some major mistakes and errors in judgment in mapping out the third season, with a recurring sense that the writing staff where trying to build the storytelling engine while the plane was in midair. But it was ambitious and exciting, and compelling.
In many respects, the third season of Enterprise is overlooked and overshadowed in discussions of the series’ four-season run. Certainly, it made much less of an impression on the fanbase than the fourth season did. However, the third season was in its own way just as bold and ambitious as anything the Star Trek franchise had ever attempted before, and stands to Braga’s credit as a writer and showrunner that it worked as well as it did. Like a lot of Braga’s contributions to the franchise, the third season is definitely worth a reappraisal.
Still, there was a sense that Braga was somewhat spent. He had poured absolutely everything into the third season, and was creatively exhausted. It should be noted that he had been driving the Star Trek franchise for almost as long as Michael Piller had when he finished up on Voyager. As Braga explained to the documentary Before Her Time:
By the time season three came to an end, Chris Black was moving on to some other network television show. I always knew that Manny would take over the show. I, personally, had to move on. I really liked season three, I was really proud of it – a piece of science-fiction, as a piece of Star Trek science-fiction. And I was done. I couldn’t do anymore. I had to get away from Star Trek, because I really had nothing else to give to it.
There were, to be fair, also other pragmatic concerns at work. Braga knew as well as anybody that the show was on the ropes. It had been a minor miracle that the show had been renewed for a fourth season. It was almost certain that there would not be a fifth season. It was time to start considering life outside of Star Trek.
It would be easy to cast this as a mercenary decision. However, Braga had spent the entirety of his adult life working on the Star Trek franchise. He had been assigned to Star Trek: The Next Generation as an intern from the University of California Santa Cruz, and had simply never left. He had worked as a writer on three of the franchise’s television shows, and two of the franchise’s films. Star Trek had very much been the entirety of his creative life, give or take the screenplay to Mission: Impossible II.
On a purely pragmatic level, it made sense for Braga to prepare to move on. The executive producer has worked quite consistently since the end of Enterprise, writing for shows like 24 and Salem while producing on shows like Cosmos. Of course, it is not as if Braga simply stopped showing up to work on Enterprise during its final year. The executive producer remained involved in the running of the show, albeit from a distance. Most notably, Braga did a re-write on the episode Divergence to help the staff out during a tight production crunch.
One of the more interesting aspects of the fourth season of Enterprise is the myth-making that happens around it, the fan narrative that seems to suggest Manny Coto saved Enterprise from the clutches of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. This is very much one of those pieces of internet folklore that reflects fandom bias a lot more than reality. After all, the same arguments were made about Ira Steven Behr’s work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, constructing the narrative of a feisty producer resisting the oppressive weight of corporate mediocrity.
It is certainly a romantic story. It has the appeal of clear heroes and villains, casting the production of a television series as its own pulpy television drama. However, this narrative is a very simplistic construction that has no understanding of the complexities of television production. It diminishes and reduces the figures at the heart of the story, painting them as crudely-drawn archetypes. If these narratives are to be believed, Coto and Behr are truly visionary artists while Berman and Braga are cynical corporate hacks.
The truth is that television is a cooperative medium and does not lend itself to that sort of guerilla warfare. More than that, when such conflict does occur, it is the “truly visionary artist” who tends to lose. Just ask X-Files writer Glen Morgan about the endings of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Never Again. Rick Berman has acknowledged this myth about the production of the fourth season:
Enterprise… the writing staff was run by Brannon. Certainly in both of the last two years of it, Manny was very, very involved. Brannon and I got involved with developing another show, and for part of the fourth season, Manny had a greater hand in developing the storylines. But Manny always worked in concert with Brannon and myself. This whole idea of “Once Manny took over the show…” That never happened. Manny never took over the show. Manny started running story meetings when Brannon and I were involved with other things, but there was nothing Brannon and I didn’t get our input into. So those are just easy potshots, I think, for people to take.
So, as tempting as it might be to build the fourth season of Enterprise into some heroic struggle for the heart and soul of Star Trek, it was nothing of the sort. The transition between Brannon Braga and Manny Coto was very ordered and dignified, without the clear cut that most of fandom seems to read into the show. It is not as if Brannon Braga and Rick Berman stopped going to work.
At the same time, it was quite clear that things were changing. Manny Coto would run Enterprise in a manner that was different from that of Brannon Braga, just like Brannon Braga had run Voyager in a manner that was different from Jeri Taylor. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II form something of a loose barrier between Braga’s vision of Enterprise and Coto’s vision of the show. They serve as something like insulation. In fact, Coto’s work on the fourth season of Enterprise is very clearly sandwiched by Berman and Braga.
The cliffhanger at the end of Zero Hour effectively mean that Coto was not to be afforded a clean break. That closing shot of the evil!alien!space!Nazi pretty much hemmed Coto into opening the season with a particular sort of story focusing on particular sorts of themes. There was some baggage that Coto had to work through, all as a result of a thirty-second bit that certainly didn’t build organically or naturally off the end of Zero Hour. That closing sequence seemed to suggest that the production team were wary of closing the third season without a cliffhanger.
It should be noted that the fourth season of Enterprise was not a foregone conclusion. As Larry Nemecek explains in Before Her Time, it was a minor miracle the show got a fourth season at all given the network’s antagonism to it:
The series was only brought back by the studio, which had a vested interest long-term in the show, versus the network, which didn’t. The studio agreed to have a lesser license fee from the network. Budgets come down. Fees go down. The studio is upping the ante from its own pocket. Licensing money was flowing directly into the show’s production budget. There were all these stopgap things being done to keep the show on the air. That all won one more year.
This was a sad reversal of fortune for the Star Trek franchise. Paramount had used Voyager to launch UPN, but the network no longer had any real interest in one of the studio’s most prestigious properties.
It does not matter that Enterprise compared rather favourably with the other television shows broadcast by UPN, because the show was so expensive and also because it no longer fit the network’s target demographics. It does not matter that Enterprise did much better in terms of time-shifted viewers than day-and-date broadcast, because television networks had yet to realise how the paradigm was shifting. (In fact, it should be noted that Star Trek arguably already proved adaptable to the twenty-first century media landscape; it is still highly “binged.”)
It should be noted that UPN was already on its last legs at this point. Less than one year after the broadcast of These Are the Voyages…, it would be announced that the WB and UPN were effectively defunct; they would be replaced by a single network known as “the CW.” The move was seen as a concession that neither network could survive on their own terms, prompting producer Tom Fontana to joke, “This is the first time in my career that I’ve had my network canceled.” Looking at the surrounding facts, Enterprise was as much a victim of larger forces as its own failings.
Enterprise would not be officially cancelled until the writing staff were breaking Demons and Terra Prime, and while the cast were filming In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II. Nevertheless, there was a sense that everybody involved in the production knew that the end was near. In Before Her Time, Mike Sussman speculates that this was what prompted Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to end Zero Hour on a cliffhanger:
At the end of season three, I think, Rick and Brannon did something… I think at the time they didn’t realise the trouble they were getting into, but they ended season three on a cliffhanger, if you remember? And I don’t know if the network hadn’t read the script very closely, but by the time they saw the finished cut, they were outraged that we were ending season three on a cliffhanger because they were considering the possibility of not bringing the show back. And they knew all the heat they would get cancelling a Star Trek show on a cliffhanger. They demanded it be changed, but by then the actors were gone, the sets were in mothballs, and they had to air that as is. Now, whether that helped us get a season four… how much it helped, I’m not sure, but I’m sure glad they did it.
Of course, it seems entirely possible that UPN would have been willing to cancel Enterprise on a cliffhanger if they really wanted the show off their books. After all, it wasn’t as if the hardcore fanbase was going to be happy to see it cancelled after four seasons either. Still, it is a reassuring myth, one that suggests the production team had some influence – however small – in getting the series renewed for a fourth year.
Ironically, while cancellation of Enterprise owes to a media model that was becoming increasingly outdated by the twenty-first century, the show’s fourth season renewal is perhaps rooted in similarly old-fashioned production logic. The fourth season of Enterprise bulks up the series’ episode count to ninety-seven episodes, including the double-length pilot. Although just short of the hundred episode threshold that is cited as an ideal for syndication, allowing a fourth season of Enterprise was likely intended to make it more lucrative for syndication.
A shifting home entertainment market would erode that requirement. The advent of streaming and binge-watching meant that viewers could discover classic television series for themselves, rather than relying on a television station to schedule it in daily doses. Netflix could support one-season wonders and cult hits alongside shorter-running British television series for audience to peruse in their own time. One hundred episodes was no longer a barrier for televisual afterlife. If anything, it would be easier for binging viewers to consume shorter runs.
However the final season of Enterprise came about, it was quite clear that this was the end of the line for the show. That was not the official position, and everybody hoped for a miracle, but the writing was largely on the wall. The Storm Front two-parter largely acknowledges this. The teaser opens with Trip and Mayweather coming under fire in what should be friendly airspace, unable to find a landing port that might offer them shelter. Doom and gloom fills the air. “That patch on your shirt says Enterprise,” Alicia tells Archer. “You must have made it off before it sank.”
There is a sense of defeat in the air. After all, Storm Front, Part I features a vision of a version of the United States that fell to Nazi Germany during the Second World War, with New York itself under occupation by an enemy army. These are powerful images, even in the context of a fairly disposable two-parter, and they undoubtedly speak to the atmosphere on the production, the sense that something has gone horribly and fundamentally wrong. The universe is broken on the most basic of levels.
This sense of defeat and abandonment echoes through the supporting cast. “Damn military,” Sal protests when he discovers that Archer is a military officer. “You cut and run, you leave us at the mercy of these Nazi bastards.” There is a lot of frustration and anger, perhaps reflecting the mindset of a production team that did not want to jump directly from Voyager into Enterprise, but had been forced to do so by a network that was no so eager to cut them loose and watch them die.
The temporal cold war has always served as a metaphor for the trauma of Enterprise, of the looming existential threat hanging over the franchise at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Episodes like Shockwave, Part I suggested that the very fabric of the shared universe was eroding and that it could collapse under the strain. The temporal agents were tinkering with narrative and history, forcing the series to take an unnatural and even grotesque form, perhaps reflecting the demands coming in from the network to reshape the series.
As such, it makes sense that Storm Front, Part I would see the temporal cold war escalating. “The temporal cold war has become an all-out conflict,” Daniels confesses to T’Pol. “Each faction is trying to wipe the others out.” The threat is no longer just looming. It has actually arrived. The apocalypse facing Archer in Shockwave, Part II is no longer the loss of a potential future; it is the destruction and distortion of the present. All is lost, paradise is burning. Star Trek is imploding.
“How do we return to our century?” T’Pol demands. Daniels responds, “You can’t. It doesn’t exist. Not the way you know it. Neither does mine. It’s all gone.” Watching Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II, it is quite apparent that the production team were under no allusions about the franchise’s chances of survival. This is a television series that knows it is dead. This is a show that has barely managed to cobble together a present, without any promise of a future.
If Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II represent a changing of the guard for the franchise, then it makes sense that they should wrap up the temporal cold war. The recurring thread had been introduced by Berman and Braga back in Broken Bow, and it closes off here. John Billingsley acknowledged it as a ghost that needed exorcising:
I definitely felt as if there was a dictate on high from the network level, or from the studio level, to end the temporal time war, wrap it up immediately. I tended to concur on the broader point that the temporal time war never really got off the ground, the storytelling was too attenuated, and that it needed to die. At the same time I think the network forced them to tie it all up so abruptly that the way in which they had to do it was not as deft as it needed to be. So I personally sort of thought, and think, that one has to get through those episodes before we hit our stride in episode three.
It is certainly a fair point. The temporal cold war never worked as a recurring story thread, because there was never enough development or explanation. At best, in stories like Cold Front or Future Tense, the temporal cold war served as a backdrop against which the show could construct interesting metaphorical stories.
However, as a linear narrative, the temporal cold war lacked any strong story elements. Future Guy was a fairly generic antagonist. John Fleck plays a wonderfully slimy villain, but Silik lacks any distinct personality. The Suliban were never developed into more than just two-dimensional baddies. Unlike something like the Dominion War on Deep Space Nine, there is never any sense of forward momentum to the plotting. It never feels like Archer or Silik actually accomplish anything in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps demonstrating this issue, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II find themselves in the awkward position of having to invent a mythology and then resolve it. The character of Vosk serves as the primary antagonist of the climax of the temporal cold war, but his species is never named and the character had never even been mentioned in earlier episodes. As a result, the big finale of the temporal cold war has to expend a lot of energy explaining who Vosk is and what he wants only to kill the character off. It feels like a narrative cul de sac.
It could legitimately be argued that the temporal cold war worked best as a background element to the third season, with the Sphere Builders fitting in the context of an epic battle to determine the future of Star Trek as the television franchise reached its lowest ebb. However, while that plot element fitted quite comfortably with the broader themes of the temporal cold war, it was still relatively vague. The two-parter that opens the fourth season is rather consciously and explicitly intended to draw the shutters down on this misshapen mythology.
Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II are quite candid about their intention to tidy away this lingering plot thread. Both Daniels and Silik are murdered over the course of the two-parter. To be fair, Daniels was introduced with his death in Cold Front and reappears at the episode’s close; the logic of time travel stories means that death is not permanent. Nevertheless, killing off both major recurring guest stars sends a very strong message. This is the last appearance of the Suliban, who were very clearly intended to be the show’s breakout alien species.
At the end of Storm Front, Part II, Archer says as much to Daniels. “I want you to leave me and my crew alone,” he advises the time traveller. “We’re done with you and your damn temporal cold war.” Daniels promises, “It’s coming to an end because of what you did.” Daniels seems to be as good as his word. Despite the teasing in Azati Prime, Daniels does not bother to show up for the important “founding of the Federation” milestones in Terra Prime or These Are the Voyages…
Of course, this was not the ending that Braga had envisaged for the multi-season plot thread, later confessing, “We wrapped up the temporal cold war somewhat quickly at the top of season four because we suspected we would be ending the show that year. Otherwise, we would’ve more thoroughly played it out.” In the years since, Braga has playfully teased all manner of absurd future story developments for the misbegotten arc, even falling back on the idea that Future Guy could be revealed to be Jonathan Archer from “corrupt future.”
Tidying away the temporal cold war serves as a transition point. This is no longer the show that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had intended it to be when they launched it with Broken Bow back in October 2001. Enterprise has changed. Maybe it has grown, maybe it has retreated. No matter what, it is not the same show that it was when it first appeared three years early. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II are very much an orderly transition of power between two administrations, Braga relinquishing the day-to-day running of the show to Coto.
At the same time, it is clear that this is not a clean reboot. Enterprise might launch again from space dock at the start of Borderlands, but there is no clean break to be had. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II carry over a lot of elements and plot threads from the third season. Most obviously, the two episodes heavily feature MACO crewmembers instead of Starfleet security details; in Storm Front, Part II, Archer is accompanied by armed MACOs when meeting Vosk and the MACOs apprehend Silik after he attempts to escape.
Of course, the MACOs have not yet had a chance to rotate off their service detail, but Coto makes a conscious decision not to downplay their role as a heavy militarised security detail. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II suggest that there will be no shift or brutal reversal of the controversial changes that were made in The Expanse. As such, it is no surprise when Archer endorses the MACOs in conversation with Hernandez in Home and when they remain on board from Borderland onwards. The genie is not going back in the bottle.
It is tempting to look at Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II as disposable episodes that eat into the season order before Manny Coto can truly begin to steer his own course with Home. This is a perfectly reasonable observation about a time travel episode featuring evil!alien!space!Nazis that is tied to a recurring plot thread that never really made any sense in the first place. However, there is something strangely appropriate about this otherwise throwaway piece of pulp.
According to Manny Coto in Before Her Time, the original plan had been to do a full season-long arc set in this alternate version of the Second World War:
Rick and Brannon had kind of at that point decided on the World War II thing and I was looking forward to season four being a season of touchstones on the old canon, of the original series. So when they pitched World War II, I was like, ‘My God! How long are we going to be in World War II?’ Doing time travel stuff is interesting, but for one episode. I think Rick, at that point, was pitching the entire season to take place in World War II, which… you know, fine, it could be an interesting idea… I didn’t think it could sustain twenty-four episodes. I became into it when I came up with the idea of doing an alternate New Jersey which had been invaded by the Reich. That, to me, was interesting. I’d always loved alternate universe stories, and Enterprise doing a dog fight and all of those things. That was just, I thought, a lot of fun.
Coto’s observation is entirely reasonable. It seems hard to imagine an entire season of Star Trek (let alone the final season of Star Trek) set entirely inside an alternate Second World War.
Nevertheless, there is a strange resonance to the decision to send Archer and his crew back to the Second World War at the start of what would be the final season of televised Star Trek for over a decade. After all, Star Trek had a long historical connection to the Second World War. As a television show that launched in the late sixties, many members of the production team had been shaped and defined by the Second World War. Gene Roddenberry served as a pilot during the conflict. Gene L. Coon served in the United States Marine Corps.
However, the Second World War informed and shaped the Star Trek universe in a number of more subtle ways. The detonation of the atomic bomb ushered in an era where it seemed like science could accomplish anything, paving the way for the idealised technological future of Star Trek and introducing an anxiety against which the franchise could define its utopian vision. It also firmly established the United States a truly global superpower that could steer the course of global history, to the point that the Federation can be extrapolated from the end of that conflict.
More to the point, the Second World War was a conflict that could be viewed in romantic and idealised terms, particularly compared to later conflicts like the Vietnam War. The Second World War featured untold destruction on an impossible scale, with the industrialisation of genocide by the Axis Powers. However, it also had a narrative that allowed for an idealistic interpretation as the conflict between a clear good and a clear evil. The reality might be more complex, but the Second World War could be described as “the good war”, one “finer and nobler” than most since.
The Second World War has an important place in the American cultural memory, so it makes sense that it would prove important in the context of the fictional Star Trek universe. The penultimate story of the first season of Star Trek, the classic City on the Edge of Forever, even went so far as to suggest that the idealistic future of Star Trek rested entirely upon the legacy of the Second World War. Altering the flow of history and distorting that chain of events would cause the future to simply cease to be. The Second World War is the origin of Star Trek.
As such, there is a strange symmetry to Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II. The first season of Star Trek almost ended with a story set in New York that threatened the collapse of the franchise’s shared universe by altering the flow of the Second World War. The final season of Enterprise (the almost final Star Trek show) opens with a story set in New York that threatened the collapse of the franchise’s shared universe by altering the flow of the Second World War. There is something approaching poetry to all this.
(Of course, The City on the Edge of Forever was not actually the first season finale. It aired as the second-to-last episode of that first season, with Operation — Annihilate! serving as the final episode of that first broadcast year. However, The City on the Edge of Forever lingers longer in the franchise’s memory. Still, opening the fourth season of Enterprise with a two-parter preserves that sense of symmetry. The second-to-last episode of that first season mirrors the second episode of this last season, for those obsessed with perfect symmetry.)
It is a nice (albeit sly) nod that brings the franchise something approaching a full circle. Which turns out to be something of a theme for this final season of Star Trek.