Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Enterprise – Home (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

If Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II represented a transition between Brannon Braga and Manny Coto, then Home marks the point at which Manny Coto assumes full control of Star Trek: Enterprise.

As befits a season so steeped in Star Trek nostalgia, Home fits a familiar template. Each of three live action spin-offs took a brief timeout after an epic fourth season opener to tell a smaller character-driven story about the response to life-altering trauma. Jean-Luc Picard processed the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II through the quieter moments of Family. Jake Sisko confronted the loss of his father in The Visitor. Even Seven of Nine faced her disconnection from the Borg Collective in The Gift.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Home is clearly intended to allow the characters (and the show) to work through the issues generated by the epic third season arc, while also dutifully setting up plot threads that will play out across the rest of the season. Home might be a stand-alone episode in many ways, but it does serve to dovetail the third and fourth seasons of the show, working through character points that are hanging over from the show’s third year while also helping to establish elements that will become more important in the season ahead.

Home works rather well as a connecting structure, even if it lacks the raw emotional power of something like Family or The Visitor. It is well worth taking the time to focus upon (and flesh out) this cast. The biggest problem with Home is that so many of these characters feel underdeveloped, particularly compared to the casts of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is hard for those characters to carry an entire episode when they haven’t been properly developed.

"Go climb a rock!"

“Go climb a rock!”

Home is very much a necessary episode. The show cannot go back to the way things were during the first and second seasons, for reasons that are both organic to the story and specific to the production. Enterprise could never be the show that it had been during those first two seasons. The production team had stared into the abyss and faced cancellation. Most of the staff understood that the series was living on borrowed time. A television institution that had stood for seventeen years (and twenty-four seasons) at this point was on the verge of collapse.

The third season had represented a dramatic shake-up in the workings of the show. It had been bold and ambitious in a way that Star Trek had not been since Deep Space Nine went off the air. The writing staff pushed the series outside its comfort zone. There is a valid argument to be made that they succeeded by any creative or artistic measure, but the show still failed to find an audience. It was almost cancelled between seasons. Most of the writing staff left to find more secure jobs. In a way, Enterprise was working through its own post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mirror, mirror.

Mirror, mirror.

The same was true within the narrative. Archer and his crew had just spent a year journeying through hostile territory on a mission to save Earth. The structure of the season meant that the crew did not shrug off every phaser blast and torpedo impact. The ship (and the crew) were bruised and battered over the course of the season, reflecting the attitude of a production team that were under more pressure for higher stakes than ever before. That was before Zero Hour introduced the concept of evil!alien!space!Nazis as an additional hurdle for the ship and crew.

Home is very much an episode about taking stock. It is about allowing the crew a chance to process through everything that has happened. There is no singular plot thread running through Home. Instead, the episode follows three sets of characters who find themselves facing strange circumstances after the Xindi mission; Archer processes his post-traumatic stress disorder while mountain climbing, Trip and T’Pol visit her family on Vulcan and deal with a lingering marriage proposal, while Phlox comes to realise that Earth is not as welcoming as it once appeared to be.

Reaching new highs...

Reaching new highs…

Scott Bakula was thrilled at the idea of taking the time to properly confront the consequences and legacy of the year-long arc:

“We can’t go back to exploring the way we did the first two years because we’re different people, we’re a different ship. We’ve all had life-altering experiences.” He likens it to soldiers coming back from a war. “How do they come back into society, how do they readjust their behaviors? What has happened to them will always be inside of them, every time they’re confronted with new situations.” His particular challenge is to explore the emotional scars his own character bears from his actions in the Delphic Expanse. “How does he address them, how does he make peace with them, and then how does he move forward? There’s no going back for this guy. It’s great stuff to be able to contemplate, and great stuff for them to write.”

It certainly seems like an appropriate theme for the third episode of the fourth season. Rather than just shrugging off what happened, Home attempts to work through it.

A monoment to the moment.

A monoment to the moment.

In a way, this reflects the spirit and the tone of the times. Enterprise was always going to be the post-9/11 Star Trek, even if Broken Bow had been written and filmed before that horrible tragedy. The series was always going to exist in the shadow of that world-changing event, even before the imagery and themes began to properly creep in with Shadows of P’Jem midway through the first season. Even as the first two seasons tried to ignore the horror of what had happened, the reality seeped in around the edges in episodes like Shockwave, Part I, The Seventh or Cease Fire.

It was only late in the second season that the show properly embraced the cataclysmic shift in global politics and American self-image. Judgment was a study of a culture that allowed itself to be driven to the brink of war, while The Expanse played out the bleak horror of a terrorist attack and the subsequent march towards conflict. The third season was packed with imagery associated with 9/11, from the use of torture in Anomaly to the religiously-motivated suicide bombing of Chosen Realm to the tough moral compromises of Damage.

"The future will be better tomorrow."

“The future will be better tomorrow.”

9/11 was a national trauma. Studies suggest that 4% of Americans are living with posttraumatic stress disorder after 9/11, and not just within New York. Writing in 2016, Armond White reflected that “the emotional trauma of 9/11 remains unresolved.” The trauma lingers, because that is what trauma is. It is not the event itself, but the response to that event. As Aimee Pozorski argued in Trauma Time, trauma echoes and reverberates across time itself:

This structural problem of time, as Freud hinted over 100 years ago, is also a problem of history. It is the problem of survival and witness, the problem of facing a horrible moment over and over, of facing the moments of our loved ones, our neighbors, our ancestors. Our current moment indeed appears as the time of trauma—as trauma’s time—not only with a new interest in trauma and trauma studies, but also with the emergence of history itself. With their grandparents passing on, the third generation after the Holocaust, along with their parents, have come forward to articulate the haunting of a genocidal past. Increasingly, the witnesses to September 11, 2001 have come forward to tell their stories, along with the story of New York City. Every day, media accounts detail the current and belated suffering of the soldiers and the people in Iraq, the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia, the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Katrina. And the list goes on with each passing day—lists filled with fragmented details involving cultural disasters, natural disasters, historical disasters, and such personal disasters as rape, incest, murder, theft. But the “time” in the time of trauma, as I have tried to articulate here, is not simply one moment in history during which trauma appears prevalent. The “time of trauma” or “trauma’s time” also refers to a radical change in the way we understand the relationship between time and trauma, or, more precisely, between time and consciousness, of its effects not only on the present, but the past, and—most strikingly—the future.

The optimistic and utopian future of Star Trek was dramatically affected by this trauma. Star Trek had always been filtered through the perspective of a liberal American tradition, a projection of American identity into the future. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had seen the franchise responding to the challenge of “the end of history” at the close of the Cold War. Enterprise finds the show working through post-9/11 trauma.

Sign M for Malcolm.

Sign M for Malcolm.

Enterprise does not get a lot of credit for this, but it should be noted that the concept of mainstream American television engaging directly with the events of 9/11 was still a novel concept as late as 2005. Home finds the series dwelling on the lingering consequences of 9/11 and the War on Terror from the perspective of October 2004. It feels a little clumsy in places, but it also feels surprisingly engaged with zeitgeist and the national consciousness. What does Star Trek look like when that prosperous American vision of the future is thrown into doubt?

The 9/11 parallels are most obvious in the subplot focusing on Phlox, who finds himself subject to xenophobia on an Earth that is still recovering from a traumatic terrorist attack. “It’s hard to believe in this day and age,” Reed explains to Phlox. “I’m told the Vulcans are staying behind the walls of their compound.” He urges Phlox to take the “proper precautions”, but an attempt to have a friendly night out still ends in a barfight when a racist taking exception to a Denobulan drinking at the same bar.

It is oddly reassuring to know that neon is still a thing in the future.

It is oddly reassuring to know that neon is still a thing in the future.

This perhaps reflects the experience of American Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Studies suggest that more than half of Americans have an unfavourable view of Islam. The majority of Muslims living in the West believe that the West does not respect Islam. That divide has only increased in the years following 9/11, according to studies in 2006 and 2015. In November 2015, major candidates in the United States presidential race suggested that America should only represent Christian refugees from Syria.

It doesn’t even matter that Phlox is not a member of the Xindi species. This violent xenophobic response to trauma is not grounded in material facts, but is instead rooted in a primal and instinctive fear of “the other.” This is perhaps reflected in the way that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has tied together all sorts of anxieties about foreigners into a policy platform that involves both forcing Mexico to build a wall to keep immigrants out and the mass-murder of the families of terrorists.

Can't see the Forrest for the trees.

Can’t see the Forrest for the trees.

It is not a stretch to say that this is all tied into the same anger and anxiety, perhaps rooted in the same response to trauma. Home ties the racism experienced by Phlox into Archer’s own frustration. During a debriefing about his mission, Archer flied into a rage against Ambassador Soval. “You did everything you could to sabotage our mission,” Archer observes. “I got more help from the Andorians than I ever got from the High Command.” He complains to Forrest, “They don’t lift a finger to help us and now I have to justify myself to that son of a bitch?”

Archer is essentially a soldier returning home from a combat mission. Home aired just as the United States was facing the question of how to cope with the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, returning home from horrific conflicts to an ambivalent public response. One study in June 2004 suggested that one in eight combat veterans of the Iraq War experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, but less than half of those actually seek assistance. In some cases, these soldiers had made tough choices to protect their own, including shooting cars with women and children.

If it weren't for the subtitles, Trip would be totally lost.

If it weren’t for the subtitles, Trip would be totally lost.

As with Archer’s response to the torture of Ghrath in Storm Front, Part I, it seems like the fourth season is eager to draw a line under Archer’s more questionable actions over the course of the third season. “You did what any captain would have done,” Hernandez tries to assure Archer. Archer seems less sure of himself. “Does that include torture? Or marooning a ship full of innocent people? Because I don’t remember reading those chapters in the handbook.” The fourth season acknowledges these missteps and allows Archer to work through them.

One of the big questions hanging over the second half of the third season was the question of whether or not Archer could be redeemed, or whether he was doomed by his sins. In Azati Prime, Archer seemed to accept a suicide mission as a reasonable price for his moral transgressions. UPN advocated killing the character at the climax of the season, an idea that Brannon Braga immediately rejected, but which Manny Coto has acknowledged intrigued him on some level. The third season toys with this idea of a redemption-through-sacrifice arc.

"Scanning for chemistry."

“Scanning for chemistry.”

In contrast, Home suggests that Archer has a tougher path ahead of him. Archer’s redemption is not to be found in something as simple as an honourable death. Home even implies that Archer still has some sort of death wish tied to his guilt and his post-traumatic stress disorder; relieved of duty, he wanders off into the wilderness alone. “You know better than to go climbing without a partner,” Hernandez remarks, suggesting that Archer was not experiencing a simple lapse in judgement.

When Archer has a nightmare about being literally thrown over the edge of a cliff by some reptile!Xindi, his immediate response is to put on his climbing gear and set out in the middle of the night. Hernandez sees exactly what Archer is trying to do. “It’d be a shame if you lost your footing,” she reflects. “It’s a long way down. But at least you wouldn’t have to deal with these feelings anymore.” Archer responds, “Are you telling me I have some kind of a death wish?” It seems a reasonable suggestion.

There are definitely sparks between them.

There are definitely sparks between them.

Home suggests that Archer runs the risk of becoming a stereotype, the angsty traumatised (typically masculine) hero who copes with guilt or shame by sacrificing his own life. In a way, that would feel like a cheap short cut, an easy way for the character to wash his hands. The Enterprise could get a captain, one without the baggage or the weight of moral compromise. Things could go back to the way they used to be. The Star Trek franchise is fond of the “reset” button, and killing Archer off would allow the show to reset all the trauma of the third season.

Home makes it clear that there can be no reset. Things cannot go back to the way they used to be, the slate cannot be wiped clean. That is true for both the character and the show around him. “I look at you, and I see the person I was three years ago,” Archer confesses to Hernandez. “The explorer that my father wanted me to be. I lost something out there, and I don’t know how to get it back.” The truth is that he cannot set things back to the way that they used to be. The fourth season cannot just unload the baggage carried over from the third season.

An inflated impression of himself...

An inflated impression of himself…

It is tempting to look at the fourth season of Enterprise as a new beginning, as the first season of a new show. Certainly, members of the production team have talked about it in those terms. Brannon Braga has acknowledged, “I always thought season four should have been season one.” There are undoubtedly certain sections of fandom who would agree with that assessment. However, that is not possible. Home concedes that the series has had some troubled moments in the past, but those issues are a part of its identity and cannot be so lightly discarded.

In fact, Home is positively saturated with references and callbacks to earlier adventures. Archer relates the events of Strange New World to Hernandez. T’Pol finally follows through on the arranged marriage promised in Breaking the Ice. Sato is excited to taste the egg drop soup that Phlox raved about in Broken Bow. T’Pol speculates that her mother is being punished for the events of The Andorian Incident. Archer and Soval nitpick at the plot of the episode Impulse. The episode is highly invested in the show’s internal continuity and history.

Strange old world.

Strange old world.

Indeed, the tone and pacing of Home recall some of the earlier episodes of the first season season. Breaking the Ice and Cold Front were practically glacial in their pacing, but used that lack of plot to focus on the characters and the world around them. That approach largely fell by the wayside during the second half of that season, which saw a return to more plot-driven scripting. It is a shame, because the ensemble might have developed in some interesting directions had the production team been willing to follow through on those earlier slower episodes.

The biggest issue with Home is that Enterprise does not have the strongest ensemble of characters or actors. Unlike The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, there is no real sense of who most of these characters are and how they relate to one another. Three full seasons into the run of the show, Hoshi and Mayweather are still drawn in the broadest of terms. The most personal thing that we know about Reed is that he really likes pineapple. The show has neglected nearly half its cast, which makes it harder to anchor an episode in them.

"Three seasons! Three seasons, and he's still going on about the sodding pineapple! Besides, everybody knows that my real defining recurring character trait is my appreciation of bums."

“Three seasons! Three sodding seasons, and he’s still going on about the sodding pineapple! Besides, everybody knows that my real defining recurring character trait is my appreciation of bottoms.” (Gag footnote: The show has been remarkably candid about Malcolm’s appreciation of the female. See: Shuttlepod One, Cogenitor.)

Midway through Home, Phlox goes drinking with Reed and Mayweather. This does not feel like a bunch of friends sharing an evening together. While all of the characters on The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine had unique relationships to one another, there is nothing particularly striking about that combination of characters. It feels like a scene populated using the process of elimination; Archer, T’Pol and Trip have their own plot threads, while the production team may not have wanted to involve Hoshi in a bar-fight. It feels cynical, as if the wheels are showing.

Although the three lead characters have received more development, they are still drawn in rather broad terms. The first two seasons struggled to define Archer in the same way that the seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager struggled to define Kathryn Janeway. The third season gave Archer a character arc, but in a way that seemed to play against the strengths of Scott Bakula as a performer. Bakula is a good actor with a charming screen persona, but the show has struggled to make Archer seem like anything more than that.

"This is a little awkward. I mean, you could at least pretend that you want Travis' autograph."

“This is a little awkward. I mean, you could at least pretend that you want Travis’ autograph.”

The same is true of Trip and T’Pol, to an extent. Trip is perhaps the most developed character on the show, largely due to Connor Trineer’s work in the part. Trip is the heart and soul of Enterprise, the character who seems to carry the show’s emotional weight. However, his relationship with T’Pol feels underdeveloped. Their romance during the third season never felt organic, instead feeling like a cynical excuse on the part of UPN to feature two very attractive actors making out together. Harbinger featured a particularly blatant example, the franchise’s first butt crack.

As a result, there is something unsatisfying in the attempts to anchor this character-driven plotting in characters that have historically felt quite shallow. To be fair, the only way to deepen these characters is through episodes like Home, and there is a sense that the episode might be a lot stronger if the series had consistently dedicated time and energy to mapping out and expanding characters arcs across the prior three seasons. Certainly, an episode like Home might have worked a lot better in a hypothetical fifth or sixth season, building on work done here.

That said, it looks like Travis posed for his share of novelty photographs.

That said, it looks like Travis posed for his share of novelty photographs.

As much as Home is about unpacking the consequences of the third season, it is also about mapping out the year ahead. Manny Coto and Mike Sussman had done some preliminary work charting a hypothetical fourth season towards the end of the third year, when neither was entirely sure if the show would be coming back. As a result, both writers had a rough idea of what they wanted to see across the length and breadth of the fourth season. As a result, Home can actually set up plot points that pay off between here and the end of the season.

The conflict between T’Pol and T’Les is set up in Home, only to pay off in The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara. Captain Erica Hernandez and the Columbia are introduced in Home, only to play an important part in Affliction and Divergence towards the end of the season. Even the prejudice experienced by Phlox in San Francisco serves to set up the penultimate story of the season, Demons and Terra Prime. This is the kind of long-form plotting that was beyond the reach of the third season, and Home suggests that the team have learned from the experience.

Embracing the future.

Embracing the future.

However, Home sets the tone for the fourth season in other ways. Watching the episode, it is quite clear that the production team plan to fashion the fourth season into a gigantic love letter to the Star Trek franchise. Mike Sussman has always been a writer with a fondness for continuity and in-jokes, but Home is practically saturated with nods and acknowledgements of the franchise’s history. These references extend as far as casting Home in the tradition of other early fourth season character pieces like Family or The Visitor or The Gift.

Many of the references are overt, building on iconic imagery. During one key scene, Trip and T’Pol overlook plains that evoke the site of Spock’s kolinahr ritual in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Archer’s adventures in mountain climbing call to mind Kirk’s camping trip at the start of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. However, there is no shortage of more obscure references, to the point that Sussman even sneaks in a few references to The Way of Kolinahr, an out-of-continuity rule book for the Last Unicorn role-playing game.

"Sorry, the budget won't stretch to hoverboots."

“Sorry, the budget won’t stretch to hoverboots.”

This goes as far as the casting. Jack Donner has a very small role at the end of the episode, playing the priest officiating at the wedding between T’Pol and Kos. Donner had guest starred on The Enterprise Incident, and argued that he was specifically cast to create a strong metatextual connection to the classic show:

Well I’ve been trying to land another role on Star Trek for a while. There was this rumor going around that new producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were not terribly interested in bringing back the guest stars from the original series but I decided to try. Word was that they wanted to put their own stamp on it. So I kept hoping to get called in for something and I did get called in once to read for something on Voyager but wasn’t cast. But now they’ve added a new guy to the writing team, his name is Manny Coto. Manny is a Star Trek fan from the time he was a kid. He grew up on Star Trek. He was added to the team and he is so creative and so interested in recapturing the essence of the original Star Trek. He’s the head guy now on Enterprise and he made the determination to create ties with the people who are still around from the original series. I was called in to read for this Vulcan priest role. I didn’t think I had a snowballs chance; I was up against some very good actors but they cast me, much to my surprise. It’s not a big part but they did give me guest star billing. I think they were playing homage to my history with Star Trek.

Not only does Donner get billing as a guest star for what amounts to a very small role, but he also gets the chance to reprise the role in Kir’Shara later in the season. It seems fair to observe that Donner’s casting was important to the production team.

They haven't a prayer of ending up together...

They haven’t a prayer of ending up together…

This renewed connection to the larger franchise is not a bad thing. Indeed, the idea of using the final season of Enterprise to tie together thirty-nine years of Star Trek makes a great deal of sense. However, there are points at which the fourth season strains under the burden of all of that continuity, where it almost seems like the continuity itself is to be treated as the point of the story rather than simply the means to tell a story. This becomes more pronounced later in the season, but there are faint traces of it to be found in Home.

Most obviously, there is a really awkward nod towards Spock in the conversations between T’Pol and T’Les. Acknowledging her daughter’s attraction to Trip, T’Les protests, “Imagine the shame your children would endure, assuming that the two of you could have children.” It is a rather strange tangent for that particular conversation, if only because it assumes that T’Pol desires to have a family (including children) with Trip, which seems like a rather dramatic leap from the matter immediately at hand.

A shaky relationship.

A shaky relationship.

Over the course of the fourth season, the idea of union between Vulcan and human takes on an almost mythic quality. “A Vulcan and a human?” Trip ponders in The Augments. “Romeo and Juliet probably stood a better chance.” Archer takes on the katra of Surak in The Forge, which Surak acknowledges as a merging in Awakening. This reaches a climax in Demons and Terra Prime, when John Frederick Paxton creates a child from the DNA of Trip and T’Pol as a metaphor for the union between Earth and Vulcan.

It makes sense for the fourth season to focus on Spock. After all, Spock is one of the most iconic elements of Star Trek. The character embodies the franchise, serving as an instantly recognisable ambassador for the brand. Even though The Next Generation had already been on the air for four years, Leonard Nimoy’s guest appearances in Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II served to confer legitimacy upon that reimagining. The same is certainly true of his appearances in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.

"They say you can't go Home again. That is certainly the case after Star Trek (2009)."

“They say you can’t go Home again. That is certainly the case after JJ Abrams gets through with it.”

To pop culture at larger, Spock is Star Trek. That is part of the reason that Justin Lin has acknowledged that Star Trek Beyond will acknowledge the passing of Leonard Nimoy in a way that the franchise never directly acknowledged the passing of DeForrest Kelley or James Doohan. So part of connecting Enterprise to the larger legacy of Star Trek means setting up the arrival of Spock. However, this means that the fourth season tends to present Spock as an almost messianic figure, casting Trip and T’Pol in the role of John the Baptist.

Sometimes this approach works.  Putting Surak’s katra inside Jonathan Archer in The Forge is a nice metaphorical nod to the alliance between Earth and Vulcan, even if it also plays a little bit too much like a nod to the plot of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. However, there are points at which it can feel a little heavy-handed. The references to Trip and T’Pol having a baby together feel very heavy-handed, an example of conversations that don’t serve the characters so much as they serve the shared universe.

The cheek of showing up.

The cheek of showing up.

The appointment of Manny Coto as showrunner was not the only change that took place between the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise. Starting with Storm Front, Part I, the series was shot on digital rather than film. The change is quite apparent to anybody watching the show, particularly on the high-definition remasters of the series. there is a very clear change in texture between Zero Hour and Storm Front, Part I, one that can seem quite jarring to an audience used to Star Trek that had been recorded on film stock.

Digital has become more commonplace in recent years, gaining a greater and greater foothold in the film and television industries. In February 2009, Anthony Dod Mantle became the first winner of the Oscar Best Cinematography to win for a film shot on digital. In January 2014, Paramount became the first major studio to stop distributing film prints of their releases. In recent years, the increasing reach and influence of digital has prompted a dramatic response from the industry, with directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino lamenting the decline of film.

Homecoming.

Homecoming.

However, digital cinematography was still something of a novelty in October 2004. In 2002, George Lucas had opted to film and release Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones on digital; however, at the time, there were only twenty cinemas in the country capable of projecting the film on digital. In September of that same year, Michael Mann had opted to shoot the short-lived Robbery Homicide Division on the format, making the show something of a curiosity. It was still news when Frank Spotnitz opted to shoot Night Stalker on digital in September 2005.

Digital is distinct from film, in that it captures the image pretty much exactly “as is.” As such, shooting on digital does not require as much set-up or prep work as it would to record a particular scene on film; in theory, directors are freer to improvise and use natural light sources without all the work required to set up a shot for film. More than that, digital footage is presented in a form that can edited and tweaked almost immediately, allowing directors to see what a scene looks like through a particular filter or adjusted a particular way.

Not bad, on a university administrator's schedule.

Not bad, on a university administrator’s schedule.

Marvin Rush explained that shooting on digital represented something of a learning curve for the production team:

Rush is also very excited about the way the digital camera will change the way he works. “When you look through the lens of a film camera, you’re not seeing the film’s interpretation of the light, you’re just seeing what light is coming through the lens. When you look at a digital camera image on a high-definition monitor — assuming you’ve properly set the monitor up — you’re seeing essentially the final product when you’re making it. So it’s possible to make artistic decisions about the look, very accurate ones, in real time,” Rush explained. Plus, there are a number of in-camera effects he can more effectively achieve. He could’ve used a digital camera to help him with the “bleach bypass” process he employed in last year’s North Star. There are also significant cost savings to mastering digitally, he pointed out, as well as to the shooting process.

“It’s dangerous to over-promise, but I believe that we will actually be shooting faster — not that we’re cutting corners, I just don’t think it’ll take as much work to get a shot ready,” he said. “I think that the problems get solved a little quicker with the HD camera. Ask me in a week and I’ll give you a full answer, ’cause we’ll have done it, we will have shot a show.”

As Rush implies, digital is also something of a cost-saving measure. The industry’s attitude is that digital is “cheaper and faster.”

"Budget cuts? What budget cuts?"

“Budget cuts? What budget cuts?”

This is important, because the decision to switch from film to digital at the start of the fourth season was not an artistic decision on the part of the production team. It was a choice made to bring the show’s budget down as a way to keep Enterprise on the air for another season. It was another decision, like the shorter season order or the decision to tell more two- or three-part stories, intended to buy the production team one more season. It was very much a compromise, an indication that Enterprise was on its last legs.

At the time, Scott Bakula conceded that he was “nervous” about shooting on digital. The cast were frequently asked about the transition and mostly offered noncommittal answers. Dominic Keating reflected, “I haven’t actually watched any rushes, but I have seen some of the high definition footage on the monitors that the directors are now using and it looks marvelous.” In the retrospective documentary Before Her Time, executive producer Brannon Braga  acknowledged that he “hated” filming on digital and that he thought it made the show look cheap.

As far as the CGI can see...

As far as the CGI can see…

It is a fair point. Certainly, shooting on digital using natural light offers an entirely different look and feel than shooting on film. Because of the care necessary to properly stage and light a scene for film, the image tends to look more refined and more expensive. Watching film, it is a lot more obvious that the production team has put a great deal of care into each and every frame. This is not to diminish the craft of anybody shooting on digital, but that format’s versatility and adaptability makes it look a lot less meticulously managed and carefully constructed.

It is also worth wondering whether the Star Trek franchise is particularly suited to digital cinematography, particular as it existed in October 2004. One of the appeals of digital cinematography is the freedom to shoot footage anywhere with a minimum of set-up. This approach tends to benefit productions shot on real locations that may not have been designed to accommodate stage lighting; real buildings or urban streets, environments where the “reality” is part of their fundamental character that might be lost through the staging of a film shoot.

A relaunch...

A relaunch…

(This is why, for example, Michael Mann’s urban thrillers like Miami Vice or Blackhat are perfectly suited to digital; they primarily unfold in gritty urban environments at night, where the “rawness” of the footage is a large part of the appeal. This is also why Public Enemies was such an awkward fit for the format. Not only does the film feature a large number of daylight sequences in wide open spaces, but the historical setting is one that the audience traditionally associates with the more refined look and feel of film.)

Star Trek has always had a very theatrical style to it. The production design on the original show would often look like an abstract theatre, most obviously in scripts like The Empath, but also in the fact that the ship itself seemed to have mood lighting. The bulk of Star Trek has always been filmed on standing sets, lending the show an artifice that is well suited to film. With those large sets and the careful studio lighting that goes with them, Star Trek is very much part of that rich studio tradition. It is the kind of production that does feel more suited to film.

This digital photography rocks!

This digital photography rocks!

This is arguably quite clear within Home itself. The location work is impressive. Archer and Hernandez’s adventure getaway looks fantastic, particularly those shots of Archer against the blue sky. However, much of the studio work lacks that energy and clarity. The long-standing core sets (those on Enterprise itself) look pretty good on digital, but those sets built specifically for the episode (T’Pol’s home on Vulcan, the San Fransisco bar) look particularly stagey and poorly lit. To be fair, the production team is still figuring out how to work with the new format.

Home is a new beginning, but it is also about putting the past to rest. The episode opens with Archer paying tribute to all the crewmembers who died during the third season,“the twenty seven crewmen who didn’t make it back.” This teaser would have been bookended by a closing scene featuring Archer visiting his father’s grave; although included in Sussman’s script for the episode, that scene was cut from the episode for reasons related to time and money. Nevertheless, it anchors Home in that sense of trauma and recovery, a desire to lay the past to rest to embrace the future.

"... We must go forward, not backward. Upward, not downward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom."

“… We must go forward, not backward. Upward, not downward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”

Home is an interesting and ambitious episode, if not an entirely successful one. It serves as an effective bridge between the radical experiment of the third season and the new departure of the fourth season. It is a character-centric episode that suffers from the fact that the series really hasn’t done that much to develop its characters to this point. Still, it is a worthwhile episode and one that does a lot of the heavy lifting for both the season ahead and the one left behind.

Advertisements

20 Responses

  1. ” …in the same way that the seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager struggled to define Kathryn Janeway.”

    Yeah, except Mulgrew is so good that she convincingly portrays, essentially, three dozen versions of the captain (while suffering from lack of sleep and nicotine withdrawal) that vary from week to week, whereas Bakula struggles to branch out from Dr. Sam Beckett.

    …Darren, I hope you appreciate how these reviews have forced me to rationalize Voyager.

    “Digital is distinct from film, in that it captures the image pretty much exactly “as is.””

    That’s one reason why the demise of film didn’t bother me. Although the case could be made that TV directors, especially those involved with cop dramas, have an unhealthy relationship with blue filters, it’s nice not having to suddenly transition to grainy film stock.

    “And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”

    I SAY IT KIDDINGLY, BUT I MEAN IT 100 PERCENT: WE’RE GOING TO REFERENCE, REFERENCE, REFERENCE! WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TERRIFIC QUOTES, TERRIFIC REFERENCES, THE BEST OF THE BEST SHOUT OUTS! LET’S MAKE STAR TREK GREAT AGAIN!

    • All that I’ve seen Captain Janeway convincingly portray to the audience is she’s a bad Picard rip off.

      • Ehh….Picard was an anomaly. He’s peaceful and incorruptible. Janeway and the others have more in common with Kirk, I find.

        In Farscape’s words, “savage when they need to be.”

      • I think they try too hard to cast Archer in the Picard mould, what with the big speeches in episodes like Shockwave, Part II, Home, Terra Prime. I like Bakula a lot, but his charm is in his naturalism, not in his ability to deliver big meaningful montages. We’re agreed Patrick Stewart is one of the best actors the franchise ever had, right? (Of course, season three had Archer go full Sisko.)

      • Still seems like a stiff Picard knockoff most of the time to me.

      • Picard would never have even entertained the idea of an alliance with the Borg. No, Kate Mulgrew had her own character with Captain Janeway…she was so good at presenting an ideal, that you tended not to notice at first that she’s contradicting herself from before. Those are some good leadership qualities, if immoral.

        Scott Bakula on the other hand…Well, the most I can say for him is that he saw a gazelle and probably has a serious manic bipolar condition. One moment he’s giddy about discovering a comet, the next, bored and disappointed that he’s discovered a stellar nursery.

      • Picard made alliances with alien baddies all the time, and saved the Borg from extinction (albeit from cancelling his own plan to wipe them out), Captain Janeway is just not a very interesting character, since it’s literally a copy of Picard with much more substandard acting, kind of like how Voyager is just a substandard Next Generation. Also didn’t Janeway have some moral issue helping the Klingons…I mean Kazon yet will help out the genocidal Borg? Heh…

        As for Archer, he’s not a good character but I like Scott Bakula, so he’s more tolerable IMO.

      • Janeway only deals with slavers and oppressors.

        Which I meant to type as a pithy joke, but… which is uncomfortably close to the truth based on what we see.

      • Strangely enough I believe Archer is the only captain played by someone nominated for an Emmy for acting, how bizarre. Anyway, Kirk, Archer and Janeway are all honestly on the bottom of the barrel and rather uninteresting characters, despite all having their moments. It’s all Kirk and Sisko for me.

      • “Janeway only deals with slavers and oppressors.

        Yeah I guess you are right, lol. Makes the character a lot more unlikable in that light.

    • Well, hey, referencing seems an appropriate given the season we’re dealing with. (Which I enjoy a great deal, in case I seem overly negative.)

      And, hey, I shouldn’t be the only one forced to rationalise Voyager. We’re all in this together!

      • Oh I can make arguments for Voyager, and Enterprise for that matter. They both have good qualities and great episodes, just far less than the other series. I actually personally like both series, even if they are objectively quite bad as a whole. The only Trek I legit dislike are most of the films. When it comes to the shows, I can watch them all.

      • I think the films grade on a different scale, which is why I’m fonder of the Abrams films than most.

        Star Trek is a franchise, which means it can’t do cinematic science-fiction like 2001 and Blade Runner, as much as we might want it to do that. Those are not films that can sustain immediate and enduring franchises; the franchise around 2001 seemed largely dedicated to “explaining what happened in that first film”, while Blade Runner had to wait years to be recognised as a classic.

        For Star Trek to “work” in cinemas, in the simple sense of being something that keeps getting made and remains part of the cultural conversation, it needs to be something approaching a blockbuster. You could never do something like The Measure of a Man, The Defector, Sins of the Father, Duet, The Inner Light, The Visitor, In the Pale Moonlight, Meld, Shuttlepod One, Judgment or Cogenitor as a Star Trek film, even if they are the finest examples of the form. Those work on television because you can be sure that you’ll still be making Star Trek next week, even if it goes horribly wrong.

        I agree with Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Bryan Fuller, et al, that Star Trek is really best suited to the weekly television model. But I can still enjoy the better films in the franchise for what they are. (Including II, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI and – yes – XII.)

      • “2001 and Blade Runner”

        As someone who dislikes those films and thinks theyre a tad bit overrated, I see your point. In fact when Trek did try to do that, we got the ever so dreadful Star Trek 1 XD I like Trek because its not trying to be some epic experience, it’s trying to be a character driven story, at least some of the time.

        “For Star Trek to “work” in cinemas, in the simple sense of being something that keeps getting made and remains part of the cultural conversation, it needs to be something approaching a blockbuster. You could never do something like The Measure of a Man, The Defector, Sins of the Father, Duet, The Inner Light, The Visitor, In the Pale Moonlight, Meld, Shuttlepod One, Judgment or Cogenitor as a Star Trek film, even if they are the finest examples of the form. Those work on television because you can be sure that you’ll still be making Star Trek next week, even if it goes horribly wrong.”

        I totally agree. In fact, my personal favorite Trek episode of all time, Yesterdays Enterprise I doubt could ever work as a 2 hour film (though Quinten Tarantino has I believe stated he wants to do it, I wonder what that would look like…) alongside most of my other favorite episodes.

        “I agree with Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Bryan Fuller, et al, that Star Trek is really best suited to the weekly television model. ”

        Yeah again I totally agree, which is why I’m far more interested in the new Trek series than say Star Trek: Tokyo Drift

        I do like some of the movies of course, mainly 2, 6 and 8.

      • I’m quite fond of II, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI and (yes) XII. Although I know you hate the goofiness of III, I love the corniness of the Genesis sets and think Christopher Lloyd is wonderfully underrated. Plus it’s arguably the first piece of Star Trek to truly be an ensemble piece. IV is just great fun; again, corny, but hard not to love for me. Plus, again, an ensemble piece. What I really love about the good TOS movies is that the cast really feel like a bunch of friends, instead of just a bunch of people working together. (In other words, the TOS films recall the dynamic of the TNG show.)

        The Abrams movies are fun and energetic, even if they don’t necessarily make sense as linear narratives. They capture the sense of momentum and speed that defines the movies Abrams loved as a child; so, yes, that includes Star Wars, but also Raiders of the Lost Ark and such. I have a film critic friend whose cinematic comfort food is Raiders and Star Trek (2009). My mother’s one trip to the cinema this year will be for Star Trek Beyond. (And, oddly enough, she hates Star Wars. Which even I cannot explain.)

  2. *Picard and Sisko. Funny I make this typo right after saying Kirk is a substandard character. I hate not being able to edit comments 😛

    • Yep. If you want, I could edit your comment for clarity? (But I think your meaning is clear.)

      • It’s fine, no worries 😛 I’m sorry for all the comments, if you want me to tone it down, I will

      • No worries. I mean, don’t feel less passionately about stuff. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, and all that. I just think that occasionally on the internet, comments have a way of escalating quickly. That’s one of the reasons I never feel entirely comfortable in Twitter, because it’s very easy for a simple statement to escalate dramatically.

        But I’m generally glad to engage. And I’ve found that online conversation can really illuminate and expand my understanding of a text. There are things I miss that Ed and Ross (to pick two random commentators) pick up on very quickly. There are also points where my logic isn’t strong that they’re willing to call me out on, which invites me to try and figure out if I missed something or whatever. As long as it’s civil, I don’t really mind. And I think – generally – the blog’s comments section is quite civil. Which I am thankful for.

      • Thank you, but I still want to apologize to the commentators I got into a fight with. They may have insulted me as well, but I feel like the fact I even managed to start a fight on a blog about Star Trek that escalated into that, well that was a big douchey moment for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: