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Star Trek: Enterprise – Kir’Shara (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.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is renowned for its focus upon continuity.

That is as true of the Kir’Shara trilogy as of any other episode. The script is saturated with references and nods to the rest of the franchise, tying together thirty-eight years of Vulcan continuity into a cohesive narrative structure. The Kir’Shara trilogy ties together everything from the Romulan schism in Balance of Terror to the symbolic importance of Mount Seleya in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to the story behind the IDIC symbol that had first appeared in Is There in Truth No Beauty?

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

However, what is most striking the Kir’Shara trilogy is that the episode’s continuity really doesn’t fit in a very rigid way. Although the Kir’Shara trilogy is nominally about explaining how the secretive and distrustful Vulcans of Enterprise became the iconic and well-loved aliens associated with the rest of the franchise, offering an epic three-part story about Archer and T’Pol singlehandedly saving Vulcan society by putting them back in touch with the values espoused by the legendary Vulcan philosopher Surak. (Surak had appeared in The Savage Curtain.)

This makes for a very satisfying story within the larger narrative arc of Enterprise, demonstrating that Earth and Vulcan might be more compatable than Ambassador Soval would ever admit. It paves the way for stories like Babel One, United, Demons and Terra Prime. However, it also stands quite at odds with the larger continuity of the franchise, where the Vulcans have consistently been portrayed as secretive and superior. There is nothing wrong with that continuity contradiction, but it is interesting in the larger context of the fourth season.



Executive producer Manny Coto has repeatedly pointed to the Kir’Shara trilogy as one of his favourite stories from his tenure as showrunner on Enterprise. Accorcing to Coto, one of the joys of the episode is in getting the opportunity to revise and tweak the Vulcans so that they conform to what fans have come to expect:

If you’ve watched Enterprise and you watched the old series and Next Gen, you know that there’s a difference between the Vulcans of our era and the Vulcans of later eras. Our Vulcans lie, our Vulcans are monolithic, our Vulcans are not pacifistic. What we’ve done is develop an idea: What if an individual appears on Vulcan who is saying to the populace that we have strayed from the teachings of Surak? This individual is like a Martin Luther. And he spawns a Vulcan civil war.

This makes a certain amount of sense. After the Vulcans are among the most beloved and iconic Star Trek races. First contact between humanity and the Vulcans was presented as a moment that changed the course of human history in Star Trek: First Contact. The franchise is built upon the alliance between humans and Vulcans.

A shocking betrayal.

A shocking betrayal.

Vulcans are part of the pop cultural landscape; they are as recognisable as Batman or the codename “007.” There is a reason that the first Star Trek fanzine was called Spockanalia. There is a reason that President Barack Obama can flash the Vulcan salute when meeting Nichelle Nichols and can greet Leonard Nimoy with a “live long and prosper.” There is a reason that Leonard Nimoy was chosen to be the franchise standard bearer when Paramount decided to reboot the universe with JJ Abrams’ Star Trek.

However, it is noteworthy that all of these examples tie back to the character of Spock rather than to Vulcans in general. Spock was very much the template for Vulcan society. He established the ideal Vulcan, for both casual viewers and hardcore fans. Spock is not important because he was half-Vulcan; Vulcan’s are important because Spock was part Vulcan. Vulcans are often treated as a monolithic entity, a basic archetype grounded in Leonard Nimoy’s performance.

Romulan ailed.

Romulan ailed.

This is not unreasonable. It could be argued that many of the franchise’s strongest Vulcan performers are largely doing imitations of Leonard Nimoy in the role. Mark Lenard famously took notes from Nimoy when he assumed the role of Sarek in Journey to Babel, looking for insight into the alien race. Similarly, Tim Russ and Gary Graham are both very consciously channelling Spock in their portrayal of full-blooded Vulcan characters. This is not to diminish the work done by Russ or Graham, merely to illustrate just how incredibly influential Leonard Nimoy was.

(In her defense, Jolene Blalock is very consciously attempting to bring something new to her portrayal of T’Pol. Watching Blalock’s performance, there is a sense that the actor is much more interested in playing repressed rather than detached. This lends Blalock’s performance its own dissonant notes, to the point that scripts like Home acknowledge that T’Pol’s “emotions were always close to the surface” and writer Michael Sussman was considering writing a pretty serious piece of retroactive continuity into her back story.)

"I was talking to Blofeld. He's thinking about getting one of these installed. Great lumbar support. Torture on everything except your back."

“I was talking to Blofeld. He’s thinking about getting one of these installed. Great lumbar support. Torture on everything except your back.”

In fact, Leonard Nimoy pasts a pretty long shadow over the fourth season of Enterprise. There are recurring nods to the character and his existence as an embodiment of the long-standing union between Earth and Vulcan. In its own way, the fourth season of Enterprise threatens to position Spock as a messianic figure positioned half way between the human and the divine. The fourth season is consciously building towards the birth of Spock as the point at which the Star Trek universe is truly solidified.

Sometimes these references are awkward and stilted. Most obviously, the prospect of a human-Vulcan hybrid is mooted by T’Les in the context of a (hypothetical!) romantic relationship between Trip and T’Pol. “Imagine the shame your children would endure,” she reflects to T’Pol. “Assuming that the two of you could have children.” it seems like a pretty heavy conversation to have, given that Trip and T’Pol are not even dating. That spectre of the hybrid returns in Demons and Terra Prime, where it is treated as a metaphor of Enterprise itself.

Objects in emotion.

Objects in emotion.

The Kir’Shara trilogy offers the most organic foreshadowing of this blessed union between Earth and Vulcan when Archer finds himself burdened with the Surak’s katra following his meld with Syrran in The Forge. When T’Pau attempts to remove that katra in Awakening, Surak refuses. Instead, Surak opts to remain a part of Archer. When Archer wonders why he would opt to remain in a human host, Surak points out that Syrran “was a Vulcan, and you’re human. Which means you are untouched by a culture that can no longer see its own imminent destruction.”

This merging of Vulcan and human provides a nice way to foreshadow the arrival of Spock without the awkwardness of forcing Trip and T’Pol to talk about having babies. Instead, it suggests that the union between Earth and Vulcan will be spiritual in nature. It is a very effective way of tying the three-parter into the eventual arrival of Spock, albeit in a metaphorical rather than a literal manner. It is one of the more subtle pieces of thematic continuity in the fourth season, and it speaks to the strengths of the arc as a whole.

"A word in your pointy ear?"

“A word in your pointy ear?”

Of course, the entire three-parter is very directly engaged with the idea of history and continuity. As with a lot of the fourth season, there is a strong sense that Enterprise is effectively over. The fourth season is nothing more than an excuse to circle the block one last time before pulling her in a decommissioning her. A large part of Kir’Shara is the question of how best to keep the soul of something alive, how to preserve the spirit of an ideal long after it has passed. Given that this iteration of the Star Trek franchise is almost retired, that is a potent theme.

In fact, The Forge opens with a flashback sequence that takes place “seventeen years ago”, with Syrran uncovering the lost katric ark of Surak buried in some forgotten catacombs. The time stamp feels important, albeit in terms of the franchise’s production history rather than its internal continuity. The Forge was broadcast towards the start of the show’s fourth season, the season that would likely retire the Star Trek franchise. Seventeen television seasons earlier, Star Trek: The Next Generation had revived the Star Trek franchise.

Reeding reports.

Reeding reports.

The number eighteen also recurs throughout the three-parter, in reference to the number of centuries since Surak’s passing. With the broadcast of These Are the Voyages… in May 2005, the Rick Berman era of Star Trek would come to a close after eighteen consecutive television seasons. Of course, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had played across seven of those seasons, so Berman had actually overseen twenty-five seasons of Star Trek over eighteen years. Nevertheless, it was all coming to an end unless somebody could resurrect it.

As such, the The Forge feels like a wry bit of meta-commentary. It is a way of assuring the audience that these ideals do not die, that the dream might live on in some form or another. Star Trek has been dead before. In fact, it had been dead multiple times. Like Spock on Mount Seleya and Surak in those catacombs, the franchise always survived and resurrected itself. At some point in the future, the teaser to The Forge suggests, some archaeologist will find that spirit gathering dust and resurrect it; much like they did seventeen or eighteen years earlier.

"Initial projections suggested that the Andorians could launch the weapon in forty-five minutes, but they had to be revised down once advertising cut into scheduling."

“Initial projections suggested that the Andorians could launch the weapon in forty-five minutes, but they had to be revised down to about forty once advertising cut into scheduling.”

However, despite the attention that the trilogy pays to the issue of continuity, there is a sense that the Kir’Shara trilogy doesn’t entirely gel with the larger Star Trek franchise. After all, the entire premise of the three-parter is to reconcile the portrayal of the Vulcans on Enterprise with the portrayal of Vulcans in the earlier shows. Fans had been quite vocally frustrated with the portrayal of Vulcans as sneaky and deceptive in stories like Broken Bow, The Andorian Incident, Fusion, Shadows of P’Jem, The Seventh, Cease Fire and The Expanse.

It was easy to see why fans would be so upset. After all, the Vulcans are meant to be founding members of the Federation. In the grand scheme of Star Trek history, the Vulcans are trusted allies. Treating the Vulcans as underhanded and duplicitous goes against everything that fans have come to expect about those pointy-eared characters and their larger place in the Star Trek canon. In offering a more cynical portrayal of the Vulcans, Enterprise had undercut fan expectations for a prequel series.

"Wow, Vulcan home entertainment systems are the best in the quadrant."

“Wow, Vulcan home entertainment systems are the best in the quadrant.”

Of course, the reality is rather different. Spock is an ally. Spock is a friend. Spock is trustworthy. However, the vast majority of Vulcans to appear across the length and breadth of the franchise are typically portrayed as antagonistic and detached. When the franchise took its first trip to Vulcan in Amok Time, Spock found himself embroiled in a cynical plot masterminded by his betrothed that almost forced him to murder his best friend. When the Enterprise hosted a Vulcan delegation in Journey to Babel, Ambassador Sarek proved less than diplomatic.

To be fair, Sarek softened a great deal in later portrayals. When he reappeared in The Search for Spock, he was cast in the role of grieving father. It was Sarek who advocated in defense of Kirk and his crew in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, although it is interesting to wonder whether he would have advocated so strongly if his son were not directly involved in the incidents under discussion. Still, characters like Spock and Sarek (and even Saavik) were very much the exception. Consider the character of Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

"What do you mean you weren't entirely happy with your ambassadorial experience?"

“What do you mean you weren’t entirely happy with your ambassadorial experience? I never once challenged you to a baseball game or went on a killing spree.”

This trend continued in the later shows. Deep Space Nine was perhaps the worst offender, fond of portraying Vulcans as proud and superior in shows like Shakaar and Take Me Out to the Holosuite before offering the franchise’s first psychotic Vulcan in Field of Fire. That said, Vulcans were not portrayed particularly well on The Next Generation. In Sarek, the eponymous ambassador’s staff keep a secret from the staff that nearly destroys the ship. Although T’Pel from Data’s Day is revealed as a Romulan, her obnoxious behaviour does little to give her away.

Star Trek: Voyager features the franchise’s first full-blooded Vulcan regular character. Tuvok is arguably an underdeveloped member of the cast, but the show often presents the character as difficult. Tuvok is introduced in Caretaker as a spy working to help trap Chakotay for the Federation. Tuvok leads the mutineers against Janeway in Prime Factors. Later, Worst Case Scenario suggests that Tuvok does not trust his former Maquis crewmates. This is outside of episodes that present Tuvok as stubborn or potentially dangerous, like Meld or Gravity.

"It's supposed to be Romul-us, not Romul-you!"

“It’s supposed to be Romul-us, not Romul-you!”

As such, if the Vulcans did successfully embrace Surak’s teachings after the events of Kir’Shara, the character must have been a pretty crummy teacher. If the Vulcans presented in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine are a result of the “reformation” depicted in this three-parter, then Archer really didn’t do a good job translating for Surak. Then again, one suspects that even the best Vulcan philosopher might end up a little disjointed when filtered through the mind of Jonathan Archer.

Still, that is clearly the intention. Indeed, the three-parter suggests that characters like Syrran and T’Pau confront and examine their own prejudices after encountering Archer. T’Pau is initially willing to sacrifice Archer for what she deems the greater good, but the trilogy suggests that T’Pau has to learn to trust and respect humanity. “I believe your prejudice toward humans is clouding your judgment,” T’Les bluntly states at one point in Awakening, before T’Pau is forced to go on an impromptu road trip with Archer.

He (Sh)ran as fast as he could...

He (Sh)ran as fast as he could…

By the end of Kir’Shara, it seems that T’Pau has adopted a more open-minded attitude towards humanity. “You’ll no longer have us looking over your shoulder,” she promises Archer. “It’s time for Earth to stand on its own.” It is clearly meant as a gesture of trust, a willingness to let humanity move forward without the keen oversight of the Vulcan government to rein them in like unruly children. This is progress. This is development. This is growth. This is evidence of the changes taking place in Vulcan society.

Of course, this seems somewhat at odds with the cynical and distant version of T’Pau who appears in Amok Time. While that version is perfectly willing to let Kirk and McCoy stand alongside Spock, she seems to have little patience for the outsiders. More to the point, Amok Time makes T’Pau passively complicit in T’Pring’s manipulation of Spock. Although she allows Kirk the opportunity to decline the challenge posed by T’Pring, she consciously declines to mention that Kirk will be fighting to the death. That would seem to be a salient detail for an ally to omit.

Carrying the torch. Literally and metaphorically.

Carrying the torch. Literally and metaphorically.

There is a sense of the gap that exists between memory and history, between how things were and how people remember them being. The Star Trek franchise is almost forty years old at this point in its run, it makes sense that the memory of the Vulcans has slipped into the realm of idle nostalgia. It does not matter how things were, it only matters how they are remembered. The Vulcans are remembered as a dignified and enlightned race, because that is the popular memory of Spock cast as a template for an entire race. Anything that challenges that is dismissed.

It is not an uncommon assertion, particularly for long-running institutions like Star Trek. As Doctor Who producer John Nathan Turner argued, “The memory cheats.” Time and distance have a numbing effect, to the point that sometimes the thing and the memory of the thing can become disentangled. The particulars become distorted in the telling and the retelling, eroded by a combination of nostalgia and affection. There may not be a lot of material evidence to support enlightened Vulcans, but the fandom very clearly wants to believe in them.

"Don't worry, we'll beat the Andorians black and blue. Yes, I'm quite proud of that one."

“Don’t worry, we’ll beat the Andorians black and blue. Yes, I’m quite proud of that one.”

In a way, this demonstrates how flexible and elastic the concept of “continuity” and “canon.” After all, this sort of canon is imposed by audience expectations rather than direct evidence within the text itself. There is a very solid argument to be made that the text itself directly contradicts what the audience have accepted as the truth. Indeed, the big argument about whether the portrayal of Vulcans on Enterprise violated continuity demonstrates that what is and is not “continuity” is not necessarily governed by the text itself.

This is an important point, given that the fourth season of Enterprise stands on the cusp of a transformative moment in franchise management. The fixation upon the shared universe within the final season of Enterprise foreshadows the development of the “shared universe” as the default franchise model in the second decade of the twenty-first century, largely propelled by the success that Disney and Marvel had with The Avengers. The debate about “continuity” and “canon” has gone a lot more mainstream.

"Yes, quite proud."

“Yes, quite proud.”

It could be argued that issues of canon and continuity are tied to larger issues within nerd culture, that the issue of textual fidelity is connected to gate-keeping and power structures within established fan cultures. Asher Elbein has been highly critical of the way that these concepts have become more mainstream:

Can all of this toxicity be laid at the feet of canon? It’s true that all specialized subcultures, from sports to Star Trek, practice their own varieties of gatekeeping and abuse. But the elevation of corporatised canon to scripture in geek culture is a particular issue. Snyder’s appeal to “true canon” isn’t just one seen in comment threads and message boards. When Snyder or Abrams speak about canon, they speak with the weight of Warner Brothers and Disney behind them. Their canon is a fully top-down policy, one that empowers fans as enforcers and sells an endless array of branded special knowledge. The canon is true, and cannot be questioned. Its themes cannot be wrestled with. It cannot be criticized. It must be consumed in its entirety or not at all. And if official canon chokes out casual engagement and deep engagement with stories alike, then it’s best to simply throw it away.

What’s been largely lost over the past decade is the crucial point that these stories are imaginary—they were dreamed up by people, and can be changed, distilled, or subverted by anybody at the drop of a hat. There is no true canonical version of Batman, Superman, Princess Leia, James Kirk, or any other shared characters—only infinite interpretations by an array of creators. Treating them as if they’re carved in stone only reduces them to a flat series of issue numbers, paragraph citations, or official tables. It takes away the joy of personally deciding which version of a character you like, which version of a story you prefer. The truth is that nobody—not the company, not the fans, not even the creator—can dictate the nature of a story to you. Batman v Superman is not canon. Neither is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, or the current Batman run, or the Star Wars novels, or even the films. The only true canon is personal, and it lives inside your head.

It is a fascinating argument, and one which arguably makes for better storytelling and better engagement with a work in question. The fact that the Kir’Shara trilogy is difficult to reconcile with the rest of the so-called “canon” does not invalidate it or make it a bad story.

Charting a new course.

Charting a new course.

Still, the idea that the Star Trek canon may not be infallible is hardly news. The early episodes of the original Star Trek are rife with all sorts of internal contradictions. Both fans and the production team have decided to pretend that certain episodes like Threshold never happened. While it is remarkable how much continuity holds up across six hundred episodes and half a century, it is ridiculous to claim that the entirety of Star Trek is perfectly internally consistent. That said, for a season so dedicated to the idea of continuity, this is discrepancy is notable.

One of the more interesting aspects of the fourth season’s fixation on continuity is the open-mindedness applied by the production team. Writers like Manny Coto and Mike Sussman are not only drawing from the “canon” as it was rigidly defined by professional gate-keeper Richard Arnold during the eighties and nineties, but instead offered an expansive interpretation of what Star Trek can be in its many iterations. These include references to tie-in novels and supporting materials including various iterations of the role-playing game.

A creative spark.

A creative spark.

This is most obvious in the inclusion of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens on the writing staff. Although the duo had worked in television before, they were best known for their work on the licensed tie-in line. In fact, the world-building conducted by the duo in The Forge owes a lot to the work of Diane Duane, as the pair acknowledge on the commentary. In particular, the portrayal of Vulcan and Romulan history  across the three-parter touches upon ideas suggested by Duane in Spock’s World and The Romulan Way.

Similarly, the fourth season employs a lot of material from the various Star Trek role-playing games. The lawless region of space featured in Borderland recalls the eponymous region of space from the FASA source book The Triangle. For his work on Home, Michael Sussman made reference to Mount Tarhana” as described in Last Unicorn’s The Way of Kolinahr. Similarly, the script for United borrowed the concept of the “ushaan” from Last Unicorn’s Among the Clans. These are very esoteric references, well outside the accepted canon. Acknowledging them is a nice touch.

The writing is on the wall for V'Las' sinister plans. Well, in mid-air at least.

The writing is on the wall for V’Las’ sinister plans. Well, in mid-air at least.

While these are nice background details, the truth is that they matter little to the particulars of storytelling. The difficulty reconciling the continuity of the trilogy with that of the larger franchise is not a big deal, particularly given the story aligns quite neatly with fan expectations. The Kir’Shara trilogy integrates quite neatly with the larger arcs of Enterprise and helps to move the series towards a more satisfying conclusion on its own terms. More than that, the three-parter is very well written and very exciting as a piece of television in its own right.

There is also an argument to be made that, in its willingness to ignore the letter of existing continuity, the Kir’Shara trilogy is true to the spirit of existing continuity. While the idea of a Vulcan enlightenment might be hard to reconcile with characters like T’Pring or Syver or Solok, it makes sense within the broader context of the Star Trek universe. The union between Earth and Vulcan is important to the intangible spirit of Star Trek, the idealism at the heart of the franchise that stands quite apart from the particulars of continuity.

It'll do in a pinch.

It’ll do in a pinch.

In Before Her Time, Garfield Reeves-Steven argued that the narrative arc of the Vulcans across the four seasons of Enterprise was in keeping with the larger aesthetic of Star Trek:

What was particularly good, we thought, what fit into the history of Star Trek so well, is that – in the pilot of Enterprise – the Vulcans were bad guys. In Kirk’s time, the Klingons are bad guys and in Picard’s time, they’re just coming on board. The story of Star Trek is how our enemies become our friends.

Again, there is a sense that there is occasionally a gulf between what Star Trek is and what fans believe it to be. There is something quite romantic in the way that the Kir’Shara trilogy embraces the latter over the former. What better way to mark the franchise’s departure from television?

"He'll tell us what we want to know or we'll make him watch the second season of Voyager."

“He’ll tell us what we want to know or we’ll make him watch the second season of Voyager.”

In fact, Kir’Shara goes out of its way to explicitly remove a piece of frustrating continuity dating back to the late second season. T’Pol was diagnosed with Pa’nar Syndrome in Stigma, a second season episode that was constructed as a clumsy (albeit well-intentioned) AIDS commentary. That episode was far from a season highlight, and suffered from a number of unfortunate stereotypes about people living with HIV and AIDS. However, the biggest problem with the episode was that there were absolutely no consequences.

After all, one of the defining features of HIV and AIDS is that it is something that lingers. It no longer means an automatic death sentence, and the diagnosis is only the beginning of life with the illness. T’Pol’s diagnosis in Stigma should have fundamentally altered the character; it should have been something that impacted her day-to-life. Living with HIV or AIDS does not necessarily mean living the constant shadow of death, but it does change the way that a person lives their life in a very fundamental way.

He's all ears.

He’s all ears.

Unfortunately,the second season of Enterprise was not in any position to explore that story thread. The second season of Enterprise was largely driven by episodic storytelling, the production team declining to commit to character or plot arcs across the season. When critics talk about Enterprise existing as a lame duck continuation of The Next Generation and Voyager, they are most likely talking about the second season of the show. As a result, the plot threads from Stigma were never explored or developed.

In fact Kir’Shara is only the second episode of Enterprise to even mention Pa’nar Syndrome. The topic comes up again briefly in Daedalus, leading to an ironic situation whereby writing T’Pol’s illness out of the show involves more attention to detail than writing it in did to begin with. It seems fair to say that the plot simply did not work. As such, the decision to abruptly remove that particular character thread feels perfectly defensible and even rational. It is pretty much plotting triage.

Not so positive.

Not so positive.

There is something amusingly blunt in the way that Kir’Shara dispatches this particular plotting dead end. “Pa’nar has been known since Surak’s time,” T’Pau explains. “It’s caused by melders who have been improperly trained. One with great experience can correct the neurological imbalance.” T’Pau then goes on to handily correct the neurological imbalance. It is not showy. It is not presented as a big deal. Indeed, in the grand context of “important things that happen to T’Pol in this three-parter” it ranks below “her mother dies” and “her marriage is dissolved.”

In storytelling terms, this should be frustrating. After all, Stigma was presented as a pretty big deal at the time. It was actively hyped by UPN as part of a network-wide focus on HIV and AIDS. It generated mainstream media coverage. It was a life-changing revision to a major character. Reversing that decision in such a casual manner should feel like a betrayal or a regression. Instead, it feels entirely appropriate, an acknowledgement by the production team that they had no real idea of how to handle an arc like that.

T'Pau! You're cured.

T’Pau! You’re cured.

It is very clearly a revision that goes against the original intent of Pa’nar Syndrome as a metaphor for HIV and AIDS, given that those disorders cannot be miraculously cured by having sex who knows how to have sex properly or getting a blood transfusion from somebody who has studied the art of blood donation very carefully. In fact, if the AIDS metaphor is applied to the treatment of Pa’nar Syndrome in Kir’Shara, it runs the risk of becoming problematic; the Vulcan equivalent of all those harmful beliefs in magical cures.

This revision is very much a piece of retroactive continuity, rewriting authorial intent and bluntly writing out a plot thread that is of no interest to the current production team. Given how the fourth season tends to fetishise continuity and internal consistency, this is a striking creative decision. Much like the rewriting of Vulcan continuity to fit the larger narrative arc of the series, it suggests that there are some elements more important than continuity itself. In this case, it is more important to acknowledge a past mistake than to commit to it.

Yes, but at what Kossed?

Yes, but at what Kossed?

In terms of continuity, the Kir’Shara trilogy also demonstrates an oft-overlooked strength of the fourth season as a whole. While the fourth season of Enterprise engages readily with franchise continuity, it also commits wholeheartedly to a sense of internal continuity. This internal continuity is both implicit and explicit; the Romulan threat at the end of Kir’Shara resurfaces in Babel One, while the redemption of the Vulcans here sets up and arc that runs through the season towards the founding of the Federation.

The fourth season of Enterprise is very clever in how it lays groundwork that will pay off later in the season. T’Pol’s mother is introduced as a major character in Home, setting up her reappearance in Awakening. While the character could have been introduced and killed off in Awakening, making the point to introduce the character in Home allows her death to carry a bit more weight. T’Les feels like a part of the world rather than a one-shot guest star. The fourth season is populated with little runners and touches like this.

He could threaten Soval until he was blue in the face.

He could threaten Soval until he was blue in the face.

In many respects, this is more important and more meaningful than all the connections to the franchise’s rich history. It is one thing for Enterprise to feel like a part of the larger franchise, but it means more for Enterprise to feel like its own little world. Much like the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, the fourth season of Enterprise embraces a low-key serialisation that carries character and plot threads across individual stories to help add texture and depth to this world and its inhabitants.

While many fans might argue that Enterprise should have embraced franchise continuity from its first season, it is this sense of episode-to-episode continuity that was sorely lacking from the first two seasons of the show. It is a less committed approach to continuity than the final stretch of the third season, but it does help to flesh out the characters and the world that they inhabit. This sort of interconnected semi-serialised narrative was becoming expected of television shows at the turn of the millennium.

Flame on.

Flame on.

Enterprise should have embraced this style years ago. The fourth season feels much more unified and cohesive than either of the show’s first two years, but without demanding the sort of commitment that one single long-form arc requires of an audience. This approach to continuity tends to get lost in discussions about what the fourth season brought to Enterprise, obscured by all the references and in-jokes. It is a shame, as this interconnectedness is one of the season’s most compelling attributes.

The Kir’Shara trilogy is a high point of the fourth season, and a demonstration of just what was possible during the show’s fourth season.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

26 Responses

  1. I don’t think previous Vulcan characters being a bit assholy or complex justifies the total 180 done on the Vulcans in Enterprise, being that there was no hint at Vulcans being Romulan lite until Starfleet helped fix them up in any of the previous series. Of course this doesn’t really matter, but the problem is the Vulcans are so poorly written and managed in ENT that it sticks out like a sore thumb, and this three parter purely exists to flush those faults down the drain, which actually weakens it IMO, as it doesn’t really take full advantage of the prequel setting some of the other arcs do, and is a bit less interesting as such. It’s still a great arc, and I would rank it among ENT’s best, and maybe even on a top 20 favorite Trek episodes.

    • But I’m not convinced that it was a 180 with regards to previous Vulcan characters.

      The Vulcans in Enterprise are perfectly consistent with the Vulcans in every other Star Trek show, with the notable exceptions of Spock (who was half-human) and Sarek (but only after Kirk resurrects his son; he’s even a bit of a jerk about Kirk not having Spock’s katra at the start of III, like it’s Kirk’s fault somehow).

      The Vulcans are not consistent with fandom’s expectations of the Vulcans, extrapolated primarily from Spock. The “what is mind melding?” bit was probably the closest that Enterprise came to skirting the line of canon. Even then, given the impression in TOS that Vulcans are secretive about pon farr or the whole katra deal, I think it’s pretty consistent with the Vulcan character. They don’t talk about sex or religion, so it makes sense that they were probably repressed about melding at some point.

      Yes, not all of the Vulcan episodes on Enterprise are great. (Shudder… Fusion… The Seventh… Stigma… shudder.) But it’s not like this is a canon violation on the scale of the Romulans suddenly having cloaks or whatever. (And I say that actually quite liking Minefield.)

      Personally, I think the arc is more interesting for being willing to look beyond the prequel setting and tell its own story.

      • This is kind of a silly defense of Enterprise and its depictions of Vulcans. Vulcans are supposed to be unemotional, logical creatures who have always stated to be pacifistic and generally trustworthy, a bunch of emotional (notice how in this three parter Vulcans seem to have a huge rush of emotions?), backstabbing assholes not only is not consistent with that, but also just doesn’t make any sense, in that why does Earth trust these backstabbers so much, and why does anyone in fact? They practically make them evil, hence why this three parter even exists, it’s simply a last ditch effort to “fix” this massive error in both continuity and writing. Of course there was never any hint that the Vulcans were self-destructive imperialists until 200 years ago, indeed every indication in the rest of the franchise given was that they got past such things several centuries ago. In this incarnation they’re hardly different from Romulans. Again, this is a testament to the inconsistent bad writing of the later Berman Braga years….

      • “Katra deal” That isn’t from the Original Series, that was introduced in Star Trek 3 as they couldn’t write anything less silly (apparently) to bring back Spock after everyone realized the franchise wasn’t ending due to Star Trek 2 being a smash hit. It’s a completely ridiculous concept even for Star Trek, hence why it was never brought up again until these episodes IIRC. Granted this three parter at least treats it in a more serious manner and is far better than Star Trek 3 😛 (I seem strangely critical of this three parter but its truly three of my favorite Trek episodes, no small feat for ENT, outside some of its silliness).

      • Well, katras weren’t brought up between the two, but Vulcan mysticism never went away. Gambit, Part I and Gambit, Part II feature an ancient Vulcan weapon that targets emotion, for example.

        (In fact, TOS really played up Spock’s psychic abilities, particularly in episodes like The Immunity Syndrome or at the start of The Motion Picture. If I had to guess, I’d say that was because of sixties psychedelic counter-culture. The katra was – as you note – an easy “out” to bring Spock back, but I think it fits quite comfortably with the tone of “Vulcan psychic stuff” that bubbles through the TOS era.)

      • Oh I should point out the “twist” ending with the Romulan agent is basically an admission that yes, these Vulcans were hardly different, and is an ‘explanation”. I’m not actually even criticizing this, I actually like the twist, as Manny Coto managed to turn a bad aspect of the show into something potentially interesting, if it had a season or two more of life.

  2. Btw, not sure where to post this, but I’m wondering after you’re done with all these reviews and retrospectives, are you going to write a look into the franchise overall, or list your favorite (and least favorite) episodes in the franchise? I’d love to read. Again hope I haven’t been posting too many comments and hope I haven’t been too obnoxious or assholish with my opinions.

    • I’ll do reviews of the individual shows. Possibly a book on the franchise. Possibly a list ranking the episodes in order of personal preference. But it’s all up in the air.

      • A book? Really? You have a publisher in mind or is this a self published endeavor?

      • Well, I have an X-Files book in progress at a publisher as we speak. So we’ll see how that works out. (I’m trying not to get my hopes up.) If it goes well, there might be interest in an equivalent Star Trek work.

  3. The mindmeld between T’Pau & T’Pol feels significant because of T’Pol’s own origins as the intended young T’Pau; it’s not exactly Spock-melds-with-Picard significant, but notable.

    Fandom brought the knives out on Enterprise as much because of what the franchise had been doing in previous years as what was on the show itself. I only came to the net in ’98, but I witnessed the outrage over the depiction of Vulcans in “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” and “Field of Fire,” to say nothing of Tuvok’s role as “strawman Vulcan” (a term which now appears on TV Tropes). Fans were convinced someone in Trek’s offices had it in for the Vulcan race, making them petty, vengeful, contemptuous and just plain wrong for years prior to T’Pol.

    • Kind of funny that I’m one of the fans who doesn’t like the depictions (for the most part) of the Vulcans in ENT, yet I absolutely love “Take Me out to the Holosuite”, one of my favorite DS9 episodes. I’m guessing that this episode had some impact on the depiction of the Vulcans in ENT, though it’s probably confidence.

      • Coincidence*

      • Well, it should be noted that DS9 did a “hypercompetitive @$$hole Vulcan” character like four years earlier in Shakaar. So it’s not like Take Me Out to the Holosuite came out of left field.

        Hh. I see what I did there.

    • Tuvok is one of the VOY characters I like, and he seems like a typical Vulcan. What did he do that angered Trek fanatics so much?

  4. You know what, in many respects, I congratulate you. I thank you for bursting the myth that Vulcans are essentially the ‘saintly race’ of star trek. I myself was put off by the depiction in Enterprise, and thought they were more reminiscent of Romulans. But then again, like others, maybe I’ve been judging the race on the actions of one individual, who as you put it was a ‘friend, an ally’. of course I remembered the vulcan that Sisko was rivals with, but I considered him the exception to the rule.

    At the same time though, I think it’s wrong of you to excuse some vulcans as the exception to the rule, and to judge some vulcans on their one time or two time actions. And like you said, T’pel was actually a romulan so however she acted should not be considered valid. In the end, I think it’s safe to go by roddenbury’s attitude, who didn’t like how klingons were portrayed as a solely ‘evil’ race, and that not species is purely evil. The same could be said about the vulcans as well. No individual is perfect. All have failings. all members are capable of both good and evil acts, regardless of their species.

    • It’s a fair point. But I do think that the Enterprise-era “@$$hole Vulcans” are much truer to the Star Trek canon than most fans (or even this trilogy) would acknowledge. That’s something that really irked me about fandom’s reaction to Enterprise. There are lots of continuity issues, but the Vulcans are not one of them.

      And I say that thinking there were points at which the Vulcans were too obnoxious, and thinking that the reconciliation between Earth and Vulcan in Kir’Shara is a logical place for their arc to end. But continuity has nothing to do with either of those things. (In fact, I’d argue that Kir’Shara is as much a “canon violation” as anything that fan critics would point towards.)

  5. Seems to me as if ENT’s portrayal of Vulcans is the logical outgrowth of the first contact as portrayed in, ahem, First Contact. They’re helping this race who JUST emerged from a horrible nuclear war and invented warp drive, and they can’t help but slow-walk the development of Earth’s space program. They’re genuinely worried about what they got themselves into. Frankly, if I were that Vulcan dude who emerged from the ship at the end of First Contact, I maybe would have high-tailed it as soon as Cochrane started blasting rock n’ roll.

    But regardless, this three-parter is incredibly compelling TV. Thanks for these in-depth reviews.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Flynn.

      And I think you’re right that the Vulcans kinda do have a reason to be skeptical about mankind, for the reasons you outlined.

  6. I really enjoy how in your reviews you pick up on a variety of metatextual elements within the stories and characters.

    • Thanks Ben. I mean, I’d argue one of the powers of science-fiction in general, and Star Trek in particular, is how it serves as a mirror to the culture around it. I’m not a huge fan of Voyager, but I’ve been consistently impressed on rewatch with how effectively it captures the tone and mood of the nineties. I think the final seasons of Enterprise do an excellent job with twenty-first century, although the confusion and disorganisation of the first two seasons is also (in its own way) an accurate reflection.

  7. Okay, pondering this further, I’m wondering if the reason why so many fans felt that the Vulcans were written as “wrong” on Enterprise (and DS9 and Voyager) is not even down to them remembering Spock from TOS, but Spock specifically from ST II: The Wrath of Khan.

    TWOK, as you have observed in various posts, has had an outsized impact on the entire ST franchise, and I think that extends to the public image of Vulcans. When you think of the popular conception of Vulcans as serene, logical, philosophical, peaceful individuals, that basically conforms to how Leonard Nimoy played Spock in TWOK. However, it is *not* how he played Spock in TOS or the TMP.

    Throughout the entire run of TOS we saw Spock constantly struggling to suppress his emotions. He was at times ruthlessly logical and unemotional in his efforts to compensate for his human side. “The Galileo Seven” immediately comes to mind. Spock is in command of the marooned shuttlecraft, and he attempts to lead in a totally logical, unemotional manner… which turns out to be a complete debacle. All of Spock’s orders & strategies turn out disastrously, several crew members are killed, and the survivors are ready to mutiny, infuriated by both his ineffectiveness and his apparent arrogant, aloof superiority. That was a typical Spock story from TOS.

    But if someone else had written “The Galileo Seven” three decades later with a different Vulcan character, say Tuvok or Soval, I’m sure fans would have started screaming “Star Trek is writing Vulcans wrong!” Many fans forget all about Spock’s struggles with emotion in TOS, the constant arguments he had with McCoy, the great difficulties he had fitting in with a human crew, with understanding human irrationality, instead only remembering how he turned out in TWOK, which was actually at the end of his long, difficult journey to reconcile logic and emotion.

    TWOK is such an iconic, popular movie that many ST fans undoubtedly look at Spock in it and, consciously or unconsciously, regard that as how *al* Vulcans are supposed to be.

    • That’s a very good point. It’s impossible to overstate how formative TWOK is to Star Trek fandom, which is itself quite interesting. It is in many ways the first “thorough” reboot of Star Trek, the first time the franchise is fundamentally altered. (Roddenberry added a lot of utopian idealism to TMP, but it is in many ways a clearer continuation of TOS than TWOK.)

  8. A great three-part review of a great three-part arc. Now I see what is meant by all this talk about fan-service in season 4. Did you catch the lirpas that the Vulcan soldiers were using when they attacked Archer and T’Pol in the Forge? That was a nice touch.

    I think you’re right in your description of a gap between people’s memory of Vulcans and how they were actually were portrayed. There were plenty of jerk Vulcans through the years.

    And the fact that they may have had their Reformation more recently than people assume also helps explain why McCoy was so hostile towards Vulcans; just as southerners used to be brought up with tales of the Lost Cause, I imagine that McCoy (a southerner, and also an older man with a longer cultural memory than other members of the crew) was also raised on tales of those jerk Vulcans and how they kept the Humans down.

    • Thanks Jack. I think this might be my favourite of the fourth-season epics, although I also like the Babel-centric one as well. (Though that works much better as a two-parter.) It’s a story that works very well both as a piece of Star Trek – hey, I’m uncomfortable with excessive fan service, but I’ll admit that it can be done well and I think it is here – and as a piece of social commentary – in that it’s very much a pointed critique of the War on Terror and a reflection of anxieties about the international order in the twenty-first century.

      I must rewatch soon.

  9. I think the problem with Vulcans is that they’re written by humans. We have trouble believing in superior creatures, so we tear them down to our level. Look at what the Greek and Roman gods were like! They were supposed to be GODS, and yet they were just as self-centered and venal as any human, because humans made them up.

    I’d much prefer that Vulcans be humanity’s benevolent older siblings, people who are a little bit further down the path and who can mentor us. Yes, I understand that no Vulcans except Spock and Tuvok have actually been LIKE that, but I think of that as a human limitation. 🙂 The Vulcans in my mind are rather like elves in being a longer-lived species who prefer the life of the mind to the more animal pleasures.

    Part of what Star Trek offers us is something to aspire to, and I think having a benevolent species that’s slightly better than we are is an essential part of that. It’s so baked into the franchise that every new writer thinks, “Oooh, I’ll do something RADICAL; I’ll make BAD Vulcans.” Yawn. Every writer before you has done that. It’s annoying. Give us our @#$% GOOD Vulcans, please!

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