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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Aenar (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 United trilogy does not flow as well as the Kir’Shara trilogy did.

In fact, it is debatable whether these three episodes are best described as a single three-parter or instead as a two-parter with a coda tacked on. After all, the bulk of the action and drama unfolds in Babel One and United, with the penultimate scene of United finding Archer sitting down with the Andorians and Tellarites to begin laying the groundwork for the United Federation of Planets. Even the subplots are neatly tidied up between those two episodes; Trip and Reed get stranded on the Romulan drone in Babel One and rescued by Enterprise in United.

This blue world.

This blue world.

It would be perfectly reasonable to close off the story at that point. The Romulans had been scared off, and Senator Vrax had already made it clear that an embarrassing failure would mean the end of his career and that of Valdour. Even the closing scene of United, revealing an albino Andorian operating the drone ship from Romulus, feels almost tacked on after the previous sequence that had memorably pulled out from the meeting room on Enterprise to emphasise the union of Starfleet, the Vulcans, the Andorians and the Tellarites.

Using that cliffhanger at the end of UnitedThe Aenar pivots away from that to focus on a trip to Andoria. It affords Archer (and Star Trek: Enterprise) one last opportunity to visit Shran’s homeworld.

A cold reception.

A cold reception.

There is a sense that the limitations of the medium are creeping in around the edges of the epic multi-episode format. Members of the production team have talked about the freedom afforded by structuring the fourth season as a collection of mini-arcs. Manny Coto has described the concept as akin to writing novels for television, while Mike Sussman compared the experience to writing miniature movies. These are certainly apt comparisons, given that stories like the Kir’Shara or United trilogies are bigger in scope than any one- or two-parter could be.

However, Enterprise is still a television show. As much as the writing staff might compare the season’s format to novels or movies, the truth is that they remain television episodes. They are forty-five minute pieces of television that have to conform to the structure of television episodes; they need a teaser, a setup, an internal arc, a climax. They are also budgeted and planned like television episodes; the availability of characters and the scale of the drama is not constant across the full story, but instead allocated in forty-minute chunks.

Surprisingly, it's a lot harder for a production based in Los Angles to do location work for Andor than for Vulcan.

Surprisingly, it’s a lot harder for a production based in Los Angles to do location work for Andor than for Vulcan.

This was true of the Kir’Shara trilogy, in many ways. Even watching those three episodes as a single television movie, the seams are quite clear. There is location work in The Forge, but not in Awakening or Kir’Shara. Syrran appears in The Forge, but is killed off before the start of Awakening and Kir’Shara. T’Pau appears in Awakening and Kir’Shara, but is absent from The Forge. T’Les appears in Awakening, but not The Forge or Kir’Shara. Shran appears in Kir’Shara, but not The Forge or Awakening.

However, that three-parter is notable for how smoothly those elements fit together. The most jarring transition of that three-part story comes with the shift of the Vulcan High Command’s focus away from the Syrranites in The Forge and Awakening towards the prospect of a war with Andoria in Kir’Shara. Even then, the idea makes sense within the context of the larger story, even if the sudden shift is distracting of itself. It is not graceful, but it still works. The United trilogy feels a lot clumsier in its storytelling. There is a clearer gulf between episodes.

Shran might end up sitting this one out.

Shran might end up sitting this one out.

There is some measure of consistency, of course. The Romulans are a constant threat, with Valdore and Nijil appearing in all three episodes of the story. The Andorians are a constant focus, with Commander Shran appearing in all three episodes of the story. Even before Enterprise visits Andoria in The Aenar, there is an emphasis on Andorian culture and custom, from an insight into the workings of their relationships in Babel One through to their conflict resolution system in United. As such, The Aenar cannot be completely divorced from the other two episodes.

Indeed, there is a sense of visual symmetry to the three-parter that suggests a more cohesive narrative. The final shot of Babel One pulls out from the command centre on Romulus to reveal the Romulan capital city as it would appear in Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II. This shot is actually juxtaposed with both the final and the penultimate scene of United. The final scene of Babel One ends with a camera pulling back from a window to reveal Romulus, while the final scene of United begins with the camera pushing in on that same window.

"I am really going to miss this view. Romulan office space is at a premium."

“I am really going to miss this view. Romulan office space is at a premium.”

More than that, the final shot of Valdore standing alone as the camera pulls out the window at the end of Babel One is contrasted with the shot pulling out the window from Archer, Shran and Gral at the end of United. It is a contrast that exists to emphasise the difference between humanity and the Romulans; the Romulans exist as a militaristic culture in isolation, while humanity actively courts allies and builds consensus. It is a nice visual metaphor for the differences between Earth and Romulus, playing into the themes of the three-parter.

There is also a larger structural mirroring taking place. The Aenar is very much intended as an inversion of The Forge. Both episodes are structured as part of massive epic three-part stories that consciously tie into the origin of the Federation. Both episodes are perhaps the “standalone” stories of their three-part narratives, the episodes least strongly connected to the larger story. Both episodes find Archer making a pilgrimage with a friendly alien character to that character’s homeworld, the homeworld of a species that will become a founding member of the Federation.

"Don't worry. Next week, we're doing Tellar."

“Don’t worry. Next week, we’re doing Tellar.”

Shran actively likens the ice fields of Andoria to the deserts of Vulcan. “The Vulcans say the desert teaches men the meaning of endurance,” he informs Archer. “But it’s the ice that forges real strength.” The comparisons go deeper than that. In the commentary for The Forge, Denise Okuda explains that Andoria was constructed from the cave sets that were build to represent Vulcan during the Kir’Shara trilogy. They were just painted white to represent the surface of Andoria.

It is a nice production detail that creates a sense of continuity between the two planets. There is a sense that these two locations are more similar than they might appear, at least based on their temperature and colour schemes. One might be a desert world desolated by nuclear war and the other might be an ice moon orbiting a gas giant, but they have more in common than initially appears. It also helps to solidify the sense that the Federation represents an idealised futuristic projection of the United States, a heavy emphasis on the colours red, white and blue.

"I'm all antennae."

“I’m all antennae.”

The Aenar even invites comparisons between the eponymous subspecies and the Syrranites of Vulcan. Reflecting the contemporary mood, both the Aenar and the Syrannites are presented as pacifistic subcultures quite removed from the violence and chaos of the world around them. Much like the Vulcan High Command has little patience for the utopian ideals of the Syrranites, it seems that the Andorian Imperial Guard has no real interest in Aenar philosophy. “They’ve never even helped to defend their own world,” Shran advises Archer.

However, it is telling that these pacifistic subcultures inevitably play an important role in securing the stability of their parent societies. United revealed that T’Pau had ascended from a dangerous dissident to a government minister… and a trusted ally. The Aenar finds Shran coming to respect Jhamel for her own bravery and commitment. While an entire fleet of Vulcan, Tellarite and Andorian ships cannot catch the Romulan drone, Jhamel is able to reach across the cosmos and connect with Gareb.

"Don't worry. With your antennae, we'll definitely get the right signal strength."

“Don’t worry. With your antennae, we’ll definitely get the right signal strength.”

However, despite these little symmetrical touches across the three-parter, there is a rather jarring transition between United and The Aenar. At the end of United, Archer has managed to assemble the races that will form the core of the Federation. A gigantic fleet is assembled in the hope of stopping the Romulans. During the climax of United, the Romulan drone is scared off by the arrival of a combined Vulcan, Tellarite and Andorian fleet. Archer sits down with Commander Shran and Ambassador Gral at the end of the episode.

Most notably, the gigantic fleet assembled at the end of United appears to have been disbanded by the start of The Aenar. This seems very strange, particularly given that the Romulan drone ship is still at large. It seems as though the hassle of assembling the fleet in the first place would justify taking a little time to track down the drone. Instead, the fleet disappears following the closing shot of United, putting the Enterprise back in the awkward position of having to fight off a technologically superior opponent completely alone.

"Captain, I think I found a plot hole."

“Captain, I think I found a plot hole.”

It does not help matters that The Aenar seems to pretend that the massive fleet simply never existed. “With two ships, I can deliver a devastating blow,” Valdore promises Senator Vrax. “We will hunt down Enterprise and destroy it.” Based on the single drone’s performance against the Enterprise in Babel One and United, it seems like the second ship is unnecessary. After all, a second ship is unlikely to be that much more effective against an entire fleet. When Archer goes hunting for the drone at the climax of The Aenar, he goes hunting alone.

There are other clearer indications that The Aenar stands alone rather than integrating comfortably with Babel One and United. Most notably, the Tellarites disappear completely between the closing scene of United and the opening scene of Babel One. Archer explains immediately after the credits, “A transport ship is returning the Tellarite Ambassador to his homeworld, but Shran has offered to stay and help us track down the marauder.” It seems rather strange that Gral would happily leave the Enterprise while the hunt for the drone is on-going.

So, nobody misses the Tellarites? Nobody?

So, nobody misses the Tellarites? Nobody?

The strongest connection between United and The Aenar also feels like a massive plot contrivance. It turns out that the Romulan drone is being piloted by an Aenar, a member of the Andorian subspecies who was kidnapped by the Romulans from the ice wastes of Andoria. It seems strange that the only species capable of psychically flying the drone warship should be a member of species targeted by the drone ship. The universe is a big place; surely there must have been some alternative that the Romulans might have used?

More than that, the brain wave is readily identifiable. Very early in The Aenar, Phlox can deduce that the drone ship is being controlled by somebody of Andorian descent. He reports that “the nearest genome is Andorian.” According to United, the Romulans were incredibly wary of being discovered to the point that they worried about the Vulcans recognising the design “the moment they inspected the propulsion matrix.” Of course, the propulsion matrix would point directly to the Romulans, but the Andorian brainwaves still provide a very obvious breadcrumb trail.

"What is this?" "Well... have you seen Burn after Reading?" "No." "Uh. Then it's nothing."

“What is this?”
“Well… have you seen Burn After Reading?”
“No.”
“Uh. Then it’s nothing.”

This is all simply a plot contrivance. The pilot’s origin, and the ease with which Phlox can determine his identity, is nothing but an effective springboard to jump from the original “founding of the Federation” story into the new “let’s visit Andoria!” plot. It is very obvious and awkward plotting, an attempt to shoehorn what might otherwise be a standalone story into the framework of the three-parter. It is transparent and awkward, and it harms both stories. Babel One and United would work better as a two-parter, and The Aenar might work better as a standalone.

Even allowing for the disconnect, there is a sense that the actual plot of the three-parter is incidental. The United arc occasionally feels less like a single story than a laundry list of requirements that include “visit Andoria”, “establish the Romulans”, “develop Shran” and “set-up the Federation.” In fact, the episodes borrow quite heavily from a whole host of older Star Trek plots. Although the details might have changed, the many of the plot beats feel like they were lifted from older episodes.

"I can totally see my house from here."

“I can totally see my house from here.”

As in Balance of Terror, the Romulans are employing a secret prototype weapon against the Federation designed to hide their involvement in the military strike. As in Journey to Babel, the Enterprise is tasked with ferrying Tellarites and Andorians to a conference. As in Amok Time, two close friends – one human, one alien – are forced to fight to the death according to alien custom in a matter of the heart. As in Shuttlepod One, Trip and Reed are stranded on a ship with a limited oxygen supply while discussing T’Pol’s bum.

To be fair, these are all broad plot points. Many of them could be reduced to archetypes. Star Trek is populated with stories about crews ferrying delegates around, while drama loves to pit friends against one another in fights to the death. However, there is a specificity to the references that can be distracting. It is not just any conference that threatens to be undercut by alien interference, it is a conference on “Babel.” It is not just any enemy practicing stealth technology against an old enemy, it is the Romulans. It may be meant as homage, but it is distracting.

"But, hey, this is a prequel. So, technically, we're doing it first."

“But, hey, this is a prequel. So, technically, we’re doing it first.”

In some respects, this evokes the strongest criticisms of the narrative approach adopted by the fourth season, that Enterprise turns into little more than a continuity-heavy remix in its final season. While this criticism is unfair, there is a ring of truth to it. There are points at which the season’s commitment to continuity and to the shared universe threatens to collapse under its own weight, when all of the references threaten to become just too much. Some of those points come during the United trilogy, with continuity becoming an irritant rather than selling point.

Still, there is a lot to like about the three-parter format. Spreading a single story across two hours of television allows more space for character development and world-building, for both regular and guest characters. The early scenes of Babel One are charming, focusing on the crew of the Enterprise as they “practice [their] Tellarite”, allowing for nice scenes between Archer and Hoshi as well as Archer and Trip. There is even time for a goofy “late night study session” with Hoshi and Travis that gives both characters something to do in the context of the story.

Someone to watch over me.

Someone to watch over me.

The story also finds room for the supporting cast. Jeffrey Combs has always been great as Shran, but his relationship with Talas in Babel One and United benefits from the extra breathing room. Indeed, Talas gets more development in Babel One and United than she ever had in Proving Ground, even if killing her off to motivate Shran feels a little familiar at this point. It is not fair to describe her death as a “fridging”, the cynical death of a female character to motivate a male one; Coto did the same with Admiral Forrest in The Forge. However, it does feel a little cliché.

Even the character of Valdore gets a little development in The Aenar. Although Valdore is introduced as a generic antagonist in Babel One, there are hints of a more complicated back story peppered across the three episodes. Valdore’s relationships with Senator Vrax and Nijil are hardly new or innovative in the larger context of the franchise, but the three-parter takes the time to explore their dynamic and to explain something about Valdore and the culture around him.

She has the bluest eyes.

She has the bluest eyes.

The extended runtime also allows for more world-building. This is literalised in The Aenar, with the franchise’s first trip to Andoria. However, it also bubbles through both Babel One and United. The first two seasons of Enterprise could seem quite detached and disengaged from the cultures they encountered. There was little room for development or elaboration. Even the most iconic and well-developed Star Trek aliens were under-developed when they appeared on Enterprise. What did Sleeping Dogs or Marauders tell the audience about the Klingons?

This approach was largely inherited from Star Trek: Voyager. That spin-off never had a core staff writer as interested in developing the shared universe as Ronald D. Moore or Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The most developed alien species on Voyager had been the Kazon during the second season, their back story developed in episodes like Initiations, Manoeuvres and Alliances. However, the Kazon were so poorly realised that the show never committed that energy to developing another species. The Hirogen and the Malon were fairly one-note as aliens go.

Nice and exciting icescapades.

Nice and exciting icescapades.

Within the context of Enterprise, the Suliban are perhaps the most obvious example of this aversion to worldbuilding and development. The Suliban were introduced in Broken Bow, but never developed into a fully-formed culture. It could be legitimately argued that Manny Coto does as much work with the Suliban in Storm Front, Part II as Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had done during the first three seasons of the show. (It should be noted that the Suliban were not inherently a bad idea, like the Kazon had been. They were just underdeveloped.)

Under Manny Coto, the fourth season of Enterprise is more commited to concepts like worldbuilding. The Vulcans are arguably more developed over the course of Home and the Kir’Shara trilogy than they were over the previous three seasons, and the same could be said of the Andorians over the course of the United trilogy. While The Aenar represents the franchise’s first trip to the Andorian homeworld, Babel One and United both do a lot of work to expand and develop Andorian identity.

Her hair's gone white from the pressure!

Her hair’s gone white from the pressure!

“My vessel, the Kumari, was named for the first ice-cutter to circumnavigate Andoria,” Shran explains to Archer in United. Later, he explains Andorian funeral customs to Archer and Gral, “When a Guardsman dies far from home, his companions, her companions, carry part of her back to the ice of Andoria.” Again, there is that recurring Star Trek motif that an alien species is truly well-developed when its funeral customs are articulated, like the Klingons in Heart of Glory or the Ferengi in The Nagus.

This approach is very much in keeping with the aesthetic of the fourth season. The fourth season of Enterprise treats the alien species as characters in and of themselves. This is most obvious in the way that the United trilogy carefully ties its character exposition into its worldbuilding exposition. Where possible, character back story is used to elaborate upon species back story. Shran articulates Talas’ history to Archer and Gral with reference to Andorian society. Valdore explains his present situation by reference to the driving principle of Romulan identity.

Looking at Shran in a whole new light.

Looking at Shran in a whole new light.

There are points where this exposition can feel inelegant. As with the presentation of the Tellarites in Bounty, there is a sense that the production team can oversimplify both characters and worlds by reducing them to blunt statements. The idea of Tellarites as argumentative came from Sarek in Journey to Babel, contending that “Tellarites do not argue for reasons; they simply argue.” However, an overly literal interpretation of that line ignores the nuance of D.C. Fontana’s script for Journey to Babel. Sarek is not an objective observer; he’s a bit of a jerk.

However, as with a lot of the flaws with the fourth season, this bluntness can be excused by reference to necessity. The United trilogy represented the last real chance to develop the Andorians or the Tellarites or the Romulans. While the Klingons were developed across a decade stretching from Sons of Mogh through to Tacking into the Wind and the Cardassians evolved over a period stretching from The Wounded to What You Leave Behind, the production team on Enterprise do not have time for the same nuance or subversion or insight in dealing with these races.

"I was almost a regular. Whoa."

“I was almost a regular. Whoa.”

The United trilogy is really the last chance for the production team to showcase the character of Shran, who is perhaps the most interesting recurring character on the series. While the producers have talked about having Shran join the primary cast during a hypothetical fifth season, Jeffrey Combs has suggested that was just wishful thinking:

It’s a post-Enterprise revelation. I suspect that came out of some interview with Manny. I deeply appreciate it. At the same time it sort of hurts. “Ah, man, the one that got away! Dang it! Coulda, shoulda, woulda.” But I take it as the huge compliment that it is. I was quite involved in that fourth season and so it sounds like it would have been a natural progression, and it would have been a cool one, to have a new alien on the bridge adding another dynamic. That would have been really, really interesting.

Combs is one of the franchise’s best performers, and certainly one of the strongest members of the “recurring alien” troupe along with fellow Star Trek: Deep Space Nine co-star J.G. Hertzler or Vaughn Armstrong. However, Shran only appeared in a total of five episodes in the first three seasons.

"I can do sexy."

“I can do sexy. Blue steel.”

As such, it makes sense for the production team to focus on Andorian culture while devoting more attention to Shran as a character. By the time that Combs donned the antennae in The Andorian Incident, he was already a veteran Star Trek performer. The United trilogy finds time to do something unique with him in the context of the franchise. Babel One and United portray Shran as a romantic partner to Talas. The Aenar casts him as a father-figure to Jhamel. These are not roles Weyoun or Brunt could play. They afford Combs a chance to showcase his range.

There is a certain geeky thrill in getting to see Andoria for the first time, almost forty years after the Andorians made their first appearance in Journey to Babel. With their distinctive blue skin and their memorable antennae, it is obvious why the Andorians became such a source of fascination to Star Trek fans. Despite the relative dearth of appearances in the spin-offs, the Andorians remained a piece of memorable and iconic Star Trek lore. As such, there is something appropriate about finally getting an insight into their culture and society.

"I can also do sensitive. See, I've got range."

“I can also do sensitive. See, I’ve got range.”

Again, the production team adopt a rather inclusive approach towards continuity. According to Mike Sussman, a lot of the show’s approach to the Andorians was rooted in Among the Clans, a role-playing supplement published in the late nineties:

For what it’s worth, I let Manny a copy of Among the Clans which I picked up on eBay recently. He was already at work on an Andorian duel ritual when I pointed out there was something similar in the book, so he went ahead and used the term. I believe both of us were taken by the striking cover image of an ice-covered Andoria — consequently, Manny went with that interpretation as well.

It is a nice acknowledgement of the wide and diverse range of Star Trek material out there, one demonstrating a willingness by the production team to look beyond the specifics of the “canon” while acknowledging that Star Trek can take many diverse forms.

"Damn it. I've been reading FASA guides all these years."

“Damn it. I’ve been reading FASA guides all these years.”

There is a feeling that The Aenar is developing a literal mythology for the Andorians. Certainly, Shran discusses the eponymous subspecies in almost mythic terms. “For most of our history, they were considered a myth, stories we told our children,” he confesses to Archer, “but fifty years ago, they were discovered living in the Northern Wastes.” Early in Babel One, Trip cracks a joke about how Archer and his crew used to be explorers. The Aenar suggests that there are mysteries to be explored even at home.

The Aenar are themselves an interesting creation. On one level, they serve to provide another parallel between the Romulans and the founding members of the Federation. Kir’Shara established the Romulans as a dark force at work within Vulcan, while Babel One and United present the Romulans as a twist militaristic reflection of humanity. The Aenar suggest a thematic connection back to the Andorians; much like the Romulans have a subspecies known as the Remans, the Andorians have a subspecies known as the Aenar.

Pilot scheme.

Pilot scheme.

More than that, The Aenar reinforces the idea creeping through Enterprise that the classic Star Trek races are not simply bland archetypal monocultures. Historically, the franchise has tended to treat its alien species as monolithic. As Bernd Schneider points out, there are practical considerations to all this:

A considerable amount of work goes into the concept of each new alien civilization, even if it is just a “race-of-the-week”, or into any further development. The writer ideally comes up with a sketchy history and some cultural and social peculiarities, while the Star Trek Art Department strives to create a distinctive look and style of that species. Sometimes either the budget or the time was not sufficient, and the species ended up as a clone of humanity or of a prominent Trek race. While working out single characteristics is already hard enough, it would probably be a stretch to depict an alien planet-of-the-week as multicultural, not only because of time and budget constraints, but also as it may distract from the story. Even though there is generally no reason to dumb down a plot idea in order to make it more lucid, Star Trek needs consistent concepts to tell a story in just 45 minutes. Like every type of fiction, it may benefit from metaphoric and hence somewhat exaggerated portrayals. This, in addition to the mere statistical consideration that the time to show diverse alien individuals and places is limited, is the ultimate reason why we do not see many alien worlds with cultural variety.

As such, it makes sense to resort to archetypes. Klingons are typically “the warrior race.” Vulcans are “the logical race.” Ferengi are “the greedy race.” In some ways, Deep Space Nine played and subverted this approach, particularly with the Cardassians or with individual characters like Rom or Gowran.

Pale shelter.

Pale shelter.

However, Enterprise also seemed to consciously move away from the idea that alien species could be reduced to broad archetypes. This was suggested in early episodes like Fusion, focusing on a radical Vulcan subculture. As clumsy as Detained might have been, it stressed that the Suliban were not a monoculture. While the portrayal of Klingons during the season and a half was cliché and generic, Judgment offered a very clever subversive look at the inner workings of a warrior culture that Divergent and Affliction could build upon.

This difference became particularly pronounced during the third and fourth seasons. The Xindi were not a single unified monoculture, but instead five different subcultures attempting to work together for the greater good. The Forge suggested that not all Vulcans were alike, and that there were certain members of the species who adopted a different approach to issues of logic. In The Aenar, it is revealed that there are is an entirely different subspecies of Andorian with different skintone and different culture.

Many moons ago...

Many moons ago…

It is interesting to wonder if this emphasis on alien subcultures was a reflection of contemporary culture. During the War on Terror, popular culture seemed to become a bit more mindful of how it treated those different; that ethnic and religious groups were not always singular political entities. This was particularly the case with reference to the aftermath of the War in Afghanistan or the War in Iraq, where there was not always a clear division. Iraq was not just Muslim, it was Sunni and Shia; Iraq was not exclusively Arab, it was also Kurdish.

In a way, all of this serves to demonstrate just how prescient Deep Space Nine was in its treatment of its aliens. The writing team on Deep Space Nine devoted considerable attention to the fine-grain political workings of the Cardassian government, allowing it to feel like more than just a generic alien species. Similarly, it portrayed the Dominion as an organisation made up of multiple races with multiple perspectives. However, it never went quite as far as to portray a subspecies or to demonstrate the kind of diversity between the Andorians and the Aenar.

Ice to meet you

Ice to meet you

Much like the Syrranites in Awakening, the Aenar are treated as vehicle for the franchise’s utopian idealism. Both the Syrranites and the Aenar are pacifists, believing in the possibility of a better (less militarised) future. They provide a spiritual connection to the sixties utopianism that drove the original Star Trek, perhaps even going so far as to embody the idealist counterculture. At a time when the United States was embroiled in two foreign wars, placing such emphasis on pacifistic subcultures feels very pointed.

The Aenar provide another nice connection to the spirit original Star Trek. The Aenar are presented as a highly telepathic and empathic species. They embody a lot of the sixties fascination with consciousness expansion and spiritual communion. Both Gareb and Jhamel are able to explore the universe using the power of their minds, even if the Romulans ultimately weaponise that spiritual enlightenment for their own purpose in a weird inverse history of the development of LSD.

The interface is still wicked eighties.

The interface is still wicked eighties.

Again, there is a sense that Enterprise is positioning itself as a prequel in terms of aesthetic as much as in continuity. The Romulan attempts to weaponise psychedelia during the United trilogy reflect early CIA experiments with LSD and remote viewing. Given that, the emphasis on Spock’s psychic abilities in Star Trek scripts like The Immunity Syndrome represent the incorporation of that psychedelia into the utopian counterculture. In many ways, Enterprise feels very much like a fifties science-fiction show, paving the way for sixties idealism.

If history is cyclic, perhaps the future can be too. If the mood and tone of early twenty-first century America reflected the atmosphere of the Eisenhower years, then perhaps there might be another shot at utopian idealism around the corner. If the political climate can cycle back around, then many society’s hopes and dreams might cycle around as well. The fourth season of Enterprise touches on the cynical conservative mood of the early twenty-first century, but in a manner that tries to find a path back to sixties utopianism.

"Boy, this is some TOS-style mood lighting you have down here."

“Boy, this is some TOS-style mood lighting you have down here.”

It should be noted that the Aenar and the Andorians are presented in a manner that consciously evokes the classic pulp science-fiction aesthetic of the original Star Trek show. The Aenar repeatedly falls back on images of Andor, the ringed gas giant around which Andoria orbits; the classic ringed planet that feels like it might have been lifted from the cover of a trashy paperback or the matte backdrop of a b-movie. Even within the Aenar compound, the set design and the lighting are heavily stylised as if to hark back to the look and feel of the original Star Trek show.

That is very much the essence of the United trilogy, and it bleeds through into The Aenar. These three episodes suggest that the Star Trek universe might yet manifest itself, in terms of continuity and in terms of aesthetic. Enterprise is still very much a post-9/11 show heavily informed by the realities of the War on Terror, but it remains optimistic that there is a way back to optimism. To borrow a quote from Dan Quayle, frequently misattributed to George W. Bush, the fourth season of Enterprise believes that the future might be better tomorrow.

Ringed planet...

Ringed planet…

Enterprise hopes that the future is coming, even if the present seems lost.

 

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12 Responses

  1. I’m a huge Andorian fan. Visually they are very striking of course (and on a shallow note Talas is stunning) but they provide a very different take on the warrior culture vibe than the Klingons, with their space viking/space samurai cult of the individual warrior. Shran clearly has a code of honour that he takes very seriously, but also takes his duties to his people even more seriously.

    In some respects they actually resemble some of the more sympathetic takes on the Romulans, and one I find more interesting than the assumption that Trek throws up sometimes that a ‘good’ Romulan is one who is doing his best to turn into a Vulcan (I always found that the ‘Unification’ episodes of TNG had a slightly uncomfortable subtext.)

    • I actually have more of a crush of Tarah, if we’re being shallow. But I always had a crush on Suzie Plakson.

      But the Andorians are fascinating. And it’s a shame that Enterprise took so long to really engage with world-building, because I feel like the Andorians really could have been as nuanced as the Cardassians. As you point out, it is a more pragmatic (and realistic) approach to honour than the bombast associated with the Klingons. Sort of like the Vorta, I suspect having Jeffrey Combs to define the species probably helped a great deal.

      • Tarah is emminently crushable.

        Annd yeah I’m sorry they were (re) introduced so late. I like the Tellarites too, even if not quite as much as the Andorians. I wish the new Trek movies would use more of the classic races – I know TOS had a very human dominated Starfleet but that always struck me as a makeup/budget constraint (notice how the Animated Series immidately upped the alien content of the bridge crew by 200%?)

      • Yep. Although I do like the more subtle CGI aliens on Abrams’ Star Trek, I think there’s a sort of classic sci-fi uncanniness to them. “Big eyes guy” and “part robot dude!” Somehow I suspect both already have comic book origin stories!

  2. Molly Brink. An unusual choice for Enterprise. I sang her praises because she looks like she stepped off the TOS set.

    Compare with T’Pol, or hell, the entire cast in the “Mirror, Darkly” two-parter. These are millennial actors, with hair extensions to make them look “alternate” but not as much effort put into the time capsule aspect (in comparison to “Trials and Tribble-ations”).

    Back in the sixties you had yeoman who weren’t hired straight off the catwalk, they were extremely hot but had an interesting quality, too. As did Brink.

    She also reminded me a bit of N’Toth and the other female Narn from Babylon 5. Kind of butch.

    • I actually loved the hair alterations in In a Mirror, Darkly. Particularly Mayweather and Archer’s. Although I love that on the commentary for Demons, Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating laugh at how frequently the studio insisted on changing Scott Bakula’s hair to make him seem older or younger or roguish or straight-laced.

      • I genuinely wish Travis had racing stripes in the mirror universe. That’s all he was missing.

      • But he had an earring!

        (I loved the EXTREME nature of the mirror universe makeovers. But I have a high tolerance and deep appreciation for camp. And it still suggests deeper and more multi-faceted characters than those who actually appeared on the rest of the show. I love that nice montage introducing mirror!Phlox and mirror!Trip during mirror!Archer’s mutiny. It does such a great job of setting character and tone, even if those characters and tones are delightfully campy.)

  3. “Deep Space Nine played and subverted this approach”

    House of Cards with aliens.

    The reality is, most people in life (and in Star Trek) seek power for its own sake, but have no idea what to do with power once they get it. See: Kazon, or Shinzon.

    The Spoons had a method to their madness, which was refreshing.

    • That’s a fair point. I remember reading an interesting article that the character of the Cigarette-Smoking Man on The X-Files was the ultimate expression of the postmodern political philosophy, where power is the end of itself rather than the means.

      • I’m not sure that I agree with that. I am no X-Files scholar, but the CSM never expressed any misgivings about his job (apart from a nihilistic will to survive in the face of the upcoming alien threat). Like you pointed out in your excellent review of One Breath, he’s nostalgic for a time when the U.S. was preeminent and just and he refuses to move on from that. It was very much a “Gen X v. baby boomer” kind of thing.

      • Yeah, I’m not entirely convinced by the read, at least as it applies to the character up to One Breath. But I think there are shades of it later in the show’s run, particularly in the seventh season after the conspiracy has been wiped out and there’s a sense that the Cigarette-Smoking Man is still doing what he is doing without any reason why. I actually think the seventh season mythology was a huge wasted opportunity, if only because it has this weird existential thread running through it where the show desperately wants to continue business as usual even though that is clearly unsustainable.

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