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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 4 (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.

This is the end.

Star Trek: Enterprise would be the first live action Star Trek spin-off to run less than seven seasons. It would mark the end of eighteen years (and twenty-five seasons) of uninterrupted Star Trek on television. It would be the first of the spin-offs to be actively cancelled instead of passively retired on its own terms. It represented the end of the Berman era. The show had been lucky to scrape a fourth season, with UPN considering axing the show after the end of the third season. The fourth season only came about as a result of a lot of compromise by all involved.

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This shadow hangs over the fourth season. It seems quite clear from the outset that nobody involved is counting upon a fifth season. There was massive staff attrition, with veteran writers like Chris Black, David A. Goodman and Phyllis Strong all departing the writers’ room. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga took a step back from the day-to-day running the series. As the year grinds on, the show becomes increasingly (and morbidly) fixated upon its own impending demise. The clock is counting down, and the show is aware of it.

All of this is a massive shame, because the fourth season features some of the best work of the show’s four-year run. It also seems surprisingly aligned with where pop culture is going in the decade ahead, for better and for worse. The result is a season that is intriguing and ambitious, insightful and worthy. The fourth season has a lot to recommend it, and even the elements that do not work are interesting in the way that they do not work. As much as the fourth season closes the book on an era of Star Trek, it also summons the future.

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Following on from the third season, producer Brannon Braga made a conscious decision to step back from the running of the franchise. He did not disentangle himself from the show entirely, overseeing production and even stepping into the breach to re-write scripts, but the veteran producer was just exhausted. Braga had been a part of the franchise since showing up as an intern on the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Over the next thirteen years, he worked himself up through the production team, but it was finally time to step aside.

Manny Coto was chosen to replace Braga. Coto had joined the show early in the third season, having written acclaimed episodes like Similitude and Azati Prime, along with more controversial instalments like Chosen Realm or Harbinger. However, while Coto was a relatively new arrival on Enterprise, he was a veteran television producer. He had experience running the short-lived science-fiction show Odyssey 5, which starred Peter Weller. Coto would successfully cast Weller as John Frederick Paxton in Demons and Terra Prime.

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Coto immediately decided to move away from the format established by the third season. The fourth season would not consist of a single season-long arc. However, in an effort to deal with a reduced budget, Coto decided to structure the season as a collection of mini-arcs, two- and three-part episodes that could amortise production costs. It became affordable to build the ice caverns of Andoria for The Aenar, so long as it was included in the budget with Babel One and United. It was, on many levels, a pragmatic decision.

However, it was also a decision that changed the way that Enterprise could tell stories. For more than thirty years, the default storytelling format on Star Trek had been the single episode. There had occasionally been two-part episodes or multi-episode arcs, but the franchise had always favoured “done in one” stories. There were a lot of different reasons for this preference. Most obviously, it was easier to sell the show into syndication if network affiliates didn’t have to worry about audiences missing episodes. It was also the norm for show produced in the late eighties.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had experimented with long-form storytelling and serialisation, particularly in its later years. In many ways, Ira Steven Behr and his writers were simply keeping pace with the industry around them. The late nineties saw shows like Babylon 5 and The X-Files demonstrate that television audiences could follow stories across multiple episodes of the same show. Nevertheless, Star Trek: Voyager remained almost religiously episodic. When Ronald D. Moore departed the franchise, serialisation became an evolutionary dead end.

The third season of Enterprise had tried to construct a single cohesive serialised story arc following Archer and his crew as they attempted to stop an attack against Earth. It had been a steep learning curve for the production team, with the first third of the season stumbling as it tried to find its way before building to a surprisingly effective finalé. However, it felt very much like Enterprise was playing catch-up with a television landscape that had moved on ahead of it. In an era of The Sopranos and The Wire, it was was positively quaint.

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The multi-episode arcs of the fourth season are an entirely different beast. In many ways, they seem to prefigure shifts in the pop cultural landscape. This is most apparent in the simple decision to tell fewer stories in a season of television, dropping the story count across the year down from twenty-odd to a more manageable twelve. Like down to coincidence rather than design, that looks a lot more like a modern season of genre television. In the context of 2004 and 2005, that would have seemed quite odd. Looking back from the vantage point of 2016, it looks familiar.

Of course, it should be stressed that – even with a truncated episode order – Enterprise still had a fourth season that ran to twenty-two episodes. It should also be noted that the prestige dramas on HBO like The Sopranos were already popularising the idea of shorter season orders. Nevertheless, it would take network television years to embrace the potential of a shorter run. However, more than a decade after the broadcast of These Are the Voyages…, these short seasons have become acceptable to both networks and audiences.

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In a way, the fourth season of Enterprise plays like an example of one of these modern television seasons, with the production team keenly focusing on stories that they wanted to tell rather than padding out the season to meet an arbitrary episode count. Coto has acknowledged that the standalone episodes did not work as well as he would have wanted, while there were also instances where episodes like Observer Effect were slotted into the season at relatively short notice. Nevertheless, the format feels quite ahead of the curve.

Similarly, the decision to construct miniature Star Trek television movies also feels like a decision that was ever so slightly ahead of the show’s time. The fourth season can easily be broken down into “binge” friendly chunks. The season structures its stories into two- or three-part adventures, which would seem rather strange when aired in daily syndication, but which flow a lot easier in the Netflix era. Borderland, Cold Station 12 and The Augments are the perfect length for a small binge. One three-parter or two two-parters makes a solid evening’s entertainment in the streaming age.

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After all, the fourth season of Enterprise seems to have prefigured the forthcoming revival. After years of figures like Brannon Braga discussing resurrecting the show for a streaming service like Netflix, CBS announced that their new Star Trek show would air primarily through their own nascent on-line streaming service “CBS All Access.” Although nothing more than rumours, there is a lot of gossip about the possibility it might adopt an anthology miniseries approach. It seems highly likely that it will adopt a relatively short season order.

Enterprise‘s certainly feels like a conscious departure from the established Star Trek format. In a way, the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise represent the first true break from the storytelling style that Michael Piller established during the third season of The Next Generation, the habit of breaking out episodes around particular characters and ensuring the characters got at least one showcase episode in a given season, even if the writers had no idea what to do with the character in question.

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This would typically lead to a lot of filler episodes in a given season, episodes that could occasionally feel more like an obligation than anything exciting. This was very much the case with the first two seasons of Enterprise. It could occasionally feel like characters like Hoshi and Mayweather were stuck repeating the same beats over and over again because the production team felt obliged to give them episodes like Sleeping Dogs, Vox Sola, Horizon and Fortunate Son. While it is a good idea in theory to include these cast members, it did not always pay off in practice.

As a result, the fourth season moved away from the “Trip episode” or “Hoshi episode” format that had been a Star Trek staple for over a decade. In choosing to tell only a dozen stories in a season, storytelling real estate became a lot more important. Indeed, the only multi-episode arc to adhere to the classic format was Affliction and Divergence. That two-parter attempted to be both a “Phlox episode” and a “Reed episode”, with somewhat mixed results. There were several consequences of this decision to abandon the old approach to Star Trek character development.

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Most obviously, the show embraced a serialised approach to characterisation and character development. This was most obvious with the dynamic between Trip and T’Pol that was heavily pronounced in the run of episodes between Home and Terra Prime, the episodes where Manny Coto enjoyed the freedom to chart is own course free of the Zero Hour cliffhanger that left him spending Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II trapped in the midst of the Second World War.

The romantic arc between Trip and T’Pol is undeniably melodramatic, often feeling like it has been lifted directly from a weird science-fiction soap opera. In The Aenar, Trip realises that he can’t be around T’Pol because she might kill herself while engaged in psychic warfare with an enemy running false flag attacks. In Bound, the two discover they are in love because Trip is able to resist green-skinned alien space babes. In Demons, they are confronted with evidence that a megalomaniac racists has cloned a baby from their DNA.

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All of this is absurd and ridiculous, but in a deliciously heightened manner that recalls the way that soap opera conventions have gradually clawed their way back into American prime-time broadcasting. If Shondaland included a science-fiction companion series for Scandal, you better believe there would be alien babies grown from the DNA of cast members stuck in a “will they?”/“won’t they?” dynamic. Whereas the third season seemed paralysed because it had no idea what to do with Trip and T’Pol; the fourth season refuses to let that detail stop it.

It is too much to suggest that the relationship between Trip and T’Pol really “works.” The show seems afraid to portray the two in a stable relationship, meaning that the pair never quite find the charming equilibrium of Jadzia and Worf or Odo and Kira in the later seasons of Deep Space Nine. At the same time, there is a sense the production team is trying to keep everything moving. Having Trip leave the ship in The Aenar and immediately return in Bound is a decision that doesn’t really work, but which still shows an endearing storytelling ambition.

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Even outside of that, the fourth season pays more attention to character continuity than the show has in years. Hoshi off-handedly references her black belt in Observer Effect, and gets the opportunity to demonstrate her skills early in Affliction. Archer has Surak placed in his head during The Forge, and subsequently talks T’Pol through administering a mind meld in Affliction. Red is exposed as a member of Section 31 in Affliction, and then exploits those contacts in Demons and Terra Prime. There is a much stronger sense of continuity within the show this season.

That is arguably reflected in the fact that the fourth season makes better use of its recurring cast than any prior season. (Although, to be fair, the third season had its own recurring Xindi cast including Degra and Dolim.) Soval and Shran recur quite frequently across the year, helping to create a sense that Vulcan and Andoria are an on-going concern for the show. Admiral Forrest is killed off in The Forge. Kelby recurs in Engineering, later in the year. Hernandez pops up as the commander of the Columbia. Harris is a recurring Section 31 operative.

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The extra storytelling space afforded by these multi-episode arcs also allows room for smaller scenes between characters that do help to create an ensemble quality to the season. It is mostly small beats, to be fair, that tell use very little about characters. There’s a nice scene of Mayweather and Reed discovering a bomb in The Forge that might be the best thing featuring Mayweather since Breaking the Ice. There’s a similar scene of Hoshi and Mayweather searching through Andorian law in United.

While these are not big scenes that illuminate the characters in question, they do give the actors something to do beyond delivering exposition and reading monitors. They allow the characters to interact like human beings, and create a sense of what these characters do in the course of duty that isn’t simply sitting on the bridge and shaking a lot. Crucially, these scenes recall the “Piller filler” from the third and fourth seasons of The Next Generation, small scenes that gave the cast the opportunity to be likable and charming.

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It is too much to suggest that these scenes flesh out the bit players on the show, but it easy to imagine a couple of seasons of these scenes helping to give viewers a better sense of characters like Hoshi or Mayweather. After all, characters like Troi and Crusher often had to compete for storytelling space on The Next Generation, but still felt well-rounded and fully developed because the scripts made a point to include scenes of the cast interacting in a casual and personal manner. Enterprise needed more of these scenes from the start.

The impact of these little sequences can be gauged by looking at the fourth season itself. At one point in the early episode Home, Phlox goes drinking with Reed and Mayweather. It feels like a strange combination of characters, driven more by those available than by those with an established connection. However, when Phlox goes to Madam Chang’s with Hoshi in Affliction, it is a moment that feels more logical and organic, if only because the two characters had previously talked about the restaurant in Home. There is a sense of evolution to all of this.

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The fourth season seems to candidly acknowledge that Enterprise has never done particularly well by its ensemble. It is telling that In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II play as perhaps the show’s first (and only) true ensemble episodes without actually featuring any of the show’s primary characters. More than that, the mirror universe two-parter goes out of its way to have Hoshi and Mayweather finish out on top, allowing the show’s bit players a rare moment in the sun before it sets on the series.

Even Demons and Terra Prime make a point to give most of the cast something to do. Reed gets to play secret agent. Mayweather gets a love interest. Hoshi is left in charge of the ship. If one chooses to treat Demons and Terra Prime as the de facto season and series finale, then it does a decent job of acknowledging the complete ensemble. It is too much to suggest that the characters on Enterprise were as fully formed or as nuanced as those on The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, but the fourth season makes a point to include them as much as possible.

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Although the fourth season is comprised of twelve separate stories, there is a clear sense of continuity between them. The fourth season garners a lot of attention for its engagement with the larger Star Trek franchise, but there is a much stronger internal continuity tying the season together than there had been in the earlier episodes. The hijacking of the Klingon Bird of Prey at the start of Borderland leads to the events of Affliction. The peace negotiations of United pave the way to the signing in Demons.

There is a lot of attention paid to the world inhabited by Enterprise. The xenophobic attack upon Phlox in Home is referenced in Affliction and sets the tone for Demons. The launch of Columbia is set up in Home and then actually occurs in Affliction. Archer recovers the sacred texts of Surak in Kir’Shara, and T’Pol is reading them in Observer Effect. There is a palpable sense of texture to the world inhabited by these characters, recalling the way that Deep Space Nine embraced its own internal continuity in its fourth and fifth seasons.

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Of course, this internal continutiy is often overlooked in discussion of the fourth season, in favour of discussions about how the show actually fits with the established Star Trek canon. Enterprise always had a tumultuous relationship with the larger Star Trek franchise, and one of the more interesting metaphorical facets of the Temporal Cold War was the suggestion that Enterprise represented a literal rewriting of Star Trek history or a trauma inflicted upon the wider Star Trek canvas.

One of the more frequent criticisms of early seasons of Enterprise was that the show was more a prequel to The Next Generation than a prequel to the original Star Trek. The legacy character who appeared to pass the torch in Broken Bow carried over from Star Trek: First Contact. While the Andorians played a major role in The Andorian Incident for the first time since Journey to Babel, there was a conscious emphasis on Next Generation era aliens like the Nausicaans in Fortunate Son or the Ferengi in Acquisition.

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Even during the second season, when Enterprise was rather shamelessly rehashing just about every half-decent Star Trek plot it could remember, the production team tended to borrow from the Next Generation era shows rather than the classic Star Trek show. Sure, The Communicator was a grim and gritty take on A Piece of the Action, but it was the exception rather than the rule. Dawn was Darmok. Vanishing Point was Remember Me meets Realm of Fear. The Breach was Jetrel. Fans felt a disconnect between Enterprise and the original Star Trek.

The third season had begun to heal that rift, with a willingness to embrace the sort of ridiculous pulpy aesthetic that defined so much of the original Star Trek. The show’s colour tones became a little brighter, incorporating shades of purple. The show’s make-up and special effects became more ridiculous and less inhibited, offering ambitious (if not entirely convincing) computer-generated insects. Zero Hour builds to a sequence of Archer wrestling with an evil reptile atop a giant space weapon before being confronted by evil!alien!space!Nazis.

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The fourth season continues this trend, very much embracing the aesthetic of the classic Star Trek. The Andorians and the Tellarites play a larger role than they played before, the show no longer embarrassed by the charmingly hokey character designs. The Orion slave girls reappeared in Borderland. The set design in Cold Station 12 looked like something Kirk might visit. The show would lovingly recreate the classic Enterprise sets (albeit as the Defiant) in In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II.

The show also tied itself more closely to established Star Trek continuity. The first three-parter of the season tied back into the Eugenics Wars, a piece of continuity established back in Space Seed while proving hard to reconcile with later episodes like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. The production team incorporated references to the Last Unicorn role-playing game into scripts for Home and United. The show moved towards the foundation of the Federation.

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There were points at which the fourth season of Enterprise felt like a literal travelogue of the shared Star Trek universe. The show seemed to spend more time on familiar ground than on alien soil. The Forge kicked off a three-parter set primarily on Vulcan, offering the most in-depth exploration of the world and its people in the franchise’s history. Although Babel One and United formed a fairly effective two-parter, they were extended to include The Aenar, an episode that seems to exist primarily so that Enterprise might have a chance to visit the Andorian homeworld.

The fourth season seems to fixate upon the Star Trek universe as a character itself, with its own history and outlook. There are dozens of continuity references and allusions buried in these episodes. The Vulcan episodes, in particular, seem to stitch together every off-hand reference about the species into a singular cohesive examination of their culture. For the Vulcan inner eyelid mentioned in Operation — Annihilate! to the Romulan schism of Balance of Terror to the temple in Gambit, Part II, no aspect of Vulcan culture is overlooked.

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Affliction and Divergence solved the mystery of Klingon foreheads that had been unanswered since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II served simultaneously as a sequel to The Tholian Web and a prequel to Mirror, Mirror. The Organians appeared in Observer Effect. Although originally slated to be part of the show’s primary cast, T’Pau eventually appeared in Awakening. The very concept of Spock haunted the season, from the melding of Surak and Archer in The Forge to the appearance of Elizabeth in Demons.

Some of this worked rather well. The move towards the Federation across the season provided an optimistic throughline to the fourth season as a whole, providing a nice counterbalance to the cynicism of the War on Terror. It was reassuring to see Enterprise embrace the franchise’s utopian idealism at a point when it seemed like popular culture was dominated by cynicism and apocalyptic imagery. This was, after all, the only season of Enterprise to overlap with Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

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However, there were also points at which the fourth season’s obsession with continuity threatened to smother the series. What did the presence of the Organians actually add to Observer Effect? What would have been lost if they were new aliens? The idea of building an origin story for the transporter led to Daedalus, one of the season’s more significant misfires. Affliction and Divergence seemed rather unnecessary. Bound demonstrated the downside of unquestioning nostalgia, embracing sixties sexism in a manner that evoked the very worst of Star Trek.

In defense of the fourth season of Enterprise, the show had already lost most of its casual audience. Due to the shifting nature of twenty-first century television and UPN’s complete lack of interest in the series, nobody was really watching the fourth season of Enterprise apart from the kinds of hardcore fans who generally did worry about the particulars of Klingon forehead ridges or where the Defiant actually went. While these stories were unlikely to appeal to a broad television audience, the reality is that there was no broad television audience for Enterprise any more.

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As such, the continuity obsession of the fourth season becomes excusable. Enterprise had really died with Zero Hour and was living on borrowed time from Storm Front, Part I. There was no chance of drawing in a broad audience, and so treating the season as a celebration for hardcore fandom made a great deal of sense. A lot of the fourth season is effectively “inside baseball” for Star Trek fans, full of references and allusions that make little sense outside the context of a franchise with almost forty years of history at that point.

If mirror universe episodes like Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror always felt like the camera had been left running while the cast and crew vented some tension, In a Mirror, Darkly Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II served as an apocalyptic wrap party to end all apocalyptic wrap parties. It seems entirely appropriate that the axe finally dropped during the production of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, the cancellation serving to excuse almost any continuity-related indulgence.

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Again, there is a sense that the fourth season was very much ahead of the curve in this regard, seeming to predict the rise of fan culture and the changes media would make to court that demographic. The fourth season of Enterprise embraced the idea of the “shared universe” in a way that no Star Trek show had done previous, essentially mounting a season-long exploration of its nooks and crannies, its trivia and esoterica. There were points at which the fourth season seemed to play at being something of a handbook of the Star Trek universe.

In a way, this seems to predict the modern fixation and fascination with shared universes and continuity. In the modern era, it seems like just about every major movie or television show comes with a “primer” or a “mythology.” Websites are dedicated to expanding out and explaining the smaller details of massive entertainment, picking out the hidden meanings buried in the minutiae. There is a mini cottage industry for true believers in explaining and outlining the canon to new fans, providing reading lists and source texts.

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In the context of 2004 and 2005, this media landscape would seem strange or surreal. After all, the comic book movie bubble was still forming, and there was still a wariness about embracing the goofier aspects of the source material or alienating casual audiences. Enterprise aired at a point in time when X-Men III featured a version of Psylocke whose only similarity to her comic book counterpart was a purple tint in her hair. Bryan Fuller will debut a Star Trek show in an era where X-Men: Apocalypse can wallow in the absurdity of the character’s ninja swimsuit.

The fourth season of Enterprise exploited and explored the Star Trek canon in a manner similar to the excavation of sacred texts by later genre films. Whereas Enterprise dedicated two whole episodes to explaining what happened with Klingon foreheads, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will dedicate an entire feature film to expanding out a single line of scroll from the original Star Wars film. In its approach to the material, and its embrace of the canon as a concept, the fourth season of Enterprise feels oddly ahead of its time.

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In fact, a clear line can be traced between the fourth season of Enterprise and the looming JJ Abrams reboot. Ironically, given Enterprise‘s somewhat contested place in the canon, it would be the only show left unaffected by the soft reboot at the start of Star Trek, as evidenced by the model of Archer’s Enterprise visible on Admiral Marcus’ desk in Star Trek Into Darkness. However, the connections run deeper than that minor continuity detail or even the casting of Peter Weller as an antagonistic xenophobe.

Familiar ideas bubble through the fourth season and the two reboot films. The long-distance transporter imagined by Emory Erickson in Daedalus becomes a reality as part of the basic plot of Into Darkness, although it is presented as less of an existential threat to the franchise. The laser attack on San Francisco at the climax of Terra Prime prefigures a similar sequence at the climax of Star Trek. It goes without saying that JJ Abrams enjoys a much larger budget to realise his own doomsday attack.

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The JJ Abrams films have the same fascination with the Star Trek canon as the fourth season. It is worth noting that first thing that Abrams and his writers did after setting up the soft reboot was to segue into a gigantic homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Similarly, the first big three-episode arc of the fourth season of Enterprise is a fairly blatant homage to that classic Nicholas Meyer Star Trek film, right down to Cold Station 12 playing as an extended deleted scene from the film. It should be noted that Meyer is a producer on Fuller’s new Star Trek.

Similarly, both the fourth season and the reboot film series treat Spock as a literal embodiment of the franchise ideal, as something of an ambassador from the show to popular culture. Star Trek and Into Darkness were able to convince Leonard Nimoy to reprise the role, carrying over as a relic from one universe to the next. Over the course of the fourth season, a Vulcan-human hybrid is repeatedly and consistently positioned as a messianic figure. Spock is the most iconic aspect of the franchise, and both the final season of Enterprise and Abrams reboot treat him as such.

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Of course, the Abrams films are not unique in the contemporary pop culture landscape. They speak to a larger movement in popular culture based around ideas like nostalgic reappropriation and reinvention, the fetishisation of the cultural past and the tendency to treat the properties as holy relics. Franchise management and cultivation has become a lot more complex and convoluted in the intervening years. During the Berman era, movie studios were still focused on sequels. Now, they play with universes.

A film like X-Men: Days of Future Past trying to smooth two iterations of a franchise into a cohesive whole would have seemed ridiculous even a decade later. One need only compare that particular blockbuster to the crossovers within the earlier Star Trek mythos like Relics or Star Trek: Generations, where the past exists largely to validate the present and the emphasis is on a lone individual passing the torch rather than reconciling a larger whole. The fourth season of Enterprise feels very much ahead of that cultural shift.

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To be fair, this fixation on continuity and cohesion suggests a deep-set insecurity. The production team are acutely aware that time is running out, and the fourth season seems very curious about how Enterprise will be remembered, if it is remembered at all. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II effectively wrap up the Temporal Cold War, but the question of legacy and memory bubble through the season. In Kir’Shara, the lost text of Surak is recovered. In Daedalus, Emory Erickson wonders how he might be remembered.

mirror!Archer worries about his legacy in In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, delusions of his alternate self dismissing him as a footnote. The crew gripe in Demons that they are being written out of the history books, with Terra Prime finally affording them the spotlight. In These Are the Voyages…, it is revealed that the crew do live on. Their memories are validated by the presence of Riker and Troi, as if to insist that people within the Star Trek universe do know and care about Archer.

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This anxiety is understandable. Enterprise would be the first Star Trek show to be cancelled since the original Star Trek all of those years ago. Very few television shows run for a full seven seasons, but the expectation was that a Star Trek spin-off was assured at least seven seasons on television and the possibility of a film franchise. The fourth season of Enterprise was a humbling experience for the franchise, and there is a sense that the show carries its scars. It is a shame, because the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise really are ambitious and even great Star Trek.

Although the fourth season of Enterprise seems to look to both the past and the future, it also reflects its present. Enterprise is very much a show haunted by the War on Terror, defined by the events of 9/11. Broken Bow first broadcast less than two weeks after the attacks. The production team were working on Civilisation on the morning in question. The impact of the attacks could be clearly felt from around the two-third mark in the first season. With episodes like Shadows of P’Jem, it seemed like space became a lot more alien and hostile.

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Discussions about Enterprise and the War on Terror tend to fixate upon the third season, and understandably so. That is the season that is most explicitly a gigantic metaphor for the United States’ response to 9/11, with Archer venturing forth into a politically unstable region in order to hold religious hostiles to account for a horrific terrorist attack. However, the truth is that the War on Terror was always a part of the show’s DNA. Whether consciously or not, Broken Bow presented Jonathan Archer as a hero for the era of President George W. Bush.

There is a sense that Enterprise was poisoned by the War on Terror, that the franchise’s utopian outlook had been tainted and corrupted to the point that it was no longer sustainable. This is most obvious during the second season, when it frequently seems like space is populated by hostile aliens who might all get along better if they left one another alone. Minefield, Dawn, The Crossing, Canamar. The Star Trek franchise had always needed hostile aliens for storytelling, but the second season seemed to reject any idea of peaceful coexistence.

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As such, the third season could be seen as an attempt at an exorcism, an effort to expel all that paranoia and reactionary rhetoric so that the show might try to find its way back towards its more optimistic and utopian outlook. This seems to have worked. The fourth season is largely about building a better world, presenting a universe where the very idea of peaceful cooperation is subversive and unprecedented, but no less necessary. The fourth season embraces the hope at the heart of the franchise.

However, the fourth season is still very much informed by the realities of contemporary America. The xenophobia on display in Home, The Forge, Affliction, Demons and Terra Prime reflects the rise in Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiment during the early years of the twentieth century. Characters like V’Las and Paxton exist as the embodiment of reactionary ideals, of the policies and philosophies of the War on Terror pushed to their extremes. Crucially, these characters are nestled snuggly inside the heart of what will be the Federation.

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This is to say nothing of the individual parallels sprinkled across various episodes: the portrayal of pacifism in The Forge and The Aenar; the march to war on false information in Kir’Shara; the use of drone warfare in Babel One and United; the pragmatic alliances and realpolitick of Affliction and Divergence; the insistence on “going it alone” in both Demons and Terra Prime. The War on Terror informs and shapes the fourth season, but in a way that suggests the team have finally come to grips with it.

Tellingly, the fourth season firmly rejects the more reactionary subtext that bubbled through the second season and was exorcised in the third. Pointedly, the fourth season parallels the nascent Federation with two separate Roman Empires. Given that Federation has always represented an idealised interpretation of the United States, this is a bold statement. The Romulan Star Empire and the Terran Empire are presented as cultures locked in unending wars against the rest of the universe. They are the shadows of the Federation, the cautionary tales.

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This contrast is most apparent in Demons and Terra Prime, which effectively pitches Jonathan Archer against a more aggressive iteration of his past self. John Frederick Paxton is only slightly removed from the version of Archer who appeared in Broken Bow, a paranoid racist convinced that mankind is perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet without any meddling from the Vulcan High Command. Paxton provides a clear contrast to the version of Jonathan Archer who returned from the Expanse, and a firm rejection of the show’s internal demons.

Still, while the production team acknowledges these deep-rooted issues with the show and attempt to reconcile them, these demons remain a part of Enterprise right until the end. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, Demons and Terra Prime might tease the idea of Enterprise as an ensemble show, but they also emphasise that the show never really devoted any time or attention to characters like Hoshi Sato or Travis Mayweather. The fourth might inch closer to the founding of the Federation, but it cannot possibly cover enough ground in time.

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More than that, not every original sin has been properly exorcised. The fourth season retains the weird adolescent sexuality that helped to set Broken Bow apart from the rest of the Berman era shows. There are little glimmers of mature (or at least candid) approaches to sex like on the mountain in Home or during the silhouetted sequence of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, but the fourth season frequently returns to the very teenage idea that putting women in underwear is inherently sexy.

This trend begins with the reintroduction of the Orion slave girls in Borderland, but only escalates from there. The Augments features a completely gratuitous sequence in which two characters have a knife fight in their underwear. In Babel One, a trained Andorian soldier decides that the best way to distract a guard is to strip down to her purple underwear and offer to sleep with him. All of this builds to the disaster that is Bound, the last standalone episode of Enterprise before the finale that tries to reinvent Orion slave girls as third-wave feminists and fails horribly.

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Enterprise is an inherently tragic show, and the fourth season plays into that narrative. It is a show that seems trapped by a combination of poor decisions and bad timing, never entirely able to escape the spectres that haunt it. Tellingly, the fourth season finds Enterprise returning to Earth time and time again, from Home to Affliction to Demons to These Are the Voyages… The show can never escape its central problems, no matter how gallantly it might struggle.

The fourth season of Enterprise is bold and ambitious, but it is also hobbled by the limitations of the show itself. It is never a season that could have saved the franchise, but perhaps it was not meant to be. Instead, the fourth season opts to burn brightly, creating a thread that anchors the show in the past while having the good fortune to lead towards the future. This is the end, for now. But it is not the worst kind of ending.

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9 Responses

  1. I you haven’t, I recommend checking out the “Boomtown” (short-lived American drama) intro sequence on YouTube. The two are very similar in some ways.

    I always think of it when watching Enterprise; Trekkies don’t agree on a whole lot, but Russell Wilson is about the only thing everyone can agree was a mistake. (Remember the Perfect Strangers edit?)

    So, what’s next on the itinerary?

    • I actually caught Boomtown while it was on here. I remember quite liking it and thinking it was the best of the police procedurals.

      Next up is the X-Files revival in June. Then, with a bit of luck, TOS season three in July. Then maybe a break in August, but I might jump right back into DS9 S5 and VOY S3 and pursue those to the end before doubling back and doing TNG.

      • This website is the real X-file. It’s run by a caffeine and nicotine golem.

      • Ha! I suspect I’ll be slowing down around July or August. I can’t keep up the pace with other commitments in the real world.

  2. I like what you call the pulpy look of the show in the later seasons, not just because it connects it more with TOS but I just like the look of it, it’s refreshing esp when taking into account that the TNG era look had been around since 1987. I don’t think it’s quite as cheesy as you make it out to be though. Also, I love the Andorians and glad they got a lot of screen time here, and I’m glad they’re apparently returning for Discovery.

    And I overall like this season. It’s pretty much the reason I don’t think of Enterprise as just totally forgettable garbage.

    • I mean, I should be clear – I love cheesy. I am a big fan of cheesy. And I adore the Andorians. But I don’t think there’s anyway to do the Andorians without them being cheesy. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.)

      I’d also contend the third season is pretty great.

      • How do you feel about them (Andorians) returning for Discovery (makeup shots more or less confirm their return)

      • Love the Andorians. One of the franchise’s best make-up designs. Always glad to see them.

        (Now, all I need is confirmation that Jeffrey Combs will be reprising his role as Shran as the “carry over” character.)

      • I feel if you can make people take cheesy seriously, that’s an accomplishment, and lets face it, Trek has done that before.

        I also like the third season, but I prefer the fourth.

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