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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.

ent-divergence20a

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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (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.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Terra Prime (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.

It all began with Spock.

The character of Spock was the only character to survive the transition between the two Star Trek pilots produced in the sixties. Leonard Nimoy first appeared as science officer Spock in The Cage, opposite Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter. When the studio vetoed the original pilot, Gene Roddenberry was forced to jettison a lot of the cast and characters before setting to work on a second pilot. Spock survived serving (along with the sets and props) as a bridge between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

Spock is an iconic part of American culture. He is instantly recognisable in a way that very few elements of the franchise can claim to be. He lingers in the collective memory. Leonard Nimoy has repeatedly been favoured over William Shatner as an ambassador of the brand. Nimoy reprised the role of Spock opposite Patrick Stewart in Unification, Part I more than two whole years before Shatner would cross paths with Jean-Luc Picard as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Nimoy appeared in a key role in Star Trek; Shatner declined a cameo.

Star Trek: Enterprise was never going to feature a guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy. However, Spock as clearly haunted the fourth season as the embodiment of the franchise spirit. The Vulcan-human hybrid at the centre of Demons and Terra Prime makes little sense in basic plot terms, Elizabeth serves as a harbinger that might summon Spock. And, in doing so, Elizabeth might yet summon the future. It began with Spock, it ends with Spock. At least for now.

Infinite diversity in finite combinations...

Infinite diversity in finite combinations…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Demons (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.

In some ways, Star Trek: Enterprise ends where it should have began.

A lot of the final stretch of the final season seems dedicated to exploring the show’s original sin, the flaws that came baked into the premise as early as Broken Bow. After all, Bound had taken the cringe-inducing adolescent fixation on “sexiness” that informed ideas like the “decontamination gel” and pushed them to their sexist extremes. Similarly, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II offered the revenge of the two members of the ensemble all but forgotten in subsequent years while pushing the show’s early reactionary tendencies to eleven.

Under the Earthlight. The serious Earthlight.

Under the Earthlight. The serious Earthlight.

Even These Are the Voyages… seemed to confirm fears that the show had been built as a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: First Contact rather than a prequel to the original Star Trek, a fear shared by many fans frustrated by elements like the design of the ship or the appearance of the Nausicaans in Fortunate Son or the Ferengi in Acquisition. That final episode left open the (admittedly remote) possibility that the entire show was nested inside the holodeck of Picard’s ship.

Demons and Terra Prime touch on the same introspective ideas, by taking the show’s final two-parter (if not its de facto finale) and using it to tell a story that probably should have been told half-way through the first season. It seems like the production team have finally decided to grapple with the core themes of Enterprise. Just at the last possible minute.

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II (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.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are an indulgence.

That goes almost without saying, this indulgence standing as one of the most searing critiques of the two-parter. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise had only five episodes left at this point in its run. One of those episodes would be given over to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to bring in Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as a way to allow Star Trek: The Next Generation to put a cap on the eighteen years of the Berman era. Devoting two of the remaining four episodes to the mirror universe was a choice that left the show open to criticism.

Archer's cosplay went down a treat.

Archer’s cosplay went down a treat.

After all, it is not as if the audience at home was crying out for more mirror universe episodes. Even hardcore Star Trek fans were still recovering from the trauma of The Emperor’s New Cloak, the seventh season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that had the audacity to combine a mirror universe episode with a Ferengi episode. Discounting the somewhat divisive (and mirror universe free) Resurrection, the last time that a mirror universe episode really worked had been Crossover, which had been broadcast before Star Trek: Voyager was on the air.

So In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are both episodes that feel excessive and gratuitous. And, for all their flaws, that is a huge part of the charm.

Gorn again.

Gorn again.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I (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.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are very strange pieces of television.

They represent the fifth- and fourth-to-last episodes (and third-to-last story) of Star Trek: Enterprise. They come towards the tail end of the Berman era as a whole, positioned right before Star Trek took a decade-long absence from television. With the fourth season rather consciously building towards integrating the series with the larger shared universe and trying to lay the foundation for the Federation, it would make sense for the final stretch of the season to channel its energy into that particular avenue.

A vigourous constitutional...

A vigourous constitutional…

However, rather than trying to tell a story essential to this particular show or to the franchise as a whole, the production team opted to construct a two-parter that would feature none of the show’s primary cast and which served as a prequel to an episode of television broadcast in October 1967 and a sequel to an episode of television broadcast in November 1968. The two-parter serves to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling so long that nobody really cared about them any longer. Given how obsessive Star Trek fans are, that is impressive.

This puts Enterprise in the rather strange position where three of its final five episodes (or two of its final three stories) do not feature any of the primary cast, instead focusing on doppelgangers or holograms. Perhaps this is a reflection on the show’s attitude towards its place within the canon. Perhaps Enterprise fears that it will be a secret history, a forgotten story populated by spectres and echoes.

Engines of destiny.

Engines of destiny.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Bound (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.

Bound is, for all intents and purposes, the last standalone episode of Star Trek of the Rick Berman era.

There are five more episodes following Bound, but they consist of two two-parters and the official series finale. Bound is very much the last “regular” episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to be produced, the last episodic adventure in the series. In fact, given the trends in contemporary television that are nudging the format towards serialisation and long-form storytelling, it seems entirely plausible that Bound could be the last standalone episode of Star Trek ever produced.

Strike a pose.

Strike a pose.

As such, it is a shame that Bound is a complete and utter disaster. It is an embarrassment to the series and to the franchise. More than that, it is an embarrassment that was written by the fourth season showrunner and which feels very much like the big ideas of the fourth season carried to their logical conclusion. Bound recalls the horrible sexism of episodes like Precious Cargo and Bounty, cloaking its objectionable sexual politics in the guise of nostalgia. Arguably the best things about Bound is that it makes Rajiin seem well-constructed in comparison.

Bound is easily the worst episode of the season and a strong contender for one of the worst episodes of the series. What better way to remember Enterprise?

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

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