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Star Trek: Enterprise (Reviews)

Star Trek: Enterprise will always be the first Star Trek spin-off to be cancelled rather than retired, the first live-action spin-off to run less than seven seasons. That is what pop culture will remember of the fifth Star Trek series, when it chooses to remember anything at all. That is what large vocal segments of fandom will remember whenever they are asked their opinion on the show. There is no escaping that simple truth. Even Star Trek: Voyager was spared the indignity of killing an entire iteration of the franchise.

Star Trek had been on the air for fourteen continuous seasons by the time that UPN convinced producer Rick Berman to work on what would turn out to be his final season. Fourteen seasons is a long time in television, and it is rare for any property to continuously succeed over so extended a period. The franchise had been on the air continuously since the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The franchise had been a massive success for both the studio Paramount and for the network UPN.

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The cancellation of Enterprise perhaps explains why the series has been subject to so much speculation and discussion. There is a desire to rewrite history and to tailor narratives with benifit of hindsight. Nevertheless, the production team have suggested that the version of Enterprise that launched in late September 2001 was not the show they originally wanted to produce. The television show broadcast on UPN to fill the slot vacated by Voyager was not what its creators had wanted it to be.

Rick Berman has talked about the concept of franchise fatigue, and his own deep-seated concern that the Star Trek franchise needed to take a rest from television. After all, by the point that Enterprise launched, audiences had already enjoyed fourteen consecutive years of Star Trek. Not only that, there had been twenty-one seasons of Star Trek produced in those fourteen years. It was possible that the franchise had reached (if not surpassed) the point of saturation, and that the whole thing might collapse in on itself.

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There is a certain logic to this argument. After all, even the most popular and successful of franchises seem to implode at some point or another. Over sixteen years, the CSI franchise ballooned to three shows running concurrently before those numbers gradually dwindled and the shows faded from the cultural consciousness. At its peak at the turn of the millennium, the Law & Order franchise had three shows broadcasting concurrently. In the years since, the original show was cancelled and the production team have failed to launch any new shows.

While Rick Berman was suggesting that it might be a good idea to rest the franchise, Brannon Braga had more ambitious notions. Enterprise would serve as a prequel series to the Star Trek franchise, any idea undoubtedly stoked by the commercial (if not critical) success of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Braga saw the possibility for a different approach to Star Trek. Writer Chris Black would recall that the idea was pitched to him as the franchise’s version of The Right Stuff.

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Braga had several novel ideas for the show. He wanted to set the first season, or a segment of the first season, on Earth in the lead-up to the launch of the ship. In doing so, he wanted to flesh out the world and experiment with the sort of arc-based storytelling that had held his fascination since Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II during the fourth season of Voyager. This approach would have served to clearly distinguish Enterprise from its predecessors and help the show to carve out a new niche.

However, it was immediately clear that UPN was not willing to let either producer have their way. Rick Berman understood that the network would eagerly replace him if he proved unwilling to fill the slot in the schedule left by the retirement of Voyager. Brannon Braga learned that the studio wanted another neatly episodic Star Trek series with no arc-based storytelling and adhering to the traditional format. The Enterprise would not launch half-way through the first season, it would launch about twenty minutes into the first episode.

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UPN was also quite anxious about breaking away from the twenty-fourth century setting that had defined so much of the franchise since the launch of The Next Generation. In order to placate the anxious network executives, Brannon Braga came up with the idea of the Temporal Cold War. The idea would be that there were various futuristic powers interferring in the day-to-day lives of Enterprise, with some mysterious and nefarious agendas. At the centre of all this was a mysterious shadowed figure nicknamed “Future Guy.”

In basic terms, the Temporal Cold War loosely resembled the kind of “mythology” that was so popular on contemporary shows. It was a mystery to be solved, not unlike the conspiracy at the heart of The X-Files. However, in practice the Temporal Cold War turned out to be something completely different. It was less a story than a status quo, less a plot to advance than a backdrop for interesting stories. Over the four-year run of the show, Archer never really gets any closer to understanding who is driving the Temporal Cold War or why.

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Instead, the Temporal Cold War worked best as a metaphor for the external pressures bearing down on Enterprise. In episodes like Cold Front, it was a way for the series to touch upon its awkward relationship to the larger canon. What if the reason nobody had mentioned Archer over the course of The Next Generation or Voyager was because the ship didn’t exist in the original timeline? What if this whole series was an abherration in the show’s the continuity, a distortion of the master narrative?

Alternatively, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would also treat the Temporal Cold War as a metaphor for the pressures facing the production, the intrusion of outside forces into the narrative. In Shockwave, Part I, Archer discovers that the only place he can be safe from those meddling forces is before the events of Broken Bow; literally outside the show’s narrative and in a setting not unlike Brannon Braga’s original pitch for the show. The Temporal Cold War found Archer operating at the whim of vastly powerful forces beyond his control.

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Of course, the idea of building an arc around the Temporal Cold War was stillborn. When Enterprise first debuted, it was a stunningly conservative show, from both a narrative and political standpoint. Television was undergoing a massive evolutionary leap at the turn of the millennium, shifting away from a rigid episodic format and towards more ambitious storytelling approaches. Serialisation had already worked very well on cable networks like HBO, but it was creeping into the mainstream. Enterprise premiered in the same season as 24

However, the first two seasons of Enterprise were distinctly uninterested in embracing serialised storytelling. Instead, they hewed rather close to the rigid “done-in-one” episodic format that had defined so much of Voyager. There was very rarely a sense of continuity from episode-to-episode in those early years, with an extended journey towards Risa between Fallen Hero and Two Days and Two Nights and the damage to the ship carrying between Minefield and Dead Stop proving the exception rather than the rule.

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This caused some very clear problems in the first two seasons, as Enterprise tackled a number of plot threads that were probably best suited to long-form storytelling. The Temporal Cold War was one such thread, only appearing in the season premieres and finales of the show’s first two seasons along with a single standalone episode in the middle of each season. The foundation of the Federation was another such thread, with the Andorians only appearing three times in the first two years and with little sense of improving relations between Earth and Vulcan.

Part of the appeal of doing a prequel series is the fact that the ending is already known, that the journey has a destination. Watching the first two seasons of Enterprise, it seemed like the show was wandering around in circles rather than advancing towards its goal. There was a sense that the Star Trek franchise was still stuck in 1994. This fear would find its ultimate expression in These Are the Voyages…, the final episode of the show that made a point to jump back to a seventh season of The Next Generation.

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The show’s style and sensibility was very much rooted in The Next Generation. While advertised as a prequel to a classic Star Trek, the series was aesthetically and stylistically a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact, to the point that it was James Cromwell as Zephram Cochrane who passed the torch to Jonathan Archer in Broken Bow and that the production team would return to Cochrane in the teaser to In a Mirror, Darkly Part I. The ship looked a felt a lot more like the ships of the Berman era than those from the original sixties television show.

To be fair, the show’s aesthetic would soften over the course of the run. Despite the reintroduction of the Andorians to the franchise with The Andorian Incident, the first two seasons featured rather muted colour tones and an emphasis on industrial design. There was also a relatively grounded approach to issues like make-up and costuming, with Enterprise reluctant to venture too far outside the template established by The Next Generation and carried on through Voyager.

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However, with the third season, the show embraced a decidedly pulpier sci-fi aesthetic and a bright colour scheme. The third season featured a literal “planet of the (cowboy) hats” story in North Star, the kind of honest to goodness “genre world” story that the franchise had shied away from during the Berman era. The crew found themselves facing evil aliens that looked like reptiles and CGI insect monsters, with the third season finale featuring Archer wrestling a reptile in regal purple costume on top of a giant bomb. Kirk would be proud.

Of course, there was a downside to all of this. It could be argued that some of the more unfortunate retrograde sexism of the final two seasons – particularly in episodes like Rajiin and Bound – was rooted in this nostalgia aesthetic. There was a sense that the show could occasionally be a little too indulgent of pulp science-fiction tropes, instead of challenging them. In some ways, this contributed to the broad conservative feel of the show, with the series’ embracing pulpy genre tropes at face value rather than interrogating them.

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The show’s colour palette grew a little bolder in those final two seasons, with the deep reds of Vulcan in The Forge and the rings of Andor in The Aenar adding a pulpy paperback charm to the show’s production design. Even the strong purples design the eponymous research laboratory in Cold Station 12 evoked the kind of brightly lit (and coloured) set upon which William Shatner might have strode. In those final two years, it felt like Enterprise was reconnecting with the goofy science-fiction b-movies of the fifties and sixties, which felt appropriate for a prequel to Star Trek.

However, in its first season, Enterprise never quite captured the feel of a prequel. The technology felt held over from The Next Generation and Voyager, with the protein resequencer seeming closer to the replicator than the food slots. Following Broken Bow, the transporter becomes a fairly regular part of the show’s technology. Unexpected even has the crew encounter a proto-holodeck, while Minefield gives the Romulans cloaking technology. There is very little about Enterprise that seems appreciably less advanced than the shows it followed.

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Indeed, the first three seasons arguably squander some of the most exciting aspects of the prequel setting. Early in Broken Bow, Trip boasts that mankind has conquered war, famine and poverty. It is a single line that immediately erases a whole world of storytelling possibilities. One of the most fascinating possibilities of a prequel to Star Trek is in watching mankind conquer their demons and work together to build a utopian future. Optimism has always been a key attribute of the Star Trek franchise, and it would be intriguing to see that optimism play out.

Even outside of the missed storytelling opportunities, Enterprise was hobbled by a sense of familiarity. The first two seasons wasted too much time treading over familiar ground. T’Pol began as little more than a transparent copy of Seven of Nine. Phlox was very much a generic eccentric alien, because every Star Trek show is obligated to have one. The Klingons regularly appeared in episodes like Broken Bow, Unexpected and Sleeping Dogs. The Nausicaans appeared in Fortunate Son. The Ferengi got a comedy episode in Acquisition.

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This was to say nothing of the fact that so many episodes felt like retreads and stock stories. Oasis was just Shadowplay. Dawn was Darmok stripped of its optimism. The Communicator was A Piece of the Action. Vanishing Point was Remember Me meets Realm of Fear. The Breach was Jetrel by way of Duet. Despite the fact that the production team had made a conscious choice to step away from the familiar tropes, even stripping Star Trek from the name of the series in its first two seasons, Enterprise felt like “Star Trek by the numbers.”

In fact, even many of the episodes that weren’t explicitly rip-offs of earlier Star Trek episodes had a very generic feel to them, particularly during the final stretch of the first season. Vox Sola was the standard “creepy space life-form” story. Rogue Planet was a stock “message episode about a social issue” story. Fallen Hero was very much a “ferrying a diplomat” story. The first season of Enterprise seemed torn between the novelty of the premise and the safety of the franchise standards. The second season opted for security over originality.

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Of course, UPN had changed slightly in the years since Caretaker had launched the network. The channel was skewing younger and towards ethnic demographics. From the start, there was a conscious sense that Enterprise was going to be a version of Star Trek designed to appeal to a young adult demographic. In particular, the network advocated for heightened sexual content, for more skin and for more physical content. Perhaps the show’s most infamous sequence is the incredibly gratuitous rub-down scene in Broken Bow.

With the exception of the original Star Trek, the franchise had never been particularly good at doing “sexy.” When the franchise attempted to do sex comedies, it ended up with disasters like Up the Long Ladder or Let He Who Is Without Sin… The writers and directors working on Star Trek tended to adopt a rather juvenile approach to sexuality, as demonstrated during the mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Trying to mandate a “sexy” Star Trek show seemed like a spectacular error in judgment.

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Indeed, Enterprise never really moved past that creepy voyeuristic approach to sex, combining stilted expository dialogue with scenes of characters touching one another against highly stylised light effects. Broken Bow set the tone for the rest of the series, but the show was consistent in its very childish approach to the human body. Bounty and Bound are perhaps the worst offenders of the four-season run, but even episodes like The Augments and Babel One feature sequences of the show trying (and failing) to be sexy.

That said, not all the errors with the series can be blamed on the network. Enterprise suffered from issues with its scripts from the outset. One of Brannon Braga’s bolder ideas had been to recruit writers from outside the Star Trek gene pool to work on the show. Instead of retaining the strongest writers on the Voyager staff, like Bryan Fuller or Michael Taylor, Braga opted to draft in writers with experience beyond the franchise. It was a good idea in principle, particularly given that Braga wanted to write a new type of Star Trek.

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The only issue was that it takes a great deal of skill and experience to write a Star Trek script. The franchise has its own sensibility and aesthetic, and experience in the medium does not always translate to experience within the franchise. The writers’ room featured some pretty heavy attrition over the course of the first season, with many of the show’s new writers turning in offensive nonsense like Terra Nova. Over the course of its four-season run, Enterprise would feature a staggeringly high turnover of writers, leading the show to struggle to find a voice.

To be fair, there were occasional glimmers of a new type of Star Trek to be found in that first season. The first season wold occasionally attempt to tell a unique or distinct sort of Star Trek story. This was particularly apparent in stories like Breaking the Ice, Cold Front, Dear Doctor or Shuttlepod One. At its best, the first season of Enterprise slowed down its storytelling to appreciate the majesty of space flight, to get excited about the possibilities of exploration, to revel in the potentialities of first contact. These episodes had a slower, more deliberate pace.

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Unfortunately, these episodes were very much the exception rather than the rule. As a result of the massive attrition from the writers’ room, Brannon Braga found himself radically re-writing most of the first season scripts under incredibly tight deadlines. No matter how much Braga might have wanted to write a new type of Star Trek, that sort of pressure and that sort of workload inevitably forces a writer to fall back into familiar routines and familiar clichés. Enterprise often felt quite bland and samey in its first season.

More than that, the failed experiment of hiring writers from outside the franchise led the production team to become a lot more conservative in its recruitment policies. When it came to hiring writers to replace those who had failed to last the season, Brannon Braga opted for safer choices more familiar with genre work. The result was a conscious move away from the more experimental style that had marked the strongest and strangest episodes of the first season towards an approach perhaps best summarised as generic Star Trek.

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Enterprise was also somewhat burdened with a more conservative aesthetic than any of the other spin-offs. The Star Trek franchise had long been regarded as progressive and open-minded, a safe haven for representative diversity. The Next Generation had featured an English actor playing a Frenchman. Deep Space Nine had featured the franchise’s first African-American lead. Voyager had featured a female lead and a cast that was almost fifty percent female.

In particular, the ensembles on Deep Space Nine and Voyager had been incredibly diverse. The franchise had yet to feature an overtly homosexual or bisexual lead, but those shows featured characters and cast members of all colours and creeds. There was not a single white American character in the primary cast of Deep Space Nine, which is quite remarkable in the context of American television. As such, the primary cast of Enterprise represented a clear step backwards for the franchise, with a particular emphasis on white American men.

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Archer was very much conceived as a white all-American hero for the Bush era, right down to the daddy issues that drive him to action in Broken Bow. His best friend is Charles Tucker III, a white American Southerner. Both Archer and Trip spend an extended portion of the first season making (at best borderline) racist remarks about T’Pol. There are only two women in the primary cast, and only two people of colour. Indeed, it could legitimately be argued that the cast of Enterprise is less diverse than the original Star Trek.

This would cause all manner of problems in terms of how the show presented itself. The episode Twilight, for example, suffered from the show’s lack of female characters. While Trip and Reed were allowed to be captains of their own vessels, the show’s only African American character was casually killed off and the show’s only female leads were reduced to caregivers and background characters. This is not to suggest Twilight is racist or sexist, but to demonstrate how the show’s questionable casting and concept choices impacted even its strongest episode.

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From the outset, Enterprise struggled to define its cast of characters. In the show’s early seasons, Archer was highly volatile and variable, recalling the characterisation of Kathryn Janeway. It seemed the production team never had a read on the character, and it occasionally seemed like the writers didn’t understand the appeal of Scott Bakula’s folksy naturalistic charm. Bakula is perfectly cast as a square-jawed all-American hero, but flounders when asked to deliver a Picard monologue like the one in Shockwave, Part II or to embrace his inner Sisko in Anomaly.

The rest of the cast never quite gelled in the same way that the cast on The Next Generation had come to embody their characters, and were never developed to the extent that the cast on Deep Space Nine were fleshed out. Mayweather barely had any lines, let alone any development. Hoshi seemed to get stuck repeating the same character beats in stories like Fight or Flight, Sleeping Dogs and Vox Sola. The biggest developments for Malcolm Reed in the first season were that he liked pineapple in Silent Enemy and T’Pol’s derriere in Shuttlepod One.

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As such, the cast on Enterprise frequently seemed generic and one-dimensional, recalling the way that Voyager had treated its own diverse ensemble. The show’s breakout character was Charles “Trip” Tucker, the speedboat mechanic turned warp specialist played by Connor Trinneer. Trinneer brought a delightful charm to Trip, earning the audience’s respect for (relatively) gracefully navigating storytelling disasters like Unexpected or Acquisition. It is no wonder that Brannon Braga decided to (somewhat spitefully) kill Trip off in These Are the Voyages…

While the first season had teased the idea of recurring crewmembers like Rostov or Cutler, Enterprise never felt like a community in the same way that Deep Space Nine had eventually. That said, Enterprise did manage to cultivate something of a small recurring cast in its final year. Kelby appeared in a few episodes, his humiliations serving as something of a cruel recurring punchline. Characters like Soval and Shran helped to flash out the show’s universe and to create a sense of a world beyond the hull of the ship.

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The first half of the first season was written and produced over the summer of 2001. Even then, the show was very much Star Trek for the Bush administration. There was a strong conservative and nationalist element to the plot, with Archer adamant about “going it alone” and fulfilling his father’s dreams. However, everything would change right before Broken Bow premiered. Enterprise would become the first post-9/11 Star Trek show. Almost as much as its eventual cancellation, this aspect would come to define it.

Broken Bow had obviously been produced long before those terrorist attacks took place. In fact, Civilisation was actually in front of the cameras when new began to filter in of what had happened. Because of the nature of television production, the actual impact of 9/11 would only truly ripple through the second half of the first season. Nevertheless, Enterprise launched in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack that completely changed the way that Americans saw the world. The show (and the franchise) would be unavoidably changed by that fact.

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9/11 had a massive impact on Enterprise. Indeed, it could be argued that the thematic arc of the show’s four-season run is one about coming to terms with the attacks and their impact on the popular consciousness. The first season is largely about denial, the production team trying to pretend that nothing has changed. The impact of the attacks can be felt on episodes like Shadows of P’Jem, Desert Crossing or Detained, but there is a clear sense that the production team want everything to be business as usual.

The second season finds the show quietly stewing in the anger and confusion of the War on Terror. In the second season of Enterprise, the universe becomes a lot more hostile and alien. Episodes like Minefield and Dawn suggest that perhaps the best that anybody can hope for is that other cultures and people will keep to themselves. Apocalyptic landscapes populate episodes like Shockwave, Part II and Cease Fire. Paranoia and fear of the alien is justified in episodes like The Seventh and The Crossing.

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In its second season, Enterprise is at its strongest when it challenges (rather than embraces) this latent xenophobia and anxiety. Judgment confronts the audience with the possibility that the United States has transformed into the Klingon Empire. Regeneration fused all of the show’s fears about its relationship to the rest of the franchise to a post-9/11 zombie horror story. Cogenitor weighed the consequences of unilateral intervention while asking the audience to make up their own minds. However, these episodes were the exception rather than the rule.

At the end of the second season, everything changed. Towards the end of the first season, the management of UPN had changed dramatically. The executives who had insisted upon a Star Trek show to fill their schedule were gone, replaced by individuals with a very different perspective. While Star Trek had traditionally been left alone by the studio and the network, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga frequently found themselves attending meetings and taking notes from people who had no idea of how the franchise actually worked.

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Over the course of the second season, it became increasingly clear that UPN was disinterested in Enterprise. The show’s ratings had dwindled, but the network had also shifted its focus away from the show’s target market. For the first time in a very long time, it looked like the Star Trek franchise was not a priority. With ratings down and the network disinterested, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were instructed to go for broke and to reinvent the show. The second season finale, The Expanse, reconfigured the show for the War on Terror.

Of course, these themes had been bubbling through the first two years of the show. With The Expanse, Berman and Braga brought them to the fore. The episode featured a horrific attack upon Earth, and dispatched Archer on a mission to find those responsible and hold them accountable. Trip was cast in the role of bereaved sibling, his sister brutally murdered by this alien threat. This was a premise that essentially challenged the franchise. What does Star Trek look like in the twenty-first century? How can the franchise’s idealism be reconciled with all that?

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The third season was messy and raw. It was also ambitious and exciting. The production team were afforded the opportunity to confront and address issues that had been bubbling away in the background, allowing the season to serve as something of an exorcism for all the worst tendencies that had taken root over the first two seasons of the show. All the xenophobia and hatred, all the paranoia and mistrust, all the anger and bloodlust. The third season could draw them out.

This was not always comfortable viewing. The show seems to embrace militarism in episodes like The Xindi, with Archer taking a full compliment of trained marines on board his ship. Archer also brutally tortures an enemy captive in Anomaly, arguably getting his own hands far dirtier than Sisko did over the course of In the Pale Moonlight or Tacking Into the Wind. At points, it feeled like the show was genuinely confused about all this, about how much it endorsed Archer’s actions and about how much it bought into the “ends justify the means” rhetoric.

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Still, the third season journeyed back to traditional Star Trek ideals. Archer had been dispatched on a search-and-destroy mission, but the third season finds Archer making peace with the Xindi. The narrative arc of Star Trek has always been about how our enemies become our friends, and about the triumph of innocence and optimism over brutality and cynicism. The third season reached its thematic and emotional conclusion with the brokering of peace with the Xindi in The Council, even if the action plot continued for two more episodes.

The third season seemed introspective. Cycles of violence became a recurring theme across the year. The Xindi were only motivated by the fear that humanity would destroy them. The torture that Archer inflicted in Anomaly haunted the character, and was visited back upon himself in Azati Prime and upon Hoshi in Countdown. Although the script itself was terrible, Hatchery represented a clear and unambiguous rejection of an overly militaristic approach to Star Trek. Even in standalones like North Star, communities were trapped in repeating patterns of violence.

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In contrast to the adventure-of-the-week format of the show’s first two years, the third season of Enterprise opted to construct a single year-long story that found the crew engaged in a mission to save Earth. The transition from rigid episodic storytelling to a more serialised format was awkward, not helped by the fact that the production team failed to use the gap between the second and third seasons to map out the year ahead. As a result, the first stretch of the third season tended to wander a bit, lacking focus.

Still, the production team eventually got to grips with the format, and the home stretch of the show’s third year marks one of the most consistent runs in the show’s history. More than that, the shift in storytelling style allowed the production team to experiment with novel ways of telling their stories. The Forgotten, for example, allowing the series to focus on grief and trauma in a manner that would not have been possible earlier in the run. Similarly, Harbinger was an episode mainly driven by character beats that had simmered through the season to that point.

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Perhaps reflecting the show’s declining ratings and the uncertainty of the future, the third season also touched upon anxieties concerning the larger Star Trek franchise. North Star essentially deconstructed the idea of Star Trek as a space western, demonstrating that the western itself is a problematic genre that glosses over its own uncomfortable historical roots. Episodes like Twilight and wondered about the sustainable future of Star Trek, daring to ask whether that future even existed in a recognisable form.

There was a conscious shift in Enterprise during its third season, as if the franchise itself became aware of its own mortality. The third season order was cut from twenty-six episodes to twenty-four in the middle of the run, suggesting that the network was not as eager for more Star Trek as it once had been. The cast and crew found themselves addressing rumours of cancellation in interviews. While many of that same cast and crew had talked about the job security of doing a Star Trek show upon the premiere of Broken Bow, they seemed a lot cagier.

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The franchise received its first cancellation scare in a long at the end of the third season, with the network taking its time to renew the show. Although Zero Hour ended on a cliffhanger featuring evil!alien!space!Nazis, there was every possibility that UPN would not pick up the show for a fourth season. The fourth season was largely the result of a series of complex behind-the-scenes compromises and negotiations which shifted a lot of the onus of producing Enterprise away from the network and which cut the show’s budget significantly.

These budget cuts took an immediate toll on Enterprise. The special effects in the fourth season looked a lot less polished than they had in the prior three seasons, while the production made the transition from shooting on film to shooting on digital. Although members of the production team were positive about the changes in contemporaneous interviews, Brannon Braga acknowledges that he was not fond of the compromise, believing that it made Enterprise look cheap. It is not an unfair observation.

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The budget cuts at the start of the fourth season also forced a change in storytelling style for the show. The fourth season eschewed the idea of a single season-long arc, instead opting for a series of smaller multi-episode arcs running two or three episodes. It was a novel approach for Star Trek, a franchise that had always treated two-parters as big “event” episodes. The reason for the decision were partially pragmatic; building sets for multiple episodes allowed the team to effectively amortise the construction of sets and props.

The fourth season also found Rick Berman and Brannon Braga stepping back from the day-to-day running of the series, handing over the running of the writers’ room to Manny Coto. Coto had arrived around midway through the third season, and had made a strong impression with his scripts for Similitude and Azati Prime. Coto also had experience running the show Odyssey 5. A massive Star Trek fan, Coto made it his priority to tie Enterprise back into its franchise roots and to embrace the prequel format.

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The fourth season of Enterprise was effectively a continuity bonanza. Affliction and Divergence solved the long-standing riddle of Klingon foreheads, while In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II managed to serve as both a prequel to Mirror, Mirror and a sequel to The Tholian Web. There were other hints of continuity fetishism, with Coto essentially building the season’s first big three-parter (Borderland, Cold Station 12, The Augments) as an extended homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Although the fourth season was widely beloved by fans who saw it as Enterprise finally embracing its place as a prequel to the sprawling Star Trek canon, there was occasionally a sense that the show’s obsession with continuity led to bad storytelling choices. This was most obvious in the season’s standalone episodes. Daedalus was a somewhat pointless story built around the idea that it might be worth exploring the roots of the transporter. Observer Effect featured Organians for the sake of featuring Organians. The less said about Bound, the better.

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In many ways, for better and for worse, the fourth season of Enterprise paved the way for the JJ Abrams reboot. It serves as something of a bridge between two iterations of Star Trek, and not just because they both feature Peter Weller as a xenophobic bad guy or because Star Trek wiped everything but Enterprise from the official canon. The connections run deeper than that, with both the fourth season and the Abrams movies treating Star Trek continuity as a fetish object of itself.

This is most obvious in the way that both the Borderland trilogy and Star Trek Into Darkness both focus on retreading The Wrath of Khan, but it also bubbles through on their shared fixation on Spock as an ambassador for the franchise. Star Trek cast Spock as the one character carried over from one iteration of the franchise to the next, while the fourth season hints repeatedly at the idea of a Vulcan-human hybrid as a sort of messianic figure that serves to summon the Star Trek universe into being.

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The most interesting narrative threads of the fourth season focused on the foundation of the Federation and emergence of the franchise’s utopian vision of the future. Although less overt in its social and political commentary than the third season had been, the fourth season was still shaped and informed by the War on Terror. This is most obvious in the recurring theme of xenophobia building through episodes like Home to Demons and Terra Prime. There was a sense that hope for a better future was more essential than it ever had been before.

The fourth season of Enterprise set about reconciling Earth and Vulcan in The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara. It brought together the founding members of the Federation against a Romulan threat in Babel One, United and The Aenar. It even featured meetings that would lead to the foundation of the Federation in Demons, Terra Prime and These Are the Voyages… Even more than serving continuity, these episodes embraced the core ideals of Star Trek, the idea that different people can work together for the greater good.

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One of the smarter decisions of the fourth season is to present this idealism as subversive in its own way. Repeatedly over the course of the fourth season, it is stressed that mutually beneficial cooperation is not a given. The fourth season returns to the classic Star Trek trope of space-faring Roman-themed civilisations, presenting both the Romulan Empire and the Terran Empire as alternatives to the nascent Federation. Indeed, Paxton’s Terra Prime is specifically coded as a movement that would lead to the Terran Empire rather than the Federation.

Bridging the gap between the first and second terms of President George W. Bush, at a point in time where it seemed like the United States was committed to “going it alone”, it was good to see Enterprise embrace the optimism at the heart of the franchise once again. In many ways, the Star Trek franchise has always been an idealised extrapolation of an American future, and it is good to see the fourth and final season reclaim that following the grim cynicism of the first two seasons.

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Indeed, Demons and Terra Prime serve as something of a finale to the series by bringing Enterprise full circle. The ship and crew return home to fight the demons that have been lurking there all along. In particular, Paxton is presented as a counterpoint to Archer, with Coto even casting another eighties science-fiction icon in the role. Paxton is xenophobic and paranoid, mired in daddy issues, just like the version of Archer introduced in Broken Bow. Having Archer come home and vanquish that part of himself feels like an important thematic beat.

The final two seasons of Enterprise are fantastic examples of the franchise innovating and experimenting, despite their flaws. It is a shame that the quality of those two seasons tends to get drowned out by the bland mediocrity of the first two seasons and the long shadow cast be the cancellation. Enterprise will always be the show that marked the end of the Berman era and began the franchise’s decade-long absence from television. However, at its best it was a proud heir to the Star Trek name.

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Enterprise was a show that frequently struggled with the question of what a twenty-first century Star Trek show should like, in terms of both theme and narrative. It is debatable whether it ever settled on a convincing answer, but its final two seasons suggest some interesting possibilities. In many ways, those final two seasons have the perfect narrative for a Star Trek prequel. Amid the confusion and chaos of the War on Terror, Enterprise helped the franchise find a way back to itself.

That is no small accomplishment.

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Season 1

September 26, 2001 – May 22, 2002

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Season 2

September 18, 2002 – May 21, 2003

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Season 3

September 10, 2003 – May 26, 2004

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Season 4

October 8, 2004 – May 13, 2005

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30 Responses

  1. Just out of curiosity, how would you rank the Trek series, as in from favorite to least favorite? Do you find Enterprise to be misunderstood and not as bad as some put it, how do you feel on Voyager? And how do you feel on the new series coming out?

    • Also the unfilmed fifth season of Enterprise had a lot of plans and ideas, and from a Trekkie standpoint, sounds like it could have been really cool. An episode with the Kzinti, which would have been the coolest thing or worst thing ever, depending on how it was handled! And a bunch of other nerdy Trek canon stuff which I hope makes itself into Star Trek: Discovery

      • It would have been… interesting to see the Kzinti in live action.

      • Yeah, given Enterprise’s excellent makeup regarding the Andorians or the Xindi Reptilians, and judging by the artwork Jimmy Diggs and others were contributing, it could have been awesome. Then again, the series had been given massive budget cuts and we saw some of the most dodgy CG-I like the Gorn in “A Mirror Darkly” so maybe not…

    • Ranking the Star Trek shows? It’s tough but:

      Deep Space Nine
      The Next Generation

      The Original Series

      Enterprise
      Voyager

      Big gap between Next Gen and TOS, bigger gap between TOS and Enterprise. Although, if I could split Enterprise, the first two seasons are weaker than any of Voyager and the final two seasons are a lot stronger than anything in Voyager.

      As for the new series, I am very excited. I think Hannibal was probably the best television show of the past decade, so I am totally on board for Bryan Fuller’s take on Star Trek. (I even liked his work on DS9 and Voyager.)

      • Can’t say I disagree with you. Speaking of Bryan Fuller, I also enjoy his work on DS9 and Voyager, and the fact he’s working with Nicholas Meyer to develop this show gives me a lot of hope. I also like some of the ideas he never got to do, like the episode he wanted to do on Voyager about a bunch of alternate universe Voyagers colliding (I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories) so I hope he gets to spread his wings on the show.

        Or it could turn out to be an Abrams Trekesque catastrophe, but fingers crossed!

      • Oh, why the gaps by the way?

      • Consistency, primarily. From the third season of TNG and the fourth season of DS9, you’re looking at something like a 80% to 90% hit rate; of twenty-six episodes, it seems like at least twenty to twenty two of them will be good. Not all will be excellent, or even great, but you can generally stick a random episode on and be entertained. None of the other Star Trek shows have that level of consistency. (There are only two misfires each in TNG S3, DS9 S4 and DS9 S5. Which is remarkable for a show with that production schedule.)

        Watching TOS is like playing roulette. When it’s good, it’s some of the best science fiction ever produced. Amok Time, The City on the Edge of Forever, Journey to Babel, The Trouble with Tribbles. The problem is that you seem almost as likely to land on a bad episode. And the episodes are not just bad, they are terrible. The Omega Glory, Friday’s Child, The Apple, A Private Little War, The Gamesters of Triskelion, Obsession. So there’s no real consistency. Incredible highs and incredible lows.

        Voyager and Enterprise are bit more consistent than TOS, probably around the 60% mark. But they have fewer great episodes than TOS, TNG and DS9. They also have a higher concentration of terrible episodes than TNG and DS9.

      • Agreed that TNG and DS9 are the only truly great (as in consistently good, for the most part) Star Trek series. TNG of course has the infamously terrible first season (which probably is my least favorite series of Star Trek episodes of all, much worse than VOY and ENT even) and the largely bad season season (though it has a few greats, like Q Who), but after that, it’s consistently good. I even like the seventh season, after all it had episodes like Parallels (one of my personal favorites), Preemptive Strike, and All Good Things. DS9s first two seasons are indeed very boring (with a few greats sprinkled around) but they’re hardly terrible. After that, I think it’s consistently the best Trek series.

        TOS is indeed a mixed bag. One can forgive the incredibly corny look and feel due to it being a 60s TV show, but the glut of terrible, C film quality episodes really, really, really bring it down. I still like the series though. VOY and ENT, yes they have good episodes and high points, but they are the worst series and have bad reputations for a reason, at least IMO.

        What’s your favorite Trek episodes btw?

      • Interesting. I’d actually rank the third season as Deep Space Nine’s weakest season. And, even then, it is the strongest weakest season of a given Trek show. (It’s stronger than TOS S3, TNG S1, VOY S7, ENT S2.) I think the second season is phenomenal, particularly that late stretch from around The Maquis. The Wire, Crossover, Blood Oath. That’s a great run of episodes. And the earlier season has the opening three-parter and Necessary Evil.

        Favourite episodes? Too many to name; Balance of Terror, Space Seed, Errand of Mercy, The City on the Edge of Forever, The Devil in the Dark, Amok Time, Journey to Babel, The Trouble With Tribbles, A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, The Tholian Web, Is There in Truth No Beauty?, The Measure of a Man, Q Who?, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Defector, Tin Man, The Most Toys, The Best of Both Worlds, Family, Darmok, The Inner Light, Tapestry, The Chain of Command, Marks, All Good Things…, Duet, In the Hands of the Prophets, Necessary Evil, Crossover, The Wire, The Collaborator, House of Quark, Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast, Family Business, The Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Hippocratic Oath, Homefront/Paradise Lost, Our Man Bashir, The Ship, Trials and Tribble-ations, In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light, A Call to Arms, A Time to Stand/Rocks and Shoals/Behind the Lines/Favour the Bold/Sacrifice of Angels, The Magnificent Ferengi, Waltz, Beyond the Stars, Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight, Tacking Into the Wind, Meld, Lifesigns, Future’s End, Scorpion, Year of Hell, The Killing Game, Counterpoint, Bride of Chaotica!, Blink of an Eye, Cold Front, Breaking the Ice, Shuttlepod One, Judgment, Regeneration, Cogenitor, Twilight, Azati Prime/Damage/The Council, The Forge/Awakening/Kir’Shara, Babel One/United/The Aenar, In a Mirror, Darkly, Demons/Terra Prime.

      • I don’t know, I find the first two seasons of DS9 hopelessly boring. That’s not to say there isn’t good episodes, even a few of the best (Duet, for example) but after the Dominion is revealed, the show just gets far better. After “The Way of the Warrior”, it becomes excellent. I don’t like the boring Bajoran politics of the first two seasons, which most seem to agree, hence why it’s largely chucked in later seasons and the focus on more exciting things like The Dominion, the Prophets, Section 31, etc.

        Good episode list though I don’t like most of those Ferengi episodes and you’re a little too kind to Voyager and Enterprise 😛 Though Blink of an Eye and Demons/Terra Prime are some of my favorite episodes as well.

      • “Marks”

        Just noticed this. I can’t find any episode named this? Do you mean “Masks”, surely not, as its one of the worst things ever put on film?

      • Masks is a work of brilliance.

        I accept it’s polarising, but damn is it brilliant and ambitious and crazy and abstract and clever. Joe Menosky has argued that there are books dedicated to decoding it. While I haven’t found any yet, I well believe him. It’s a great example of Menosky building on his themes of language and culture that were threaded through Darmok.

      • Not even sure if you care, and forgive me if I’m getting way too spammy, but here’s my favorite episodes:

        (TOS): The Cage, The Ultimate Computer, Balance of Terror, Space Seed, Errand of Mercy, The Tholian Web, Mirror Mirror, The Trouble with Tribbles (TNG): The Measure of a Man, Q Who, Yesterdays Enterprise, Best of Both Worlds, I, Borg, The Inner Light, Darmok, Relics, Cause and Effect, Parallels, All Good Things (DS9): Duet, The Visitor, The Way Of The Warrior, Trials and Tribble-ations, Call To Arms, the six-part arc in Season 6, the seven part arc series finale, In the Pale Moonlight (VOY): Scorpion, Year of Hell, Living Witness, Distant Origin, Timeless, Someone to Watch Over Me, Blink of an Eye, Message In A Bottle (ENT): The Expanse, Twilight, The Forgotten, The Vulcan Three-Parter, The Romulan Three Parter, Mirror Universe Two Parter, Terra Prime Two Parter

      • Not a bad list. Surprised there are so few TOS episodes, to be honest, but a nice selection.

      • I was under the impression its one of the most hated episodes in the franchise (apparently so according to Wikipedia, and every review I’ve ever encountered). It’s about as nonsensical as “The Alternate Factor” it just has the crew going around in ridiculous wannabe Mesoamerican masks…for no reason.

      • Well, each’s own. There are definitely a high volume of fans who hate the episode with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

        But I love it, and I know several other people who love it, so it’s certainly not universally hated. But, even if it were, I still enjoy it a great deal, and I think I can make a reasonable case for the reasons why I do. (It’s a story about storytelling and mythmaking at the end of a seven-season run that breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise. It’s very hard not to love that. It’s also completely ridiculous, but it never blinks.)

        The Alternate Factor seems a bit harsh. I’d put it up there with something like Spectre of the Gun or That Which Survives or Is There in Truth No Beauty?, the weird and wacky episodes of TOS that really do some strange (and clever) things.

      • “Not a bad list. Surprised there are so few TOS episodes, to be honest, but a nice selection.”

        Actually, this is because I’ve seen so few of TOS. Feel free to recommend any episodes. Why is it a surprise though?

        Also, notice I forgot a TNG episode, Tapestry, not sure how I forgot that. Also Cogenitor in Enterprise.

    • Oh, Chain of Command, yeah the one where Picard is tortured, man there’s so many episodes, I’ve forgotten a lot of good ones. I need to watch these series from start to finish

  2. Am I also the only person who thinks doing the first season on Earth was a really cool idea? Apparently Terra Prime was the original villains for the season, and it would have ended with a Klingon attack on Earth. All of that sounds a lot better than what we got, frankly.

    • It would have been great, although I’m not sure Berman and Braga could have pulled it off.

      I’m curious about the Terra Prime thing. That sounds pretty cool, but do you have a source for it? I hadn’t heard anything about the intended antagonists, beyond the idea that there would be a Klingon attack driving the mission. (The impression I got was that it would be more like a terrorist strike.)

      • I don’t put much stock in Berman and Braga’s writing post TNG (and yes Braga was a good writer in the TNG era. Parallels, All Good Things to just name two examples, and of course the fan favorite Star Trek: FC, which still is popular enough to get love in the new “Star Trek” trailer, and thankfully isn’t forgotten..anyway), so yeah I dont think it’d turn out well, but it’s a damn good idea that would defiantly fit in current age of serialized storytelling on television.

        As for Terra Prime, I found it here: http://www.startrek.com/article/previewing-enterprise-season-four-blu-ray I don’t actually think it was “Terra Prime” but some other xenophobic group, which I’m sure was the inspiration for the final Enterprise two-parter. I think about Star Trek, and Star Wars, and Stargate, etc is they have so much development history, it’s fascinating.

      • Jesus, what’s with my typos. I meant to say: “definitely fit” and “The thing about Star Trek”

  3. >With the exception of the original Star Trek, the franchise had never been particularly good at doing “sexy.”

    Just curious, how did the Original Series do it better?

    • It’s very hard to explain, since sexiness isn’t really a tangible thing that can be accurately measured.

      Well, the miniskirts are just sexier than catsuits to me. And while Theiss’ costuming might have been more than a bit… male-gaze-y… they were elegant enough that they looked sexy without being sleazy. I don’t think the later series managed that balance, often opting for a less classy version of sexy. (Like decon gel.) I think Nana Visitor wears the Intendent’s catsuit very well, but it isn’t anywhere near as sexy as Andrea’s costume in What Are Little Girls Made Of, for example. And while Andrea’s costume shows more skin, it also paradoxically leaves more to the imagination.

      Seven of Nine actually looked sexier to me in a Starfleet uniform in Relativity, but her catsuit simply isn’t as sexy as Terry Farrell in a miniskirt in Trials and Tribble-ations. The later Star Trek shows seem to think skin-tight outfits and skin are sexy, which is a very teenage boy understanding of how “sexy” works. If you can’t do nudity, emphasising that limitation with skintight outfits and tightly-cropped framing just seems juvenile; I find it’s sexier to emphasise the curves and lines of the body rather than to pretend that it’s nude as if you’re just “painting” over it with “latex.”

      All of which makes me sound very sleazy and objectifying of the female cast members. I apologise.

      • “All of which makes me sound very sleazy and objectifying of the female cast members. I apologise.”

        LOL, well it’s your website, post what you want. I wasn’t offended.

        Anyway, I actually do largely agree with your analysis, and you’re not the only person I’ve encountered say this. I was watching a podcast once where the three hosts all said their idea of sexy was Star Trek TOS’s version of sexy. Also, when I was first watching Voyager, I wasn’t even 10 years old, so I never noticed the catsuit was supposed to be sexy, and even when I rewatched the series as a teenager, it did nothing for me. Now that I’m in my mid 20s, for some reason it does, but it’s still kind of cringey and cheap at the same time. For whatever reason, perhaps the limitations of television at the time, perhaps because alot of the writers for Star Trek TNG onwards were nerdy as hell, sex became cringey as hell in it. DS9 had a contrived episode to get a lesbian kiss, catsuits (while Seven is hot, for whatever reason T’Pol to me looks totally fake and “barbieish” for lack of a better term) and somehow three attractive women dancing around in Slave Leia style costumes (Bound) does nothing for me but make me roll my eyes. And I don’t think even the most hardcore defenders of Enterprise defend the decon gell scenes, which were dropped in the first season, right?

        Also I thought Ezri was hotter than Jadzia.

  4. Well, each’s own. There are definitely a high volume of fans who hate the episode with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

    But I love it, and I know several other people who love it, so it’s certainly not universally hated. But, even if it were, I still enjoy it a great deal, and I think I can make a reasonable case for the reasons why I do. (It’s a story about storytelling and mythmaking at the end of a seven-season run that breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise. It’s very hard not to love that. It’s also completely ridiculous, but it never blinks.)

    The Alternate Factor seems a bit harsh. I’d put it up there with something like Spectre of the Gun or That Which Survives or Is There in Truth No Beauty?, the weird and wacky episodes of TOS that really do some strange (and clever) things.”

    All fair enough, I’m probably being far too obnoxious with my opinions here, for that I apologize. However the reason I dislike it and compare it to The Alternate Factor because I don’t know what’s going on in either, and I actually just recently watched Masks. Perhaps I don’t get it.

    For the record, I like Spector of a Gun.

  5. Actually, for a brief period, there were FOUR Law & Order series running concurrently: Besides the mothership series, SVU, and Criminal Intent, there was the short-lived Law & Order: Trial By Jury. It was the first in the franchise to have a female lead (Bebe Neuwirth), and where Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe was shifted as a DA investigator after he’d grown too old to plausibly still be a detective (though the actor died before any episodes aired).

    Also Fred Dalton Thompson was a regular on both shows as DA Arthur Branch. I think it’s the only time an actor has been a series regular (not a guest star or recurring) as the same character on two shows at the same.

    A year later, Dick Wolf would try again with another short-lived series called “Conviction” (no relation to the equally short-lived ABC series) that was also set in the L&O universe (featuring Branch and one or two other familiar faces), but wasn’t really set up in the same format (more of a “hot, young lawyers” type of show).

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