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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 – United (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Romulans are a very curious species.

They have a long history within the Star Trek franchise. They were introduced less than half-way through the first season of the show, in Balance of Terror. The Klingons would not show up until Errand of Mercy, towards the end of that first year. The Romulans have appeared in just about every iteration of the franchise, their reappearance in the final episode of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation serving to connect the show to its legacy. Appearing in both Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek, they appeared on both sides of the film franchise reboot.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…

Still, the Romulans have never truly been defined. Unlike the Klingons or the Cardassians, the Romulans have never been developed into a fully-formed culture. There are great episodes built around the Romulans, from Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident to Face of the Enemy and In the Pale Moonlight. However, there has never been recurring Romulan character afforded the depth of Worf, Martok, Quark, Dukat, Damar or Garak; if populating that list with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine characters feels like cheating, no Romulan measures up to Soval or Shran.

Although they only appear in four episodes of the season, exerting influence over another two, it feels like the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise affords more attention to the Romulans than they have received in a long time.

"All right, who arranged the bridge power display to form a smiley face?"

“All right, who arranged the bridge power display to form a smiley face?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Home (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.

If Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II represented a transition between Brannon Braga and Manny Coto, then Home marks the point at which Manny Coto assumes full control of Star Trek: Enterprise.

As befits a season so steeped in Star Trek nostalgia, Home fits a familiar template. Each of three live action spin-offs took a brief timeout after an epic fourth season opener to tell a smaller character-driven story about the response to life-altering trauma. Jean-Luc Picard processed the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II through the quieter moments of Family. Jake Sisko confronted the loss of his father in The Visitor. Even Seven of Nine faced her disconnection from the Borg Collective in The Gift.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Home is clearly intended to allow the characters (and the show) to work through the issues generated by the epic third season arc, while also dutifully setting up plot threads that will play out across the rest of the season. Home might be a stand-alone episode in many ways, but it does serve to dovetail the third and fourth seasons of the show, working through character points that are hanging over from the show’s third year while also helping to establish elements that will become more important in the season ahead.

Home works rather well as a connecting structure, even if it lacks the raw emotional power of something like Family or The Visitor. It is well worth taking the time to focus upon (and flesh out) this cast. The biggest problem with Home is that so many of these characters feel underdeveloped, particularly compared to the casts of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is hard for those characters to carry an entire episode when they haven’t been properly developed.

"Go climb a rock!"

“Go climb a rock!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Zero Hour (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.

In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Countdown (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek: Enterprise spent a lot of the final stretch of the third season playing at being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are a number of episodes that provide a direct parallel with stories from that earlier underrated Star Trek show. Damage riffs on In the Pale Moonlight. is very much Children of Time. More than that, the moral ambiguity and the long-form storytelling that define the third season of Enterprise also owe a very conscious debt to the work done on Deep Space Nine.

However, the final two episodes of the third season drift away from the ethical uncertainties and moral quagmires that defined a lot of the year’s stories. The Council effective resolved the big thematic questions hanging over the third season, allowing Archer the chance to propose a diplomatic solution to the Xindi crisis. This allows Countdown and Zero Hour to go about the task of providing a suitably impressive action climax to this twenty-four-episode season-long arc. There is precious little soul-searching here; instead, there is one big race against time.

The life aquatic...

The life aquatic…

In that respect, the last two episodes of the third season hark back to a more traditional form of Star Trek storytelling. In particular, Countdown and Zero Hour feel like an old-school blockbuster two-parter, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, with Archer’s fate in question and a hostile unstoppable force invading the solar system only to be destroyed in orbit of Earth, Countdown and Zero Hour play like an extended homage to The Best of Both Worlds.

While one of the most frequent criticisms of Enterprise is the sense that the writing staff are simply regurgitating classic Next Generation and Voyager plots, this feels almost earned. The third season has largely been about the show’s journey back to the heart of the Star Trek franchise, a trip that concluded with Archer embracing traditional Star Trek values in The Council. But what fun is that journey if you don’t get to celebrate it with an epic high-stakes world-ending rollercoaster ride?

"We cool?" "We cool."

“We cool?”
“We cool.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Damage (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The stock comparison for Damage is In the Pale Moonlight.

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, both are Star Trek episodes that hinge on a series of morally questionable decisions made by the lead actor in a moment of sheer desperation. In In the Pale Moonlight, Benjamin Sisko starts a chain of events that builds towards the assassination of a Romulan Senator to trick the Romulans into joining the war effort. In Damage, Jonathan Archer resorts to piracy in order to obtain the parts necessary to make a meeting with Degra in order to plead against the use of the Xindi weapon.

A met a man who wasn't there...

A met a man who wasn’t there…

There are some notable differences, of course. In purely practical plotting terms, Sisko dominates the narrative of In the Pale Moonlight; the entire story is related directly by Sisko to the audience in the form of a personal log. In contrast, Damage is split between the demands of Archer’s own arc in the episode and various other continuity elements; the episode needs to get Archer back to his ship and devote a considerable amount of time to T’Pol’s addiction. As a result, it lacks the keen focus that made In the Pale Moonlight so compelling.

At the same time, there is something much more direct about Damage. Sisko is quite detached from the horrors of In the Pale Moonlight, with the audience insulated from his choices through the use of a framing device and Sisko himself insulated through his use of Garak to conduct all the unpalatable actions. In contrast, Archer makes a point to bloody his own hands over the course of Damage. He doesn’t have somebody else to make the decision for him; he leads the boarding party himself.

Everything comes apart...

Everything comes apart…

It is a very bold an unsettling choice, a culmination of a character arc that has been pushing Archer towards this sort of horrific choice since Anomaly. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise has not been entirely consistent when it comes to its character arcs, working better in broad strokes than in fine detail. Nevertheless, Damage represents a very clear commitment to the promise of the third season of Enterprise; an interrogation of the franchise’s core values in an increasingly morally ambiguous world.

Damage is a deeply uncomfortable and unsettling episode of Star Trek, but it is arguably a necessary one. It is, in many ways, a criticism of the moral absolutism that informs a lot of discussion about terrible situations, suggesting that reality is often a lot more complicated than people might hope it would be.

Drowning his sorrows...

Drowning his sorrows…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Hatchery (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Hatchery is a very odd episode.

On the one hand, it feels like another irrelevant detour on the path to Azati Prime. It is a standalone episode about a wacky adventure that the crew have upon discovering a crashed ship on the surface of a dead world, playing with the standard Star Trek tropes about mind control and possession. This is not the first time that a Star Trek character has had their behaviour dramatically altered by an alien compound, and it does seem a bit distracting to tell this story at this point in this season, even in the aliens in this case are insect!Xindi.

Slice o' life...

Slice o’ life…

At the same time, it does feel like an important episode thematically. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is packed with all manner of existential explorations of what it means to be Star Trek. What are the essential ingredients of the franchise? How far can you wander off the template without breaking it? What does Star Trek even mean in a post-9/11 world? There are aspects of Hatchery that deal with these questions rather directly, as the episode explores the consequences of putting a bunch of marines on a Star Trek ship.

It just feels rather surreal that “Archer goes crazy from bug spray” should be the jumping-off point for that particular story.

"Hey there, little fella..."

“Hey there, little fella…”

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