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Star Trek: Enterprise – Cease Fire (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is weird to think that Star Trek was dying in early years of the twenty-first century.

After all, the original series had greatly increased its cultural cachet at the height of the Cold War. The adventures of James Tiberius Kirk offered an optimistic alternative to total nuclear annihilation and a doomsday clock that was rapidly approaching midnight. Logic would suggest that utopian fantasy was all the more essential when contrasted against harsh reality. In fact, it seemed like cynicism and pessimism thrived in the (relatively) peaceful and prosperous decade following the collapse of the Cold War. The X-Files and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were inescapably products of the nineties.

I'm blue dabba dee dabba dii...

I’m blue dabba dee dabba dii…

So one imagines that the dread and fear that took root in the wake of 9/11 might somehow make the optimism and hope of Star Trek all the more essential. After all, pundits and commentators wasted no time in suggesting that irony and cynicism were passé. Stephen Thompson, editor of The Onion, suggested that the age of irony had ended only a week after the attacks.  Graydon Carter, editor of Variety, observed, “I think it’s the end of the age of irony. Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear.” In a highly publicised Time article, Roger Rosenblatt rejoiced.

Of course, irony was far from dead, as films like Team America: World Police demonstrated. The Colbert Report became a cultural phenomenon. The Onion is still in business. However, the speed with which these commentators latched on to the idea of the death of irony suggested that the mood had changed perceptibly. Maybe not definitively, maybe not completely, but there was a change in the air. If ever there was a time for the optimism and the utopianism of Star Trek, it would be this particular moment.

"This is the point where everything changed..."

“This is the point where everything changed…”

However, it seemed like 9/11 eroded the franchise’s faith in utopia. Understandably – and perhaps inevitably – Star Trek: Enterprise found itself warped by images and iconography associated with the attacks. The tradition idyllic alien worlds associated with the franchise – visible in early episodes like Strange New World and Civilisation were quickly replaced by landscapes evoking the popular mood – apocalyptic cityscapes of Shadows of P’Jem and Shockwave, Part II, the deserts of Desert Crossing, the militaristic settings of Detained and The Communicator, or even the darkness of Rogue Planet.

It was as if 9/11 had warped the psychological landscape of the Star Trek universe, throwing everything into doubt. Far from responding to that real-world tragedy with optimism and hope, it seemed that Enterprise only lost certainty in itself. Cease Fire is an episode that feels plagued by self-doubt and insecurity, even as it tries to find its way back to the franchise’s trademark idealism. It may not quite find its way back to the path, but it makes a reasonable effort.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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