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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (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 Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Rajiin (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.

Rajiin is not as bad as Extinction. So there’s that.

Rajiin continues the pulpy theme that runs through the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise and into the fourth. There is a sense that the writing staff are cutting loose with a collection of decidedly retro science-fiction tropes that they found in the old storage cupboard. The third and fourth seasons have a gonzo energy to them, with elements like the reptile!Xindi and the evil!alien!space!Nazis feeling like ideas that escaped from the types of magazines where Benny Russell used to work.

"Captain, my scans report that she does have Bette Davis eyes."

“Captain, my scans report that she does have Bette Davis eyes.”

At its best, this new storytelling freedom allows the show to cut loose with ideas that would have made Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager blush. The show would never have attempted episodes like Impulse and North Star in its first or second season. Even if the episodes are not flawless, they have an energy and vitality that was sorely lacking in the first two years of the show. It feels like the writing staff are really having fun with the concept, playing with the sort of goofy ideas that they never would have attempted a year or so earlier.

Of course, there is a flip side to that coin. The biggest misfires of the third season are generally rooted in that pulpy storytelling style. Extinction was effectively a “lost race” story that felt like a throwback to colonial narratives about explorers in exotic parts of the world. Rajiin is the story of an alien seductress who our hero rescues from slavery, only to use her womanly wiles to seduce the crew for a sinister purpose.

"Hey, Kirk got to do this all the time!"

“Hey, Kirk got to do this all the time!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – First Flight (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.

First Flight is a prequel to a prequel.

First Flight unfolds before the events of Broken Bow, providing something of a belated origin story for Captain Jonathan Archer. The tail end of the second season feels like an odd place for such a story. The decision to air First Flight and Bounty as a double feature meant that First Flight premiered only a week before The Expanse, an episode that changed everything that fans thought they knew about Star Trek: Enterprise. Then again, perhaps this is the perfect place for an episode like this.

Ground Control to Commander Robinson... Ground Control to Commander Robinson...

Ground Control to Commander Robinson… Ground Control to Commander Robinson…

Much of the final stretch of the second season of Enterprise is introspective and reflective. The show seems aware that a big change is coming, and takes the opportunity of these last few episodes to look back on a classic model of Star Trek. Judgment puts Archer on trial; Cogenitor wonders whether old-fashioned Star Trek morality plays can still work in the twenty-first century; Regeneration finds the Borg lying among the (literal) wreckage of Star Trek: The Next Generation. First Flight opens with the death of Captain A.G. Robinson, a character we never met before.

More to the point, First Flight opens with the death of the man who was almost the captain of the Enterprise. On the cusp of a creative change in direction that effectively kills the show as it existed in the first two seasons, First Flight is pretty heavy on the symbolism.

... Take your protein pill and put your helmet on...

… Take your protein pill and put your helmet on…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Breach (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of a heightened franchise like Star Trek is the way that invites particular members of staff to define their own voices. On most of the Star Trek shows, it is easy to distinguish the work of particular writers from one another. Ronald D. Moore likes militarism and world-building; Brannon Braga likes time travel and classic science-fiction. There are clear voices that can be distinguished from the choir on each of the shows, for better or for worse.

Although it enjoyed a considerably shorter run than the other Star Trek spin-offs, Star Trek: Enterprise is no exception.  The Breach is a script credited to writers Chris Black and John Shiban. The two had collaborated unofficially on Canamar, a script credited to Shiban alone. The two would work together again on First Flight towards the end of the season. It is certainly a partnership that had considerable potential, if not for Shiban’s departure at the end of the season.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In many respects, The Breach feels like the product of those two voices. Xenophobia is a major theme of The Breach – as it was in Shiban’s other scripts for the season like Minefield, Dawn or Canamar. Like their last collaboration on Canamar and their future collaboration on First Flight, it seems The Breach presents a more balanced version of Archer than episodes like The Crossing or Horizon. This is a version of Archer who feels compelled to do the right thing, but without the same oppressive self-righteousness that drives his more awkward moments.

However, it seems like Chris Black provides The Breach with its very traditional and old-fashioned Star Trek aesthetic. A veteran of genre television with an understanding of the narrative conventions associated with the franchise, Black understands how Star Trek storytelling is supposed to work. The Breach is perhaps a little too formulaic and traditional in its storytelling, but it does demonstrate that – despite its best efforts – The Crossing had not completely buried a certain optimistic strain of Star Trek ethics.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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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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Star Trek: Enterprise – Singularity (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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation casts a pretty long shadow.

Singularity aired over eight years after All Good Things… and it still feels like an attempt to re-capture the mood and atmosphere of that second-generation Star Trek spin-off. Singularity feels like it might have made for a passable seventh-season instalment of The Next Generation, airing somewhere between Phantasms, Masks and Genesis. You would probably only have to tweak Singularity ever-so-slightly for that earlier cast.

"Hai!"

“Hai!”

Of course, this fixation on The Next Generation is not unique to the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. After all, Star Trek: Voyager spent a significant portion of its run trying to re-capture the magic associated with The Next Generation. There were lots of generic aliens- and anomalies-of-the week. The second season of Enterprise is just interesting in this regard because it is really the last gasp of this sort of nostalgic storytelling on so wide a scale.

It would not be easy. It would take the box office failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, a change of management at UPN, falling ratings and the threat of cancellation. Nevertheless, Enterprise would eventually manage to exorcise the ghost of The Next Generation. In the meantime, Singularity offers a reminder of just how closely Enterprise was hewing to The Next Generation.

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Carbon Creek (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.

Although it was the second episode of the season broadcast, Carbon Creek was the first episode of the second season produced.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The fact that it only featured three primary cast members would have meant that everybody else got a little extra vacation time. With a lot of location shooting and a production design outside the Star Trek norm, it likely made sense to get it out of the way first. From a budgeting and production standpoint, the show likely benefited from a bit more time than episodes like Shockwave, Part II or Minefield.

"We come in peace...

“We come in peace…”

However, even outside of these pragmatic production concerns, Carbon Creek helps to set the tone for the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. It is a largely nostalgic and romantic exercise, a rather light stand-alone episode that feels like it wallows in the iconography and conventions of Star Trek. Indeed, the teleplay is credited to Chris Black, the only new writer to survive the writing staff departures that Mike Sussman jokingly referred to as “purges.”

Black is in many respects the first “native” Enterprise writer – the first writer to last more than a season who had not worked on Star Trek: Voyager. As such, it seems only appropriate that he should set the tone for the season ahead.

Vulcan hustle...

Vulcan hustle…

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