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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 – Similitude (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.

It is hard to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto.

It is quite easy to get distracted from the episode itself, which is a sublimely moving piece of working with skilled direction from LeVar Burton and a beautiful central performance from Connor Trinneer. More than that, Similitude is very much pure Star Trek. It is a metaphor about the human condition, wrapped up in a morality play fashioned from some admittedly questionable science-fiction. This good old-fashioned allegorical science-fiction in a style that really works, capitalising on the status quo of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise to tell a moving story.

Send in the clones...

Send in the clones…

And, yet, despite all that, this is the point at which Manny Coto arrives. Much like it is impossible to talk about The Bonding without talking about Ronald D. Moore, it is impossible to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto. Coto arrived on the show fresh from Odyssey 5, and quickly made himself invaluable and essential. While his scripts were quite hit-and-miss on an episode-by-episode basis, Coto demonstrated an aptitude for producing television in general and Star Trek in particular.

Indeed, Coto managed to climb the franchise rungs faster than any producer and writer since Michael Piller in the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Piller had found himself running the show after Michael Wagner suddenly decided to step down only a few episodes into the season. Coto had a bit longer to get the lay of the land; he would have half of the third season to establish himself before being placed in charge of the writers’ room for the start of the show’s fourth year when Brannon Braga stepped back into a more supervisory role.

Genetically engineered engineer...

Genetically engineered engineer…

A number of factors helped to establish Coto as an almost mythical figure in Star Trek lore. The dramatic change in tone and style into the fourth year, which catered to a core group of Star Trek fans – including Coto himself – surely helped. The fact that Coto was succeeding Brannon Braga probably helped establish his credibility as well – a vocal section of fandom has complete disdain for Braga’s style. Despite the fact that Coto was only in charge for twenty-four episode, he made a surprisingly enduring contribution to the franchise as a whole.

Hindsight seems to suggest that Similitude was almost prophetic; it is the story of incredible growth and development over an incredibly short amount of time, making a deep and lasting impression.

Designer baby...

Designer baby…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Precious Cargo (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.

Precious Cargo is a disaster. It is a spectacularly terrible piece of television. It is the kind of episode that fans point towards when they want to belittle or diminish Star Trek: Enterprise.

To be fair, it isn’t as if the show has the monopoly on bad episodes of the franchise. After all, the original Star Trek gave us And The Children Shall Lead, The Way to Eden and The Apple. Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us Code of Honour, Angel One, The Child and Up the Long Ladder. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine produced Let He Who Is Without Sin, Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak. Star Trek: Voyager is responsible for Fair Haven and Spirit Folk. When you produce twenty-something episodes of television a year, terrible episodes happen.

We are Trip, of Bored...

We are Trip, of Bored…

Indeed, they will keep happening. Precious Cargo cannot even make an indisputable claim to being the weakest story of the troubled second season. There are fans who will argue that A Night in Sickbay or Bounty deserve that accolade. Nevertheless, it seems like everyone is agreed that Precious Cargo is a disaster from start to finish. It is a collection of pulpy science-fiction clichés that feels overly familiar, a lazy comedy without any solid jokes and a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads.

Precious Cargo is a spectacular misfire, an ill-judged and poorly-constructed addition to the franchise.

"Wait, another Trip comedy episode?"

“Wait, another Trip comedy episode?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shuttlepod One (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Shuttlepod One is the best episode of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

If you want to be particularly cynical about it, you could argue that it’s the show’s first absolutely unequivocal success. Enterprise‘s first season is a lot stronger and more interesting than most give it credit for, even if most of its stronger episodes were qualified successes – like Breaking the Ice, Cold Front or Dear Doctor – that hinted at a new type of character-driven Star Trek without entirely committing to it.

... it is very cold in space...

… it is very cold in space…

The first season of Enterprise tried quite a lot of new things that didn’t always work. That’s fine. That’s what a first season should be for. The greater tragedy is that the second season (or even the tail end of the first season) didn’t necessarily try to improve on those experimental successes, and instead fell back on that conventional Star Trek plotting that had been competing with that more experimental style in the first two-thirds of the first season.

In many ways, Shuttlepod One is the unlikely zenith of the first season. It comes off a string of flawed-but-intriguing episodes only briefly interrupted by the misfire that was Sleeping Dogs. However, the episode was written by creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to save budget in the second half of the season, filmed as a way to recoup budget overruns from elsewhere in the year. Despite that, it’s a compelling glimpse of Enterprise as it seemed to want to be – very much character-driven Star Trek.

Reed has a close shave...

Reed has a close shave…

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