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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 – 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 – North Star (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 surprising just how hasty some sections of Star Trek fandom are to dismiss North Star as absurd or ham-fisted or ridiculous.

It is precisely those qualities the make North Star quintessential Star Trek.

Spectre of gun...

Spectre of gun…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Judgment (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.

Judgment is the first episode of Star Trek to do something interesting with the Klingons since Tacking Into the Wind, almost four years earlier.

After all, it never seemed like Star Trek: Enterprise had any real idea what to do with the Klingons. The show had made use of Klingons in Broken Bow, Unexpected, Sleeping Dogs and Marauders – but none of these episodes seemed particularly interested in telling a story about Klingons. Enterprise seemed primarily interested in the Klingons as a connection to the franchise’s long and distinguished history. After all, Klingons are almost as iconic a part of Star Trek as Spock; working a few bumpy-headed warriors into your script was a nice way of acknowledging the Star Trek legacy.

Trial of the twenty-second century...

Trial of the twenty-second century…

Certainly, Enterprise was not interested in committing to the same Klingon world-building in which Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had revelled. There are a lot of reasons for this. Over ten seasons, writer Ronald D. Moore had probably said just about everything that needed to be said about the Klingons; trying to say something new or interesting without his input was certainly daunting. More than that, Enterprise had committed itself quite firmly to episodic storytelling in its first two years; even the Andorians and Vulcans were still barely developed.

So David A. Goodman’s script for Judgment is ambitious, particularly in light of the spectacular failure of his (heavily re-written) work on Precious Cargo. Constructing an episode that might easily be misread as a rehash of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a pretty bold choice, particularly given the problems that the show had endured while trying to construct an homage to Elaan of Troyius and The Perfect Mate. On paper, Judgment is an assignment that could easily explode spectacularly. It might not be as crazy a gambit as A Night in Sickbay, but it is a story with lofty objectives.

The court has spoken.

The court has spoken.

With so much of the second season feeling like it is running on auto-pilot, the energy and enthusiasm of Judgment is infectious. Singularity, Vanishing Point, Canamar and The Crossing felt like they were constructed using blueprints of what a Star Trek episode should look like. It is refreshing to watch an episode of Enterprise that seems genuinely excited to playing with these particular toys. In that sense, Judgment sets the mood for the final stretch of the season – despite duds like Horizon and Bounty, the final run of episodes feels like a band playing an encore for a show on the cusp of monumental change.

Although not facing the same threat of cancellation that loomed at the end of the third and fourth seasons, the second season of Enterprise feels like the last gasp of a particular model of Star Trek production, one no longer as viable as it once had been. Starting with Judgment, the show seems to acknowledge that things are going to have to change dramatically and soon; however, there is a clear attempt to bid this particular iteration of Star Trek a fond farewell. As such, any and all references to The Undiscovered Country feel entirely appropriate.

“Don’t wait for the translation! Answer me now!”

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