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Star Trek: Voyager – Deadlock (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

In some ways, Deadlock is Star Trek: Voyager‘s original sin.

Of course, Deadlock is good. It is really good. It is a well-constructed piece of television that moves with an incredible momentum; it gathers speed and builds towards a suitably epic finalé. In many ways, Deadlock is one of the strongest episodes from the first two seasons of Voyager. There is a credible argument to be made that Deadlock belongs on any list of “best Voyager episodes ever”, thanks to the potent combination of Brannon Braga’s high-concept script and David Livingston’s dynamic direction.

Janeway²...

Janeway²…

At the same time, it is hard not to look at Deadlock in retrospect and see the shape of things to come. It is, perhaps, the ultimate “reset” button episode; it provides a clear template for later “blow up Voyager and kill Janeway” episodes like Year of Hell or Timeless. The trick works very well once; it loses any real impact when it is repeated several times over the course of the show’s run. More than that, the episode feels somewhat generic. Due to the nature of the high-concept premise, there is little room for detail specific to Voyager.

It seems that the end of the second season set the course for the next five years of Voyager. The production team had tried to tell an experimental story specific to Voyager with Investigations, only to fail spectacularly; it would be the last time that the show attempted anything so bold. In contrast, the production team managed to construct a fantastic episode around a generic premise in Deadlock, perhaps indicating that the future of the show lay in that direction. It is easy to see why that production team opted for safe and generic ahead of ambitious and experimental.

Ghost stories...

Ghost stories…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (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.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Impulse (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.

Impulse is a Star Trek zombie story.

It might sound absurd, but it works very well. After all, the Star Trek franchise rooted in pulp space horror, with extended stretches of the original show portraying space as haunted. In some ways, Impulse could be seen as a logical extension of Regeneration from late in the second season. Both episodes are very much modelled on the classic zombie horror movie formula, both deal with how traditional Star Trek morality applies to that formula, and both are even directed by veteran Star Trek producer David Livingston, who brings a nice kinetic feel to the adventures.

Dead space...

Dead space…

Impulse works a lot better than it really should. There are some plotting issues created by the secondary storyline grafted into the episode, and the show doesn’t quite develop its Vulcan themes as well as it might. However, it compensates for these issues with an incredible sense of energy and momentum. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise might be the first season of Star Trek to be seriously facing cancellation in decades, but it had an entirely new lease on life.

Impulse is a bold and exciting piece of television, one that feel vital and urgent. It recaptures some of the appeal of the new status quo that had been somewhat squandered by Extinction and Rajiin.

Reed shirt...

Reed shirt…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Regeneration (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 seems like a bit of an understatement to describe Regeneration as highly controversial.

The blu ray release of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise includes two commentaries for the episode, a sure sign that there is a lot to talk about. On a track recorded in 2005, writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong describe the episode as “infamous.” On a track recorded in 2013, John Billingsley describes how certain segments of fandom considered it a “jumping the shark” moment for the show. That last statement illustrates one of the perverse qualities of Star Trek fandom; one would assume that the viewers turned off by Regeneration would have already tuned out with Acquisition.

We are Borg.

We are Borg.

After all, the decision to bring back the Ferengi in Acquisition is hard to explain. Nobody was clamouring for more Ferengi episodes after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had gone off the air. Outside of Deep Space Nine, the most enduring impression of the Ferengi was that they had begun their life as “villains that didn’t quite work” and bad quickly been transformed into “comic relief that didn’t quite work.” As such, it is hard to account for the decision to bend continuity in order to introduce the Ferengi into the first season of a prequel show designed to escape the baggage of the larger Star Trek franchise.

On the other hand, it made a great deal of sense to bring back the Borg. After all, the Borg were one of the few Star Trek aliens created after 1969 to make a genuine impression on popular culture. The Borg will never be as iconic as Klingons or Vulcans, but they will always be more iconic than Cardassians or Bajorans. They were also stars of the best-loved Star Trek movie starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg are a big deal; there is a reason that Star Trek: Voyager ran them into the ground.

"Assimilate this!"

“Assimilate this!”

It is no wonder that the Borg are frequently cited in discussions around the future of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Asked if the creative team would consider bringing the Borg to the rebooted twenty-third century, Roberto Orci answered, “I think we would think about it.” Damon Lindelof was even blunter in his assessment, “You can’t talk about Trek and not talk about the Borg.” While they have undoubtedly been over-exposed and over-used since they first appeared in Q Who?, the Borg are the most distinctive and most successful addition to the Star Trek mythos outside the classic show.

While common sense and experience seemed to weigh against bringing back the Ferengi in Acquisition, it seems that continuity is the only thing holding the Borg back from making an appearance on Enterprise. That said, Sussman and Strong find a clever way around that issue, by remembering the suggestion in Broken Bow that Enterprise is as much a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact as a prequel to the rest of the Star Trek universe.

"Oh no, Cap'n, they've discovered the mood lightin' settin'."

“Oh no, Cap’n, they’ve discovered the mood lightin’ settin’.”

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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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Star Trek: Enterprise – Strange New World (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.

Strange New World is the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to come from a writing team other than Brannon Braga and Rick Berman. Berman and Braga would dominate the writing credits for the first season. Even when the final teleplay was credited to another writer or writing team, there was often a “story by” credit given to Berman and Braga. Braga himself has conceded that he essentially re-wrote all of the episodes of the first season.

Still, Strange New World is credited to the writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Both had worked on Star Trek: Voyager before migrated to Star Trek: Enterprise along with André Bormanis. Sussman had pitched the story for Meld and worked on a number of solo stories and scripts before teaming with Strong on the seventh and final season of the show. The two would remain a writing team for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, hitting their stride with some of the strongest episodes of the troubled second season.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

Strange New World is an interesting début for the pair. On the hand, it is a story that celebrates the unique place of Star Trek: Enterprise in the Star Trek pantheon. It’s a story about how great it must be to set foot on an alien planet, and how wondrous it must be to breath air from outside our atmosphere. With its emphasis on shuttlepods and primitive transporters, it does remain relatively true to the prequel premise of Enterprise.

On the other hand, Strange New World is a very familiar Star Trek template. Indeed, it’s a very familiar first season template. It’s the episode where the crew of the ship are exposed to some strange outside force that makes them all act out of character. It’s something of a Star Trek standard. The original Star Trek had The Naked Time and Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Naked Now, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had both Babel and Dramatis Personae. In many ways, Strange New World feels like a familiar old story.

Strange yellow daisy fields forever...

Strange yellow daisy fields forever…

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