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Star Trek: Voyager – The Void (Review)

The Void feels like a belated mea culpa on the part of Star Trek: Voyager.

It is unfair and an exaggeration to say that The Void finally delivers on the potential of Voyager. After all, there have been several earlier episodes that flirted with following the basic premise of the show to its logical conclusion; Alliances, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, Night, Counterpoint, Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II. Of course, many of those episodes ultimately ended with a repudiation of that premise, a retreat back to the safety of a familiar formula. Voyager has always been a television show terrified of the implications of its own starting point.

Conflict aVoidant.

Nevertheless, there is a strong sense that The Void looks and feels a lot more like Voyager should have looked and felt from the outset. It is the story of explorers trapped in a strange environment with limited resources, facing tough choices in order to survive, and desperate to forge alliance to keep them afloat. The eponymous “void” feels like a metaphor for the Delta Quadrant itself, the teaser playing like a truncated version of Caretaker. An intrepid crew plucked from familiarity and thrown into a hostile world of scavengers and pirates, stripped of their comforts.

Of course, The Void ultimately retreats from this premise. Much like the eponymous anomaly is just a pocket universe, this exploration of the show’s premise is just an episodic diversion. If it took Voyager six-and-a-half seasons to find a way to explore its core premise, it only takes forty-five minutes to wrap a bow around it and return to business as usual. The Void is a fluke and an aberration. Even ten episodes from away from the finale, Voyager can only briefly imagine how things ever might have been different.

In the Void, here’s a ‘noid…

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Star Trek: Voyager – One Small Step (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager marks the end of the future.

Many fans would point to Star Trek: Enterprise as the moment that the larger Star Trek franchise turned its gaze backwards and embraced a sense of broad nostalgia for a future that was already behind that explored in the original series. After all, the last television series of the Berman era took the franchise back to its roots and paved the way for both J.J. Abrams’ pseudo-reboot in Star Trek and for Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman’s prequel in Star Trek: Discovery.

First (and Last) Flight.

However, this overlooks the importance of Voyager in signposting this shift. In some ways, Voyager represents the end of the final frontier. Chronologically speaking, Endgame is the last episode of the larger Star Trek franchise, the future beyond the finale explored only in Star Trek: Nemesis and as part of the back story to the rebooted Star Trek. Chronologically speaking, Voyager represents the last television series within the Star Trek universe. However, Voyager very carefully and very consciously seeds the nostalgia that would later envelope the franchise.

This is obvious in any number of ways. Voyager is a show that is literally about the desire to return home rather than to push forward. Caretaker established the show as an extended homage to fifties pulp storytelling. The politics of the series – reflected in episodes as diverse as Real Life, Displaced and Day of Honour – were decidedly conservative. Even the genre trappings of the series were often framed in terms of mid-twentieth century pulp fiction; the space lift in Rise, the broad allegory in Innocence, the atomic horror of Jetrel.

We come not to praise Voyager, but to bury it.

However, all of this is rooted in a very conscious yearning on the part of Voyager to connect to its roots. Numerous small scenes across the seven-season run of the show hint at this sentiment; Janeway discussing the romantic past in Flashback, the literal journey home in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, the retrofuturism of Tom Paris’ various holoprogrammes, Janeway’s fascination with her long-lost ancestor in 11:59. There was a sense that Voyager was a series as intent on journeying backwards in time as much as space, even outside of its time travel obsession.

One Small Step stands out as one of the most obvious and blatant examples of this nostalgia within Voyager, in many ways feeling (like Friendship One in the subsequent season) like an attempt to seed the literal prequel that would materialise in Enterprise.

It turns out that John Kelly crossed over into a subspace anomaly drawn by Jack Kirby.

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Star Trek – The Enterprise Incident (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The Enterprise Incident is generally regarded as one of the masterpieces of Star Trek‘s much troubled third season.

The third season of Star Trek has cultivated a reputation as a failure or a disappointment, a collection of episodes that are wildly disjointed at best and openly frustrating at worst. This disappointment is largely justified. While the third season struggled with a number of problems beyond its control, there were also a number of serious self-inflicted wounds. The production team consciously chose to bury Spectre of the Gun deep in the running order while pulling Spock’s Brain forward to be the season premiere.

When on Romulus...

When on Romulus…

However, the third season of Star Trek is not the disaster that many would claim. Taken as a whole, the season is much weaker than the first two seasons, but it also has its share of strong and classic episodes. There are classics upon which everybody agrees, like The Enterprise Incident or The Tholian Web. However, there are also any number of delightful oddities like Spectre of the Gun or The Empath. Still, there is a sense that the show is not everything that it once was, and that things have changed.

In some respects, The Enterprise Incident is the most conventional and “classic” of the third season episodes, the episode that feels the most “of a piece” with the first two seasons. It is also the last Star Trek episode of the original series to be credited to franchise veteran Dorothy Fontana.

A Commanding presence.

A Commanding presence.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 4 (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

This is the end.

Star Trek: Enterprise would be the first live action Star Trek spin-off to run less than seven seasons. It would mark the end of eighteen years (and twenty-five seasons) of uninterrupted Star Trek on television. It would be the first of the spin-offs to be actively cancelled instead of passively retired on its own terms. It represented the end of the Berman era. The show had been lucky to scrape a fourth season, with UPN considering axing the show after the end of the third season. The fourth season only came about as a result of a lot of compromise by all involved.

ent-home6a

This shadow hangs over the fourth season. It seems quite clear from the outset that nobody involved is counting upon a fifth season. There was massive staff attrition, with veteran writers like Chris Black, David A. Goodman and Phyllis Strong all departing the writers’ room. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga took a step back from the day-to-day running the series. As the year grinds on, the show becomes increasingly (and morbidly) fixated upon its own impending demise. The clock is counting down, and the show is aware of it.

All of this is a massive shame, because the fourth season features some of the best work of the show’s four-year run. It also seems surprisingly aligned with where pop culture is going in the decade ahead, for better and for worse. The result is a season that is intriguing and ambitious, insightful and worthy. The fourth season has a lot to recommend it, and even the elements that do not work are interesting in the way that they do not work. As much as the fourth season closes the book on an era of Star Trek, it also summons the future.

ent-divergence20a

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Zero Hour (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.

There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.

In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Countdown (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.

Star Trek: Enterprise spent a lot of the final stretch of the third season playing at being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are a number of episodes that provide a direct parallel with stories from that earlier underrated Star Trek show. Damage riffs on In the Pale Moonlight. is very much Children of Time. More than that, the moral ambiguity and the long-form storytelling that define the third season of Enterprise also owe a very conscious debt to the work done on Deep Space Nine.

However, the final two episodes of the third season drift away from the ethical uncertainties and moral quagmires that defined a lot of the year’s stories. The Council effective resolved the big thematic questions hanging over the third season, allowing Archer the chance to propose a diplomatic solution to the Xindi crisis. This allows Countdown and Zero Hour to go about the task of providing a suitably impressive action climax to this twenty-four-episode season-long arc. There is precious little soul-searching here; instead, there is one big race against time.

The life aquatic...

The life aquatic…

In that respect, the last two episodes of the third season hark back to a more traditional form of Star Trek storytelling. In particular, Countdown and Zero Hour feel like an old-school blockbuster two-parter, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, with Archer’s fate in question and a hostile unstoppable force invading the solar system only to be destroyed in orbit of Earth, Countdown and Zero Hour play like an extended homage to The Best of Both Worlds.

While one of the most frequent criticisms of Enterprise is the sense that the writing staff are simply regurgitating classic Next Generation and Voyager plots, this feels almost earned. The third season has largely been about the show’s journey back to the heart of the Star Trek franchise, a trip that concluded with Archer embracing traditional Star Trek values in The Council. But what fun is that journey if you don’t get to celebrate it with an epic high-stakes world-ending rollercoaster ride?

"We cool?" "We cool."

“We cool?”
“We cool.”

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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 – E² (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.

Conventional wisdom treats as a bump in the road between The Forgotten and The Council, an episode that could easily be skipped on a marathon rewatch of the season. The argument suggests that the episode ultimately provides little meaningful information and advances the season’s over-arching plot by inches. The most critical of fans will consider an episode that saps the momentum out of the final run of the third season, preventing a clear home run between Azati Prime and Zero Hour.

This is certainly true from a plot-driven perspective. It would be easy enough to trim from the twenty-four episode season order without anybody batting an eyelid. At least Shran gets to make a cameo appearance in Zero Hour, while Lorian fades into discontinuity and non-existence. Like so many time travel stories, the final act of conveniently erases itself from existence. This just reinforces the sense that nothing that happened actually mattered in the grand scheme of things.

It's like looking in a mirror...

It’s like looking in a mirror…

This is another example of the complications that tend to come with serialised storytelling. The conventional way of telling a long-form story is to drive it via plot – to have a clear path along which the characters might advance with a number of clear markers along the way. In the case of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the launch of the Xindi weapon is an obvious marker; it is a plot point which the show must address before the end of the season. As such, the show’s serialisation is typically measured by whether it moves the crew in relation to that plot point.

doesn’t move the crew appreciably closer to that plot point. There is a miniature hurdle for the crew to overcome (getting into the subspace corridor to make the meeting with Degra), but it is very clearly just window-dressing on a plot that is very clearly more interested in the time-travel dynamics of having the Enterprise crew meet their descendants. The same narrative ground could have been covered by having Degra accompany Archer to the Xindi Council at the end of The Forgotten.

He's all ears...

He’s all ears…

However, plot is not the only thing important to long-form storytelling. Theme and character are just as important, as The Forgotten demonstrated. The biggest problem with is that it is a plot-driven episode of television that advances the season’s thematic and character arcs, but with a story that is disconnected from the season as a whole. Which is a shame, because the thematic and character dynamics are fascinating. This is the perfect point at which to confront Archer with the idea of legacy and consequence; to ask what kind of future might lie ahead.

As with a lot of the scripts for the third season, feels like a meditation on Enterprise‘s relationship with the rest of the franchise and where it stands at this point in its run.

"Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this."

“Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this.”

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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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