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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I (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.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are very strange pieces of television.

They represent the fifth- and fourth-to-last episodes (and third-to-last story) of Star Trek: Enterprise. They come towards the tail end of the Berman era as a whole, positioned right before Star Trek took a decade-long absence from television. With the fourth season rather consciously building towards integrating the series with the larger shared universe and trying to lay the foundation for the Federation, it would make sense for the final stretch of the season to channel its energy into that particular avenue.

A vigourous constitutional...

A vigourous constitutional…

However, rather than trying to tell a story essential to this particular show or to the franchise as a whole, the production team opted to construct a two-parter that would feature none of the show’s primary cast and which served as a prequel to an episode of television broadcast in October 1967 and a sequel to an episode of television broadcast in November 1968. The two-parter serves to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling so long that nobody really cared about them any longer. Given how obsessive Star Trek fans are, that is impressive.

This puts Enterprise in the rather strange position where three of its final five episodes (or two of its final three stories) do not feature any of the primary cast, instead focusing on doppelgangers or holograms. Perhaps this is a reflection on the show’s attitude towards its place within the canon. Perhaps Enterprise fears that it will be a secret history, a forgotten story populated by spectres and echoes.

Engines of destiny.

Engines of destiny.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forge (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.

The Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest three-parter of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fourth season. It could legitimately be argued that the Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest story of the entire season and one of the strongest stories of the show’s four-season run.

There are a lot of reasons why this is the case. The Kir’Shara trilogy makes great use of the franchise’s continuity and history, without getting too tied down into references for the sake of references. Indeed, there is a valid argument to be made that the trilogy represents the most overt rewriting of continuity across the fourth season, an ironic touch for a season so committed to continuity. The story does excellent work the show’s under-utilised supporting cast. The adventure actually merits three episodes, the story never dragging or wandering off on tangents.

Under a not quite blood red sky...

Under a not quite blood red sky…

However, a large part of why this trilogy of episodes works better than the Borderland trilogy or the United trilogy is a simple piece of structuring. The Kir’Shara trilogy has a very clear and linear three-act structure, with each of the three episodes fitting comfortably together while doing their bit to advance and escalate the plot. There are no strange structural detours like the siege in Cold Station 12 or the visit to Andoria in The Aenar. Each of these three episodes is recognisable part of a singular larger story that builds to a crescendo.

The Forge does an excellent job setting up the arc, Awakening does an excellent job raising the stakes, and Kir’Shara does an excellent job tying it all together. The result is a satisfying two-hour television movie broadcast in three forty-minute chunks.

Mapping out an adventure...

Mapping out an adventure…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stratagem (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.

With Stratagem, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise gets its head back in the game.

The recent stretch of third season episodes seemed to lose sight of what made this such an intriguing premise. Although Rick Berman had conceded that there was an escape hatch in place in case the Xindi arc could not sustain a full season of television, it was increasingly clear that the third season of Enterprise would be a single extended arc exploring Archer’s attempts to find the source of a deadly threat against mankind. It was a bold experiment for a show that had been quite rigidly episodic to this point. At least in theory.

Archer's on candid camera...

Archer’s on candid camera…

In practice, the third season of Enterprise seemed to flounder a little bit once it got past the initial burst of speed powering it into the third season. All of a sudden, the crew found themselves involved in a number of increasingly stand-alone adventures with superficial ties to the larger arc. Episodes like Extinction and Chosen Realm could easily have been produced and broadcast during the show’s first two seasons, with minor alterations. Exile and North Star were only loosely connected to the season’s plot. Carpenter Street was a time travel episode.

Proving Ground had suggested that the show was ready to re-focus its attention on the matter at hand and get back to the imminent threat posed by the Xindi. At the same time, the episode was also keen to stress its episodic nature – most notably in its role as the show’s annual check-in with the Andorians. Stratagem is very much its own self-contained story, but it is a lot more confident about how it fits in the larger scheme of things, and where it fits in the broader arc of the season.

Engineering a convincing set-up...

Engineering a convincing set-up…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Perspective (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

A Matter of Perspective is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s a disappointment for the same reason that The High Ground is a disappointment. The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is at least trying new things, and playing with big ideas for a syndicated television science-fiction show in the late eighties and early nineties. There is some charm to the episode’s basic premise (Rashomon in space… with the holodeck!”), but the script never quite manages to deliver on that wonderful set up.

Instead, we end up with a show that lacks the nuance to follow through on its central themes, and a mystery that confuses techno-babble for a satisfying solution.

Painting a pretty picture...

Painting a pretty picture…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Déjà Q (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Déjà Q is, in a way, the most quintessential of Star Trek: The Next Generation stories, one of the most perfect embodiments of the show’s philosophy. It’s the story about an alien who engages on a voyage of self-discovery, with the Enterprise crew serving as guides. It’s essentially an episode about what it means to be human, and is built upon the fundamentally assumption that being human allows a person the capacity for altruism and self-sacrifice.

It’s easy to imagine Déjà Q turning out unwatchable. This sort of “humans are brilliant!” storytelling was a staple of the show’s troubled first season, leading to episodes like The Last Outpost and Lonely Among Us. However, Déjà Q turns out to be quite the treat. It’s helped by the presence of John de Lancie’s superbly sardonic Q and Richard Danus’ decidedly wry script. Both of these help to temper the episode’s earnestness, leading to a show that is endearing rather than irritating.

Watching Déjà Q, there’s a sense that this is very much what Gene Roddenberry wanted the first two seasons of The Next Generation to be, but – at that stage in its young life – the show was never quite capable of producing something this charming.

Well, he knows how to make an entrance...

Well, he knows how to make an entrance…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The High Ground is a rather earnest issue-driven episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, dealing with one of the big issues of the day: international terrorism. However, the moral ambiguity of terrorism was a decidedly more contentious and controversial issue in early 1990 than the plight of Vietnam veterans explored in The Hunted or the Cold War politics of The Defector.

The High Ground is an allegory for the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a point in time where the Troubles were on-going. 1990 saw a number of high-profile terrorist actions conducted by the IRA. They bombed the London Stock Exchange in July. Using an explosive device, they murdered Sergeant Charles Chapman in May. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for his death. In February 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. So this was the context in which The High Ground aired.

And, to be fair, there’s something admirable about the show’s willingness to engage with a controversial issue, even if the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

Holding hands around the universe...

Holding hands around the universe…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Vengeance Factor is an ambitious little episode that never quite manages to follow through on its potential. Something of a Riker-centric romance to compliment the Troi-centric romance in The Price, the episode is an exploration of vengeance and generational strife – the cost of feuds that last decades, even centuries. It’s a story where Yuta’s thirst for revenge keeps her young, and one that opens with Crusher tracking the acts of piracy back to the Gatherers using a blood stain on a shard of metal. Subtle, it is not.

However, there’s something almost endearing about The Vengeance Factor, from its very eighties leather Mad Max reject space pirates through to the way that channels the optimism of Star Trek quite well. Although the ending is unbelievably forced, at least it is striking and effective. Far from perfect, and not among the high points of this third season, The Vengeance Factor still marks a sharp improvement from The Price.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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