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Star Trek: Enterprise – Harbinger (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 goes almost without saying that the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was an attempt to revitalise a franchise that had already been on television for a decade and half. It was an attempt to do something quite radical and dynamic with a television property that had become rather staid and conservative. Star Trek: The Next Generation had been perfectly calibrated for the late eighties and early nineties, but its approach towards storytelling was increasingly outdated after seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

One of the recurring issues in the first season of Enterprise was the conflict between the established franchise structure and something more adventurous and exciting. So many of those first season episodes seemed laboriously paced and awkwardly arch; there was a sense of dull routine rather than exciting adventure. The show would occasionally try to deviated from the established template (to varying degrees of success) with stories like Dear Doctor, Shuttlepod One, and A Night in Sickbay, but narrative conservatism won out in the sophomore season.

"So... sweeps?"

“So… sweeps?”

In many ways, Harbinger plays as a return to those earlier experiments in story structure. It is an episode that is not driven by story. Although the strange alien discovered by the crew provides a suitably dramatic climax, most of Harbinger is built around established character dynamics. Trip and T’Pol begin working through the sexual tension that has existed between them since the start of the third season; Reed and Hayes do something similar in a very different fashion. In the meantime, the ship just cruises along en route to the third season’s next big plot beat.

Harbinger is not entirely successful in this regard. There is a sense that the franchise is still figuring out how to construct episodes that don’t conform to a rigid story structure, with the mysterious alien visitor serving as an effective crutch to help get around these problems. Still, it is an interesting experiment and an example of how the show is consciously trying to reinvent itself in a manner that is more than simply cosmetic.

Expanding his Sphere of influence...

Expanding his Sphere of influence…

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