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Star Trek: Voyager – Sacred Ground (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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.

Sacred Ground is a rather strange episode.

In a way, this is where the second season of Star Trek: Voyager dies. This is certainly true in a literal sense; it is the last of the four episodes held over from the end of the second season, buried between a quarter and a third of the way into the show’s third year. However, the episode also closes out some of themes that were bubbling through the first two years of the show. Michael Piller had imbued the first two seasons of the show with a new age spirituality, mostly through the character of Chakotay. Sacred Ground closes that out.

Holy plot.

Holy plot.

There is a sense that the show is uncomfortable with Sacred Ground. Although it was the first of those four carryover episodes to be produced, Sacred Ground was the last of the four to be broadcast. While the decision to air Basics, Part II at the start of the season makes logical sense, it is strange that the production team would choose to bury the episode as far into the season as possible. Of those four episodes, the production team were ready to air False Profits before Sacred Ground. That is a frightening thought.

It is understandable. Voyager‘s previous attempts at new age mysticism had not gone well, reducing Chakotay to a Native American cliché in episodes like The Cloud and Tattoo. However, it is also quite frustrating, as Sacred Ground comes closer to working than any of Piller’s earlier attempts.

Burying the consequences.

Burying the consequences.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Twilight (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.

Twilight is a fascinating piece of Star Trek.

There are some significant flaws with the episode, particularly in how it treats T’Pol as a character and the eagerness with which it grabs at the famed “reset button.” However, despite these problems, Twilight is pretty much perfectly positioned. Eight episodes into the third season, the new status quo has been established. The ground rules have been laid down. Over the past seven episodes, fans have been given a sense of how the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is supposed to work.

Keep your shirt on, Archer...

Keep your shirt on, Archer…

However, there is a palpable sense of unease about the larger arc – a question of how Star Trek can tell a story like the Xindi arc while remaining true to itself. The Shipment was an awkward attempt to impose a traditional Star Trek moral structure upon the season. North Star and Similitude are very much traditional Star Trek morality tales set against the backdrop of the larger arc. Like many of the stronger shows towards the tail end of the second season, these episodes seem to ask how you can apply old Star Trek standards to the twenty-first century.

Twilight is an episode about what happens if the Xindi arc goes wrong. Obviously, this is a story about what happens if Archer cannot save Earth from the Xindi, documenting the slow death of mankind as they are hunted through the cosmos. However, on an external level, Twilight is a story about what happens if Star Trek bungles this big grasp at relevance. It is no coincidence that the debilitating impairment that Archer develops involves his long-term memory. If the franchise forgets itself, all is lost.

Everything dies...

Everything dies…

Twilight is not just the story about the death of Earth or the death of humanity. It is a story about the death of Star Trek. Two years earlier, the franchise had seemed almost invincible; the idea of there not being any Star Trek on the air after the end of Star Trek: Voyager seemed almost absurd. However, by the time that the show had reached the third season, its existence was very much in peril. Twilight is a story about how horrible and apocalyptic the future might be; how Star Trek might find itself hobbled and then destroyed.

As its name implies, Twilight is a lament for the franchise; perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that the show was nothing more than a dead man walking at this point. The result is a surprisingly moving piece of television, a thoughtful and considerate examination of just how much is on the line for the franchise as well as the characters.

Waking dream...

Waking dream…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Cold Front (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.

It is customary, these days, for television shows to map out their mythologies years in advance. Depending on when you ask him, executive producer Bryan Fuller boasts of having a six- or seven-year plan for Hannibal, despite the fact that the show spends each cancellation period on the bubble line for NBC. Indeed, the move away from the standard television pilot format means that shows are encouraged to have long-form plots and arcs mapped out.

However, that isn’t always the case. The X-Files was very much made up as it went along, with little real thought put into how the show’s sprawling alien mythology hung together beyond the immediate future. Even heavily serialised shows like Lost or 24 were plotted as they went along, with plans radically changing as the show evolved. Unlike film, where you (mostly) need a finished story before you start filming, television is a medium where you don’t really need an ending in mind as you begin telling the story.

There's a lot on the (time) line...

There’s a lot on the (time) line…

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Star Trek: Enterprise introduced the idea of the “Temporal Cold War” without any real idea of how the story was meant to develop or conclude. Although structured as something of a serialised arc among a (mostly) episodic couple of seasons, the Temporal Cold War is something that makes very little sense in the context of the show. Even years after the fact, the Temporal Cold War is a mystery, with Brannon Braga casually dropping the reveal that, well… Archer did it.

Of course, that plot development doesn’t make a lot of sense… but that’s par for the course. It is very hard to tie the various Enterprise time travel episodes together into a logical and cohesive narrative. Cold Front doesn’t even bother to answer questions immediately relevant to its own narrative, let alone hint at logical future developments for the series’ recurring time-travel plot line. It’s a story that seldom makes sense within individual episodes, let alone when they are strung together.

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors...

In space, all warriors are (temporal) cold warriors…

And yet, despite that, Cold Front is a pretty great episode. Part of that is down to the Temporal Cold War plot line, with Cold Front introducing a welcome sense of ambiguity to the conflict and selling the idea that Archer has wandered into something much larger than he can comprehend. On an otherwise quiet mission, Enterprise finds itself embroiled in a conflict between two forces that Archer does not fully understand, as if the ship and its crew have found themselves engaged on one front of a war in heaven.

However, Cold Front works just as well with the elements that exist outside the Temporal Cold War. As with Breaking the Ice, the episode plays like a regular day on board the Enterprise, as Archer and his crew find themselves welcoming religious pilgrims on board and making friendly first contact as they gather to watch some beautiful interstellar phenomenon. It’s an episode that draws attention to the quiet wonder and majesty of deep space exploration, elegantly and effectively.

Hang on in there...

Hang on in there…

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