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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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Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away today.

Nimoy is an interesting figure. He is an actor and director with a long a prolific career, who seldom wanted for steady work. He did a lot of quality work in front of (and behind) the camera. Nimoy was a series regular on the sixties version of Mission: Impossible, taking over from Martin Landau. He played a major role in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland. He also directed both Three Men and a Baby. He worked quite regularly and quite frequently. His body stretches over half a century.

leonardnimoy1

However, all of this work (and it is great work) is inevitably overshadowed by a single role. To an entire generation of people – not just fans, not even just casual television viewers – Leonard Nimoy was Spock. With his pointed ears, memorable catchphrases and iconic Vulcan salute, Nimoy was enigmatic half-human half-Vulcan who served as the first officer of the USS Enterprise. His work spans the franchise, from the unbroadcast original pilot (The Cage) to the most recent JJ Abrams feature (Star Trek Into Darkness).

This was the conflict at the heart of Nimoy, the extremely professional performer who worked pretty consistently throughout his life and the one role that he turned into a screen icon across television and film. Nimoy was a complex character. He famously published an autobiography declaring I Am Not Spock, only to follow it up with I Am Spock. It is a credit to the actor’s complexity and nuance that both could seem to be true in the same instant.

tos-amoktime12

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Star Trek – Patterns of Force (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Patterns of Force is a rather strange little episode, the type of weird and iconic adventure that Star Trek tended to do quite well. It’s very much an off-the-wall adventure, of the kind that none of the spin-off shows would attempt. “Planet of the Nazis” is a concept that belongs alongside other second-season episodes like “Planet of the Romans” or “Planet of the Gangsters.” It’s a very goofy premise, one that requires considerable suspension of disbelief before the episode even starts.

And, yet, despite the many serious problems with Patterns of Force, this is an episode that very clearly and very forcefully has something to say. Reflecting the world in which it aired, Star Trek is a show that is largely defined by the Second World War. In The City on the Edge of Forever, it was revealed that the Second World War had to happen to beckon the bright and optimistic future of Star Trek. Almost forty years later, the final televised season of the franchise would return to that idea in its opening episode.

"Computer, query. What is Godwin's Law?"

“Computer, query. What is Godwin’s Law?”

Kirk’s “final frontier” was Kennedy’s “new frontier” extrapolated centuries into the future, an optimistic and very American vision of what the twenty-third century might hold. Given that the show aired two decades following the end of the Second World War, the conflict that made America the most powerful global superpower, it makes sense that the conflict should cast a shadow over Star Trek. Various members of the production had served in the conflict, and it remained part of the national consciousness.

So an episode pitting Kirk and Spock against honest-to-goodness space Nazis seemed inevitable.

"Well, there goes syndication in Germany..."

“Well, there goes syndication in Germany…”

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Star Trek – The Immunity Syndrome (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Immunity Syndrome is an underrated masterpiece, the first genuine classic overseen by producer John Meredyth Lucas.

It is bold, brilliant and more than a little bit weird. This is Star Trek as pure sixties science-fiction. It is a psychedelic ecological tale focused on mankind’s place in the larger universe. It doesn’t just pit the Enterprise against a giant space amoeba, it suggests that the universe itself is a singular gigantic organism, a complex system in which the Enterprise is just one part. The Immunity Syndrome is weird and wonderful, eerie and beautiful in equal measure. It is one of Star Trek‘s most effective encapsulations of the sixties.

Freak out!

Freak out!

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Star Trek – A Private Little War (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek is a pop culture relic of the sixties. It’s possible to see the decade reflected in just about every facet of the production. The show’s costume and set design speak to the decade, as do the series’ sexual politics. The Cold War colours a significant portion of the series, reflected in the Klingons and elsewhere. The Second World War is treated as the beginning of the future, while much emphasis is put on mankind’s expansion to the stars.

Even outside of these general parallels, there are episodes that speak to particular facets of the sixties. The Naked Time, This Side of Paradise and The Way to Eden all play with the idea of social liberation. The Ultimate Computer, Return of the Archons, The Apple and The Changeling all speak to concerns and insecurities about the rapid advance of technology and the people left behind. Journey to Babel touches on the gap felt between conservative parents and liberal children ready to embrace life’s possibilities.

Make war, not love...

Make war, not love…

And then there’s the Vietnam episodes. Shows like Errand of Mercy and A Taste of Armageddon reflect the conflict in a number of ways that were not possible in the scripted dramas of the time. However, A Private Little War is perhaps the definitive Vietnam episode. Part of this is due to the script and the production, which makes explicit reference to “the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent.” With the Klingons and the Federation meddling directly in the conflict on a small backwater planet, comparisons invite themselves.

However, there were factors at play outside the control of the production team. A Private Little War was produced in late 1967. It aired on February 2, 1968. However, North Vietnamese forces had launched the Tet Offensive only a few days earlier – the campaign would land through the end of March. The Tet Offensive would end with the North Vietnamese suffering heavier losses than the American or South Vietnamese forces, but the attacks would have a devastating affect on public opinion.

"Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!"

“Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!”

A Private Little War is placed terribly. It is a reluctant justification of the Vietnam War, presenting interference in a foreign war as a terrible (but necessary) burden weighing on Kirk’s conscience. The episode closes with Kirk committing to arm the natives, even if the show doesn’t have the courage of its conviction to follow the idea to its logical consequences. For all that Star Trek is described as a liberal and pacifistic vision of the future, A Private Little War endorses American interference in Vietnam.

The broadcast of A Private Little War only a couple of days following the turning point of the public perception of the war is an absolutely fascinating pop cultural synergy – a demonstration of how Star Trek was inevitably and inexorably of its time in a way that even a few months delay between filming and broadcast could change the context of the episode so dramatically.

I wouldn't look so happy with myself...

I wouldn’t look so happy with myself…

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Star Trek – Journey to Babel (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Journey to Babel is pretty influential, as episodes of Star Trek go. It is an episode that really cements idea of the Federation that came to be at the heart of the franchise, suggesting that the organisation really is a diverse intergalactic alliance of diverse alien species, rather than a union between Earth and Vulcan. More than that, the episode suggests that the individual members of the Federation might not exist in perfect harmony with one another, but may each operate with their own agenda and motivations.

However, what is really remarkable about Journey to Babel is how much of this unfolds in the background. All this world-building and -embellishing is very much a secondary concern for writer D.C. Fontana. Despite its scale and its scope, Journey to Babel is a decidedly personal story about a family in crisis. It works remarkably well, offering viewers a bit more insight into Spock as a character and where he came from.

Party on, Gav...

Party on, Gav…

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Star Trek – Bread and Circuses (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bread and Circuses is not subtle. Then again, that is the point.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Bread and Circuses, the fourteenth episode produced for the second season, but the last to air. There’s the idea of a world dominated by “a twentieth century Rome”, a rogue captain, a Prime Directive dilemma and a scathing indictment of modern television. Not only is it one of the last episodes with a “produced by Gene L. Coon” credit, it is also an episode co-written by Roddenberry and Coon. It is also the episode of Star Trek that endorses Christianity most explicitly and heavily.

"Wait, we're only getting it in black and white?"

“Wait, we’re only getting it in black and white?”

Bread and Circuses is a bold and audacious piece of television, full of venom and righteous anger, rich in satire and cynicism. It’s a plot so ridiculously over-stuffed with good ideas that viewers are liable to forgive the show’s somewhat cop-out ending where Kirk and his away team beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way as though little has actually happened. Bread and Circuses feels like it uses every minute of its fifty-minute runtime wisely, balancing character with world-building.

It is probably a little bit too messy and disjointed to be labelled a dyed-in-the-wool classic, particularly when compared to the shows produced around it. Nevertheless, it is a decidedly ambitious piece of work, and one that demonstrates what Star Trek could do when it sets its mind to something.

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

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