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Star Trek: Voyager – Friendship One (Review)

Friendship One finds Star Trek: Voyager trapped between its own past and the future of the larger Star Trek franchise.

Of course, there’s no small irony that that future would take the form of Star Trek: Enterprise, a prequel set almost a century before the original series and (to date) the television series set at the earliest point in the larger continuity. This gets at something very strange about the seventh season of Voyager, where it seems to be looking both back at and forwards to the past. In some ways, it is the ultimately literalisation of the “end of history” ambiance that pervades the series, articulated in stories like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. There is no future. There is just the past.

What ship can cause antimatter annihilation and has room for two people?
A friendship?

So Friendship One seems caught between two different versions of the past. In its most obvious sense, it is trapped in Voyager‘s own idea of the past. It is an atomic-era creature feature about the horrors of radiation, a pulpy fifties schlock-fest that feels of a piece with everything from Jetrel to The 37’s to Cathexis to Macrocosm to In the Flesh to Bride of Chaotica! This is the future as it looked in the fifties, the atomic (rather than “post-atomic”) horror. However, it also gestures very strongly towards Enterprise, even accidentally encapsulating some of the core anxieties of the fourth Star Trek spin-off in an eerily prescient manner.

The result is an episode that feels like it is suffocating in its own past, with no idea of how to chart a course forward.

Does anything really (anti)matter?

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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: 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 – Demons (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 some ways, Star Trek: Enterprise ends where it should have began.

A lot of the final stretch of the final season seems dedicated to exploring the show’s original sin, the flaws that came baked into the premise as early as Broken Bow. After all, Bound had taken the cringe-inducing adolescent fixation on “sexiness” that informed ideas like the “decontamination gel” and pushed them to their sexist extremes. Similarly, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II offered the revenge of the two members of the ensemble all but forgotten in subsequent years while pushing the show’s early reactionary tendencies to eleven.

Under the Earthlight. The serious Earthlight.

Under the Earthlight. The serious Earthlight.

Even These Are the Voyages… seemed to confirm fears that the show had been built as a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: First Contact rather than a prequel to the original Star Trek, a fear shared by many fans frustrated by elements like the design of the ship or the appearance of the Nausicaans in Fortunate Son or the Ferengi in Acquisition. That final episode left open the (admittedly remote) possibility that the entire show was nested inside the holodeck of Picard’s ship.

Demons and Terra Prime touch on the same introspective ideas, by taking the show’s final two-parter (if not its de facto finale) and using it to tell a story that probably should have been told half-way through the first season. It seems like the production team have finally decided to grapple with the core themes of Enterprise. Just at the last possible minute.

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Bound (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.

Bound is, for all intents and purposes, the last standalone episode of Star Trek of the Rick Berman era.

There are five more episodes following Bound, but they consist of two two-parters and the official series finale. Bound is very much the last “regular” episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to be produced, the last episodic adventure in the series. In fact, given the trends in contemporary television that are nudging the format towards serialisation and long-form storytelling, it seems entirely plausible that Bound could be the last standalone episode of Star Trek ever produced.

Strike a pose.

Strike a pose.

As such, it is a shame that Bound is a complete and utter disaster. It is an embarrassment to the series and to the franchise. More than that, it is an embarrassment that was written by the fourth season showrunner and which feels very much like the big ideas of the fourth season carried to their logical conclusion. Bound recalls the horrible sexism of episodes like Precious Cargo and Bounty, cloaking its objectionable sexual politics in the guise of nostalgia. Arguably the best things about Bound is that it makes Rajiin seem well-constructed in comparison.

Bound is easily the worst episode of the season and a strong contender for one of the worst episodes of the series. What better way to remember Enterprise?

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

Nostalgic sexism, hoy!

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Aenar (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 United trilogy does not flow as well as the Kir’Shara trilogy did.

In fact, it is debatable whether these three episodes are best described as a single three-parter or instead as a two-parter with a coda tacked on. After all, the bulk of the action and drama unfolds in Babel One and United, with the penultimate scene of United finding Archer sitting down with the Andorians and Tellarites to begin laying the groundwork for the United Federation of Planets. Even the subplots are neatly tidied up between those two episodes; Trip and Reed get stranded on the Romulan drone in Babel One and rescued by Enterprise in United.

This blue world.

This blue world.

It would be perfectly reasonable to close off the story at that point. The Romulans had been scared off, and Senator Vrax had already made it clear that an embarrassing failure would mean the end of his career and that of Valdour. Even the closing scene of United, revealing an albino Andorian operating the drone ship from Romulus, feels almost tacked on after the previous sequence that had memorably pulled out from the meeting room on Enterprise to emphasise the union of Starfleet, the Vulcans, the Andorians and the Tellarites.

Using that cliffhanger at the end of UnitedThe Aenar pivots away from that to focus on a trip to Andoria. It affords Archer (and Star Trek: Enterprise) one last opportunity to visit Shran’s homeworld.

A cold reception.

A cold reception.

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