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Star Trek: Enterprise – Borderland (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.

Borderland establishes the format that will come to define the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise; the mini-arc, a single story told over two or three episodes before moving along to the next adventure.

Technically speaking, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II established the format for the season. However, the franchise had done multi-part season premieres before. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was particularly fond of the format, seguing from a status quo altering season finale into a multi-part season opener; The Homecoming, The Circle, The Siege, The Search, Part I, The Search, Part II, The Way of the Warrior, Image in the Sand, Shadows and Symbols. This is to say nothing of the massive six episode arc that opened the sixth season.

Put your hands together for Mister Brent Spiner.

Put your hands together for Mister Brent Spiner.

Borderland represents a departure because it signals that the fourth season of Enterprise will be comprised entirely of multi-episode stories. Historically, Star Trek shows had typically done one or two multi-part stories in a season, give or take a cliffhanger to bridge two years of the show. The fourth season of Enterprise would tell seven multi-part stories eating up seventeen episodes of the twenty-two episode season order. It was certainly a bold departure for the series and the franchise.

In fact, Borderland begins the franchise’s first three-part episode since the second season of Deep Space Nine. (Although determined fans could likely stretch logic a little to suggest that Tears of the Prophets or Zero Hour were season finales that formed a three-parter when tied into the two-part premieres that followed.) It is a curious departure, and one that immediately helps to establish the fourth season of Enterprise as something quite distinct.

A slave to continuity...

A slave to continuity…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Home (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.

If Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II represented a transition between Brannon Braga and Manny Coto, then Home marks the point at which Manny Coto assumes full control of Star Trek: Enterprise.

As befits a season so steeped in Star Trek nostalgia, Home fits a familiar template. Each of three live action spin-offs took a brief timeout after an epic fourth season opener to tell a smaller character-driven story about the response to life-altering trauma. Jean-Luc Picard processed the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II through the quieter moments of Family. Jake Sisko confronted the loss of his father in The Visitor. Even Seven of Nine faced her disconnection from the Borg Collective in The Gift.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Marriage of inconvenience.

Home is clearly intended to allow the characters (and the show) to work through the issues generated by the epic third season arc, while also dutifully setting up plot threads that will play out across the rest of the season. Home might be a stand-alone episode in many ways, but it does serve to dovetail the third and fourth seasons of the show, working through character points that are hanging over from the show’s third year while also helping to establish elements that will become more important in the season ahead.

Home works rather well as a connecting structure, even if it lacks the raw emotional power of something like Family or The Visitor. It is well worth taking the time to focus upon (and flesh out) this cast. The biggest problem with Home is that so many of these characters feel underdeveloped, particularly compared to the casts of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is hard for those characters to carry an entire episode when they haven’t been properly developed.

"Go climb a rock!"

“Go climb a rock!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Storm Front, Part II (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.

Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II arrive at a transitory time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

The fourth season was almost certain to be the end of the show, with Brannon Braga stepping back from the writers’ room to allow Manny Coto the chance to the take the reins. Coto would use the opportunity to more firmly connect the show to its franchise roots, constructing a final season that would serve as something of a bridge between this prequel series and the rest of the canon. However, there was just one problem. Coto inherited a cliffhanger from Zero Hour, the third season finale that stranded Archer in the past with some evil!alien!space!Nazis.

Into the sunset...

Into the sunset…

Although the fourth season of Enterprise is widely praised by the few fans who remained watching until the bitter end, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II are often overlooked in discussions of the season. Much like These Are the Voyages… at the very end of the season, the opening two-parter is largely treated as a story foisted upon an incoming executive producer that does not reflect his own plans or desires for the season ahead. There is typically a sense of obligation to discussions of the two-parter as little more than a speed bump into the season.

This is a shame. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II were both written by Manny Coto. Although the producer inherited the basic premise and the brief from his direct predecessors, how Coto chose to approach the material is quite insightful and informative. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II might be seen as an introduction to the Manny Coto era before it properly begins in Home.

"It's been a long road, gettin' from there to here... It's been a long time, but my time is finally near..."

“It’s been a long road, gettin’ from there to here…
It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Storm Front, 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.

Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II arrive at a transitory time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

The third season of the show had wrapped on a somewhat unexpected cliffhanger, finding Archer confronted by an evil!alien!space!Nazi in the midst of what looked to be the Second World War. Given that the third season had been written as a single extended dramatic arc about Archer and his crew saving Earth from an alien threat, the twist seemed to come out of nowhere. Instead of allowing Archer and his crew to return home, Zero Hour threw out one final hurdle for the characters; a bump in the road home.

Ship shape.

Ship shape.

However, the episodes also marked a transition behind the scenes. This particular iteration of the Star Trek franchise was on borrowed time. There had been warning signs as early as the first season, but the massive reworking of the show in The Expanse suggested that the network had adopted a “do or die” approach to the future of this lucrative science-fiction franchise. The fact that the third season had its episode order cut and there were suggestions that a fourth season was unlikely suggested that the show had not “done.”

Even aside from all that, the start of the fourth season saw Rick Berman and Brannon Braga taking a step back from the franchise and handing the reins to executive producer Manny Coto. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II might be seen as the collective last gasp of the Berman and Braga era. Give or take These Are The Voyages…

Back to the future.

Back to the future.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 3 (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.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is a mess.

It is very clearly the work of a production team still figuring out how to plot long-form stories and struggling with the logistical difficulties of mapping out a single narrative across what was originally planned as a twenty-six episode season. There are extended periods where narrative momentum stalls; there are key moments where it seems like the show has no idea where it wants to go next. It seems like the production team never sat down in the gap before production began to figure out what story they wanted to tell, and ended up improvising.

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However, it is also a bold and ambitious piece of television. It demonstrates an energy and excitement that had been lacking from the Star Trek franchise since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went off the air. It is a season of television that doesn’t always work, but that is to be expected when the production team are trying something new. The failures of the first two seasons of the show often stemmed from a lack of ambition on the part of the production team; the failures in the third season are rooted in a surplus of ambition. It is hard to find them too objectionable.

The Xindi arc doesn’t always work as well as it might, but it works more than often enough to excuse the clumsy missteps along the way. There is something compelling and dynamic about a Star Trek show that is willing to push itself so far outside its own comfort zone. There is a spirit of adventure to the third season of Enterprise that had been sorely lacking from the first two seasons of the show. The biggest disappointment is that it took the show this long to find that confidence and that adventurousness.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Zero Hour (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.

There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.

In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Countdown (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.

Star Trek: Enterprise spent a lot of the final stretch of the third season playing at being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are a number of episodes that provide a direct parallel with stories from that earlier underrated Star Trek show. Damage riffs on In the Pale Moonlight. is very much Children of Time. More than that, the moral ambiguity and the long-form storytelling that define the third season of Enterprise also owe a very conscious debt to the work done on Deep Space Nine.

However, the final two episodes of the third season drift away from the ethical uncertainties and moral quagmires that defined a lot of the year’s stories. The Council effective resolved the big thematic questions hanging over the third season, allowing Archer the chance to propose a diplomatic solution to the Xindi crisis. This allows Countdown and Zero Hour to go about the task of providing a suitably impressive action climax to this twenty-four-episode season-long arc. There is precious little soul-searching here; instead, there is one big race against time.

The life aquatic...

The life aquatic…

In that respect, the last two episodes of the third season hark back to a more traditional form of Star Trek storytelling. In particular, Countdown and Zero Hour feel like an old-school blockbuster two-parter, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, with Archer’s fate in question and a hostile unstoppable force invading the solar system only to be destroyed in orbit of Earth, Countdown and Zero Hour play like an extended homage to The Best of Both Worlds.

While one of the most frequent criticisms of Enterprise is the sense that the writing staff are simply regurgitating classic Next Generation and Voyager plots, this feels almost earned. The third season has largely been about the show’s journey back to the heart of the Star Trek franchise, a trip that concluded with Archer embracing traditional Star Trek values in The Council. But what fun is that journey if you don’t get to celebrate it with an epic high-stakes world-ending rollercoaster ride?

"We cool?" "We cool."

“We cool?”
“We cool.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (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.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Damage (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.

The stock comparison for Damage is In the Pale Moonlight.

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, both are Star Trek episodes that hinge on a series of morally questionable decisions made by the lead actor in a moment of sheer desperation. In In the Pale Moonlight, Benjamin Sisko starts a chain of events that builds towards the assassination of a Romulan Senator to trick the Romulans into joining the war effort. In Damage, Jonathan Archer resorts to piracy in order to obtain the parts necessary to make a meeting with Degra in order to plead against the use of the Xindi weapon.

A met a man who wasn't there...

A met a man who wasn’t there…

There are some notable differences, of course. In purely practical plotting terms, Sisko dominates the narrative of In the Pale Moonlight; the entire story is related directly by Sisko to the audience in the form of a personal log. In contrast, Damage is split between the demands of Archer’s own arc in the episode and various other continuity elements; the episode needs to get Archer back to his ship and devote a considerable amount of time to T’Pol’s addiction. As a result, it lacks the keen focus that made In the Pale Moonlight so compelling.

At the same time, there is something much more direct about Damage. Sisko is quite detached from the horrors of In the Pale Moonlight, with the audience insulated from his choices through the use of a framing device and Sisko himself insulated through his use of Garak to conduct all the unpalatable actions. In contrast, Archer makes a point to bloody his own hands over the course of Damage. He doesn’t have somebody else to make the decision for him; he leads the boarding party himself.

Everything comes apart...

Everything comes apart…

It is a very bold an unsettling choice, a culmination of a character arc that has been pushing Archer towards this sort of horrific choice since Anomaly. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise has not been entirely consistent when it comes to its character arcs, working better in broad strokes than in fine detail. Nevertheless, Damage represents a very clear commitment to the promise of the third season of Enterprise; an interrogation of the franchise’s core values in an increasingly morally ambiguous world.

Damage is a deeply uncomfortable and unsettling episode of Star Trek, but it is arguably a necessary one. It is, in many ways, a criticism of the moral absolutism that informs a lot of discussion about terrible situations, suggesting that reality is often a lot more complicated than people might hope it would be.

Drowning his sorrows...

Drowning his sorrows…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Azati Prime (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.

If you can end on a high note, the audience will forgive a lot.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is one of the boldest and most ambitious seasons of Star Trek ever produced; it is certainly the most adventurous season of the franchise to air outside of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. However, on an episode-to-episode basis, the quality is quite variable. There are great episodes (Impulse, Twilight), underrated episodes (North Star, Exile), fun episodes (Stratagem), and experimental episodes (Harbinger), but there are also a lot of episodes that are more interesting in theory than in practice.

Explosive finalé...

Explosive finalé…

It becomes increasingly obvious over the course of the season that the writing staff did not plan the year-long arc far enough in advance and that the show struggles to figure out where it wants to go after the initial burst of speed wears off. There are even a couple of outright stinkers that rank with the worst that the franchise ever produced. However, there is a lot to be said for an ending. The third season of Enterprise hits a few speed bumps along the way, but it manages to rally for an impressive and largely satisfying conclusion.

Azati Prime begins the march towards the end of the season. It was the first episode to be filmed after the Christmas break, suggesting that it was the work of a revitalised writing staff and an energised production team. More than that, it was broadcast as the last episode before a six-week break in the broadcast schedule, suggesting that everybody involved knew exactly the kind of hit that they had on their hands. It injects an incredible energy into a show that might be racing towards its own apocalypse.

Future's end...

Future’s end…

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