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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (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.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Terra Prime (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.

It all began with Spock.

The character of Spock was the only character to survive the transition between the two Star Trek pilots produced in the sixties. Leonard Nimoy first appeared as science officer Spock in The Cage, opposite Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter. When the studio vetoed the original pilot, Gene Roddenberry was forced to jettison a lot of the cast and characters before setting to work on a second pilot. Spock survived serving (along with the sets and props) as a bridge between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

Spock is an iconic part of American culture. He is instantly recognisable in a way that very few elements of the franchise can claim to be. He lingers in the collective memory. Leonard Nimoy has repeatedly been favoured over William Shatner as an ambassador of the brand. Nimoy reprised the role of Spock opposite Patrick Stewart in Unification, Part I more than two whole years before Shatner would cross paths with Jean-Luc Picard as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Nimoy appeared in a key role in Star Trek; Shatner declined a cameo.

Star Trek: Enterprise was never going to feature a guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy. However, Spock as clearly haunted the fourth season as the embodiment of the franchise spirit. The Vulcan-human hybrid at the centre of Demons and Terra Prime makes little sense in basic plot terms, Elizabeth serves as a harbinger that might summon Spock. And, in doing so, Elizabeth might yet summon the future. It began with Spock, it ends with Spock. At least for now.

Infinite diversity in finite combinations...

Infinite diversity in finite combinations…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, 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.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are an indulgence.

That goes almost without saying, this indulgence standing as one of the most searing critiques of the two-parter. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise had only five episodes left at this point in its run. One of those episodes would be given over to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to bring in Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as a way to allow Star Trek: The Next Generation to put a cap on the eighteen years of the Berman era. Devoting two of the remaining four episodes to the mirror universe was a choice that left the show open to criticism.

Archer's cosplay went down a treat.

Archer’s cosplay went down a treat.

After all, it is not as if the audience at home was crying out for more mirror universe episodes. Even hardcore Star Trek fans were still recovering from the trauma of The Emperor’s New Cloak, the seventh season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that had the audacity to combine a mirror universe episode with a Ferengi episode. Discounting the somewhat divisive (and mirror universe free) Resurrection, the last time that a mirror universe episode really worked had been Crossover, which had been broadcast before Star Trek: Voyager was on the air.

So In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are both episodes that feel excessive and gratuitous. And, for all their flaws, that is a huge part of the charm.

Gorn again.

Gorn again.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, 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.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are very strange pieces of television.

They represent the fifth- and fourth-to-last episodes (and third-to-last story) of Star Trek: Enterprise. They come towards the tail end of the Berman era as a whole, positioned right before Star Trek took a decade-long absence from television. With the fourth season rather consciously building towards integrating the series with the larger shared universe and trying to lay the foundation for the Federation, it would make sense for the final stretch of the season to channel its energy into that particular avenue.

A vigourous constitutional...

A vigourous constitutional…

However, rather than trying to tell a story essential to this particular show or to the franchise as a whole, the production team opted to construct a two-parter that would feature none of the show’s primary cast and which served as a prequel to an episode of television broadcast in October 1967 and a sequel to an episode of television broadcast in November 1968. The two-parter serves to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling so long that nobody really cared about them any longer. Given how obsessive Star Trek fans are, that is impressive.

This puts Enterprise in the rather strange position where three of its final five episodes (or two of its final three stories) do not feature any of the primary cast, instead focusing on doppelgangers or holograms. Perhaps this is a reflection on the show’s attitude towards its place within the canon. Perhaps Enterprise fears that it will be a secret history, a forgotten story populated by spectres and echoes.

Engines of destiny.

Engines of destiny.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Divergence (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.

Given the general directions and interests of the fourth season, an episode like Divergence was inevitable.

Before Affliction and Divergence aired, the subject of “Klingon foreheads” was of great interest to a fandom that had noted the change in Klingon make-up between the broadcast of The Time Trap in November 1973 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979. In the years following the debut of the “forehead ridges” during the introductory sequence of The Motion Picture, the ridges became a source of curiousity and fascination for the fandom.

Things come to a forehead...

Things come to a forehead…

This curiousity was stoked by the franchise itself, most notably Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Perhaps owing to the show’s engagement with its franchise roots, the production team teased out the dilemma on a number of occasions. Three classic Klingons – Kor, Koloth and Kang – actually gained ridges between their appearances on the original Star Trek and their reappearance in Blood Oath. Encountering flat-headed Klingons during Trials and Tribble-ations, the crew pushed Worf for an explanation. “We do not discuss it with outsiders,” he responded.

Given that the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise has been so fixated upon issues of continuity and history, it seems like it was only a matter of time before one of the season’s multi-episode arcs would be devoted to explaining what had originally been a quirk of make-up design and had evolved into one of the franchise’s most fun (and admittedly trivial) riddles.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Affliction (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 shift from episodic storytelling to a more serialised format poses all manner of challenges for the Star Trek production team.

By the time that Star Trek: Enterprise embraced long-form storytelling with The Expanse at the end of its second season, the franchise was dangerous behind the curve. During the nineties, genre shows like The X-Files, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 had demonstrated the potential of serialisation as a narrative tool. Even within this particular franchise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had managed to strike a reasonable balance between standalone stories and the larger narrative framework.

Nothin' but Trip...

Nothin’ but Trip…

This is say nothing of the revolution taking place on a wider scale. HBO had allowed its production team to embrace the potential of long-form storytelling on late nineties shows like Oz or The Sopranos. Within a few years, the cable broadcaster had attracted considerable mainstream attention by embracing serialisation on shows like The Wire, Deadwood and Rome. In the meantime, Star Trek: Voyager had steadfastly refused to move beyond the episodic model. When Ronald D. Moore left the franchise, any experience with serialisation left with him.

As such, it is no surprise that the franchise struggled with some of the challenges posed by a serialised storytelling model. In particular, Enterprise struggled a little bit with integrating its entire ensemble into its new serialised storytelling model. Affliction and Divergence feel like an attempt to rectify this issue, with mixed results.

It's all coming together...

It’s all coming together…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Kir’Shara (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 fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is renowned for its focus upon continuity.

That is as true of the Kir’Shara trilogy as of any other episode. The script is saturated with references and nods to the rest of the franchise, tying together thirty-eight years of Vulcan continuity into a cohesive narrative structure. The Kir’Shara trilogy ties together everything from the Romulan schism in Balance of Terror to the symbolic importance of Mount Seleya in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to the story behind the IDIC symbol that had first appeared in Is There in Truth No Beauty?

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

However, what is most striking the Kir’Shara trilogy is that the episode’s continuity really doesn’t fit in a very rigid way. Although the Kir’Shara trilogy is nominally about explaining how the secretive and distrustful Vulcans of Enterprise became the iconic and well-loved aliens associated with the rest of the franchise, offering an epic three-part story about Archer and T’Pol singlehandedly saving Vulcan society by putting them back in touch with the values espoused by the legendary Vulcan philosopher Surak. (Surak had appeared in The Savage Curtain.)

This makes for a very satisfying story within the larger narrative arc of Enterprise, demonstrating that Earth and Vulcan might be more compatable than Ambassador Soval would ever admit. It paves the way for stories like Babel One, United, Demons and Terra Prime. However, it also stands quite at odds with the larger continuity of the franchise, where the Vulcans have consistently been portrayed as secretive and superior. There is nothing wrong with that continuity contradiction, but it is interesting in the larger context of the fourth season.

Homecoming.

Homecoming.

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