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Star Trek: Voyager – Future’s End, Part II (Review)

In a very real way, the Rick Berman era of Star Trek ends with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II marks the point at which Star Trek: Voyager stops moving forward. It is the point at which the show decides that it has accomplished just about everything that it could ever want to accomplish, and that it has crystalised into its final form. There are some changes still to come, with the introduction of Jeri Ryan in Scorpion, Part II and the departure of Jeri Taylor following Hope and Fear, but (by and large) the show has pretty much figured out the kinds of stories that it wants to tell and the ways in which it wants to tell those stories.

More like a hole-o deck character...

More like a hole-o deck character…

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II feels like an appropriate place at which to draw that line in the sand. It is the two-parter that really introduces the concept of big blockbuster storytelling to Voyager, and which restructures the series as a mechanism through which generic Star Trek stories might be told. The template for the remaining three-and-a-half seasons can be found in this episode, from the “everything is back to normal” ending through to the idea of giving Janeway a a singular action-movie antagonist against which she might define herself.

The two-parter seems to freeze Voyager in amber, and set its storytelling sensibilities in stone. There will be no more experimentation, no more evolution. This is how things are to be from this point onwards. Appropriately enough, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II mark the future’s end.

Tom and Tuvok's Bogus Journey...

Tom and Tuvok’s Bogus Journey…

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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 – Carpenter Street (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.

This is the point at which it becomes all but impossible to argue that the production team knew what they were doing this season.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise holds together reasonably well, if the viewer pulls back to a big enough distance. The broad arcs are discernible and logical – there is a clear start point and a reasonable trajectory, even if the first half of the season tends to get a bit lost. It really pulls itself together during the second half of the season, with one or two exceptions, building towards a finalé that satisfies both the demands of a year-long arc and the franchise surrounding it. It is not perfect, but it is not bad for a first attempt.

Hey kids! It's Leland Orser!

Hey kids! It’s Leland Orser!

Of course, it is also quite clear that the production team really had no idea what they were doing – or even what they were trying to do. The fact that it comes together in the second half of the season all but concedes that it doesn’t hold together in the first half. The first half of the third season is populated with standalone episodes that tend to either fit thematically (North Star, Similitude) or tonally (Impulse, Exile) with the general direction of the show, but a rather limited sense of progress or advancement.

Carpenter Street is the point at which any real sense of trust between the audience and the production team snaps like a twig. It is a story that features the characters time travelling to modern-day Earth in the middle of a gigantic story arc about how they are more isolated than they ever have been before. It throws away any sense of internal logic or consistency, never really exploring how an alien species that can travel back to Detroit in 2004 should have a problem with Earth in 2153. And, crucially, it is not fun enough to excuse those issues.

Hey kid! It's Jeffrey Dean Morgan! (Really!)

Hey kid! It’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan!
(Really!)

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Expanse (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, finally, everything changes.

It feels inevitable. Maybe not in this particular form, maybe not in this particular way, but Star Trek: Enterprise needed something. The show needed to stop feeling like a relic of the early nineties – a great song played on loop to the point where it became nothing more than generic white noise. The Expanse gives the show a clear sense of direction and a clear sense of purpose. It is not a direction that is unanimously loved, and it is not a purpose that is realised as well as it might be, but it finally feels like Enterprise is boldly going in its own direction.

A walk among the wreckage...

A walk among the ruins…

In many respects, the obvious point of comparison for The Expanse is an episode like The Jem’Hadar or A Call to Arms. It is an episode that is clearly written to reach an ending so that the show can start doing something new. These episodes tend to tease a brave new future, one utterly unlike anything that Star Trek has done before, but they play like extended forty-five minute trailers. Watching The Expanse, it feels like show runners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are thinking more about the direction than the destination. That’s not a bad thing at this point.

Polarising as it might be, and occasionally awkward as it might be, The Expanse was utterly necessary. Enterprise is a Star Trek show that exists in the shadow of 9/11. That horrific terrorist attack has reverberated throughout the series. The War on Terror informs and distorts narratives like Shadows of P’Jem, ShockwaveThe SeventhCease FireThe CrossingJudgmentRegeneration and Cogenitor. However, there is a sense that Enterprise never accepted that heavy pull of gravity.

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

Sometimes it worked; Judgment, Regeneration and Cogenitor are all examples of the series trying to apply its own morality to a more complicated and confusing geopolitical climate. However, the War on Terror made it hard to reconcile Jonathan Archer as both an explorer and a paranoid reactionary. The unquestioning trust in authority in The Seventh, to the point where he did not question the Vulcan High Command’s mindwipe of T’Pol? The all-consuming dread upon meeting something different in The Crossing? These do not fit well within Star Trek.

So The Expanse pushes all that to the front. The opening teaser features a strange alien ship appearing and carving a large scar in the surface of the planet – a very visual representation of the damage done to the utopian optimism of Star Trek. Now that the scar had been literalised, it could be discussed and explored. The Expanse made sure that nobody was talking around the elephant in the room; everybody was now charging right at it.

The way ahead is cloudy...

The way ahead is cloudy…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shockwave, Part II (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Shockwave, Part I was one of the stronger episodes of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Shockwave, Part II is not one of the stronger episodes of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

"Tell me how many seasons we get!"

“Tell me how many seasons we get!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Shockwave, Part I (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.

Re-watching a television show with the benefit hindsight is a particularly intriguing experience. Knowing that certain plot lines or character threads will or won’t pay off can be a liberating experience. While a disappointing ending to a particular story can undermine a lot of what came before, foreknowledge of the inevitable anticlimax allows the viewer to manage their expectations and temper their enthusiasm. It stops the viewer from getting too involved with threads that lead to dead ends, and heightens appreciations for those that pay dividends.

The Temporal Cold War plot on Star Trek: Enterprise never went anywhere. This is rather obvious in hindsight, given that it has been a decade since the end of the show. However, it’s worth acknowledging that many viewers correctly predicted as much on the initial airing of Broken Bow in late 2001. None of the questions raised will be answered, none of the plot threads will be resolved. It will just sit there, nestled snugly in the heart of this Star Trek spin-off, possibly embodying the show’s unfulfilled potential.

Enterprise isn't quite going to make it to seventh (season) heaven...

Enterprise isn’t quite going to make it to seventh (season) heaven…

While the Temporal Cold War lacks a clear resolution, it does provide the impetus for some pretty good storytelling on its own terms. In many respects, the plot works best when it exists as a driving force in the background of an episode – rather than being pushed to the fore. This is probably why Cold Front and Shockwave, Part I work much better than episodes like Shockwave, Part II – episodes that use the Temporal Cold War as a jumping off point to character work and development, rather than an end of itself.

Shockwave, Part I is notable for ending the first season of Enterprise on a cliffhanger. This was the first time that the opening season of a Star Trek had show had closed on a cliffhanger. The other shows closed out their freshman season with open-ended stand-alone stories, with the last episodes in the first seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager emphasising how far their cast had come. In contrast, Shockwave, Part I closes the first year of Enterprise on an honest to goodness “to be continued.” And a good one at that.

Seeking a friend at the end of the world...

Seeking a friend at the end of the world…

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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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