Wait, How Far Back Are We Going?

Star Trek: Enterprise

I think, probably like a lot of Trek fans, I've ignored Enterprise due simply to the stigma around it. The first Trek show to be outright cancelled since The Original Series was unceremoniously dumped after its third season, Enterprise was little loved by both fans and general audiences alike. It failed to catch a toe-hold in the ratings and, eventually, was kicked to the curb, its era little more than a blip in the Trek chronology.

Released after Voyager went off the air, Enterprise was supposed to be the next great leg for the series, a show that looked to the past of Trek to explore new stories about the Federation's founding. Instead, though, the complaints lodged against the series were that it was unable to figure out its tone, what kind of stories it wanted to tell. Worst of all, it never could figure out a way to justify its own existence. Why set a show so far in the past of Trek instead of looking ahead. Of course, this is a complaint most current productions of Trek still need to answer.

Star Trek: Enterprise

For me, personally, Enterprise was simply on the air at a time when I wasn't watching much TV. I was in college, didn't have easy access to TV, and was usually busy with other things. I did try to get into the series once, a little while back, but the few episodes I watched from the series never hooked me. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good enough for me to pay attention. I did like the two-part Mirror Universe story, "In a Mirror, Darkly", but of course we aren't going to be reviewing those episodes for this project since the rules don't allow it.

We're going to review five episodes now, though, to see if Enterprise really had anything worth viewing. I want to give this series a fair shake, to see if just maybe it deserves better than its reputation. Since I mentioned the rules, let's go over them one more time so that everyone remembers: no Tribbles, no Mirror Universe, No Q, and no two-parters (or multi-part episodes). This actually does kill a few of the very best of the run, as the last season (which many consider to the best) had a few multi-part episodes telling big stories. Sadly, that's not to be. Still, let's see if we can get a good vibe of what Enterprise could offer from the self-contained stories on offer.

Introduction to Enterprise

Since most of us probably haven't dived too deep into this series, it's probably best if we take a moment to refresh us all on the general story of Enterprise. Set 100 years before The Original Series, ENT tells the tale of the first warp ship to bear that designation (or, at least, the first of them to be able to reach Warp 5 as another ship, the XCV 330 USS Enterprise was shown in a painting in The Motion Picture shows a different first ship that's even older than the ship in Enterprise). This ship, NX-01, is the first ship of an eventual United Earth Starfleet, sent out as Earth's first deep space explorer and envoy to alien civilizations.

The crew of the Enterprise is led by: Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), captain of the ship; T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), science officer and Vulcan envoy set on the ship to keep the humans out of trouble; and Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer), chief of Engineering and friend of Captain Archer. They're joined by: Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), tactical officer; Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), communications officer; Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) on helm; and Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), the Denobulan medical chief. Together they explore the stars and have a lot of adventures (many of which call back to other Trek plots, for good or ill).

Season 1, Episode 7: The Andorian Incident

We open with a bunch of Andorians interrupting a Vulcan ceremony (with the promise of much violence). We then cut to the Enterprise, Where Archer and Trip are discussing Vulcan star charts (and their accuracy there-in). While investigating the charts, Archer noticed that a Vulcan planet (and base) wasn't on the reported charts but was showing up on scans. He elects to send the ship to investigate, this despite T'Pol's seeming dissatisfaction with the plan. Going down to the planet, the greeting is not what they expect as the Vulcan base (a temple, really) is damaged and no one answer's their greetings. There, after a brief investigation, the crew gets themselves mixed up in the business with the Andorians, armed soldiers with their own agenda. The crew has to find out what the Andorian's want and how to save everyone involved.

I'm going to probably annoy a few people, but I have to admit that this episode was better than anything I saw over on Voyager. Although the episode started off basic enough, just a simple human and Vulcan meet up, the inclusion of the Andorians (before they became part of the Federation) and an exploration of that race and their interactions with the Vulcan High Command, gave this episode a good twist. It was certainly more than just a simple fish out of water, "humans don't understand" story like could have been setup.

Of course, much of the really good work in the episode goes to the credit of Jeffery Combs as the Andorian captain. Combs is great in any role he's put in (ever), certainly doing fine work in the multiple roles he played over on Deep Space Nine. Here, he clearly relishes his new role, getting to inhabit a new character different from his previous. He gets to rage, and pontificate, and be kind of a bad ass, and it's enjoyable to watch.

The Federation crew comes off a little less well, a bit rough around the edges. I figure this is because the actors are still getting their parts down, still figuring out who each character is. We're still in the front half of the first season, and these kinds of things take time. No one was really terrible, and since it's only the first season, I'm expecting by the next couple of episodes we watch (set in Season 2), things should be more refined.

On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable little episode. It had a good cast, an interesting hook, and a couple of twists along the way I really enjoyed.

Notes:
  • This opening song, "Where My Heart Will Take Me", is absolutely wretched. Who thought this was a good idea for a Trek series?
  • I don't hate the uniforms on this show. They look like flight suits.
  • Oh man, Jeffery Combs, you chew that scenery.
  • I did enjoy all the talk about what should be standard procedure.
  • Old school communicators. They're silly, but I at least like the touch of including them for consistency with later series.

Season 2, Episode 2: Carbon Creek

While celebrating T'Pol's one year anniversary on the Enterprise, the discussing between Archer, Trip, and T'Pol turns to crew evaluations. Archer asks about a time T'Pol, back in the day, took a trip to Carbon Creek, PA. This leads her to tell as story about the actual first contact between Vulcans and humans, years before, in Carbon Creek in 1957. The crew of the Vulcan vessel (including T'Pol's great grandmother) was forced to crash land after their ship suffered a malfunction, and the Vulcans had to find a way to fix their ship and escape the planet. This leads them to venture into the nearby town to find supplies and equipment.

Really, to be more accurate, the crew of Vulcans have to find a way to stay hidden on Earth without causing too many waves since they're not certain how to escape. Sure, nods are made towards them finding a way off planet, creating solutions to their problem, but in the end the way they get back home is really out of their hands. That doesn't diminish the plot, though, as it allows the crew to find different ways to get by. One of them even comes to enjoy his time on Earth, finding the humans fascinating, their culture worth studying. This is one of those stories that really gives us a chance to study an alien culture instead of always focusing on the humans in Starfleet, and the fact that we get this while having an adventure on Earth makes it even more interesting.

The episode also tries to play like an homage to "City on the Edge of Forever" in the original series. A crew, on an unfamiliar version of Earth, forced to hide in plain sight and not give up how advanced their knowledge and their technology is. The plotting is different, but the subtle (and not so subtle) nods are there. I liked how the story worked within the framework of the series and our knowledge of past events, and I especially liked that the show didn't have to cram in a time travel angle to get the crew of the Enterprise into the story. By having it just be a tale told by T'Pol the story feels more grounded, less technobabble-filled than it otherwise could have been. It's nice narrative touch.

That said, I don't feel like the story really gave us anything new to think on. While the tale of the Vulcans is interesting, how does it further our understanding on the Federation? How does it change our perception of the past, or the future. It doesn't. It's a good yarn, but a tale like this is supposed to illuminate things we didn't know about characters or time periods, and this really does. It think it's does, having a scene near the end that's handled with such reverence you'd think there was some great moral to the story, but there really isn't. It's a good tale, but not an impactful one.

This episode was good, and I can see why people like this story. I just don't feel like it went quite far enough to justify why we were seeing it.

Notes:
  • I love that this episode references the statue of Zephram Cochrane in Montana at the site of First Contact. You know, the same statue that was also mentioned in First Contact. That's a nice call-back.
  • Yep, that theme song really blows, guys. And the opening montage set to it is so pretentious. I've watched it twice now and I might just skip it on future episodes.
  • People gave Into Darkness crap for the shot of Carol Marcus in her undies, but that's a pretty revealing silhouette of T'Pol's granny in this episode.
  • So Twilight Zone exists in the Trek universe. Does this mean other pop culture of the 1960s exists in this universe? How much pop culture has show up in Trek?
  • Pretty sure the Vulcan just used a sonic screwdriver.
  • Okay, and I Love Lucy is referenced. That's a nice nod towards Desilu Productions, the original producers behind Star Trek.

Season 2, Episode 23: Regeneration

Up near the Arctic Circle, a team of explorers find the site of a crashed ship. Checking it out they find a couple of bodies, organic-machine hybrids of extreme sophistication (better than anything Starfleet, or the Vulcans, can produce). Not knowing what we know (about the Borg from Next Generation, Voyager, and First Contact), the scientists dig up the bodies (instead of napalming them) so they can study these creatures. And wouldn't you know if, the bodies slowly start regenerating themselves, coming back online. The expedition team continues studying the wreckage, establishing that the crashed ship was a perfect sphere (a Borg Sphere, of course) made of materials never seen on Earth before. The question becomes: what was the sphere doing here so long ago, and what do the aliens want? (As if we didn't know.)

Soon enough, contact with the expedition is lost and Starfleet has to send in more people to find out what happened. When they are unable to figure it out, the Enterprise is called in to investigate. The crew has to track down the aliens (which have reconfigured a transport pod and left Earth in the direction of, presumably, the Delta Quadrant) and save the expedition team, if possible.

On it's own, this episode works really well. First contact with the Borg (okay, more or less) is a thrilling concept and the episode handles the beats well. Discovering the aliens, learning to fear them, finding out all the ways the Borg tech works -- these are all great story beats and, taken on their own, it makes for a tense, dark story. If not for some of the Borg stories we're gotten before, this would be a great first introduction to the species.

Of course, the issue is that this isn't the first time we've seen the Borg, and that raises all kinds of continuity questions. The original "first appearance of the Borg" was in the Next Gen episode "Q Who?" which, being a Q episode, we didn't cover on this site (not just yet anyway). There the Enterprise D crew is surprised by the aliens, shocked at what they can do, and barely escape thanks to Q. The Borg in that episode are equally curious of the human ship and study them for a while before launching their full assault. I have to wonder about how the Federation could have dropped the ball on this, not sharing information about the Borg with every ship commander so that they know of the alien entities that could appear at any time. Clearly, if the Borg could get to Earth once (or twice) they could easily do it again at some point.

Plus, by the end of this episode the Borg have sent a message to the Delta Quadrant giving the Borg on the other side of the galaxy clear instructions on how to get to Earth. This only makes sense in the context of First Contact, sure, so we understand why the Borg are at Earth. Except, with all the run-ins that Picard had with the Borg, there was no reason to "explain" why the Borg come to Earth. This is a silly detail that is supposed to add tension to future Borg dealings, but it complicates the proceedings. If the Borg knew about Earth from the transmission, why act all curious of the Earthers when they encounter the Enterprise D? There are narrative issues caused by this story.

I enjoyed this tale for what it was but my pedantic brain just couldn't shut off completely to really get into it. It's a good tale but a problematic one from the perspective of the over-all continuity.

Notes:
  • Yep, I skipped the opening credits. That theme song is not worth the pain.
  • The Borg really install their equipment fast. If they were only peaceful, I'd hire them over the Best Buy Geek Squad any day.

Season 3, Episode 10: Similitude

We open at a funeral on Enterprise where we learn that Trip is dead. Then we skip two weeks back, where we find Trip doing a major test of modifications to the warp engines. During the test, which goes very poorly very quickly, the ship is forced out of warp and Trip is injured, placed in a coma. To save Trip, the Doctor recommends growing a clone (from a weird alien pod he has) to extract brain tissue from the duplicate that can then be grafted onto the original Trip. The issue then becomes when a clone grows, it becomes its own sentient being. What are the ethics of a situation like this, what is right and wrong? Meanwhile, the ship is still in danger, and the crew has to find a way to fix the ship. What they need is Trip, and what they have is the clone. This causes a new wave of ethical issues once they all bond with the Trip-clone and learn how real of a person he is.

Finally, we've hit the first pretty weak episode of the series. I wouldn't say it was bad, but it wasn't as good as some of the ones we watched already for this project. And that's not to say it doesn't raise interesting issues, it's just that, somehow, it never quite connected for me.

I think part of the issue is that it so purposefully tries to play to the heart strings, making an obvious grab for poignancy. It's not as if sci-fi about the ethical treatment of clones is anything new -- hell, there was a whole trend of those movies back in the last 1990s and early 2000s, with such films as The 6th Day and The Island mining that sub-genre for all it's worth. While it's certainly interesting to bring up these ideas in a Federation setting, the show itself doesn't really find anything new to say about the topics. Clones should be treated fairly and killing them for their parts sure does suck. That's what we gain out of it, and that's already been done before.

Really, the best part of the episode was T'Pol. Jolene Blalock mines a great, understated performance as the Vulcan officer trying to come to terms with seeing the man she has feelings for (without realizing she has feelings for him) dying while a clone of him wanders around the ship. If she had been the focus of the episode, instead of getting another story about a clone that doesn't want to die, that would have been a story worth watching.

Honestly, I'm glad we finally had a half-way meh episode just so I could say, "hey, okay, if there were more episodes like this maybe I can understand why people didn't like the show." I was really starting to wonder what I was missing, why the fans were so against this series. Still, while this is a missed opportunity, I wouldn't say it was a bad hour of TV. I just know the series can do better.

Notes:
  • Hey, a remix of the theme song. Somehow it's even worse. Damn it, show.
  • So the ship is covered in magnetic space barnacles? Well, okay.
  • I don't talk much about the barnacles in the review because, honestly, they aren't much of a threat. Oh, the Enterprise with cease to function if a solution isn't found, sure, but it's not like finding a solution was ever in any doubt, especially 8 minutes before the end of the episode when their last plan is in the works. That's lazy plotting.

Season 4, Episode 17: Bound

As the Enterprise surveys a planet for a possible installation of the first Starfleet starbase, the Enterprise is threatened by an Orion raider. The threats are apparently bluster, though, as the Orion captain soon invites Archer and his crew over to discuss negotiations for peace between Starfleet and Orion Syndicate. Soon, though, the officers are put under the spell of three Orion slavegirls. When the Orion then proposes a plan for Starfleet and the Orions to join on a mining project, Archer seems readily willing to join up on the plan. As a token of celebration, the three slavegirls are given to Archer as a gift. On board the Enterprise, the male crew members fall under the spell of the Orion women, which only leads to more difficulties as the women settle into the ship and explore the environs. Clearly there's something more going on, but will the crew be able to stop it before whatever the Orions have planned comes to fruition.

Okay, we're ending on a bit of a down-note, but I'm going to blame that more on the fact that the fourth season of the series had a lot of multi-part episodes and we just couldn't cover those within the rules of the show. As one of the few self-contained eps, "Bound" is perfectly serviceable, a decently little episode about the Orions, but it's also nothing special. Mostly that's because the central conflict -- the Orion Slavegirls taking over Enterprise -- is so clearly telegraphed from the moment they come on screen that it's hard to actually care about it at all. Not that the show played it as any great shock when the girls turn out to be evil and try to cause a mutiny, it's just that it would have been nice to have a little mystery, a little thrill to it. By the time the girls have taken over the minds of most of the male crew, the whole plotting of the episode just feels so rote.

Although maybe some of the blame for that falls on the girls. They're supposed to be charismatic, females of such over-powering allure that men become weak in the knees around them. Sure, on the show that's because of the pheromones, but if we the audience don't believe the girls are alluring, how are we supposed to invest in them at all? While the girls were attractive, they just didn't have the performance chops to sell it. Beauty is not enough in a story like this.

I did enjoy the Orion captain -- that guy had charisma. And trip and T'Pol were able to sell the chemistry between them without over-playing it (since one of them is a Vulcan). On the whole, those, this episode was a bit flat.

Notes:
  • Here there be dragons! I wonder if they're referencing the awful Animated Series episode "The Infinite Vulcan". That one had dragons.
  • Man that theme song is absolutely wretched.
  • Oh my, that looks like Romulan Ale. I'm sure it will be illegal soon.
  • As Kirk would say: "Beautifully done." That was sarcasm.
  • "That's where the matter... and antimatter... mix." I give her credit for trying to make it sound sexy, but there's no way to make that alluring.

In Conclusion:

So there were a couple of duds in the back-half of the run, but I still feel like a lot of that was due to the rules of the project. If I could have watched multi-part episodes, I think I would have had a better feel for the late-stage stories the series was telling. But then, I would have been able to watch one, maybe two multi-part arcs and I would have run out of my five episode allotment. Watching the single episodes gives me a better over-all feel for the show even if I have to settle for a couple of stinkers along the way.

That said, I really did enjoy Enterprise a whole lot more than I expected. The production values on the show seemed stronger than on Voyager, the stories a little less cheesy, and the actors more invested in their characters. Overall the series was just better, more able to create enjoyable moments and interesting stories. I still don't know that the series really ever justified why it existed as it never really seemed to figure out how, as a prequel, it could illuminate the Federation is some new way for us. Maybe it could have been better on that front and it would have been able to reach actual greatness. Still, it was a fun watch and I just might go back to watch more of it later (after I make my way through a second pass of Next Gen... once I ever feel like watching Trek again).