Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Revisiting Enterprise, 10 Years Later

 
Lately I’ve been revisiting Star Trek: Enterprise on Blu-ray.  



I hadn’t planned to write about it here because the series aired from 2001 to 2005, which puts it well outside the Comfort TV era. But it’s also a continuation of the Star Trek saga that began in 1966 and remained a television staple for the next 4 decades. So I think it qualifies.

Plus, we haven’t had any new Trek stories for almost a decade, hence my nostalgia for the final (or first, depending on how you look at it) voyages of the Enterprise. And no, I haven’t forgotten about J.J. Abrams – I just think his vision for Star Trek is as authentic as a rerun of Far Out Space Nuts.

Some Trek fans expect this piece to be filed under the “Terrible Shows I Like” category. But I have always believed that Star Trek: Enterprise did not deserve its rocky reputation.

Sure, it made mistakes. So did every other Trek incarnation. Have you watched some of those third season episodes of the original series lately? Deep Space Nine had a rough start, and Voyager gave us an episode where two bridge officers were turned into salamanders. 

Enterprise was a good idea with bad timing. Setting the series at the beginning of earth’s interstellar exploration restored the wonder in much of what had become routine by the time of Next Generation. Jonathan Archer’s starship was slower, less well armed and less comfortable, and there was no prime directive or handy list of rules for what to do when meeting new civilizations. Archer's crew were the first humans in deep space and everything was new and exciting – I always loved how the Captain would drop out of warp for days to study a comet or a nebula that Picard would have flown by without a second thought.

But after 21 seasons of other Trek shows and new movies still in theaters, even the most ardent Trekkers had become complacent and began taking the franchise for granted. There were other factors in its demise, but the passage of time makes it easier to appreciate Enterprise for what it was rather than where it fell short. Television is simply a better place when Star Trek is a part of it. 
 
 Why should you give Captain Archer’s crew another look? If you’re not one of those continuity wonks whining about how canon was changing with every episode, here are just some of the reasons why Enterprise is better than you may remember.

The Title Sequence
Hey, where are you going? I know the song choice was…curious, but the montage tracing the history of exploration from ancient mariners to warp-capable ships was very well crafted, a mix of history and fantasy that established the context for the stories to follow. 



“Carbon Creek”
One of the series’ most entertaining (and amusing) episodes begins with T’Pol telling Archer and Commander Tucker about the first Vulcans to land on earth – not the famous first contact that was in the history books, but one that took place in the 1950s. This season 2 show is worth seeing just to hear someone finally acknowledge the haircut similarity between Vulcans and The Three Stooges’ Moe Howard. 



Doctor Phlox
Phlox, wonderfully played by John Billingsley, ranks near the top of the pantheon among memorable Star Trek physicians, alongside the cantankerous Bones McCoy and the even more cantankerous holographic Doctor on Voyager. Quirky and soft-spoken, he always seemed to be studying his human crewmates with a mix of incredulity and admiration, expressed most clearly in the classic season 1 episode “Dear Doctor.” Speaking of which….

“Dear Doctor”
Many of the best Star Trek episodes are built around a moral conundrum. The buck always stops with a Captain forced to make a life or death decision with profound ethical repercussions. Think “City of the Edge of Forever,” or “Measure of a Man,” or “Tuvix.”  To this list we can add “Dear Doctor,” in which the Enterprise visits a planet with two dominant human species, one of which is perishing from a virus that will lead to its extinction. Phlox develops a cure, but advises Captain Archer not to share it. His reason and Archer’s ultimate decision continue to split fandom nearly a decade after the episode first aired. 



More Vulcan Backstory
The Vulcans and their logic-driven culture were one of Gene Roddenberry’s most fascinating creations. Enterprise was the first Trek series to significantly expand our knowledge of their history and culture, adding shades to them – some unexpectedly sinister – not seen since Leonard Nimoy introduced Spock. “The Andorian Incident” is a good place to start, followed by the aforementioned “Carbon Creek,” “Stigma” and a trilogy of extraordinary season 4 episodes set on the Vulcan homeworld. 

The Mirror Episodes
“In a Mirror, Darkly, Pts. 1 & 2” revisit the parallel universe first seen in the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror.” For the non-nerds among you, this is a place where the characters we’ve come to know exist as evil versions of themselves. The cast clearly relished a chance to chew on the scenery with various degrees of sadistic behavior – Linda Park in particular is a revelation as a ruthlessly ambitious (and sexy) Hoshi Sato. 



The Should-Have-Been Series Finale
Enterprise’s fourth season was as consistently strong as any season of any other Star Trek series. It was also a refreshing change from the relentlessly grim, 9/11-themed Xindi story arc that comprised the entirety of season 3. The penultimate season 4 story, told over two episodes (“Demons” and “Terra Prime”) was a memorable sci-fi allegory on isolationism and xenophobia, both briskly debated in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These episodes should have been the series finale – at least then, if Enterprise had to end too soon, it would have wrapped on a high note. But regrettably there was one more show, that was so reviled by cast and fans alike that it has been removed from canon by universal consensus.

Yes, it’s a dreadful episode – but listening to some critics you’d think they were all that bad. If you miss Star Trek now as much as I do, give Enterprise another chance. All it takes is a little faith of the heart.

4 comments:

  1. Mr. Hofstede, if any "Santa Barbara" episodes get legitimately released on DVD, you might end up enjoying them. I have a Region 1 DVD set of "The Bold and the Beautiful: How It All Began." It contains 16 episodes from 1987, the daytime soap's first year on the air. I found the general pacing to be slow, plus there was no real humor in the episodes I saw.

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  2. I might- though I'm not quite sure what this has to do with Enterprise. :)

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  3. Very nice summary, and I agree. Enterprise was, as you say, a good idea with bad timing. It may not have the same flashy charisma as some of the other shows, but it really captures the feel of exploration and provides a nice grounding of the concept. I've recently been rewatching it, and the latter two seasons especially have given me a renewed appreciation for what a good production it really turned out to be. (Also, "Carbon Creek" has always been a favorite of mine as well.)

    Looking back now, post-Into Darkness, Enterprise holds up really well, especially in HD. We would be very fortunate to have a show like it on the air again.

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  4. I liked Enterprise though due to work schedule didn't get to see much of it 'first run'.
    But it had a lot of things going against it: First, the whole Trek franchise was suffering, the Next Generation movies sputtered and died (Nemesis outright bombed) Voyager is generally considered the weakest of the TV Treks for a variety of reasons (such as the fact that ''The Doctor'' was the only strong character).
    Not to mention the fact that UPN itself was terminally ill, Enterprise was considered the 'last gasp' effort to save the whole failing network, and it was too little, too late. Like Babylon 5 is was supposed to go five years, the death of UPN cut that short.

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