Inspired by Captain Jonathan Archer, Judge Eric Profancik has decided that he isn't above using a little torture and piracy to get his reviews completed.
Our reviews of Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One (published May 3rd, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Two (published August 24th, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Four (published November 2nd, 2005), and Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One (Blu-ray) (published March 26th, 2013) are also available.
"Weight of the world."
"Patience is for the dead."
Star Trek loves to remind everyone that it addresses issues. In the classic series, Kirk struggled with hippies in a metaphor for the Vietnam War. Through the course of the five series, little teachings have popped up, tackling issues through the veil of science fiction. What I've noticed recently is that these issue shows haven't been as prevalent, and they've been a bit tardy. That Vietnam story aired during the heart of the war. By the time Enterprise tackled AIDS in Season Two, that epidemic had been going on for decades. But during this third season, the word "timely" is quite apropos. Two years after the vicious September 11 attacks on our nation, Enterprise ripped a year-long story arc from the headlines to rejuvenate the flagging series and shore up its ratings. Captain Archer and his crew transformed from wide-eyed explorers to decisive soldiers in a quest to literally save Earth from annihilation. Not only were they figuratively carrying the weight of the world and the future of Earth on their shoulders, they also were literally shouldering the burden of the future of Star Trek. With an arc reminiscent of the one embraced by fans during the run of Deep Space 9, could Enterprise save the franchise from failure? Could ratings be bolstered? Would fans embrace this radical change so early in the life of the series? Would there be a fourth season, let alone seven?
If you don't know the answer to those questions, you haven't been paying attention.
Facts of the Case
"I want you to think back to the day this vessel was launched. We were explorers then. When this is over, when Earth is safe, I want you to get back to that job."
Without apparent provocation, Earth is attacked by a race called the Xindi. They launch a prototype weapon that slices from Florida down through South America, slaughtering over seven million people. Enterprise is sent to a distant region of space known as the Expanse. This dangerous area, some three months away from Earth at maximum warp, is where it is believed the Xindi live and are creating the final version of their weapon—one that will obliterate the entire planet. It is up to Archer and his crew to find the Xindi and stop the weapon at all costs. To bolster his odds, a regimen of MACO soldiers is detailed to the ship. This crew will encounter unimaginable anomalies and obstacles, but they must persevere to save their home and their future.
The Xindi arc is chronicled over the course of an abbreviated season of twenty-four episodes:
• "The Xindi"
"Last week you ate together in the mess hall. During training, she touched your behind."
Sometimes you have to pay attention to little details. Unfortunately, Enterprise has been known to play easy with its own details (read "continuity"), leading many fans to question the series and abandon ship. Season One started off with a bang; millions of people tuned in for the latest entry in the franchise. Many instantly disliked what they saw. Season Two lost its traction and wandered aimlessly, and many more fans moved on. So by the end of Season Two, many whispers emanated from Paramount—would Enterprise go the distance? Would it go the "normal" seven seasons, given that at this pace, with ratings plummeting, it might not make it to a third?
It did make it to a third, and in that season, as I mentioned, everything changed for the show. Exploration went by the wayside in order to embrace a bolder, more decisive direction: a year-long arc about saving Earth from destruction. Did it work? Somewhat. But, again, we fans have those nagging little details. The Xindi? Seven million people dead? Where did this come from??? Are Berman and Braga playing fast and loose with the continuity again? Are they rewriting Trek's history, making it easier for themselves and serving their own needs? Yes, they are. Never mind that we never heard of Denobulans—I'm sure Kirk, Picard, Sisko, or even Janeway would have mentioned the Xindi at some point over the past few decades. I suppose we can give them half a point of credit for trying. Trying what? Trying to shake things up and save the show. Oh, and for trying to explain this lack of continuity by having the enigmatic Daniels explain that history never recorded these events.
Does Season Three and its Xindi saga work?
When I watched these shows in their original broadcasts on UPN in 2003 and 2004, I liked what I saw, yet I wasn't overly impressed. It was a marked step in the right direction, but I felt there were still serious problems with the stories. With an episode a week (and often longer gaps due to odd programming schedules), I would forget the little details—in spite of the oft-used "last time on Star Trek" refreshers at the beginning of many episodes. I thought the series wasn't explaining everything, and making things connect more than they did with these refresher intros. Did that happen? Was that really how it happened, or is it just coincidence if we splice these three seconds from episode 10 with five seconds from episode 14? For the most part, there is total logic and continuity within Season Three. Watching them again for this review—and, more often than not, watching at least three episodes a night—the story did flow more plausibly and smoothly. Details did carry over, and the story made more cohesive sense. I appreciated the Xindi arc more in 2005 than I did a few years back.
I think those years of rest gave me a chance to cool down about the obvious parallels to 9/11, Iraq, and terrorism. Without dipping deeply into the pool of politics, I didn't like the fact that my Trek was embracing the politics of the day—or so it seemed to me at the time. First President Bush is saying "you're either with us against us," and then the Xindi are saying the exact same thing. The war, the MACOs (a.k.a. Marines), and the not-so-subtle messages about "doing whatever it takes" just rubbed me the wrong way. Now, a few years older and calmer, I can put that aside, see the episodes for what they are, yet still embrace them as Star Trek. What does that mean? It means that year three of Enterprise is a barely retold version of America, 9/11, and its aftermath. Some episodes are so gratingly obvious in their message (e.g. "Chosen Realm") that they caused me to vent in my personal blog; but now I can just put that aside and enjoy Trek.
That's enough of that circumlocution. Season Three is better than I gave it credit for originally. The stories are written more smartly, the characters (a few of them at least) mature and evolve, and it is a somewhat new experience for the franchise. It does rehash the tried and true Trek workhorse—time travel (but we were stuck with that from day one)—but it does try to do things differently. In fact, by watching so many episodes so closely together, this season truly sucked me in. Once we hit the midpoint of the season, the story really grabbed me and I wanted to see the next episode. I wanted to see what would happen next. And when things really hit the fan in "Azati Prime," I walked away impressed that Enterprise had turned it around and made the show exciting. Archer was finally earning the right to sit in the center chair, and Enterprise was showing why she would go on to live from NX-01 to NCC-1701-J. We started to care about the crew, and thus the show. Tuning in rewarded us with some excellent stories—a few that even rank in the best of the franchise, and more refined acting displays, not to mention a whole lot of action, namely in some stunning space battles. Enterprise teetered out of the gate, stumbled in Season Two, wobbled at times in Season Three, but it redeemed itself for a fourth season—despite the continued languishing ratings.
It seems that some learned from their mistakes, and some didn't. Enterprise is still far from a perfect show, but it did improve. Instead of abandoning plot lines and taking the easy way out, it made an effort to give fans closure. Take for instance the personality clash between Lt. Reed (Dominic Keating) and Major Hayes (Stephen Culp, Desperate Housewives, and the unseen new first officer on Enterprise-E in Star Trek: Nemesis). In most other iterations, such personality conflict was frowned upon and smoothed over with maybe a heated word. Once we saw Sisko punch Q, but that's about it. On Enterprise, with blatant hostility brewing, it eventually boiled over, and Reed and Hayes beat the snot out of each other. That was something we hadn't seen before, and it was a welcome and refreshing change to see something like that resolve itself.
As improved as the season is, two key developments nearly ruin the success of the season. These two incidents remind us that a few still exist in the Trek ranks that live by the status quo and don't realize how insipid their choices are. I am referring to the evolution of T'Pol, and the resolution to the Xindi Arc.
T'Pol's character became a joke in this season. The writers, instead of embracing her Vulcan nature, warped her into some bizarre mutant experiment of what a Vulcan is not or should not be. Becoming addicted to Trellium-D, and therefore addicted to emotions, was an awful idea from the start. We don't want a laughing Vulcan (not that she laughed)—we want Vulcans cut from the same cloth as Spock. We want seriousness, a disdain for humor, and a cool, monotone delivery. T'Pol is nothing like that, embracing and experimenting with emotions, often causing us to forget she is from Vulcan. It's only that silly haircut and her pointed ears that remind us of who she is supposed to be. And while I can appreciate Jolene Blalock's beauty, I grow tired of the constant level of titillation from her character. This is Star Trek, not "Sex Trek," so how many times do we need neuropressure sessions so I can see a profile of her breast, her naked back, her butt crack, and her heaving cleavage? Again, don't get me wrong: I like it, but it's not Star Trek. It's just that stupid Berman and Braga won't let go of the catsuit, and continue to pander to the lowest common denominator in this area. And as far as her relationship with Tucker, it was a bad idea. It had potential if it was handled better, but it wasn't, and became an irritant.
The nuisance of T'Pol ebbed and flowed over the entire season and could be forgotten at times, yet the entirety of the Xindi storyline was belittled in its final moments. Much like the death of Data being erased by the introduction of B-4, the success of Enterprise's mission to save Earth from the Xindi is forgotten and overshadowed by the time travel escapades and the appearance of alien Nazis. You've just spent twenty-three and three-quarters episodes building tension to save Earth; you've just succeeded in destroying the Xindi weapon seconds before it fires; and then you give a mere minute's pause before you screw it over by sending them back in time? What nonsense! I didn't want that. I wanted a chance to savor the victory, and a moment to pause and appreciate the complexity of the arc. Without equivocation, the ending of Season Three is an embarrassment to fans and a shame to the hard work the actors, writers, and crew who toiled so hard to turn things around for the failing franchise.
From the bowels of the cookie factory comes the second-to-last DVD release from Paramount—unless they decide to double-dip this series as well. As I've said numerous times in the past, if you own one series, then you know exactly what to expect at this time. Things got a slight tweak with Enterprise, and its widescreen image and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but we've fallen into that cookie-cutter mold yet again. Let's start with another nod to the clamshell case. I find myself liking this design more and more every time I pick up the set. It makes the original Next Generation set—which was so cool at the time—look cheap. This season's menu interface theme is Xindi, specifically the Reptilians. I like it, but I would have preferred a bit more variety. If you can be clever enough to come up with a race comprised of six species, then perhaps each disc should have been given a different theme, one for each species? Again, this latest entry in the franchise looks great with its 1.85:1 anamorphic image. It's a clean image filled with bold colors and deep blacks; the continued minimal shimmering and aliasing you get with every release is the only slight mar against its excellent detail. Audio is either a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 mix. There is no hiss or distortion, with clear dialogue and decent use of the surrounds and subwoofer. I would have liked a touch more aggression from this season, in light of the massive space battles—now filled with dynamic, new angles usually not seen in Trek.
This release contains the slimmest selection of extras of any season release of any of the shows. I quickly finished the bonus features, which was actually a refreshing change of pace. I'm usually a bit tired by the end, as there's so much tangentially-related material crammed onto these discs. In this case, while I'm disappointed with the reduced assortment, I appreciate its brevity and focus on the show:
• Audio Commentary by Mike DeMerritt on "North Star"
• Audio Commentary by Manny Coto on "Similitude"
• Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda on "The
Xindi," "Impulse," and "Countdown"
• Deleted Scenes for "Similitude," "Chosen
Realm," and "E²"
• "The Xindi Saga Begins" (13 minutes)
• Enterprise Moments—Season Three (12.5 minutes)
• Enterprise Profile—Connor Trinneer (17 minutes)
• "A Day in the Life of a Director—Roxann Dawson"
Rounding it all out are outtakes (6 minutes), a photo gallery, the annoying Borg Invasion trailer, and three very interesting Easter Eggs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"We've had our share of disagreements, but you've never taken it out on my desk before."
For every yin there's a yang, and for every great episode like "Similitude" or "Azati Prime," you have dreck like "Exile" or "Extinction." (Hmm, funny how they both start with "ex.") I need to make special note of the silliness found in Trek's interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast," "Exile." It's not so much the story, but Hoshi's choice of attire on her first solo (and extended) away mission. Instead of bringing only professional attire (the dark blue jumpsuit), she also brings a variety of extremely skimpy, casual clothing. She looks magnificent in it, showing quite a lovely amount of flesh (there's that tired titillation again), but it's totally improper and out of character. She never wore it on the ship—that we saw—but she leaps at the opportunity to wear it in front of a race with whom she just made first contact? Seems a bit off to me.
In true Trek fashion, most of the supporting characters get short shrift in Season Three. We have Reduced Reed, Fallow Phlox, Hardly Hoshi, and Minimal Mayweather, all begging for screen time. I really like Reed, more because I met the actor (Dominic Keating) at a Trek convention and realize what a great guy he is. At least he got to have a great fight. Phlox is my favorite character in the series, and he's shamefully underutilized this year (as in every season). At least he got to walk around Enterprise naked. Hoshi gets her own episode, the aforementioned "Exile," but Mayweather got nothing. His only contribution to the year was to offer himself for the suicide mission in "Azati Prime." Oh well. At least there's still a convention or two from which to collect a check.
"You nearly shot the captain's dog."
I am surprised how much better Season Three is on DVD versus its run on television. Condensing the season down allowed me to follow it better and to see how everything flowed from episode to episode, culminating in my chewing down a few good fingernails during the intense "Azati Prime." Yet it's not perfect, borrowing many old themes, and making a few bad choices along the way. Even with all the flaws, it's a dramatically marked improvement from the mundane and erratic stories of the second season. As is oft said at this point, Enterprise found its legs and its direction in this season, finally giving fans what they had been hoping for from the start. The success of the Xindi story arc allowed the show to come back for a fourth and final season. (Or was it just pure economics that did it?) If you like your Trek a bit darker, with a captain willing to commit torture and piracy to achieve his important goals, then look no further. Finally abandoning their wariness over how to tread in the prequel universe, Enterprise begins to make the smart choices and embraces its rich history and works to separate itself from its siblings. I'm giving this set a recommendation. You have a gripping story, nice looking transfers, and a good, albeit reduced, selection of bonus materials. I know most stores charge more for Enterprise than the other series, but maybe you can find it on sale, or used somewhere.
Enterprise is hereby found guilty of saving Earth and restoring faith to beleaguered fans.
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