Judge Patrick Bromley's favorite Xindi is Mindy. Mindy the Xindi.
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 Three (published October 19th, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Four (published November 2nd, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One (Blu-ray) (published March 26th, 2013), and Star Trek: Enterprise: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published September 2nd, 2013) are also available.
"I'm about to step over a line—a line I thought I would never cross. And given the nature of our mission, it probably won't be the last."—Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), "Damage"
After two seasons spent as the put-upon stepchild of the Star Trek franchise, Enterprise completely reinvents itself for its best season yet.
Facts of the Case
Here are the 24 episodes that make up Star Trek Enterprise: Season Three:
• "The Shipment"
• "North Star"
• "Carpenter Street"
• "Chosen Realm"
• "Proving Ground"
• "Doctor's Orders"
• "Azati Prime"
• "The Forgotten"
• "The Council"
• "Zero Hour"
For two seasons, I have been an Enterprise apologist. The third season made me a die-hard fan.
Season Three is a time of major change. There are small changes, like the fact that its onscreen title in the opening credits is now Star Trek: Enterprise, when it was formerly just Enterprise. The much-hated title song is different, too; it's the same song, only with a faster tempo and a more "upbeat" feel. I like the old version better.
But those aren't the changes that matter. The real changes—the one that transform Enterprise from a flawed but well-meaning entry in the Star Trek franchise into a terrific science fiction series—is the shift to a more action-packed, serialized format. Whereas past seasons focused on the traditional "story of the week" structure, Enterprise (perhaps taking a page from later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) uses its entire third season to tell one long story arc, one clearly inspired by the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks. The journey through the Delphic Expanse—which introduces many new alien species, new metaphysical obstacles and creates changes in familiar characters—begins as a search for justice, then transforms into an effort to prevent further destruction and eventually morphs into something that's part diplomacy, part space battle. The story continues to build and grow until it seems so massive it might get away from the writers, but it never does. The balls all remain in the air. It's impressive storytelling.
In some ways, the approach takes Enterprise away from being Star Trek. Gone is the sense of exploration and discovery. Gone is the utopian optimism of Gene Roddenberry. This is a darker, angrier take on Star Trek. Everyone takes a bad beating. The ship is nearly destroyed on more than one occasion. Characters are killed. Major moral compromises have to be made. To the show's credit, though, it doesn't lose sight of the dilemma in which the characters find themselves in Season Three. Nothing about the season is gritty for the sake of being gritty; the story earns its darker beats not just by increasing the stakes (all of Earth is in danger), but by using the story to process feelings about September 11, 2001. Star Trek has always been a show that uses parable and allegory to deal with real-world issues, but never this directly and never on so large a scale. Apparently, fan reaction was a bit mixed when the season originally aired back in 2003, with some feeling like the wounds were still too raw, the attacks too recent. That may have been true then. Watching it now on Blu-ray in 2014, it's fascinating to watch the kind of fear, pain and anger we felt as a country played out on genre television.
Clearly, the personnel behind Enterprise had settled in and grown comfortable by Season Three—they were finally able to take some chances and define the kind of show that it would be (it's ironic, then, that the series would be canceled in the next season). The actors all know their characters inside out, so the third season is able to mix things up a little. Scott Bakula makes Captain Archer into a man in an impossible situation, sometimes angry, sometimes desperate. He's pushed in all kinds of new directions, and Bakula is very good at showing Archer's conflicted decency and dedication to the mission. Jolene Blalock's T'Pol undergoes the biggest changes, from the change in her ranking to the deepening of her relationship with Trip (which the season explores but, to its credit, does not get bogged down by) to her increasingly emotional state. Blalock, whose performance once felt like a stiff, flat imitation of an emotionless Vulcan, does really subtle work this season. What she is asked to do is not easy, but she makes T'Pol into a much richer, more interesting character.
There is still the occasional one-off clunker this season (if I never see "Extinction" again, I'll be just fine), but for the most part even the story-of-the-week shows tie into the larger arc in one way or another. As usual, the Doctor Plox episode ("Doctor's Orders") is a standout. John Billingsley might be the show's MVP. Though Enterprise never quite mastered the art of the cliffhanger—they try, but most of the episodes just kind of stop—it's one of the few Star Trek series that lends itself to binge watching. The serialized format, combined with the commercial-free advantages of the Blu-ray format, make Star Trek Enterprise: Season Three totally addictive television.
If you've been collecting Paramount's Blu-ray releases of Enterprise thus far, you should not be surprised by the quality of Season Three. The 24 episodes, spread across six discs, are all presented in their original 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio in full 1080p HD, which once again show a good amount of detail and are faithful to the original intentions. Perhaps the only major change is that the special effects look somewhat worse, only because there are so many more of them and the 1080p upgrade is less forgiving of showing the seams. They don't look bad at all (save for the occasional use of wonky CGI), but the sheer amount of effects in the makeup and action-heavy Season Three sometimes betrays the limitations of time and money. The 5.1 DTS-HD surround track is an improvement over past seasons, if only because the emphasis on action and space battles gives it more of a workout than seasons past. Dialogue is always clear, while the action feels more sweeping and robust.
And, of course, there are the bonus features, one area the Star Trek: Enterprise sets have consistently bested even the Blu-ray releases of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The highlight, as usual, is the feature-length retrospective documentary (broken into three parts, but running 90 minutes in total) reflecting back on Season Three. Combining comments from all of the major participants, "In a Time of War" is as insightful and candid as ever, with everyone proving to be thoughtful and honest about what worked and what didn't, the reasons for the changes to the show and the reception it received from both the network and the fans. A second featurette focuses more on series creator Brannon Braga's reflections on the season, with additional comments from two of the minor players. Many Trek fans have issues with Braga and the direction he took the franchise, but he is nothing less than fascinating when talking about the show.
Five new commentaries have been recorded for this set (on "Impulse," "North Star," "Similitude," "The Forgotten" and the penultimate "Countdown") in addition to the commentaries and text commentaries ported over from the original DVD release. The other extras from that release make their way onto the Blu-ray, too, including a handful of deleted scenes and the "Mission Log" featurettes, most of which offer behind-the-scenes glimpses into an aspect of the series.
Seeing Star Trek Enterprise hit its stride in Season Three makes me a little sad, because I know there's only one more season left to go. It's different from all of the other Star Trek that I've seen, while still retaining the attention to character and to ideas that make the franchise so special. Maybe it has aged well, or maybe those that regularly complain that Enterprise sucks weren't watching by the time Season Three aired. I loved this season, and I'm not ashamed to admit I now love Enterprise, too.
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