Pick of the Week – March 23-29, 2015

After several weeks, we are reaching the end of our run through the various Star Trek series.  This week’s pick comes from the final Star Trek television series to air, Star Trek: Enterprise, which was only titled Enterprise when it premiered on the United Paramount Network (UPN) in the Fall of 2001. 

Enterprise was a prequel series, set 100 years before the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and the gang in a time when humanity had just broken the Warp 5 barrier and was ready (or thought it was ready) to start exploring the broader galaxy.  The ship’s captain, Jonathan Archer (played by Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame), had been involved in the creation of the Warp 5 engine (His father designed it.) and wanted to be an explorer.  Up until that time, though, the Vulcans had been acting a bit like parents, trying to keep the humans in their own backyard.  But with the Warp 5 engine, the newly formed Starfleet was ready to go have more of a look around.

What followed was four seasons of a show that, to be blunt, didn’t seem to have a clue what it was supposed to be.  Certain elements, such as the hostilities and distrust between the Vulcans and Andorians showed promise.  Others, such as the so-called Temperal Cold War and the meddling caused by some mysterious man from the future, never quite gelled.  Based on interviews I’ve read with the show’s creators, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, I’ve gathered that the Temporal Cold War was a network or studio edict, and they were hoping to make a show that was more like The Right Stuff of Star Trek.  That was also the show that I was hoping to get.

The show’s third season attempted a full-year arc involving aliens called the Xindi that had attacked Earth.  While the season contained some interesting ideas, such as that the Xindi had five different sentient species (Well, six, but one was extinct), but I found the season to be dark, overly-drawn out, and generally unenjoyable.  It also magnified an issue I had from the start with Scott Bakula’s performance as Captain Archer.   While Bakula was fantastic as Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap, he never seemed comfortable playing a captain.  By Season Three, he seemed to have two modes: stiff or angry. 

Season Four started to show signs of hope for the show.  Once the first couple of episodes did away with the last of Temporal Cold War storyline (and a ridiculous Nazi alien time travel plot twist from the end of the previous season), new showrunner Manny Coto set to work making an actual prequel to the Original Star Trek.  Plotlines (now running in several mini-arcs) covered the Vulcans move toward the teachings of Surak, why TOS Klingons had smooth foreheads, and, most importantly, the founding of the Federation.  They also had a very fun two-parter set in the mirror universe from the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror.”

By then, though, it was too late.  The ratings did not recover from the lows of earlier seasons, and really the writers seemed to have abandoned hope for developing many of the Enterprise characters.  At the time, I said that the show had become like The Love Boat, where the storylines were really more about the far more interesting guest characters, such as Jeffrey Combs’ Shran, an Andorian that the crew frequently encountered, than the main cast.

Enterprise and with it all of televised Star Trek ended in May 2005 with what may be one of the worst and most insulting ideas for a series finale ever (In all fairness, Manny Coto did not write it.).  “These Are the Voyages…” was really a Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) episode, with Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprising their roles as Commander William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi from that series.  Worse than that, the framing events of “These Are the Voyages…” set in the TNG timeframe are squeezed into the events of a TNG episode called “The Pegasus.”  We’re just supposed to ignore that Frakes and Sirtis have aged 15 years since that episode.  We spend so much time with Riker and Troi that, in effect, the Enterprise cast become guest stars in their own series finale. 

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing Star Trek: Enterprise’s faults without giving you a Pick of the Week, but it’s exactly those faults that make a pick difficult.  I could recommend one of the mini-arcs from the fourth season, but it hardly seems fair to ask you to watch three hours of Enterprise when I was able to stick with one hour of each of the previous series.  I also have avoided recommending the pilots of the previous series because I felt it was better to use examples from when those shows were more established.

For Enterprise, my Pick is going to break both of those self-imposed rules.   I’m going select the two-hour pilot for the series: “Broken Bow.”  The episode, in which the newly-launched USS Enterprise must escort a lost Klingon back to his homeworld, may be one of my favorites simply because of the promise that it holds for the series.  We get solid introductions to the main cast, see the tensions between humans and Vulcans, and also get to watch the crew deal with some very alien situations and environments for the first time.  Really, I think if you watched “Broken Bow,” then jumped straight to “Home,” the third episode of Season Four, and then stopped after “Terra Prime,” the next to last episode of the series, you might find it all quite enjoyable.

Since the end of Star Trek: Enterprise ten years ago, we have not had a new series.  Yes, the new films are fun, but many people, myself included, believe that Star Trek really belongs on television, where the stories and characters can really be explored and every episode doesn’t have to be an action extravaganza.  Hopefully, someday soon there will be a new show, but until then, I will leave you with the final sequence of the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, which, despite my qualms about the rest of the episode and series, was really quite nice:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXotJu1CapU

-       Alan Decker

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