Weekly Trek – December 19-25, 2016

We’re almost at the end of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year, and this week we have reached the last post talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  It’s the final finale (for Trek so far).

When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 after four seasons on the air, it marked the end of 18 years of continuously televised Star Trek.  Combining those years with the original  and animated series added up to 726 episodes.  That is…well…a lot.  And while Enterprise’s ratings weren’t terrible, they certainly didn’t measure up to the shows that came before it.  Perhaps viewers were tired.  The term “franchise fatigue” was tossed around quite a bit.

I just think the show was doomed from the start.  Creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had been working on Trek for over a decade (Berman almost from the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1986), and their decision to make Enterprise a prequel smacked more of “Well, Star Wars is doing it” than a choice made because of any real creative spark.  They have also said in interviews that the network, UPN, imposed certain ideas on them (Namely the temporal cold war plot). 

Enterprise also tried to distance itself from Star Trek.  When it first premiered, Star Trek wasn’t even part of the title.  The show became Star Trek: Enterprise later in its run.  It also went against the tradition of orchestral openings, instead opting to use a version of “Faith of the Heart,” a pop song by Diane Warren that was originally featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 film Patch Adams.  This choice was…controversial, to say the least.  I can’t say that I ever liked it, which is a shame since the opening credits, which used images from the history of exploration, were great visually.

The series also had the misfortune to premiere two weeks after the events of September 11, 2001 shook the world.  Star Trek has a history of commenting on society, and something as major as 9/11 couldn’t help but affect the show.  I have no idea of Berman and Braga originally intended the series to go in a darker direction, but it definitely did.  This culminated in the third year’s season long arc, in which Earth is attacked by the Xindi and then the Enterprise attempts to prevent the Xindi from returning with a weapon capable of destroying the entire planet.

This darker turn didn’t serve Scott Bakula, who played Captain Jonathan Archer, well either in my opinion.  Based on his work on Quantum Leap, I felt that Bakula was a fantastic choice to take the lead in Enterprise, but I quickly realized that his everyman persona didn’t really fit with commanding a starship.  Even before the Xindi arc, he seemed stiff in the role, but by season three Bakula’s Archer just seemed to be angry all of the time.

The remainder of the main cast never really got their due.  I don’t know if the writers were just having problems coming up with stories for them, but, outside of Archer, T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and Tucker (Conner Trinneer), the cast got very little development.  By the fourth season, I started comparing the Enterprise crew to the crew on The Love Boat.  They were there week in and week out, but the show was really about the guest stars.

Enterprise was really three different shows over the course of its run.  For the first two seasons, it was a prequel in name only and, other than a few episodes with the Vulcans and Andorians, made episodes that weren’t too far removed from other Star Trek series, giving viewers a sense that it had all been done before.  Season Three was the aforementioned Xindi arc that took the show into much darker territory.  Then in Season Four, Berman and Braga stepped away, and a new showrunner, Manny Coto, came in.  At this point, Enterprise became more of a prequel to the later series, using several two and three episode mini-arcs to tell stories that set up things we would see again later. 

At this point, I felt the show really came into its own.  When anyone expresses an interest in watching Enterprise, I suggest that they watch the pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” which is quite solid and then skip to the third episode of the fourth season (The first two have to wrap up some nonsense involving Nazi aliens that was leftover from the previous year.  As a side note, over the course of Star Trek’s history, there are three different storylines involving Nazi aliens.  It’s at least two too many.).  From there, I tell them to watch up until the next to last episode and skip the finale.

“But…we’re here to talk about the finale, aren’t we?” you ask confused.

Yes.  Yes, we are.  Unfortunately.

Despite the major improvements in Enterprise’s fourth season, the damage was done, and UPN cancelled the show.  Manny Coto wrapped up his last arc in the show’s penultimate episode, but Rick Berman and Brannon Braga decided that they would write the overall series finale themselves.  More than that, though, they wanted to mark the end of 18 years of continuous televised Star Trek with an episode that they hoped would be a valentine to their fans.

The resulting episode, “These Are the Voyages…,” ended up being one of the most reviled episodes in all of Star Trek, disliked by the fans, the actors involved, and even Rick Berman and Brannon Braga themselves.  I give Berman and Braga a lot of credit for that.  They did quite a lot for Star Trek over their time with the franchise and don’t deserve a lot of the fan hatred sent their way.  In the case of this episode, I believe they really wanted to do right by the fans and Star Trek.  But now they admit that their idea backfired horribly.

So what was that idea?  They made the final episode of Enterprise  an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Seriously.  The entire episode is squeezed into the middle of the Seventh Season TNG episode, “The Pegasus” with Commander Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) taking advice from Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) to observe events on board Archer’s USS Enterprise in the holodeck as Riker struggles with whether or not to tell Captain Picard about what really happened on the Pegasus.

Viewers really need to remember the events of “The Pegasus,” which originally aired 11 years earlier for Riker’s dilemma to have any impact.  Yes, Riker and Troi spend part of the show’s very brief runtime (Minus commericals and credits, it’s about 38 minutes long) rehashing the issue, but it suffers from a lot of telling rather than showing.  Additionally, a large amount of time had passed since the original episode, and Frakes and Sirtis had definitely aged since their previous appearance.

The events that Riker visits on the holodeck aren’t all that momentous, certainly in comparison with the series finales of TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.  In terms of the Enterprise timeline, the episode jumps six years beyond the previous episode, and the ship is on its way back to Earth so that Archer can deliver a speech at the signing of what we are led to believe is the Federation charter.  On the way, they encounter an old ally who needs their assistance with a personal problem.  They do, some things go bad, but they make it back to Earth so that Archer can deliver his speech…

…which we don’t see because Riker has made his decision.  He shuts down the holodeck and walks out with Troi.  That’s it.  Watching the episode again for this post for the first time since it aired, I was struck by how lifeless the whole thing felt.  I didn’t care about the characters or anything that was happening on the screen.

Worse than any of that, though, is the fact that this storyline makes the Enterprise cast guest stars in their own series finale.  I didn’t count, but I would wager that Riker has more lines and screen time in this episode than every Enterprise character except Archer and possibly T’Pol.  Tucker is also a big part of the episode, but, without spoiling too much, that aspect was also something that angered fans.  Reed, Phlox, Mayweather, and Sato are left with little to almost nothing to do in their final appearance.

It’s sad, really, and I completely agree with the near-universal dislike of this episode.  “These Are the Voyages…” is so bad that the official Star Trek novels, which treat every bit of filmed Star Trek as absolute gospel, retconned it out of existence in their series of books based on Enterprise, chalking the whole thing up to a historically-inaccurate holodeck program.  But as far as filmed Trek was concerned, “These Are the Voyages…” was how Star Trek ended, at least in terms of the universe that began in 1966. 

The website Memory Alpha summed up the situation very nicely, “The poor performance and reception of Nemesis – hard on the heels of the equally dismal performance of Insurrection – , combined with the failure of Enterprise (even though its last season was a triumphant one), was for the franchise conglomerate the reason to cease any and all further investments in prime universe Star Trek. Pursuant the cancellation of Enterprise, the studio one-and-a-half years later sold off their entire warehouses' contents of Star Trek production stock assets in the 2006-2009 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection, and It's A Wrap! sale and auction wave of auctions, save for a limited amount for exhibition purposes, making it abundantly clear that Paramount was done with Star Trek as has been.”

Star Trek would return four years later with the 2009 movie directed by JJ Abrams, which created the new timeline (Officially called the Kelvin timeline, after the ship that is destroyed at the beginning of the film) and went back to the early days of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. 

With announcement of the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, which is scheduled to premiere in 2017, “These Are the Voyages” is about to go from being the final televised Star Trek episode ever to just the ill-advised ending of a troubled series.  I think we would all be better off, though, if we just pretended that it doesn’t exist.

And so we have finished the finales, and we are almost done with 2016 as well as these Weekly Trek posts.  One more to go.  See you next week.

- Alan Decker

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