Last week I wanted to check something in one of my Enterprise reviews and found that Trekweb‘s directory links to my Enterprise reviews seem to be down and a lot of the reviews are infected with redirect malware. I pieced together the reviews, some from older links and archives and put them up. The experience was curiously uninvolving. I remembered some of these episodes, but I couldn’t find myself caring about them.
Even when the show originally aired, there was a distance there. Today I have trouble remembering the episodes off the cuff. Looking at the reviews, I remembered them again, one by one, but it won’t take long for me to forget. That’s not true of any of the earlier series which stuck with me. It shows in the reviews.
Going back over some of my old Voyager reviews to try and put them into order, I find myself reacting in one way or another, good or bad. Enterprise episodes get a flat response. I remember faintly that I didn’t really want to review Enterprise. After a few years of reviewing Voyager episodes for Trekweb, the new show didn’t really appeal to me. Steve Perry was the original reviewer. I was asked to fill in when he couldn’t do it anymore. At first it was going to be alternating. But then before you know it, four years had gone by.
The quality of the reviews is different too. I put more work into the Voyager reviews. They had more to say. The Enterprise reviews are shorter. Curt. Often they’re angry and dismissive. More so than I remembered. But on
some level I did care about the show, because it was Star Trek, even if it didn’t really feel like it or look like it. I went into every episode wanting it to be good, and coming away feeling nothing at all.
When looking for images to stick into the reviews, I found a lot of pictures for every Voyager episode, but fewer and fewer pictures for Enterprise. Season 1 still had some people collecting graphics. By season 4, they had become hard to find. The most frequent Enterprise episode screenshots are usually T’Pol nude scenes. Jolene Blalock criticized the writing on Enterprise and while it improved gradually toward the end, she had a point. What she didn’t say, though I suspect she knew, is that before Enterprise, no Star Trek series had a character who was there to get naked. Over and over again. 7 of 9 came closest and that was a symptom of Voyager’s decline. T’Pol was a sign of complete desperation. Another emotionally dead woman, there to appeal to fleeing viewers by taking off her clothes. And it didn’t even work.
Despite the erotic massage arc of Season 3 (Yes, there actually was such a thing. It’s hard to believe. It’s even harder to believe that it fused into the show’s version of September 11.) the viewers kept losing interest. And that was also sad. Because Season 2 had been better than Season 1. Season 3 had been better than Season 2. And Season 4 was better than Season 3.
For all my criticisms of Enterprise, the show kept improving. Consistently from year to year, it got better. And still viewers kept leaving because it never got good enough. No other Star Trek series got better year after year. Some had a golden year, like Voyager’s Season 6. Some, like TNG, bounced up and down. Some like TOS, went into a decline.
But the writing was only part of Enterprise’s problem. Star Trek’s writing was always uneven. Every series has had great moments and a lot of average ones. And what people tune for isn’t the writing, it’s the characters.
Orson Scott Card wrote about Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs,
Here’s the great secret of literature: No matter how good a writer is, both language and fashion change over time, and what was once a vivid part of the culture becomes a footnote in literary history.
The stories and characters that endure do so for reasons having almost nothing to do with the talent of the writer.
It’s true of Star Trek also. Not completely. Talent has something to do with it. The ability to envision all this, from the setting to the characters, is also a talent. But writing original plots, gripping dialogue and compelling ideas… that didn’t matter as much.
Enterprise’s writing was uneven and trended mediocre, but it failed because the characters weren’t there. Because Bakula’s Archer was an erratic manchild, who only slowly became an adult and a commander to be admired. By the time his evolution was complete in Season 3, most of the viewers had left, never to return. The easygoing capable captain he played in Season 4 was the one that viewers wanted all along. Developing him as a character from a borderline idiot and bigot had alienated them. It was someone’s idea of “good writing” that did that.
T’Pol had potential. Blalock wanted to play Spock. Instead she was forced to play a repressed hysteric who was prone to explosions and an unwanted intruder on a starship whose captain would rather hang out with his best friend. She was usually right, but was never allowed to be right. By DS9, the Star Trek franchise had developed a bizarre hatred of Vulcans. They began to show up as villains. By Abrams Trek, their planet was blown up to get them out of the way.
Tucker, a classic character out of place, that no one could figure out what to do with. On his own, Tucker seemed like a good idea. A throwback to the kind of men who went into space. He was meant to be McCoy, but he was more like Paris, another man child, on a ship that already had too many of them. Tucker hanging out with Archer felt like a grown up frat party. Tucker and Reed felt off. Tucker and T’Pol was creepy and not just because of the blue lighting and skin shots. Maybe it was Braga’s touch, but there was sleaze all over Tucker. He seemed less like a great engineer and more like the guy who never finished High School, but hangs out in the parking lot throwing a football and trying to pick up High School girls. Tucker was McCoy without the sense of duty or old school gentleman habits.
Mayweather was a blank. Nothing. Harry Kim all over again. Bakula and Blalock don’t get the blame for their characters, but that’s not the case here. Mayweather got developed. And the role didn’t require him to act like an idiot.
Hoshi Sato, Reed and Phlox were good characters, but like the rest of the show they were muted. There weren’t enough people. The Enterprise always seemed deserted. There wasn’t enough life in it. Voyager and DS9 had felt crowded. The Enterprise NCC-1701E was a flying city in space. Enterprise NX-01 felt like a generation ship with too few people and none of them really worth paying attention to.
So many episodes were dark, visually, lonely and cramped. The show seemed to be going nowhere. The characters weren’t engaging. They were all lost in their own worlds. Archer, nursing his grudges, T’Pol, her secrets, Hoshi, her neurosis, Reed, his shyness, Phlox, his alienness, Mayweather, his emptiness, and Tucker went round and round, badgering them, trying to party with them, seduce them, cadge a drink from them. The only completely alive man on a dead ship. And somehow creepier for it.
Where the DS9 or Voyager crew pulled together in emergencies, it never felt that way on Enterprise. Not until the last season. That made the Enterprise crew feel real. Strangers passing each other in darkened corridors. But it wasn’t what people expected from Star Trek. The series had always been about a group of comrades blazing the star trails together, men and women who knew each other and felt comfortable with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Enterprise might have become that show in Season 5. But we’ll never know. And revisiting it gives me the same hollow feeling I had while watching. After writing this up and trying to think about Enterprise, I still come away feeling nothing at all.