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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Future Tense

Summary: The Enterprise encounters a ship from the future whose possession is immediately contested by both the Suliban and the Tholians.

The X-Files is often brought up when discussing Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War arc and with good reason. Like the X-Files, it’s full of star trek enterprise future tensemysterious forces, secret conflicts and strange mysteries. Also like the X-Files,the arc often seems light on content and heavy on suggestion. But where “Broken Bow,” “Cold Front” and “Shockwave” pursued conventional storytelling approaches via traditional action and suspense stories, “Future Tense”‘s real story is focused around the discovery of a ship from the future and the impact of the implications of that discovery on the crew. From T’Pol coming to terms with the reality of interspecies mating to Trip and Reed pondering whether it would be better to know the future or remain in the dark, this is what “Future Tense” does best and what it’s meant to do.

The action component of “Future Tense” though, which consists of Enterprise running from one place to another while being chased by CGI ships to be capped off by a Deus Ex Machina ending, is weak and peripheral to the core story. The action component mostly seems to exist in order to inject some excitement into a Sweeps episode and provide a reason for Enterprise to dispose of the 31st century ship. While the Tholian’s first appearance is intriguing, we’ve all seen Enterprise being chased around and blasted away at by Suliban cell ships more than enough times by now. It all feels formulaic and unnecessary especially when dangerously mounting radiation levels from the ship, or perhaps the fear that humans weren’t ready for such advanced technology, could have provided all the plot justification for activating the beacon in the first place.

Dropping Pandora’s Box into the lap of the characters is a standard SF plot and has been done on Star Trek plenty of times before but thanks to Enterprise’s prequel premise, “Future Tense” can open that box and show surprises inside that link directly to the back story not merely of the series but of the entire franchise. Enterprise has often mishandled this material by having Archer directly reference aspects of the future he couldn’t possibly know with terminology that was too on the nose (“Dear Doctor”), but FT gets it right by having the revelations come directly from the future in an unexpected way. In “Cold Front,” Daniels suggested that he was not entirely human and “Future Tense” explains what he meant as by the 31st century, a significant portion of the human race has apparently interbred with other species resulting in a hybridized humanity that is a significant and intriguing change. It’s also one that gives the Enterprise-era Humans and Vulcans in the pre-Spock era food for thought.

The 31st century ship itself, which in a Dr. Who vein, is bigger inside than outside is also a nice demonstration of future technology that also star trek enterprise future tenseallows the set designers to save money by using a smaller model. Thusfar TREK has not been very good at coming up with futuristic technology that would genuinely surpass anything we had seen in the 24th century, but this space-saver starship is the first futuristic technology to make it in. Trip and Reed’s Groundhog Day Effect juxtaposed with their topic of conversation served to give the ship’s powers credibility along with a real life demonstration of the impact of knowing what will come next and did it in a clever and offbeat way in a series that all too often delivers predictable dialogue and scenes that tell rather than show. “Shockwave 2” came far too close to giving us the distinct impression that the 31st century holds the same relationship to the 24th century as the Enterprise era does to our own; namely that the people were the same and the gadgets had improved a little but were still completely recognizable. “Future Tense”‘s tesseracting starship helps to restore some of that sense of mystery the 31st century is supposed to hold.

Like the aforementioned X-Files, FT does suffer from the problem of being an arc episode that unlike “Cold Front,” “Broken Bow” or “Shockwave” fails to significantly advance the story. It doesn’t reveal anything that moves the story forwards, it doesn’t develop the Tholians or the Suliban any further and it doesn’t really tell us much we didn’t already know. Its strength is in the character moments; it works best as the characters respond to the revelations as in the conversations between T’Pol and Dr. Phlox, T’Pol and Archer, and Reed and Trip. Its weakness comes about because an episode that should have stayed with those character moments is grafted onto action and fight scenes that aren’t really necessary and don’t work. In an attempt to inflate what should have been a smaller story into a bigger event episode, “Future Tense” almost loses touch with what makes the story work in the first place.

Next week: Archer’s beatings return as a major story focus as he goes off to Alien Prison.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Mid-Season Review

One of the best ways to measure where Enterprise is at this point is by looking back at where previous Star Trek series were at this stage, just ten episodes into their first season.

star trek enterpriseTNG at this point had produced several disastrous episodes such as “The Naked Now” and “Justice” that would haunt the series in reruns. Its ninth episode, “The Battle”, featured the introduction of the new series menace, the Ferengi, that were doomed to become comic relief for a decade to come. And it ended with “Hide and Q”, one of the more mediocre Q episodes of the series. By this point many Star Trek fans had decided that the attempt to create a Star Trek series without Kirk and Spock had failed miserably and they had justification for thinking so. TNG’s pilot was ambitious but it was also deeply flawed. Many of the episodes suffered from an attempt to recapture TOS’s spirit, but instead were painfully serious blunders featuring ham handed and joyless philosophical meditations. At the same time there were hopeful signs if anyone cared to read them. Code of Honor pointed towards the strength that TNG would find in its Klingon themes. Q had already become a fixture of the series and would go on to serve as an effective foil against Captain Picard. Still no fan could have been blamed for giving up on the series at this point. Fortunately most fans chose to keep watching and TNG increased its viewership despite being in syndication, it became one of television’s dominant series.

DS9’s first ten episodes also had no shortage of embarrassing and clumsy material such as “Past Prologue”, “Babel” and “The Passenger.” Like TNG, its key strengths were also becoming visible in its reliance on characters. Odo’s isolation in “A Man Alone”, O’Brien being forced to choose between the rules and what had to be done in “Captive Pursuit”, Sisko’s relationship with his son in “Babel” and the complexity and diversity of station life itself. In both series, the strengths and weaknesses that would prove to both attract and repel viewers over their seven year runs were already on display ten episodes in.

The question is, where does Enterprise stand on this scale? For the most part Enterprise has consisted of episodes that painstakingly reexamine standard Star Trek plots under the guise of Birth of Space Exploration episodes. Enterprise has stripped away the complexity of the usual Star Trek material and instead attempted to bring them to life by examining the mechanisms of exploration and taking a look back into the past of Star Trek continuity, rather than creating more complex plots based around showing us what we haven’t seen before or the political and military intrigues of a crowded galaxy. The result, though, has often been episodes with little content based on plots that aren’t particularly original. With the exception of Suliban arc episodes such as “Cold Front”, these episodes had nothing new or original to offer us. They do not stand out in memory and make uninspiring rerun viewing at best.

When such plots are linked to character growth of the other crew members as in Fight or Flight or Fortunate Son, they can work. However, so far most of the episodes linked to Archer’s character growth and Trip’s relationship to Vulcans: Civilization, Strange New World and Andorian Incident have failed rather badly. Enterprise seems to have adopted human contact with Vulcans as a major theme, but it is a theme that has simply failed to take off and seems rather forced. Though humanity has supposedly been in contact with Vulcans for some time, Trip had a Vulcan teacher and Archer even served aboard a Vulcan ship; they are bafflingly clueless about Vulcans. Despite all this experience in “Breaking the Ice” Archer appears to be unaware that Vulcans will not engage in small talk or have lunch with him. As such it relies more on minor cultural blunders to define the relationship, which would have long been overcome by this date, rather than focusing on divisions produced by more fundamental issues and agendas. Enterprise’s view of the Vulcans is one-dimensional, as is its view of humans and the resulting collision is not particularly interesting. As such the Vulcan theme, on a par with TNG’s Ferengi menace, may need to be dramatically retooled.

A further aspect of the problem is the essential blandness of the two Enterprise characters, around whom most episodes revolve, Archer and Trip. Some Star Trek Captains may have been offensive and widely hated, but up until now they have never been bland. But that is the best way to describe Captain Archer. He lacks any of the quirks or flaws of a Kirk or a Picard or even a Sisko or Janeway. In the aftermath of such controversial characters, he is simply the result of an attempt to produce a character who is thoroughly amiable and inoffensive and whom no one could possibly hate. But that very attempt has produced an uninteresting character, a bland leading man with no distinguishing characteristics. There is essentially nothing interesting or unique about Archer. Nothing to set him apart as a memorable character like Kirk or Picard.

While some blame for this may be laid at the door of the producers, ultimately character actors like Shatner and Stewart gave their characters life, resulting in what for better or worse were unique characters imprinted on the American pop culture psyche. On the other hand, Archer is eminently forgettable. He is distinguished by nothing except his very quality of inoffensiveness. Archer has come closest to making an impression in episodes such as Fight or Flight or Cold Front, where he was forced to struggle with difficult choices that helped define his character and led away from blandness and towards defining moments that helped place his character on a moral geography. Those were good episodes, but realistically speaking most episodes will not be up to their standards and a Captain should ideally make an impression whenever his character is on screen. For better or worse, even Sisko and Janeway managed to do that. Archer feels more like a blank space titled ‘Insert Starship Captain Here.’

To some extent that charge can also be levied against the general crew makeup, which is heavily white anglo-saxon male with the minorities serving as junior officers. Traditionally, alien characters have become a series’ breakout characters. SpockData characters for instance have often taken over the series as the Doctor and Seven of Nine did on Voyager. For now, however, the producers have designated Archer and Trip for the bulk of the airtime. Hopefully this will begin to change and more interesting characters such as Doctor Phlox, T’Pol and Reed who are played by more talented actors will begin to get more airtime.

Ultimately the key difference between Enterprise ten episodes in and TNG, DS9 and Voyager ten episodes in, is that the failures of those shows often came from testing the limits. Enterprise’s failures on the other hand are produced by conservative and derivative plots and a failure to take chances. Star Trek series have tested the limits early on, defined them and used them as parameters for the rest of the series. Enterprise is doing its best to be inoffensive and giving viewers nothing to object to and nothing that might alienate them. The viewership numbers showing less of a falloff suggest that this may be working, but it has also resulted in a less interesting and less compelling show; at least thus far.

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