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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – These Are The Voyages

Synopsis: Riker looks to the NX-01 Enterprise crew to help him make a decision as ENTERPRISE and STAR TREK itself comes to a close.

star trek enterprise these are the voyagesReview: It’s been a long road getting from there to here. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was the second ST series revived when it seemed impossible. It was widely popular and highly-rated. ENTERPRISE is the last ST series; it is not remotely popular or highly-rated. The gap between them seems difficult to imagine and “These Are The Voyages…”, no matter how well-meaning, finalizes the process by turning ENT into a footnote in a minor ST:TNG episode.

It is hard not to feel a sudden sense of joy and homecoming when the holodeck’s yellow lines light up and Riker walks out of Enterprise and into the Enterprise-D corridor, and we feel as if we’ve never left. There is something homey and comforting about TNG, there always was. The spacious ship, the genial crew, the comfortably carpeted rooms. It’s the place to come home to and at the end it’s where ENT’s producers came home to.

Blalock and others are right to feel cheated. “Voyages” is not an ENT episode, not in any meaningful sense. It might have been intriguing at any other point in the show’s history, but as a finale it is a dismissal of ENT. The touching final seconds of the three ships, and what is undoubtedly the best and most moving part of the episode, suggest an equality that was never there. The original series and TNG were successes, whether for creative or commercial reasons, ENT is a failure. When Riker and Troi leave and the audience with them, before Archer begins his speech, it is meant to be a touching note that speaks of an unfinished series; but it carries a note of dismissal too. We go off with the TNG characters and leave ENT’s behind. Indeed “Voyages” reduces ENT and its crew to nothing more than characters in a holodeck simulation whom Riker and Troi can switch on and off at will.

ENT deserved to end with a grand episode like “Twilight.” It at the very least deserved a decent send-off and though “Voyages” attempts to suggest that this is about Enterprise’s legacy, it is actually nothing of the kind. “Voyages” does a poor job of wrapping up anything about the Enterprise crew. Trip is killed by a clash with a gang of idiot robbers who board the ship. It’s hard to imagine a sillier way to kill off a character. T’Pol does some of her best work in the episode unlocking her emotions, but even Archer and most of the rest of the crew have little to do and less to look forward to.

STAR TREK VI closed an era with peace with the Klingons, ST:TNG ended with the salvation of the universe and the reconceptualization of time, ST:DS9 ended with victory over the Dominion and Sisko’s ascension, VOYAGER ended with a catastrophic battle with the Borg. But what does “Voyages” end with? A speech we never see? A Federation we are not even given the chance to see come into being? The culmination of Enterprise’s journey is not a story about the building of the Federation; it is a story about fighting space bandits. Riker marching through a holographic recreation to get answers about duty and orders seems more like something VOY’s Naomi Wildman might have done, accompanied by Tuvok.

Furthermore, the plot makes little to no sense. Archer complains about the cost of exploration that took Trip’s life but it wasn’t exploration that killed him; it was Archer using the Enterprise to intervene in a private criminal dispute. Riker goes to learn and decide whether his higher duty is to his Captain or to the Admiral and learns the value of personal loyalty from Trip’s example but really did Riker need to wander through a holodeck simulation of the NX-01 to figure out personal loyalty to Captain Picard after all these years? More importantly is that Enterprise’s legacy, not in its accomplishments, but in the personal loyalty of the crew to Archer? Was there any other ST series that this could not be said of?

All of ST’s finales have been sad but they were leavened by crisis and confrontation and some transcendence. Captain Kirk sailing the Enterprise to the second star on the right after confronting his demons and ideals and emerging rejuvenated from them. Picard entering the room to play poker in order to solidify that bond with his crew for the future. Kira confronting her new role in running DS9. Voyager finally returning home to be greeted by a waiting fleet after Janeway has torn apart the future and the Borg for her crew. All of those had a clear message: this was worthwhile and this isn’t over yet. “Voyages” struggles but fails to offer any such message. The crew can muster little but a sad apathy at the future. It is over and they know it and the writers know it and we know it too. Archer gives his speech and we live because it would be too hard to bear this final goodbye.

In “All Good Things…”, which “Voyages” not so cleverly references, the future destroyed the past in a paradox that defied cause and effect. ENT too is a paradox, a show set in ST’s past produced in the future. It has also completed the final task of destroying ST. Not because it was a thoroughly awful show — ENT had brilliant and memorable episodes. But never enough. And so it goes out not with hope for the future but a sad resignation; not with a bang but a whimper.

STAR TREK, though, lives on. All things that live must die but ST has left behind a great legacy that continues to blossom today. When we look up at the stars and see Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans and Tholians among them, ST continues to dream on inside us. When we find our fingers drawing apart in a Vulcan greeting by force of habit, that too is the product of hundreds of hours of a TV show we watched, memorized and loved.

ST has had a great and noble legacy. The first space shuttle was named Enterprise. The shuttle fleet is being retired now to make way for a crew exploratory vehicle that will take us to the Moon and Mars and beyond. It will be Earth’s first true spaceship. It seems somewhat appropriate that STAR TREK’s death, the passing of a wonderful fictional series about space exploration, comes in the dawn of the birth of a new era of real space exploration here on earth.

If ST was a dream that fired men’s souls to see the stars, to walk among strange new worlds; then perhaps we have woken from the dream and are moving closer to the reality. And when man does step foot for the first time on a foreign star, the engineers and scientists, the astronauts and visionaries whom ST inspired will have helped to make it happen. That is its true legacy and ours.

Next week: the Future…

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Demons

Synopsis: Trip and T’Pol have a love child and do 21 Jump Street. Peter Weller comes on board to play Dr. Evil and Anthony Montgomery acts more robotic than Robocop.

Review: “Demons” is many things. It’s first of all a waste of ENTERPRISE’s last few episodes. It is a waste of the Federation story. It is a waste of the time and energies of the actors involved and of just about everything else that went into the production of the show.

star trek enterprise demons

He wears a suit... he must be evil

If the writers and viewers didn’t think the bar fight in “Home” was tedious enough, ENT feels the need to repeat the exercise with a two-part episode dedicated to not particularly futuristic neo-nazis in suits and ties who really hate aliens.

Gene Roddenberry on the original STAR TREK stayed well away from Earth because he knew the complexities of any kind of future social and economic system and culture were beyond his ability to properly portray. ENT has not only chosen to set itself in a period of Earth moving from individuality to the Federation but also flubbed it time and time again.

We do not see a world that has recovered from a catastrophic world war and bears the accompanying scars and characteristics of such a legacy (consider how much we are shaped today by WWII and WWIII was supposed to be a good deal more catastrophic, would the aftermath really look like 20th century Earth with a little tinkering?), but what we see is the 20th century and “Demons” only reaffirms that.

What were the real ideologies behind WW3? What kind of a world would be left in the wake of superhuman beings running portions of the planet and killing masses of the human population? The Eugenics War would have been a credible motivation for Terra Prime, the fear of being ruled by superhuman beings again; yet “Demons” does not pick up on that instead giving us a brief message about Colonel Green promoting euthanasia of people with radiation poisoning. Where ENT this season at least dealt with the Eugenics Wars, “Demons” just gives us modern day bigots without even really bothering with a futuristic setting.

This might have been bearable but the episode is further weighed down by utterly awful writing. A major chunk of the episode is dedicated to Ensign Mayweather, an idea right up there with teaching ducks to do computer repairs. Anthony Montgomery has never been able to act. When faced with a camera, he recites lines in a monotone looking for all the world like a 13-year-old on stage for a production of his high school play. His performance lacks emotion or even any understanding that he’s playing a character. His ‘romance’ is as compelling TV viewing as a wax museum production of Othello.

Add on to that Peter Weller, reuniting with Manny Cotto and delivering an utterly ponderous performance. Early on there’s some potential that he might be more than a stock villain but have actual depth and shading but then he falls into Dr. Evil mode to such an absurd extent that he and the episode become outright laughable. Of course like every evil supervillain he has two of his own henchmen killed to show just how evil he is, even as he lets T’Pol and Tucker stand around on his bridge without doing anything to them; in true supervillain style. To top it off he has his own flying fortress and when his mining facility flies off into space, the shark for the episode has been well and truly jumped. When he airs a broadcast threatening to blow things up with his supergun unless his demands are met. You almost expect him to put his little finger in his mouth and demand ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Harry Groener who on Buffy could be wonderfully menacing and creepy in the oddest ways is utterly wasted here as are Peter Weller in Robonazi mode and the rest of the cast in an episode that would make a passable Jump Street episode and little else. Contemplate the idiocy in having Trip and T’Pol go undercover into an enemy mining facility. Both are members of the Enterprise crew and heroes of Earth. The plan to go undercover on Earth seems like a really bad idea. Especially since T’Pol does not even bother to cover up her ears and female Vulcans are not likely to be laborers at a poor and grungy mining outpost. And to really maintain his cover Trip should not have been wandering around the outpost with a Vulcan to begin with.

Then again police detectives aren’t likely to just blend into a high school which puts “Demons” plausibility on the same level as 21 Jump Street. This is only reinforced by a scene in which Mayweather’s girlfriend demands counsel since apparently suddenly Starfleet grants the right to refuse to speak to Archer without a lawyer. A lot of the aliens whom Archer beat and tortured would have been happy to know that. Then again there’s grounds for refusing to watch this episode without a lawyer present.

And so now we end on a cliffhanger note in which Dr. Evil threatens to blow up things with his new cannon unless all the aliens leave. If the supergun doesn’t work, I’m sure he’ll always have some piranhas handy.

Next Week: Peter Weller’s Mini-Me may show up.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Divergence

Synopsis: Columbia and Enterprise team up to rescue Phlox.

star trek enterprise divergenceReview: In retrospect, it seems as if “Divergence” and “Affliction” would have made stronger episodes if they were aired together as one large two-parter, the way some TNG and VOYAGER episodes have been in the past. While it’s an entertaining episode, “Divergence” is following up on far too much of the plot “Affliction” set into place to be as strong on its own.

Columbia’s rescue of Enterprise is probably ENT’s best use of ship and character-based special effects since “Minefield” and arguably surpasses it. It also has the sense of adventure and excitement that ENT has been sorely lacking for some time. Indeed the scene is spectacular enough that even on its own it’s likely to be remembered for some time.

Phlox, arguably the show’s best character and who has been all too often neglected, has gotten a much needed focus in “Affliction” and “Divergence” and it seems fitting that he is the one offering the ultimatum to the Admiral, rather than Archer. Not just because using biological weapons seems a bit of a stretch for Starfleet (though not so much of one considering “For The Uniform”) but because it lets Phlox shine in a completely unexpected scene that would have been a cliche had it featured Archer.

Trip’s sulking is, however, still tedious but at least it’s understated now and for once we actually get to see why he’s considered a great chief engineer in one of the more exciting engineering crisis scenes since Scotty was drinking and powering up warp engines on the old Enterprise (no bloody A,B,C,D or E). This is all the more of an accomplishment considering ENT’s rather boring warp engine, which unlike the spectacular lava lamp engines of TNG and VOY is really nothing to look at. The Director of the episode also appears to be experimenting with smash zooms that are somewhat cliched as a technique but bring a little life to the action scenes.

The sense of galactic politics and scale isn’t nearly as strong in “Divergence” with a lot of the material losing steam along the way and becoming reduced to individual character conflicts. Still, Reed’s moral dilemma is well played even if it’s not quite as gripping as it should be. The plot involving the Klingon general and his son is as hopeless as Archer’s brow ridges. Archer, meanwhile, once again in two months risks his life to expose himself to a virus for the greater good. There simply have been a few too many stories in which Archer is ready to give his life in suicidal actions and it’s almost as if he has a death wish by now.

Archer’s role in the episode is really nothing too spectacular, especially considering that his best moment of the episode involves talking to his dog. Bakula himself may look back proudly on his ENT acting days if he chooses to, but the scene of him writhing with the virus won’t be one of them. Instead it’s one of the unintentionally funniest bits of the series. His brow ridges though seem like a nice TOS reference to James Kirk’s Romulan ears, left over from “The Enterprise Incident.”

And it is scenes and references like that, which tell you that even if Manny Coto’s season four doesn’t always get it right, its heart is in the right place and so is “Divergence”‘s spirit. While the episode falters in places it is ultimately a work of love and a valentine to STAR TREK. It should be remembered as one.

Next week: Temporal incursions better known as reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Affliction

Synopsis: Columbia’s launch coincides with Phlox’s kidnapping and an unfolding disaster in the Klingon empire.

Review: If you close your eyes for a moment you could almost imagine “Affliction” as part one of ENTERPRISE’s pilot, a pilot that might have been and might have fueled a stronger and better STAR TREK series. Instead, it features the launch not of Enterprise but of Columbia, the younger sister and rather than being the pilot, it is one of the show’s final episodes – as the promos now trumpet with glee-like excitement.

star trek enterprise afflictionIf Season four will be remembered for nothing else, it will be for finally paying attention to STAR TREK continuity and making a good faith effort to be not the new and edgy and hip STAR TREK Berman and Braga tried to make it, but a portrayal of the years leading up to the original series, to Enterprise NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, D or E) and the universe as it was then. If ENTERPRISE will be remembered for little else, “Affliction” will likely go down in the fan record books as finally solving the great Klingon dilemma and the racial gap between TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons in a clever and plausible way.

ENT’s relationship to continuity has often been downright abusive and while season four has not always gotten it right, it has done what no other STAR TREK series has done since TNG and shown affection and respect to the original series that started it all and made an honest effort to follow in its footsteps. It is perhaps not surprising that it was thanked with the same treatment meted out to the original series of being shunted to an unpopular time slot and then cancelled. But unlike the Original Series, whose third season was often dismal and disappointing in comparison to its earlier work, ENT’s season four cannot be accused of that and episodes like “Affliction” are a large part of the reason why.

Reminiscent of the larger-scale galactic episodes of TNG and DS9 that seem to have almost forgotten, “Affliction” sweepingly moves from earth to the Klingon Empire, from Section 31 to the Augments, from the intimate depths of Trip and T’Pol’s minds to the scope of galactic threats and counterthreats and the birth of a new Klingon race. “Affliction” is in many ways what the “United” trilogy should have been but wasn’t. It also admirably fits the characters into the scale and scope of galactic events. From Hoshi’s mindmeld to T’Pol and Trip being drawn together even from far away to Phlox’s moral dilemma and that of the Klingon doctor instrumental in bringing him there, to Reed locked in a physical cell and the moral cell of his conflicting obligations; the characters are not left out nor are they saddled with makeshift threats as was the case in “United.”

Like TNG and DS9’s O’Brien, Reed is a man of duty with a black and white view of the world. DS9’s strongest episodes often came in testing O’Brien by pitting his black and white loyalties against the grayer universe that forced him to do immoral things such as in “The Assignment.” Reed’s strong sense of duty combined with his black and white view of the world causes Section 31 to be a far more tenacious test for him than it ever was for bumbling Bashir.

Meanwhile T’Pol’s mental abilities are expanding with a mind meld to Hoshi that is almost casual and then drawing Trip and even Hoshi into her mind. Despite being set up in “Observer Effect,” Hoshi’s martial arts are still unbelievable but overall good use is made of her. Meanwhile on Columbia, Captain Hernandez is proving to be a credible Captain and Trip a better engineer when he abandons the histrionics and concentrates on doing his job. All too often it was hard to grasp why with his complete lack of professionalism Trip had the job he did, “Affliction” reminds us that he’s actually good at something beyond yelling and throwing fits.

The Klingon response to the Augments is both logical and resolves the long-standing contradiction of two Klingon races. The core idea of genetically-engineered Klingons is not all together original, but the solution and its integration are. At least ENT will be remembered for bringing the Klingon races together and bridging one of STAR TREK’s more enduring gaps;not between its period and that of TOS but between TOS and TNG. All in all, “Affliction” is a strong beginning for what hopefully will be an even stronger conclusion.

Next week: Archer gets ridged.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Judgement

Summary: Archer experiences the unfairness of the Klingon justice system firsthand.

star trek enterprise judgementGreat heroes need great antagonists to confront and oppose. The Original Series created two great antagonist races, the Romulans and the Klingons, which every STAR TREK series has continued to use and which, arguably, none have improved upon. But even though the Klingons were key antagonists for the original Enterprise crew, ENTERPRISE until now has been stuck with a TNG-era view of the pop culture foe: somewhat troublesome allies, not ruthless conquerors and slavemasters. This is probably because the show’s producers date back only to TNG. The Klingon Empire in “Judgment,” however, is shown as a true empire complete with the enslaved races that were there in the Original Series and seemed to have been forgotten about by the 24th century. “Judgement” does not entirely upstage the TNG view of the Klingons but it comes closer to the TOS view, which is a vital necessity if ENTER{RISE is to retool itself into a better TV series.

Where during ENT’s previous Klingon encounters, the ridged-ones could mostly be talked around to the human view of things (“Unexpected,” “Sleeping Dogs”) or dismissed as rogue elements (“Marauders”), “Judgement” is the first Klingon-centered episode where they don’t do the reasonable thing by the end of the episode and instead take a decidedly hostile course of action by sentencing Archer to life in an arctic Klingon gulag. Whether this will translate into a change in how the Klingons relate to humans in future episodes, when Archer has become a fugitive from Klingon justice, depends on whether or not the producers will choose to uphold series continuity or not. “Judgement” itself, though, is certainly full of STAR TREK continuity references, from ‘Captain Duras’ suggesting a relationship to Worf’s antagonist to major elements of STAR TRE VI, including the tribunal set design and the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe complete with abusive guards and a variety of alien scum.

Captain Archer himself is also closer to Kirk in this episode than he’s ever been so far. He displays courage and determination rather than the impulsiveness and obtuseness that have so often characterized Archer. Former Martok actor J.G. Hertzler also creates a better character in the form of ‘Kolos’, an aging and disaffected gruff Klingon lawyer out of place in the new order. Of course Kolos’ speech about the warrior class having taken over Klingon society is rather dubious at best since the Klingons are not the Romulans or the Cardassians. The warrior class hasn’t taken over their society; violent confrontation is the basis of their society, culture, and biology from the times of ‘Kahless’ to the 24th century.

Even Klingons who were part human or raised by humans like ‘Worf’, ‘K’heylar’ or ‘B’Elanna’ inherited it. That speech along with Archer’s cliched homily about the human past smacks of an attempt to humanize Klingons into just another yet-to-be-civilized culture along human lines like the Cardassians or Ferengi.

These days UPN seems to bill just about every ENT episode as an ENT Event, but “Judgement” is one of the few episodes that’s worthy of the name. Everything from the direction to the actors is just right with an episode that appears to cover a lot of ground and with each character, no matter how minor, making a distinct impression. The visual effects and production design departments have outdone themselves again. Money was clearly spent on this episode and it shows in the FX of the exteriors of the Tribunal and the Klingon ship and the Tribunal interior, which does its best to reproduce the original and unique Klingon set design of STAR TREK VI, from a courtroom that’s narrow but sweeps high upwards to the Klingon judge’s alien gavel.

Overall “Judgement” is the series’s first solid Klingon episode. Where prior STAR TREK spin-offs produced filler Klingon episodes as an attempt to boost ratings with the appearance of a popular race, this episode has a decent grasp of continuity, a viewpoint and a message. It has its flaws. Archer’s rescue is more originally accomplished and plausible than a standard starship rescue might have been, but its abruptness and lack of build-up with an offhand comment by T’Pol makes the conclusion seem rushed. Had “Judgement” seen Archer captured and put on trial for any of his prior negative Klingon encounters, it would have boosted continuity and freed up more time for a heartier conclusion to the episode which, like many TREK episodes, now suffers in the reduced running time (39 vs 44 minutes) that UPN has provided.

Next week: Another ENT Event: Mayweather’s family yells at each other.

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