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[ENT] Jammer's Review: First Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the entire first season of Enterprise. In brief: Standard shakedown cruise. The plots
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 18, 2002
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      entire first season of "Enterprise."


      In brief: Standard shakedown cruise. The plots were too often bland, but the
      characters are working okay and the potential for good things is clearly
      here.

      -----
      Enterprise: First Season Recap
      Capsule Reviews & Season Analysis

      For episodes airing from
      9/26/2001 to 5/22/2002 (USA)

      Series created by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Executive producers: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      Welcome to Jammer's last-minute, just-barely-in-time wrap-up for
      Enterprise's first season. You probably already know how these things work,
      and even if you don't, it's not like it's rocket science (two parts -- [1]
      capsule review of each episode, [2] the overall season commentary). So let's
      just get on with it, the most comprehensive single-stop review for
      Enterprise I'll put together this year. Feel free to agree, disagree, or
      punch your computer screen.

      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Broken Bow" -- Airdate: 9/26/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by James L. Conway.

      It's a perfectly adequate series pilot that establishes all the characters
      (even if minimally for some of them), gives us a premise for Starfleet's
      first flight with the warp-5 Enterprise, and sets us loose for a fairly
      standard Trekkian action-adventure story. It's safe, efficient sci-fi
      entertainment that breaks very little new ground but fills two hours of TV
      time with not too much to complain about. The tensions with the Vulcans
      would reveal themselves as a significant theme throughout the season, though
      I still feel that these tensions come across as forced here. Also
      significant later in the season is the setup involving the temporal cold
      war, the Suliban, and villain Silik -- some murky weirdness that plays
      reasonably as, well, murky weirdness. Conway's direction touches all the
      necessary bases, and the show (which won an Emmy this week for visual
      effects) is visually striking in a way that even Voyager rarely reached.

      Rating: ***


      "Fight or Flight" -- Airdate: 10/3/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      Average, functional fare, in which Hoshi must test her space legs and face
      her fears of this new deep-space mission. Chews through an hour well enough,
      but move along, nothing to see here. The plot is Trek alien encounters by
      the numbers (weird alien corpses on hooks, tense showdowns, etc.) -- well
      implemented but not particularly interesting. The hour is carried by the
      fact Hoshi strikes us as a real person with real fears.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Strange New World" -- Airdate: 10/10/2001. Teleplay by Mike Sussman &
      Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David
      Livingston.

      A bare-boned plot with little in terms of genuine interest is virtually
      saved by acting, particularly Connor Trinneer's, as the side effects of
      toxic pollen turns Trip into a raving madman who becomes more than honest in
      regard to his distrust of T'Pol and the Vulcans. This distrust stems from,
      again, the general deep-rooted animosity humans harbor for being subjugated
      by the Vulcans for the last 90 years. The less-is-more approach to plotting
      here is a bit of a double-edged sword: While I liked that the crises here
      weren't overplayed and that the technobabble was kept at an absolute
      minimum, the story itself is simple and derivative to the point of becoming
      irrelevant background noise. Fortunately, the foreground -- the
      performances, paranoia, and claustrophobia -- make the hour work.

      Rating: ***


      "Unexpected" -- Airdate: 10/17/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by Mike Vejar.

      The infamously preposterous story concept that has circulated the Trek
      offices for more than a decade ("Riker gets pregnant," "Odo gets pregnant,"
      "Paris gets pregnant") finally gets put into production for Enterprise when
      it lands as "Tucker gets pregnant." The results are predictably lame, with
      the latter half of the show seeing Trip walk around the ship in goofy/cliche
      "parental instincts" mode, something that plays like rejected sitcom fodder.
      The way Trip gets pregnant prompts incredulity while also making Xyrillian
      Ah'Len look terminally clueless: "I had no idea this could happen with
      another species!" Not only this, we've got the hopelessly ill-advised use of
      an alien holodeck in a way that induces what-were-they-thinking snickers of
      disbelief for anyone who has been watching the last decade of Trek. The
      needless way the Klingons come out of nowhere in the final minutes is
      positively puzzling. The only thing that somewhat works here is some of the
      early weirdness depicting an alien environment.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Terra Nova" -- Airdate: 10/17/2001. Teleplay by Antoinette Stella. Story by
      Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by LeVar Burton.

      A perfect example of this series' early conceptual woes, in which the notion
      of previously groundbreaking human exploration is reduced to a derivative
      caveman story. Cavemen with machine guns, of course. A story about a human
      colony that had set out for this planet some 70 years ago is squandered in
      favor of a slow and uninteresting rehash of language/communication barriers
      and routine trust conflicts and crises. The events within the 90-year gap
      between "First Contact" and Enterprise are something that I have a great
      deal of curiosity about, but the writers don't seem to know anything about
      them, at least not on the basis of this ho-hum story, which is a missed
      opportunity.

      Rating: **


      "The Andorian Incident" -- Airdate: 10/31/2001. Teleplay by Fred Dekker.
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann
      Dawson.

      Another routine Hostage Plot [TM] that squeaks by with a pass on the basis
      of its eyebrow-raising ending, where Archer hands the Andorians the evidence
      about the Vulcans' secret spy station at P'Jem -- a good ending, whether you
      agree with Archer's decision or not. That decision serves to again highlight
      the running theme of the schism between the humans and Vulcans, and would
      subsequently be followed up with "Shadows of P'Jem," though I'm not so sure
      it was followed up satisfactorily. Much of the rest of this episode is
      marginally entertaining (albeit admittedly uninspired). I enjoyed a scene
      where Archer plays smart-ass to the Andorians and gets beat up real good,
      even while I was questioning the logic of the plot, which all but reveals
      this action to be unnecessary. Perhaps Archer is a masochist.

      Rating: ***


      "Breaking the Ice" -- Airdate: 11/7/2001. Written by Maria Jacquemetton &
      Andre Jacquemetton. Directed by Terry Windell.

      *Another* story that seems to fly in the face of interesting plot
      conception. This time, it's about analyzing a comet and rescuing Reed and
      Mayweather when the situation turns ugly. The episode actually features a
      scene where the two build a snowman on the comet surface, complete with eyes
      and smiley face. Oddly, it's a scene that sets the tone of the show, which
      is about light character interaction rather than substantive plot
      development. There are many individual scenes that have the ring of
      character truth in them, like T'Pol's crossroads, Archer's frustrating
      dinner with hopelessly laconic Vulcan Captain Vanik (quite funny, this
      scene), and the sensible scene where the bridge officers make a recording
      for schoolchildren back on Earth. Also worthwhile is watching Archer swallow
      his pride and ask the Vulcans for help in the rescue attempt, something we
      realize is far more important than perpetuating schisms based on pride. The
      plot is of little consequence, but the characters make the story.

      Rating: ***


      "Civilization" -- Airdate: 11/14/2001. Written by Phyllis Strong & Mike
      Sussman. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      More middling material, which applies the Trek formula with nothing new and
      then subtracts certain protocols from the rulebook we've come to rely on.
      Those protocols are, specifically, the ones involving the Prime Directive of
      non-interference. Unfortunately, the episode seems to be about the issue of
      non-interference but without the characters learning any lessons. As an hour
      of entertainment it's enough to hold one's attention with a functional plot
      but comes across as having been pulled from the Trek recycling bin. Archer
      makes some questionable decisions here that don't seem to have much in terms
      of consequences, since everything is fixed by the end. It'd be nice if he
      were more likely to trust T'Pol's judgment than jump in head first in the
      interests of "exploration."

      Rating: **1/2


      "Fortunate Son" -- Airdate: 11/21/2001. Written by James Duff. Directed by
      LeVar Burton.

      A good episode that is actually about some of the issues that needed to be
      tackled in Enterprise's first season -- namely, the issue of human
      cargo-ship runners and the soon-to-change role of these people in a universe
      that will quickly begin shrinking with the advent of warp-5 starships. It's
      also the only episode that deals heavily with young Ensign Mayweather, the
      season's most neglected (and, as a result, blandest) character. The plot
      involving raids and vengeance isn't the freshest idea in the book as
      implemented, but the story wisely uses the plot as a backdrop to show us the
      lawlessness out here in space and how cargo runners have to deal carefully
      with situations because of the fact they are isolated and must stand on
      their own. A key closing conversation between Archer and the captain of the
      Fortunate is particularly well-realized, showing an awareness of the
      shrinking universe that lies in humanity's very near future.

      Rating: ***


      "Cold Front" -- Airdate: 11/28/2001. Written by Steve Beck & Tim Finch.
      Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill.

      The temporal cold war begins to heat up in a story about classic Trekkian
      time-travel weirdness conveyed with a note of ominous disbelief -- time
      travel is seen as fiction, not accepted as fact. It makes for solidly
      entertaining sci-fi, albeit not a departure from anything we've seen in the
      past decade of Trek. The plot is the ultimate paradox, of course, in which
      Daniels (whomever he really works for) purports to know what the future
      timeline "should" be, based on how history has been recorded, which, of
      course, doesn't take into account the fact that historical records are every
      bit as flexible as the timeline is, and more so. The story is a little too
      easy to take Daniels at his word and automatically label Silik the
      villain -- but from Archer's point of view how can he know who's really
      telling the truth and harboring the "right" intentions in regard to the
      timeline? Silik's escape (jumping out of the decompressed launch bay) is one
      of the more memorably cinematic escapes on the Trek record.

      Rating: ***


      "Silent Enemy" -- Airdate: 1/16/2002. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by
      Winrich Kolbe.

      The enemy here is extremely silent (no negotiation or communication, and
      inexplicable assault patterns), and thus they seem more like a convenient
      plot prop than a realistic or believable threat. They're a device that
      serves to remind us that the Enterprise is severely outgunned out here,
      prompting Archer to set a course for Earth before Trip convinces him the
      weapons upgrades can be performed in-house. The idea that the crew has been
      waiting around for a threat like this before working on the phase-cannon
      project in the first place is fairly ridiculous, but I suppose I like the
      idea of watching the crew implement these upgrades enough to overlook the
      contrived nature of this sudden, surprise impetus. The big character issue
      revolves around the relatively unknown Lt. Reed; alas the writers only come
      up with a character study that seeks to discover his favorite food -- kinda
      underwhelming.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Dear Doctor" -- Airdate: 1/23/2002. Written by Marie Jacquemetton & Andre
      Jacquemetton. Directed by James A. Contner.

      Season one's best episode, which not only reminds us what Star Trek is all
      about, but manages to do so in an Enterprise-specific way that the other
      Trek series could not have done from the perspective of their premises.
      Phlox, with his outsider's perspective of new-to-deep-space humanity, is the
      perfect center for this story, painted by John Billingsley with a great deal
      of thoughtfulness and integrity. Using voice-over narration, the story is
      able to document the ideas behind a dilemma that eventually becomes a
      weighty Prime Directive issue in a world with no Prime Directive. The story
      does not cheat and miracles do not allow the characters off the hook; Archer
      must rise to the occasion in a way that goes against his gut feeling to help
      people in need. All the while, Phlox's running narration gets us into his
      head and also in touch with human sensibilities in an objective way that's
      kind of groundbreaking. We see human attitudes and behavior in a new and
      interesting light. The story's keen sense of observation is striking.

      Rating: ****


      "Sleeping Dogs" -- Airdate: 1/30/2002. Written by Fred Dekker. Directed by
      Les Landau.

      The selling point here appears to be to see Klingon culture from the inside
      for the "first" time through the eyes of the Enterprise away team that
      boards a disabled Klingon ship. That's a storytelling mindset to be wary of
      on this series, because the audience has already experienced these aspects
      of Trekkian lore many times over and is not likely to see them as "new" even
      if the characters ostensibly do. There's also plenty of tedium involved in
      Archer's attempts to befriend the injured Klingon woman, who wants no part
      of a trusting relationship with humans. The plot line is functional but
      unimaginative, mostly resembling a submarine movie, occasionally crossed
      with atmospheric would-be suspense in the dark Klingon surroundings. The
      Klingons are too needlessly obtuse and hostile in the face of being helped,
      which leads only to viewer frustration. Some good work with Hoshi and T'Pol
      works best, but the plot resolves itself with sloppiness in the end.

      Rating: **


      "Shadows of P'Jem" -- Airdate: 2/6/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis
      Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      The well-intended follow-up to "The Andorian Incident" doesn't end up making
      the grade. The Shuttle Crash [TM] and Hostage Plot [TM] elements are taken
      strictly off the shelf, leading to a story that moves from A to B without
      much in terms of engaging plot or character development. The story makes
      some attempts, like with the Archer/T'Pol bonding, but the results are too
      obvious, pedestrian, and drawn-out with padded scenes (such as the two tied
      up on the floor of a holding cell for what seems like half the episode).
      Always-bitter Andorian Shran shows up in a way that seems a tad on the
      well-timed convenient side and figures into a plot about government
      corruption that comes to no satisfactory resolution by the end of the story.
      All in all, this is an episode that inspires more shrugs than anything else.

      Rating: **


      "Shuttlepod One" -- Airdate: 2/13/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Directed by David Livingston.

      In one of the season's best outings -- well acted by Connor Trinneer and
      Dominic Keating -- Trip and Reed are thrust into a survival situation that's
      convincing from start to finish. The setup misunderstanding -- which I
      originally labeled a bit of a contrivance -- works better the more I think
      about it, thanks to its refreshing lack of needless tech. There's a reliable
      drama theory: Put a couple actors in a room, supply them with an extreme
      situation, and watch the personalities emerge. That's exactly what this
      episode does, straightforwardly and urgently conveyed. We're in sympathy
      with the situation, fully believing Trip and Reed are freezing and desperate
      as they work the problem from every limited angle they can. Of particular
      interest is watching the typically closed-off Reed opening up to Trip, which
      ultimately ends up creating a friendship. For this streamlined story, less
      turns out to be so much more.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Fusion" -- Airdate: 2/27/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong.
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Rob Hedden.

      "Fusion" is odd, frustrating, and occasionally intriguing. There are moments
      of isolated psychology I like in the episode, as well as a solid performance
      from Jolene Blalock. Unfortunately, I don't really understand the episode,
      which is disjointed and unfocused. That may be part of the point, but it
      comes across as a puzzling hour pieced together from isolated, undercooked
      ideas. We've got T'Pol with a repressed memory of an emotion -- a strand
      that doesn't get adequately addressed. We've got the idea of a mind-meld
      brought to the table, but its purpose and standing in Vulcan society are
      left sketchy. T'Pol believes Vulcans who try to integrate emotions into
      their lives are akin to ticking time bombs, and the episode seems to agree
      with her -- maybe. I'm honestly not convinced this episode (or the series)
      really understands the Vulcans and how they work. What's odd is how I get a
      feeling the *point* of the episode is to be half-baked. Resolution may
      simply not be a goal. There are some strange successes in this hour, but
      ultimately the story is untenable.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Rogue Planet" -- Airdate: 3/20/2002. Teleplay by Chris Black. Story by Rick
      Berman & Brannon Braga & Chris Black. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      "Rogue Planet" doesn't make much sense, and you can constantly feel the
      script's rusty gears grinding beneath the surface of its improbable story.
      Created as a mystery, the plot has a telepathic shapeshifter appear to
      Archer as a mysterious woman from his distant memories. The problem is that
      the woman's motives are totally contrary to the script's: The woman is
      supposed to be trying to tell Archer something important while the script
      goes to every conceivable length to conceal all vital information. The
      result is a story that plods along at snail's pace to reach a conclusion
      that does little more than make us wonder why we had all the needless
      smokescreens. The alien hunters are just as inexplicably scripted, hiding
      information before then suddenly revealing it -- with no motivation aside
      from the fact UPN's next hour of soon-to-be-canceled programming was coming
      on in 15 minutes. The idea of a rogue planet with lush forest plant life
      flies in the face of common sense.

      Rating: **


      "Acquisition" -- Airdate: 3/27/2002. Teleplay by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre
      Jacquemetton. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by James
      Whitmore, Jr.

      Silly Ferengi hijinks characterize a pointless episode that serves as little
      more than a reminder for why Ferengi episodes are generally lame and
      unfunny. Most annoying in terms of plot are the facts that the entire crew
      is disabled with Acme Knock-Out Gas and the fact that Archer lets the
      Ferengi go at the end of the episode -- facts that prompt serious questions
      about the level of this crew's competence. Aside from that, we've got dumb,
      interchangeable Ferengi characters doing their usual dumb, lame stuff.
      Jeffrey Combs does his best to create a new Ferengi character from scratch,
      but just as for everyone and everything else in the episode, the script does
      little to support him.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Oasis" -- Airdate: 4/3/2002. Teleplay by Stephen Beck. Story by Rick Berman
      & Brannon Braga & Stephen Beck. Directed by Jim Charleston.

      Another ho-hum plot is redeemed by acting. The story tries to peddle us a
      mystery, but who are they kidding -- the "twist" at the end of "Oasis"
      (involving holograms, no less) is fairly obvious and extremely conventional.
      Fortunately, the characters (aside from T'Pol inexplicably deriding Trip)
      keep the proceedings pleasant (Trip reveals himself as a gentleman), and the
      story makes a real effort after revealing its secret to wrap up with
      genuinely sincere characterization. Rene Auberjonois' character turns out to
      be a father carrying some deep emotional scars -- looking out for the best
      interests of his daughter but also himself. He wins our sympathy and comes
      across as a real person, and that almost makes a pedestrian story worth
      watching.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Detained" -- Airdate: 4/24/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong.
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.

      I like that "Detained" is allegory done reasonably, but I'm also glad to see
      it done at all. Trek has gotten farther away from allegory over the years in
      favor of demographically friendlier action-adventure; every once in a while
      it's nice to get back to that part of what Trek is (or was) best known for.
      "Detained" is not groundbreaking or subtle about its intentions, but it is
      sincere as a cautionary tale about lumping together groups based on the
      actions of their subsets -- a theme of renewed relevance in the post-Sept.
      11 world of heightened security. Through Colonel Grat we see a society of
      borderline paranoids obsessed with knowing who knows what, trying to build
      the most comprehensive network of intelligence possible. The
      ends-versus-means argument can be a difficult mindset to combat; Archer does
      so here by blatantly interfering via jailbreak -- another decision that
      shows why the Prime Directive will become necessary.

      Rating: ***


      "Vox Sola" -- Airdate: 5/1/2002. Teleplay by Fred Dekker. Story by Rick
      Berman & Brannon Braga & Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann Dawson.

      Plenty of standard-issue plotting almost manages to end up working because
      of details that seem to feel right. The name of the game is seeking out new
      lifeforms, and in this episode we get a new lifeform that communicates in a
      fairly unique way that requires the technical and linguistic acumen of Hoshi
      and our crew. The ending rings of actual sci-fi, but it's not quite enough
      to make it completely worth our time; much of the hour plays like a study of
      the procedural aspects of a Trek story -- not bad, but a structure that is
      familiar to a fault. The Hoshi/T'Pol interaction doesn't measure up.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Fallen Hero" -- Airdate: 5/8/2002. Teleplay by Alan Cross. Story by Rick
      Berman & Brannon Braga and Chris Black. Directed by Patrick Norris.

      Here's a rare example of an action-chase plot that actually works on the
      levels of action and chase. The Enterprise is backed into a situation where
      they must max out the engines at redline -- with potentially undesirable
      results -- as they flee from a pursuing pack of bullies with slightly faster
      ships. Patrick Norris' direction over the latter scenes manages to create
      some slowly building excitement, particularly with good pacing and
      cinematography; the test of the Enterprise ends up being surprisingly
      effective. Meanwhile, the issue of fragile trust between humans and Vulcans
      is once again revisited when Archer agrees to transport expelled Vulcan
      ambassador V'Lar from an alien world whose corrupt officials seek to have
      her returned and executed. Fionnula Flanagan is good as V'Lar, an
      all-too-rare Vulcan who comes across as a real individual rather than a
      cut-and-paste job from the Vulcan template. We need more Vulcan characters
      like V'Lar; Trek has gotten in the habit of thinking Vulcans are boring
      drones who always speak in detached monotone.

      Rating: ***


      "Desert Crossing" -- Airdate: 5/8/2002. Teleplay by Andre Bormanis. Story by
      Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis. Directed by David Straiton.

      A mixed bag, which benefits greatly from the fact that Archer's actions in
      "Detained" come back to affect him here when an apparent terrorist
      organization asks him to help defend (via preemptive strike, perhaps?)
      against a society with superior military power. It lays another brick in the
      road to what will inevitably be the Prime Directive, and it's good to see
      Archer realize the pattern of his actions. Unfortunately, the story can't
      bring enough depth to the Israel/Palestine-like situation, and instead turns
      into a stale and disposable desert survival film that all but has Trip and
      Archer desperately whispering, "water ... water," as they traipse through
      the sand under the blearing desert sun. These pervasive desert scenes stop
      the story in its tracks, and I couldn't help but think how foolish Archer
      was to take a shuttle down to a camp on this world without having a basic
      understanding of the world's political situation.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Two Days and Two Nights" -- Airdate: 5/15/2002. Teleplay by Chris Black.
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Michael Dorn.

      This is simply lightweight goofiness that made me grin. No, it's not deep.
      No, it's not highly valuable. But it is amusing and earnestly acted -- and
      has one serious plot development that is worthwhile (Archer's story that
      slightly follows up on "Detained") -- so I won't complain about an episode
      that fares better than most shore-leave shows. The Trip/Malcolm pairing has
      an amusing male-bonding sensibility that builds on the friendship
      established in "Shuttlepod One." Yes, it's shallow for the most part, but
      the actors pull it off. The juggling of four plot threads manages not to
      fall apart, though the results are variable. Two or even three of these
      plots would likely not be enough to sustain an hour, but with all four of
      them we get just enough material to end up with an ensemble piece that makes
      for an amiable, albeit slight, hour.

      Rating: ***


      "Shockwave, Part I" -- Airdate: 5/22/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      The season ender manages to cap a year of frequently nondescript plots with
      a truly meaty story that starts with a potently depicted disaster, proceeds
      into a crisis of the Enterprise's mission and of Archer's resolve, and then
      takes a turn for the truly bizarre when previously dead Daniels pulls Archer
      through time and back into the temporal cold war via an assault of new and
      disturbing information. Key to the success of this episode is how absolutely
      and unrelentingly seriously the entire show is played. The performances are
      near-perfect, where we can feel the potential consequences of every ominous
      plot development piling onto the shoulders of the characters, even as the
      actors (especially Scott Bakula) dial down with muted acting and effective
      silences. I don't know where this crazy plot filled with inevitable time
      paradoxes -- and even likely crimes against common sense -- is going (it
      could very well fall apart in part two), but as a setup (despite the fact
      I'm generally sick of cliffhangers), this is superbly constructed with a
      spellbinding effect.

      Rating: ****


      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      The first season of Enterprise comes across much like the expected shakedown
      cruise, with the writers trying to get a feel for the premise and characters
      while not taking huge risks or exposing major ambitions, and not committing
      to much resembling major Trekkian storytelling lore that I suspect -- or at
      least hope -- will eventually be in the pipeline.

      It also played its stories pretty safe for the most part. It opted for the
      tried and true rather than the fresh or exciting or significant. If I had to
      characterize this first season of Enterprise, I'd say that it's probably on
      par with the first season of other recent Trek shows, more or less. It
      accomplished probably what it needed to accomplish, but future seasons are
      going to have to do more, and do better.

      I felt pretty optimistic about Enterprise after watching "Shockwave, Part I"
      when it aired in May. I don't feel quite so optimistic now, in September,
      after having written up a bulk of this season recap article. As I said in my
      original review of "The Andorian Incident," the note they leave an audience
      at the end is likely going to color feelings on what came before. Since
      Enterprise ended on what I felt was a high point, the season seemed at the
      time to have fared pretty well. Looking back on the season from a more
      objective place now, months after "Shockwave" aired, I also see a season
      featuring a great deal of pedestrian fare and storyline mediocrity.

      Thus, I suppose one theme for this freshman season of Trek's fifth series is
      Derivative Plots Decently Executed. Lots of mediocre, middling, or
      kinda/pretty-good episodes; only a handful of obvious clunkers or reaches
      for excellence. Reading over the capsule reviews seen above, I notice the
      high frequency of phrases like "another routine plot" or "standard-issue
      plot" or "ho-hum plot" and so forth. I almost want to go back and rewrite so
      I don't sound so much like a broken record. But, no -- that would be
      dishonest, methinks; if I had that recurring qualm with the shows this year,
      the brief recaps should reflect as much.

      So, then. If there's an obvious drawback to Enterprise right now, it's that
      many stories feel like they've been done before. But of course they have;
      before the cameras for Enterprise even started rolling there were already 24
      *seasons* of Star Trek in the can, which, without wasting time on precise
      arithmetic, I quickly estimate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600
      hours, all of which I've seen at least once (and in most cases more than
      once). That's kinda scary.

      Anyway, the point is: There probably is very nearly no such thing as a new
      plot. There are only plots that *seem* new. Part of why I liked "Shockwave"
      is that it *felt* fresh and interesting, despite the fact time travel has
      been done about a million times. So I guess what Enterprise should have as a
      goal is to seem new and interesting as often possible.

      Before the show started, there was a lot of press about Enterprise being a
      grand departure. "This is not your father's Star Trek," Berman or Braga or
      somebody said. "This show is going to be a little more contemporary, a
      little sexier." And so on. What I find is that the show really isn't at all
      different in its style. In the stylistic department it's very similar to a
      Voyager production, probably because it has many of the Voyager production
      forces behind it.

      Fine and good. Voyager was a terrific production, even though the
      storytelling had some problems. Why change something that works? Enterprise,
      as a production, is probably about as good as it can be; its production
      staff has years and years of experience behind it and the budget to do the
      sort of thing few sci-fi TV series can do. You can look at the screen during
      "Broken Bow" and see a visually stunning show -- there's a reason it won an
      Emmy this week. But let's face it -- production was probably never a questio
      n when it came to this series.

      SEASON ONE AND WRITING TRENDS

      So that brings us back to ... writing. What can I say? It needs some work.
      The writing isn't bad, but it often strikes me as very safe and
      conventional; as a result, new Trek persists in seeming like a conservative
      enterprise. DS9 took some big risks with war and good-versus-evil melodrama;
      some of it paid high dividends. Enterprise seems (at least so far) to be
      following in the footsteps of Voyager, using Trek's characteristics to tell
      competent and mildly entertaining stories, but without really building upon
      the mythos with new ideas.

      Part of that probably has to do with this series' chosen premise. Being the
      prequel to everything that's already written in the Trek history books, it
      has to know less rather than more. The show must look back and consider the
      history rather than going forward with something different. In theory, the
      show would set up what will eventually become everything that has already
      followed it.

      Part of the criticism leveled at the show (and justly so on occasion) is
      that Enterprise seems content to pick and choose when it limits itself by
      the pre-established material and when it doesn't. For example, in
      "Acquisition" we're told the Enterprise met the Ferengi, something that goes
      against what we knew from TNG. Sure, we can use loopholes to argue the show
      out of that contradiction, but we shouldn't need to do that; the writers
      shouldn't sacrifice credibility by contradicting the canon in the first
      place, unless there's a *really* good reason. The big picture must be
      maintained.

      I'd like to say that in my opinion, for the most part, the show *hasn't*
      egregiously violated the established Trek canon. I've never been a stickler
      on minor details (don't sweat the small stuff, they say), because the
      writers must be somewhat free to tell their stories and not be trapped by
      too-rigid boundaries. But I do object to major contradictions; so far,
      Enterprise has managed to avoid them.

      It's worth noting, however, that the Vulcans are controversial in this
      regard. Since humanity is just getting out into deep space, the Vulcans have
      been major players on this series and will undoubtedly continue to be. They
      were depicted this season as simultaneously humanity's best friend and worst
      enemy -- a barrier that, we suspect, keeps humans from doing stupid things,
      but also acts like an overprotective parent unwilling to let the children
      grow up and make their own mistakes. Vulcans are a major part of Trek
      history, and their presence on Enterprise has been intensely debated; some
      hate the way the Vulcans are depicted, while others think it's a step in an
      interesting direction.

      My own thoughts lie somewhere in between. I felt "Broken Bow" had a forced
      conflict; the Vulcans seemed like an artificial barrier to human progress.
      But the human/Vulcan conflict serves as a reminder that humans are at the
      bottom of the power structure here, as opposed to in the other series where
      we were apparently near the top. That's a formula for some interesting new
      perspectives, as seen, for example, in "Dear Doctor," where the knee-jerk
      human desire for helping does not necessarily consider all the important
      questions.

      Still, I'm not so sure this series understands the Vulcans -- either the
      previous series' versions or their own. I point to "Fusion" as an example,
      which took the whole logic-versus-emotion issue and muddled it beyond
      comprehension, in addition to telling us mind-melds are presently an
      abandoned concept. We've also learned that at least some Vulcans are
      apparently paranoid spies ("Andorian Incident") and maybe (allegedly) tamper
      with independent governments ("Shadows of P'Jem"). We've also been given the
      regular character T'Pol, who today is the typical Vulcan character --
      striking me a little too much like a monotone Seven of Nine-like Borg drone.
      Spock was ultra-cool. Vulcans today can be ultra-boring. V'Lar, in "Fallen
      Hero," was a refreshing exception to the current rule; if the writers can
      come up with Vulcans who are interesting individuals rather than bland,
      we'll be in better shape. For now, the Vulcans are not interesting people so
      much as functions of the plot -- to be objects of conflict for Starfleet.
      All in all, that leaves me in the middle, because the Vulcans are close
      enough to Trek's original concept to still be believable as Vulcans while at
      the same time something Enterprise can mine for its own purposes. It just
      has me wondering where it's all going and if it can work.

      Moving along, let's talk about technology. One thing I think this season got
      right was its restrained use of technology and how that has affected the
      stories. Part of past problems with the ever-expanding technology of the
      Star Trek universe -- particularly Voyager -- is that tech made more and
      more problems too easily solvable with technology. If the characters were
      tech-dependent, then the writers were even more so. Enterprise is a step in
      the other direction and I think the series benefits as a result.

      One early promise made by the writers was that there would be a minimum of
      technobabble on this series. For the most part, I'm happy to say they kept
      that promise. This series has just about as little technobabble as I
      would've hoped, a noticeable decrease from recent years. Also, I applaud the
      commitment made by the writers (aside from a few episodes, especially early
      in the season) to avoid use of the transporter, which consequently feels
      more like technology than a crutch to solve plot problems at the last
      minute. Likewise, showing the Enterprise as continuously outgunned makes it
      necessary for our crew to think, improvise, and sometimes retreat. "Silent
      Enemy," despite its missteps, is a decent tech episode because it doesn't
      take strong weapons for granted. The strong weapons must be installed and
      tested for the first time, and it comes across as real work instead of a
      magic wand.

      Another big issue and lesson for our crew this season -- and perhaps the
      most significant thread apart from the mechanics of the temporal cold
      ar -- was the slowly growing realization that we are on track for something
      that will eventually become the Prime Directive. We saw the seeds planted in
      several episodes, whether it was idle dialog in "Civilization" or more
      explicit examination in "Dear Doctor." Archer even saw his actions come back
      to bite him after he sparked a Suliban jailbreak in "Detained," which paved
      the way for the appeal for his help in "Desert Crossing" and also minor
      repercussions in "Two Days and Two Nights." The acceleration of the
      allusions to the currently nonexistent Prime Directive plays well to my hope
      that the writers are thinking in terms of larger Trekkian lore.

      THE CAST AND CHARACTERS

      Many plots this season were disposable, but they often worked as vessels for
      the characters. Surprisingly, this series has managed fairly well in the
      character-development arena. From day one it was clear this series had
      chosen its "big three" in Archer, Tucker, and T'Pol, who get the most
      apparent focus and most screen time. Scott Bakula is effective as series
      captain who wants to forge ahead, even though Archer sometimes makes
      questionable decisions I wish the stories would hold him more accountable
      for. I like Tucker's persona -- the straight-shooter and everyman plus
      charisma -- and Connor Trinneer is a standout in the cast with some acting
      chops that can redeem potentially bland shows like "Strange New World."
      Jolene Blalock has proven capable in a role that can sometimes be the show's
      most thankless; T'Pol is often uninteresting because the writers reduce her
      to overly calculated monotone. (I still think Vulcans can suppress their
      emotions without needing to sound completely serene and indifferent.) Still,
      Blalock has shown ability despite the limits in her character; "Fusion,"
      with all its drawbacks, was one of her best performances, and the character
      worked well vis-a-vis Archer in "Shockwave."

      The supporting characters have also enjoyed some admirable attention. Young
      Hoshi got a fair amount of exposure, starting early with "Fight or Flight"
      and then continuing in supporting roles in "Sleeping Dogs" and "Vox Sola."
      John Billingsley's Doctor Phlox is a good and amiable take on the
      Trek-archetype alien outsider -- very well employed in "Dear Doctor," the
      season's best outing. Lt. Reed was a quiet presence early on (who liked
      mostly to blow things up, always a respectable quality in my eyes) but
      received higher profile with "Shuttlepod One," another season highlight. The
      disappointment at this juncture is Ensign Mayweather, the most clearly
      underdeveloped, with only "Fortunate Son" serving as an attempt to find out
      who this guy is or give him personality.

      All in all, I believe this series has quite an asset in its cast, which in
      my opinion is just as good as any previous Trek cast overall.

      THE BIGGER PICTURE

      Turning to the Big Picture: The truth is, what I really hope to see in
      Enterprise has not yet even begun to surface -- nor did I expect to see it
      start in this first season. Indeed, we may not see it for some time. What
      I'm talking about is the *real* concept of "Star Trek prequel" mined for
      what it's truly worth. As time goes on, this series -- if it wants to live
      up to its premise and potential -- is going to need to get down to business
      asking and answering some serious questions that deserve serious analysis.
      It's going to need some gradually built DS9-style political and societal
      depth in addition to the Voyager-style adventure and exploration.

      Questions will need to emerge, such as: What happens when Starfleet starts
      building and deploying more warp-5 ships that are as fast or faster than the
      Enterprise? How will the interstellar community interact or be developed as
      more and more humans venture into space? How will the Vulcans grow to accept
      humans in this community, and how will humans come to better coexist with
      the Vulcans? Lastly, and doubtlessly most significantly (and way down the
      road): How will all of this lead to the founding of the Federation, where
      Earth will be a key member? The Enterprise, right now, is out here alone
      taking baby steps, but I'll find their mission much more interesting when
      the show hopefully starts developing threads like these, using continuity to
      show progress. Yes, there's still time to bide, but many of these issues
      should unfold over time, hopefully spanning seasons, and the seeds should be
      planted early and with subtlety. (What we don't want is an Andromeda-like
      debacle where superficial action hijacks the show and the Commonwealth gets
      built, seemingly, in an a single episode with unconvincing dialog.)

      The show would also benefit by taking a look backward. I feel already that
      the 90-year gap between "First Contact" and "Broken Bow" has been sorely
      overlooked. What really happened in all that time? How did Starfleet come
      about and what did it do prior to the warp-5 Enterprise? "Terra Nova" was
      remiss by not tackling such issues when it had an underlying concept that
      easily could've. It's certainly not too late to go back and correct that
      oversight. Standalone adventures are okay, but a balance with larger-minded
      material is going to be a necessity. The temporal cold war so far is an
      intriguing tech-and-time plot that creates an entertaining jigsaw puzzle,
      but it's more of an adventure gimmick and a comic-book distraction (not to
      mention a perilous trip into timeline-manipulation territory that could turn
      this show into an "X-Files"-like mess of questions and non-answers) when one
      compares it to the "real" questions this series will need to start asking
      and answering at some point.

      Enterprise has a lot it can do and presumably a long time left to do it. I'm
      not particularly disappointed that season one didn't exceed the requirements
      of a shakedown, but I do think the writers, in considering bigger questions
      rather than spending time on so much of the nondescript Trek fare we've seen
      in season one, could give themselves a momentum boost and get this series on
      an interesting track. The second season might not be a bad time to start
      planting the seeds for more significant developments. We shall see. Season
      two begins in ... yikes -- less than an hour.

      -----
      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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