[ENT] Jammer's Review: First Season Recap
- 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
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 -- 
capsule review of each episode,  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.
"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.
"Strange New World" -- Airdate: 10/10/2001. Teleplay by Mike Sussman &
Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David
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.
"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.
"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
"The Andorian Incident" -- Airdate: 10/31/2001. Teleplay by Fred Dekker.
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann
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.
"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.
"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."
"Fortunate Son" -- Airdate: 11/21/2001. Written by James Duff. Directed by
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.
"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.
"Silent Enemy" -- Airdate: 1/16/2002. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by
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
"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.
"Sleeping Dogs" -- Airdate: 1/30/2002. Written by Fred Dekker. Directed by
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"Acquisition" -- Airdate: 3/27/2002. Teleplay by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre
Jacquemetton. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by James
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.
"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
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...