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[ENT] Jammer's Review: Second Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the entire second season of Enterprise. In brief: Pervasive mediocrity somewhat redeemed
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 9, 2003
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      entire second season of "Enterprise."


      In brief: Pervasive mediocrity somewhat redeemed by some solid shows near
      season's end. Not what I would call an impressive year.

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

      For episodes airing from
      9/18/2002 to 5/21/2003 (USA)

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

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      So, summer is winding down, the days are getting shorter, and the fall
      television season is upon us. It's time, I suppose, for a recap of
      Enterprise's second season. You know the drill. Part one: capsule reviews.
      Part two: season commentary. Part three: excessive consumption of alcoholic
      beverages (optional; please observe local laws). Here you can revisit all of
      last season in a single stop. Agree, disagree, punch your computer screen,
      throw your computer out the window, bark like a dog, smash a beer bottle
      over your head -- the works. Hey, it's your life.


      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Shockwave, Part II" -- Airdate: 9/18/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      It was probably foolish for me to believe "Shockwave, Part II" could
      possibly live up to "Shockwave, Part I," but there you have it. The basic
      problem here is that the writers painted themselves into an impossible
      corner (which is why I found part one so interesting), and had no really
      inventive way to get themselves out. The solution is all too obviously
      contrived (particularly hard to swallow is the notion of sending a signal
      back through time 1,000 years into T'Pol's quarters using some copper wire
      and a transmitter), and the episode ends with the usual cartoon action
      sequences that Voyager long since rendered routine. The plot is on such
      obvious autopilot that it permits Silik to go free on his merry way even
      after a Suliban plot that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents.
      Not a total waste (some fun moments, and the speech arguing in favor of
      Enterprise's continued mission has its heart in the right place), but
      certainly a major disappointment given the setup.

      Rating: **


      "Carbon Creek" -- Airdate: 9/25/2002. Teleplay by Chris Black. Story by Rick
      Berman & Brannon Braga & Dan O'Shannon. Directed by James Contner.

      If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that too many Vulcans in the
      same room can be deadly dull. There are stretches of dialog here that are
      impossible to care about because the performances are so muted that it feels
      like we're watching the halftime entertainment show at a narcolepsy
      convention. Jolene Blalock turns in a particularly bland performance in an
      episode already filled with bland Vulcan monotone-laden performances. The
      plot is of little help, rehashing Trekkian humanity themes we've seen many
      times before and bringing no spark of originality or creativity to them.
      It's not wrong-headed or offensive in its message, but it's certainly not an
      hour of television that deserves your time or patience.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Minefield" -- Airdate: 10/2/2002. Written by John Shiban. Directed by James
      Contner.

      A well-executed exercise in showing characters dismantling a bomb, with
      capable performances and production design that sells the simple premise on
      its terms. The core of the episode, some well-written dialog between Archer
      and Reed, keeps us interested in the characters in the midst of a situation
      whose resolution is admittedly a foregone conclusion, but which throws
      enough course changes at us to make the process of finding the solution
      reasonably entertaining. Notable is the level of competence revealed in the
      course of finding that solution; the crew studies multiple approaches to the
      problem and considers them as backup plans. Sensible. The show finds a nice
      contrast between Archer's style of commanding via a getting-to-know-you
      approach and Reed's more official, and less buddy-buddy, naval background.

      Rating: ***


      "Dead Stop" -- Airdate: 10/9/2002. Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong.
      Directed by Roxann Dawson.

      Probably the season's most effective episode of pure science fiction, "Dead
      Stop" is an inspired little engine of subtly unsettling weirdness. A fully
      automated repair station comes across as vaguely disturbing precisely
      because it's just *too* automated and too good to be true. You get the
      feeling that it operates on a logic of its own that cannot be overruled -- a
      suspicion confirmed by the plot advances. Tucker and Reed stay true to
      character by acting like heedless fools who apparently never heard the
      expression "curiosity killed the cat." Mayweather stays true to character by
      being a plot pawn whose character arc in the episode goes something like
      this: cloned, swapped, killed, used as human battery, rescued. But for the
      most part this material is successful and entertaining, and I also liked the
      "Twilight Zone"-like ending where the obliterated station starts repairing
      itself.

      Rating: ***


      "A Night in Sickbay" -- Airdate: 10/16/2002. Written by Rick Berman &
      Brannon Braga. Directed by David Straiton.

      Here we get a complete mangling of Archer's character, a moronic plot
      involving his poor sick dog, and a completely concocted and frankly
      unwelcome sexual-tension concept between Archer and T'Pol. It makes for an
      absurd episode best forgotten. Low points include a fantasy sequence
      involving Archer, T'Pol, *and* Porthos; Archer ranting and raving about
      aliens when the whole situation is his own fault; Phlox trying to catch a
      Tiberian bat; and an alien ritual sequence of alarming corniness. Mostly
      just unwatchable. Next, please.

      Rating: *


      "Marauders" -- Airdate: 10/30/2002. Teleplay by David Wilcox. Story by Rick
      Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      The season's most toothless action episode, in which the Enterprise crew
      honorably teaches a man how to fish, so that he might eat for a lifetime (or
      so goes the obvious metaphor). Here we're teaching a settlement how to
      fight, so that they can defend themselves from bad Klingons who rob them.
      Features nice location shooting and respectably optimistic Trekkian Themes,
      but the execution of all of this is almost laughably lightweight. No
      Klingons are harmed in the making of this picture -- or anyone else, for
      that matter. This is just too much bland safeness for my tastes. The scene
      where the Klingons are lured into a ring of fire plays like a Three Stooges
      routine. The plot also doesn't account for the Klingons' obvious ability to
      attack this settlement from orbit. But judging by the fire-ring episode, I
      wouldn't be surprised if they were too stupid to think of something like
      that.

      Rating: **


      "The Seventh" -- Airdate: 11/6/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by David Livingston.

      "The Seventh" works because it takes a Vulcan cloak-and-dagger plot and
      plays it not for action, but for a character's psychological torment. This
      is always the safer bet, because once you abandon character for simply
      action, your plot is hollow and meaningless (hence, many installments in the
      middle part of this season). Better to do it like this, where the point is
      that T'Pol must face old demons while trying to determine if the source of
      those demons -- a Vulcan outcast from her past named Menos -- is lying or
      telling her the truth. Jolene Blalock turns in one of her best performances
      as T'Pol struggles to contain the emotions buried within her, brought back
      to the surface by a repressed memory. Bruce Davison is perfectly cast as
      Menos, believable as a man who could be lying or telling the truth. The plot
      is not airtight, but for the most part it works on the basis of its own
      merits as well as a catalyst for some T'Pol character insights.

      Rating: ***


      "The Communicator" -- Airdate: 11/13/2002. Teleplay by Andre Bormanis. Story
      by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by James Contner.

      Here's a perfectly good story idea that ends with a perfectly good action
      sequence and for the most part moves along just fine. Unfortunately, when
      you stop to think about key details of the story -- mainly Archer's apparent
      cluelessness given his desperate situation -- the shine begins to tarnish.
      The whole story is based on the premise that there are no Starfleet
      protocols on the books regarding cultural contamination, so Archer and Reed,
      once captured, must improvise lies on cue so they are not discovered to be
      aliens. What's worse, the lies they concoct are even more potentially
      dangerous to this society than the truth itself: They claim to be
      genetically engineered enemy soldiers, which seems to me could end up
      starting a full-scale war (which, methinks, would certainly qualify as
      "cultural contamination"). I also found the hoary "execute the prisoners
      immediately" idea to be pretty unrealistic for the sake of a Ticking Clock;
      a real government would certainly exhaust all avenues of interrogation
      before hanging two of the most valuable prisoners ever caught.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Singularity" -- Airdate: 11/20/2002. Written by Chris Black. Directed by
      Patrick Norris.

      Lots of weird behavior, not lots of story significance or believability. As
      these things go, however, it's fairly entertaining because the show at least
      knows better than to take things too seriously. The episode is basically an
      excuse for the entire crew to go insane, with predictably goofy results.
      Trip becomes obsessed with a chair, Reed becomes obsessed with an alarm
      system, Archer becomes obsessed with writing a biography introduction, etc.
      Eventually everyone is crashing into each other because of their
      incompatible priorities. Meanwhile, there's a Ticking Clock and everyone's
      gonna die from radiation exposure, so T'Pol has to drag Archer out of a coma
      and steer the ship out of danger. The show benefits from amusing
      performances and some sharply written one-liners, but otherwise there's not
      a whole lot of substance here to recommend.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Vanishing Point" -- Airdate: 11/27/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Directed by David Straiton.

      From what I can tell, few but me liked this episode. I stand firm, however,
      in defending this as one of the season's unsung highlights. It's an
      absorbing, psychologically disturbing tale, and Hoshi is an excellent
      protagonist as played by Linda Park. Essentially, the story uses the
      transporter as a metaphor for the separation of our physical selves from our
      mental conviction that we exist as something more significant than our
      physical selves. In other words, this is a show actually about confronting
      death and pondering the possibilities of the soul, where being lost in a
      transporter beam is perhaps one of the most disturbing mysteries because it
      blurs that line. After all, if you can be scattered into molecules and
      reassembled again without dying, exactly where is your conscious mind in the
      interim? Yes, the notion of the transporter in Star Trek is utter nonsense
      when you get right down to it, but that doesn't stop this episode from
      prompting interesting thoughts within a context where the transporter is
      still a mystery to many of the characters. The ending reveals it all to be a
      paranoid nightmare, which is somehow appropriate given the material and
      Hoshi's character. Even with the twist, the ideas under the surface remain
      interesting.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Precious Cargo" -- Airdate: 12/11/2002. Teleplay by David A. Goodman. Story
      by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.

      Simply one of the worst, most boring, most pointless, and most unwatchable
      episodes in the history of the franchise. Self-parody has never been so
      tedious or excruciatingly protracted.

      Rating: zero stars


      "The Catwalk" -- Airdate: 12/18/2002. Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis
      Strong. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      Middling survival premise turns into middling action outing in which the
      crew hides out in the catwalk to avoid radiation exposure and then must stop
      alien invaders from stealing the ship. A competent outing on its simple plot
      terms, but move along, nothing to see here. The three aliens who take refuge
      on the Enterprise are so obviously hiding something that I found myself
      wondering why Archer wasn't expecting the other shoe to drop.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Dawn" -- Airdate: 1/8/2003. Written by John Shiban. Directed by Roxann
      Dawson.

      An episode about communicating with your would-be enemy, "Dawn" is about
      gaining understanding when there's a language barrier. (This, of course,
      doesn't stop Trip and the alien from beating each other's asses first.) How
      far we've fallen since TNG's poetic "Darmok," and yet how nice it is to see
      that Star Trek hasn't turned cynical and still believes in solving problems
      and overcoming differences. From there, the show is your standard survival
      premise (except you'd think these guys would know that you seek shade when
      trying to survive in the hot sun). Move along, nothing to see here.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Stigma" -- Airdate: 2/5/2003. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by David Livingston.

      Trek makes a return to social commentary, in which a Vulcan mental disease
      is compared to AIDS and mind-melding is compared to (I guess) gay sex. Not
      bad, but not exactly good, either; this is a message show that feels at
      least half a decade behind the times, and as a commentary where the strategy
      is one of drawing parallels, the show is simultaneously too much and not
      enough. The anti-prejudice message is too obvious while the suggested
      allegorical parallels don't always seem to fit. The show's storyline
      continuity doesn't exactly track with its predecessor, "Fusion"; some facts
      have been somewhat misrepresented. I admire the good intentions, but given
      the current landscape of television today when it comes to exploring issues,
      "Stigma" is a relative lightweight.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Cease Fire" -- Airdate: 2/12/2003. Written by Chris Black. Directed by
      David Straiton.

      Attempting to tackle one of the few things on this series that (at the time)
      resembled an ongoing storyline, "Cease Fire" delved back into the conflict
      between the Vulcans and the Andorians, once again putting Archer in the
      middle as mediator, one who is acceptably fair to Shran. A little too
      mechanical and routine, this show failed to engage me. The story moves from
      beat to beat, but can never transcend its overall sense of clockwork
      routine. Worth mention here is how the Enterprise's role seems to be making
      humanity relevant as a member of the interstellar community, and how T'Pol
      expresses to Soval her loyalty to Archer. Other than that, there's just not
      much of interest here to make it worth an hour spent.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Future Tense" -- Airdate: 2/19/2003. Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis
      Strong. Directed by James Whitmore Jr.

      Turning back to weird sci-fi, this is an episode with a plot that scarcely
      matters or makes sense (the temporal cold war is obviously an arbitrary
      concoction), but offers up enough in strange and interesting concepts to
      make us want to jump aboard for the ride. Readers have informed me that the
      ship which is larger on the inside than the outside is an idea that was
      already done on "Doctor Who." Well, I've never seen an episode of "Doctor
      Who," so it seemed fresh to me here. Besides, an idea need not be fresh if
      it at least *seems* fresh, and that's accomplished here with some dialog
      that I liked, most notably the scene between Trip and Malcolm where they wax
      philosophical on the possibilities of knowing the future, on simple human
      terms that I could appreciate. The Tholians show up here as players in the
      temporal war madness, though whether they will become important remains to
      be seen in light of the series' new direction for season three.

      Rating: ***


      "Canamar" -- Airdate: 2/26/2003. Written by John Shiban. Directed by Allan
      Kroeker.

      Nicely directed, with nice production design and serviceable performances,
      but the story is one that prompts nothing but disinterest. This is a Star
      Trek prison show that is ultimately not about anything, and that's a real
      frustration. A prisoner decides to take over a prison transport ship, so
      Archer must try to stop him. That's basically it, and that's nowhere near
      enough for me. The feeling I got after watching "Canamar" was that I'd
      basically just wasted my time on a garden-variety B-movie prison-break plot,
      offering absolutely nothing in terms of drama or insight or character
      motivation. It's a mechanical exercise, and not a particularly entertaining
      one.

      Rating: **


      "The Crossing" -- Airdate: 4/2/2003. Teleplay by Rick Berman & Brannon
      Braga. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis. Directed by
      David Livingston.

      Fifteen minutes of strong, solid sci-fi collapses in favor of 45 minutes of
      inanity. (Will wonders never cease? Well, yes, in fact, they will, and quite
      soon.) What begins as a potentially interesting exploration of non-corporeal
      life forms proceeds with alarming haste to sell itself out to Alien Takeover
      Attempt No. 522. From there we have to suffer through such masterpieces as
      an alien taking over Reed's body on a mission to discover what's inside
      T'Pol's pants, a redundant visit to the catwalk, plenty of generally
      derivative and corny body-possession material, and an inexplicably drawn-out
      scene where Phlox configures valves and levers to flood the ship with gas.
      The ending, despite being sensible from Archer's tactical standpoint, is a
      downright cold and cynical move on the part of the writers. The script in a
      nutshell: We create some wonderfully different forms of life, we make them
      Evil Body Snatchers, we expel them and blow them up. How inspired.

      Rating: **


      "Judgment" -- Airdate: 4/9/2003. Teleplay by David A. Goodman. Story by
      Taylor Elmore & David A. Goodman. Directed by James L. Conway.

      One of the season's better offerings, in which Archer is once again jailed
      but the results turn out to be charged with drama and tension. This is an
      episode that relies heavily on our love of the Klingons and all their
      bombastic grandstanding. The always reliable J.G. Hertzler makes his first
      Enterprise guest appearance as Advocate Kolos, Archer's lawyer in a Klingon
      system of "justice" that seems designed to crush them both. Crucial to the
      success of the story is how the court system seems designed not only to
      crush Archer, an outsider, but simply anyone who stands accused. Kolos is
      first seen here as a tired and cynical man who has given up after having
      watched his culture gradually turn corrupt, and his commentary throughout
      the episode reveals a three-dimensional character that I would love to see
      again. His eventual change of attitude and willingness to fight for justice
      is kind of inspiring, and leads to a scene of wonderful grandstanding that
      only Klingons could get away with. Of course, the look, feel, and attitude
      of the episode is borrowed from the courtroom scene in "Star Trek VI" -- and
      borrowed skillfully.

      Rating: ***


      "Horizon" -- Airdate: 4/16/2003. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by
      James A. Contner.

      Ensign Mayweather, the most obviously neglected regular character on this
      series (often relegated to status of plot pawn), finally gets his showcase
      vehicle of the season, in which he returns home for the first time in years,
      in the wake of the recent death of his father. The results are mixed,
      ultimately a little disappointing. The general idea is reasonable, the focus
      on the un-Starfleet-like "Boomer" culture is interesting, and the show's
      heart is in the right place. But it never comes alive. The plot makes
      obvious turns and seems willing to go from A to B without a single challenge
      to Plot Structuring 101. Meanwhile, a disposable B-story involving the
      Enterprise on a separate exploration mission is utterly superfluous. The
      show might've been saved had Anthony Montgomery been able to rise to the
      occasion with a solid performance, but his take on Mayweather is too wooden
      to really get us involved.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Breach" -- Airdate: 4/23/2003. Teleplay by Chris Black & John Shiban.
      Story by Daniel McCarthy. Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill.

      Like "Dawn," "The Breach" proves that even after five series have been
      called Star Trek, there's still room for the Trekkian tenacity of optimism,
      even in the face of what seems like an impossible situation of unmovable
      attitudes. In this case, we see a bitter divide between Phlox's people, the
      Denobulans, and an alien race called the Antarans. The message and the
      method here are those of classic Star Trek themes and approaches -- left
      undisturbed in terms of presentation -- and there's something comforting in
      knowing that these sort of stories are still valid and make for good
      television, even if there's not anything particularly groundbreaking about
      it. John Billingsley once again shows that his presence on this series as a
      supporting player is a quiet but valuable asset. The B-story involving the
      rescue mission is fairly standard, but made believable by way of skillful
      technique.

      Rating: ***


      "Cogenitor" -- Airdate: 4/30/2003. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by LeVar Burton.

      This is the best episode of the season because: (1) It chooses to be about a
      topic that could only be tackled in this series' current time frame and
      stage of Starfleet development with regard to the still-nonexistent Prime
      Directive; (2) it features an alien society that actually provides
      interaction and an avenue for learning rather than hollow conflict; (3) it
      shows exactly how good intentions can go wrong and have tragic results,
      which the story potently depicts; (4) it is clever in the way it makes it
      initially appear the story sides with Trip when in fact it does not; (5) it
      shows that the people on the Enterprise are not perfect and can makes
      mistakes; (6) it shows that those mistakes may, in fact, be a result of
      Archer's inconsistent leadership style; and (7) it lets no one off the hook.
      Given all that, I'm not going to hold the "Malcolm hooks up" subplot,
      pointless as it is, against this episode. This is the sort of story that
      this series should be telling.

      Rating: ****


      "Regeneration" -- Airdate: 5/7/2003. Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis
      Strong. Directed by David Livingston.

      At last, here's an action show that I can enjoy purely on the basis of
      action. I also enjoyed the cleverness of the general idea, which is
      simultaneously ludicrous -- rife with time paradoxes, plot conveniences,
      logic stretched to within a millimeter of breaking, and overly powerful
      Borg -- and yet somehow still convincing as a concept that grows logically
      from the events of "First Contact." The Borg here take on the
      characteristics of a plague: Thanks to their nanoprobes, basically all they
      have to do is touch you and you are doomed to become one of them.
      Nevertheless, the forward momentum of the action in "Regeneration" is hard
      to resist, and I found myself caught up in the story. Only after the fact
      did I feel a need to apply scrutiny. The pacing is dead-on, and Brian
      Tyler's score is particularly rousing for a TV Trek score. As sci-fi action,
      this works wonderfully; as a piece of the Trek canon it works just this side
      of well enough. More fun than most Enterprise outings.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "First Flight" -- Airdate: 5/14/2003. Written by Chris Black & John Shiban.
      Directed by LeVar Burton.

      Something tells me that one of the problems with Enterprise is that its
      status as the official prequel to Star Trek has prompted the expectation
      that certain areas of Starfleet's history would be revealed -- and so far
      that hasn't happened because Starfleet was founded long before the events of
      "Broken Bow." Thus, shows like "First Flight" can be valuable, giving us
      some of the backstory within the backstory. In this case, we get to see how
      Archer competed with another would-be captain of the Enterprise, and how
      some of the warp barriers were broken prior to the construction of the first
      warp-5 vessel. As interesting as this material might've been, it's only
      adequate as presented in "First Flight," which has one too many obvious
      moments of testosterone cliche (wounded pride, bar fights, etc.) and doesn't
      quite hold the level of fascination we might hope, perhaps because it
      doesn't deal with questions we might've had in mind (Starfleet, the years
      after "First Contact," etc.). But it does place an emphasis on exploration
      and taking risks, which is an important statement worth making.

      Rating: ***


      "Bounty" -- Airdate: 5/14/2003. Teleplay by Hans Tobeason and Mike Sussman &
      Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Roxann
      Dawson.

      Archer is captured and held in a cell for what seems like the billionth time
      while T'Pol undergoes a shameless, writer-induced pon farr cycle that
      vaguely resembles rejected audition fodder for Spike TV. Much panting and
      sweating and slithering ensues courtesy of our favorite partially undressed
      Female Vulcan Hottie [TM], much to the ostensible delight of horny teenage
      boys, but probably, in fact, not, because they likely have better objects
      for their sexual fantasies that also do not brand them with the dubious
      stigma of being one of those damn Trekkie nerds -- or, even worse, one of
      those damn Trekkie nerds that would consider jerking off to a Star Trek
      character. In any case, as an hour of Trek, this is pretty lame and
      pathetic, if harmless, garbage.

      Rating: *1/2


      "The Expanse" -- Airdate: 5/21/2003. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga.
      Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      Looking suspiciously like a second pilot to relaunch a series in mid-run,
      "The Expanse" brings in unknown alien attackers from left field and has them
      kill 7 million people on Earth, thus giving the Enterprise a new mission to
      investigate this new threat. Putting aside for the moment the fact that "The
      Expanse" is clearly a catalyst for a complete series shake-up to send it in
      a new direction in the third season, this episode works on its own for the
      simple fact that it takes its fictional threat -- obviously inspired by
      real-life events -- seriously as drama. That's an important quality not to
      be overlooked, and the results here are effective. The characters are
      shocked, saddened, angered, and appropriately thrown off balance. There's
      also a massive underlying feeling of uncertainty -- of the future, of what
      lies in the Delphic Expanse, and who the Xindi, the alien attackers, really
      might be. What doesn't work is a plot involving the Klingons that doesn't at
      all fit in, and the uneasy sense that the series is veering away from any
      possibility that it can ever be a legitimate prequel to Star Trek given the
      latest apocalyptic turn of events.

      Rating: ***


      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      Regarding a lot of this season, I have little to say that I didn't already
      say a year ago in my First Season Recap. The reason for that isn't hard to
      pinpoint: There's nothing cohesive to say about this season of Enterprise
      for the simple fact that there's been very little cohesive about Enterprise
      as a series. If there's a single word to sum up this past year, it's
      "aimless."

      Enterprise season two is an overall aimless string of episodic adventures --
      no more, no less. Of course, there's an obvious exception -- the season
      finale, and I'll get to that in due time -- but otherwise we've had in this
      season a notable lack of direction and purpose, and a lot of rampant
      mediocrity instead. That's not to say this season was completely without
      merit. Certainly it wasn't, and there were some worthy episodes that worked
      as good television and as good Star Trek. But in taking a step back and
      looking at this as a whole season of Trek, I'm not impressed. Too many
      episodes just sit there, and I thus find myself too often indifferent. As
      I've said before, indifference can be even more potentially devastating than
      disapproval.

      As I think back to my experience in watching "Precious Cargo," one of the
      worst episodes in the history of the franchise, I realize that the episode
      was so bad precisely because it was so deadly, deadly, deadly dull and
      coma-inducing. Some bad episodes -- like Voyager's ever-controversial
      "Course: Oblivion," for example, which to this day I still get dissenting
      e-mail about -- are subject to debate and strike different people in
      different ways; even when there's a negative reaction, it's one of
      disapproval for what was attempted. That's not the case with an episode like
      "Precious Cargo," where *nothing* remotely thoughtful was attempted, and
      whose defenders would be hard-pressed to make a reasoned argument in its
      favor, aside from your usual "just don't think about it and have fun"
      defense. (The episode, by the way, was *not* fun; it was nothing short of
      agonizing.)

      I think that's a microcosm for Enterprise's general situation of being flat
      for so much of the season. In most cases, it wasn't that I disapproved of or
      hated the episodes; it was more that I didn't care. In addition to the
      aforementioned "Precious Cargo" (by far the worst of the offenders), we had
      shows like "Carbon Creek" (narcolepsy-inducing), "Marauders" (toothless),
      "Singularity" (plotless), "The Catwalk" (average), "Canamar" (pointless),
      "The Crossing" (a sell-out), and "Bounty" (Spike TV), whose sins were all
      similar -- they tried and accomplished so very little. Even episodes that
      made a stab at a storytelling theme, like "The Communicator," "Dawn," "Cease
      Fire," or "Horizon," were lacking that spark of interest and conviction that
      they really needed. Of course, there's always "A Night in Sickbay," which by
      contrast was a resounding success ... in broad character assassination,
      absurdly inappropriate sexual themes, and general idiocy -- although to be
      honest I don't think that's what they were going for. (Perhaps someone could
      explain to me how not one, but *both* "Carbon Creek" and "A Night in
      Sickbay," two of the season's worst, could be nominated for a Hugo award
      rather than a far more worthy example of sci-fi like "Dead Stop." Please,
      stop the insanity.)

      There has been far too much wandering, pandering to supposed demographics,
      and bland storytelling. We have our starship and its gallant crew, but
      scarcely a sense that they have a mission out here. Their mission appears to
      be to randomly (and often cluelessly) stumble over problems each week. Fine
      and good if your stories are interesting. Not so fine and good when they're
      safe and ordinary. Also not so fine and good when the characters are
      primarily functional pieces within those stories and are allowed so little
      development, which was the case this season, particularly with the
      supporting roles.


      THE BIGGER PICTURE REVISITED

      So, what exactly do I think Enterprise as a series should be doing? Well, I
      had some ideas a year ago, and my opinions have not changed, so out of pure
      laziness I'll simply quote my thoughts from last year:

      "Questions ... 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."

      As I had said, I didn't really expect to see those things in season one, but
      now, after 52 episodes of this series, I begin to wonder if such issues will
      ever be made a priority. The answer for season two was "no," so I guess
      we'll be content to re-examine some of the issues remaining from season one,
      which had their share of extended coverage in season two. We had, for
      example, the Vulcans hanging around as a source of conflict who still, to a
      certain degree, hold the reins on human exploration, as seen in the season
      premiere, "Shockwave, Part II," or via the flashbacks in "First Flight." By
      extension, their conflict with the Andorians in "Cease Fire" suggests how
      humanity's role in the interstellar community may become key in terms of
      diplomacy (only too bad this idea was somewhat buried in lackluster action
      and a pedestrian plot).

      We had the issue of non-interference (pre-Prime Directive) raised again this
      season, as in "The Communicator" (only too bad "The Communicator" shot
      itself in the foot with its clueless characterization of Archer in his
      predicament). Cultural interference was also the subject of the season's
      best episode, "Cogenitor," which was truest in the spirit of Trek while also
      uniquely in the spirit of Enterprise. "Cogenitor" is an hour that embodies
      what I feel should be the true core of this series, showing early missteps,
      difficult questions, and lessons learned the hard way by imperfect
      characters.

      As far as ongoing story arcs go, we had the Klingons chasing down Archer
      after his escape from Rura Penthe in "Judgment." I didn't think this plot
      line was particularly necessary, and in some ways it takes away from
      "Judgment" by providing a lame follow-up in "Bounty" and an extraneous
      distraction in "The Expanse." The brilliance of "Judgment" was that it was
      an internal indictment on Klingon society as seen from the viewpoint of a
      Klingon character. By following it up with the typical Klingon silliness,
      it's as if the whole point of "Judgment" was reduced to a cartoon punch
      line.

      There was also the temporal cold war material, although calling it a
      storyline may be a bit of a stretch. I didn't much care for the
      oft-contrived "Shockwave, Part II." And while I sort of liked "Future
      Tense," it added little if anything useful to the canvas of the temporal
      cold war. (Of course, the general problem with the temporal cold war canvas
      is that it's arbitrarily conceived, and painted upon with disappearing ink.)
      The temporal cold war also played significantly into "The Expanse," which
      I'll deal with in a moment.

      Actually, where the season worked best was in the same place it worked
      worst -- within its isolated moments. I particularly enjoyed "Regeneration,"
      "Vanishing Point," "Judgment," and "Dead Stop," among others. Many of these
      episodes are self-contained while simply relying on the general Star Trek
      lore that we all know so well. It is perhaps worth noting that Enterprise,
      for all its flaws, is still recognizable as Star Trek in terms of attitude
      and approach. The characters generally want to ask questions first and open
      fire later. As seen in episodes like "Cogenitor," "First Flight," "Dawn,"
      and "The Breach," the writers still believe in the Trek ethos, embracing
      understanding and mostly spurning cynicism. Enterprise may not often enough
      be great or even good Star Trek, but I do think that it is still Star Trek
      at heart, and for that I'm glad.

      Of course, it's hard to tell these days whether the general public cares
      about the Trek ethos, with the declining Enterprise ratings and the
      box-office disaster that was "Star Trek: Nemesis." Maybe the recent efforts
      are simply too stale, mediocre, watered down. Or maybe the Trek ethos is
      seen by many as obsolete. I really can't say. But it seems the direction of
      Enterprise must go somewhere else, because the current direction is not
      getting the job done.


      EXPANSIVE STORY POSSIBILITIES

      Which brings us to "The Expanse."

      With "The Expanse," it's pretty clear the intended message for what lies
      ahead is "All Bets Are Off." We get a deadly attack on Earth, a new mission
      for our crew, a strange and unexplored region of space, and a military
      presence aboard the Enterprise. The upcoming season of Enterprise, from all
      reports, is going to be different.

      At the moment, it sounds promising. I'm actually quite optimistic for the
      most part.

      Consider: What we got in "The Expanse" is contrary to the storytelling
      technique of season two and thus goes against the entire theme of aimless
      mediocrity as argued in this article. Where season two was aimless, season
      three will have little choice but to be goal-oriented. Where season two was
      episodic, season three will have little choice but to feature ongoing story
      material and more lengthily developed plot arcs. Where season two felt too
      much like clockwork routine, season three will plunge us into the unknown,
      with a new enemy and a lot of unanswered questions. Where the crew's mission
      in season two was broad to the point of being undefined, in season three
      they have something specific to investigate and focus on.

      "The Expanse," more than anything, gives this series a much-needed sense of
      purpose, and I think that's important. While it's true that a legitimate
      purpose could've been defined under the previous parameters of the series,
      the simple fact of the matter is that the writers after two years had not
      found one, and it didn't appear they were on the way to doing so anytime
      soon. To shake up this series and take it off in a new, unfamiliar direction
      is not a bad idea, and if handled properly can be a good one.

      Naturally, there are possible pitfalls. First and foremost is the issue of
      continuity within the Star Trek universe. More so than season one, I believe
      that season two allowed some liberal revisions to the Trek history in
      telling its stories. Season three opens itself to the possibility of going
      even further down that road. Already, with a massive attack on Earth
      resulting in 7 million dead, I'm finding it pretty hard to believe that the
      events of "The Expanse" could've happened and not been something
      acknowledged later in the Trekkian timeline. Obviously, this is because it
      was created by the Enterprise writers, who didn't feel a need to stay within
      the boundaries of the existing franchise history. Or perhaps they have some
      wild card up their sleeves that could tie this in with the temporal cold war
      and manipulated timelines -- which has its own frightening implications in
      terms of out-and-out narrative cheating. But the bottom line is this: "The
      Expanse" and its consequences do not naturally fit into the timeline as we
      already know it, and so it will be the dramatic effectiveness of what is to
      come that will determine whether or not we choose to accept these
      alterations to the canon. I don't mind careful or clever bending of the
      rules or even obvious contradictions to the fictional history, provided it
      is done for a good reason and is made convincing up to a point. After all,
      this is only television we're talking about. The question is whether it's
      *good* television, and I think that's what makes the difference when it
      comes to contradicting the Trek canon. If it's good, I can be more
      forgiving.

      Another potential pitfall, of course, is in the ensuing stories themselves.
      This upcoming season rides on whether the writers provide us an adequate and
      appropriate depiction of the Xindi threat, the Enterprise's investigation,
      and the attitudes of our characters in the wake of a brutal attack on Earth.
      The results could be excellent, awful, or anything in between. Given "The
      Expanse's" taste of what lies ahead, I'm hopeful. With the 9/11-like theme
      of a surprise attack in "The Expanse," the upcoming season has the
      opportunity (and I would also say the obligation) to deal with
      post-9/11-like themes in a Starfleet setting. The response to the Xindi
      attack needs to be addressed in not merely military terms, but also
      long-standing Star Trek terms. Our characters would be wise to ask, for
      example, just how much we can believe about the Xindi based merely on
      Silik's and the Shadow Man's say so. (After all, let's not forget that Silik
      & Co. killed thousands in "Shockwave" merely to protect their own front in
      the temporal war. Who's to say they aren't manipulating this new situation
      or at least pieces of it?)

      Also, the Earth military team that has been put aboard the Enterprise, which
      went unseen in "The Expanse," will undoubtedly be an important presence in
      the coming season, and could be an interesting source for conflict and
      debate. In the post-9/11 United States, the question has often come up: Just
      how far are we willing to change our lives and our philosophies in the
      interests of better security? That's a question I expect to see tackled in
      this post-"Expanse" series. There are also emotional considerations, like
      the visceral issue of revenge. It should be interesting to see, for
      instance, where Trip's character goes in the aftermath of his sister's death
      at the hands of the Xindi. In "Expanse" he was understandably angry and
      bitter; that's a response that needs to be examined further. It would be
      easy to show his dark side emerging and depict his thirst for vengeance; it
      might be more interesting, however, to have him do some soul-searching and
      confront his dark side when and if it does emerge. Other obvious character
      arcs will undoubtedly include those for T'Pol (who jettisoned her Vulcan
      High Command career to remain aboard the Enterprise) and Archer (who will
      have to make very different and important decisions in his new mission), but
      I'm hoping the other supporting characters will also get some worthy
      analysis, and hopefully more so than in season two.

      I spend so long discussing "The Expanse" because, for this series and its
      current direction, it is more significant than possibly all the rest of the
      second season's episodes combined. Dramatically, the writers have an
      opportunity to take this series to some new places and explore some darker
      and deeper elements that haven't been seen on Trek since maybe the height of
      the Dominion War on DS9.

      But another key question remains -- and will likely for some time remain --
      unanswered: Can Enterprise go off in this direction and still return as a
      believable prequel to Star Trek? My hope is that the Xindi plot can become
      an important and interesting aspect of this series, without selling out to
      superficial action at the expense of its characters and the Trek ethos. At
      the same time, my hope is that the Xindi plot will not have to define what
      Enterprise is all about. This series has a new direction and purpose, but in
      many basic Trekkian ways, the writers would be wise to remember where they
      came from before they arrived here.

      -----
      Copyright 2003 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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