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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "These Are the Voyages..."

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. In brief: Some individual moments are good, but overall it s an unsatisfactory way to wrap up this series.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 9, 2005
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      In brief: Some individual moments are good, but overall it's an
      unsatisfactory way to "wrap up" this series.

      Plot description: Searching for insights before making a tough decision,
      Commander Riker of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D looks back via a holodeck
      recording to the final mission of the Enterprise NX-01.

      Star Trek: Enterprise - "These Are the Voyages..."

      Airdate: 5/13/2005 (USA)
      Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "Computer, end program." -- "Star Trek: Enterprise" signing off with a
      stunning anticlimax

      One of the interesting things about Star Trek after 39 years is how the
      library and time settings have grown so expansive, and yet so familiar, that
      storylines can drop us into the middle of wherever (and whenever) and we
      instantly recognize where (and when) we are. We don't bat an eye, because we
      realize that, hey, here we are in TNG's seventh-season episode "The
      Pegasus," which happened 11 years ago and now is happening again (for us,
      anyway). In Star Trek, it's almost a natural occurrence. Timelines don't
      matter for the audience because Star Trek, at this point, is happening
      simultaneously in all forms at all times, as a part of the imagination.

      "These Are the Voyages" knows this about Star Trek, and that's somehow
      comforting. Flashback, flash-forward, whatever you want to call it: In this
      universe it's a perfectly appropriate approach that allows for an unusual
      way of telling a story. And, more than that, it demonstrates how Star Trek
      itself has transcended its own mythos and exists as a larger-than-life
      milieu, TV ratings and box-office sales notwithstanding.

      On any other day, that would be what we might see is being demonstrated
      here. On this particular day, however -- on which "Star Trek: Enterprise" is
      airing its final episode and the franchise itself is going away for the
      first time since TNG started 18 years ago -- I'm not so sure it works. Check
      that; I *know* it doesn't work -- not as presented. What I don't know is
      whether it *could've* worked given better execution. I suspect it maybe

      The central conceit of "These Are the Voyages" is that it's actually framed
      as a TNG episode (I'm tempted to call it "Pegasus 1.5") in which Commander
      Riker looks at a holodeck program depicting the crew of the NX-01 on their
      final mission before the signing of the charter that will eventually form
      the United Federation of Planets.

      The central problem with "These Are the Voyages" is that, really, this
      doesn't make any emotional sense as a series finale for Enterprise. Riker
      looks at events in order to gain insight about himself (a recommendation
      from Counselor Troi), and to decide what to do about the central dilemma he
      faced/faces in "The Pegasus." In short, he's using the NX-01 crew as a tool
      to resolve a personal conflict. Wouldn't it have been better for this
      premise to simply look back at the NX-01 crew to study it as history, as a
      turning point in human society? By making the show about Riker's personal
      problem, the show painfully short-changes the historical context of the
      NX-01 crew. Granted, the historical context is a focus in the episode, but
      it really doesn't have much to do with William Riker (or vice versa).

      I guess it's just as well that Enterprise was canceled, because by the looks
      of things from what this episode tells us -- which takes place six years
      after the events of "Terra Prime" -- nothing of any significance would've
      have happened in the course of the next six hypothetical seasons of this
      series. The members of the Enterprise crew are not going to change. Not.
      One. Single. Bit. Hell, they don't even look any older. Forget six years;
      this episode might as well take place six *weeks* after "Terra Prime."

      Quite frankly, that's depressing. If the narrative is going to move forward
      several years into the future, couldn't it at least show that the characters
      have changed ... even a little? TNG's finale, "All Good Things," and
      Voyager's finale, "Endgame," both showed hypothetical futures in which
      characters had moved on to new things. But here, Sato is still a
      communications officer, Mayweather is still a helmsman (both are apparently
      still ensigns, which is just ridiculous), Trip is still the chief engineer,
      and so on. Everyone is exactly where they were six years earlier, and there
      isn't even so much as a hint that they've advanced during that time.

      What about Mayweather's talk in "Demons" about reconsidering his personal
      options and possibly moving back to Earth? I guess it was just that -- talk.
      And what about Trip and T'Pol, who went through the agonizing loss of their
      child in "Terra Prime"? You might think that their relationship would've
      evolved after such an emotional turning point. But from the looks of things,
      they've soldiered on in neutrality for the last six years ... until the
      prospect of the crew now about to split up forces them to take stock of
      their relationship one last time. One would hope that they haven't been
      spending the last six years playing Will They or Won't They. If they have,
      we can at least be glad we didn't have to watch it.

      And yet the framing device of TNG is somehow comforting. I grew up on TNG
      and will always have a soft spot for it, and there's something reassuring
      about the idea of future generations looking back upon the past. Several
      sets from TNG have been reproduced for a number of scenes aboard the
      Enterprise-D, much the way the TOS sets were reproduced for "In a Mirror,
      Darkly." The emotional nostalgia is present and accounted for. There's also
      a new CG version of the Enterprise-D that looks great.

      But there's a built-in problem with the use of flashback for the
      storytelling, which is that the scenes don't gain any momentum. Every time
      we start getting into the scenes involving the NX-01, Riker pauses the
      program, or fast-forwards to later in the day, or inserts himself into the
      story, until we're all too aware that he's literally driving the narrative
      and that none of these events are actually happening, except in a holodeck.

      There's also the bigger problem of the historical record, which is to say,
      most of this shouldn't even exist on record. There are private conversations
      here that couldn't be a part of any record, unless they were reproduced from
      published memoirs or extrapolated from someone's subjective interpretation.
      There can be no objective truth in a recording like this -- at least as far
      as private conversations go -- and we begin to realize that we must be
      watching the 24th-century equivalent of a made-for-TV movie in which the
      narrative is "based on a true story." After getting over the initial
      gee-whiz effect of TNG settings, the holodeck framing device gradually
      becomes a distraction and a big liability for the events being depicted.

      The final mission of the Enterprise before it returns to Earth to sign the
      charter is less than enthralling. It involves Shran coming to Archer and
      asking for help (Archer, of course, owes him) to rescue his kidnapped
      daughter from some aliens whom he'd had some vague dealings with. They want
      something that might best be described as this week's MacGuffin, because it
      certainly has no more relevance than that. This leads to some typically
      generic action scenes with a less-than-epic scope, hardly befitting a series
      finale. It's perhaps ironic that Shran is the only character in the story to
      have changed in any significant way in six years (he has a family), while
      the human characters have apparently all become mechanical slaves to their

      Foreshadowing alert: Troi in the holodeck mentions how Trip doesn't know he
      won't return from this mission. Trip sacrifices himself in the course of the
      episode to save Archer. It might be called a heroic sacrifice, if not for
      the sheer incompetence of how it's depicted. First there's the whole
      silliness of how the aliens so swiftly get aboard the Enterprise after we've
      already been told the Enterprise is safe. Then there's the way the hostage
      situation actually plays out -- underwritten and overplayed -- with Trip
      flipping out, knocking Archer down, and then leading the aliens to a panel
      where he pulls out a cable and blows himself up along with the bad guys.

      This is painfully contrived and poorly, ham-handedly executed. It's exactly
      as if Trip had said to himself, "Well, this is where I've been preordained
      by an already-written history to sacrifice myself, so let's git 'er done!"
      How many times have we seen exactly this sort of crisis situation play out,
      where the Enterprise crew is always able to figure out how to cleverly
      escape -- but not this time, simply because the plot demands that Trip die.
      This is not a satisfying death scene for a major character by any stretch of
      the imagination. It borders on goofy.

      Similarly, the all-too-muted reaction to Trip's demise is puzzling. Archer
      consoles T'Pol, but the episode never stops to think that maybe it should be
      the other way around, considering how Archer has been best friends with Trip
      for countless years and T'Pol is, well, a Vulcan. There's no funeral, no
      service, nothing -- at least, not on-camera. Perhaps funerals, services,
      etc., have been done to death and are seen as cliche, but you simply can't
      purport a heroic death of a major character and then not deal with it.

      All that said, the level of downright hate for this episode is strangely
      fascinating. Jolene Blalock famously called it "appalling" in an interview,
      and fans denounced it on the Internet as an unmitigated travesty -- sight
      unseen -- weeks before it even aired.

      Personally, I find the vitriolic bile leveled at this episode (and the
      vilification of Berman and Braga in particular) from the Internet Trek
      community to be somewhat over-the-top. Judging by comments I've seen on
      message boards, you'd think Berman and Braga had strolled into a hospital
      nursery and murdered a room full of newborn babies. No, this episode does
      not work, but is it the worst episode of Enterprise ever made? Worse than
      "Precious Cargo" or "Bound" or "A Night in Sickbay" or a dozen others?
      Hardly. This isn't even the worst episode this season. It's a mediocre show
      with some highlights and lowlights. The episode itself probably would've
      fared better had the concept not unfortunately also served as the series

      What's kind of sad is that the episode is actually, genuinely well-intended.
      It has general ideas and sentiments and historical perspectives that are in
      the true spirit of Star Trek. It's just that the generalities are not
      adequately developed as specific ideas for the Enterprise characters, and
      the show ultimately comes across as an ill-executed, ponderous,
      miscalculated melding of two Trek series, neither of which comes into real
      focus. Like much of Enterprise as a series, it doesn't stop and ask: Who are
      these people, exactly? What do they want out of life? What makes them tick?
      Perhaps it's not about the individuals but about the state of the
      Federation -- but even then, I was left confused because this story seems to
      make a distinction between the alliance being formed here and what will
      ultimately become the Federation. My thinking is, if we're going to
      fast-forward six years, why aren't we seeing the *actual* Federation charter
      being signed? Perhaps I'm confused.

      And perhaps that confusion is justified. The whole episode builds up to a
      speech that Archer is scheduled to deliver, and just as he's walking out to
      deliver it, Riker interrupts with, "Computer, end program." The sound you
      heard immediately after that line was fans across the country throwing
      objects at their television sets. Perhaps ending two episodes in a row with
      a speech by Archer would not have been ideal, but the anticlimax of ending
      the story *before* the would-be dramatic payoff is just flat-out wrong.

      As a final act of redemption, "These Are the Voyages" does get the last 30
      seconds right, with a series-melding montage that blends TNG, TOS, and
      Enterprise, with three captains speaking the famous Star Trek mantra. It's
      the right note for an episode that contains a number of wrong ones.

      And that's how Trek comes to an end after a run of 18 consecutive years --
      with a somewhat ponderous whimper that still manages to show its
      self-affection. Maybe too much misdirected affection for TNG. And not enough
      for the characters we've been watching for the past four seasons.

      Copyright 2005, 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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