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[ENT] Jammer's Review: Fourth Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the entire fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise. In brief: Not bad, but nor would I
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2005
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      entire fourth season of "Star Trek: Enterprise."


      In brief: Not bad, but nor would I call it particularly good. It sounded
      better in theory than it worked out in practice.

      -----
      Star Trek: Enterprise - Fourth Season Recap
      Capsule Reviews & Season Analysis

      For episodes airing from
      10/8/2004 to 5/13/2005 (USA)

      Series created by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Executive producers: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Manny Coto

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      Well, here it is at long last. My final review for "Star Trek: Enterprise,"
      where my handy but brief capsule reviews look back at the individual
      episodes, and a season analysis article seeks to put it all together to
      figure out What It All Means. This also marks the end of an era. Not only
      for Trek, but for me. While I have "Battlestar Galactica" to keep me busy
      with full-length reviews and TNG forthcoming to keep me busy with brief
      reviews, this article marks the end of a years-long Jammer Season Recap
      tradition. So, to say it one last time before it likely gets retired: Feel
      free to agree, disagree, or punch your computer screen. Then wipe a tear
      from your eye over the sentimentality of it all. Yeah, right.


      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Storm Front, Part I" -- Airdate: 10/8/2004. Written by Manny Coto. Directed
      by Allan Kroeker.

      Manny Coto's first task as head writer for Enterprise was to clean up the
      temporal mess that had been in play since it was set into motion all the way
      back in "Broken Bow" and most recently turned into a time-travel
      free-for-all with the final 60 seconds of third season's "Zero Hour." Well,
      he did what he could, I suppose, which was to bring more nonsense to a
      nonsensical plot -- specifically, an alternate 1944 timeline in which the
      Nazis occupied the United States thanks to the help of mysterious
      temporal-manipulating alien named Vosk and his sci-fi weapons. Archer is
      holed up with the American resistance while the Enterprise crew tries to
      make sense of the madness ... which may be about as pointless as us doing
      the same. As nonsense goes, it's watchable nonsense.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Storm Front, Part II" -- Airdate: 10/15/2004. Written by Manny Coto.
      Directed by David Straiton.

      The entire Temporal Cold War plot line is mercifully euthanized with a
      magical and completely arbitrary (not to mention predictable) device, in
      which a warehouse in New York City with Vosk's time-travel equipment gets
      Blowed Up Real Good, which results in the "resetting" of all the time lines
      to their "proper" states. No, this doesn't make any sense. But it pretends
      that it does, and does a decent enough job of pretending. Silik ends up
      fighting on our side of the TCW for once, and ends up dying ... although one
      wonders why he isn't "reset" back to "alive" mode (like Daniels is) since he
      only died in an alternate timeline. "Storm Front" isn't so bad, and it's
      good in that it ends the TCW once and for all, but it's hardly good, and
      contains too many boring shootouts.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Home" -- Airdate: 10/22/2004. Written by Mike Sussman. Directed by Allan
      Kroeker.

      The coda for season three, in which the Enterprise characters return to
      Earth as heroes and begin to deal with the aftermath of their grueling
      mission. After so many plot points, it's nice to have something that's free
      of all that and feels more like character-based storytelling. The episode
      aptly revisits the issue of the still-under-construction Columbia and gives
      us its commander, Captain Hernandez. The story also gives us a Captain
      Archer who reflects on the darkness and violence of the past year and allows
      him to question Starfleet's mission, a notion that at times comes across as
      overstated. Still, it's good to see characters question themselves and their
      actions and struggle with these sorts of issues in trying to assign some
      self-responsibility. Earth's xenophobic streak is also an interesting idea,
      although the run-in at the bar involving Phlox is lazy and forced. T'Pol's
      marriage on Vulcan and the interaction with her mother reveals some
      interesting culture clashes.

      Rating: ***


      "Borderland" -- Airdate: 10/29/2004. Written by Ken LaZebnik. Directed by
      David Livingston.

      The first of the Augments arc, which turns out to be a reasonably diverting
      but easily discarded prologue more than a necessary first part of a
      compelling trilogy. Soong is a fairly interesting persona, no doubt because
      he's played by the always reliable Brent Spiner. Less interesting are his
      "children," the Augments, who are recycled characters who don't transcend
      the cliches of their templates for stories like this -- vessels of arrogance
      with unlimited ambition. The center of the plot involving the Orions and
      their slave trade makes for reasonable fan-continuity enjoyment, but there's
      not much substance here.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Cold Station 12" -- Airdate: 11/5/2004. Written by Michael Bryant. Directed
      by Mike Vejar.

      It's the best of the Augments trilogy, which for me boils down to a single
      scene -- where Malik puts some poor SOB in a sealed chamber and exposes him
      to an unspeakable disease. Soong is complicit in this torture and yet at the
      same time desperately wants to stop it, but ultimately the entire situation
      runs off the rails. It's a truly effective scene that works on different
      levels of behavior and motivation. It all telegraphs everything to come in
      part three (i.e., Soong is unable to see what is obvious to all of us --
      that he's incapable of controlling these "children"), but for this one
      moment it packs a hefty dramatic punch. The rest of the episode is perfectly
      acceptable plot/action fare, but this show is a good example of one scene
      being worth the price of admission.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "The Augments" -- Airdate: 11/12/2004. Written by Mike Sussman. Directed by
      LeVar Burton.

      The inevitable outcome of this trilogy comes to pass all too inevitably,
      with Malik following (okay, okay; preceding) in Khan's footsteps by
      exercising unlimited hubris in his plan to escape Starfleet. No superior
      intellect ever thinks too small, but they sure don't think too logically.
      His plan is either so brilliant it's stupid or so stupid it's brilliant.
      Personally, I'm going with so stupid it's idiotic: Attack a Klingon colony,
      who, says Malik, will believe Starfleet did it and launch a counterattack.
      Sorry, that's just lazy writing. Malik is the perfect superior intellect who
      is also obviously destined for brazen self-destruction. Persis, the Augment
      with sense and compassion, ends up dying a predictable death due to her
      inaction. Soong ends up learning a predictable lesson after repeatedly
      ignoring the painfully obvious warning signs. In the end, we don't get much
      thoughtfulness regarding genetic engineering as an idea; just a routine
      three-character power struggle that fails to satisfy.

      Rating: **


      "The Forge" -- Airdate: 11/19/2004. Written by Judith & Garfield
      Reeves-Stevens. Directed by Michael Grossman.

      Easily Enterprise's best episode of the season. The Reeves-Stevens bring
      tons of for-Trek-fans-only material to the table and make it compelling,
      layered, and nuanced -- with the richness of a classic Bajoran culture
      episode on DS9, and approached from the standpoint of the
      novelists/archivists that the Reeves-Stevenses are. As delivery on the
      promise of the season-four Manny Coto Mission Statement (more Trek-themed
      continuity for fans), this is probably the pinnacle in terms of a mythology
      story that gets the right amount of attention as well as being one that
      *deserves* that level of attention. The episode is impressive in terms of
      the sheer volume of material it gives us, but also because it's able to see
      this material through its characters. Why not four stars, you ask? Because
      even though it's very good, it doesn't jump off the screen and become a
      thrilling experience. It often gets mired in its heavy exposition. But I'll
      gladly take exposition when delivered with this much care.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Awakening" -- Airdate: 11/26/2004. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by
      Roxann Dawson.

      It's the weakest link in the Vulcan trilogy, but still pretty good. The plot
      is a bit of a problem at times because of obvious logical gaffes, which I
      suppose is ironic when considering the logical deliberation of Vulcan
      society. Why would those in the Vulcan High Command engineer an elaborate
      frame-up of the Syrrannites essentially just to squelch a passivist lobby
      movement? (Seems to me the bombing of the embassy only draws *more* unwanted
      attention to their Andorian war plans.) Still, the episode is rich with its
      societal details and reveals a Vulcan society whose values have strayed from
      its traditional mores -- something which we'd seen many hints of even before
      this season.

      Rating: ***


      "Kir'Shara" -- Airdate: 12/3/2004. Written by Mike Sussman. Directed by
      David Livingston.

      The Vulcan arc is the best and most consistent of the multi-part arcs from
      season four, in part because it delivers a closing chapter that holds up to
      a level of scrutiny that many of the other arcs' final installments could
      not. It's also effective because it remembers that the Enterprise is a part
      of a much larger universe rather than the all-encompassing center of it. The
      myriad of characters and governments in play allows for unique interplay
      opportunities, such as a memorable interrogation sequence in which Soval
      ends up in the hands of Shran and a very specific torture device. It's an
      interrogation scene where we're really paying attention to the actors. The
      complicated plot is revolved satisfactorily but, alas, far too hastily. The
      way the episode brings the Romulans into the storyline at the last minute is
      admittedly clever.

      Rating: ***


      "Daedalus" -- Airdate: 1/14/2005. Written by Ken LaZebnik & Michael Bryant.
      Directed by David Straiton.

      A sci-fi anomaly causes a man's close family member to become trapped in
      space and time for many years, leaving him obsessed with that day of painful
      loss and a determination to perform an impossible sci-fi rescue from a fate
      more complicated than death. That's right -- it's like "The Visitor" ...
      only a whole lot lamer. Where "The Visitor" was vibrant with life and
      poignant reflection, "Daedalus" can only come across as obvious,
      predictable, and laborious. By inexplicably intentional design, nothing in
      the story is ever in doubt, and that ultimately becomes a huge liability,
      because the guest characters are not interesting or deep enough for us to
      invest in their plights. There's a reason why the Sisko/Jake bond is so
      fundamentally crucial in "The Visitor," and that sheds more light onto
      what's wrong with "Daedalus" than any review I could write.

      Rating: **


      "Observer Effect" -- Airdate: 1/21/2005. Written by Judith & Garfield
      Reeves-Stevens. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      This isn't a great hour of Trek, but it's a respectable one, and one that
      ties into the original series with a certain amount of understated
      cleverness. The story has a great many Trek standbys in its employ, and
      while the end result isn't original, the parts are assembled in such a way
      that the story works as an example of purely traditional humanistic Trek.
      What's more, the episode occasionally captures the feel of unpredictability
      even though all things seem inevitable in retrospect. The episode's
      willingness to put the cards on the table and show us events from the
      aliens' perspective allows the story to break free from what could've been
      obvious plot turns. The notion of Archer arguing against non-interference
      has a calculated irony that I enjoyed; this is a prequel to TOS's "Errand of
      Mercy," where Kirk makes the opposite argument.

      Rating: ***


      "Babel One" -- Airdate: 1/28/2005. Written by Mike Sussman & Andre Bormanis.
      Directed by David Straiton.

      In a fairly sensible story, Archer and the Enterprise crew get a unique
      chance to forge new relationships by brokering a peace agreement between the
      Andorians and the Tellarites. They must bring a very amped-up Shran and a
      Tellarite negotiator together and put them in a conference room without a
      fight breaking out. No easy task, especially with a disguised Romulan
      marauder running around the area stirring up trouble, pretending to be
      Andorians and/or Tellarites and opening firing on everyone. Solving the
      mystery of the disguised marauder is the other aspect of the plot. The way
      the Romulans aim to sabotage the situation with their subversive tactics
      carries a great deal of credibility, and the twist revealed in the last shot
      (that the ship is being piloted by remote from Romulus) is a nice, sneaky
      little surprise.

      Rating: ***


      "United" -- Airdate: 2/4/2005. Teleplay by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
      Story by Manny Coto. Directed by David Livingston.

      Archer must bring together the Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans, and
      Rigellians in a coordinated alliance-like effort to locate and destroy the
      mysterious remote marauder causing havoc in the region. Before he can do
      this, he must deal with Shran's right to a fight to the death for the
      Tellarites having killed his girlfriend -- very TOS like. Even more TOS is
      when Archer agrees to fight Shran as a tactic to ensure the alliance
      survives even if he doesn't. The lamest aspect of this story is its utter
      lack of an imaginative way for this fight to end with no one getting killed.
      The fight is fun, and no one dies -- but the loophole is a total cheat. The
      teamwork pays off for Archer in a successful multi-species mission that
      hints at the future of the Federation. This particular trilogy defies
      conventional structure by having the resolution of the central story in the
      second of three parts.

      Rating: ***


      "The Aenar" -- Airdate: 2/11/2005. Teleplay by Andre Bormanis. Story by
      Manny Coto. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      Unfortunately, by defying conventional structure, this trilogy ends up with
      a third installment that's mostly a disposable epilogue (as opposed to the
      disposable prologue that was "Borderland"). The result is another botched
      trilogy ending (a la "The Augments"), this one centering on the Andorians'
      elusive sister species, the Aenar, who seem more like a one-episode
      invention than a plausible meta-society. The trip to Andoria feels like a
      waste; all we see are barren subterranean ice tunnels. Meanwhile, the
      Romulans' plan borders on absurd; they require an Aenar's telepathic skills
      to pilot the remote-controlled ship, and yet have only abducted one Aenar
      prisoner. Talk about shortsighted. The Enterprise's plan to hack into the
      remote ship is too much meaningless tech, not enough involving drama.

      Rating: **


      "Affliction" -- Airdate: 2/18/2005. Teleplay by Mike Sussman. Story by Manny
      Coto. Directed by Michael Grossman.

      A solid and entertaining hour that benefits from its ensemble approach and
      ability to do a little bit of everything. We've got the Enterprise going
      back to Earth. We've got Trip reassigned to the Columbia for personal
      reasons. We've got Reed being contacted by his old Section 31 contacts and
      assigned to a mysterious mission that puts him in a tough spot. We've got a
      crime scene investigation. We've got Klingons forcing Phlox to help them
      find a cure for their genetic tampering (cleverly tied in with the Augments
      arc). We've got Captain Hernandez showing a quiet, cerebral style to
      approaching personalities. Basically, we've got a really nice little setup
      episode that balances plot and character better than I would've expected.

      Rating: ***


      "Divergence" -- Airdate: 2/25/2005. Written by Judith & Garfield
      Reeves-Stevens. Directed by David Barrett.

      But we've also got yet one more botched arc wrap-up, this time coming on a
      two-parter rather than a three-parter. It begins with an arbitrary
      tech-action opening stunt sequence that sci-fi geeks might find innovative
      but will not do much for drama enthusiasts who want to see useful character
      interaction; it's a service unto only itself. Captain Hernandez, one of this
      season's most potentially interesting new supporting characters, is all but
      wasted in a role that assigns her as an interchangeable placeholder, rather
      than exploring her specific personality or command style. The Section 31
      stuff is okay, but the way the Klingons thwart it doesn't bode well for an
      intelligence agency that's supposedly going to be around for the next
      200-plus years. The plot all converges upon a Klingon colony that the
      Klingons are going to wipe out if Phlox can't create a cure to the outbreak.
      The last act runs off the rails with pointless battle scenes, some trickery
      that I for one don't think the Klingons would actually stop and listen to,
      and a hopelessly silly scenario where Archer is injected with a disease and
      convulses in a chair. Too much mechanical, fast-paced plotting, and not
      enough character or depth.

      Rating: **


      "Bound" -- Airdate: 4/15/2005. Written by Manny Coto. Directed by Allan
      Kroeker.

      Guilty pleasure? Please. Manny Coto's hopelessly misfired "homage" to the
      sexist Trek cliches of yesteryear is a lame, boring, painfully tedious hour
      about green girls gone wild, etc., and the hopeless men who cannot resist
      their charms, etc. The plot is idiotic, as are all the characters. Anyone
      hoping Star Trek had grown up in the past four decades will be woefully
      disappointed. It's really hard to enjoy an hour of TV when you're groaning
      at the juvenile stupidity of it all.

      Rating: *


      "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I" -- Airdate: 4/22/2005. Written by Mike
      Sussman. Directed by James L. Conway.

      On the other hand, if you're going to do a Trek-for-fans homage, *this* is
      the way to do it. With a sense of fun and exaggerated comic-book mania, we
      take a trip over to the mirror universe to watch a bunch of savages at each
      other's throats as they attempt to steal a starship from the TOS era (the
      Defiant, from "The Tholian Web"). How much overacting and comic-book
      posturing can you handle? That's the question. The actors -- in particular
      Scott Bakula -- deserve praise for their willingness to go so fearlessly
      over the top. Most of the characters have no redeeming value, but I guess
      that's the point. The show contains the season's hands-down coolest scene
      when the bridge of the Defiant comes to life, and it's like we've stepped
      through a portal into 1966.

      Rating: ***


      "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" -- Airdate: 4/29/2005. Teleplay by Mike
      Sussman. Story by Manny Coto. Directed by Marvin V. Rush.

      How much overacting and comic-book posturing can you handle? For me the
      answer was that this episode provided maybe a little bit more than enough.
      The adventure involving the Gorn is a nice nod to the original series, but a
      rather pointless and drawn-out sequence that forgets that the charm of the
      Gorn is that he was a guy in a lame rubber suit. The story plots Archer's
      attempts to play out his delusions of grandeur by killing everyone and
      taking over the Terran Empire, and Scott Bakula's overacting is even more
      out of control here than in part one. This is all very silly, very extremely
      exaggerated, sometimes fun, but ultimately a little tiring. I liked that the
      episode's ruthlessness went so far as to kill all the sympathetic
      characters, but by the end I couldn't shake the feeling that this was all
      style, no substance, and something of a missed opportunity when you stop and
      think that the regular characters are more deserving to be walking around on
      the TOS sets as opposed to the mirrored ones.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Demons" -- Airdate: 5/6/2005. Written by Manny Coto. Directed by LeVar
      Burton.

      After several episodes of inconsequential fluff, "Demons" is the series'
      final return to Trekkian substance and message delivery, and on those terms
      it's successful up to a point. Its biggest strength is that it looks inward
      at humanity's own ideological struggles as Earth becomes a larger part of an
      interstellar community. Its biggest drawback is that it doesn't ever come
      completely alive to feel like it's actually happening. The episode lacks
      juice, like it's sleepwalking through its script -- even though the script
      is pretty good. Paxton is an isolationist ideologue, albeit not a
      particularly interesting one. The subplot involving Travis and his old
      girlfriend is too stolid to be interesting beyond its obvious plot
      manipulations. But the episode delivers on its bottom line with its
      allegorical themes and a statement that Earth must solve its own conflicts
      before becoming allies with others.

      Rating: ***


      "Terra Prime" -- Airdate: 5/13/2005. Teleplay by Judith & Garfield
      Reeves-Stevens & Manny Coto. Story by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens &
      Andre Bormanis. Directed by Marvin V. Rush.

      Everything I said about "Demons" holds true for "Terra Prime" -- it's an
      hour of good allegorical intentions and reasonable thoughtfulness about the
      human condition (always a Trekkian TV mission), but it lacks the ability to
      break free of its plot machinations and become something special. In
      particular, the action at the end is clunky as hell, and I still don't
      understand why Terra Prime felt inspired to create a human/Vulcan baby if
      they hate the idea of such unions so much (the symbol doesn't prove their
      point, so what good is it to them?). But this is a storyline sold on an idea
      as opposed to its plot turns, and it works because of its idea and in spite
      of its plot turns. Bottom line: When Archer makes a speech at the end that
      looks toward the future of a possible Federation, I felt like I was watching
      a relevant piece of Trek history.

      Rating: ***


      "These Are the Voyages..." -- Airdate: 5/13/2005. Written by Rick Berman &
      Brannon Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      If the online fans are any indicator, this is the most reviled series finale
      in the history of Trek (no, "Turnabout Intruder" does not count as a series
      finale). Yes, they have a point -- even if I don't think it's quite as bad
      as many do. This is an aimless and unsatisfying hour that doesn't begin to
      deal with the Enterprise crew and instead spends too much time in the TNG
      universe, inexplicably dealing with the NX-01 in flashbacks. Key "wrap-ups"
      are painfully bungled; Trip dies in the silliest and most contrived of ways,
      and Archer's big speech at the end is interrupted in such an obvious way you
      get the feeling the writers simply didn't know what they wanted him to say.
      Perhaps the most appalling notion is the fact that the Enterprise crew, in
      six whole years, had not seemed to live any semblance of life in that time.
      I guess based on that notion we should be thankful the series was canceled
      so we didn't sit through six years of *nothing happening*.

      Rating: **


      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      There's a temptation -- and at a certain level, perhaps a justified one --
      to blame Rick Berman and Brannon Braga for the shortcomings, and thus the
      downfall, of Enterprise as a series. After all, they were the guys at the
      top, so if Enterprise got canceled, they're the ones to blame, right?
      They're the ones who made the mistakes and didn't allow the series to change
      into something more successful, right?

      Maybe. But I don't know. It seems to me that Enterprise, and Star Trek in
      general, has become a victim of its own age as much as anything else. For 18
      nonstop years, we've had one season of second-generation Trek after another.
      With Enterprise being a prequel series, it also seems to me that there was
      only so much they could do to shake up the franchise while at the same time
      staying true to the series' roots and ideals. Perhaps -- and I'm not saying
      this is definitely the case, but perhaps -- this franchise has limits built
      into its ideology and history and its long, storied continuity. Trek is
      Trek, and perhaps that's a double-edged sword. There's another sci-fi series
      out there that I've been enjoying a lot lately. You might've heard of it;
      it's called "Battlestar Galactica" -- and unlike Star Trek, it feels like it
      actually belongs in the 21st century. Star Trek seems, still, like it
      belongs in the 20th century. I don't mean that as an insult, but an
      observation.

      Has Star Trek outlived -- at least for the time being -- its usefulness?
      It's possible. The 2000s are more cynical and less sentimental than, say,
      the 1980s. Trek may be outmoded in an era of television that would rather
      deal with grittier characters and drama. Maybe I'm just rambling and full of
      crap. After all, there seems to be a place for all sorts of programs,
      cataloging the entire spectrum of depth and shallowness, cynicism and
      sweetness. Maybe it's just about what I like personally. And what you like
      personally. And the fact that UPN is tired of Star Trek.

      Whatever. Even if the end of Enterprise were to actually be the end of Star
      Trek on television forever (which, by the way, I doubt), that wouldn't be a
      tragedy. I've said it before: There's no need for Star Trek to keep on going
      with new shows and films forever. It's already immortal. It's part of
      pop-culture eternity, and nothing can undo that, short of the downfall of
      our civilization as we know it.

      OH, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT SEASON FOUR

      So then. Season four. Yea or nay? Well, let's start with the obvious, which
      is the fact that season four is regarded by pretty much everyone (who
      follows such things) as the Year of Manny Coto: the man -- and
      self-described Trek geek -- who took over the duties as head writer at the
      beginning of the season. There are those out there who see Manny Coto as the
      savior of Enterprise and think that season four was easily the series' best,
      and perhaps even the best thing since sliced bread. Me -- I'm not so moved.
      I don't think Coto is the Enterprise savior. I think he had a very good
      theoretical idea of what the series as a prequel should be doing, but in
      terms of the actual shows that ended up on the screen -- well, it wasn't
      bad, but it wasn't great either. It was adequate ... and thus disappointing
      given the heightened expectations.

      To me, the big improvement in Enterprise came when season three turned
      things around from the dismal second season to deliver a fairly compelling
      story arc that spanned the whole year. Season three -- particularly the last
      third of the season -- was solid entertainment, despite some obvious
      missteps. The question I find myself asking now is: Was season four better
      than season three?

      My answer to that question is: No. I find season four to be overrated in
      many camps, and would rank season three as more entertaining, more daring,
      and with darker and more involving stories. To illustrate my point, none of
      the trilogy arcs in season four were nearly as involving as "Azati Prime,"
      "Damage," and "The Forgotten" from season three. Certainly, yes, season four
      was a step in the right direction for Trek fans, and certainly it's better
      than the first two seasons. But it does not outdo season three in terms of
      actual drama, character development, or excitement -- and in the end, that's
      what I think we're all here for.

      Structurally, the choice to make the season into a series of "mini-arcs" was
      both a strength and a weakness. It was a strength in that Trek hadn't
      consciously taken a stab at a series of relatively self-contained
      trilogy-sized storylines before in quite this manner, and the format was
      initially a refreshing proposition. Season three, and previous years of Deep
      Space Nine, had done longer arcs spanning entire seasons, but many of the
      individual stories were still often self-contained (which I think is
      ultimately a better approach because it permits the possibility of doing
      episodic and serialized elements at the same time). By doing a number of
      trilogies and two-parters, this season opened itself up to tell more
      involved, complex stories -- or at least in theory.

      The weakness to an approach like this is that you'd damn well better deliver
      on the episodes that count. (With all the arcs along with standalones, we
      essentially had only 12 different storylines this season.) To put it simply:
      If you're doing three-parters, it's pretty important to have effective third
      acts, or else you run the risk of sabotaging the entire trilogy. Nothing
      ruins a good story like a lousy ending. Unfortunately, that's exactly what
      happened in several -- too many -- cases.

      Look at the Augments trilogy, which was virtually shut down by a weak last
      chapter that employed obvious character archetypes instead of specifically
      interesting behavior. Or look at the Romulan/Andorian trilogy, which had an
      inexplicably mechanical third act that accomplished nothing dramatically. Or
      the Klingon two-parter that ended with tedious action when it had been set
      up with reasonable characterization and multiple intriguing story threads.
      It's too bad, really, because all of the trilogies/two-parters had good
      things about them and showed promise. "Babel One" and "United" revealed the
      sorts of alliance issues that would've arisen had a fifth season been
      possible. "Cold Station 12" was a good show with an uncommon scene featuring
      complex character dynamics. Even the "Storm Front" two-parter was a
      watchable show, albeit a hopelessly ludicrous one that defies logical
      thought.

      The best of the season came with the Vulcan arc, which had its flaws but
      mostly worked from start to finish. As one who always likes to trot out the
      DS9 comparisons, this trilogy worked because, like DS9, (1) it studied its
      cultures seriously and (2) it allowed the Star Trek universe to breathe,
      seeming bigger than Earth and the Enterprise, where important characters
      could act from motives that went beyond a Level One Plot (i.e., what's in
      the best interest of the ship). Here was a storyline where ways of life and
      ideologies were at stake. Similarly, the Terra Prime storyline was solid,
      true-to-the-ideal Star Trek, examining human culture and behavior right
      alongside its jeopardy plot line of a super-weapon aimed from Mars, pointing
      at San Francisco.

      The show was at its best when demonstrating that, yes, this is in fact a
      Star Trek prequel about the lead-up to the founding of the Federation and
      the issues that arise. I suppose a similar parallel can be drawn about the
      show at its worst, with the lamentably hokey "Bound," which tried to channel
      the charm of TOS hokum but succeeded only in channeling the stupidity. Or
      with "Daedalus," which I suppose tried to deal with the history of the
      transporter and ended up channeling DS9's "The Visitor," except badly.

      Then there was "In a Mirror, Darkly." Honestly, I feel like I should commend
      the creators for the sheer willingness to make these two episodes, because
      it was a valiant try and had some truly good moments (the Defiant bridge
      lighting up is one of the high points of the entire series, as far as I'm
      concerned). It should've been better, and it was far too enamored with its
      own madcap excess to be successful. Ultimately, the inmates took over the
      asylum. But it was an inspired idea nevertheless, and I appreciate the
      audacity.

      So that brings us to the perennial theme for Enterprise...

      THE ACHILLES HEEL: THE CHARACTERS

      Who the hell are these people, really? Okay, maybe that's a *little* bit
      harsh, but let's face it: Enterprise this year was not exactly strong on the
      character development front. My litmus test here will again be whether
      season four was better than season three. Answer: No. Season three, for
      starters, had Degra -- a major supporting character who was given a bona
      fide arc based on the character's willingness to listen and understand. Even
      if the arc killed him in the end, it was well worth our time as viewers.
      Season three also had issues of Archer's ethics beings stripped away, and
      T'Pol descending into drug addiction. These are some dark and interesting
      ideas (even if they didn't always pan out).

      Season four felt more like business as usual, in the Trek tradition of
      characters doing their jobs. For Captain Archer, this can still be
      plentifully worthwhile, because at least in episodes like "Home" we can see
      him struggling with some of the tough decisions he made throughout the third
      season. The downside was the fact that after "Home" we didn't see much else
      about this. Also in "Home" we were introduced to Captain Hernandez, whose
      personality and style (and Ada Maris' performance) seemed to bode well for
      the possibility of a developed character. Unfortunately, we simply didn't
      see enough of Hernandez afterward; as I've already mentioned, her final
      appearance in "Divergence" was a major missed opportunity.

      T'Pol got married for the sole purpose, it seems, to later get divorced.
      Some of the material with her mother worked fairly well, but the Trip/T'Pol
      relationship storyline -- carried forward from season three -- sort of
      played out as background noise. It never seemed like a legitimate storyline,
      because the writers just sort of danced around it aimlessly and
      halfheartedly all season, only to give us a non-resolution in the end. The
      most intriguing aspect of all this was Trip briefly being transferred to the
      Columbia (showing how a screwed-up relationship can interfere with work),
      but the writers only halfheartedly dealt with that as well -- no doubt for
      the simple logistical reasons that Trip is still in the cast and the show is
      not "Star Trek: Columbia."

      Meanwhile, the supporting characters are virtual non-factors. Hoshi? Well,
      apparently she knows martial arts. Stunning. Travis? Apparently he had a
      girlfriend once upon a time. That's not just television, that's
      compellevision. Phlox? Well, he's a doctor -- and he can make a basket from
      half-court. Whoa. The idea of making Reed a former Section 31 agent was
      intriguing and generated some much-needed conflict, and is the sort of thing
      the writers should've been doing more of. Overall, there just wasn't enough
      screen time to make these people three-dimensional or explore them in a
      meaningful way, and that's sort of a shame.

      Perhaps one problem this season is that the show was so mired in expansive
      plots and cross-series continuity games that the characters and their
      personalities tended to get lost, even, to some degree, in standouts like
      "The Forge." A show like that, with all its politicking and plotting,
      probably just doesn't have a lot of time to understand its supporting
      players. But even granting that as an excuse, when you compare Enterprise
      characters to the much better, strongly defined characters in a show like
      "Battlestar Galactica," where people are allowed to -- gasp -- disagree and
      dislike each other, and operate from opposing motives, you begin to see why
      Trek feels a little bit stagnant. On BSG, even characters with limited
      screen time feel like people, because the universe feels more organic. With
      Enterprise, the characters are somewhat boxed in by the fact that they are
      players in a master plot instead of individuals who can make their own
      decisions. I'm thinking that this is where trying to support the colossal
      weight and history of Star Trek becomes something of a liability after 18
      straight years.

      And it really, *really* doesn't help to have a final episode that takes
      place "six years later" only to inform us, that, gee, not a damned thing of
      significant interest has happened in six years to *any* of these people. I
      mean, I just can't stress how much that kills any hope of the characters
      coming across as human beings instead of plot vehicles. Once again, nothing
      hurts a reasonable story like a bad ending.

      CLOSING THOUGHTS

      A fifth season of Enterprise, which likely would've involved the actual
      creation of the Federation, could've been the best season yet. Certainly it
      would've had that potential. But that was also the hope for season four, and
      I for one don't think the show got there. Who knows what would or would not
      have been possible in a hypothetical season five. It was simply not to be.

      As I sign off, I'm not sad to see Star Trek go. It's had a long and fruitful
      life. For me personally, it's been a long and interesting ride, with a
      decade of review writing (and nearly a decade before that of just being a
      viewer). You already know that I've jumped on the "Battlestar" bandwagon,
      which will likely keep me busy with reviews (yes, that and also TNG, coming
      really soon) for the foreseeable future.

      Thanks for reading. I hope to see you in the parallel Jammer Review
      universes. If not, then take care. It's been fun.

      -----
      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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