Star Trek: Enterprise
"Fourth Season Recap"
For episodes airing from 10/8/2004 to 5/13/2005
Series created by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Executive producers: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Manny Coto
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
December 29, 2005
In brief: Not bad, but nor would I call it particularly good. It sounded better in theory than it worked out in practice.
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 ReviewsStorm Front, Part I — Air date: 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.
Storm Front, Part II — Air date: 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.
Home — Air date: 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.
Borderland — Air date: 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.
Cold Station 12 — Air date: 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.
The Augments — Air date: 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.
The Forge — Air date: 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.
Awakening — Air date: 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.
Kir'Shara — Air date: 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.
Daedalus — Air date: 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.
Observer Effect — Air date: 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.
Babel One — Air date: 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.
United — Air date: 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.
The Aenar — Air date: 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.
Affliction — Air date: 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.
Divergence — Air date: 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.
Bound — Air date: 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.
In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I — Air date: 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.
In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II — Air date: 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.
Demons — Air date: 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.
Terra Prime — Air date: 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.
These Are the Voyages... — Air date: 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.
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.
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.
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