In brief: Standard shakedown cruise. The plots were too often bland, but the characters are working okay and the potential for good things is clearly here.
Welcome to Jammer's last-minute, just-barely-in-time wrap-up for Enterprise's first season. You probably already know how these things work, and even if you don't, it's not like it's rocket science (two parts —  capsule review of each episode,  the overall season commentary). So let's just get on with it, the most comprehensive single-stop review for Enterprise I'll put together this year. Feel free to agree, disagree, or punch your computer screen.
Part 1: Capsule ReviewsBroken Bow — Air date: 9/26/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by James L. Conway.
It's a perfectly adequate series pilot that establishes all the characters (even if minimally for some of them), gives us a premise for Starfleet's first flight with the warp-5 Enterprise, and sets us loose for a fairly standard Trekkian action-adventure story. It's safe, efficient sci-fi entertainment that breaks very little new ground but fills two hours of TV time with not too much to complain about. The tensions with the Vulcans would reveal themselves as a significant theme throughout the season, though I still feel that these tensions come across as forced here. Also significant later in the season is the setup involving the temporal cold war, the Suliban, and villain Silik — some murky weirdness that plays reasonably as, well, murky weirdness. Conway's direction touches all the necessary bases, and the show (which won an Emmy this week for visual effects) is visually striking in a way that even Voyager rarely reached.
Fight or Flight — Air date: 10/3/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
Average, functional fare, in which Hoshi must test her space legs and face her fears of this new deep-space mission. Chews through an hour well enough, but move along, nothing to see here. The plot is Trek alien encounters by the numbers (weird alien corpses on hooks, tense showdowns, etc.) — well implemented but not particularly interesting. The hour is carried by the fact Hoshi strikes us as a real person with real fears.
Strange New World — Air date: 10/10/2001. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.
A bare-boned plot with little in terms of genuine interest is virtually saved by acting, particularly Connor Trinneer's, as the side effects of toxic pollen turns Trip into a raving madman who becomes more than honest in regard to his distrust of T'Pol and the Vulcans. This distrust stems from, again, the general deep-rooted animosity humans harbor for being subjugated by the Vulcans for the last 90 years. The less-is-more approach to plotting here is a bit of a double-edged sword: While I liked that the crises here weren't overplayed and that the technobabble was kept at an absolute minimum, the story itself is simple and derivative to the point of becoming irrelevant background noise. Fortunately, the foreground — the performances, paranoia, and claustrophobia — make the hour work.
Unexpected — Air date: 10/17/2001. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Mike Vejar.
The infamously preposterous story concept that has circulated the Trek offices for more than a decade ("Riker gets pregnant," "Odo gets pregnant," "Paris gets pregnant") finally gets put into production for Enterprise when it lands as "Tucker gets pregnant." The results are predictably lame, with the latter half of the show seeing Trip walk around the ship in goofy/cliché "parental instincts" mode, something that plays like rejected sitcom fodder. The way Trip gets pregnant prompts incredulity while also making Xyrillian Ah'Len look terminally clueless: "I had no idea this could happen with another species!" Not only this, we've got the hopelessly ill-advised use of an alien holodeck in a way that induces what-were-they-thinking snickers of disbelief for anyone who has been watching the last decade of Trek. The needless way the Klingons come out of nowhere in the final minutes is positively puzzling. The only thing that somewhat works here is some of the early weirdness depicting an alien environment.
Terra Nova — Air date: 10/17/2001. Teleplay by Antoinette Stella. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by LeVar Burton.
A perfect example of this series' early conceptual woes, in which the notion of previously groundbreaking human exploration is reduced to a derivative caveman story. Cavemen with machine guns, of course. A story about a human colony that had set out for this planet some 70 years ago is squandered in favor of a slow and uninteresting rehash of language/communication barriers and routine trust conflicts and crises. The events within the 90-year gap between First Contact and Enterprise are something that I have a great deal of curiosity about, but the writers don't seem to know anything about them, at least not on the basis of this ho-hum story, which is a missed opportunity.
The Andorian Incident — Air date: 10/31/2001. Teleplay by Fred Dekker. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann Dawson.
Another routine Hostage Plot™ that squeaks by with a pass on the basis of its eyebrow-raising ending, where Archer hands the Andorians the evidence about the Vulcans' secret spy station at P'Jem — a good ending, whether you agree with Archer's decision or not. That decision serves to again highlight the running theme of the schism between the humans and Vulcans, and would subsequently be followed up with "Shadows of P'Jem," though I'm not so sure it was followed up satisfactorily. Much of the rest of this episode is marginally entertaining (albeit admittedly uninspired). I enjoyed a scene where Archer plays smart-ass to the Andorians and gets beat up real good, even while I was questioning the logic of the plot, which all but reveals this action to be unnecessary. Perhaps Archer is a masochist.
Breaking the Ice — Air date: 11/7/2001. Written by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton. Directed by Terry Windell.
Another story that seems to fly in the face of interesting plot conception. This time, it's about analyzing a comet and rescuing Reed and Mayweather when the situation turns ugly. The episode actually features a scene where the two build a snowman on the comet surface, complete with eyes and smiley face. Oddly, it's a scene that sets the tone of the show, which is about light character interaction rather than substantive plot development. There are many individual scenes that have the ring of character truth in them, like T'Pol's crossroads, Archer's frustrating dinner with hopelessly laconic Vulcan Captain Vanik (quite funny, this scene), and the sensible scene where the bridge officers make a recording for schoolchildren back on Earth. Also worthwhile is watching Archer swallow his pride and ask the Vulcans for help in the rescue attempt, something we realize is far more important than perpetuating schisms based on pride. The plot is of little consequence, but the characters make the story.
Civilization — Air date: 11/14/2001. Written by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman. Directed by Mike Vejar.
More middling material, which applies the Trek formula with nothing new and then subtracts certain protocols from the rulebook we've come to rely on. Those protocols are, specifically, the ones involving the Prime Directive of non-interference. Unfortunately, the episode seems to be about the issue of non-interference but without the characters learning any lessons. As an hour of entertainment it's enough to hold one's attention with a functional plot but comes across as having been pulled from the Trek recycling bin. Archer makes some questionable decisions here that don't seem to have much in terms of consequences, since everything is fixed by the end. It'd be nice if he were more likely to trust T'Pol's judgment than jump in head first in the interests of "exploration."
Fortunate Son — Air date: 11/21/2001. Written by James Duff. Directed by LeVar Burton.
A good episode that is actually about some of the issues that needed to be tackled in Enterprise's first season — namely, the issue of human cargo-ship runners and the soon-to-change role of these people in a universe that will quickly begin shrinking with the advent of warp-5 starships. It's also the only episode that deals heavily with young Ensign Mayweather, the season's most neglected (and, as a result, blandest) character. The plot involving raids and vengeance isn't the freshest idea in the book as implemented, but the story wisely uses the plot as a backdrop to show us the lawlessness out here in space and how cargo runners have to deal carefully with situations because of the fact they are isolated and must stand on their own. A key closing conversation between Archer and the captain of the Fortunate is particularly well-realized, showing an awareness of the shrinking universe that lies in humanity's very near future.
Cold Front — Air date: 11/28/2001. Written by Steve Beck & Tim Finch. Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill.
The temporal cold war begins to heat up in a story about classic Trekkian time-travel weirdness conveyed with a note of ominous disbelief — time travel is seen as fiction, not accepted as fact. It makes for solidly entertaining sci-fi, albeit not a departure from anything we've seen in the past decade of Trek. The plot is the ultimate paradox, of course, in which Daniels (whomever he really works for) purports to know what the future timeline "should" be, based on how history has been recorded, which, of course, doesn't take into account the fact that historical records are every bit as flexible as the timeline is, and more so. The story is a little too easy to take Daniels at his word and automatically label Silik the villain — but from Archer's point of view how can he know who's really telling the truth and harboring the "right" intentions in regard to the timeline? Silik's escape (jumping out of the decompressed launch bay) is one of the more memorably cinematic escapes on the Trek record.
Silent Enemy — Air date: 1/16/2002. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
The enemy here is extremely silent (no negotiation or communication, and inexplicable assault patterns), and thus they seem more like a convenient plot prop than a realistic or believable threat. They're a device that serves to remind us that the Enterprise is severely outgunned out here, prompting Archer to set a course for Earth before Trip convinces him the weapons upgrades can be performed in-house. The idea that the crew has been waiting around for a threat like this before working on the phase-cannon project in the first place is fairly ridiculous, but I suppose I like the idea of watching the crew implement these upgrades enough to overlook the contrived nature of this sudden, surprise impetus. The big character issue revolves around the relatively unknown Lt. Reed; alas the writers only come up with a character study that seeks to discover his favorite food — kinda underwhelming.
Dear Doctor — Air date: 1/23/2002. Written by Marie Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton. Directed by James A. Contner.
Season one's best episode, which not only reminds us what Star Trek is all about, but manages to do so in an Enterprise-specific way that the other Trek series could not have done from the perspective of their premises. Phlox, with his outsider's perspective of new-to-deep-space humanity, is the perfect center for this story, painted by John Billingsley with a great deal of thoughtfulness and integrity. Using voice-over narration, the story is able to document the ideas behind a dilemma that eventually becomes a weighty Prime Directive issue in a world with no Prime Directive. The story does not cheat and miracles do not allow the characters off the hook; Archer must rise to the occasion in a way that goes against his gut feeling to help people in need. All the while, Phlox's running narration gets us into his head and also in touch with human sensibilities in an objective way that's kind of groundbreaking. We see human attitudes and behavior in a new and interesting light. The story's keen sense of observation is striking.
Sleeping Dogs — Air date: 1/30/2002. Written by Fred Dekker. Directed by Les Landau.
The selling point here appears to be to see Klingon culture from the inside for the "first" time through the eyes of the Enterprise away team that boards a disabled Klingon ship. That's a storytelling mindset to be wary of on this series, because the audience has already experienced these aspects of Trekkian lore many times over and is not likely to see them as "new" even if the characters ostensibly do. There's also plenty of tedium involved in Archer's attempts to befriend the injured Klingon woman, who wants no part of a trusting relationship with humans. The plot line is functional but unimaginative, mostly resembling a submarine movie, occasionally crossed with atmospheric would-be suspense in the dark Klingon surroundings. The Klingons are too needlessly obtuse and hostile in the face of being helped, which leads only to viewer frustration. Some good work with Hoshi and T'Pol works best, but the plot resolves itself with sloppiness in the end.
Shadows of P'Jem — Air date: 2/6/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Mike Vejar.
The well-intended follow-up to "The Andorian Incident" doesn't end up making the grade. The Shuttle Crash™ and Hostage Plot™ elements are taken strictly off the shelf, leading to a story that moves from A to B without much in terms of engaging plot or character development. The story makes some attempts, like with the Archer/T'Pol bonding, but the results are too obvious, pedestrian, and drawn-out with padded scenes (such as the two tied up on the floor of a holding cell for what seems like half the episode). Always-bitter Andorian Shran shows up in a way that seems a tad on the well-timed convenient side and figures into a plot about government corruption that comes to no satisfactory resolution by the end of the story. All in all, this is an episode that inspires more shrugs than anything else.
Shuttlepod One — Air date: 2/13/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.
In one of the season's best outings — well acted by Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating — Trip and Reed are thrust into a survival situation that's convincing from start to finish. The setup misunderstanding — which I originally labeled a bit of a contrivance — works better the more I think about it, thanks to its refreshing lack of needless tech. There's a reliable drama theory: Put a couple actors in a room, supply them with an extreme situation, and watch the personalities emerge. That's exactly what this episode does, straightforwardly and urgently conveyed. We're in sympathy with the situation, fully believing Trip and Reed are freezing and desperate as they work the problem from every limited angle they can. Of particular interest is watching the typically closed-off Reed opening up to Trip, which ultimately ends up creating a friendship. For this streamlined story, less turns out to be so much more.
Fusion — Air date: 2/27/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Rob Hedden.
"Fusion" is odd, frustrating, and occasionally intriguing. There are moments of isolated psychology I like in the episode, as well as a solid performance from Jolene Blalock. Unfortunately, I don't really understand the episode, which is disjointed and unfocused. That may be part of the point, but it comes across as a puzzling hour pieced together from isolated, undercooked ideas. We've got T'Pol with a repressed memory of an emotion — a strand that doesn't get adequately addressed. We've got the idea of a mind-meld brought to the table, but its purpose and standing in Vulcan society are left sketchy. T'Pol believes Vulcans who try to integrate emotions into their lives are akin to ticking time bombs, and the episode seems to agree with her — maybe. I'm honestly not convinced this episode (or the series) really understands the Vulcans and how they work. What's odd is how I get a feeling the point of the episode is to be half-baked. Resolution may simply not be a goal. There are some strange successes in this hour, but ultimately the story is untenable.
Rogue Planet — Air date: 3/20/2002. Teleplay by Chris Black. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Chris Black. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
"Rogue Planet" doesn't make much sense, and you can constantly feel the script's rusty gears grinding beneath the surface of its improbable story. Created as a mystery, the plot has a telepathic shapeshifter appear to Archer as a mysterious woman from his distant memories. The problem is that the woman's motives are totally contrary to the script's: The woman is supposed to be trying to tell Archer something important while the script goes to every conceivable length to conceal all vital information. The result is a story that plods along at snail's pace to reach a conclusion that does little more than make us wonder why we had all the needless smokescreens. The alien hunters are just as inexplicably scripted, hiding information before then suddenly revealing it — with no motivation aside from the fact UPN's next hour of soon-to-be-canceled programming was coming on in 15 minutes. The idea of a rogue planet with lush forest plant life flies in the face of common sense.
Acquisition — Air date: 3/27/2002. Teleplay by Maria Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by James Whitmore, Jr.
Silly Ferengi hijinks characterize a pointless episode that serves as little more than a reminder for why Ferengi episodes are generally lame and unfunny. Most annoying in terms of plot are the facts that the entire crew is disabled with Acme Knock-Out Gas and the fact that Archer lets the Ferengi go at the end of the episode — facts that prompt serious questions about the level of this crew's competence. Aside from that, we've got dumb, interchangeable Ferengi characters doing their usual dumb, lame stuff. Jeffrey Combs does his best to create a new Ferengi character from scratch, but just as for everyone and everything else in the episode, the script does little to support him.
Oasis — Air date: 4/3/2002. Teleplay by Stephen Beck. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Stephen Beck. Directed by Jim Charleston.
Another ho-hum plot is redeemed by acting. The story tries to peddle us a mystery, but who are they kidding — the "twist" at the end of "Oasis" (involving holograms, no less) is fairly obvious and extremely conventional. Fortunately, the characters (aside from T'Pol inexplicably deriding Trip) keep the proceedings pleasant (Trip reveals himself as a gentleman), and the story makes a real effort after revealing its secret to wrap up with genuinely sincere characterization. Rene Auberjonois' character turns out to be a father carrying some deep emotional scars — looking out for the best interests of his daughter but also himself. He wins our sympathy and comes across as a real person, and that almost makes a pedestrian story worth watching.
Detained — Air date: 4/24/2002. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.
I like that "Detained" is allegory done reasonably, but I'm also glad to see it done at all. Trek has gotten farther away from allegory over the years in favor of demographically friendlier action-adventure; every once in a while it's nice to get back to that part of what Trek is (or was) best known for. "Detained" is not groundbreaking or subtle about its intentions, but it is sincere as a cautionary tale about lumping together groups based on the actions of their subsets — a theme of renewed relevance in the post-Sept. 11 world of heightened security. Through Colonel Grat we see a society of borderline paranoids obsessed with knowing who knows what, trying to build the most comprehensive network of intelligence possible. The ends-versus-means argument can be a difficult mindset to combat; Archer does so here by blatantly interfering via jailbreak — another decision that shows why the Prime Directive will become necessary.
Vox Sola — Air date: 5/1/2002. Teleplay by Fred Dekker. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann Dawson.
Plenty of standard-issue plotting almost manages to end up working because of details that seem to feel right. The name of the game is seeking out new lifeforms, and in this episode we get a new lifeform that communicates in a fairly unique way that requires the technical and linguistic acumen of Hoshi and our crew. The ending rings of actual sci-fi, but it's not quite enough to make it completely worth our time; much of the hour plays like a study of the procedural aspects of a Trek story — not bad, but a structure that is familiar to a fault. The Hoshi/T'Pol interaction doesn't measure up.
Fallen Hero — Air date: 5/8/2002. Teleplay by Alan Cross. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Chris Black. Directed by Patrick Norris.
Here's a rare example of an action-chase plot that actually works on the levels of action and chase. The Enterprise is backed into a situation where they must max out the engines at redline — with potentially undesirable results — as they flee from a pursuing pack of bullies with slightly faster ships. Patrick Norris' direction over the latter scenes manages to create some slowly building excitement, particularly with good pacing and cinematography; the test of the Enterprise ends up being surprisingly effective. Meanwhile, the issue of fragile trust between humans and Vulcans is once again revisited when Archer agrees to transport expelled Vulcan ambassador V'Lar from an alien world whose corrupt officials seek to have her returned and executed. Fionnula Flanagan is good as V'Lar, an all-too-rare Vulcan who comes across as a real individual rather than a cut-and-paste job from the Vulcan template. We need more Vulcan characters like V'Lar; Trek has gotten in the habit of thinking Vulcans are boring drones who always speak in detached monotone.
Desert Crossing — Air date: 5/8/2002. Teleplay by Andre Bormanis. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis. Directed by David Straiton.
A mixed bag, which benefits greatly from the fact that Archer's actions in "Detained" come back to affect him here when an apparent terrorist organization asks him to help defend (via preemptive strike, perhaps?) against a society with superior military power. It lays another brick in the road to what will inevitably be the Prime Directive, and it's good to see Archer realize the pattern of his actions. Unfortunately, the story can't bring enough depth to the Israel/Palestine-like situation, and instead turns into a stale and disposable desert survival film that all but has Trip and Archer desperately whispering, "water ... water," as they traipse through the sand under the blearing desert sun. These pervasive desert scenes stop the story in its tracks, and I couldn't help but think how foolish Archer was to take a shuttle down to a camp on this world without having a basic understanding of the world's political situation.
Two Days and Two Nights — Air date: 5/15/2002. Teleplay by Chris Black. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Michael Dorn.
This is simply lightweight goofiness that made me grin. No, it's not deep. No, it's not highly valuable. But it is amusing and earnestly acted — and has one serious plot development that is worthwhile (Archer's story that slightly follows up on "Detained") — so I won't complain about an episode that fares better than most shore-leave shows. The Trip/Malcolm pairing has an amusing male-bonding sensibility that builds on the friendship established in "Shuttlepod One." Yes, it's shallow for the most part, but the actors pull it off. The juggling of four plot threads manages not to fall apart, though the results are variable. Two or even three of these plots would likely not be enough to sustain an hour, but with all four of them we get just enough material to end up with an ensemble piece that makes for an amiable, albeit slight, hour.
Shockwave, Part I — Air date: 5/22/2002. Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
The season ender manages to cap a year of frequently nondescript plots with a truly meaty story that starts with a potently depicted disaster, proceeds into a crisis of the Enterprise's mission and of Archer's resolve, and then takes a turn for the truly bizarre when previously dead Daniels pulls Archer through time and back into the temporal cold war via an assault of new and disturbing information. Key to the success of this episode is how absolutely and unrelentingly seriously the entire show is played. The performances are near-perfect, where we can feel the potential consequences of every ominous plot development piling onto the shoulders of the characters, even as the actors (especially Scott Bakula) dial down with muted acting and effective silences. I don't know where this crazy plot filled with inevitable time paradoxes — and even likely crimes against common sense — is going (it could very well fall apart in part two), but as a setup (despite the fact I'm generally sick of cliffhangers), this is superbly constructed with a spellbinding effect.
Part 2: Season AnalysisThe first season of Enterprise comes across much like the expected shakedown cruise, with the writers trying to get a feel for the premise and characters while not taking huge risks or exposing major ambitions, and not committing to much resembling major Trekkian storytelling lore that I suspect — or at least hope — will eventually be in the pipeline.
It also played its stories pretty safe for the most part. It opted for the tried and true rather than the fresh or exciting or significant. If I had to characterize this first season of Enterprise, I'd say that it's probably on par with the first season of other recent Trek shows, more or less. It accomplished probably what it needed to accomplish, but future seasons are going to have to do more, and do better.
I felt pretty optimistic about Enterprise after watching "Shockwave, Part I" when it aired in May. I don't feel quite so optimistic now, in September, after having written up a bulk of this season recap article. As I said in my original review of "The Andorian Incident," the note they leave an audience at the end is likely going to color feelings on what came before. Since Enterprise ended on what I felt was a high point, the season seemed at the time to have fared pretty well. Looking back on the season from a more objective place now, months after "Shockwave" aired, I also see a season featuring a great deal of pedestrian fare and storyline mediocrity.
Thus, I suppose one theme for this freshman season of Trek's fifth series is Derivative Plots Decently Executed. Lots of mediocre, middling, or kinda/pretty-good episodes; only a handful of obvious clunkers or reaches for excellence. Reading over the capsule reviews seen above, I notice the high frequency of phrases like "another routine plot" or "standard-issue plot" or "ho-hum plot" and so forth. I almost want to go back and rewrite so I don't sound so much like a broken record. But, no — that would be dishonest, methinks; if I had that recurring qualm with the shows this year, the brief recaps should reflect as much.
So, then. If there's an obvious drawback to Enterprise right now, it's that many stories feel like they've been done before. But of course they have; before the cameras for Enterprise even started rolling there were already 24 seasons of Star Trek in the can, which, without wasting time on precise arithmetic, I quickly estimate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 hours, all of which I've seen at least once (and in most cases more than once). That's kinda scary.
Anyway, the point is: There probably is very nearly no such thing as a new plot. There are only plots that seem new. Part of why I liked "Shockwave" is that it felt fresh and interesting, despite the fact time travel has been done about a million times. So I guess what Enterprise should have as a goal is to seem new and interesting as often possible.
Before the show started, there was a lot of press about Enterprise being a grand departure. "This is not your father's Star Trek," Berman or Braga or somebody said. "This show is going to be a little more contemporary, a little sexier." And so on. What I find is that the show really isn't at all different in its style. In the stylistic department it's very similar to a Voyager production, probably because it has many of the Voyager production forces behind it.
Fine and good. Voyager was a terrific production, even though the storytelling had some problems. Why change something that works? Enterprise, as a production, is probably about as good as it can be; its production staff has years and years of experience behind it and the budget to do the sort of thing few sci-fi TV series can do. You can look at the screen during "Broken Bow" and see a visually stunning show — there's a reason it won an Emmy this week. But let's face it — production was probably never a question when it came to this series.
Season one and writing trends
So that brings us back to ... writing. What can I say? It needs some work. The writing isn't bad, but it often strikes me as very safe and conventional; as a result, new Trek persists in seeming like a conservative enterprise. DS9 took some big risks with war and good-versus-evil melodrama; some of it paid high dividends. Enterprise seems (at least so far) to be following in the footsteps of Voyager, using Trek's characteristics to tell competent and mildly entertaining stories, but without really building upon the mythos with new ideas.
Part of that probably has to do with this series' chosen premise. Being the prequel to everything that's already written in the Trek history books, it has to know less rather than more. The show must look back and consider the history rather than going forward with something different. In theory, the show would set up what will eventually become everything that has already followed it.
Part of the criticism leveled at the show (and justly so on occasion) is that Enterprise seems content to pick and choose when it limits itself by the pre-established material and when it doesn't. For example, in "Acquisition" we're told the Enterprise met the Ferengi, something that goes against what we knew from TNG. Sure, we can use loopholes to argue the show out of that contradiction, but we shouldn't need to do that; the writers shouldn't sacrifice credibility by contradicting the canon in the first place, unless there's a really good reason. The big picture must be maintained.
I'd like to say that in my opinion, for the most part, the show hasn't egregiously violated the established Trek canon. I've never been a stickler on minor details (don't sweat the small stuff, they say), because the writers must be somewhat free to tell their stories and not be trapped by too-rigid boundaries. But I do object to major contradictions; so far, Enterprise has managed to avoid them.
It's worth noting, however, that the Vulcans are controversial in this regard. Since humanity is just getting out into deep space, the Vulcans have been major players on this series and will undoubtedly continue to be. They were depicted this season as simultaneously humanity's best friend and worst enemy — a barrier that, we suspect, keeps humans from doing stupid things, but also acts like an overprotective parent unwilling to let the children grow up and make their own mistakes. Vulcans are a major part of Trek history, and their presence on Enterprise has been intensely debated; some hate the way the Vulcans are depicted, while others think it's a step in an interesting direction.
My own thoughts lie somewhere in between. I felt "Broken Bow" had a forced conflict; the Vulcans seemed like an artificial barrier to human progress. But the human/Vulcan conflict serves as a reminder that humans are at the bottom of the power structure here, as opposed to in the other series where we were apparently near the top. That's a formula for some interesting new perspectives, as seen, for example, in "Dear Doctor," where the knee-jerk human desire for helping does not necessarily consider all the important questions.
Still, I'm not so sure this series understands the Vulcans — either the previous series' versions or their own. I point to "Fusion" as an example, which took the whole logic-versus-emotion issue and muddled it beyond comprehension, in addition to telling us mind-melds are presently an abandoned concept. We've also learned that at least some Vulcans are apparently paranoid spies ("Andorian Incident") and maybe (allegedly) tamper with independent governments ("Shadows of P'Jem"). We've also been given the regular character T'Pol, who today is the typical Vulcan character — striking me a little too much like a monotone Seven of Nine-like Borg drone. Spock was ultra-cool. Vulcans today can be ultra-boring. V'Lar, in "Fallen Hero," was a refreshing exception to the current rule; if the writers can come up with Vulcans who are interesting individuals rather than bland, we'll be in better shape. For now, the Vulcans are not interesting people so much as functions of the plot — to be objects of conflict for Starfleet. All in all, that leaves me in the middle, because the Vulcans are close enough to Trek's original concept to still be believable as Vulcans while at the same time something Enterprise can mine for its own purposes. It just has me wondering where it's all going and if it can work.
Moving along, let's talk about technology. One thing I think this season got right was its restrained use of technology and how that has affected the stories. Part of past problems with the ever-expanding technology of the Star Trek universe — particularly Voyager — is that tech made more and more problems too easily solvable with technology. If the characters were tech-dependent, then the writers were even more so. Enterprise is a step in the other direction and I think the series benefits as a result.
One early promise made by the writers was that there would be a minimum of technobabble on this series. For the most part, I'm happy to say they kept that promise. This series has just about as little technobabble as I would've hoped, a noticeable decrease from recent years. Also, I applaud the commitment made by the writers (aside from a few episodes, especially early in the season) to avoid use of the transporter, which consequently feels more like technology than a crutch to solve plot problems at the last minute. Likewise, showing the Enterprise as continuously outgunned makes it necessary for our crew to think, improvise, and sometimes retreat. "Silent Enemy," despite its missteps, is a decent tech episode because it doesn't take strong weapons for granted. The strong weapons must be installed and tested for the first time, and it comes across as real work instead of a magic wand.
Another big issue and lesson for our crew this season — and perhaps the most significant thread apart from the mechanics of the temporal cold war — was the slowly growing realization that we are on track for something that will eventually become the Prime Directive. We saw the seeds planted in several episodes, whether it was idle dialog in "Civilization" or more explicit examination in "Dear Doctor." Archer even saw his actions come back to bite him after he sparked a Suliban jailbreak in "Detained," which paved the way for the appeal for his help in "Desert Crossing" and also minor repercussions in "Two Days and Two Nights." The acceleration of the allusions to the currently nonexistent Prime Directive plays well to my hope that the writers are thinking in terms of larger Trekkian lore.
The cast and characters
Many plots this season were disposable, but they often worked as vessels for the characters. Surprisingly, this series has managed fairly well in the character-development arena. From day one it was clear this series had chosen its "big three" in Archer, Tucker, and T'Pol, who get the most apparent focus and most screen time. Scott Bakula is effective as series captain who wants to forge ahead, even though Archer sometimes makes questionable decisions I wish the stories would hold him more accountable for. I like Tucker's persona — the straight-shooter and everyman plus charisma — and Connor Trinneer is a standout in the cast with some acting chops that can redeem potentially bland shows like "Strange New World." Jolene Blalock has proven capable in a role that can sometimes be the show's most thankless; T'Pol is often uninteresting because the writers reduce her to overly calculated monotone. (I still think Vulcans can suppress their emotions without needing to sound completely serene and indifferent.) Still, Blalock has shown ability despite the limits in her character; "Fusion," with all its drawbacks, was one of her best performances, and the character worked well vis-a-vis Archer in "Shockwave."
The supporting characters have also enjoyed some admirable attention. Young Hoshi got a fair amount of exposure, starting early with "Fight or Flight" and then continuing in supporting roles in "Sleeping Dogs" and "Vox Sola." John Billingsley's Doctor Phlox is a good and amiable take on the Trek-archetype alien outsider — very well employed in "Dear Doctor," the season's best outing. Lt. Reed was a quiet presence early on (who liked mostly to blow things up, always a respectable quality in my eyes) but received higher profile with "Shuttlepod One," another season highlight. The disappointment at this juncture is Ensign Mayweather, the most clearly underdeveloped, with only "Fortunate Son" serving as an attempt to find out who this guy is or give him personality.
All in all, I believe this series has quite an asset in its cast, which in my opinion is just as good as any previous Trek cast overall.
The bigger picture
Turning to the Big Picture: The truth is, what I really hope to see in Enterprise has not yet even begun to surface — nor did I expect to see it start in this first season. Indeed, we may not see it for some time. What I'm talking about is the real concept of "Star Trek prequel" mined for what it's truly worth. As time goes on, this series — if it wants to live up to its premise and potential — is going to need to get down to business asking and answering some serious questions that deserve serious analysis. It's going to need some gradually built DS9-style political and societal depth in addition to the Voyager-style adventure and exploration.
Questions will need to emerge, such as: What happens when Starfleet starts building and deploying more warp-5 ships that are as fast or faster than the Enterprise? How will the interstellar community interact or be developed as more and more humans venture into space? How will the Vulcans grow to accept humans in this community, and how will humans come to better coexist with the Vulcans? Lastly, and doubtlessly most significantly (and way down the road): How will all of this lead to the founding of the Federation, where Earth will be a key member? The Enterprise, right now, is out here alone taking baby steps, but I'll find their mission much more interesting when the show hopefully starts developing threads like these, using continuity to show progress. Yes, there's still time to bide, but many of these issues should unfold over time, hopefully spanning seasons, and the seeds should be planted early and with subtlety. (What we don't want is an Andromeda-like debacle where superficial action hijacks the show and the Commonwealth gets built, seemingly, in an a single episode with unconvincing dialog.)
The show would also benefit by taking a look backward. I feel already that the 90-year gap between First Contact and "Broken Bow" has been sorely overlooked. What really happened in all that time? How did Starfleet come about and what did it do prior to the warp-5 Enterprise? "Terra Nova" was remiss by not tackling such issues when it had an underlying concept that easily could've. It's certainly not too late to go back and correct that oversight. Standalone adventures are okay, but a balance with larger-minded material is going to be a necessity. The temporal cold war so far is an intriguing tech-and-time plot that creates an entertaining jigsaw puzzle, but it's more of an adventure gimmick and a comic-book distraction (not to mention a perilous trip into timeline-manipulation territory that could turn this show into an X-Files-like mess of questions and non-answers) when one compares it to the "real" questions this series will need to start asking and answering at some point.
Enterprise has a lot it can do and presumably a long time left to do it. I'm not particularly disappointed that season one didn't exceed the requirements of a shakedown, but I do think the writers, in considering bigger questions rather than spending time on so much of the nondescript Trek fare we've seen in season one, could give themselves a momentum boost and get this series on an interesting track. The second season might not be a bad time to start planting the seeds for more significant developments. We shall see. Season two begins in ... yikes — less than an hour.
Next: Season 2