Saturday, January 25, 2014

Too Little, Too Late; Fortunately, Even All Bad Things Come To An End: Star Trek: Enterprise Season Four!

The Good: Storylines try to use Star Trek lore
The Bad: Terrible acting, Lack of character development, Sense of desperation
The Basics: On its final legs, the NX-01 Enterprise returns to the Star Trek universe to try to repair the damage of the prior three seasons and still fails.

Having fairly gutted the Star Trek canon with Temporal Wars, Xindi, and appearances by races that had no business preceding Kirk's times, Star Trek Enterprise had lost a large portion of its audience and it looked like it was going to utterly fail. Miraculously, the show was picked up for a fourth and final season and the producers must have sensed their time was limited. Brannon "I hate the original Star Trek" Braga was replaced in the writer's room by Manny Coto, a writer who had great respect for Star Trek. It fell to Coto to save the series and while Star Trek Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season is easily the best in the NX-01's storyline, it is too little, too late.

Having destroyed the Delphic Expanse and rescued humanity as we know it, Captain Archer and his crew are forced to deal with the final twist from Season 3, that behind all the conspiracies were alien Nazis. No, no one could have realistically seen that one coming. Sadly, Coto's first task is to clean up the mess left at the end of the prior season and the first two episodes seek to do that. They manage to sweep the Temporal War up under the rug (finally) and the NX-01 goes on from there.

Where the Enterprise goes is into more familiar territory. Sort of. Following their debriefing on an Earth that is suddenly rather anti-alien, the Enterprise leaves to find genetic supermen like Khan, Orion slave girls, Vulcans who are working to reform their society around logic, and we finally learn why Klingons look different in Star Trek than in all of the other incarnations of the franchise. And it all leads up to an unreasonably bad series finale.

Is it worth it? No. Coto is a gifted writer and exec, but the efforts to save the show come far too late and the attempt to rewrite the prior three years of television catastrophe still force him to deal with those premises established for the previous three years. So, for example, from the series premiere of Enterprise, the Vulcans behaved in rather un-Vulcan-like ways. They were a factionalized society that was not terribly logical duking it out between factions that were solidly into mysticism and the other into political and social control. Coto is forced to deal with that disparity in the Trek pantheon and the resulting three-parter ("The Forge," "Awakening," and "Kir'Shara") explains the phenomenon, but doesn't make it work any better in the overall tapestry. That is to say that despite the "Temporal Cold War" being written out, Enterprise still finds itself stuck in the universe of Enterprise as opposed to Star Trek. To try to make those two creative visions come together, things like the illogical Vulcans have to be dealt with and even dealing with that undermines the Star Trek universe. In short, Coto is stuck in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. After ending the Temporal Cold War, he (presumably) had the choice to restart the series from the beginning - doing it right - or doing his best to correct the problems and go forward from there. He chose (or it was chosen for him) the latter. All that could have saved the series was the former. All that could have saved Star Trek Enterprise was Patrick Duffy in the shower.

But what we have instead is season four of Star Trek Enterprise and in it, the Vulcans overcome their lying tendencies and embrace both mysticism and logic to become the Vulcans we know from Star Trek. The Klingons become infected with a genetic condition which make them look more human, which sets up the Klingons in Star Trek, but does not explain how the Klingons from Star Trek that we see later on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine make the transformation back. And ultimately, xenophobes on Earth must be thwarted to bring the Federation into being.

The latter concept is pretty much lifted right from the playbook of Babylon 5, which Coto was associated with. Babylon 5, which knew where it was going and what it was doing, did it much better because of who the people in the B5 universe were. In Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future in Star Trek and especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, humanity came together after the third world war and made something of itself and headed off in a positive and progressive direction. In the Berman/Braga Trek universe, that didn't happen. Coto tries to negotiate between the two, but as previously stated, this is a tough order that comes too late.

The acting throughout the fourth season of Enterprise is almost homogeneously bad, with Scott Bakula continuing to play Jonathan Archer as largely stiff and Jolene Blalock continuing to play the Vulcan T'Pol with far too much emotion. In the twenty-two episodes of Star Trek Enterprise Season 4, there are no superlative performances.

Here is where the show finds the characters, though:

Captain Jonathan Archer - Having survived the Xindi attempt to make a superweapon doomsday machine, he helps reset the timeline, then finds himself inside a catalog of Star Trek backstories where he blusters his way through,

T'Pol - Outside an arc where she helps save the Vulcan people, her purpose seems mostly to continue to develop a relationship with Commander Tucker,

Trip Tucker - He continues his relationship with T'Pol,

Malcolm Reed - He shows up and shoots things,

Hoshi Sato - She occasionally shows up to translate something,

Travis Mayweather - After being captured in the season premiere, his next big contribution is to help sniff out the xenophobes in the series' final arcs,

and Dr. Phlox - He continues to work medical magic for the crew and later for the Klingons.

Of note, the mirror universe from Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is featured in two later episodes of the series ("In a Mirror, Darkly - I and II") and the writers are careful and clever about how it is approached.

Even that, though, is not enough to make this set worth recommending. From day one, Enterprise tried to mortgage its original Star Trek audience. Creatively, they established a universe unlike what Star Trek fans were used to and comfortable with. The NX-01 was never a logical predecessor to the NCC-1701 and none of the equipment looked to precede Captain Pike's. Star Trek Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season is the last ditch attempt by the creative minds behind the series to woo back the fans it forsook at the outset.

It's not enough.

For more information on this season of television, please visit the reviews of each episode in the set at:
Storm Front
Storm Front, Part 2
Cold Station 12
The Augments
The Forge
Observer Effect
Babel One
The Aenar
In A Mirror Darkly, Part 1
In A Mirror Darkly, Part 2
Terra Prime
These Are The Voyages . . .


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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