Friday, March 16, 2018

Enterprise 1x7 "The Andorian Incident"

rating: ****

the story: The crew finds itself in the middle of a conflict between Vulcans and Andorians.

what it's all about: If the first handful of Enterprise episodes seemed tentative, "The Andorian Incident" kicked the door down.  It brought back in sensational fashion aliens who'd appeared in the original series ("Journey to Babel"), unique in their appearance, and yet only glimpsed in the four series and nine films that followed.  Even if this had been a one-off appearance (and it certainly wasn't), "Incident" would still have been a monumental moment.

But let's put aside the Andorians for a moment.  It's the Vulcans who really got the initial benefit from the episode.  The pilot of the series introduced the premise that humans and Vulcans were at odds, a shocking development for fans accustomed to thinking of them as steady allies, that reassuring image of Kirk and Spock as best friends among the most famous legacies of the franchise.  Yet the Vulcans of Enterprise were suspicious of humans, distrustful of their maturity.  But what about the Vulcans themselves?  This was the first opportunity to see them at their own level.  We discover that they are actually on the defensive, more scared of their Andorian neighbors than concerned about humans.  In fact, "Incident" might be said to explain why Vulcans behave toward humans they way they do in Enterprise, because they're afraid they've found another Andorian problem.

All of this is to say, the Andorians are actually good guys in this episode.  Even if you need to trace back from what happens after this episode, the relationship that develops between Archer and Shran and how it helps build the foundation of the Federation, you can see that for yourself.  If "Incident" itself seems to have antagonistic Andorians, it's only because they're trying to expose Vulcan deceit, and Archer gets caught in the middle.  (And even there, you can see the seeds of the future, where the series posits humans as gaining their intergalactic significance mostly for helping solve conflicts like this between the more established players, including the Tellarites.)

It's also well worth talking about Shran himself.  Jeffrey Combs, the actor who plays him, had already had two recurring roles in Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi Brunt and the Vorta Weyoun.  He gave two different performances in those roles, and he produced a third one, a far more volatile one, for Shran, and he gave new energy to Enterprise itself through it.  Without him the Andorians would still have been a notable appearance for the series, but even on his credibility alone he gave them additional meaning, and by portraying Shran with enthusiasm he made the character seem all the more important.  Simply put, he made a big moment bigger, and in a lot of ways he singlehandedly gave the series its impetus to break out into more serialized storytelling, using him as a template in its third and fourth seasons. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Reclaiming Andorians as signature Star Trek aliens.
  • series - And ensuring their significance to Enterprise itself.
  • character - The introduction of Shran, who would become a defining recurring character.
  • essential - In a lot of ways, a more important episode than even "Broken Bow" in the early series.
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Shran)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Enterprise 1x6 "Terra Nova"

rating: **

the story: The crew makes contact with a colony that was cut off from Earth seventy years previous.

what it's all about: "Terra Nova" would've been a great episode if it'd chosen to do a few things differently.  The choice to depict the colonists as thoroughly removed from their origins as they are is the biggest failing.  It makes them seem more episodic than they needed to be, and removes any real trace of world-building that the episode otherwise accomplishes, much like Voyager's similar "Friendship One."  In fact, it's hard to think of the two episodes separately.  They might as well be viewed as so intrinsically linked, Enterprise might have been conceived to set up "Terra Nova."  Well, you know what I mean.  "Friendship One" is about a probe that ended up in the Delta Quadrant, and things went poorly.  "Terra Nova" is about a remote colony, and things went poorly.  And then a Starfleet crew shows up to find out what happened, and discovers a crisis.  It's a setup to many other episodes, too, but "Friendship" is from the last season of Voyager, and this one's from Enterprise's first, obviously.  It's hard to imagine the producers not realizing the connection. 

This very well could've been the plot to a whole season, if Enterprise had been launched just a few years later.  A lost colony feeling resentful about its relationship with's really not very different from early colonial America, and only a few steps removed from the American Revolution itself.  Did Babylon 5 do something like that, with Mars?  I think so.  It gives you an idea of how broadening the concept just a little could've changed things.

Heck, even having Mayweather, the boomer who grew up in space, be connected could've changed things.  But Mayweather's value was frequently overlooked, throughout the series, and this is just one of those missed opportunities.

But you can see where it wasn't a total waste. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - That invisible link to one of Voyager's final episodes.
  • series - A suggestion of what might have been.
  • character - A missed opportunity with Mayweather.
  • essential - Seems like just another episode when it could've been much more.
notable guest-stars:
Erick Avery

Enterprise 1x5 "Unexpected"

rating: **

the story: Trip ends up impregnated...

what it's all about: There are things that sound fantastic in theory that when executed...Early in Voyager's run, Tom Paris is convicted of having an affair on an alien world ("Ex Post Facto"), a decision that painted him in a negative light.  The episode itself is similar to an experience Riker had had in Next Generation, and in general linked both of them with Kirk's famous reputation as a ladies man in the original series.  Paris additionally was established as a rogue figure from the start, but what exactly that meant seemed difficult to pin down past his introduction, and again, the affair seemed to further define that negatively, an uncomfortable thing for Star Trek fans to watch, in a franchise that generally kept its characters likable. 

What I'm trying to say is, that brief summary of "Unexpected" above is pretty much the only thing anyone was ever going to take from it.  It's like a gag.  Trip was established from the start as one of Enterprise's most important characters.  He filled the "country boy" role Bones had in the original series, but he was also established as one of the more na├»ve passengers of this maiden Starfleet voyage, and "Unexpected" revealed just how inexperienced he really was, and how much trouble that could cause.  Later, in the second season, the series would be able to tap into that to much better effect ("Cogenitor"), but early on it just seemed as if embarrassing him was the best way to do it.  In plain words, it wasn't very flattering, if the only thing you took away from it was the most obvious elements.  Like the fact that he got, well, pregnant. 

The story around this works better.  It's fun watching him experience the laborious environmental acclimation process, something that was similar to the infamous decon scenes in the pilot but less uncomfortable to watch.  This was material intrinsic to selling the series as early Starfleet experiences, less streamlined than how things would operate in the original series.  Trip's reluctance and then eagerness to experience an alien ship are much more the story than the pregnancy.  By the time we reach that point, it's really just a metaphor about how awkward and truly alien the experience has really been.

Then of course we reach the Klingons, another callback to the pilot.  Archer reminds them what he did for the Empire, and he gets a terse acknowledgement but then a warning not to expect a continued free pass from it.  It's a nice bit of development, both in terms of what happened previously, what will happen in the next few seasons, and the state of Federation/Empire affairs as it exists in Kirk's time. 

...But of course, perception of the episode is basically, "Trip got pregnant!!!" and the aliens possessing holographic technology, which some fans felt uncomfortable about.  But some fans will never be satisfied unless they're unsatisfied about something, regardless of whether or not there's really something to be unsatisfied about...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Given the nature of the material, it's hard to recommend to casual viewers.
  • series - Yet it makes perfect sense in the context of early Enterprise.
  • character - It's also a wonderful spotlight for Trip.
  • essential - Even if to the untrained eye it seems less than flattering.
notable guest-stars:
Randy Oglesby

Friday, March 9, 2018

Enterprise 1x4 "Strange New World"

rating: ***

the story: An away team becomes stranded on a planet and begins to grow paranoid.

what it's all about: In hindsight, "Strange New World" would probably have made a better first regular episode for the series.  It addresses the tension of having T'Pol among the crew and demonstrates the limits of the crew's technology, featuring a scenario where the transporter is necessary but problematic, and allows characters to talk freely so we get to know them outside their shipboard functions. 

It's one thing to have a setup where humans are resentful of Vulcans, but another to internalize it, and this is basically the one episode where the series allows anyone to question T'Pol herself, even if there's an elaborate excuse for it.  With everyone's trust being warn away by an infection, Trip gives full vent to his biggest fears concerning her, that T'Pol is only there to further hold back Starfleet's mission.

The campfire scene, before that, when Mayweather's telling a ghost story and we meet Cutler for the first time, is an early defining moment for the series.  This never happens in any series previously.  There'd never been a feeling of such informality allowed in a Starfleet crew, and it's another keen reminder of the fact that we're watching people who have none of the history we've come to rely on, that they're closer to our time than they are to Kirk's.  There's also a nice bit of symmetry there, too, from another campfire scene, one of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier's best moments, in which old friends are merely enjoying each other's company.  If there's one regret for this series, it's that there wasn't another campfire moment in its final season.  Would've been fitting.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A crew handicapped by its reluctance to use a transporter!
  • series - A personable early approach to the crew.
  • character - Trip and T'Pol in an early bump in the road for their relationship.
  • essential - That's a missed opportunity.  If it had been written as a Trip and T'Pol episode, rather than one that features them in one particular moment, it would have greater lasting impact.
notable guest-stars:
Kellie Waymire (Cutler)

Enterprise 1x3 "Fight or Flight"

rating: **

the story: The crew encounters a derelict ship and attempts to figure out what happened to its crew.

what it's all about: Actually, describing the episode like that is actually a selling point for 'Fight or Flight," and how it relates to Enterprise and contrasts with many similar episodes throughout the franchise.  Usually, it's a setup for an episodic mystery of no lasting importance.  Here, it helps set the series apart and justify its premise.  Granted, in keeping it an episodic experience, never following up on either the mystery assailants or the Axanar they come across (the Axanar are a relatively known species in franchise lore, but never really explored), its impact is diminished.

While the crew's responses to the events are pivotal to the episode, it mostly follows Hoshi, who's depicted as the most reluctant officer to be traveling on this voyage.  Her scenes can come across as obvious (the slug analogy) or even cloying.  But if you can get past that, it really is the crew in general being tested here, and thus the inexperience of Starfleet itself.  It just seems too tentative an episode to be the first regular one of the series.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It's a nice contrast to similar episodes across every series, but if you don't realize that it is, you probably won't notice or appreciate the fact while watching it.
  • series - Which is a good thing, because that means it's successful in drawing on its Enterprise context.
  • character - Hoshi has the uncomfortable distinction of embodying the inexperienced Starfleet around her.
  • essential - There's a lot of missed opportunities in its wake, in that it ends up existing in a vacuum in a series that was generally good at closing such loops.

Enterprise 1x1/1x2 "Broken Bow"

rating: ****

the story: The budding Starfleet finds itself in a crisis with the Klingons...instigated by participants of the Temporal Cold War.

what it's all about: The pilot of any Star Trek series is almost by definition essential viewing, as it establishes the premise and characters and therefore the context that will set it apart, even when it seems, as even many fans tend to think, it looks like business as usual, a voyage of exploration.  In fact, only one series in the franchise hasn't been one of those voyages, Deep Space Nine, even that one had vast new territory teased in its first episode, the Gamma Quadrant, which would be the source of a lot of later material.  "Broken Bow" immediately established Enterprise as a prequel, first in Star Trek history, insofar as its events are set before the classic adventures of the original series (later, Discovery would become the second, with less than a decade separating it from them). 

Now, a lot of fans, who tended to be upset about just about everything by this point, and had been since about the time Kirk died in Star Trek Generations (though you'd be hard-pressed to find any of them admit that; they're more apt to express "disappointment" in that event, the first stage of fan resentment and then outright disgruntlement), thought that if anything, the timeline ought to be advanced forward.  And "Broken Bow" does that, too, with the Temporal Cold War.  And yet fans rejected that, too, because...I don't know.  I really don't.  I can argue logics all day long here.  I can argue that the very technology that looked futuristic in the '60s was actually in large part in everyday households by 2001.  The cleverest thing Enterprise did was actually to embrace the tech that was still years and years in the future, and how exotic it remains as a concept, even if variations on it had resulted in Star Trek's competition like Stargate: the transporter.  In setting the series at a time when classic Star Trek tech was in its infancy, it allowed a classic franchise fear to meet a point when it was most justified, and it proves a key point in the pilot and throughout the rest of the series. 

And this is probably something that's best appreciated when it's pointed out.  So, too, is the fact that Enterprise actually serves best as a sequel.  Yeah, not as a prequel.  As, first and foremost, it's a follow-up to Star Trek: First Contact.  This was the most successful of the Next Generation movies, and memorably ends with humanity's introduction to the most iconic of Star Trek aliens, the Vulcans.  And yet again, Enterprise serves up a curveball, which predictably irked fans: they didn't become fast friends.  In fact, they didn't much like each other at all.  And again, I don't really see how this tracks; we see humans react with bigotry in the original series, whether in "The Galileo Seven" or "Balance of Terror," which is not even to mention that Spock was apparently the lone Vulcan in Kirk's crew, with only a fleeting reference to an entirely Vulcan crew in another episode. 

So as far as I'm concerned, the logic is more than sound, and bursting with fulfilled (as far as I'm concerned) potential.  We even get to see Cochrane in the pilot (and in the final season, a twist on First Contact's historic moment that creates the Mirror Universe in the two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly").

The rest is adventure and setup.  We meet Archer, T'Pol, Trip (deliberately featured as the three main characters in parallel to Kirk, Spock, and Bones), and the rest of the crew.  Phlox immediately stands out, as he will as the fourth lead, like Scotty, the rest of the series.  We're introduced to "Future Guy" and his minion Silik.  There's also Soval and Forrest, who will have major supporting roles the duration of the series.  And to round all that out, it's also prelude to an enduring conflict with the Klingons.

But yeah, the scene that sticks out most is decon with Trip and T'Pol, which was greeted with outrage.  I don't even know how this happens, except that persistent puritanical regression impulse peculiar to Americans.  The original series is littered with sexual imagery and a shameless ladies man as the lead character, and yet fans became increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed by this legacy. 

Basically, the first thing you need to overcome in getting into Star Trek is the opinion of other fans.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - See how the legacy of Starfleet begins!
  • series - See how the crew launches its voyage!
  • character - Aside from Sisko, it's hard to find a main character in Star Trek with their initial motivation spelled out better than Jonathan Archer.
  • essential - A fascinating conflux of past, present and future.
notable guest-stars:
John Fleck (Silik)
Gary Graham (Soval)
Vaughn Armstrong (Forrest)
James Cromwell (Cochrane)
James Horan ("Future Guy")
Thomas Kopache

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Voyager 7x25/7x26 "Endgame"

rating: ****

the story: The crew faces one last great shortcut home...but it goes through the Borg and...Admiral Janeway?

what it's all about: Like the rest of the series, Voyager's final episode proved controversial, difficult to like among fans.  Some of them merely singled out parallel elements from Next Generation's finale (a new relationship: Chakotay and Seven/Worf and Troi; a degenerative illness: Tuvok/Picard; a time travel element, different time periods), and thought it merely derivative.  Some were actually upset they didn't get to see just a little more, the crew reuniting with family.  Some were, as they'd been since the third season, upset that the series was still pretending it had something to say about the Borg.  And some still just didn't like Janeway, much less two of them.

To which I say: humbug.  It's surprising, really, how many of Star Trek fan complaints amount to so much humbug, a stubborn insistence to be grumpy, a trend that has grown more and more prevalent among fan cultures of any extraction in recent years, and so Voyager ought to celebrate being at the vanguard of such a movement, no matter how dubious the honor.

I say humbug, too, because this is a perfect ending to the series.  It is a parallel, to the first episode of Voyager.  Janeway has to make a difficult decision that will determine when they get home.  In "Caretaker," she makes a principled stand, a correctly Starfleet one, that strands her ship seventy thousand lightyears from home, so that if it took the full length of time none of the crew would be alive to actually reach it, that it would end up being a generational journey.  By the end of the series, two children had been born into the crew, Naomi Wildman and Miral Paris, whose birth actually occurs in "Endgame."  Throughout the series, Janeway had also struggled with that original decision, notably in "The 37s" and "Night." 

"Endgame" is a chance to revisit it, and once and for all determine whether she made the right call.  But she has help this time.  Namely, herself.  Future Janeway, or as she's known Admiral Janeway, has actually once and for decided she made the wrong one.  Ultimately, one of them has to pay the price.  It might seem cheap for it to be Admiral Janeway, since her timeline ends up being erased anyway, but this is a franchise that has long celebrated such sacrifices, most memorably in Deep Space Nine's "The Visitor," and even in Voyager's own "Timeless," which "Endgame" also parallels and serves as a spiritual sequel.  In that one, it's an older Harry Kim who goes back to fix things, and it's the best Harry appearance of the series.  While Janeway can't quite claim that honor with "Endgame," it's still among her strongest episodes, precisely because it does force her to decide, once and for all, if she was right in "Caretaker."  It's a bold call to say she thinks, at least, that she wasn't.  But she also has an opportunity she didn't then, the classic "have your cake and eat it, too," which results in a dramatically memorable trip home in a metaphorical belly of the whale, a Borg cube that the ship quickly emerges home territory at last.

For a series that long chased truly cinematic moments, knowing like Deep Space Nine before it that there were likely no movies in its future, it's a truly achieved objective.  Getting Alice Krige to reprise the Borg Queen one last time, regardless of whether or not it's a final defeat of the Borg, at least gives the series another long-held objective of giving Janeway a defining win over the Collective, building on everything that had come before it. 

All that and more is why I love "Endgame," and the series around it.  It's a strong final episode, arguably the most appropriate one of the whole franchise, accomplishing in grand fashion what might have been inevitable, but never guaranteed to be so memorable. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A series finale that completes the story exactly as expected but still manages to surprise.  In that sense, totally unique in Star Trek lore.
  • series - Parallels the very first episode in a deliberate fashion.
  • character - Allows Janeway to finish an argument she's had with herself since the beginning.
  • essential - To see how the crew gets home, especially that spectacular final sequence, really has to be seen to be believed.
notable guest-stars:
Kate Mulgrew (Admiral Janeway)
Ethan Phillips (Neelix)
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)
Richard Herd (Admiral Paris)
Dwight Schultz (Barclay)
Alice Krige (Borg Queen)
Vaughn Armstrong
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