Thursday, August 26, 2010

Star Trek: Enterprise Season One

Everyone remembers the fall of 2001. The new millennium wasted little time in making history, and Star Trek had nothing to do with it. Yet that’s also when the fifth live action TV series in franchise history launched, at the time hotly anticipated, at last a moment when all the fans seemed to be buzzing with positive energy again, arguably for the first time since 1993, when Deep Space Nine launched. Yet the enthusiasm, as everyone would soon realize, would be short-lived.

1x1/1x2 “Broken Bow”
Set a hundred years before the original series, the new show was a prequel in a post-Phantom Menace world, two years after the second Star Wars trilogy began, a trilogy that would alienate old fans just as much as Star Trek had been doing for at least the last half decade. It must have seemed like a great idea at the time, like Deep Space Nine after Next Generation, or Voyager after Deep Space Nine, a series that would be the total opposite of what had come before. Instead of being purposefully cut off from everything familiar, this one would be totally immersed in established continuity. Like the Year One stories that would ironically become popular with James Bond and Batman just a few years later, around the time Enterprise, in fact, sputtered out, this show would help establish how everything came to be, less like the origin of Darth Vader, more like how all those wonderful toys came to be. Set at a time when Earth was really starting to capitalize on the events of the popular Star Trek: First Contact (James Cromwell even cameos as Zephram Cochrane), the son of the man who prepares Starfleet’s future with a new warp-five engine, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) sets out as the first deep-space captain, launching the first of the fleet’s famous line of ships called Enterprise. Together with skeptical Vulcans, represented by reluctant first officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and swarming with Klingons as recognizable foils, the premiere also presents an element of the unfamiliar, a temporal cold war meant to link what viewers would think of as the future with its past, an attempt to cover tracks for those who might share Vulcan tendencies. It’s certainly a bold move, one that links Enterprise both to Voyager and Deep Space Nine in its basic approach, so that recent fans might have some immediate ties to deal with, as well as a clear connection to the original series, which it both anticipates and emulates at every opportunity. It’s a heck of a gamble, anyway. Making their debuts in recurring roles are Vaughn Armstrong (as a human for a change, Admiral Maxwell Forrest), John Fleck (Silik, representing the new alien threat, the Suliban, and the Temporal Cold War in general) Gary Graham (Soval, the Vulcan who oversees this endeavor), and James Horan (as a figure who would be unofficially dubbed Future Guy, the very face of mystery, even though, technically, his face would never be seen).

1x3 “Fight or Flight”
Linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) takes the spotlight in this metaphorical episode that helps the crew, and audiences, take a breath after the pilot and make sure that this is a journey that’s really worth the risk. Hoshi decides that it is.

1x4 “Strange New World”
The transporter, long a staple in the franchise, is still a relatively new gadget, and this episode is all about the anxieties that infest the crew over it, plus a few feelings of mistrust toward that pesky Vulcan first officer. Kellie Waymire makes her debut as Elizabeth Cutler.

1x5 “Unexpected”
Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Conner Trinneer), whom I would consider the series MVP (and not just because he dominates, at least, the second season, and pretty much carries on for the next two as well), finally enters the spotlight, in what would become a trademark sticky situation, with the kind of educated innocence that defined the series, accidentally getting himself pregnant. But of course, this is also the episode that started some fans on the path to rejection, because it’s the first real instance of an apparent contradiction with franchise lore, something that was bound to happen with a premise like this one. What Enterprise would help crystallize was that fans were fickle for reasons that would never in a million years have been important, especially during the three seasons of the original series, which clearly made up most of its rules on the fly. Yet given thirty-five years (at that time), it was now possible to decide Star Trek wasn’t worth watching not because of the quality of the product (this from fans who made the franchise despite an evident decline three years into the experience), but because it was now violating sacred canon (sorry, Sacred Canon). Granted, many fans had been saying for years that Star Trek “ain’t what it used to be,” but some of those fans probably should have realized that they were aligning themselves with some others who happened to despise some of their most sacred hours (i.e. Deep Space Nine, brilliant to some, a snore to others, “not real Star Trek”). Anyway, enough ranting. This may simply not be a point anyone will ever care to concede. After all, even Star Trek( 2009), despite its wild and unbridled and unparalleled success, still had its vehement detractors on these same points. The difference was, it was cool. And Enterprise, its greatest sin, was that it was definitely never cool. Star Trek hadn’t been cool since Picard was assimilated. So imagine trying to convince someone that Trip getting pregnant would reverse all of this. But then imagine just watching this, seeing a great character begin to emerge. At some point, you might realize that none of that stuff really matters. Randy Oglesby, by the way, makes his first appearance in the series this episode.

1x7 “The Andorian Incident”
One of the undeniably awesome things that Enterprise accomplished was making, at least, the Andorians cool. An infrequently seen yet still distinct franchise alien species, the Andorians were the greatest benefactors of this series, even receiving modern gizmos to make their signature antennae move about onscreen. Jeffrey Combs takes on his third iconic Star Trek role as their chief representative, Shran, who would become the most important of the show’s recurring characters, even though he was clearly a bigot, and in doing so, probably helped more than any other feature to illustrate the point of the whole experiment, to demonstrate how the heck the United Federation of Planets formed in all the chaos that would still be apparent in the comparatively far future.

1x8 “Breaking the Ice”
Diplomacy among friends, or at least allies, was a facet of the series that was pretty unique. Starfleet never entirely got along with the Bajorans in Deep Space Nine, but that relationship was a cakewalk compared to humans and Vulcans in Enterprise. This was one of those episodes that was directly focused on that tricky business.

1x10 “Fortunate Son”
Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) was the biggest victim of the show’s attempt to model its character dynamics after the original series, focusing on a trio of characters (Archer, T’Pol, and Trip, like Kirk, Spock, and Bones) rather than attempting to even the flow over an extensive cast (which Deep Space Nine did most successfully among all the series, in addition to a ridiculously large recurring cast, something that no doubt influenced how Voyager attempted to do much the same, but with integrated cast moments in most episodes, to the detriment of a strong yet under-utilized series of guests, who rarely could put in a word edgewise). Humanizing everyone was certainly a priority (which was something Next Generation had tried to do in theory, but preferred an iconic approach, which was what everyone assumed the original series had done intentionally), and Mayweather had one of the most interesting backstories for any character in any series. But he fell victim, ultimately, to Chakotay Syndrome, otherwise known as extreme audience apathy, whenever that backstory was actually tapped into, which started with this episode. Like Andorians, another famous but little-seen species, the Nausicaans, also get some Enterprise love, most notably in this episode. Fans, when they bothered to wonder about the logistics of the show at all, sometimes complained that too many species seen in the show were new. And yet, it’s also clear that the familiar ones Enterprise actually used were all underdeveloped. Everyone knew what a Klingon, Vulcan, or Romulan was well before this show came around, and Klingons and Romulans had gotten a lot of attention in other incarnations of Star Trek. But it wasn’t until Enterprise that Vulcan society was explored in any meaningful way, without the crutch of supporting a single, if very well known, character. In short, it was like watching Worf in Next Generation starting with the third season, rather than the first two. There’s a reason why the creators behind this show came to prominence in that same historic franchise moment. It’s just, the fans never really bothered to think beyond the prejudices they had been forming the last few years. Again, put all that aside, and what do you get from an episode like “Fortunate Son”? Probably something else entirely.

1x11 “Cold Front”
And what do you get from the series itself, after an episode that seemed designed to separate the fans from the irritated viewers? The second Temporal Cold War entry, introducing the enigmatic Daniels (Matt Winston), the opposite number of Silik, who has probably his best work of the series in this one, as both agents try to convince Archer that they’re the one to trust. This episode, more than any of the preceding entries, really helped make me a fan of the show. This was true confidence. The creators knew exactly what they were doing, even if their detractors were already starting to voice doubt.

1x13 “Dear Doctor”
Phlox (John Billingsley), who along with Trip really helped distinguish this cast for me, and who represented the new alien species the Denobulans in the crew, helps dramatize the painful learning curve needed to establish the famed Prime Directive, in the process butting heads with Archer with more force than any Vulcan has managed to this point. Probably the most successful “origin” episode, simply because it does so in such an unexpected manner. Also perhaps the first instance where Scott Bakula gets to portray Frustrated Archer, which is the form those who had started turning against the show liked to take as example that this was, pun intended, a failed enterprise, because Bakula was the first famous actor to assume any regular role in a Star Trek (true, Avery Brooks had actually been the series lead in A Man Called Hawk before taking on Benjamin Sisko, but even I have still never seen any of his work in that role), he bore an extreme amount of scrutiny. Were that this alone might have explained how spectacularly the show failed, relatively speaking. The episode also marks the first reference to Jeremy Lucas, Phlox’s friend and colleague, who wouldn’t actually be seen until the fourth season.

1x14 “Sleeping Dogs”
You’d think that just about every Klingon story possible would have been done in Star Trek at this point, since Klingons had already been featured prominently in every other incarnation, but Enterprise demonstrates again that it has its own tricks to pull, doing a Klingon episode that really, hardly uses Klingons at all. Vaughn Armstrong, an actor who has already done about a thousand alien faces in the franchise, appears as one of them, even though this is the series where he’s finally gotten to show his own. And he’s got other faces yet.

1x15 “Shadows of P’Jem”
Even with its at times heavily serialized nature, something Deep Space Nine rarely did was directly acknowledge the events of a previous episode, yet here was Enterprise, doing exactly that, in this sequel to “The Andorian Incident,” with Shran making his second appearance.

1x16 “Shuttlepod One”
Trip bonds with tactical officer Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), a perennial cold fish who finally warms up, ironically, when the pair seem doomed to find an unhappy final resting place in the vacuum of space. What might have come off as a duplication of similar stories between O’Brien and Bashir feels completely natural, in part because Trinneer and Keating have such great chemistry together. Trip and Reed aren’t so much opposites as equally driven. You should just see how the chief engineer handles his engine room (which, by the way, is at last as distinctive and memorable as Ops in Deep Space Nine).

1x17 “Fusion”
When fans wanted to debate the stark contrast of Vulcans as depicted in Enterprise and those seen in any other incarnation, they probably should start with the treatment of the familiar Vulcan mind-meld, which here is handled like the cardinal sin, something that gets T’Pol into considerable trouble, and only gets worse for her next season.

1x18 “Acquisition”
Don’t look now, but this one’s another clear violation of Sacred Canon. The Ferengi rear their lumpy (and heavily-lobed) heads (despite the fact that Picard was supposed to have the first official encounter with them), with Jeffrey Combs and Ethan Phillips (a former Star Trek regular making the rare, completely unassuming appearance) helping represent them as greedy space pirates, exactly the pure form always suggested but never actually seen previously. Me, I thought it was brilliant. Just watch as Archer’s beloved beagle Porthos (the one Scotty “lost” in the new film) finds itself in comic peril! For a species that got off on such a horrible foot, the Ferengi ought to have, by this point, found some redemption with the audience. But, alas, that just wasn’t the case. And if you try to figure out just why, based on material fans hated but apparently vehemently respected, it just makes your head hurt. You might get lumps.

1x20 “Oasis”
Here’s another episode that fans decided to hate simply because “they’d seen it before.” But Star Trek being what it was, even the original series was repeating episodes fairly quickly and fairly often (which is half the reason why my recaps for it skipped over so many entries). But fans at this point once again decided it was a cardinal sin, and not even another former franchise regular, Rene Auberjonois (who had actually been featured in the episode that this one most closely resembled, which I will not name), could affect negative opinions in the slightest. Hey, you try and figure it out.

1x21 “Detained”
This was one of those episodes that was right on target in so many ways. Bakula’s famous past was directly addressed when his old Quantum Leap costar Dean Stockwell finally made his appearance (which probably helped get him a recurring role in the sci-fi franchise reboot that genre fans did lap up, Battlestar Galactica), while the Suliban are fleshed out considerably.

1x22 “Vox Sola”
The Kreetassans, an alien species created specifically to emphasize the importance and finesse of first contact diplomacy, make their debut in this episode, represented by (who else?) Vaughn Armstrong.

1x23 “Fallen Hero”
Just to show that all Vulcans in this period not answering to the name “T’Pol” weren’t all arrogant pricks, Fionnula Flanagan pulls another franchise appearance to represent them admirably.

1x24 “Desert Crossing”
One of the few episodes to spotlight the friendship between Archer and Trip was this one, which was another notable one for the engineer, who grows delirious during the title event, and starts to talk food when he’s trying to focus on his ship. Clancy Brown, one of my favorite actors, still manages to steal the episode, which also refers back the events of “Detained.”

1x25 “Two Days and Two Nights”
The famous pleasure planet Risa makes it appearance of the series, but hardly anyone leaves with fond memories, especially Archer, who really can’t live down the events of “Detained.” Sadly, the last appearance of Cutler, about two years before Kellie Waymire died.

1x26 “Shockwave, Part I”
Archer probably didn’t enjoy this one, either, because the Temporal Cold War pretty much screws him out of his historic mission. Or so it seems…

The first season, while handling a number of generic entries (which, as per my custom, I skipped over), still managed to pull off a considerable number of important, series-defining episodes, which would become all the more significant, not just because the show would have a comparatively short run to the three series that came before it, but also because, unlike those shows, it seemed to know exactly what worked, right from the start. Not since the original series was a first season such a success, at least creatively. Popularly, it was a different story.

But not for lack of trying…

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