Friday, August 27, 2010

Star Trek: Enterprise Season Two

Like every other Star Trek before it, Enterprise spent its second year in apparent ignorance that its original approach wasn’t connecting with fans, which at this point was either really a problem with viewers or really a problem with the creators (isn’t it a little hard to understand, putting it into such stark language?), but probably not both (but then again, probably both). Either way, the season began in 2002, which was notable as also seeing the release of Star Trek Nemesis, the final Next Generation film, to incredible apathy (and some outright vitriol), which helps mark this year as the hammering of the final nail of the coffin in this incarnation of the franchise. History, really, was just repeating itself. The original series probably would have been more of an actual success if it had been able to truly capitalize on that second chance. But it didn’t, and by that point, the third really didn’t matter. Wasn’t that just true of Enterprise, too?

2x1 “Shockwave, Part II”
While Suliban swarm the ship, Archer has to find a way, along with Daniels, to put the timeline back in order, with the first real mention of what the captain is fated to accomplish, establishing the alliance that would lead to the historic Federation. It’s not a lot more than emphasizing what the series has already said in its first season, and maybe that’s a bit why viewers grew impatient. But as a fan, I didn’t really care.

2x2 “Carbon Creek”
Digging into T’Pol’s increasing comfort aboard this human ship, the first regular episode of the season probably has something more important to say, which is to say the revelation that Vulcans had experience on Earth prior to First Contact, a quiet entry that nonetheless speaks volumes. J. Paul Boehmer makes another franchise appearance, and finds yet more mileage from a general persona that at first seemed so easy to interpret. It’s not hard to assume that, if this incarnation of the franchise had continued, he would have eventually become a Star Trek regular, or at the very least have found a recurring role to comfortably nest in.

2x3 “Minefield”
A better contrast than Trip and Reed was Archer and Reed, which is quickly apparent in this episode, which marks the first appearance of Romulans in the series, walking an acknowledged tricky tightrope with Sacred Canon. One of the clear losses of the early cancellation was watching the eventual, historic Romulan War unfold, a latter-day Dominion experience that would no doubt have been…fascinating.

2x4 “Dead Stop”
One of the episodes that landed with even the skeptics, this was also clearly an episodic entry (though one that directly tied into “Minefield”), featuring a mysterious repair station that miraculously appears in space just when the crew needs it to. TV fans who would grow more interested in serialized storytelling (and grow frustrated when it inevitably let them down) were already, with memories of Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine dancing in their heads, far beyond being satisfied with Star Trek being, essentially, what it was, but sometimes, it still worked, even for them.

2x5 “A Night in Sickbay”
One of my favorites, both from the season and the series, was relentlessly ridiculed, because Archer spent the episode “moping about his dog.” Yet that’s not even all it was about, and even when it was about that, it was about so much more, one of the more complex and compelling stories to come out of the franchise. One of the true lost treasures of the series, if not the crown gem, and I’m not just saying that because I really loved Porthos (darn you, Scotty!!!). Also the big spotlight for the Kreetassans, with Vaughn Armstrong making another appearance.

2x6 “Marauders”
Here’s a Klingon episode that no Star trek had done since the original series, Starfleet meddling in Empire affairs, the first fruits of a vicious competition that would dance on and dabble in war for centuries to come. T’Pol debuts a variant white outfit, probably my favorite of the series.

2x7 “The Seventh”
This is an episode that I really need to revisit, because it attempts to cast T’Pol in the kind of role Kira regularly inhabited in Deep Space Nine, and I don’t know how successful it was. I have only vague memories of it, despite having seen it at least twice. Time for another viewing.

2x8 “The Communicator”
Who else but frequently agitated Reed would get to accidentally contaminate a world the crew has just surveyed? Another origin episode, or at least precursor to work other series did.

2x9 “Singularity”
Just in case you haven’t familiarized yourself with this crew yet, here’s a refresher course, a trademark franchise entry that exaggerates the characteristics of everyone so that it’ll be easier to identify them when everything’s comparatively normal. Reed invents the famous Red Alert (if you haven’t seen the episode, you’ll get a laugh at what he intends to call it), Trip obsesses over (of all things) the captain’s chair, Hoshi takes over the galley, Mayweather finds himself the unwitting victim of Phlox, and Archer obsesses over writing an intro to his father’s biography. T’Pol’s the lucky one trying to get everyone right again.

2x10 “Vanishing Point”
Here’s a revisit of two past show spotlights, Hoshi’s anxieties and the alarming nature of those new transporter-abobs.

2x11 “Precious Cargo”
Trip officially starts to take over the season with this episode, which guest stars Padma Lakshmi, who would actually become famous until a few years later. Making his bad luck in this one extremely lucky, as it turns out.

2x12 “The Catwalk”
Here’s a typical episodic entry I wished were a little less typically episodic, starting out with a cool premise of the crew (plus a few visiting aliens, who in typical episodic fashion end up turning rogue) having to take shelter in the unusual place of the warp nacelles. That alone would have made for a good hour, or so I thought.

2x13 “Dawn”
Another Trip episode. So soon? Of course! This time, the engineer takes on the franchise and genre trademark struggle of trying to make good with a hostile alien. In this pre-Universal Translator era, even though Hoshi was set up for it, I think this one and “Precious Cargo” ultimately represented the language divide best.

2x14 “Stigma”
Hyped as the AIDS episode at the time, this is probably just as interesting today as a sequel to “Fusion,” the continuing story of Vulcan intolerance for mind-melding. T’Pol, if it’s possible, is even more uncomfortably caught in the middle this time. Unlike “The Seventh” (or even “Carbon Creek”), this one is firmly rooted in the character as we’ve known her.

2x15 “Cease Fire”
The Andorians, and their enduring feud with Vulcans, return, in this fine spotlight for Shran, as well as Soval, who made far fewer appearances than his sum effect on the series actually represents. Suzie Plakson makes another franchise appearance.

2x16 “Future Tense”
After “Cold Front,” this is easily my favorite Temporal Cold War episode, one that cleverly features the genre staple of repeating time, among many other things, including Tholians, who are cleverly implicated in the recurring series arc.

2x17 “Canamar”
What seems on the surface to be a pretty anonymous episode is actually pretty interesting, when you think about it. Just as Voyager was constantly exploiting its unique premise in episodic ways, here’s Enterprise doing it, with Archer and Trip in the unusual position of being taken prisoner pretty much at random, not as part of some great alien plot, but simply because, in this era, the name “Starfleet” just doesn’t carry the same weight.

2x19 “Judgment”
An episode that on the surface seems to be taking advantage of situations seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (outright stealing them, if you’re not being very generous, which is what most viewers probably were at the time), this one counts, for me, as another of the great Enterprise Klingon entries, managing to create another outstanding role for J.G. Hertzler (who was so memorable as another Klingon, Martok, in Deep Space Nine), while also introducing Duras (Daniel Riordan), ancestor to another famous Klingon in franchise lore, which I just thought was a brilliant idea, especially since the Next Generation variant really had more impact in death than he ever did in person. Here, the part is so much more meaty, and not just because we get a neat version of Rashomon as another facet of the episode. One of my undeniable favorites from the season.

2x20 “Horizon”
Otherwise known as the second attempt to mine Mayweather’s backstory for fruitful material, visiting this time with his family rather than just the Boomer culture he grew into (I was just thinking: I don’t know if it was intentional, this nod to Battlestar Galactica lore, which the new incarnation of that show bucked so memorably when it cast Grace Park as another Boomer entirely). Some viewers, who also complained that he became virtually a cardboard cutout prop, suggested that Anthony Montgomery was a rather wooden actor. This was the only series to have so many complaints about the acting, at least in my experience. Anything to justify all the hating. I never really had a problem with it, at least when I wasn’t thinking about those complaints and watching the supposedly offending performances. But it never really affected my opinions. Enterprise was my second favorite Star Trek, after all, after Deep Space Nine. That probably still keeps some people up at night, whenever I mention it.

2x21 “The Breach”
Otherwise known as the only time Enterprise would do a Denobulan episode, both as the main and supporting plots. I actually prefer the visiting scientists in the subplot. Phlox in the role Neelix and others filled in other Star Treks just didn’t seem as memorable, perhaps precisely because its impact was dulled, ironically, by his countrymen.

2x22 “Cogenitor”
Like “Dear Doctor,” the full impact of this one comes on like a surprise, as Trip pulls his biggest theft of the season, was also royally screwing up first contact with aliens who happen to breed not with two sexes, but three, with the third having the unlucky position of being extremely rare, and so therefore being handled more as a commodity than an individual. Trip doesn’t agree that this is right, but then, is it really his place to judge? Therein lies the rub. Andreas Katsulas, meanwhile, makes good time while he can bonding memorably with Archer.

2x23 “Regeneration”
This would be the violation of Sacred Canon for the season, bringing in the Borg for a genius tie-in with Star Trek: First Contact (and also explaining why the Collective was so obsessed with humanity in the first place), but because technically, We Didn’t Meet Them Until Later, this was a big no-no. Like “Acquisition,” to be enjoyed anyway.

2x24 “First Flight”
A nod to our own triumphs and tragedies in the space program, this is Archer and Trip’s nod to T’Pol’s storytelling in “Carbon Creek” earlier in the season, recounting how they helped save humanity’s warp program, despite massive opposition from the Vulcans, thanks in part to the late A.G. Robinson (Keith Carradine). The kind of episode I really wish the series would have done more of, a more expansive look at the rest of the fleet, and some of its history, with glimpses of faces to go with names that had been mentioned previously, who might have been seen again, if the opportunity had arisen. But the fourth season kind of made up for it, introducing a formidable new addition all its own.

2x25 “Bounty”
Picking up where “Judgment” left off, with Archer trying desperately to elude Klingon authorities, but not in a Tellarite bounty hunter has anything to say about it. Tellarites probably lost the most from the show coming to an end after only four seasons, because they were finally starting to demonstrate a real presence in the final year. There could’ve been so much more.

2x26 “The Expanse”
Everything changes in this season finale, a stark contrast to how the season ended last year, with the Temporal Cold War elements actually serving a practical function, helping to establish an emerging Xindi threat that has already launched a devastating attack on Earth. For the first time, a crew will be asked directly to accomplish what so many Star Trek casts have sort of stumbled into doing: save the world.

Like Deep Space Nine, the season ends with a promise of real change for the third year with the introduction of a new threat. Yet in many ways, perhaps that change was even less necessary. While, in true original series form, the first year was probably stronger, there was a lot of memorable material in the second, which demonstrated a real command of episodic material that supported the serialized ambitions of the series at its heart. It continued to be strange to hear that Star Trek was behind the times, because in many ways, it’s still more sophisticated than anything that has been dubbed its better (except, I’d say, Lost), in most of the modern TV incarnations.

Enterprise suffered most of all, especially in this second season, from the perception that it was low grade Star Trek material, and while this pushed the creators to its best work in the ensuing two seasons, the achievements of this one shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked, especially “A Night in Sickbay,” “Future Tense,” “Judgment,” and “First Flight,” which stand up to the best material of any franchise incarnation. The show, caught in such a curious crossroads, only got better…

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