15 April 2013

Enterprise Season 1

Enterprise Season 1 Shows Promise
By Kristin Battestella

More than a decade after its 2001 debut, I still feel as though the last Star Trek television spinoff Enterprise is somewhat unloved. Despite its relatively short for modern Trek four seasons and plenty of pressure thanks to timeline continuity and fan expectations, this first season provides a lot of potential, solid core players, and room to maneuver in an untapped area of Trekdom.

Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) are reluctant to have the Vulcan Science Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) assigned to Starfleet’s first Warp 5 vessel, the NX-01 Enterprise.  It’s been a hundred years since First Contact, but Archer believes the Vulcans have held back Earth’s warp development. When an injured Klingon crash lands in Oklahoma, Starfleet is forced into further politics both past and present. Archer fills out his crew with a Denobulan Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) from the Interspecies Medical Exchange, a British Armory officer Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), a space boomer pilot Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), and linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) as Enterprise launches into its first intergalactic adventures where they encounter friends and foes both familiar and unknown.

Enterprise is a little uneven to start, which is understandable for a series trying to attract new audiences whilst also toeing the line of past Trek lore. Poor science, bumbling dialogue and mistakes, and retreads of Star Trek staples that the core fans will already know, however, are tiresome – as in the introduction to Klingons in “Sleeping Dogs.” “Strange New World” also comes to early in the season for people we just met to get their alien crazy on, and “Unexpected” can’t decide if it is boldly going where no man has gone before in a serious science fiction examination or as premature comic relief.  “Civilization” does much better in placing our crew in a pre-industrial costumed escapade, but “Terra Nova” already feels like a Voyager rehash with hokey dialogue and unrealized values. “Oasis” also resorts to near 24th century hologram uses and a guest appearance by Deep Space Nine star Rene Auberjonois just a little too soon. Likewise, alums Clint Howard, Ethan Phillips, and Jeffrey Combs make technical appearances as Ferengi in “Acquisition.” Sometimes it’s as if longtime Trek showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga can’t or won’t let Enterprise spread its wings without these precursor training wheels and ham fisted sex and humor attempts ala “Two Days and Two Nights” getting in the way.

With the exceptional Vulcan, Human, and Andorian relations in “The Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem” – Combs is wonderful as the Andorian Commander Shran – there is no need for such rocky reliances on 24th century easy. Ironically, any internal flaws on Enterprise are quite refreshing. So, people one hundred years from now aren’t as badass as Kirk or so put together as The Next Generation, who knew? These humans mess up in galactic relations, are fearful of new technology, they watch movies, and make civilization altering mistakes thanks to the lack of the future Federation’s Prime Directive. Archer even has a beagle named Porthos on the ship! While we love The Original Series for its groundbreaking idealism and applaud TNG for its often seriously mature sci-fi retellings, Enterprise is, well, normal. We can relate to a crew that doesn’t exactly know what its doing and isn’t so far removed from us in so many ways. The season premiere “Broken Bow” establishes where we are in the journey, and  early transporter touches and nods towards developing future technology like force fields are quite fun to see. Yes, the jizzy white slime everywhere in “Vox Sola” is hokey. However, there is also a lot of Star Trek charm in this show’s design. Each of the crew pairs off for a unique alien problem-solving dilemma, and “Dear Doctor” provides plenty of ethical debates and needs for space faring delicacy. 

Don’t lie, I’m sure there were a boatload of Quantum Leap fans who tuned into Enterprise just to see Scott Bakula again, and his long time Al pal Dean Stockwell also takes it to Jonathan Archer in “Detained.” We like Bakula, so by default we like Archer, even if he isn’t always as suave as Kirk or perfect as Picard. Sometimes, he’s even a bit of an ass with his Vulcan resentment and naïve explorer perspective, but Archer tells it like it is and is ultimately trying to do what is best for his ship, crew, and Earth.  Fans of Connor Trinneer’s (Stargate Atlantis) Trip Trucker also have plenty of opportunities to see him in his Starfleet undies, which both works in some episodes and yet gets old quick.  Despite this underlining push at some bizarre unresolved sexual tension, the dynamics between Trip, Archer, and T’Pol are nicely done.  Archer ways the pros and cons from each, and there is a bemusing banter and healthy antagonism as need be, particularly in “Desert Crossing” – although “Rogue Planet” is an alien iffy attempt to give Archer some chick action. Playing an emotionless alien is never easy, but Jolene Blalock (Jason and the Argonauts) does well as T’Pol.  We can’t quite compare this female addition to prior onscreen Vulcans and the catsuit forced sex appeal is apparent, granted. Yet T’Pol’s unconventional ethics and multi dimensional Vulcan histories and experiences in “Fallen Hero” and “Fusion” are solid SF tales.

Enterprise mirrors TOS with its main triumvirate, but Dominic Keating (Heroes) as Malcolm Reed and John Billingsley (True Blood) as Doctor Phlox create a strong secondary presence.  Where everyone is mostly happy to be tripping the life galactic on prior Trek ships, Reed is an often uncomfortable crew member with fine technical expertise as seen in “Silent Enemy.” There are times when his utilization as security chief is grossly underwritten by the powers that be, however – although this lack of military preparedness often becomes a critical plot point, as in “Cold Front.” Audiences will scream at the television that security should always be present when meeting alien guests or going on strange away missions, but thanks to Reed, the development behind these protocols is also an interesting dimension on Enterprise. Indeed, their exploratory mission is not going to be as friendly as they had hoped, and we get to see a lovely friendship develop between the contrasting Reed and Tucker in “Shuttlepod One.”  Likewise, Phlox provides humor in “Two Days and Two Nights,” wisdom in “Fight or Flight” and even antagonism in “Vox Sola.” I wish they had made the character a not often seen previous species rather than a new Denobulan, but Phlox is a delight because we don’t quite know what nugget or wrench he will contribute each episode. Together, Reed and Phlox both provide alternate pros and cons to the Big Three of Archer, Trip, and T’Pol.  Phlox doesn’t always get along with Archer, but as Enterprise’s resident aliens, he and T’Pol develop a kinship.  I myself like the awkward suggestions between the somewhat geeky Reed and the svelte T’Pol.  After so many years of a lack of character development on Voyager, these cast elements are well done.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Anthony Montgomery (Popular) as the boomer pilot Travis Mayweather and Linda Park (Crash) as linguist Hoshi Sato.  I love the idea of their being obstinate, archaic space privateers hating the fast, new Starfleet, and I love the idea of an unreliable universal translator and the need for realistic communication buffers with new alien species. Sadly, neither of these potential intriguing plots works because these roles anchoring them are absolutely lethargic, and it is ridiculous that the minority players end up so under developed and clichéd. Simply put, Mayweather and Sato should not have been regular characters in Season 1. Always screaming and squeamish Hoshi has the simplest, most obvious analogies possible, and it took my husband 10 episodes to realize that the blank, always-staring forward helmsman was even there. Ouch! The Next Generation got by with not always having significant ship personnel positions as main cast members. If Enterprise was knowingly pursuing a TOS Big 3 format with strong alternating Scotty styled support, then these translator and pilot roles should have been semi regular as needed. Outside of the weak spotlight episodes “Fortunate Son,” “Breaking the Ice,” and “Fight or Flight,” these characters aren’t that significant, and their short end of the stick inclusion takes away from far more interesting early Starfleet dilemmas and brewing alien politics. I mean, they are junior officers but senior staff? Enterprise should have built its foundation first, and then once we were secure in where the show was going, these lower decks developments could have come later.

Of course, part of Enterprises problem is that, like Voyager and Deep Space Nine, the series spends half its time deciding what it wants to be. All the positive characters and unique time and place potential that is going for Enterprise and yet the bane of the show will end up being this stupid Temporal Cold War storyline. Begun in “Broken Bow” and then shoddily treated until “Cold Front” and then the season finale “Shockwave,” this dumb time travel crutch on top of all the other beforehand future after the fact Trek franchise helps and hindrances is exactly the wrong way to start your prequel series.  What the hell kind of fail-safe future connection are the producers trying to pull? I am not a wholehearted fan of the new Star Trek reboot, but I applaud its intelligent way to both canonly sanction and keep their alternate universe adventures. It seems the writers had no such forethoughts with the Temporal Cold War on Enterprise, and had they tossed this plot, I seriously think Enterprise would have gone on to additional seasons and further success with no franchise film reboot required.

Despite newer, grandiose Trek designs and CGI wizardry this decade, the special effects, make up, and dressings on Enterprise still look great.  Some familiar with 24th century Star Trek looks may complain that Enterprise is still too futuristic in design, but the darker, submarine style lightning and sets are indicative of this middle space flight era. The uniforms – complete with away jackets, NX-01 hats, sunglasses, and desert get ups – are also a lot of fun and much more in keeping with our current astronaut jumpsuits and patchwork. Some of the futuristic casual clothes, however, are bemusing. The design of the opening credits, on the other hand, is dynamite.  Seeing the Enterprise premiere the first week after 9/11, I choked up at the montage of exploration, aviation, space aspirations, and human ingenuity. Although Enterprise would later struggle to find its brand of Trek positives in a contemporary world so grim, the one strike against the series that automatically dates its presentation is that friggin’ ass theme song.  Science fiction demands a certain universally symphonic score, a sweeping standard theme.  While the instrumentals and old Trek sounds on Enterprise are just right, the lyrics to the “Faith of the Heart” intro are so, so nineties wrong.  Have you ever known a science fiction show to have a lyrical pop song like this as its theme? Of course not, but I’ll be fair. Even if you like the tune, it simply does not belong as the anchor of a dramatic genre pursuit, much less a Star Trek series.

The use of this “Faith of the Heart” theme is indicative of everything that was wrong with Enterpriseall its forced need to be hip, new, edgy, not your papa’s Trek. For those who were hoping to get back to quality Star Trek after the disappointment that was Voyager, this insult has the exact opposite effect and ultimately, there were many viewers who wrote off Enterprise solely because of that stupid song. If you let go of the Decon Chamber undressings and sexy attempts, forgive the underdeveloped side plots and lesser players, and get over the Temporal Cold War, there is a damn lot of good brewing on Enterprise.  Fans who burned out on Voyager or disagreed with Deep Space Nine can return here. Those growing tired of the same desperate for youth in your face of the reboot can also find some SF maturity on Enterprise, and non-Trek audiences may like its new, honest precursor approach.  With streaming options and affordable DVDs with plenty of features and extras, there’s no reason for sci-fi viewers to not give Enterprise a chance.

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