It’s been a long haul for the Star Trek series.
The first incarnation of Star Trek, though its opening credits had a voiceover with William Shatner extolling the “five-year mission” of the ship, only lasted three seasons. The first Star Trek movie barely made it off the ground, so to speak, but was popular enough to spawn a multitude of sequels (some of questionable quality). Star Trek: The Next Generation revitalized the ailing franchise, though, and became the most popular syndicated television show of its time. Its spinoffs, devoid of the imagination and human insight of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, foundered in concepts as well as ratings. Deep Space Nine and Voyager were interesting, the former being much better in its twilight years than many people give it credit for, but too often relied on tired clichés and political wranglings set in motion by Jean-Luc Picard and company.
Enterprise aimed to reboot the series in the minds of fans as well as the general public, and spent its first two seasons adrift in a sea of high-minded but poorly-executed storylines that tried to capture the outrageously science fiction, yet uniquely human, essence of the original show. Mediocre conflicts with Souliban, Vulcan, Klingon, and numerous other alien species, a smattering of half-baked character backstories, and a few ship-in-peril episodes thrown in for good measure, weren’t enough to raise the show to more than a mere curiosity for most Trek fans, and a last-resort DVR viewing for everyone else.
With season 3 of Enterprise, the creators must have smelled a bit of lemon on their hands, as they threw everything from the first two seasons to the wind and launched the ship, and the series, in a whole new direction (literally and figuratively) while setting up an Earth-in-peril plotline of epic proportions that spanned the entire season. And while I applaud the minds behind the show for trying something new and different (effectively going for a fouth-down conversion on Enterprise’s own 10-yard line), the end result is another just-beyond-mediocre chapter of a show that once carried so much promise.
The season begins with earth being attacked by an entirely heretofore unknown race called the Xindi. A small probe burns a wide channel in Earth’s crust from Florida down to Argentina, killing 7 million people in the process. Enterprise, having arrived back on Earth at the end of Season 2, is sent into the also heretofore unknown region of space called the Delphic Expanse–a stellar Bermuda Triangle of sorts from which no Vulcan ship has ever come back intact–to investigate the probe’s origins and stop any further destruction.
We soon find out that the probe was sent by the Xindi because they believe earth is going to be responsible for destroying their planet at some point in the future. As such, all five species of Xindi band together to plan a pre-emptive strike against the humans, and ultimately ensure their own survival by constructing a giant circular weapon to blow up our planet. The probe, you see, was merely a foretaste of the Xindi feast to come.
It’s clear that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the minds behind this as well as much of the other Trek spinoffs, had lofty goals in mind here. And I appreciate the epic nature of what they are trying to do: send Enterprise on a thousand-to-one-odds mission, into an uncharted region of space, to stop the planet from being annihilated. But that sort of paper-thin cocktail napkin premise requires a massive amount of story in order to span an entire season, and too often the result is a plot that is mired in strange twists and deus-ex-machina resolutions that stretch the limits of credibility. Even the basic idea seems like something out of an Austin Powers movie: an megalomaniac wants to blow up the planet, and it’s up to one man ship to stop it. Pardon me while I yawn.
Still, the season does have its high points, and I must give credit where credit is due. “Twilight” hearkens to one of the best episodes of any TV show ever, “The Inner Light,” and does a good job of showcasing the type of alternate-reality future that often goes over well in Trek mythology. I appreciate the character development given to T’pol, as she struggles with a loss of emotional control through an addiction to a psychoactive chemical, but her romantic relationship with Trip is about as forced and unbelievable as they come. “Similitude” and “Hatchery” delve into some moral choices that are the hallmark of good science fiction, and E2 reminds me of one of the best TNG episodes, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” in both concept and execution.
What’s missing throughout this season, though, is the same thing that’s been missing since the inception of Enterprise: characterization. After more than 70 episodes of the show, I still don’t have much of an idea of who these spacefaring crew members really are. Hoshi continues to brandish her superpower of language translation whenever it’s required. Mayweather dutifully embodies the straight-faced version of his Galaxy Quest counterpart Tommy Webber, but nobody told Mayweather that his counterpart was meant to be a caricature. The list continues, and few characters are ever lifted beyond the base level of cardboard cutout. One 20-minute episode of Arrested Development has more personality than the entire Season 3 of Enterprise, largely because these individuals exist as jobs that need individuals (“Weapons Officer,” “Engineer“) as opposed to individuals (“Smart but socially akward guy“, “Charismatic womanizer,” “Brilliant, overworked widow“) who hold given positions on the ship.
Some attempts to flesh out these people are made, the most notable being Trip as he deals with his sister’s death at the hand of the Xindi when the probe attacked earth, and later, in an inexplicable breach of established characterization, falls in love with T’pol, as if to fulfil a “Show needs more romance” checkbox on a focus group feedback form. But most of the series is riddled with one-off attempts at characterization that exist in isolated episodes rather than being woven into the fabric of the show as a whole.
The ideas that show up throught Season 3 are impressive: giant spheres constructed milennia ago that cause gravometric distortions throughout the Delphic Expanse, the various political wranglings of the five distinct Xindi species, and the moral choices that must be made by Captain Archer get into some pretty heavy territory. But too often the show sacrifices the essence of Science Fiction on the altar of fanciful CGI effects.
Here’s hoping the best for Season 4.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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