The Enterprise Of Starting To Trek
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/26/02
year I wrote an essay that was skeptical of the future of
the Star Trek tv franchise. I also put forth some pretty sound
ideas on how to rejuvenate the franchise with its upcoming tv series
sequel-cum-prequel called Enterprise; just Enterprise- no
‘Star Trek:’ preface to this show. I advocated that a new
series wait a few years, & then try an anthology format. Instead, a
prequel was deemed necessary. While it’s been the proverbial mixed bag,
& after a slow start, I have to say that the overall show has been a
welcome improvement over the 3 other series sequels. In fact, even with 1
season under its belt I would rate Enterprise as the 2nd
best ST series, trailing only the original. & coming after the
relentlessly PC Next Generation; stilted, dull, & mostly morose
Deep Space 9; & hit & miss Voyager; Enterprise
succeeds most by having the greatest affinity to the original show-
especially in that its crew is the most likable since Kirk & Co.,
& the actors/characters actually make the viewer feel that THEY LIKE
The other sequels’ human characters were so PC/perfect that they were mostly boring as hell. The average non-Trekkie could never really get into these series because the characters were so dull the viewer not only could not identify with them- but did not want to identify with them! I mean, were the stentorian intonations of a Picard or Sisko really conducive to empathy? Enterprise succeeds over the other sequels because it more often focuses on the crew as explorers whose dramas stem from natural things- things a real space explorer might encounter, & not just a ‘conflict of the week’. There is also a sense of wonder & adventure that’s been missing since Kirk & his gang 1st took us out to the stars. This crew captures it, & it all stems from the genial portrayal of the ship’s Captain Jonathan Archer- played by Scott Bakula. I was not a fan of Bakula when he starred in the 1990s sci fi show Quantum Leap- but that was probably more due to the poor quality of that show. Here, he’s good precisely because (ala William Shatner’s Kirk) he’s not that smooth an actor- he comes off as a ‘real’ guy. The rest of the cast is comprised of previously little known actors. In fact, their names are really unimportant. But their characters have depths few of the sequels’ characters had. The head engineer is a Southerner named Trip Tucker- sort of a cross between ST’s McCoy & Scotty. He & Archer are apparently old friends who went through Starfleet training together & have ‘a history’- doubtless to be plumbed over the seasons. Often they eat their meals together & 1 senses that the characters really are pals- this sense of friendship is the most genuine bonding since ST’s Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika. The Security Officer is a Briton named Malcolm Reed, the Communications Officer/Interpreter is a Japanese woman named Hoshi, the doctor is an alien named Phlox, the pilot is a young black officer named Travis Mayweather, & there is a Vulcan Science Officer/1st Mate named T’Pol- played by a bustalicious, catsuited actress named Jolene Blalock- ostensibly the 7 of 9 of the crew. Unfortunately, the character (designed to give the show its requisite ‘character in search of humanity’- ala the prior shows’ Spock, Data, Odo, & holographic Doctor/Tuvok/7 of 9) is the least interesting on the show- despite her bodacity. Part of the problem is that Vulcans have been explored before, & by better actors who can convey real emotional depths through the stoicness. But, perhaps the actress & character will improve through the years.
Before I do an episode-by-episode rundown let me set the basic premise. The year is 2151/2152 (no annoying ‘Stardates’ yet!)- about 90 years after humans 1st invented warp drive (after World War 3), & encountered extraterrestrials [the Vulcans]. In the near century since humans have become a sort of student race (in ways galactica) to the sage Vulcan masters. Vulcans have tried to guide humans, & there has been great resistance & resentment over the Vulcans’ infantilizing of humanity. The show’s start is deemed to be Mankind’s 1st steps to the stars without Vulcan hand-holding. Because the show takes place about a century before the original show & almost 2 centuries before the other sequel shows there are several differences between this & all the other shows. 1st is that some of the technological standbys of those shows are missing here: no holodeck, limited transporters, no universal translator, speeds up to only Warp 5, no force fields nor tractor beams, etc. The 2nd missing elements are the historical: this show is set during the infancy of earth’s military Starfleet & before the formation of the Human-Vulcan co-founding of the Federation Of Planets, & there is yet crafted the oft-broken Prime Directive of non-interference with other cultures. The only other real setup to the show is that there seems to be some ‘Temporal Cold War’ where beings from the far future have enhanced a race of aliens- the Suliban-into shapeshifters. Of interest to the later series is the fact of who these time manipulators are- the Borg, the Q, Species 8472, the Dinosaurian race Voyager encountered (intent on reclaiming Earth?), etc.? Also- did the Suliban later evolve into becoming the Changeling race of DS9’s Odo, which founded The Dominion? & was this the reason for the later bans on time travel? On to the episodes:
The series starts with a Klingon who crash lands on earth & is chased by Suliban. He’s injured & the Enterprise must return him to his homeworld- thus the premise for Earth’s 1st steps into galactic waters. Here we are 1st exposed to the lame Diane Warren theme song Faith Of The Heart, sung by Russell Watson, & T’Pol’s attempts to out-babeolish 7 of 9. Overall, a solid tale- of course, they succeed, & 1st engender Klingon brutishness. The next 2 episodes are quite PC & I was cringing- these were standard ‘learn to be tolerant’ episodes. Human stupidity & Vulcan arrogance are the only things I recall from these 2 shows; except that the white Southerner, Trip, is the 1st to turn on the Vulcan T’Pol. After these 2 dismal entries episode 4 perks up with a humorous episode. Trip has quickly become the most interesting character on the show & now he’s sent to an alien (Xyrillian) vessel to help with repairs. There he shares a holographic experience with a smitten female alien. The downside is he returns accidentally impregnated- with a nipple protruding on his hand. Of course, all turns out right- but Bakula is especially campy in this episode. That camp has returned to the mythos (never averse to miniskirts or paint-thin catsuits) is welcome.
But the next 2 episodes were dull & PC, with some standard ST themes: 1st the crew encounters an irradiated mutant race that distrusts foreigners- another morality play on xenophobia! Then Archer interferes in a culture. Lessons are learned, blahblahblah…. Episode 7 is the series’ best yet- there’s a nicely written & acted scene where schoolkids from Earth send questions to the crew (apparently the crew are global celebrities- a nice concession to human realities the other shows rarely made). We also see the 1st overt flaring of a simmering ‘sexual tension’ between the buff & likable Trip & the stoic T’Pol- 1 expressed vaguely in earlier episodes. She is apparently engaged in an arranged marriage- but neither the character nor the actress can convey any sense of this internal conflict. To this point T’Pol is just a sexy body to gawk at. But Malcolm & Travis have misadventures on a disintegrating comet- something that seems like a far more ‘real’ future occurrence than many other alien- or time travel-themed ST tales. The Trip/T’Pol tension subsides with him keeping her secret (even from Archer) & offering her pecan pie- a nice sexual reference oft-lost in the other sequels. The next episode continues the T/T tension & returns to the 1st ST’s original ‘parallel earths’ motif- here primitive humanoids abound, the universal translator fails, Archer smooches with an E.T. babe, & there are reptilians & conspiracies- but, overall, a mediocre episode.
The next episode helps establish historical context for man’s ascent to the stars. Apparently the real interstellar pioneers were not the military of Starfleet but merchant marine-like trader ships, which are now a dying industry due to Starfleet’s coming expansion. This gritty episode plays like a submarine movie in that the focus is on the merchants’ battles with the piratic Nausicaans- a brutish fanged species known from earlier (albeit later) series. Travis grew up in this milieu & his empathy with the merchants gives the show a nice underpinning. Episode 10 is the best yet- after the first 5 or 6 ambling shows the series seems to really be finding itself, & its niche in ST lore. The Suliban & the Temporal Cold War invade Enterprise- resulting in the death of a temporal Starfleet spy from the future, named Daniels, by a Suliban named Sillek. The spy’s quarters (Cabin E-14), & Top Secret info, are sealed & Archer again proves to be the best & most interesting Captain since Kirk. Sillek, who in an earlier episode, tried to kill Archer, now invades the ship & has a creepy scene where he calls Archer ‘Jon’. This is 1 of those episodes that works in & of itself, but also sets up the dramatic arc for the series. The next show centers on Malcolm Reed- the Security Chief/Weapons Officer- & the crew’s attempts to throw him a birthday bash. It’s a standard ‘Will it work?’ episode- this time it’s the ship’s 1st use of the phase cannon. There are weird FX, see-through aliens (lacking motives), etc. Overall a so-so outing.
The next episode uses a device used in prior ST sequels: Dr. Phlox tells of his experiences onboard to a human colleague doctoring on a ship in Starfleet’s medical exchange program. The ship encounters a planet beset by a plague. This incurs a bad speech on ethics by Archer (recall, this is pre-Prime Directive). Otherwise the show is 1 of the better morality play episodes in the franchise: not too preachy on how 2 competing species will ultimately vie for control of their planet (the diseased but advanced Valakians & the strong but slow Mink). Phlox has a cure for their plague but refuses to help. Too bad the earlier series were so constrained that such a premise was infeasible. The next episode brings back the tiresome Klingons- 1 of their ships is adrift in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet & the crew must save them! However, this is another of the more realistic sort of dilemmas a spacefaring crew would face. Of course, there is success in the end, but-thankfully- no morality play! The next episode reveals why humans are so distrustful of their Vulcan mentors- & it introduces the hostilities between the Vulcans & the antennaed, blue-skinned Andorians from the original ST (except now the Andorians antennae can move at will- as if really organic pieces of themselves). This episode nicely adds shadings unseen to familiar characters & scenarios. There’s a nice scene between Trip & Archer chowing down (apparently a source of their male bond) at breakfast that really conveys a sense of the friendship between these 2 characters. Unknown to T’Pol the Vulcans have supported despots & clandestine spying on worlds they had agreed not to. Archer & T’Pol have a kinky scene where they are bound together (bun-to-bun) & must wriggle to freedom. It’s little moments like this that have been AWOL since Kirk & the gang. The Andorians eventually see the Vulcans’ deceit exposed, thanks to Archer- who lets them get away.
Episode 15 uses the classic stranded shuttle/lifeboat trope. This time Trip & Malcolm are adrift after being attacked on a shuttle mission. Of course, Trip is the optimist & Malcolm the pessimist. They mistakenly believe Enterprise has been destroyed by an asteroid. A nice character study & a fine episode. We get some more ‘1sts’- at least since the original show. The 2 ‘doomed’ men get plastered & talk like real men do (at least in the limited PC/PG ST way)- Malcolm mentions how T’Pol has a great ‘bum’ (British for ‘ass’). Can anyone imagine any of the other sequels’ characters talking like that? I mean, on Voyager, Harry Kim nursed a boner for 7 of 9 for years & never went to whack off once! Apparently, sometime between Kirk’s age & the other sequels human maledom was collectively neutered. Malcolm cries, & then even fantasizes sexually of T’Pol. Again, the typical ST ‘space opera’ has nicely been replaced by a real ‘space dilemma’. Relationships are more important than action. & Bakula’s Archer does not prove too intrusive in the hunt for his lost crewmen. The next episode is about exploring the Arachnid Nebula, where the crew encounters emotion-embracing Vulcans- the Vahklas. A sub-story has a dying Vulcan father trying to contact his long lost son Kobb. But the main story again features the sexuality of T’Pol- or more realistically, the male sexual reaction to the bodacious Vulcan that apparently cuts across species. Whereas 7 of 9 (on Voyager) barely roused an eyeball, T’Pol cannot help but get in the minds & fantasies of both her crew (Archer, Trip, Malcolm) & 1 of the free-thinking Vulcans who rejects their once-in-7-years mating ritual for hedonism’s pleasures. T’Pol, herself, dreams of hitting the sheets with T’Loris. She wants to mind meld with him, only to resist & reject her feelings for him. Earlier shows dealt with such as an out & out case of mental rape. But this show wisely shows T’Pol’s willingness & attraction to the forbidden. Even a scene where Archer goads T’Loris into exposing his anger only serves to show how ‘correct’ his path is, & how ultimately destructive the bulk of Vulcan stoicism/repression is. A very good episode. But not the next show, where the crew encounters a planet without a star- can anyone say ‘dark matter’? The planet has eternal night & shapeshifting indigenous aliens (Wraiths) who are being hunted to extinction- a near replay of Voyager’s tale of holograms being hunted by similar warrior-types. Archer encounters 1 of the Wraiths who poses as his childhood fantasy babe/Siren. The episode features a quote from W.B. Yeats’ The Wandering Aengus- of the love for a fish/woman. This PC episode has Archer & Co. making chemicals to help hide the traces of the Wraiths. Apparently, he deems them more worthy of survival than the earlier Valakians.
Episode 18 is a comic take- as a group of Ferengi drug the crew & try to sell T’Pol into sexual slavery- the Milky Way’s denizens just cannot stop fetishizing this icy überbabe! The ST franchise is obviously doing all it can to promote T’Pol (& actress Jolene Blalock) as the next poster goddess, but so far both have fizzled- Wait till next year!, de Bums shout! Of course, the Ferengi greed is used by the crew to retake the ship. A minor episode- but 1 with a major historical/continuity flaw since in Next Generation’s time the Ferengi were said to have not been known by the Federation until then- hmmm? The next episode has DS9’s Odo’s portrayer- actor Rene Auberjoinois- in another recycled story of high sci fi pedigree: that of the marooned father building a world for his daughter- think The Tempest, Forbidden Planet, & several earlier ST episodes. The episode kicks of with more chowing down by Archer & his crew. They encounter a ghost ship whose occupants turn out to be holograms. Only the father & daughter are real. This turn of events is revealed by the discovery of a corpse in orbit who seems to be 1 of the hologram’s templates. Trip is smitten with the sexy blond daughter, &- of course- T’Pol argues with him over her, revealing bits of jealousy as sexual tensions simmer. Of course, the father gives in for the good of his daughter & Enterprise ferries them to their home planet. Episode 20 explicitly echoes the Japanese-American internment by America in WW2 (with a direct reference to a presumed real internment camp- Manzanar). Not all Suliban are shapeshifters who belong to The Cabal (those in league with their Masters from Futurity)- only the genetically enhanced. The crew encounters the ‘normal’ Suliban interned on a planet ‘for their own good’, by the native Tandarans. Archer & Travis are imprisoned. The Camp Warden is a Colonel (odd how military ranks are 1 & the same in so many races), & Bakula’s running buddy from Quantum Leap- Dean Stockwell, who offers freedom in exchange for info on The Cabal. The Suliban, like the later Bajorans, are blatant symbols of Jewry. Of course, Archer & Co. free the good Suliban in most-PC fashion. Another familiar trope pops up in the next episode (recall the Crystalline Entity, the nanobots, & other truly ‘alien’ aliens?)- a weird parasite-like single creature takes over part of the ship, but it is not bad, it just wants to get ‘home’. The crew finally communicates with the entity, returns it to its home planet, & all is well. Some humorous asides include the crew’s offending the race that accidentally infected the ship with the creature- they were offended by the crew’s eating in public (food/sex are dominant themes in this prequel)! Also, Trip & Archer prove to be interstellar couch potatoes & sports enthusiasts, who watch sports on what seems like tv: ESPN must still be beaming around the galaxy in 150 years!
We now head into the last 4 episodes of Season 1: #s 22, 23, 24, & 25. 22 starts with the crew wanting to take shore leave on the paradisical planet Risa. In truth, & refreshingly, the male characters are looking for some poon! But, the damned Vulcans intercede again. An old female Ambassador has been expelled from planet Mazar for criminal misconduct. This is all that’s known- except that she was a hero to a young T’Pol, who takes the fall from grace hard. While escorting the Ambassador to Vulcan they are attacked by a Mazarite ship. The Ambassador keeps Archer in the dark & he decided to return her to Mazar. She tells T’Pol she will be assassinated if returned. T’Pol begs Archer to not return her- it turns out her ‘misconduct’ was a ruse designed to get her safely off the planet, as she was to testify in the criminal trial of a corrupt Mazarite cartel. The crew tricks the Mazarites (who in classic ST fashion, engage in a chase with Enterprise, & win) into ‘killing’ the Ambassador, just in time for a Vulcan ship to save the day. All in all, a good episode combining several classic ST tropes in a new fashion. 23 is also a good episode which takes on the terrorist/freedom fighter conundrum, & again diverts the crew from their Risan holiday. The crew rescues & repairs a small ship. The captain, Z’Brol, invites Trip & Archer to his desert world to feast & play sports. He fails to convince Archer to help him. His camp is attacked. The duo escapes but are lost in the desert. They are eventually rescued- due to Z’brol’s help. It seems Archer’s rescuing of the interned Suliban has become local interstellar legend- he is known as a Champion of Freedom, however wrongly. This episode contains seeds of what must be the Prime Directive’s genesis. Episode 24 finds the crew finally getting to Risa. Lots are drawn & the 5 recipients of the shore leave are (surprise!) all regular castmates. Bakula proves an immensely likable character as this tale unfolds. He encounters a sexy blond whose tale of woe is designed to pump him for info on the Suliban. She apparently is in cahoots with the Tandaran faction that interned the normal Suliban Archer freed. She drugs Archer, however, & escapes his inquiry. Trip & Malcolm try to get laid, meet 2 gorgeous babes (who turn out to be male alien shapeshifting thieves), get robbed, & stripped down to their blue underwear. Travis Mayweather gets injured while rock-climbing & the hibernating Dr. Phlox is awakened to treat him- with comic results. Translator Hoshi finally gets a substantive story as she actually gets nailed by a hunky alien stud who shares her passion for learning languages.
This leads us to Season 1’s finale- episode 25. The ship is heading toward an alien mining colony where 3600 miners dwell. The byproduct (tetrazine) of their mining operations produces a reactive gas. The shuttle must be careful how it enters the atmosphere lest torch the whole planet. The shuttle follows protocol but the planet ignites. 3600 are dead. 9/11 parallels are kept to a minimum, thankfully. Archer can find nothing done wrong, but goes into depression. Starfleet recalls Enterprise & plans to wait another 10-20 years before humanity ventures beyond the solar system. The crew wonders about jobhunting back on Earth. Right away I thought- this is where the Temporal Cold War arc comes in. Sure enough (& not that the predictability is bad- as that’s the most interesting arc in the show), Archer goes to sleep & wakes up 10 months earlier- the night before the ship’s launch. He has time traveled via the supposedly dead Temporal Agent Daniels. He learns that the 3600 deaths were never to occur in this timeline. The Suliban are behind it. Daniels gives Archer info to track down the ship that actually caused the ‘accident’. The crew recovers the evidence & the mission is back on. But, the Suliban- under orders by their Masters of Futurity, send a # of ships after Enterprise & request Archer come as a hostage to save the ship from destruction. He complies, but as he exits to leave Daniels seemingly intercepts him. Archer is in 31st Century San Francisco- now a pile of centuries-old ruins- with Daniels, who claims that all of his temporal equipment is destroyed in this timeline- that both men are stuck on this barren, ravaged, future Earth. Meanwhile, the crew, is facing imminent destruction by the Suliban who think they’ve pulled a fast 1 on them by not turning over Archer. Thus Season 1 ends with a cliffhanger. All in all, a very good episode, Archer (& Bakula) displays chops heretofore unseen, & Season 2 looks to start off very strongly.
Enterprise succeeds (when it does) where the other series sequels failed because it is about 50% between the original ST & the others’ in their PC quotient. Here, men are still men, & the randy days of Kirk are still ahead. I still feel an anthology series would have worked better & 1 day I hope the franchise does such a show to tie up the dozens of loose ends from all the 100s of episodes so far (& yet-to-be) broadcast. In such a show more realism could occur because whole casts could die & the show would not risk alienating fans by killing off recurring characters they’ve grown attached to. But Enterprise’s 1st year is doubtless the strongest any of the sequel series has ever had. The cast is the best since the original show & they act more human. Archer is the best Captain since Kirk, Trip has the most endearing qualities of McCoy & Scotty, Malcolm is likable, Hoshi has more to do than most of the ‘non-babe’ females in the assorted series, Dr. Phlox is not as annoying as some of the other shows’ aliens- even though he resembles Voyager’s annoying Neelix, Travis is likable- if underused, & the only real disappointment has been the T’Pol character- that Vulcans could be so stolid after nearly a century in contact with humans, much less to the other sequels’ times & beyond, is mindblowing. Hopefully, Season 2 will find the character & actress emerging to be more than just the Milky Way’s biggest wet dream. But, if not, I can live with the paint-thin catsuits (O, the burden!) as long as the rest of the crew keeps on this particular trek to the future.
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