May 13th marks the two-year anniversary of the airing of the series finale of Enterprise — what may've been the last episode of Star Trek ever. My viewing habits precluded catching most of the fourth and final season when it originally aired, so this past weekend, I engorged myself on the last 19 episodes (which I shall attempt to discuss spoiler-free).
My immersion in Trek lore had, unfortunately, not protected me from some spoilers. I knew some of the plots, such as that the divergence between The Original Series and The Next Generation Klingons would be explained; that there'd be a Mirror Universe episode; and of the guest stars and casualties of the finale. I can't imagine how blown away I'd've been had these stories come as complete surprises.
And speaking of blown away, it was masterful to incorporate actual footage from the Star Trek: First Contact film into the opening of the two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly". I was intrigued to see how this episode would connect to the primary universe, and it took some time for me to suspect there may not be a direct correlation; I was impressed when they carried it out. Greater familiarity with TOS would've helped, as I recognized the eponymous Tholian web, but not the Defiant (which proved to not be Deep Space Nine's little ship — though it was still a lot of fun to see the NX-01 crew on a recreated, TOS-era ship!). Though this episode had little impact on Enterprise Prime or the founding of the United Federation of Planets, I am eager to see its implications in the current arc of Mirror Universe novels.
Another neat pair of episodes were the series antepenultimate and penultimate two-parters "Demons" and "Terra Prime", which featured Harry Groener (the villainous mayor from Buffy; also a guest star on an early episode of TNG) as the good guy, and Peter Weller (the heroic Robocop) as the bad guy. It was in this episode that Ensign Sato finally showed some balls, demonstrating some believable character development after four years.
And that's probably what I loved best about the fourth season: the development of characters. This season took a different tack to storytelling, employing multiple arcs that took several episodes to tell. While TNG might've fit 22 major plots into 22 episodes, Enterprise fit only 12 — many of them more substantial than we've come to expect from the already-voluminous Star Trek universe. I felt a bit more like I was watching Deep Space Nine and its far-reaching Dominion War than Voyager's "alien/space anomaly of the week". Enterprise saw major changes not only for individuals, like Soval and Shran, but also for relationships, both personal and political: T'Pol and Trip; Phlox and Enterprise; Starfleet and Section 31; Andorians and Tellarites alike.
It all culminated in a finale that was… odd. I can see the value of the frame they gave it, but it also detracted from the series' main characters by focusing on others (and adding little to them). The situation that Archer and Trip found themselves in was completely unnecessary, predicated by foolishness and unpreparedness. So my qualm is not with Trip's handling of the situation, but with landing himself in that jam in the first place. The finale did not provide the positive closure I appreciated in TNG, Voyager, or DS9 (and not once in the fourth season was the Temporal Cold War ever resolved or even mentioned).
The finale's last ten seconds, though, were extremely moving. It created a context in which the impact of each of the three eras of Trek on each other is irrefutable, summing up this series' implications for me. Star Trek has been on the air continuously for 18 years, and I'm just finishing it now, stretching that span to 20 years — over two-thirds of my life. It's helped me define my interests, my values, my aspirations. Now it's gone, and though its return to the silver screen is predicted for Christmas 2008, Star Trek is, first and foremost, a vehicle of the television medium, and whether it ever returns there remains to be seen.
Of greater concern to me is whether humanity will ever achieve a utopia on the scale of the 24th — or even 22nd — century. Is Archer and his flawed era someone we can relate and aspire to? Can we put aside our differences and unite to realize a shared and optimistic vision of our future? Or is Star Trek fated to be nothing more than science fiction? Doesn't Gene Roddenberry's dream deserve to be our own? Don't we deserve that for ourselves?
3 thoughts on “These Are the Voyages…”
I thought that the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise was a big improvement over the previous years of that space opera, as well as over much of Star Trek: Voyager. I agree that Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of humanity's future could still inspire people, if only the producers, writers, and fans can agree on a version that both respects and continues the 40-year legacy… Live long and prosper!
I wanted to include this in my original post, which was already long enough. It's an eloquent explanation of why, in the Spring of 2005, private space industrialists donated millions of dollars to secure a fifth season of Enterprise:
"We think Star Trek and especially its latest incarnation, Enterprise, is the kind of TV that should be aired more often. The people responsible at Paramount think this is just a show and we want to tell them, it is not. We are in the commercial space flight industry and would like to testify that at least one out of two of all the actual entrepreneurs involved in this industry has been inspired by Star Trek; and we are not only good at watching TV sci-fi, we are also good at writing checks, big checks. The people airing this kind of TV have a responsibility: inspiration. Star Trek has inspired us, and particularly Enterprise, with its superb theme song that tells so much about our struggle to move space travel forward and closer to the public, this inspiration is so self evident, that Virgin Galactic has ordered a 5-sub orbital ship fleet from Scaled Composites, a 100 million dollar investment, and the first one being built is going to be christened 'VSS Enterprise'. Now doesn't that ring a bell in Paramount's ears? Now, canceling the series so bluntly, for the sake of just ratings, tells very much about the kind of thinking going on inside Paramount. If we thought the same way, Paul Allen would have never funded the SpaceShipOne program. Sir Richard Branson would never have funded Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures would never have put two space tourists aboard the International Space Station. Instead, we would all be at home watching Survivor or some other reality TV show. Enterprise needs to be renewed, for the sake of fan loyalty, for being quality TV, for bringing imagination and hope for a better future to our homes, but over all that, for inspiring us so strongly that we have fought all our adult lives to bring that future closer to our children and to us."
At least they're still trying…
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