Star Trek: Enterprise Revisited - A Look Back At Season Two
The last Star Trek TV series of the Rick Berman era, Star Trek: Enterprise ran from 2001 to 2005 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Having revisited its predecessor Star Trek: Voyager on its 25th anniversary last year, we turn to the prequel series for a season by season look back, continuing with the troubled second season...
Check out our look back at season one here.
Star Trek: Enterprise's second season was the end of the line for Star Trek as we knew it. After that season, the episodic adventures that had been a staple since the show's beginning were replaced with longer arcs and less formulaic narratives. When the franchise return to TV with Star Trek: Discovery, it's model was closer to Star Trek: Enterprise's third season, with Star Trek: Picard following suit. Only the recent animated offering Star Trek: Lower Decks adopts the episodic approach and even then, it's homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation is clear.
The weekly visits to different planets, social and moral drama told with a a sci-fi twist and minimal continuity were all strikingly familiar by the time Star Trek: Enterprise came around. The biggest disappointment is that a large chunk of its episodes could easily have been adapted to fit the crews of the shows that came before them. But at least season one mixed in some truly prequel themes; the sense of wilderness, the distrust with the Vulcans, the emerging conflict with future Federation members the Andorians, the lack of familiar technologies and Star Trek home comforts. Season two seems to loose interest in that idea. Even the temporal war arc gets barely a mention. In the same way that Star Trek: Voyager became paint by numbers in its final two years, season two of Enterprise becomes overly familiar.
In fact, there's an argument that season two is mostly just a rehash of what came before. You liked Star Trek: The Next Generation's The Next Phase? Well here's Hoshi experiencing very much the same thing in a transporter accident in Vanishing Point. Remember when Famke Janssen played a beautiful human cargo in The Perfect Mate? Let's do it again with Precious Cargo. A member of the Enterprise stranded on a planet with an alien, forced to work together while being unable to communicate? Dawn sounds awfully like Darmok. It's not that any of these episodes are terrible - though the lack of chemistry between Tripp and Kaitaama in Precious Cargo comes awfully close. It's just that these stories have been done before. And better.
There are some stinkers in season two unfortunately, more so than season one. A Night in Sickbay and The Crossing are both bad episodes, even if you can forgive the experimentation with format in A Night. They play up Captain Archer's xenophobic tendencies to the extreme, making him hostile to other races, refusing to listen to their beliefs and ideas and blaming them for his suffering. It's an ugly trait for a Star Trek captain to have. Horizon is a largely dull, generic story with the dull, generic Mayweather, involving his family and space pirates that doesn't do anything interesting with the boomer concept introduced in season one.
Bounty is a travesty. The main plot involving Archer being taken by a Tellarite bounty hunter for the Klingons is okay, but it is saddled with a sub plot that sees Jolene Blalock exploited for the audience, running around the ship in her underwear as she goes through Pon Farr. The sexualisation of the female crew is sadly not new to Star Trek (see Troi and Seven of Nine), but it's worrying here. Who though Hoshi accidentally loosing her top would be funny in season opener Shockwave Part 2?
The Klingons get a bit more focus this season, though it's a mixed bag to be fair. They turn up a pirates in Maruders, forcing the crew of the Enterprise to help a mining colony defend themselves. The Klingons are only there because they are recognisable as villains. More interesting is late season two episode Judgement, which sees Archer on trial in a set up reminiscent of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (it even features the return of penal colony Rura Penthe), while offering a very different side to the race in scholar Advocate Kolos, played brilliant by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's major Klingon (J.G. Hertzler). It's a very different role to Martok. The episode also has some continuity nods with Captain Duras, who will return in the finale to try and take out Archer in the season's closing battle. The Klingons are also behind the central plot of the aforementioned Bounty too.
Sometimes, Enterprise doing classic Star Trek stories works really well. The Communicator is a surprising good Prime Directive story that sees events spiral out of control after Reed leaves his communicator behind after a mission and he and Archer become involved in the planet's civil war. Singularity is an old fashioned space anomaly adventure, that sees the crew experience insanity the closer they get to a black hole, with only T'Pol able to save them. Sure, it has shades of The Naked Time / The Naked Now, but it is a lot of fun. Similarly, The Catwalk finds the ship stuck in a deadly nebula that forces the crew to live in the catwalk of the nacelle, all while dealing with an alien incursion to steal the ship.
There are some mixed morality stories at play too, a staple of any Star Trek series to this point. The Seventh and Stigma both tackle big issues (terrorism and AIDS) in their T'Pol-centric stories, though there's nothing as interesting as what was tackled in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from the former, while the latter feels a decade too late in its approach. The idea of a disease triggered by T'Pol's mind rape in season one's Fusion is an interesting concept, but is never explored outside the episode and the whole story feels a little heavy handed in its approach. Far more successful is Cogenitor, which tackles gender identity and interference in other cultures, as Trip discovers a third gender among the Vissians who is treated as a slave to the male and female genders. His attempts to educate her are noble, but unlike much of Star Trek, the ending plays against expectations, with 'Charles's suicide' the result of Tripp's action revealing the danger of interfering with other cultures without any real sense of the consequences.
One of the more interesting aspects of season one, was the treatment of Vulcans as mild antagonists to the human race. The Vulcans don't get much in the way of development, but there are some interesting stories to be told here. Carbon Creek, which sees T'Pol speak of her ancestor's visit to Earth in the 50s, should have been somewhat trite, but there is a charm to seeing the three Vulcans adapt to their surroundings and making 'first contact' after their ship crashes. While The Seventh and Stigma lack any real punch, there is at least a return to the hostilities with the Andorians in Cease Fire, one of the strongest episodes of the season. It's a crime that Jeffrey Coombs Shran only makes a single appearance, but Cease Fire does offering something of a continuity to season's one's best plot thread and there's some welcome development of Gary Graham's Ambassador Soval, becoming an ally of sorts to Archer in this episode. First Flight examines the Vulcan's engagement in Earth's mission to the stars further, with a prequel story involving Archer's rivalry with another potential captain (a great guest performance from Keith Carradine as A.G. Robinson), Archer's first meeting with Trip and the attempts to break the Warp Two barrier. It's another surprising charming episode that provides some much needed context and development to Enterprise's mission. It should have come in season one though.
Another staple of season one was the temporal war arc. Shockwave Part 2 opens the season, picking up on the terrific cliff-hanger of the 29th century Armageddon...and then fails to deliver. The Suliban are reduced to stock bad guys taking over the ship, with the crew attempting to recover the vessel, while Archer works with Daniels to find a trip back to the present. It should be thrilling, but it lacks the tension and excitement of the season one finale. After that, the temporal war arc vanishes until the final, bar the intriguing Future Tense, which sees the crew uncover what is in all but name the TARDIS from Doctor Who and become enthralled in a race against time against Suliban and Tholian factions. Its is one of the highlights of the season, even if it doesn't really explain anything.
In fact, there are a number of highlights in season two, even if does not match the consistency of season one. Season two starts strong after a mixed opener, with Carbon Creek followed by Minefield, a tense episode that sees the ship trapped in a minefield and making contact with the menacing Romulan Star Empire (who's appearance remains off-screen to preserve continuity). This leads directly into Dead Stop, which sees the damaged Enterprise discover an unmanned station that repairs the ship, but holds a dangerous secret.
Sadly, the season doesn't maintain that momentum. There are some 'good' episodes in the mix but they are far too inconsistent; Singularity and The Catwalk are entertaining, Cease Fire and the return to the temporal war in Future Tense feel like an attempt to recapture some of season one's strengths, Judgement does something interesting with the Klingons, looking beyond it warrior culture and Congenitor has one hell of a twist. Canamar is a fun, if largely disposable episode that sees Enterprise do Con Air in space! The Breach is another strong episode, with an attempt to rescue three Denobulan scientists offering some high action stakes as Phlox faces the decision to cure his race's mortal enemies, exploring stigma and persecution better than other episodes this season.
And then we have the Borg. It really shouldn't have worked, but somehow Regeneration emerges as the best episode of the season, with the Borg genuinely scarring after Star Trek: Voyager virtually neutered them. The opening on Earth is a nice tie into the events of Star Trek: First Contact preceding it, with a little homage to The Thing. It then becomes a race against time to save the assimilated crew as the Enterprise pursues the Borg-human vessel, taking on zombie intruders and Phlox himself almost succumbing to the collective. There's even a great ending, that slots nicely into twenth-fourth century history. Like the Ferengi in season one, Regeneration never mentions the Borg by name, towing that fine line between reusing a future bad guy to great affect and not ruffling too many continuity feathers.
Season two end with The Expanse. With ratings in free fall and a season packed with old Star Trek rehashes, showrunners Brannon Braga and Rick Berman take the show in an exciting new direction. The opening attack on Earth that leaves seven million dead and Archer's encounter with the Suliban and Future Guy, brings the temporal war arc to the fore. The nature of the show is changed, as the Enterprise sets off on a new mission into strange space to uncover the Xindi, a race attempting to build a weapon to destroy Earth before humanity can destroy them hundreds of years from now. There are huge parallels with 911, which took place early in the show's run and those real life events shape the show from formulaic Star Trek into the year-long Xindi arc of season three. It's just the shot or adrenalin Enterprise needs, finally finding its feet.
Season two of Enterpise is the end of the road for Star Trek. Enterprise would continue for two more seasons, delivering its best work yet, but the franchise no longer held the esteem it once had. Season two has its moments, but its drift towards the formulaic had already done a lot of damage. The franchise on TV was coming to an end; at least it had two great years to go out on...
Season Two's Best Episode: Regeneration
It shouldn't have worked. Telling a story about the Borg two hundred years before Q Who? Instead, Regeneration succeeds on almost every level, telling a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact, tying into later continuity and most significantly, making the Borg genuinely scary again after Star Trek: Voyager neutered them. With shades of The Thing and a real sense of escalation and tension, this is the best episode of the show's first two years.
Season Two's Worst Episode: Bounty
Unfortunately there are several contenders for worst episode in season two, but Bounty really is a case of what were the writers thinking? Whole the A plot is fairly unmemorable story involving the Klingons seeking revenge against Archer, the B plot has T'Pol go through artificial Pon Farr, reducing Jolene Blalock to running around the ship in her sweaty underwear trying to copulate with the male crew. Embarrassing and unforgivable at every level...
Season Two's Best Moment: The attack on Earth in The Expanse
The shocking attack on Earth is a crucial moment in the show's history and the sight of the probe carving its way through the planet, resulting in over seven million deaths, is a jaw-dropping opener to the season finale.
What are your thoughts on season two of Star Trek: Enterprise? Let us know, in the comments below...