There's nothing horribly wrong with
Star Trek: Enterprise; compared to something like, say,
Andromeda, it's clearly a competent show. But describing
Enterprise as "competent" is a case of damning with
faint praise. The problem isn't that Enterprise really messes
anything up particularly badly, but rather that it doesn't offer a
convincing rationale for its own existence.
It's interesting to compare
Enterprise with its two predecessors. Like Deep Space Nine,
it's an attempt to do something outside the main line of the Trek
universe: in this case, by telling a pre-Federation story, in the
case of DS9, by telling a story based on a space station
instead of a starship. But what's instructive is the difference
between the way the two series handled their material. DS9
pushed the limits of the Trek universe, not just in terms of
plot (though there were some great storylines with the Klingons and
the Dominion) but also in terms of tone. DS9 gave us
terrorists as main characters and made it difficult to draw lines
between black and white, good and bad; DS9 called into
question the universal benevolence of the Federation and even made a
parallel between the Federation and the Borg. For a franchise that
was always as steeped in optimism as Star Trek, those were
heady changes, and DS9 made them with enthusiasm.
In Season 2 of Enterprise, I
can see a few attempts to move the series into a fresh direction, in
the style of DS9. I suspect that the series is intended to be
more "realistic"; at any rate, people get a lot dirtier and
sweatier on a more regular basis than in any other Trek show.
I also would hazard a guess that the show is supposed to be a little
"harder," in the sense that, with no Prime Directive and no
Federation to answer to, things can get a little rougher out on the
fringes of known space. But the realism and toughness is only skin
deep; at its heart, Enterprise doesn't really want to be
gritty and biting. Look at an episode like "Marauders," for
instance. The crew decide to help a mining colony defend itself
against the Klingons who've been preying on it. Good so far... except
that it's sanitized to the point of absurdity. Apparently a day's
training in Vulcan self-defense (which amounts to "duck if
someone swings at your head with a weapon" – gee, I'd
never have thought of that!) is enough for all the colonists to
escape being chopped up by batleth-swinging Klingons. In any case,
nobody gets killed or even hurt, and in combination with the utterly
lame plot mechanism that wraps things up, it all feels very childish.
(Ironically, the one really
noticeable change in Enterprise, compared to its predecessors,
is its use of a truly dreadful, sappy pop song as its opening theme.
The montage of space exploration moments is cheesy but passable; the
theme music is downright grating, and really seems to put the show on
the wrong foot from the beginning.)
So if one of the characteristics of
Enterprise is that it's not very much like DS9 at all,
the opposite is true of its relationship to Voyager. I'd heard
the show teasingly called "Voyager II," but I didn't
quite realize how appropriate that was until I started watching it.
Hemmed in, perhaps, by the very "historical" context that
was supposed to give it its own storyline, Enterprise's second
season is extremely episodic. Let's wander around the galaxy and see
what we bump into! And while the early seasons of Voyager
overplayed the time-travel card, this season of Enterprise
more than wears out the "Archer gets imprisoned and put on
trial" storyline. That's too bad, really, because the
late-season episode "Judgment" does a reasonably good job
with that exact plot, as Archer runs afoul of the Klingons and faces
life imprisonment on Rura Penthe; it's a pity that "The
Communicator" and "Canamar" precede it, not to mention
that it crops up yet again in "Bounty." There's some sense
of continuity here, with references to the "temporal cold war"
and the recurring bad-guy presence of the Suliban, but as with
Voyager, there's no real engagement with an ongoing story that
might lift things beyond the adventure-of-the-week level.
The thing is, Next Generation
remains really the only Trek series to successfully handle the
"adventure of the week," and it did so by a variety of
means, including but not limited to solid acting and consistently (in
the later seasons) excellent writing. Enterprise is hampered
on both those fronts. The cast isn't terrible, but neither is it
compelling; the actors seem to be slotted into character niches
rather than having been given three-dimensional characters to
develop. (It doesn't help matters much that the actors seem to be
used as "eye candy" too often for their own self-respect.
Not only do we get skin-tight uniforms (who'd have thought that
spandex would be in fashion for so many hundreds of years and across
varying alien cultures?) but we get plenty of screen time for
half-dressed women, and one gratuitous shirt-removal in "Shockwave
II.") Scott Bakula seems like a nice enough guy as Captain
Archer, but he doesn't seem to have a very interesting personality.
But to a great extent, the failure of the cast to shine is most
likely due to the lack of good scripts. Far too many of them are
simple retreads of "issue of the day" topics that have
already been done better on Next Generation and then recycled
on Voyager: in "The Breach," for instance, Phlox has to
deal with a patient who doesn't want to be treated by a Denobulan,
and in "Cogenitor" Trip tries to combat prejudicial
behavior in a species with three genders, one of which is given
second-class status. Other episodes that are otherwise competent are
dragged down by wooden dialogue and overly long philosophical
speeches by Archer.
That's not to say that the season as
a whole is a loss. Some of the episodes show a spark of imagination.
"Singularity" has the crew going crazy in a relatively
interesting way; it's handled awkwardly, but it's not bad. "Vanishing
Point" is one of the better episodes in the set, with Hoshi
having a very weird transporter experience. One of the best-written
episodes in the season, "Vanishing Point" actually ends
with an intriguing twist. "Future Tense" manages to evoke a
sense of wonder that's been lacking in some of the other episodes, as
the Enterprise crew stumble upon a mysterious vessel with a
humanoid corpse, one that opens up many unanswered questions.
One thing that seems clear, after
finishing Season 2, is that the filmmakers seem to have realized that
things weren't working out as planned. The season finale, "The
Expanse," is in essence a giant reset button. It's a way of
saying "Hey, this wandering-around-having-adventures thing is
just not working out worth a darn. Let's crank up the stakes and
throw the Enterprise into a totally new context and see what
happens." Viewers will forgive me for being somewhat skeptical,
but in truth there's an opportunity for a much better third season.
If things shape up the way that it's implied that they will,
Enterprise will indeed become more of a Voyager II, but
in this case perhaps fulfilling some of the promise that Voyager
squandered so badly.
My overall impression of Enterprise
is, I have to admit, that it's very bland. As it stands right now,
I'm in the position of thinking something I wouldn't have expected:
that perhaps it really is time for the Star Trek franchise to
take a good, long rest. Enterprise has a generous handful of
faults, but the main one is that it lacks energy. Star Trek
either needs to shake things up radically (and that means more than
just issuing a new ship and crew) or call it a day.
Enterprise has the nicest
packaging since Deep Space Nine; it's not perfect, but it's
far more user-friendly than the packaging for either Voyager or the
Original Series. The outer part of the case is a hard plastic shell
that comes apart into a top and bottom half, revealing the discs in a
hard plastic "book" that's enclosed in a clear plastic
one-piece slipcover. A full-sized booklet with episode summaries is
tucked inside. Given that the clear plastic slipcover has the
Enterprise name and logo, as well as "Season 2,"
printed on it, it looks perfectly fine by itself, so there's always
the option of discarding the bulky outer case if it doesn't fit well
on your shelf.
The video quality for Enterprise is
excellent. The show is presented in its original widescreen aspect
ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. Colors are natural
and attractive; the palette of the show is fairly low-key, but
there's a nice vibrancy to the colors that we do see, and skin tones
always look nice. Edge enhancement is minimal, and the image has a
clean, crisp look to it overall. I occasionally found some scenes to
be a little on the dark side, but since contrast is presented well,
I'd say it's a stylistic choice. All in all, Enterprise looks very
good indeed on DVD.
The default soundtrack for
Enterprise is a Dolby 5.1 surround; a 2.0 stereo option is
also provided. The audio quality is reasonable, though not as
impressive as the image quality. In dialogue scenes, the sound tends
to have a slightly flat quality to it; the actors' voices are clear
and understandable, without a doubt, but there's no richness or
depth. On the positive side, the battle scenes usually make good use
of the surround channels to provide a sense that the viewer is in the
middle of things. English closed captions are included.
The main selection of special
features appears on Disc 7, but before we get there, several other
features of note are included on the earlier discs.
On Disc 1, we get a deleted scene
for "Minefield" and a reasonably interesting audio
commentary for "Dead Stop" from co-writers Michael Sussman
and Phyllis Strong. Disc 2 includes deleted scenes for "A Night
in Sickbay," and Disc 4 has deleted scenes for "Dawn"
and "Stigma," along with a text commentary for "Stigma"
from Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda. Disc 6 has writers Michael
Sussman and Phyllis Strong return for a commentary on "Regeneration,"
and Michael and Denise Okuda provide another text commentary for
"First Flight." Disc 7, in addition to the special features
section, also has deleted scenes for "The Expanse."
The bulk of the bonus material
appears on Disc 7. It starts out with "Enterprise
Moments: Season 2," a 19-minute overview of a few favorite or
standout episodes from the season. Next, we get a 14-minute profile
of Jolene Blaylock (T'Pol), which is reasonably interesting. I liked
the 7-minute clip on "LeVar Burton: Star Trek Director,"
showcasing how the former Next Generation cast member has been
making a solid career on the other side of the camera. In "Enterprise
Secrets" (5 minutes), an assistant director for "Judgment"
reveals how the episode re-created the look of the Rura Penthe sets
that were so memorably featured in The Undiscovered Country. "Inside
A Night in Sickbay" (11 minutes) gives some insights into the
making of that particular episode, most notably (in my mind) that it
was written on purpose to save money by being a "ship show"
rather than one that used a lot of different sets. The "Outtakes"
section (11 minutes) isn't particularly interesting, as it's mainly a
collection of flubbed lines and actors laughing. Lastly, we get a
photo gallery and a trailer for Borg Invasion.
There are also some "hidden
files" (sigh). On the first menu screen of the special features,
selecting the top panel on the left side reveals a 3-minute interview
with Bakula, and selecting the middle panel gives you another
3-minute piece, this time with Linda Park. On the second menu screen
of the special features, the middle panel on the left side accesses a
2-minute interview with Anthony Montgomery.
I'd heard various things about Star
Trek: Enterprise before getting a copy of Season 2 to review it,
but I always like to make up my own mind about the quality of a show.
I like the premise of Enterprise, and being a Trekkie from way
back (pre-Next Generation), I couldn't help but be intrigued
by a fresh Trek series. Unfortunately, Enterprise
Season 2 doesn't inspire me with any enthusiasm at all. It's a
competent series, but competent doesn't cut it when I can choose to
watch episodes of Next Generation or DS9 (or nothing at
all) instead of sitting through a mildly dull episode of Enterprise
and wondering, afterwards, what happened to my 45 minutes. I'll give
this set a "rent it" rating; viewers who are still really
enthused about Star Trek, or about the first season of
Enterprise, may want to watch these episodes, but I wouldn't
consider it really worth a purchase. One thing in the set's favor is
that, as with all the other Trek sets, Paramount really has
done a nice job with the video transfer: Enterprise appears in a very
nice anamorphic widescreen transfer.