"Jonathan Archer, look at the trouble you've gotten your pink skin into this time."
I'm probably in the minority on this, but I really liked Star Trek Enterprise. I've been a Trekfan for a very long time and have faithfully watched every incarnation of the franchise. Enterprise had a good concept, a decent group of actors, and a lot of promise. The only problem was the show's potential was never fully realized until it was too late. By then, there was little to keep this ship afloat.
In order to bring in viewers on a weekly basis you need to give them a reason to come back. Unfortunately, Enterprise never really did that in its first two seasons. Sure there were some great episodes like "Dead Stop", "Vanishing Point", "Cogenitor" and "Dear Doctor" but the bad far outweighed the good. There was no real direction or focus. The writers and producers seemed to be realizing this as well. Rumors began surfacing on the net that the series was circling the bowl and was soon to see its way to the chopping block. So when it came time for season three they wisely decided to shake things up a bit.
Enterprise ended its second season with a bang (literally) as a race called the Xindi launching a devastating attack against Earth that kills 7 million people. Humanity quickly turns from a mission of exploration to one of vengeance. The cliffhanger of last season had the crew of Enterprise flying blindly into the Expanse, a region of space known for dangerous and unpredictable spatial anomalies, to search for the Xindi and stop them from launching their next attack. This new direction was a welcome change from the blandness of the previous seasons, and it is apparent that the series was hoping for a new life with this new heading.
For the most part it works. The show moves from a bunch of stand alone episodes to a series with some actual continuity to it. They build on the Xindi story a little bit each episode and it really makes the season feel like it has a direction and purpose. Of course, even with this new direction the writers still fall back into the voyage of the week syndrome at times and there are quite a few diversions that have nothing to do with the Xindi at all.
The season spend a fair amount of time focusing on character driven episodes which really give the season a soul, if you will. One such episode is called "Twilight". Archer is hurt by one of those spatial anomalies the Expanse if famous for and can no longer develop long term memories. Taking place 12 years in the future, Earth has been destroyed and T'Pol has been taking care of Archer since his injury. The episode is intimate yet dramatic as even as Archer and T'Pol are trying to go about their lives, the Xindi are still trying to hunt down every last human they can.
Another winner is "Similitude". Trip suffers a bad fall in engineering and slips into a coma. In order to save his life, Phlox creates a clone of our favorite southerner so he can harvest new brain tissue save Trip's life. Affectionately called Sim, the clone runs around with all of Trips memories and emotions but the kicker is he can only live for a matter of days. The ethical issues this episode address are extreme, and it is here that we see a glimpse of Archer's growing desperation in the Expanse.
Rounding out the high points of the season for me is "Damage", a very dark episode that sees Enterprise and its crew barely holding it together after a vicious Xindi attack. Characters face many moral challenges as Archer is forced into an act of piracy and T'Pol's drug addiction is revealed. Also, Star Trek favorite Jeffrey Combs makes an appearance as that loveable blue skinned Andorian Shran in the highly entertaining episode "Proving Ground".
However, there are still plenty of episodes I could have done without in this season including "North Star" which is actually, for all intensive purposes, a western. It's easily one of the lowest points in this season and holds no real value to character development or plot progression. I get the sense that somebody saw Scott Bakula wearing a cowboy hat and thought, "Hey, Archer would make a great cowboy!" I also had to ask myself how the Enterprise crew got authentic clothing and weaponry because it's not like they had replicators.
Another example of the show slipping into its old pattern is an episode entitled "Extinction". When the crew lands on a planet in search of Xindi, the away team has their DNA rewritten and mutate into another race thanks to an airborne virus. This is a ridiculously pointless plot and also features some of the worst acting I've seen on this show. The episode ends on an even worse note (if that's possible) with Archer holding onto the virus as a keepsake like Picard kept the flute from the TNG episode "The Inner Light". Only at least in Pircard's case the flute won't turn you into a savage mutant with a penchant for eating worms.
The season and the Xindi arc do find closure on a rather satisfying note and are arguably better than most of the material in the prior two seasons. It was a jump start that the show desperately needed to stay alive, but in the end it turned out to be too little, too late. As a whole I never felt that this was a bad show but even as a devoted viewer I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth after several episodes. The third season was much higher quality than the last two and in the end, I wouldn't say that Enterprise was the worst of the Trek franchise. It was just the most misguided.
The third season continues with the design of the big gray outer shell and dark blue plastic case inside. The gray case is a little too bulky for my taste but it's nowhere near as obnoxious as the packaging for the original series. Even so it's still a tight squeeze on the DVD shelf so hopefully you have a little extra room or else you'll be out of luck. There are seven discs in all with the last comprised of the special features but some bonus material makes it onto the individual discs in the form of deleted scenes and such.
Enterprise is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and like the seasons before it, the third looks beautiful on DVD. The images are very clean and vibrant, plus the contrast translates well onto the format. There are a few moments where some edge enhancement becomes apparent and at points the video can be very soft, though it appears to be attributed to the filming of the scene. While most of the image is very clear there are some moments where minor grain is noticeable, especially in contrast to the special effects.
Enterprise season three offers two audio selections and though the default is an English 5.1 track there is also a 2.0 available. While the 2.0 offers a little bit more directionality than your typical stereo track the 5.1 is the ideal choice. The channel mix is very good with everything being kept in perfect balance and distributed accurately. While most dialogue comes from the front stage the rear picks up with music, sound effects and some voices. Given the more action paced nature of this season the audio does a great job of putting you in the center of the action. It's not the most impressive 5.1 track I've ever heard but it's definitely not the worst.
Just like the season box sets before it, the third release offers a collection of special features that are informative and entertaining. Each disc offers something extra to watch but the bulk of the material is on the seventh disc of the set.
Commentaries – There are a small selection of commentaries for this season and they vary between audio and text, so depending on what type you prefer you'll be pleased. Text commentaries are available for "The Xindi", "Impulse" and "Countdown". There are also audio commentaries for "North Star" and "Similitude". I felt the best and most informative commentary included was the one for "Similitude" with Manny Coto discussing coming onto the show and the concept of the episode.
Deleted scenes – A handful of deleted scenes make their appearance on some discs from this season. Three scenes are available for "Similitude", one for "Chosen Realm" and two are included for "E2". None of these were all that interesting or relevant to the episodes and many of them are incomplete without sound effects or music.
A Day in the Life of a Director: Roxann Dawson – You may recognize her from her role as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres on Voyager but Dawson actually sits in the director's chair for "Exile", "Chosen Realm", Doctors Orders" and "E2" this season. This seventeen minute feature follows her through the life of a director and what it's like to work on a show like Enterprise.
The Xindi Saga Begins – Rick Berman and Brannon Braga discuss the process of decisions that lead them to the Xindi story arc. It's obvious that after working on Star Trek for so long that the pair was in a creative funk and they needed to take Enterprise in a different direction. The feature runs for about thirteen minutes with some of the actors and crew chiming in to discuss some pivotal moments in the season.
Enterprise Moments: Season Three – Another thirteen minute featurette is a collection of the crew and casts favorite moments from the third season. They discuss developmental points for characters and relationships as well as the moral questions that are raised this season.
Enterprise Profile: Connor Trinneer – I was very pleased to see a featurette looking at Trinneer and the character of Trip because he is easily my favorite actor on Enterprise. Trip is the wide-eyed good 'ol boy that is reminiscent of our time period with a lot of charisma and a great sense of humor. With seventeen minutes of clips and interviews this extra was probably my personal favorite just because I love Trinneer's performance in every season.
Rounding things out are a great collection of outtakes, production photos and an advertisement for Borg Invasion at the Vegas Hilton. As is the case with previous seasons and other Trek TV releases there are some hidden features on this set. One is a look at the episode "E2", another is John Billingsley talking about walking around naked and how well endowed Dr. Phlox is. The other egg is a discussion about the costumes and what influences went into designing them. Overall it's not a bad collection of extras and is up to par with the previous seasons. I would have liked some behind the scenes featurettes or more detail about the making of the special effects but you take what you can get.
In the past two seasons Enterprise lost its focus with an abundance of time travel mumbo jumbo and some poor writing. The third season was arguably better but even it had a few episodes that were borderline unwatchable. If you have purchased the prior two sets then you probably already have your mind made up if you are going to get this one or not. This season is easily more enjoyable than the previous but is it worth shelling out the kind of money that Paramount asks for their Trek sets?
If you haven't gotten into Enterprise then there really isn't much point to buying season three unless you've watched the first two. With a $100 price tag it is a big financial commitment to buy into a series of Star Trek and honestly the cost is inflated much more than it really needs to be. Even so I really enjoyed this show and the third season marks a turning point where the writing improved over the prior two. Recommended