"Well, that was fun. Can we do it again?"
Here we have it folks, the very last season of Enterprise. Actually, scratch that, the very last season of Star Trek for the foreseeable future. You see, this show achieved something that had only been accomplished in the Trek universe by the original series; cancellation. That's a word that until now hadn't even been included on the universal translator.
After being plucked from the jaws of death during season three, the crew of Enterprise found themselves with only one chance of survival. They had to boost ratings. The need for more coherency and action was obvious; therefore the ridiculously long Season 3 Xindi arc was crafted. Don't get me wrong, the season was very good and I enjoyed seeing the crew deal with the Expanse, but it wasn't quite what the show needed to save itself. That's really where season four came in, though unfortunately it was just too late to turn things around.
Executive Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga essentially stepped aside for most of this season, which isn't surprising after their comments in an extra from the season three DVD in which they basically said they were tired of working on Star Trek and had run out of ideas. This left the show in the very capable hands of Manny Coto. Who by all means was the best thing that every happened to Enterprise. While his background didn't include previous work on Star Trek, his love for the concept breathed life back into a show that had become stagnant.
With Coto in control, Enterprise started to feel more like traditional Star Trek than it ever had before. The fourth season benefited from story arcs instead of stand alone episodes, further character development, exceptional guest stars, and homage to the original Star Trek. In short, it was the best season that the show had ever seen. If things had been different, and the first two seasons had been as great as the last, then Enterprise might never have been cancelled and we'd still be watching the dawn of the Federation.
When looking at this season, you have to take everything into context. The third ended on a cliffhanging note in the episode "Zero Hour" with the camera panning in on Archer lying wounded in an army medical tent surrounded by Nazis. My initial reaction was less than exuberant. Oh great, more temporal cold war crap. One of my biggest gripes with Enterprise was the fact that whenever the writers ran out of ideas, they would toss in a random time paradox story. They usually made no sense and were not entertaining. Since Berman and Braga were essentially done with the show, they dropped a random alien Nazi into the picture with no real clue what to do with them. This left Coto to clean up after their mess.
If things had been thought through, the better choice for a season opener would have been "Home". This episode comes right after all of that Nazi alien foolishness and easily could have used another hour to flesh out all the changes going on back on Earth during the year they were away. Here, Enterprise finally returns home and the crew takes a much needed vacation. Everyone kind of goes about and does their own thing, but the main focus is on Trip and T'Pol's relationship. The couple head to Vulcan where T'Pol is confronted by an old betrothed and must make a difficult choice for the good of her family. There is also a side story that deals with the developing xenophobia on Earth and humanity's rejection of alien cultures. This story comes more into play later in the season. This episode proved to be a great character builder, as well as prelude for things to come.
After "Home", the season starts getting things in motion with a story arc focusing on a band of renegade genetically engineered humans or "Augments". Can you say Kahn? The real draw for this three part story is the guest appearance by Brent Spiner in the role of Dr. Arik Soong, an ancestor of Data's father. Instead of dealing in cybernetics though, Arik Soong works with genetic manipulation and, before landing in jail, had stolen several Augment embryos and raised them as his own children. The best part about this arc was Spiner. He brought a lift and sense of humor to the show that only he could. Sadly, on the flip side, the Augments really offset the story's potential. Every one of their scenes is so far over the top that you just want to roll your eyes. Also, they couldn't act their way out of a paper bag. It almost feels like they came out of a bad Shakespeare play. Overall though, this is a nice nod to the Eugenics Wars and the beloved Khan.
Following the Augments is another three part arc that focuses on the Vulcans. Archer gets involved during the investigation of an explosion at an Earth embassy, but eventually finds more than he bargained for. A rebel faction of Vulcans called the Syrrannites is blamed for the bombing. Archer and T'Pol, who is distressed to learn that her mother is a member, go in search of this group looking for answers. This arc is rich with Vulcan history, and true Trekkies will revel at seeing a younger version of T'Pau, who presided over the kunat kalifee between Spock and Kirk in the original series episode "Amok Time".
After the tour of Vulcan we get a couple of decent stand alone episode before we are treated to yet another arc that centers on the Andorians. Enterprise gets roped into chauffeuring a grouchy Tellarite across Andorian space to Babel, another nod to the old series, in order to make the deadline for a peace conference. Trouble starts for everyone when a mysterious ship keeps appearing and attacking both groups without reason. I won't divulge what the story is behind the ship, but let's just say I thought it was a great idea.
Up next is a two part tale that tries to explain why Klingons in the original Star Trek didn't have bumpy foreheads. Apparently Worf's explanation in "Trials and Tribble-ations" from DS9, "We do not discuss it with outsiders." wasn't good enough. Phlox is kidnapped and forced to create a cure for this killer disease before it's too late and the entire species is affected. This little arc is fun, but really didn't have to be made, since things were fine with Worf's un-answer.
The next story arc is undoubtedly my favorite. Without explanation or reason we get treated to the famed Star Trek alternate universe, where everyone is a bad apple. Humans are an extremely hostile race that have conquered the Vulcans, as well as other species, and have made them slaves. Archer is a commander looking to move up the ranks by capturing a ship from the future that the Tholians have been rumored to have taken. Anyone out there remember the missing USS Defiant from the Old Series episode "The Tholian Web"? Guess where it ended up? These episodes are full of vicious backstabbing, overacted lines, and throwbacks to old school Trek. I loved it and it doesn't get any better than this.
Now, it's important to keep this in mind. Enterprise essentially has two series finales. The first ending centers on the developing xenophobia on Earth that was touched on in "Home". Peter Weller guest stars as John Frederick Paxton, a, for lack of a better word, racist who believes in Earth for Humans only. His group, Terra Prime, create an alien human baby in the hopes of scaring people into thinking that the end of their race is near. With the appropriate amount of drama and the simple yet brilliant idea that in the end, the only thing stopping humanity from achieving is itself, this arc wraps up the show quite nicely and is basically where fans should stop watching. I'd also like to add that there is a scene at the end of the episode that is without a doubt, one of the most well acted and emotional scenes in Trek history. Thank you Connor Trinneer.
I really don't know what to say about what follows. I was so upset by the last "Valentine episode" written by Berman and Braga, that I felt it was a blatant insult to not only fans of Enterprise, but of Star Trek in general. "These Are the Voyages" is without a doubt, the most pathetic ending to a series I have ever seen and frankly is downright abusive to the actors and fans. The cast of Enterprise gets pushed aside for a much older (and much less fit) Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The members of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D are watching the history of the original crew unfold on a holodeck in order to help Riker make an important decision. Uh huh. You can almost sense that the Enterprise cast wasn't happy about the way the series ended, since lines felt forced out with a hint of indifference to back them up. I had to stop and think what Berman and Braga were thinking of when they wrote the episode, but I have a feeling it was after a late night filled with snickering and one of them saying, "The galaxy's not getting any of our bourbon".
Despite having an abysmal last episode and questionable beginning, the fourth season of Enterprise really turned out to be the best of the series. It's too bad that Manny Coto came into things as late as he did, because his passion and ideas were just what Enterprise needed. I liked the series before, but this season made me fall in love. I was heartbroken when I found out that the show was to be cancelled and even more so when I read the circulating rumors about the "final" episode. Enterprise wasn't the best that Star Trek had to offer, but it certainly didn't deserve to be cancelled.
The fourth season continues with the design of the big gray shell outside and the 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 six discs with a short season roster of 22 episodes, thanks to the cancellation. Unfortunately, less Trek doesn't mean a smaller MSRP.
Enterprise is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and like the seasons before it, the fourth 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 images are very clear there are some moments where minor grain is noticeable, especially in contrast to the special effects.
Enterprise season four 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. It's not the most impressive 5.1 track I've ever heard but it's definitely not the worst.
Just like the three box sets before it, the fourth 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 Forge", "In a Mirror Darkly Part II", and "These are the Voyages". Audio commentaries are present for "In a Mirror Darkly Part I & Part II" and "Terra Prime". Each offers a wealth of information in their own right, and is worth watching if you are interested in how some scenes in particular were shot.
Deleted scenes – A trio of deleted scenes make their appearance on some discs from this season. They are minor really, but worth a moment of your time to watch. "Storm Front Part I", "The Aenar", and "In a Mirror Darkly Part II" all have deleted material, though it varies in quality.
Links to the Legacy – This is a nice little feature that takes a look at season four and connects many of the elements to prior Star Trek series. From Worf's comments on the bumpy foreheads to details about Section 31, there are a few nice throwbacks to previous series. (4:25)
That's a Wrap – This was the ending season for Enterprise so it only makes sense that there would have been a wrap party. The feature compiles a bunch of footage from the festivities and sets it to the show's theme song. There are some interviews with the actors, writers and producers, though some people are oddly left out of the video. I know Jolene Blalock had voiced her displeasure about the show being cancelled, but I didn't see Manny Coto anywhere either. Connor Trinneer also didn't appear to be there, but after what happened to his character, I can't say I would want to mingle either. (8:59)
Visual Effects Magic – If you are a special effects nut, then this is the feature that you want to check out. It takes a look at computer graphics, production designs, as well as character designs from Enterprise. It's assembled coherently so those of us who are not knowledgeable about the lingo can grasp the concept of what they did, and how they did it. (13:24)
Enterprise Secrets – Instead of giving us any real "secrets", this extra goes behind the scenes and looks at some of the crew that made it into the final shot of the show. It's interesting to know that many of the writers, editors, and producers were depicted in the ceremony shot of "These are the Voyages". (5:51)
Inside the Mirror Episodes - The Mirror Universe arc is one of my favorite storylines from this season, so it should come as no surprise that I was very interested in this feature. It takes a look at what steps were necessary in recreating the bridge of a ship designed in the 60s, costuming, character differences, and even creating the Gorn. It was a brilliant idea to make the arc stand apart from the actual series, and allowed the writers to have more creative freedom. (15:40)
Enterprise Moments: Season 4 - With clips from the show and some of the crew discussing parts from the fourth season. I found it interesting to hear about the different steps that were taken this year, but really you can tell just from watching the episodes. It's an alright feature, but nothing too enlightening or entertaining. (16:22)
Rounding things off is a collection of outtakes that is disappointingly about half as long as the same feature in other seasons. There are also some production photos and a hidden feature that is dedicated to the fans who stepped up to the plate to try to save the show. It starts off with Tim Brazeal from SaveEnterprise.com and features a lot of clips from rallies and even some comments about the loyalty of fans from Connor Trinneer and Scott Bakula.
At the end of the day there's no way around it, season four of Enterprise was great. And I mean REALLY great. Sure there was the alien Nazi stuff at the beginning and that thing which I'm not going to mention after the "true" ending episode "Terra Prime", but everything in between is pure Star Trek. This is what Enterprise should have been, this is what the fans wanted, and it is so disappointing that this quality came at a time when there was no future. This show needed to be in the hands of someone who was passionate about the original series, and Manny Coto was the perfect choice.
The DVD features some fantastic audio and video quality, but the extras feel a little lacking compared to some of the other seasons. If you've already bought into the show or are a fan of the original, then I highly recommend this season. It had everything that the show needed and is without a doubt the best season of the show. It's unfortunate, but Enterprise died in its prime. I keep my fingers crossed that Paramount will reconsider the franchise, and acknowledge that "These are the Voyages" never actually happened.