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Star Trek Enterprise - The Complete Second Season
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.