Friday, February 10, 2012

Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One

Alright, let's get to the rest of this season. It's a mixed bag, but so far the elements and characters I like are slightly outweighing the elements and characters I don't like. I don't dislike it enough to stop watching it, but as Jon K pointed out in the comments of my previous Enterprise post, watching this show in blocks really helps. If I had to wait a week between episodes and then got to some of the dumber episodes of this season, I would've given up in frustration. I'm so happy to be alive during the DVD set/streaming age.

2. Fight or Flight (my rating: 2 out of 5)
This is exactly what I referred to in my post on the pilot: this episode wants to do something bold and in a much different tone than we've previously seen on spin-off Trek, but then Berman and Braga (B&B, henceforth) lose their nerve and default to something we've seen repeated countless times across the previous three series. This episode has the opportunity to really develop the tension and danger of space exploration and culture clash, with some great, stark scenes of Archer, Hoshi and Malcolm aboard the Axanar ship and discovering a dead crew. So First Contact with this race goes horribly wrong, as another Axanar ship assumes the Starfleet crew murdered their people, and Hoshi's difficulty in communicating with them proves almost disastrous. That's some great stuff. But instead of keeping up the tension, B&B instead focus on Hoshi's self-confidence, and it becomes soppy and frustrating. Hoshi seemed quite capable in the pilot, but here she's very much the simpering little girl character that B'Elanna Torres was, only marginally less angry. Hoshi doesn't go for anger, instead she goes right to self-pity, as though her ability to decipher alien linguistics was simply too hard for her to deal with. Seriously? That's, like, her only job. I guess B&B felt that in these pre-universal translator times, they needed an entire episode to justify having a translator on the bridge. Unfortunately, this episode--easily summed up with one dismissive sentence: "Hoshi learns self-confidence... for the first time"--practically makes her a Mary Sue. Or a Wesley Crusher, if you like. Oh, and the way self-confidence manifests itself is apparently to take your pet alien slug and leave it alone with no others of its kind on a totally alien planet. That thing was probably eaten by a hawk or a bat seconds after Hoshi was gone...

3. Strange New World (1/5)
The One Where the Crew Goes Crazy Paranoid on an Alien World. It feels like B&B think they can get away with visiting tropes from TOS simply because, chronologically, this is the first time this stuff happened to a Starfleet crew. As if this negates the fact that they're recycling plots from 35 years earlier. Heavily borrowing from at least three TOS episodes, an entire away team (except for T'Pol, who as a Vulcan will always be plot-conveniently immune to anything that affects humans) succumbs to pollen that causes hallucinations, and it's all paranoia, particularly directed against the Vulcan. The tension between Earth and Vulcan is something I don't mind being explored, but I've seen "The Galileo Seven." I want to mention, too, that one of the things I like about this show is that the exploration mission is smaller, lighter and rougher than the 24th century shows--the crew compliment is something like 80 people--so I like how much more accessible the characters seem to be to one another. But focusing here so much on minor characters like Cutler and Novakovich seems like a mistake when we barely know the main characters yet. I like the moment where Porthos first steps foot on the unexplored world, and Trip jokes "Where no beagle has gone before." Cutesy, maybe, but very human. I want more human moments. I also like seeing some of the inherent problems with the matter transporter. Would love to see more of Travis Mayweather.

4. Unexpected (1/5)
The One Where a Male Crewman Experiences Alien Pregnancy. I don't know what annoys me more: that they're already going for the supposedly funny "man gets pregnant" plot, or the terrible pun in the title. I love the opening, where Archer's cabin loses gravity while he's in the shower. That's the kind of thing that is taken for granted on later series, but which makes sense and is amusing for Enterprise. Another human moment. I dig that. I would point out that it's silly to see a Klingon D7 around a hundred years too early, except that I just have a strong love for those D7 ships... Still, check out the D4 design on Memory Alpha that they didn't use. Neat stuff.

5. Terra Nova (3/5)
The One Where We Find a Lost Human Colony Underground. Still an ancient plot, but the first episode I've so far found really engaging. Part of it is the presence of more interesting actors, like Mary Carver and the always-welcome Erick Avari. But a larger part of it is just the way they handle this plot, with curiosity instead of condescension. Archer's self-doubt is realistic ("If I can't make First Contact with a human colony, I don't deserve to be here"), but not dwelt on to the point of garnering a pat ending. He works it out and then it's gone. He's very thoughtful in this episode.

6. The Andorian Incident (4/5)
Yes, here we go. This is almost everything I want from this show: exploring the characters through tension, more about the Vulcan culture, a deeper look at interesting aliens we haven't seen in a very long time, a grand and exciting plot that revolves around cultural relations and exploration, and Jeffrey Combs. God, I love Jeffrey Combs. After DS9, Star Trek feels wrong without him. I love him here as Commander Shran, the Andorian commando. I think it's fascinating here how the series is willing to question the methods of the Vulcan High Command without using easy racism or some other false mechanism. Worth noting, too, that this episode was co-written by Fred Dekker, the co-writer of two of my favorite movies from the 80s, House and The Monster Squad (which he also directed).

7. Breaking the Ice (3/5)
I can forgive the terrible pun in the title this time--referring both to Malcolm and Travis exploring the largest comet ever seen and to a meeting aboard the Enterprise between the Vulcan High Command and the command crew--because the episode is mostly a good character piece. We're seeing now that T'Pol is torn between Vulcan tradition and some kind of longing inside to explore the larger galaxy. We also see that she doesn't quite approve of what the Vulcan High Command does; at this point, she'd never openly rebel against them, but we're seeing a dissonance between the appearance of cold logic and the real difficulties of suppressing one's emotional responses. T'Pol is becoming a really fascinating character, and I want to see this delved into more often. On a technical note, the Vulcan High Command ship is just really cool.
It's especially nice to take a breather here and get to know the crew on a mundane level. The scene where Archer and the bridge crew answer questions submitted by students is a wonderful tribute to the many times NASA astronauts have done the same, even if we do find out some briefly disconcerting facts about what feces can be used for in the future... It's nice, because I did get weary in TNG with the way it seemed like every child was born a genius, and here we get a glimpse of education. I also like how often people actually eat on this show. Like people.

8. Civilization (1/5)
The One Where the Captain Makes It with an Alien Babe. While I do think the idea of the crew secretly interacting with a pre-warp society is an interesting look at what makes the Prime Directive important (though, honstly, you'd think this would've been a good reason for Starfleet to develop cloaking technology much earlier, especially since we've seen with the Suliban that it's already possible), it's pretty much your standard TOS-inspired alien babe romance episode. Yeah, there's a lot of guff about an alien crew doing the same thing but with much more potential to contaminate these people, but that's kind of a ham-fisted attempt to make our contamination less severe in comparison.

9. Fortunate Son (3/5)
Much better than the previous episode at using other characters--here the crew of the Earth freighter Fortunate--to paint the differences between how people can react to adversity. Here we have a crew that has grown tired of constant attacks by Nausicaan pirates and who--unknown to the crew of the Enterprise--has become willing to abduct, torture and murder to survive it. We get a direct conflict between Starfleet values and the reality of being in dangerous situations. Mayweather gets some decent scenes here.

10. Cold Front (2/5)
Some tense plotting, but for fuck's sake, more time travel. Archer gets more involved here with this Temporal Cold War and a Suliban plot to destroy the Enterprise and a crewman who is actually from 1000 years in the future. All of the tension (good editing, too) is unfortunately at the service of a plot that just made me wish it wasn't happening. B&B, stop it with the time travel! There's a great sequence where Daniels, the crewman from the future, shows Archer his holographic temporal map; it's just so colorful. Such good special effects on this show...

11. Silent Enemy (4/5)
I guess this is the inevitable submarine movie episode, but I like the tension here. We never even learn anything about the mysterious aliens who regard the Enterprise as such a threat; that seems like a more realistic kind of First Contact than simply meeting new aliens and shaking hands with them, which could be happening instead. It's neat how this is tied into the first attempt to bring the phase cannons online, reinforcing that the Enterprise was sent out before it was completely ready.

12. Dear Doctor (5/5)
The first really excellent episode of Enterprise, using as a plot device a letter that Dr. Phlox (a great character who really gets a chance to shine here) is writing to a colleague. Sort of like the episodes of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye used to write to his dad. In examining what Phlox's day to day is surrounded by humans and one Vulcan, we also get our first useful and interesting debate on what will eventually become the Prime Directive. Do we have the responsibility to help an alien species along simply because we have the technology to do it, or do we wait for them to find answers through their own ingenuity even if that means letting them die? Phlox and Archer have a real debate about it, a passionate and heated one, and that's more than I've come to expect from B&B. I'm so glad they really explored Phlox as a character as opposed to quirky comic relief.

13. Sleeping Dogs (3/5)
Another tense experience with the Klingons. I love the design of the IKS Somraw.
It's just such a neat design. On a technical level, this show is everything I could want Star Trek to be. Too bad about a lot of the writing... It seems like I saw a lot of this same plot on both DS9 AND Voyager. But I'm really into seeing more of Starfleet's early experiences with the Klingons and how the deep differences between the two cultures leads to the cold war (almost all-out war) in TOS. Also, chronologically speaking, we get our first Klingon babe. A warrior babe, too. And I like how Hoshi is calmed down by T'Pol here so that she can continue her away mission; Hoshi is apparently the character who is always going to be scared and traumatized, so here it's nice to see her just swallow it and get on with her job.

14. Shadows of P'Jem (4/5)
The triumphant return of Thy'lek Shran! I'm amused and enthused that his main motivation here for helping Captain Archer is simply that he owes Archer after the events of "The Andorian Incident." There's more exploration here of what seems to be a real underhandedness to the Vulcan High Command; this series doesn't implicitly trust the Vulcans as the peacemakers of the Federation; here there is no Federation, and despite their protestations otherwise, the Vulcans are just as smug, xenophobic and high-handed as they accuse humans of being. I'm glad they didn't waste time getting around to exploring the implications of what happened at P'Jem, the attempts of the Vulcan High Command to spy on Andoria, and Archer's role in evening the playing field. And I love seeing the trust grow between Archer and T'Pol. They're really becoming...maybe friends isn't the right word, exactly, but there's a trust, a mutual reliance and respect, that you can really see developing there. I like that a lot.

15. Shuttlepod One (3/5)
The One Where Two Characters Get Locked in a Freezer Together. I think the episode would've been more tense (or more unbearable) if they had stuck with Trip and Malcolm slowly freezing to death in the Shuttlepod instead of also focusing on the Enterprise crew trying to discover what accidentally destroyed a ship attempting to dock with it. That's an interesting plot, but if you're going to throw Trip and Malcolm in a room together until you've finally figured out exactly what their characters are, why not just stick with it the whole way instead of dissipating the tension? I mean, we know they'll eventually be rescued, anyway. Of course, we find out they're both pretty boring stock cliches... also, Malcolm's weird dream that the word stinky is somehow both hilarious and an aphrodisiac to T'Pol is uncomfortable and, being honest, the one thing that will ever keep me from really liking this guy. Not invested in Reed. Hey, what's Travis doing?

16. Fusion (2/5)
The One Where the Telepath Gets Mind-Raped. I'm more interested in the Mind Meld, which they imply here has fallen by the way in the Vulcan past; how does it get reintroduced in Vulcan society to the point where it becomes a part of Vulcan life in the next century? But, as usual, B&B are weirdly caught up in one of their apparent favorite plots: a woman gets raped, but, you know, mentally. I was up for more exploration of T'Pol's disconnect with the rigid Vulcan High Command--here through a sect of Vulcans who don't deny their emotions--but once again Berman plays the rape card. Disappointing.

17. Rogue Planet (2/5)
The One with the Heavy-Handed Environmental Message Made Through a Conscious Manifestation of Nature. Predictable and familiar. Interesting to see the Boy Scouts have survived into the 22nd century. I'd ask if they finally got rid of the very important homophobia part of Boy Scouts, but as we learned from TNG, gay people don't survive into the future.

18. Acquisition (5/5)
I remember when this was originally on. I didn't watch it, but I remember fans getting really pissy about having Ferengi on the show when a first season episode of TNG established that no one even knew what the Ferengi looked like. I guess they skirt it here by never revealing the name of the alien race to the Enterprise crew, but fuck it, who cares when the episode is funny as hell? After that terrible outing on Voyager, I really enjoyed seeing the Ferengi as I came to love them on DS9. And with these actors playing the characters--Ethan Phillips, Clint Howard, and Jeffrey Combs--of course I was going to love it. I love the talks between Archer and Jeffrey Combs' Krem about the drive for profit: "That kind of thinking almost destroyed our civilization"; "You should've managed your businesses better!" I also think it's hilarious that T'Pol may have been the inspiration for Vulcan Love Slave.

19. Oasis (2/5)
The One Where Falling in Love with an Innocent Alien Girl Leads to a Remarkable Discovery About Her Reality. Egregious reuse of a plot from a pretty damn good episode of DS9, even oddly featuring Rene Auberjonois (looking good with a goatee).

20. Detained (3/5)
The One That's an Allegory for Japanese Interment Camps in World War II. Thank Christ, Travis gets something to do other than be so enthusiastic about flying the Enterprise. That really helps this episode along, and so does finally adding some conflict to the Suliban, illustrating the difference between peaceful Suliban and the fanatical Cabal. Also, fun to see Dean Stockwell show up on an episode. Well, anywhere, really, but I dig seeing him and Bakula together again.

21. Vox Sola (2/5)
The One with the Misunderstood Telepathic Space Spider. Too specific, maybe. But it's the requisite episode where a consciousness appears to be destroying the ship but really needs to talk through crewmembers so that people understand it's really just a scared creature that wants to go home. It opened up a whole discussion between Becca and myself about what to call the strange substance Archer, Trip and others get trapped in that looks like it's made out of cables and cum. My choice was alien cumslaw. Sorry, but that really is the only memorable thing going on here. Oh, and Archer's really into water polo, which I find kind of adorable.

22. Fallen Hero (3/5)
This is my favorite plot thread: this idea of T'Pol becoming more and more critical of the Vulcan High Command. Here she meets one of her heroes, Ambassador V'Lar, and has to come to terms with both her disappointment and growing disillusionment with Vulcan politics. Fionnula Flanagan is good here as V'Lar. I like how she responds to humans with more patience and curiosity than we've previously seen in Vulcans. The episode itself is not quite as exciting as it pretends it is, but it is neat to see the Enterprise push warp 5. I also like that V'Lar sees a hopeful future for Earth and Vulcan by seeing the trust and respect between Archer and T'Pol. Their developing friendship is another favorite plot thread. I'm also amused here by the beginning of a short plot thread (making steps towards real serialization) involving the desperate need for a vacation among the crew.

23. The Desert (2/5)
The One Where Two Characters Have to Survive a Desert Crossing. They're really getting Archer and Trip shirtless a lot... another way Archer is like Kirk, I guess. First and most importantly, this episode stars the Main Man, Clancy Motherfucking Brown, so that gets it in good with me. It's interesting how Archer's exploits are becoming legendary throughout the galaxy, so that his liberation of the Suliban prison camp in "Detained" mistakenly paints him as the savior of thousands. It's a good hook, but I started to zone out once Archer and Trip started escaping across the desert. In the end, it's really more about the Prime Directive and whether or not Starfleet should side with governments or help people fight against their oppressors, but it doesn't quite get into it enough to make an impact.

24. Two Days and Two Nights (1/5)
The Tropical Vacation Episode. Though it is amusing to see Trip and Malcolm get rolled by a couple of shapeshifters, mostly this is just a tired retread of "Captain's Holiday," but a hell of a lot less fun. Takes itself a mite too seriously, though the subplot with T'Pol having to try and wake Phlox from his Denobulan hibernation to treat a wounded Travis is hilarious. I also like Hoshi here; she goes down to the planet, picks up a few languages, picks up an alien dude, has some sex and then goes back to work. Where has confident Hoshi Sato been this whole time??? We need more of her. Archer's whole middle-aged love story mystery intrigue plot feels as outdated as it is boring, like a show from the 80s. The whole thing about Tandarans possibly trying to get revenge on Archer comes out of nowhere, does nothing, and then goes away. Does that ever come back, or is this another of the many Star Trek plot threads that just gets dropped? I also appreciate that T'Pol seems to think Elizabeth Cutler is as useless as I do--after all, she did almost kill T'Pol in that cave back in episode 3--but I feel bad saying that since the actress who played her died of an undiagnosed heart condition almost immediately after making this episode.

25. Shockwave (4/5)
The One with the Time Travel Cliffhanger. This episode opens with a spectacular teaser: because of a technical error, the Enterprise instantly destroys a mining colony with 3600 people. It's breathtaking and pulls you right into the show. It's realistic that an error like this could occur, but it's also horrifying and devastating. Watching the crew have to put this into perspective--as well as the reaction of the Vulcan High Command, who want to revoke Archer's captaincy--is enough to pull me in, but instead of doing something interesting with that guilt or exploring it any meaningful way, Crewman Daniels comes back and there's more about the Temporal Cold War and a Cabal plot to sabotage the ship (again), and it's just frustrating how close B&B actually come to making a show about people and then decide it's too uncomfortable and go to one of their stock situations. And, of course, it has to be time travel...

And that's where we end season one. This was a long damn post... they probably all will be. Right now I'm pretty split on this show; there are things I don't like and things I do. I wish there were different people in charge of this show who really wanted to go and do something interesting with all of this potential instead of just making sure a franchise gets milked. It seems like all of the really interesting people involved with Star Trek--Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr--are just out of the game and onto other things. This show was on the air the same time as the much, much superior Farscape, which is a great example of how a science fiction series can gain forward momentum and be really vital and alive. Here... well, this show might be really good without all of that Star Trek getting in the way, if you follow me.

As it is, I'll stick with it out of completeness' sake and because I like some of the characters and the premise and the special effects and the makeup and the atmosphere and the production design. But someone's got to do something about all of that hackneyed writing.


Roger Owen Green said...

It's probably an age thing, but I LIKE the waiting between episodes.

SamuraiFrog said...

It has to be a show worth waiting for, which season one of Enterprise really isn't. With a show like this, my thinking becomes "If I'm going to make the effort to show up, why won't the show make the effort to be engaging?"

Heralde8 said...

I like to think Krem and DS9's Brunt could have been related. It would mean Brunt's family ironically owes a lot to the hew-mons. ;)