If Voyager was the weakest in the Star Trek canon, then Enterprise is the pimply, red-haired orphan whose family disowned him and removed him from the family tree. Enterprise was a sad, sad mistake that effectively killed Star Trek on television. Admittedly Voyager didn’t help Star Trek’s survival on television, but Enterprise was the final stake through the heart. So where did Enterprise go wrong? It had Scott Bakula as Captain Archer, it had a cute beagle, it had all the fancy Star Trek lingo like warp drive and antimatter. Why didn’t it work? Well you can look at it two ways really, it either was too different from earlier Star Trek shows…or it wasn’t different enough.
While watching Star Trek: Enterprise, it occurred to me that if this show was any other Sci-fi show, completely independent of Star Trek, it might have had a chance. You see, Enterprise is a prequel to the Original Series that appeared all they way back in 1966, taking place when mankind is taking its first, unsure steps into the galaxy at large. If you look at Star Trek as a person, the Original Series was Star Trek’s adolescent years: it was a show trying to find its identity, with jarring shifts between goofy fights with rubber-suited stunt doubles and dark, mature themes as they wrestle with Khan Singh and other villains. Also like an adolescent, the original series was boning everything that had hips and a pulse.
The Next Generation was Star Trek’s late 20’s and 30’s. It was a more confident Star Trek, more sure of its identity and purpose. It was consistently exploring difficult themes and ideas, while also keeping some of the goofy humor that made the Original Series so charming. Captain Picard was a new kind of Captain, one who stayed in a Command role more often than not, who tried to remain detached from his crew and who brought a new sense of maturity and dignity to the show.
Deep Space Nine continues maturing the Star Trek brand, taking a series of complex characters and putting them into a variety of interesting, humorous and sometime inhuman circumstances ranging from trying to cure a plague caused by biological warfare and surviving a brutal hand to hand battle with Jem’Hadar to struggling with societal and parental pressure to be something you’re not. It still never loses it’s goofy humor though, with many different adventures with Quark and his constant attempts to avoid getting caught by Odo. Then there’s Voyager, and Star Trek is obviously no longer as young as it used to be. There’s a certain tiredness to it. It still successfully explores some interesting themes and ideas, and some of the character’s are actually interesting, but on the whole it felt like going through the motions. As I said in my Voyager review, this was mostly because the show refused to take risks and push the envelope.
Which finally brings us to Enterprise, which tries to reset the clock and show us the first stumbling steps of Star Trek’s childhood. It endeavored to show us the embarrassing and boring family photos of the baby Starfleet used to be. That could have been interesting had it been done properly, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Not only were the characters the weakest here, but so were the plots and the writing in general. It also came into regular conflict with the original Star Trek canon, often breaking the canon over it’s knee with a sickening crack. Vulcans, rather than being the wise benefactors that we thought they were, are a maniacal and manipulative race that share more in common with Romulans than traditional Vulcans. We rarely get to meet the iconic races of Star Trek, like the Boleans or Trill, instead meeting a bunch of alien races that we never got to see in any other Star Trek shows, like Dr. Phlox the Denobulan and a good chunk of the series taken up exploring the enigmatic Xindi. Then of course there’s the huge issue of there being a vessel called Enterprise before the 1701 that we all know and love from the original series. (Though personally I didn’t have that big an issue with that).
We’re also missing a lot of a favorite toys, transporters are rarely used, phasers are replaced with phase cannons, shielding is replaced with energized hull plating. If I didn’t know that this show had been imagined as a Star Trek show from the very beginning, I would think that it was supposed to be an independent sci-fi show that had been hastily redone to make it fit into the star trek canon. Honestly a lot of the issues I had with this show came from the fact I went into it expecting a Star Trek show and getting Star Trek Lite instead, however if it had been another independent show, I think I might have watched it. I emphasize I might have, because there were some huge problems with this show that would have been there no matter what brand label it wore.
The biggest and most outstanding issue were the characters. Captain Archer and Dr. Phlox were both two very good characters: complex, unique and well acted. The rest, however, were a series of well worn tropes espousing a single characteristic. You had Malcolm Reed, the ornery British armory officer. “Trip” Tucker, the southern grown homeboy that was good with fixing engines. The bookish and shy Asian girl, Hoshi, who served as the show’s universal translator. These characters occasionally got to break out of their horrific character tropes, but not very often, and almost none of them changed during the series run except Trip (who I did actually get to enjoy as a character, shallow as he was). But at least they had a single characteristic to work with. Which brings me to the most baffling empty character I’ve ever seen on television, a character so devoid of interest, personality and even humanity, that it boggles my mind. Ensign Travis Mayweather.
Mayweather is the dumbest, most uninteresting character I’ve ever seen. I can’t tell if it’s bad writing or bad acting or both, but every time he appears on the show you can’t help but feel like this is just some dude that wandered off the street onto the set. Everytime he lends an idea it’s a bad one, every observation he makes is a statement of the obvious, and whenever they have an episode that focuses on his character, you can’t even remember what show you were watching by the time you finish. He’s a black hole of characters, sucking in the personality and intelligence of people around him, turning the entire show bland whenever they show his face. I could (and very well might) do a whole blog post about why this guy is completely devoid of character. The absolute worst example of his stupidity is in the two part season 4 opener, let me set the stage.
The crew of the Enterprise has been transported back in time to an alternate version of World War 2, where aliens have given Nazi Germany technology to turn the war in their favor. Trip only moments ago told everyone that they’d pulled .50 calibre machine gun slugs from the hull of their shuttlepod. Ensign Mayweather has just infiltrated a huge alien (I can’t emphasize the alien part enough) base and seen the massive time machine they’re building. So how does he report this to the Captain?
“Captain, I know this may sound crazy, but I think it’s a time machine!”
Really, you’ve traveled two hundred years into the past where Alien Nazis are taking over the world and you think that maybe, just maybe, a time machine being involved sounds crazy? Really?
Mayweather’s stupidity, however, allows me to easily transition into my next issue with the series. Like with Deep Space 9, this show has a massive fault that runs through the entire thing. Unlike Deep Space 9 however, Enterprise didn’t have the excellent characters and good writing to save it like Deep Space 9.
That massive fault is the Temporal Cold War.
Now I know that Star Trek loves its time travel, and some of the episodes that feature it are pretty damn interesting, but trying to create an entire plot out of such an incredibly complex mechanic is just a recipe for disaster.
The Temporal Cold War is without a doubt, the most convoluted, meaningless and pathetic plot driven narrative I have ever seen in the whole of my life. I admit, it could have been interesting, but only if they had taken a much more subtle approach. Instead Captain Archer and his crew go ripping through space-time like knives through gossamer threads. Their ally from the future dies a total of four times during the show’s run, four times. If you can let your characters die that often without consequence, you officially have a boring idea. The Xindi War plot that dominates Season 3 would have been a fascinating plot that gave the show the potential to explore some new themes alongside Deep Space 9, but it was completely undermined by the fact that we kept having to swallow the bullshit of the Temporal Cold War nonsense that was propelling the Xindi plot forward. Even worse, this idea really undercuts a core concept of Star Trek: that we’re all part of a greater whole.
One of my favorite episodes in The Next Generation is Tapestry, in which Captain Picard has a near death experience and Q shows him what life would have been like if Picard had taken a different choice in his life. Picard is reluctant at first, concerned that changing time will have long reaching implications, and then Q gives him a witheringly sensible response:
“Nothing you do here will cause the Federation to collapse or stars to explode. To be blunt, you’re not that important.”
And that’s really what Star Trek is about, that we’re all really not that important in the grand scheme of things, we’re only important when we come together to strive toward a common goal. Those super athletes winning the Olympics? Sure they have impressive skills, but their accomplishments are nothing compared to the combined efforts of the people at NASA who just landed a 1-ton rover on the surface of Mars. Similarly, without his crew, Picard is nothing special either. Unfortunately the Temporal Cold War just spits all over that idea because it’s constantly telling us that Archer is so goddamn important that if he doesn’t do A or prevent B, the whole of time will unravel before our eyes.
And that’s unfortunately not the first or only time that Enterprise clashes philosophically with other Star Trek shows. I don’t mind that Enterprise was showing some different values from its predecessors, accepting different points of view is also part of Star Trek, however some of these clashes were over some pretty black and white issues where Enterprise falls distinctly on the dark side.
In the Season 2 episode Cogenitors, the Enterprise meets a race which has three sexes. The Cogenitor is this race’s third sex that is necessary for the conception of a child, but doesn’t seem to speak or have any freewill. Okay, so they’re like a walking sperm bank, I can dig it. However, as Trip investigates further he finds the Cogenitor is actually remarkably intelligent but generations of slavery have crushed her will to explore her own identity. Thanks to Trip though, she learns to read and begins to want more for herself than the life of a slave. Good for you Trip, that’s the Star Trek we all know and love. Unfortunately the show’s writers disagree.
The Cogenitor requests asylum on board the Enterprise. If this were Kirk or Picard’s Enterprise, it would take all of five minutes for her to be safely aboard and granted asylum (asylum in a pair of big strong arms in Kirk’s case). Picard gave asylum to several aliens (including Q) even at the risk of his own ship. Remember, this Cogenitor is being kept as a sex slave. Fuck all that noise about not judging other cultures, if your culture embraces sexual slavery (or slavery of any kind) as acceptable behavior than you are officially wrong. Captain Archer apparently disagrees though. Despite knowing what he’s sending her back to, Archer denies her request for asylum and off the aliens go to continue abusing the poor girl to their hearts content. Except the Cogenitor then kills herself.
Okay, well that sucks, but maybe now Archer will realize his error in judgement and…and…wait, really? You’re blaming Trip!? What the hell is wrong with you?
Yeah, apparently it’s all Trip’s fault the girl killed herself because if he hadn’t interfered, she never would have realized there was more out there for her than being someone’s sex slave. Really Enterprise, that’s the message you want to send: don’t disrupt the Status Quo? Star Trek was the first show that featured an international crew including both a Russian (at the height of the Cold War) and a black (at the height of the Civil Rights movement). It featured an interracial kiss in a time when people we’re still being lynched for doing stuff like that. Star Trek has always been about pursuing what’s right, even if society tells you its wrong. When Data was considered the property of Starfleet, Picard didn’t just sit back and let it happen, he fought for Data’s freedom. Good thing Archer wasn’t Data’s captain or he would have been stripped down to his wires in five minutes flat. Archer probably would have cracked open Data’s head himself.
What’s worse is that, currently, sex slavery is the biggest growing black market industry in the world. 50,000 to 100,000 women are smuggled into America every year as sex slaves, and that’s just America. Start including third world countries and you soon have numbers in the millions. And in a time when we should be continuing to encourage radical action to destroy this horrific black market (this episode aired in 2004, three years after the State Department’s report on this issue), apparently the writers at Enterprise wanted to come out and say “Hey, let’s not judge these people!” I’m thinking maybe someone needs to check those writers’ basements, see what they’re hiding down there.
Honestly I’m sad poor Scott Bakula had to act out the role of a goddamn moral coward and an unmitigated jackass on syndicated television. I’m also disappointed that actor didn’t read the script and ask what the fuck the writer’s were thinking. I can’t believe that no one on the entire set of this show didn’t once speak up and ask what the hell message they were trying to send here.
I take it back, there’s nothing worthwhile about this show. Let’s all just let this disgrace fade back into the mists of time. To get the bad taste out of this show out of my mouth, I’ll be updating again on Wednesday about some of my favorite episodes of DS9 and why Garak is 100% concentrated Awesome. Thanks for reading!