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Blu-ray Review: 'Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four'

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The Show:

2005 brought the sad news that the fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” would be its last. Despite an incredible third season, the ratings simply weren’t good enough, leading to a premature cancellation and a bit of a rush to wrap up the series by May. However, despite it being the show’s last season, the cast and crew didn’t let that hinder them as they continued to deliver a multitude of great episodes building up to that final show. You really have to hand it to them. They were willing to try a variety of ideas in order to get the viewers more engaged. The first two seasons started off as single-episode adventures, much like The Original Series and The Next Generation, but when things needed shaking up, they decided that a season-long story could be just what the show needed, leading to the outstanding Xindi arc, which I still hold up as one of the best seasons of “Star Trek” ever produced.

Upon the start of the fourth season, the people behind the show found themselves with a slashed budget and a desperate need to attract more viewers. What we ended up with was a fascinating combination of the two previous ideas, which gave us several mini-arcs of 2-3 episodes apiece. Not only did this create some very compelling storylines to try and get people to come back week after week, it also helped as a cost-cutting measure (you can build variety of expensive sets if you plan to use them for two or three episodes). However, it simply wasn’t enough. Ratings continued to dwindle and its fate was sealed, meaning that for the first time in about 18 years, there would be no new “Star Trek” on the airwaves, a sad fact that has remained true even in these nine years since the show’s cancellation. Oh sure, we’ve gotten a pair of outstanding films in the interim, but it’s just not the same as having a new adventure to look forward to every week.

As per usual, I want to take you through some of the more memorable episodes of the season, showcasing some of the very best stories that “Enterprise” had to offer. One of the things that the new showrunner, Manny Coto, wanted to do at the time was to have several callbacks to the original series, an idea that he got to bring to fruition with the three-parter involving Dr. Soong and his “Augments” (genetically-engineered superhumans). You may recall from the TOS episode “Space Seed” and the motion picture “The Wrath of Khan” that the breeding of these superhumans caused what were known as The Eugenics Wars, which resulted in Khan and others of his kind fleeing Earth, only to be found by Captain Kirk sometime later.

For the “Enterprise” episodes “Borderlands,” “Cold Station 12,” and “The Augments,” we are told that Dr. Soong, played by TNG veteran Brent Spiner, rescued some of these superhumans and hid them on a planet where he raised them as his children. Years later, after Dr. Soong Is captured and imprisoned, the Augments attack a Klingon ship, causing Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) to seek the help of Dr. Soong and chase after them. As you can probably guess, the Augments manage to rescue Dr. Soong, who then puts them on a mission to rescue the remaining genetically-altered embryos still being kept in cold storage.

This is one of my favorite arcs from the fourth season not only because you get to see Brent Spiner playing a very different kind of character from Data, but also because of its ties to TOS and TNG. I’ve already discussed how it related to the original show, but as for TNG, some of you probably recognize the name of Dr. Soong as the man who would create the androids Data and Lore. Of course, it wasn’t this particular Dr. Soong. This Soong is merely an ancestor that shows us how the idea for studying cybernetics came about, an idea that he knows he won’t be able to finish himself, hence the large gap between when these episodes takes place and the eventual creation of the androids. On top of all that, it’s simply a thrilling set of episodes that have our heroes racing against time to stop the outbreak of more Augments and a potential war with the Klingons.

Another fascinating tie to TOS came with the two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly,” in which we explore the mirror universe versions of the Enterprise crew. As you may recall from TOS and DS9, the mirror universe contains everything that’s in our own universe, but the characters and history are quite different. For starters, instead of a United Federation of Planets, they have the Terran Empire, whose mission is to conquer instead of conducting peaceful exploration. The characters are much more violent and sadistic, leading to some who would kill just for a promotion.

What’s interesting about the “Enterprise” rendition of it is that we are thrown right into the mirror universe from the start, whereas on the previous shows, the characters would somehow accidentally get transported there. The plot here involves Commander Archer taking over control of the Enterprise in order to investigate a ship that has supposedly crossed over from the other universe. As it turns out, the ship is the classic Constitution class from Kirk’s era, which is about 100 years in the future for Archer and his crew. With the advanced technology, Archer plans not only to win the war against the Tholians, but also take over the empire as the new emperor.

Just like with the Augment trilogy, which features a great performance from Brent Spiner as a character completely different from the one we’re used to seeing him play, one of the main highlights of “In a Mirror, Darkly” is getting the chance to see the entire Enterprise crew playing characters that are so unlike their normal selves. Instead of the peaceful explorers that we know and love, these are the kind of people that will stab each other in the back without a second thought. Another large delight from this pair of episodes is when they eventually find themselves aboard the Constitution class ship, which brings with it an amazing nostalgic factor. The bridge and corridors have been recreated in meticulous detail, and just in case you hadn’t already gotten enough TOS from the story, they even throw in the Tholians (and their web) and a Gorn. Overall, it’s a great set of episodes that have you wondering who’s going to come out on top when all is said and done.

Then, of course, there’s the series finale, “These Are the Voyages…” The premise of the episode is that Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is running a holodeck program of Enterprise’s final mission, which involves rescuing Shran’s (Jeffrey Combs) daughter, before returning home to sign the charter that will eventually lead to the Federation. The episode takes place concurrently with the TNG episode “The Pegasus,” in which Riker is trying to come to a decision as to whether he should reveal his involvement in a conspiracy from several years ago. Helping him along the way is Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), who suggested running the program to help him make up his mind.

This final episode was a little controversial in that it focuses quite a bit on Riker and Troi, as opposed to the Enterprise crew. It’s not particularly bothersome that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga went this route. They include the whole crew in a fascinating manner (discussing various topics with Riker, who poses as the Enterprise’s chef), though they probably could have steered the focus a little more towards “Enterprise.” You have to understand though that they were under a time crunch to come up with a suitable finale, and what they did come up with is a pretty good episode. It would have been neat to see what they could have come up with if they had been given a lot more time to think it over (we probably could have gotten an epic two-parter like TNG, DS9, and Voyager), but we knew it had to end somewhere along these lines given that we’ve known for some time about Archer’s involvement in the creation of what would become the United Federation of Planets.

Looking back on season four all these years later, it’s rather amazing to see that I’m hard-pressed to find an episode that I would label as “bad.” In fact, the only one that I would call a little weak is “Bound,” a rather silly story that has a trio of Orion slave women coming aboard the Enterprise and driving the men crazy with their powerful pheromones. This all leads to a plot that has the Orion Syndicate trying to claim Captain Archer’s head because of his intervention at one of their slave trades.

Aside from that, it was a marvelous final season for “Enterprise.” Other great arcs I could have discussed include “Storm Front,” which has our heroes trying to stop aliens and Nazis who have taken over part of America, a trilogy of episodes that involve Vulcan history, a two-parter that explains why the Klingons’ look changed between TOS and TNG, and a two-parter that features xenophobia at its worst following the Xindi incident.

One can only imagine where a fifth season might have gone had they been given the chance. As I’ve said before, “Star Trek: Enterprise” is a great show that was cutoff way before it should have been. The sad part is, if it had been on now, it would be considered a huge hit given what we know about DVR and similar recording devices (the show was moved to Friday night for its final season, so many recorded the show as opposed to watching it live on air), whereas before it wasn’t really factored in or taken seriously. With the outstanding episodes that the cast and crew were delivering with seasons three and four, I have no doubt that the show would have only continued to be excellent if they had gotten the three extra years that the three previous shows had gotten. “Enterprise” might have only gotten 98 episodes, but that was more than enough to leave their mark in the Trek universe.

Video/Audio:

“Star Trek: Enterprise – Season Four” is presented in a 16:9, 1080p High Definition transfer that once again makes the show look better than it ever has before. Granted, the show is not that old, but they’ve still done a fantastic job cleaning it up from its original run, making every episode look crisp and sharp. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds fantastic. Every little bit of audio comes through loud and clear, from the dialogue to the score and right down to the sound effects. Just like with the other seasons, you could hardly ask for better.

Special Features:

Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise: A fantastic retrospective that features multiple interviews with producers, writers, and actors about the challenges faced at the start of season four (reduced budget, dwindling ratings, etc.). They also get a chance to speak about their favorite episodes from the season and the difficulty of having to call it quits after four brief years on the air. It’s split up into four different parts that run about 30 minutes each. A must-watch.

In Conversation: Writing Star Trek: Enterprise: A 90-minute discussion with several of the main writers in which they talk about how the structure of the season changed, how they first got involved with “Star Trek,” and how the writing process worked. Definitely worth taking a look at.

Newly Recorded Audio Commentaries on Select Episodes: Commentaries from the Okudas and others who discuss various behind the scenes elements of certain episodes. Worth listening to if you want to hear about how certain episodes were made.

Deleted Scenes on Select Episodes: A few scenes that didn’t make the final cuts. As usual, there’s nothing mind-blowing here, but they’re still neat to look at nonetheless.

Archival Mission Logs and Commentaries: As with the other seasons, everything that was on the DVD releases has been transferred to their Blu-ray counterparts, including multiple featurettes and commentaries. They were worth exploring back then, and they’re still worth exploring now.

Conclusion:

“Star Trek: Enterprise – Season Four” was a great sendoff for a show that was cancelled before its time. Its fantastic structure of mini-arcs kept it going right up until the end, but sadly, for one reason or another, it just didn’t bring in the numbers that were needed, cutting short an adventure that was just beginning to show how great it could be in its final two seasons. Along with the multiple outstanding episodes, you get a ton of special features that tell you pretty much anything you want to know about the behind the scenes workings of the show, making this season just as easy to recommend as the others. Hopefully someday soon, we’ll get to see a new “Star Trek” show on the air. The weekly presence of new treks has been one that’s been missed for nearly a decade now. It’s time for a new show “to boldly go” exploring where the others left off, but at least until then, we have the new films and these incredible releases of the classics to sate our “Trek” needs.

Score: 5/5

Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Sorcerer, Copperhead, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Best of Bogart Collection, Beneath, American Hustle, Kill Your Darlings, The Slumber Party Massacre, Inside Llewyn Davis, In Fear, Oldboy (2013), Cold Comes the Night, Gravity

Now playing in theaters: Draft Day, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nymphomaniac: Volume Two, Nymphomaniac: Volume One, Bad Words

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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