“Star Trek: Enterprise” is often seen as the misunderstood cousin of the “Star Trek” universe. While it was on for four brief years, there seemed to be equal groups of people supporting it and people openly condemning it, claiming that it was turning “Star Trek” into garbage. As is usually the case, the naysayers were much more vocal about what was wrong with the show as opposed to those who were content to sit back and enjoy the exciting adventures week after week. Of course, the show was eventually forced to cut the journey short due to low ratings, so there’s no telling where it might have gone given the chance. All we can do now is go back and try to see what it was that was causing viewers not to tune in, while at the same time, revisiting what was actually quite a fascinating premise for one of the most popular franchises in history.
As a long-time “Star Trek” fan, I remember when “Enterprise” was first announced. I already loved all of the previous series, so throwing another one on the pile was one of the best things that could possibly happen. I recall some of my friends being turned off immediately by the pilot episode, with one strongly proclaiming “That’s not Trek!,” but I had rather enjoyed it and kept going with it. Season one harkened back to the days of old, with a premise that involved Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) commanding the very first starship on a mission to explore what was out there. It was a trip down memory lane with each week being an individual adventure along the lines of The Original Series and The Next Generation. The potential was endless with the numerous amount of “new” things that the crew could discover.
For the most part, season one had been a good start to the mission, taking our heroes into the unknown and having them face several dangers, including the mysterious Temporal Cold War. Season two was basically a continuation of this same structure, with each week being a new adventure, or as some of the crew of “Star Trek” became fond of calling it, an “alien of the week” kind of show. Now, it would obviously take up way too much room to go through the season on an episode-by-episode basis, so what I’ll try to do is take a look at some of the more memorable episodes that season two had to offer in hopes of doing it justice.
Season two actually had a lot to offer, kicking things off with the exciting conclusion to last season’s cliffhanger episode “Shockwave,” that found Archer stuck in the future. From there, we were back to individual episodes. One of the more memorable stories from this season was “A Night in Sickbay,” which involved Archer and his crew having accidentally insulted an alien race. Meanwhile, Archer’s dog Porthos becomes gravely ill after a visit to the aliens’ planet, causing the Captain to worry so much that he ends up spending the night in sickbay with Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley).
On the surface, it’s a fascinating episode because you get to see all the things that go on in sickbay when there isn’t an emergency happening (which is usually the main reason a scene would be set there), including Dr. Phlox’s habits. A deeper look at the episode finds that it’s a study of human pride and the unwillingness to get passed it for the greater good. It may come off as a cheesy emotional character study to some, but it’s really one of the more fascinating stories among the more character-driven episodes.
Along the same lines is the episode “Stigma,” which involves Sub-Commander T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) dealing with a disease that was contracted after a mind-meld. Dr. Phlox attempts to get information on the disease from Vulcan doctors at a conference, but due to the disease carrying a stigma among their people, they are not so ready to help. The fact that T’Pol has the disease eventually comes out, which merely makes things worse. Co-showrunner Brannon Braga describes this episode as his AIDS allegory, but it’s more than that. It’s also an exploration of how bigotry against a certain group of people can survive, even amongst a supposedly high-minded race such as the Vulcans. Again, we have a fascinating character-driven episode that deals with real issues.
For those looking for a little action, you needn’t worry. There’s plenty of that too. Take for instance the intriguing episode “Regeneration,” a story that integrates the Borg into the “Enterprise” universe. As you may recall from the eighth “Star Trek” film, “First Contact,” the Borg went back in time in an attempt to stop the first warp flight from taking place. Luckily, Captain Picard and his crew also went back in time and prevented them from doing so. The aftermath left a few Borg on the planet, which is what kicks off this tale, set 100 years later.
Scientists discover the Borg frozen in ice and, not knowing what they are, decide to unfreeze them. It doesn’t take long for the Borg to regenerate and start causing the same mayhem that they always do. Once they escape Earth, it’s up to Archer and his crew to stop them before they can get away. The main reasons that this is such a great episode is, not only does it feature one of the most infamous “Star Trek” villains doing what they do best, but also because the writers manage to tie together all of the earliest stories of the Borg from the Trek universe.
As you could probably guess, Archer and his crew save the day, but not before the Borg are able to send a message to their home deep in the Delta Quadrant. The message will take 200 years to get there, making it the 24th century when it arrives, putting it right in the time of Captain Picard. You may recall from the TNG episode “Q Who,” the very first episode the Borg appeared in, that they were on their way to Earth, and now we know why. In a rather brilliant fashion, the writers managed to close a gap in “Star Trek” history, and in turn turned in one of the best episodes of the season.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Season two wasn’t a perfect string of episodes. There were some that could have been better, some that missed the mark of whatever the writers were going for. Even Braga and writer David Goodman admit that the episode “Precious Cargo” was awful and probably one of the worst ones ever made. It’s not a great episode, though I don’t know if I’d say it’s one of the worst ever made, but it probably could have been better. The episode involves Trip (Connor Trinneer) crash-landing on a planet with the heir to an alien throne. It’s a pretty silly storyline that doesn’t really have much to say, and in fact, Braga was at the point where he didn’t even want to air it, but they didn’t have much of a choice.
Season two concluded with the cliffhanger “The Expanse,” which begins what is commonly referred to as The Xindi Arc. This was at a time in the show’s history when Braga and Rick Berman knew that the show needed to go in a new direction, and finally the studio gave them permission to do just that. What resulted was one of the most amazing arcs in “Star Trek” history. I don’t want to get into it too much at this point (let’s save that for Season three, shall we?), but I just have to mention how it all begins.
A probe comes out of nowhere and attacks Earth, causing seven million deaths as it cuts a swath from Florida to Venezuela. Enterprise is recalled to Earth, but on the way Archer is contacted by the mysterious man from the future, warning him that The Xindi are planning to destroy Earth before humanity destroys them 400 years in the future. With strong determination and fierce bravery, Archer and his crew set off towards The Xindi homeworld, which is located deep in the Delphic Expanse, where ships have gone in and not come out. Even a Vulcan crew went completely mad from being in the Expanse for less than two days. Every single Trekkie/Trekker was left holding their breath on that final shot of the Enterprise heading into the Expanse, not knowing what they were going to have to face, and having to wait until next season to find out. Building anticipation that will last several months is not an easy thing to do, but they pulled it off marvelously.
I could keep going with episodes that are very much worth seeing, like “The Catwalk” and “Cogenitor,” but I think this sampling will suffice. Even though the show was still trying to find its space legs in season two, it turned into a pretty damn good season of “Star Trek.” Granted, it got much better later on, but we were still treated to several great episodes that would have made Gene Roddenberry proud. That being said, I can understand the showrunners when they say the show needed to change. The whole individual adventures on a ship had been done already, several times. It had been proven that an arc show could work brilliant on Deep Space Nine with The Dominion War, so why not apply the same method to “Enterprise?” What we would end up getting would change the show and turn it into something even more thrilling.
Now let’s finally take a look at the specs. As an owner of the original DVDs, I can tell you that the series has never looked better than it has on Blu-ray. The 16:9, 1080p High Definition picture is perfectly sharp and clear. This being a special effects-heavy show, you couldn’t ask for better visuals. The same can be said of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Every little sound comes through loud and clear, making this a top-notch release when it comes to its audio/visual aspects.
Where this release also completely outshines the DVDs is in the amount of special features you get. The six-disc set includes the following:
- Star Trek: Enterprise – Uncharted Territory
- In Conversation – The First Crew
- Newly-recorded Audio Commentaries
- Archival Season 2 Promo
- DVD featurettes and commentaries
Basically, you’re getting everything that was on the DVDs, plus more, but it’s that “more” that really makes the difference. The DVD featurettes were good, featuring interviews with cast and crew, but in terms of being truly informative about the show, there tended not to be much there. That’s where the two new featurettes come in handy. “Uncharted Territory” is a fascinating three-part exploration of the show through interviews with just about every cast and crew member you would want to hear from. It runs about 90 minutes total and tells you just about everything you could ever want to know about the show.
It turns out there were a multitude of things that I had never known about it, including that the original idea for the show was to start out on Earth, featuring Archer putting together the crew while the ship was being built. However, due to strong studio interference, that idea was scrapped in favor of a more traditional premise. Other facts I wasn’t aware of was that most of the writing staff was fired and replaced after season one, and that the studio went through a regime change, making it more difficult for the showrunners to get the show done due to more meddling. These three featurettes are essential watching for anyone who’s a fan of the show.
Also newly-included on the disc is “In Conversation – The First Crew,” which features the main cast members, plus Brannon Braga and Jeffrey Combs (Shran), sitting down together and discussing the show. It also runs about 90 minutes and likewise features fascinating bits and pieces about the show’s history directly from those involved. The cast share some of their favorite moments, but also some of their regrets about what the show didn’t get to accomplish. A particularly interesting bit from Billingsley has him talking about how he wishes the show could have explored how humanity got to the state it’s in in Roddenberry’s vision (i.e. how did we end war and hunger?). It’s a fascinating concept, along with Braga’s plan to start the show out on Earth, but again, it’s probably something else the studio would have shot down due to concerns of it not being Trek enough. Again, essential viewing for fans or anyone who’s looking to learn much more about the show.
The one quibble I have about the special features is that, instead of including them all on one disc as they did on the DVDs, they’ve opted to spread them out over all six discs. For commentaries and deleted scenes, it makes perfect sense to have them on the corresponding disc, but if you’re like me and you like to watch all of the featurettes once you’ve finished the entire season (something newcomers would do anyway to avoid spoilers), you have to load all six discs separately as opposed to popping in just one. It seems like a minor complaint, but it is rather annoying. It begs the question of why they would change what wasn’t broken in the first place.
Overall, this is a fantastic release of a sadly overlooked series. Season two has its fair share of great episodes, and when you couple that with the outstanding special features, you have a set that is a must-own for any Trekkie/Trekker or even a newcomer. I still find it funny when people try to tell me that Star Trek: Enterprise ruined the franchise or that it wasn’t Trek at all. All of the hallmarks of the show were there (great adventures, strong characters, emotional connections, important issues, etc.). It might not have been quite as successful as the other shows in trying to get them across, and as Braga admittedly says, some things could have been done better, but they were all there. This was a great show, it’s just a shame that so few noticed.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray received for reviewing purposes.