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Monday, May 16, 2005

These Are The Voyages...


She's dead, Jim. 

Star Trek: Enterprise was a show that had its best days ahead of it. After two dull, meandering seasons and a better but still uneven third season, Enterprise briefly dodged the cancellation bullet and delivered a vastly improved, sometimes rollicking fourth season that occasionally harkened to the fun and adventure of the original Star Trek. 

Enterprise was more focused, more confident. The writing - which was always Enterprise and its franchise predecessor Star Trek: Voyager's fatal flaw - was markedly better. The Enterprise scripts were nowhere near as literate or passionate as the best efforts from Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - but overall they were far more engaging. This redundant, uninspired show overcame the majority of its problems and at its best moments became genuinely entertaining.

It wasn't enough to save the show. The millions of Star Trek viewers had long since abandoned the latest presentation of Star Trek. They are content with the Star Trek they now have on DVD and are uninterested in the (mis)adventures of a prequel series awkwardly shoehorned into Trek canon. They missed out on a good season of Enterprise this year, but it honestly was nothing better than what they've already seen and love.

The two million of us who remained and got to know the crew of the NX-01, mostly out of loyalty to a tired franchise we still find value in after all these years, had a pretty good time this year. Perhaps expectations were so low that any improvement was appreciated. Still, Enterprise was vastly improved.

Its progress was within Star Trek's historical parameters; The Next Generation did not truly gel until season 3; Deep Space Nine found its creative footing and ran away, never looking back, in its fourth season. Enterprise had followed suit. If the show weren't canceled, the best was yet to come. Coming off their best season, Enterprise was poised to at least go out with its head held high, as a show that was beginning to prove worthy of carrying the torch of Star Trek, as a show that didn't deserve to die.

Which brings us to the controversial series finale, "These Are The Voyages…", which also doubles as the finale of the current era of the Star Trek franchise. I didn't get to see it until late last night, but when I returned from my weekend trip, waiting for me was this review from the son of a bitch who is single handedly responsible for getting me interested - soon hooked, which was my own damn fault - on Star Trek eleven years ago after I'd spent my life up to that point mocking and despising Star Trek.

He writes:
Appalling. Jolene Blalock was right. The series finale of Enterprise was an abomination. And the blame lies completely at the feet of Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. This series finally got pretty darn good this year when those two fuckers finally took their hands off the product and turned the reigns over to Manny Coto and his staff of pretty good writers. But then those two assholes just had to stick their noses back in and destroy all of the good will Coto & Co. had spent a year building up with that horribly offensive piece of shit "These Are The Voyages . . ." What was wrong with it? Were to begin?

First off, the focus of the show wasn't on the Enterprise crew at all; it was about Riker trying to make a decision about whether or not to fess up about the Pegasus incident. The Enterprise crewmembers were reduced to mere holographic props to help Riker's soul searching. The added kicker is that I, and anyone who saw TNG, already knew what Riker was going to decide, so the whole morality play was pointless, as the outcome was predetermined. On the other hand, if someone didn't watch TNG, and was just a fan of Enterprise, the whole episode would have been meaningless because they wouldn't have understood Riker's dilemma and certainly wouldn't have given a rats ass about his pathetic soul searching. And may I also add, Riker and Troi looked like crap. I guess even actors are allowed to show their age at some point, but it sure is distracting when those actors are about 10 years older than the characters they are playing. Every member of the cast should have refused to do the finale until they wrote an Enterprise finale about the fucking Enterprise crew.

Second, related to the first problem, the last two actors ever seen in an episode of Enterprise were Frakes and Sirtis as Riker & Troi walking out of the holodeck. Let's look at the other shows, shall we. TNG ended with the whole crew playing cards. DS9 ended with the characters saying their goodbyes on the promenade before focusing on Jake and Kira staring out towards the wormhole thinking of Captain Sisko as the camera does a long pull out. Hell, that ending still gets me choked up whenever I see it. Voyager ended with the crew on the bridge staring out at Earth, having finally made it home. In other words, all previous shows ended with the focus on the characters that had made the show, not the backs of characters from another series. And the mixing of the voiceovers after the shot of Riker and Troi was stupid as well. The NX-01 was being put into mothballs. Its mission was over. It wouldn't be boldly going where no man/one had gone before, so the voiceover had no meaning. Ending Trek II with Nimoy doing the voiceover was poignant because the Enterprise still had a future, even after Spock's death. But come Trek VI, when the Enterprise A was being decommissioned (after a very short lifespan) Kirk gave an appropriate captain's log that evoked the classic opening narration but making it clear that it was up to another generation to continue the journey. Far be it for me to expect Berman & Braga to understand how to do a voiceover, when they can't get anything else right.

Third, they pissed on the Tripp/T'Pol relationship. That relationship was the heart of the show for me this entire season. It was easily the best thing on the show (followed by the female uniforms in the dark universe). According to Berman & Braga, Tripp and T'Pol apparently had no relationship between "Terra Prime" and "These are the voyages. . ." So while the heart of season 4 was the relationship between Tripp and T'Pol, so much so that the events of that season end with them grieving together over the loss of their daughter Elizabeth, immediately after that their relationship came to an abrupt end and they spent the next 6 years as dispassionate crewmates. Fucking great. Way to mock the best aspect of the show Berman & Braga.

Fourth, how many times did we need to be reminded that the holoprogram was set in Enterprise's future? At least 3 times characters worked it into the dialogue that their mission started 10 years ago. For example: Archer to T'Pol "remember when we first met 10 years ago?" People don't talk like that. On the other hand, it probably was necessary since the characters showed evidence of absolutely no growth from the events of the 6 years during which we didn't see them. I guess nothing important happened during those six years since, with the exception of nametags and T'Pol's hair, every member of the crew was exactly the same as they were at the end of "Terra Prime."

Fifth, and far and away the biggest sin of the episode, they completely botched Trip's death in every possible way on every possible level. First, signaling his death with Troi's line "he had no idea he wouldn't be coming back" was some of the worst writing in the history of Star Trek (and I've seen "Spock's Brain"). All of the shock and emotional impact of Trip's death was instantly drained from the episode. Instead, you just start waiting for it to happen. Second, what a stupid, meaningless death. Some aliens we have never seen before come looking for Shran because of some stupid alien diamond theft and Trip sacrifices himself to take out the aliens and save freakin' Shran? He couldn't sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise crew or in connection with the founding of the Federation? Or better yet, he couldn't find a way to take out the raiding party without killing himself? Stupid, stupid writing. Third, the death scene in sickbay was terrible. When he went into the tube and we cut to commercial, I thought Trip was still alive, and then we come back from commercial in Trip's quarters and he is already dead. So we don't even see him die! What the fuck is that? Fourth, we didn't see any member of the crew react to the death other than T'Pol and Archer. Everyone told Chef Riker how great Trip was before his death, but then no one got to show any grief after his death. Elizabeth's death was handled better than that. I always thought Jadzia Dax's death was pretty poorly done, but this was far worse. Dax's death may have been pretty meaningless, but at least it was connected to a major thrust of the show (the Gul Dukat/Pah'Wraiths storyline) and we got to see Worf at her bedside as she died. Moreover, at least the writers had the excuse that they had to kill her off since Terry Farrell was leaving the show. Here, there was no excuse for this steaming pile of shit.

Bottom line, after getting to the point where I was actually enjoying Enterprise this season, I'm now very glad that it has been cancelled. In the end I was left with a horrible taste in my mouth. The more I think about the episode the angrier I get. I didn't think it was possible for me to dislike Rick Berman any more than I already did, but now I loath the man. Stick a fork in Star Trek, fans, 'cause it's done.

All of that rage is correct. This episode had some big problems as detailed above. It was an ill-conceived, poorly executed piece of television.

A funny thing happened to me on the road to indignation, though: I found I liked the episode anyway. I like it because of the cast of Star Trek: Enterprise, all of whom impressed the hell out of me. In "These Are The Voyages…" I saw an energy in the Enterprise cast I'd never quite seen before. The actors' various emotions during the filming of the last episode of their show was evident on screen and they seemed determined to go out on high notes. While nothing spectacular was written for them in the way of dialogue or action, the charisma of the Enterprise cast was positively charming. The banter in the opening scene alone between Malcolm, Hoshi, Travis, Archer and T'Pol, again while not sparkling in the words, was relaxed and entertaining. The actors were enjoying themselves.

In this last episode, the entire cast of Enterprise delivered some of their best performances. Yes, structurally in the episode they were holograms and not the 'real' characters, but the idea here was to see them through Riker's eyes, in essence seeing them for the first time. Riker was looking at them as historical characters he'd only read about but as the episode progressed, he got to know them all personally. In effect, so did we. We met them all over again, very briefly, through Riker's eyes, and I realized the same way Riker did that I like these people. It's a real shame we can't spend more quality time with them like we had in season four.

The gimmick of Riker posing as Chef and meeting with each of the Enterprise crew members was conceptually flawed in all kinds of ways. (I'd always hoped the never-seen Chef character was an ancestor of Ben Sisko, but as usual DS9 gets no love.) Suddenly we're told that every person on the crew confides all their professional and personal to the ship's cook. This Chef is a major security risk waiting to happen. Kidnap the ship's cook and you can cripple the flagship of Starfleet in one fell swoop.

Not withstanding, watch the scenes as Riker meets with each Enterprise crew member individually and cooks with them. Watch the actors' performances. Every single actor relished their scenes with Jonathan Frakes and brought their best effort to the table. Jolene Blalock especially gave one of her most nuanced performances as T'Pol and the glint in ladies' man Riker's eye as he silently considered her attractiveness and wanted to kiss her (on the cheek, he ultimately decided) was amusing. As character moments, these scenes were a lot of fun and were perhaps some of the best of the series, despite how ill-conceived the basic idea behind them is.

The joy here was in watching the actors perform as they enjoy spending a moment with a veteran actor of The Next Generation. In turn, Frakes was clearly enjoying acting with the Enterprise cast members, with Riker admiring each character as he got to know them. With each scene, he was giving this maligned cast 'the rub', which was the intention of Berman and Braga. I think in that respect it worked. And Riker's exchange with Travis was hilarious.

Riker: "Did [Trip] ever want to take a swing at Picard?"
Travis: "Who?"
Riker: "I meant Archer."

Riker and Troi giving themselves a tour of the NX-01 was also fun, which is all those scenes were meant to be. Riker almost hitting his head on the low ceiling, the joke about there not being a fish tank in Archer's ready room, Riker complaining about how the first officer doesn't have a chair next to the captain, and Troi's confusion as to why the door didn't automatically hiss open as she stood in front of it were all fun. You could look at it as Riker and Troi mocking Enterprise, but let the crew that doesn't live on a ship with bright yellow floors and pastel pink chairs cast the first stone. On the sleeker, cooler Enterprise set, Riker and Troi, in their bright primary colored uniforms were the ones who looked like clowns.

Trip's demise was atrocious, although Sean is wrong when he noted that Trip was trying to save Shran. Trip was trying to save Archer, who was unconscious on the floor and was about to be killed. He was buying time to save his friend and he gave up his own life to do so. The method Trip used to kill the aliens was boneheaded, as was how Trip's death was handled. It was piss poor writing.

But again, watch the performance from Connor Trinner, the desperation, the love he showed for his best friend Archer as he impulsively decided that one of them wasn't going to make it out of that hallway alive and it was better Trip goes than Archer. Trinner's acting sold a badly written scene. What about the brief exchange in the shuttlepod between T'Pol and Trip about how they (will) miss each other? As rotten as the circumstances surrounding the existence of that scene are, watch how heroically the actors fight against their dumb script and deliver some poignancy to the moment. It was as bittersweet an exchange as any we've seen in Star Trek. If only there were more time for these characters, look what we could have had.

As for the final scene, yes, the camera was on Riker and Troi, but where is it written that a Star Trek series has to end with a shot of the crew?

Look a little deeper: what were Riker and Troi doing? They were watching Jonathan Archer deliver a speech that marked the founding of the Federation. (A speech we never hear, unfortunately.) These 'legends' from The Next Generation were looking at the captain of Star Trek: Enterprise with respect and reverential awe. And prior to that was a really nice moment between Phlox, T'Pol, and Archer, the Bones, Spock and Kirk substitutes.

Jolene Blalock and Scott Bakula were wonderful here. Watch how Archer's pacing cut through T'Pol's stoicism and actually made her nervous - so nervous she had to do something to cut the tension and her choice was to fix Archer's tie. And I loved the moment when Archer decided "fuck it" and hugged T'Pol, how T'Pol couldn't hug him back, but how her eyes and facial expression showed she wanted to and how hard it is to be a Vulcan sometimes. Blalock understands Vulcans almost as well as Leonard Nimoy does. It was a terrific moment.

This entire episode to me was the Enterprise actors' finest hour. Considering their disappointment, which Jolene Blalock and others made public, about how their cast was treated in this episode, how poor the writing is, how stupid Berman and Braga are, what little triumph there is to be had here rests completely with the underrated, underappreciated cast of Star Trek: Enterprise. Each of the actors fought tooth and nail for respect for four seasons and were disheartened to have to fight for even more in their own swansong. I think the actors succeeded and went out with a blaze of glory.

I like these actors a lot. I've grown to like this show a great deal, and just a year ago I wouldn't have batted an eye if it were canceled. It's a shame this show and the franchise are over. Despite its myriad faults, I like "These Are The Voyages…" because of the actors. Star Trek: Enterprise had a good cast, who deserve to stand proudly alongside the best of the franchise.

Sadly, it's their misfortune, and ours, that Enterprise was commanded by Berman and Braga, two bad captains who managed to photon torpedo a 40 year old franchise.