Sunday, September 26, 2010

Enterprise, Season 1

Enterprise--the fifth and to-date last Star Trek series--first aired on the UPN network from 2001 to 2005. Though the series's title changed in later seasons to Star Trek: Enterprise, it was the only Trek series whose regular cast did not change through all of its run. Like The Original Series (TOS), it was canceled before its time, perhaps in part because the Nielsen Ratings system was slow to adapt to the new ways people had begun watching TV, such as DVR and TiVo, and also in part because its concept as a "prequel" to TOS risked violating Trek continuity and upsetting a touchy and fanatically canon-conscious fandom. It also didn't help that it aired on a short-lived network that broadcast in a limited number of markets and that, in its floundering death-throes, probably leaned on the show's producers to compromise the integrity of their creative vision. When it was canceled after only four seasons, actress Jolene Blalock (who played "T'Pol" and, like Voyager's Robert Beltran, was a notoriously outspoken critic of her own series) was quoted as saying the show deserved to be canceled.

From what I hear about the series finale (which burned not just one character but the entire cast to a crisp), that may very well be true. I wouldn't know. To this day I have never seen an episode of this series subsequent to Season 1. It's not that I wasn't interested. I taped every episode of this first season, and greatly enjoyed most of them. (Alas, my parents taped over these cassettes, which I had loaned to them because their local cable didn't carry UPN. So I am only now seeing them again, thanks to a DVD Walmart was selling at fire-sale prices.)

Why did I quit watching the show? It was not Star Trek's fault. During the summer of 2002, after this season first aired, I moved to the Outskirts of Hell--Yuma, Arizona--where my TV's "rabbit ears" could only pick up two channels, both of them very fuzzy and one of them in Spanish. Since I was too stingy to pay for cable, too honest to steal it, and too conscious of the shortness of life to care much for TV anyway (especially because of the commercials), I decided it was the perfect time to kick TV-watching out of my everyday life.

Of course, new ways to blow time are always on offer. Just wait till I post on my adventures in Facebook! But I'm getting way off-topic. The point is, I had been close to quitting TV for some time, even though I liked several shows including Enterprise. I took my move to Yuma as the opportunity to make the break. One of my few regrets was not being able to see this series through. But we'll always have Season 1, won't we?

The series follows the mission of Earth's first "Warp 5" starship, which happens to be called Enterprise, launched in A.D. 2151. It doesn't count as one of the "NCC-1701" series of vessels, familiar from TOS, TNG, and the Trek feature films, because this Enterprise's registration number was NX-01. It has taken 80 years since Zefram Cochrane's discovery of warp drive (dramatized in the feature-film Star Trek: First Contact) for such a ship to be built, thanks in part to the diplomacy of the Vulcans, who are anxious as to whether mankind is ready for the galaxy, or vice versa. It finally takes an interplanetary emergency to make the launch happen... but even then, the Vulcans make sure to have one of their own on board as an observer, and perhaps a counterweight to the impulsiveness of a human captain and crew.

This new captain is the studly Jonathan Archer, played by Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula and accompanied on his travels by a cute beagle named Porthos, after one of the Three Musketeers. (You see, one fruit of not watching TV is that I actually read The Three Musketeers.) Thanks to Porthos, I have decided that my next pet, if I should outlive my cats, will be a beagle. Commanding a crew of 81 humans, 1 Vulcan, and 1 Denobulan, Archer is the perfect type to lead mankind's first exploration of deep space: super-competent, strong-willed, conscientious, thoughtful yet passionate, highly protective of his ship and his crew, with a big sense of fun and an indefinable aura of leadership. His experiences in this season alone lay the groundwork for some of the guiding principles of what, by the end of the series, would be a fledgling Federation of Planets--such as the Prime Directive against interfering in the development of other cultures.

Archer's Vulcan science officer is the aforementioned T'Pol, tricked out in silicone lips and the type of figure-hugging uniform perfected by Voyager's Seven of Nine. Jolene Blalock plays her with a combination of stoic calm and trashy femininity (notably displayed in this season's decontamination-chamber scenes, including a mind-bogglingly gratuitous one in the pilot episode). As a pure-blood Vulcan, she is only rarely, and even then vaguely, affected by human emotions, though at times her unflappable veneer wears thin. We learn in this season that Vulcans detest the smell of human beings, refuse to touch food with their hands, meditate by candlelight before retiring each night, and have a fishy track record of dealings with many of the alien races they have contacted. The sense that the Vulcans have held back mankind, to some degree, puts the lie to a throwaway line in an early TOS episode, possibly the second pilot, where someone teases Spock, "That's probably why we conquered your planet." Never happened!

The only other non-human officer on this Enterprise is Phlox, the ship's physician, played by seasoned character-actor John Billingsley. What little we learn about Phlox's Denobulan species, this season, seems to be revealed mainly for the purpose of emphasizing how whimsically weird and alien he is. I mean, look at this smile! Off the hook, ain't it? Other than that we learn that on Denobula, group marriages are customary, people don't like to be touched, and everyone hibernates for about one week a year, to make up for not getting much sleep the rest of the time. Phlox is blessed with a bright, cheerful outlook, boundless curiosity, an openness to exotic forms of medical treatment, and a commitment to medical and scientific ethics that contributes some of this season's most poignant moments. Plus, he has a menagerie of weird animals, some of them more heard than seen, which he fearlessly incorporates into his medical treatments. I love Phlox. Some of the Phlox-centered outtakes described and/or included in the DVD's Special Features are absolutely priceless. It is in these Special Features, in an interview, that Billingsley reveals one fact about Denobula I did not know: it's a very crowded planet. I wonder how knowing that helped him, as an actor, create the role.

Captain Archer's closest friend is his Chief Engineer, Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III. I remember promotional material for the series, before it went into production, that identified Tucker as "Charlie" rather than "Trip." I like the final nickname better, perhaps because I actually knew someone once whose friends and family called him Trip (also because of the Roman numeral at the end of his name), and at the time I thought it was a real... heh... trip! Trip is a good ole boy from Pensacola, Florida, who likes pan-fried catfish, often says things like "Keep your shirt on," and has a perhaps unjust reputation for getting himself into awkward situations. For example, in one of this season's most delicious episodes, Trip goes down in history as the first human male to get pregnant. He also spends more time than strictly necessary prancing around in his underwear, thanks to the telegenic physique of actor Connor Trinneer.

Serving as the ship's tactical officer is a tough but reserved British Lieutenant named Malcolm Reed, played by Dominic Keating. Intensely private and self-sufficient, Reed is so hard to get to know that even his own family doesn't know much about him. So the bond he develops with his fellow Enterprises is really remarkable, beginning especially with his ordeal with Trip in this season's episode "Shuttlepod One." Malcolm really knows his business--guns, mostly. He always wants to be the first guy through the door with his phase-pistol drawn, and he cares deeply about maximizing the ship's firepower without blowing out plasma relays and what have you. He also, as it happens, is a bit of an inventor, coming up with the first electromagnetic force-field of any practical value for the episode "Vox Sola." Not bad for a chap from Leicester, what?

Rounding out the cast are two very young actors, Linda Park and Anthony Montgomery, playing (respectively) Enterprise's communications officer Ensign Hoshi Sato and its helmsman, Ensign Travis Mayweather. Hoshi brings to the crew a valuable gift (being able to pick up most any language in a matter of minutes) in an era when the "Universal Translator"--that rarely-mentioned piece of Treknobabble that explains how aliens from all parts of the galaxy nearly always speak perfect English--is still in its early stages of development. Travis, meanwhile, is a "boomer"--born and raised on a Warp 1.5 cargo vessel, and therefore more at home in deep space than on Earth. They both have a lot of adjusting to do as they begin their life on board a starship of exploration. Hoshi's character sees the most growth over the course of Season 1, from being so freaked out by life on the Final Frontier that she almost resigns her commission to accepting her role as an indispensible member of the crew. Travis bounces from one adventure to another like a big, cheerful puppy--and, alas, gets badly kicked a few times.

The first Starship Enterprise begins its mission with bridge panels that have actual buttons (rather than a touch-screen interface), clunky computer monitors, a retractable science-station viewer (similar to the one Spock used on TOS), an earpiece for Hoshi (similar to Uhura's), sliding pocket doors that don't automatically open unless you push a button, and a food replicator that squirts coffee, milk, or juice into your cup rather than materializing it, cup and all. The shuttle bay has pressure doors rather than force fields keeping the air in and the vacuum out. The matter-energy transporter has never been used to transport a human before this mission; even now it's a rare and iffy procedure, used only in an emergency. As a result, airlocks and shuttlepods see a lot more use. The sensors haven't yet been calibrated to pick up many of the things Trekkers expect to be able to track, at least to begin with. Force-fields only reach a workable level of advancement late in the season, so the ship's defenses revolve around polarized hull plating and some kind of pointy, silvery torpedoes. Phase cannons (not quite phasers yet?) only get installed around mid-season; photon torpedoes are almost unheard-of, though the Klingons have them.

Besides the developing technology of the ship itself, this first year of Enterprise shows Starfleet experiencing many first-time encounters. Mankind meets the Klingons for the first time in the pilot episode. The flamboyantly re-invented, blue-skinned Andorians, complete with animated antennae, cross paths with Archer & co. a couple times. We get our first glimpse of the Coridans, suggesting why "the Coridan question" is still a hot topic at the time of the TOS episode "Journey to Babel." Though Starfleet isn't supposed to meet the Ferengi until TNG's "The Last Outpost," we hear their name dropped in this season's "Dear Doctor" and, a few episodes later, they actually appear, albeit without identifying themselves. We encounter snaggle-toothed Nausicaan pirates, make a much-anticipated first visit to the pleasure world of Risa, and see a lot more development of the Vulcan race.

Besides making the old new again, Enterprise also encounters its fair share of the completely new: the scaly Xyrillians, who live in a disorientingly weird environment, almost like another dimension; the spackle-faced Suliban, some of whom have been genetically enhanced by an organization known as the Cabal to serve as foot-soldiers in a Temporal Cold War; the paranoid Tandarans, who will stop at nothing to destroy the Cabal; the creepy Malurians, who think nothing of contaminating a pre-warp world, and whose only other notable accomplishment is being annihilated by Nomad in TOS's "The Changeling"; and, besides several other alien races, the unnamed organization Crewman Daniels works for--a 31st-century agency in charge of policing the Temporal Accord. Some of these first encounters presage adventures yet to come in Enterprise's latter three seasons. But since I have only seen Season One, so far, let's take its episodes on their own terms...

Broken Bow is the series's double-sized pilot episode. Flashbacks to the boyhood of Capt. Jonathan Archer set the scene for the show, indicating that his father Henry Archer was a warp engineer who bridged the gap between the era of Zefram Cochrane and the "present" of 2151, when man's first deep-space exploration begins against the advice of the Vulcans. The precipitating event is first contact with the Klingons, in the form of a lone warrior crash-landing in an Oklahoma cornfield and fighting off two genetically-enhanced Suliban who are chasing him. Archer assembles his crew quickly and pushes up the timetable for launching Enterprise so that Klaang can be returned to his people, but there are complications along the way... a firefight on the cosmopolitan world of Rigel X... a kidnapping off the decks of Enterprise by an enemy virtually impossible to detect, let alone resist... a kidnapping-back caper on a Suliban helix deep in the atmosphere of a gas giant... and the first hints of a "Temporal Cold War" in which the Suliban Cabal takes orders from a shadowy guy from the future. Guest stars include Gary Graham of Alien Nation in his first of 12 appearances as Vulcan Ambassador Soval; Thomas Kopache (as another Vulcan) playing one of his 7 guest roles on Star Trek; Vaughn Armstrong in his first of 15 appearances as Admiral Forrest, one of a record 11 characters he played in four Trek series; Melinda Clark of The O.C., Jim Beaver of Deadwood, Mark Moses of Desperate Housewives, Tiny Lister of WWE fame, and John Fleck in his first appearance as the recurring Suliban later identified as Silik, one of a half-dozen Trek characters he played. The Suliban doctor, briefly seen, is played by Joseph Ruskin, whose six Trek guest roles go all the way back to TOS; square-jawed Jim Fitzpatrick plays a background Starfleet official for the first of four times; and if you sense something familiar about the dark figure from the future, he is played by the same James Horan whose five roles on four Trek series include the alien Dr. Crusher blew a hole in in TNG's "Suspicions." Finally, James Cromwell reprises his Star Trek: First Contact role as warp-drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane, shown in archived footage coining the "new life and new civilizations" spiel ...only without the split infinitive!

Fight or Flight is an eerie episode in which the Enterprises board a drifting alien ship and find its entire crew strung up, feet uppermost, with tubes flushing a certain vital substance out of their bodies. Hoshi is so freaked that she almost quits on the spot. We learn a lot of reasons to wonder why the Vulcans bother with space flight, such as the fact that they don't care for exploration and have no particular sense of curiosity. We also learn that human lymph nodes are an equally lucrative resource to the unseen beings who wanted the glandular secretions of the slaughtered alien crew. In the end, the Enterprises' survival depends on Hoshi's translation skills. Jeff Ricketts, appearing as the Axenar captain, played an Andorian later in this same season.

Strange New World is the episode where several Enterprises decide to spend the night on an idyllic, but uninhabited, planet. At midnight the winds come up, bearing a toxin that causes paranoia, hallucinations, and (if untreated) death. Rescue is impossible, because the winds prevent a safe shuttlepod descent and a single attempt to use the transporter has freaky results (pictured here). So it is up to a slightly intoxicated T'Pol to trick Trip into laying down his phase-pistol so that she can give him a dose of the life-saving antidote. Kellie Waymire, whose three appearances as Crewman Cutler all took place during this season, also appeared on DS9 and had a recurring role on Six Feet Under before she suddenly died in 2003, age 36.

Unexpected is the one where Trip gets pregnant. Hilarious! Phlox: "I don't know if congratulations are in order, but..." He goes through it all: mood swings, appetite changes, even morning sickness (OK, that might be one of the deleted scenes). Trip's horror of the news getting out is only a smidge less precious than his discomfort when T'Pol teases him about his inability to keep it zipped. The only thing about it that isn't awesome is the fact that it isn't his baby. Aside from the absurd idea that the Xyrillians take all their genetic material from their mother(?!), this cheapens the episode by ensuring that everything goes back to normal, with no pitter-patter of little consequences running around the ship in subsequent episodes. Compensating for this, however, is the far-out weirdness of the Xyrillian ship, where grass grows on the deck and exhales a fume that aids digestion, and where water exists only in the form of little cubes of plain Jell-O. This episode shows, perhaps, where Starfleet found the concept for its later development of holodecks. And it also involves a bit of shrewd diplomacy with Klingons. The Klingon captain is played by Christopher Darga, who had also guested on DS9 (as another Klingon) and Voyager. The Xyrillian captain is played by Randy Oglesby, whose 5 other Trek roles spanned all 4 spinoffs and included an unrelated recurring role ("Degra") later in this series. Julianne Christie, the mother of Trip's baby, once played a Talaxian (Neelix's race) on Voyager.

Terra Nova resolves the mystery of a long-lost Earth colony from way back in the pre-Warp 5 days when it took years to travel to and from their planet. Since Earth lost contact with the Novans, their fate has been fodder for spooky bedtime stories on galactic freighters, like the one Travis grew up on. To solve the mystery, the Enterprises must delve into the stone-age culture of the surviving Novans, descendants of the colony's children who took refuge underground when a radioactive disaster crisped their parents. The Novans no longer recognize themselves being from Earth, blaming humans for "gutting their go-befores" and driving them below ground. Archer has to use all his diplomatic savvy to persuade these folks to move before the left-over radiation wipes them out. Among the guest cast are Mary Carver, who played the mother of Simon & Simon, and TV and film sci-fi maven Erick Avari, whose previous Trek appearances included a Klingon on TNG and a Bajoran on DS9.

The Andorian Incident breathes new life into one of TOS's hokiest alien races: the white-haired, blue-skinned, antennae-topped Andorians, frequently seen in the background but seldom featured since their 1960s debut. One enhancement is the fact that their antennae move around, expressive of the Andorians' mood. Another bonus is the fact that mankind is here seen meeting the Andorians for the first time. Their aggressive, suspicious nature is vividly seen when an armed squad of blue-skins (Hey! They call us Earth folk "pink-skins," don't they?) storm a Vulcan monastery called P'Jem, just as Archer, Trip, and T'Pol are dropping in to pay their respects. The Andorians' belief that the spiritual retreat center is a front for a surveillance system aimed at their planet turns out to be correct, with the result (among others yet to be seen) that, as he departs, the head hostage-taker tells Archer, "I am in your debt." Steven Dennis, here playing the Andorian Tholos, had played four different guest roles on Voyager (leeringly, to T'Pol: "I'll enjoy having you...as a prisoner"). Bruce French (the Vulcan Elder) played a Betazoid on TNG, an Ocampa in the pilot to Voyager, and an alien villain in the feature film Star Trek: Insurrection. Last but not least, Jeffrey Combs adds the recurring Andorian Shran to his extensive list of Trek appearances, including at least four one-off characters between three series, plus DS9's recurring Ferengi named Brunt and the succession of Vorta clones named Weyoun. I still can't help thinking of him as the cracked FBI agent in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners.

Breaking the Ice is one of those "A-story/B-story" episodes where it's a little hard to tell which storyline is A and which B. If Vulcans could laugh, the shipful of them observing the Enterprise's exploration of a huge, icy comet would be rolling on the decks as Malcolm and Travis prance around in EV-suits, building pointy-eared snowmen and getting their shuttle-pod stuck in a crevice. The worst of it is, their ice-blasting activities have shifted the comet's axis of rotation, so that they will soon be on the day side of the galaxy's largest known ice-cube. No one wants a close-up of a look at what happens when that much solid ice suddenly turns into water vapor. So it falls to T'Pol to manipulate Archer into burying his pride and asking the offensively superior Vulcan captain for help. She (T'Pol), meanwhile, is facing a personal crisis. Of all people to open up to, she chooses Trip--possibly because he inadvertently opened her mail, or perhaps a foreshadowing of their future, intimate relationship. (All right, I haven't seen the later seasons of this series, but I am connected to the internet!)

Civilization is the one where Archer & Co. dress up as aliens (with some surgical touches by Dr. Phlox) so they can explore a world similar to pre-Industrial Revolution Earth. Their fun is interrupted by the discovery of alien energy readings coming from a curio shop, where the basement is protected by an impenetrable energy field. The proprietor turns out to be one of the aliens from V--you know, human skin on the outside, gray lizard on the inside? The Malurians are mining some kind of weapons-grade technobabble on this peaceful, innocent world, and they don't particularly care that a byproduct of their operation is poisoning the local water supply. All this gives Archer a chance to shoot ray-guns at scaly bad-guys and suck face with an attractive alien chick, who must then bravely face the rest of her life knowing things that she can't discuss with anybody else.... Ah, the innocence of those pre-Prime Directive times!

Fortunate Son is the rare Trekisode that begins from a point of view remote from the hero ship and its crew. This one features the Warp-1.5 freighter Fortunate, whose captain and first-officer are playing low-gravity football in the cargo bay when Nausicaan pirates attack their ship. Enterprise answers Fortunate's distress call, but arrives after the battle is over. Though their captain is wounded and their ship is damaged, the Fortunates seem strangely reluctant to accept the help the Enterprises' offer. Eventually it comes out that First Officer Matthew Ryan is holding a Nausicaan hostage, hoping to torture out of him the access codes to penetrate the pirate fleet's defenses. Once discovered, Ryan is willing to risk anything to keep his advantage--even the lives of Archer and his officers--until the Nausicaans have his ship cornered and only a little Archer-style diplomacy can save the day. Ryan is played by the same Lawrence Monoson who, as a Bajoran in DS9's "The Storyteller," once tried to stab Chief O'Brien. Ryan's sidekick Shaw is played by Kieran Mulroney, who previously appeared as a young unwed father in TNG's "The Outrageous Okona." Charles (or Chip) Lucia, here playing Capt. Keene, also had guest roles on TNG and Voyager. Danny Goldring (the Nausicaan captain) played five Trek roles in three series. And the Nauiscaan hostage is played by D. Elliot Woods, whose statuesque figure earned him two previous Trek roles.

Cold Front is the first episode that picks up the thread of the "Temporal Cold War" dropped in the series pilot. In this outing, a non-commissioned Enterprise crewman named Daniels turns out to be an operative for a 31st-century agency policing the Temporal Accords. He is concerned about the Suliban Silik, who has just now infiltrated Enterprise in the guise of an alien religious pilgrim and saved the ship from being blown up. Caught between two opponents who both claim to be preserving the time continuum, Archer is ultimately helpless to prevent Silik from killing Daniels and making his escape. Coolness: The gadget that allows people to walk through solid walls. Even more cool: Making sure this too-good-to-be-true gadget gets lost, so it doesn't mess up Trek continuity. Not cool: Scott Bakula hanging by one hand while the launch bay decompresses. Totally unconvincing! Besides a second appearance by John Fleck as "Silik," this episode boasts Matt Winston's first of eight appearances as Daniels.

Silent Enemy is still another "A/B" episode where the "B" plot seems to carry more water than the "A." Malcolm's birthday is coming up, and it's Hoshi's job to find out what he likes to eat so they can give him a special treat. Problem: Nobody, even his closest relatives and friends, knows that much about Malcolm. In spite of a charming cameo by Dear John's Jane Carr (lately one of Londo's wives on B5) as Lt. Reed's mum, 'Allo 'Allo's Guy Siner as his Dad, and Deadwood's Paula Malcomson as his sister, Hoshi must finally suborn an egregious breach of doctor-patient confidentiality to discover the answer to her conundrum (pineapple!). Meanwhile, the ship is repeatedly attacked by the creepily uncommunicative (but otherwise uninteresting) aliens pictured here. As a result, Trip and Malcolm go to heroic lengths to get the ship's phase cannons online.

Dear Doctor is the episode narrated by Dr. Phlox as he dictates a letter to a human colleague serving, via the Interspecies Medical Exchange, on the Denobulan homeworld. Interlarded with Denobulan-eye-view observations of humanity, his account takes in a medical mission of mercy to a pre-warp world whose dominant culture faces extinction just as it begins to reach out toward the stars. Though it takes a Valakian astronaut years to get within hailing range of Enterprise, the latter takes less than a day to take him back home. This leads to an encounter with not one but two sentient, humanoid races peacefully coexisting on the same world, and a painful test of medical and scientific ethics that strains the relationship between Acher and Phlox. The result, however, is the first germ of what eventually grows up to be Starfleet's Prime Directive. This episode guest stars The Simpsons's Karl Wiedergott in his second of two Trek roles, and Chris Rydell, the son of TOS guest actor Joanne Linville.

Sleeping Dogs guest-stars Vaughn Armstrong and Michelle Bonilla (late of ER and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) as members of an unconscious Klingon crew whose disabled ship is sinking in the atmosphere of a gas giant. This presents a dilemma for the Enterprises on multiple levels. First, Klingons would rather die with honor than be rescued; but humans feel a need to come to their aid. Second, when one of the Klingons comes to and steals the shuttlepod, she (a) radios for reinforcements, blaming Enterprise for attacking her ship, and (b) leaves Malcolm, Hoshi, and T'Pol stranded as the Klingon ship approaches hull-crushing depths. The resulting crisis of diplomacy, engineering, and public health puts even more pressure on the Enterprises, but they stand it well--though T'Pol has to help Hoshi hold it together by touching a pressure point or two and teaching her a simple meditation technique. You would think T'Pol would be the one needing help after visiting a Klingon galley replete with skinned targs, dead gagh, and indescribable things floating in cauldrons of soup.

Shadows of P'Jem follows up on "The Andorian Incident" with a reprise of the blue-skinned characters played by Jeffrey Combs and Steven Dennis. The repercussions of what Archer discovered on P'Jem has led to the entire Vulcan monastery, listening-post and all, being destroyed (without loss of life) by the Andorians. For her part in this, T'Pol is to be recalled to Vulcan in disgrace. While they wait for a Vulcan ship to rendezvous with them, the Enterprises decide to visit the planet Coridan, where the government is tight with the Vulcans. Unfortunately, not everyone on Coridan is tight with the government. When some rebels abduct Archer and T'Pol, Trip, Shran, and a trigger-happy Vulcan captain (played by 24's Gregory Itzin in his fourth of five Trek roles) mount separate and conflicting rescue attempts. Also guest-starring in this episode are Barbara Tarbuck of Falcon Crest fame, and China Beach's Jeff Kober, whose role as an assassin in 24 put Itzin's character in the Oval Office; both Tarbuck and Kober had previously guested on Star Trek.

Shuttlepod One is an intensely character-driven, budget-saving episode that takes the idea of a "bottle show" to the extreme. Except for about three scenes, one of them turning out to be a dream, the entire episode focuses on the ordeal of Trip and Malcolm in an increasingly ice-cold shuttlepod, believing Enterprise has been destroyed and counting the hours until their air supply runs out. Though it got the poorest ratings of the season, for my money this is one of the series's finest pieces of writing, acting, and all-around filmmaking. Like the similarly low-rated TNG episode "Family," this is one of the few Trek episodes in which no scene takes place on the hero ship's bridge.

Fusion puts T'Pol in the uncomfortable position of having to liaise with a civilian vessel crewed by a Vulcan sect that believes in using logic to control, rather than totally suppress, their primal emotions. This seems to be working fairly well for the crew of the Vahklas, but T'Pol is convinced that it's a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, she briefly experiments with the Vahklases' techniques, going to bed one night without meditating and having, as a result, agitating dreams about her first experience of jazz music at a San Francisco night club. Later she submits to a then all-but-forgotten, ancient Vulcan ritual called the Mind Meld(!), and ends up becoming the victim of a type of psychic rape. I'm still trying to figure out the point of the scene in which Archer provokes the Vulcan rapist to throw him around his ready-room like a rag-doll. Maybe he was trying to convince himself that it was time to bid the Vahklas farewell? As an episode giving insight into the hard and complicated path a Vulcan must walk, this show deserves an A+. It guest-stars Without a Trace's Enrique Murciano as Tolaris, the Vulcan who makes the study of emotion look like a sexual fetish; and CHiPs star Robert Pine as the Vulcan captain, his second Trek role.

Rogue Planet features a world that has no sun, its surface warmed by subterranean technobabble. As a result, it is by far and away this season's darkest episode. Many of its scenes play out in hues only subtly distinct from pitch black, illuminated entirely by the lights and night-vision devices carried by the characters themselves. To say this is a handicap for an episode to overcome is an understatement. It succeeds by focusing on the mysteries that lurk in the planet's deep shadows: shape-changing creatures called Wraiths, valued by visiting Eska hunters as the most dangerous game. Archer gradually realizes that the fairy-tale-beautiful woman who repeatedly appears to him is a member of these telepathic, sentient wraiths; but then he makes it his business to ensure that the hunters lose the scent of their prey. The girl with the apple blossoms in her hair is played by Stephanie Niznik, who also played a Trill crewman in Star Trek: Insurrection. Conor O'Farrell of CSI here plays his second of three Trek roles; Alien Nation's Eric Pierpoint, his fourth of five, including the Klingon version of Charon and, later in this series, a recurring Section 31 operative. The leader of the Eska hunters is played by Keith Szarabajka of Angel and The Equalizer, who also guested on Voyager.

Acquisition risks violating Trek continuity by introducing the Ferengi chronologically long before their historic first-contact with humans in TNG's "The Last Outpost." This episode skirts the issue by letting the greedy little aliens decline to mention the name of their race (though sharp-eared viewers my notice a backward reference to the Menk of "Dear Doctor," where the Ferengi were named as a warp-capable race that visited their planet). But enough of this chit-chat. The episode begins from the point of view of the Ferengi, who have knocked out everybody on Enterprise (except Trip, who turns out to have been in decon at the time). Until they encounter a conscious human character, they deliver their lines in fluent Alien without subtitles, so you have to guess what they're talking about from the context. Trek history has shown that this is a trick very few actors could pull off; fortunately, Enterprise's casting director seems to have specialized in finding such actors, including John Billingsley (as Phlox), Vaughn Armstrong (as the Klingon captain in "Sleeping Dogs"), and the four actors playing Ferengi in this episode. They are a particularly well-qualified foursome, in fact. For one, there's Jeffrey Combs, whose numerous Trek guest spots included eight DS9 appearances as the Ferengi Brunt. For two, there's Ethan Phillips who, prior to playing Neelix for all seven seasons of Voyager, began his Trek career playing a Ferengi on TNG. For three, there's Matt Malloy, whose long career playing nebbishy types includes a tragic co-lead role in In the Company of Men and guest appearances on practically everything, including the most black-comedic perp ever to grace CSI. (I'm thinking of the guy who killed his wife by accident, then tried to dump her body at a construction site, only to get stuck in wet concrete up to his waist.) For four, there's Clint Howard, Ron's less famous brother, in his third of three Trek roles including the child-like alien Balok in TOS's "The Corbomite Maneuver," Star Trek's first non-pilot episode to be filmed. It sure is fun seeing these four hams, screwed into Ferengi headpieces and false teeth, trying to rob Enterprise blind and getting outwitted by Archer, Trip, and T'Pol.

Oasis opens with a teaser featuring game-show host Tom Bergeron as an alien merchant who gives the Enterprises directions to a haunted ship. The ghosts turn out to be the crew of an alien starship that crash-landed years ago on an inhospitable planet, and who have allegedly shielded their life-signs from detection so that their enemies won't attack them. Actually, however, only two of the Kantares survived the crash, the rest turning out to be holograms created by the lone surviving engineer to keep his daughter company and to help him repair the ship. Now, and I would add absurdly, the Kantares would like the Enterprises to leave them alone, since they would rather stay where they are at than catch a ride home. Eventually, they agree to accept help repairing their ship so that they can rejoin reality. Frankly, this episode seems lamer the longer I think about it. Nevertheless it's worth mentioning the guest cast, including Annie Wersching of 24, Rudolph Willrich in his third of three Trek appearances, and René Auberjonois who, besides playing Odo in all seven seasons of DS9, had previously played two human characters on Star Trek.

Detained is the one where Archer and Mayweather get arrested for unknowingly violating Tandaran space. While they await trial, they are held in a detention facility with a large number of innocent Suliban, who are being rounded up due to suspicions regarding the Cabal. Because of his history with the Cabal, Archer comes in for his share of hard-hitting interrogation, too. Eventually he throws caution (and his growing reluctance to interfere in other cultures) to the wind, and engineers a jail-break not only for himself and Travis, but for the Suliban as well. The episode features Scott Bakula's Quantum Leap co-star Dean Stockwell, once an acclaimed child star and Oscar-nominated film actor, and best-known to my generation as Dr. Yueh in David Lynch's Dune. Other guest stars include Dennis Christopher and Christopher Shea, both appearing as Suliban and both of whom had previously played Vorta on DS9. The latter (pictured earlier in this post) also played an Andorian later in this series, as well as a much weirder-looking alien on Voyager.

Vox Sola (Latin for "Lone Voice") is the one where a tentacly creature sneaks aboard Enterprise, ensconces itself in the cargo bay, and pulls anyone who approaches it into its slimy web. Some of the people it catches, including Archer and Trip, remain conscious for a while, but they develop telepathic tendencies which suggests that they are being absorbed into a single, sentient being. This being, as such, can only communicate in a language that is more like high-level calculus equations converted into screechy sound than anything else--forcing Hoshi to work with T'Pol in spite of her belief that the science officer considers her unworthy to explore space. Malcolm, meanwhile, bumps up the timetable for inventing a stable electromagnetic force-field, so they can attempt to communicate with the creature without getting tangled in its boogery tendrils. (Seriously, the stuff dripping off this thing looks like it came out of somebody's nose.) With the aid of some touchy aliens who consider eating to be as private as mating (try having a diplomatic banquet with them!), the Enterprises finally figure out how to take Spidey home to rejoin the oozy, landscape-covering life-form of which it is a part. Eurgh! Playing Crewman Rostov is Joseph Will, who had played two guest roles on Voyager before coming in a close second-place in auditions for the role of Trip Tucker. Another crewman absorbed by the snot monster is played by One Life to Live actress Renee Goldsberry. As for the Kreetassan captain, the actor is...surprise!...Vaughn Armstrong again!

Fallen Hero depicts a Vulcan ambassador being recalled in disgrace from her posting on the Mazarite homeworld, where she is accused of serious misconduct. None of this surprises the Enterprises, who have been ordered to pick up Ambassador V'Lar and deliver her to a Vulcan ship; after all, humans have come to view Vulcans as diplomatic busybodies, interfering in their technological development. But T'Pol, who considers V'Lar one of the inspirations for her career, is shocked. She is even more shocked when V'Lar shows an openness to human customs, even an enjoyment of human company, out of the ordinary for their people. It isn't until Mazarite ships start chasing Enterprise that V'Lar reveals she is actually not in disgrace; rather, she is the star witness in an upcoming RICO trial (or interplanetary equivalent) and the defendants wouldn't hesitate to destroy Enterprise to silence her. One result of this is a suspenseful space chase of the "Warp 4.7... Warp 4.8..." type, all the way up to mankind's first ever "wide-open" test of a Warp-5 engine. Whether this is enough or not, I choose not to spoil for you at this time. However, I would like to mention that Fionnula Flanagan (V'Lar), J. Michael Flynn (Mazarite official), and John Rubinstein (Mazarite captain) each plays one of his or her three Trek roles in this episode. Previously seen on Voyager, Rubinstein would go on to play a Vulcan leader in two later episodes of Enterprise; Flynn, with a previous TNG role under his belt, was later cast as a Romulan scientist appearing three times; and Flannagan, you may recall, had played an old flame of Curzon Dax in DS9 and Data's "mother" on TNG. It's cool how you can use the same actors over and over with different makeup, and nobody notices!

Desert Crossing is so named because Archer and Trip cross a desert in it. Duh! I'm not sure, but I think this episode's sand dunes may have been filmed just across the Colorado River from my former hometown of Yuma, Arizona. Of course, it wasn't my hometown yet when this episode was filmed. Why do they have to cross this desert? Why does Trip have to go through yet another ordeal of survival-by-seat-of-pants, only at the opposite end of climate conditions from "Shuttlepod One"? Because their big, loud, easily-offended guest happens to be a member of a long-oppressed caste that is now fighting back against their world's ruling class. And when the Torothans (i.e. that ruling class) start bombing Zobral's people, they have no choice but to run for it. For 8 kilometers. Under a scorching sun. With not enough water and no shelter whatsoever. Only to get bombed again. What these guys go through in this episode totally sucks, but eventually Zobral mans up and helps T'Pol rescue them. And eventually he accepts the fact that there's nothing Archer can do to help his brothers-in-arms fight for their cause, however just it may be. Oversized character actor Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, and Starship Troopers) plays Zobral. His Torothan antagonist is played by novelist, playwright, and occasional actor Charles Dennis, who previously menaced John Doe in TNG's "Transfigurations."

Two Days and Two Nights are all the time that a randomly-selected portion of the Enterprise crew gets to spend on the pleasure planet Risa, their arrival having been delayed by several episodes' worth of action and adventure. Archer plans to spend the time walking Porthos on the beach and reading books in his bungalow, but a captivating woman quickly monopolizes his time--a woman, played by TNG and DS9 guest star Dey Young, who turns out to be a Tandaran spy fishing for intel about the Suliban. Trip and Malcolm set out to get laid, but on their first night they get waylaid by a pair of shape-changing robbers and spend the rest of their time trying to escape from a basement. Travis gets injured while rock-climbing, and the treatment he receives at the alien hospital almost kills him. The only hero character who actually "scores" is Hoshi, and she only meant to study alien languages. Trip: "Did you learn anything?" Hoshi: "Yeah, I picked up a few new conjugations..." The best bit, however, takes place on the ship, when T'Pol and Crewman Cutler prematurely wake Dr. Phlox out of hibernation so he can treat Travis. John Billingsley delivers a beautifully bizarre performance, even better after you see the outtakes showing Jolene Blalock's off-camera reaction to the doctor's initial outburst. The nice alien guy who beds Hoshi is played by Rudolf Martin, who played Dracula in two different TV productions (including an episode of Buffy), among other menacing foreign types.

Shockwave, Part I represents the first time a Trek series's first season ended with a cliffhanger. Go back and check, if you like; I've reviewed all the other Season Ones, if nothing else. Focusing again on the Temporal Cold War, this one brings back John Fleck's Silik and Matt Winston's Daniels (back from the dead!). The opening salvo in what now looks like a Temporal Hot War is an apparent shuttlepod accident which wipes out an entire alien mining colony. The evidence, however, confirms the accident was caused not by human negligence but by Suliban sabotage. Part I ends with Enterprise on the verge of being destroyed. Meanwhile, somewhere in the 31st century(!!), Capt. Archer finds himself looking out across the long-abandoned ruins of what, according to Winston, was a vibrant cityscape only moments ago. *Cue scary music*: History has changed!

Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, six, and seven; and of Voyager season one. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

3 comments:

Robbie F. said...

There should be a convention against writing about time travel. Phrases like "Meanwhile, somewhere in the 31st century" are reason enough!

Jim said...

I look forward to your comments on Seasons 2-4. This is very useful. Think of all the wonderful stories we will not see due to the cancellation of Enterprise. What a loss!

Jim said...

I look forward to your comments on Seasons 2-4. This is very useful. Think of all the wonderful stories we will not see due to the cancellation of Enterprise. What a loss!