Friday, August 12, 2022

Enterprise Season 1 Recap

Enterprise Season 1 Recap

The years before the voyages of Kirk's Enterprise are set to be examined in a Star Trek prequel. Is this a good idea? Should they have waited a year between shows? How did they execute their storytelling and casting?

Archer is really vamping, here.

Matthew's Thoughts

I rather disliked Enterprise when it first premiered. Like, it was a thing that was on the screen, but I couldn't get over what I deemed to be huge mistakes in its conception. Among these were:

1. Trying to nestle a prequel into the gap between First Contact and TOS, which I felt would limit the sorts of stories that could be told and invite continuity errors;

2. Naming the ship Enterprise, which was not reflected in the TMP scene in which Commander Decker discusses all the spaceships named Enterprise. It felt lazy and like a cheap ploy to attract viewers;

3. The production design of the series seemed too modern compared to TOS.

Of course, looking back here, after seeing, shall we say, a different vision of what Star Trek is about, has been an exercise in hindsight and retroactive appreciation. Despite its problems, which I will get to below, there is a good amount that is right about Enterprise. Chief among these is the desire by members of the crew of the ship to avoid violence if possible, and to explore the galaxy owing to a sense of wonder and a desire for knowledge. Star Trek since 2009 has occasionally paid lip service to these motives, but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. So many episodes have focused on massive battles, death and murder, with precious little exploring or learning being done. Almost every episode of Enterprise Season 1 has involved a new alien, a dilemma that challenges the crew's values, and an attempt to solve issues with diplomacy and communication instead of violence. Whether these stories were told well or developed in the ways they should have been is a different question. But it's reassuring to feel like things are in the same universe of themes that the Trek I loved was set within. Episodes like Vox Sola, Dear Doctor, Rogue Planet, Detained, and the like, feel like Classic Trek. They feature a peaceful, moral people finding ways to deal with alien beings who do not share their values.

Also, some of the themes and character arcs developed in this season were strong ones. The Vulcans being recast as arrogant and occasionally deceitful worked. The interactions between Vulcan and Earth between First Contact and Broken Bow make a pretty good amount of sense. The arc of Archer tempering the chip on his shoulder that resulted, and T'Pol learning to tolerate and even appreciate humanity's foibles, was pretty good. I also thought Trip had a good amount of screen time, with a budding bro-mance with Malcolm Reed. Phlox avoided being Neelixed, and had nice interactions with Crewman Cutler (sigh).

OK, now that I've praised it, time to bury it. Watching the Blu-Ray commentary documentary was quite enlightening. Braga pulls no punches in this interview footage. He says his own writing suffered in his new role as head writer, that he hired the wrong writers for his room, was lacking in story ideas, and that the creative team was exhausted. Mainly, he says that writing Star Trek is hard. It requires a certain tone and ethos, the ability to create scenes for a large ensemble cast, and the ability to find novel ethical dilemmas to place a crew in. So the problems with the first season of this show seem to be almost entirely in the writing. They had a cast ranging from pretty good to excellent, strong production design (something I've softened on over the years), and pretty decent visual effects. So really, of my own three historical beefs with Enterprise, only number one remains.  Doing a prequel creates problems - not insurmountable ones, but problems that require deft handling and skill to overcome. A gassed creative team with a large contingent of inexperienced Trek writers just wasn't up to the task. So while there are a few highlights, and a few ill conceived stinkers, for the most part there's a lot of mediocrity, episodes that were a rewrite or three away from really popping. The Temporal Cold War plot line was quite hit and miss. We just weren't given enough information to flesh it out, and that responsibility rests almost entirely on Braga whose idea it was. Two of the main cast of characters were also pretty forgettable - Travis Mayweather and Hoshi Sato. The writers never really found a good hook for either of them.

Kevin's Thoughts

I was also pretty down on the series when it aired, and I don't think I made it much past season 2 watching it live, eventually and sporadically catching up on VHS later. I agree with the general comment that this feels tonally closer to the TNG/DS9/VOY of my youth than Abrams/Kurtzman Trek. The problem is that that's not enough to make a good show. At the time, and on rewatch, the first season really flounders in trying to find its own voice. Something we criticize the later outings for is feeling like the machine is just pumping out IP rather than having a story to tell, and Braga's comments show that applies here as well. The staff was inexperienced or exhausted. The only reason to do it is that Paramount didn't want a season to go by without Star Trek on the air, and it shows. Outside of Trip, T'Pol, and Archer, none of the cast really gets developed in the stories. What charm there is is on the strength of the actors, though I admit Billingsley in particular has buckets of charm to spare. 

I liked some of the macro ideas, like portraying the Vulcans as officious pricks more than Logic Monks, but I do think some of the dials could have been better calibrated. The way T'Pol and Archer butted heads in the first half of the season made her look condescending and him look petulant. And I think they leaned too hard into humanity stumbling. It can be hard and complicated without making the crew look inept, which they did on a couple of occasions.

There are moments where the season shows some shine, like Dear Doctor or Shuttlepod One, but more than anything, I don't think this season gives Enterprise a reason to be. DS9, for all its faults, was at least the vision of its creators made manifest. You can like it or not, and you can debate if and how it fits in with its siblings, but it is a thing in its own right that at least a handful of people felt passionate enough about to bother making. Season one of Enterprise just doesn't shake off the cobwebs that it's running on the fumes of the goodwill I have for the franchise. The Temporal Cold War is another plot that doesn't really get off the ground. Daniels is fun enough, but we just don't get enough about the players or the stakes, and again, much like the super secrecy to which everyone is sworn on Discovery, the plot seems to come with its own reset button to explain why it's never come up before.

Like I said, I agree that the average episode is more tonally consistent with the 90s Trek that immediately precedes it, but it's also boring a lot of the time, and the tonal consistency doesn't really make up for it, at least so far. "Better than Discovery and Picard" is a depressingly low bar, and even as I stipulate that assessment is correct, I can't bring myself to muster much enthusiasm for it. And there are plenty of seeds of the decision making that is coming. I've harped on them a lot, but decisions like putting T'Pol in a catsuit and everything related to the Decon Chamber are just terrible and lazy and exploitative. They wanted a reason to put an attractive woman in a tank top or less so they could put it in the promos in a vain attempt to drum up viewers, and it's exactly the kind of pandering we've skewered Kurtzman Trek for. Combine it with stuff like Two Days and Two Nights, and it becomes not just a failure of Trek values, it becomes retrograde for any show made in the 21st century. I think there is a non-frivolous case to make that the only reason this isn't closer to Kurtzman Trek is the external bounds of syndicated television, not an actual commitment to tone or quality. 


Matthew: "Dear Doctor" is the obvious "best of the season." Braga himself says so in his interview. He wishes they all could have been "Dear Doctors." It presents us with a novel ethical dilemma for Star Trek - whether to interfere in a genetic pandemic in such a way that a secondary species might never get the chance to flourish. It made both sides of the argument strong enough to be a plausible conclusion to the episode. It's pretty quintessential Star Trek.

For whatever its faults were ad an over-arching plot, I found "Shockwave" pretty entertaining, and thought the ruined future cliffhanger provided a nice, eerie "Twilight Zone" style feeling. It also featured brisk pacing and good action that didn't overwhelm the story's ideas.

"Vox Sola" is a classic Trek story, as well - a truly alien being with whom communication is so difficult that the temptation for a more violent solution is reasonably compelling. The episode didn't vilify either position or their adherents, and the resolution of the story was atmospheric and interesting.

"Shuttlepod One" is another obviously strong episode. It gives two good actors a lot of space (figuratively speaking) to do just that, and in so doing develops their characters quite a bit. It also gave them a "hard sci-fi" problem to overcome - running out of air in a ship that can't go fast enough to reach safety.

Kevin: Dear Doctor is the best story, and Shuttlepod One is the best character work, and both flow from having well defined characters acting within the bounds of those character traits and the drama mostly flowing from organic conflict.  I also agree that Vox Sola hits the fairway on both a Trek story and a good character episode. Andorian Incident wasn't a great episode in itself, but it did bring us Jeffrey Combs, so that's a highlight.


Matthew: "Two Days and Two Nights" was a real wasted episode. The change of pace vacation show should be funny and exciting, here it was rote, overstuffed, and boring.

"Fortunate Son" took a story idea - space boomers who live their entire lives on low warp freighters and.... did precious little with it. Where there could have been an emotionally rich investigation of a working class lifestyle being obviated by the march of progress, instead we got Nausicaan pirates and some space shootouts.

"Acquisition" is an episode I loathed upon its premiere. It is so obviously a violation of continuity that it's hard for a dedicated fan to get past. But if the story had been funny or insightful, I could have gotten past it. Suffice it to say, the story was not.

Kevin: I think the too early, too heavy reliance on fan service really hurts the show. It reinforces the idea that we're just here to recognize other stories rather than watch some of our own. I try not to be a continuity scold, especially if its in the service of a good story, but like you say, it's not. They even engage in the exhausting narrative twists to 'preserve' continuity on a technicality. Yes, they didn't know they met the Ferengi already, fine, but why is that a story you felt like telling? Even more macro decisions, like a Vulcan science officer just read like the show is trying too hard to remind you of TOS. The end result is just me going and watching the superior things they are referencing. 

Fusion and Rogue Planet were another couple of episodes that just kind of went nowhere, and the fact that it was a clump of these really drags at the energy Dear Doctor and Shuttlepod One finally managed to create. We gave out a lot of 4s and 5s this season. 

And I wouldn't have expected it, but Two Days and Two Nights has gone up a tier in episodes I can't stand. Maybe I'm taking it personally, but the gay panic element really lands with a thud. 



Matthew: 5.56 as a season average definitely feels about right. Not absolutely wretched, but on the dismal side of mediocre.

Kevin: Yeah. I checked the comparisons and this is only better than DSC Season 2 and DS9 Season 1. And I double checked, I apparently gave DS9 a 2.7368 and ENT a 2.72, so I like that a tad more, which tracks with my holistic memory of both seasons. 


Matthew: It's hard not to view Enterprise Season 1 as a string of missed opportunities and failures of ambition. But at the same time it's also hard not to view it as a show that gets a lot of key elements right in a way that future Star Trek shows have almost uniformly failed to do. As someone who has kind of forgotten most of Season 2, I am hoping that the writing gets tighter, and that a greater emphasis is placed on developing allegorical dilemmas for the crew to face on a weekly basis.

Kevin: Somewhere in the mists of our early reviews, I gently challenged Matthew to assess Enterprise without making a Discovery or Picard comparison, and I'm going to slightly more firmly repeat it here. This show is not better because the others are worse. I agree that this show is tonally more consistent with 90s Trek, but the end result is kind of the same. It's an IP mill without a lot of the zest that papers over even the weaker offerings of it's older siblings. Looking over a lot of our reviews, even the 6s, there's a sense of "This is getting a six because I can't really find something to criticize enough to justify a lower score" but I can still hear a sigh of "This is fine" behind the number. I'll say it this way. Even as good as Dear Doctor or Shuttlepod One are, I don't think I've ever going to watch them again. They were very good, but even as they are very good, they are simply the best of a mediocre lot, and don't clear a hurdle of feeling essential. I was stuck home finally having caught the plague this week, and I watched a bunch of TNG, and even thirty years on, an average episode like Season 5's Power Play just felt like...more...than most of this season of Enterprise. I acknowledge that a fair bit of that is pure nostalgia, but not all of it. I know there are threads and stories coming that move Enterprise into the "cancelled too soon" category, but they weren't really in this season.

I'm coming off harsher than I mean to be. Everyone is trying, and there are real glimmers of potential, and I see that, but I honestly enjoyed season one of Lower Decks and SNW more. Not Discovery or Picard, but that's damning with faint praise if ever I heard it.

Matthew: Just to reply, Season 1 of Enterprise is certainly weak (as of course are the first seasons many Trek shows). I totally agree that it really didn't succeed on its own proposed terms, to explore the early days of Starfleet in a compelling way. But it doesn't feel "wrong." I thought it was wrong when it aired, but my thinking has evolved. And it's impossible for me not to have recalibrated my sense of "wrong" for the franchise with the reams of data we've been given over the past 13 years (ugh). I think the people making it actually like Star Trek, but haven't yet found a way to make new Star Trek that feels fresh. Whereas I get the distinct impression that the teams behind the new shows don't really like Star Trek all that much, and desire to "fix" it. And a continuation that's running on fumes will earn my charity far more often than a misbegotten reboot that sets a torch to the thing I loved.


  1. I hadn't thought about the macro decisions, as you put it, for years. Voyager put their primary Vulcan in tactical, a very interesting choice. I'd have liked to see another Vulcan doctor (though losing Phlox and thus Billingsley would have been terrible). Ah, Dr. Selar, we hardly knew ye.

    Thanks for the season, guys!

    (Oh, and it seems your earliest season recaps have lost their statistics charts. I was comparing with TNG 1 and 2.)

    1. Thanks for commenting! The more comments we get, the more motivation there is to keep producing reviews :-)

  2. I'll take a look. Google does that sometimes. If I can figure out how to just post the spreadsheet without just linking to it, I'll do that. I also need to get the old podcasts moved to the new host, so all those start working again. Pod Save America makes it look so easy...