Monday, October 24, 2022

Enterprise, Season 2: The Expanse

 Enterprise, Season 2
"The Expanse"
Airdate: May 21, 2003
51 of 97 produced
51 of 97 aired


A surprise attack against the Earth leads to Enterprise being recalled and reassigned to a dangerous secret mission to find the attackers.


"So they're not gonna send us on a real location shoot, are they."


Kevin: This is a good episode. I have issues with it that I will detail below, but overall, I think it does a good job of setting a tone and pace and largely keeping them up through the episode. The attack on Earth is shocking and its brevity helps sell it. They manage to do some good work with the macro- and micro-level shock and grief. I like Trip's angry avoidance. They did a pretty solid job of talking up the titular expanse before getting there, and it becomes clear the show is really trying to set up a pretty big story for next season. If anything, they oversold. The inside-out Klingons is a little too on the nose. And after dismissing time travel again, Soval gave the classic "The laws of physics don't apply" line which always annoys me. But that aside, they took a big swing and largely succeeded in building a story with some real energy.

Matthew: I very much agree on energy - many episodes have seemed listless recently, and this one has real drive. I get the feeling that this 9/11 analog really spoke to the writers, and the actors as well. They deliver good scenes of grieving, preparing for a response, not knowing what dangers they will face, and so on. This episode also dovetails nicely with "First Flight" in fleshing out Earth and Starfleet. Any time Admiral Forrest is featured in an episode the results are usually pretty good. I'm a little more sanguine on inside out people and the laws of physics not applying. Strange New Worlds, right? I think the character work was excellent - both with the questions of whether T'Pol and Phlox will stay on, with Trip's grief, and with Archer's determination. Unfortunately, Hoshi and Travis got shortchanged - there is a very nice deleted scene with Hoshi and Archer talking about her desire to stay.

Kevin: I do have some issues. First, I wonder, as good as the story set up is, how "Trek" it is. A mysterious, planetary threat that causes large scale CGI violence that precipitates a multi-episode arc to solve the mystery? That sounds familiar and very similar to the Kurtzman-verse. I mentioned a few episodes back that I thought the only reason they weren't taking the T'Pol sex stuff even further was the limits of the forum, not any abstract notion of moral or tonal consistency with Star Trek. Likewise here, I wonder if the only reason we don't see more graphic violence was that the option was simply not on the table (either due to network standards or limits on the CGI), rather than the writers thought they should avoid it. I'm digging into this because a lot of our discussion of Enterprise revolves around its comparative "trekness" to what comes before and after. I'm starting to coalesce around the notion that's it's not the writers fealty to the work that came before that is really limiting them, simply that if syndication allowed the graphic violence or sex that streaming does, we would have gotten Discovery twenty years sooner. But I'll save that for the conversation in the season wrap up. Regardless of why they limited the attack to the thirty second cold open, largely from a high altitude, it really works. It was grand enough to feel like a disaster movie, and fast enough to really make the episode start out off-kilter, and that sense of unease underscores the scenes of the crew processing it. Past that, I do think this episode might be biting off a bit too much. Season 3 of DS9 spent a lot of time laying out the Dominion in dribs and drabs, so when they finally appear, it feels like something. The Xindi get introduced and promoted to series main villain in a pen stroke. It's a lot to process in an episode. My last problem is more my ongoing problems with the temporal cold war story. If they are working on a bigger weapon, shouldn't the fact that it's not here already mean they will never succeed? Why not send the smaller probe farther back to take out a more meaningful event. I could go on, but sufficed to say, I renew my objections to the causality questions of the story. 

Matthew: I disagree with your thesis. I think this is different in kind than Kurtzman Trek. Part of my opinion is of course informed by having already watched Season 3. I think this setup and the way they paid it off is much more similar to DS9's Dominion War than it is to the season-long "Big Dumb Plots" of Kurtzman Trek (see: Red Angel, The Burn, Alien Space Snakes, etc.) Each episode is still a self contained story, and it has beginning, middle, end, character interactions and growth, and a fair helping of science fiction in most. Seasons of Kurtzman Trek, on the other hand, play out like an extremely badly written ten hour movie, character growth, when it exists at all, is subservient to plot advancement, and the level of violence is quite a bit higher. Here's the thing - Star Trek has always commented on current events. TOS was rife with Cold War analogs. TNG with investigations of sexism, terrorism, addiction, climate change, and so on. I was never opposed to Kurtzman Trek commenting on current events. It was the manner of the commentary that irked me - brief lip service to ideas punctuating interminable action and violence scenes, lacking the many sided investigation into the ethics or science fiction ideas present. I think this episode provides good setup for the reverse - actually enumerating ethical quandaries to Archer and crew, developing them over 45 minute teleplays, and progressing the overall arc of the season. Trip is given motivation here that has us question how controlled his responses will be. He is pressuring the Captain tgo adopt a hard line. T'Pol and Phlox are present to provide moral counterbalance. Military personnel are mentioned, which will no doubt be used as a comparison to the Starfleet ethos. As far as the temporal cold war goes, indeed it is not and will never be as good as the story told by Christopher Nolan in "Tenet." But I don't see any insuperable problems with one faction in this war giving the Xindi (whoever they are) information that they need to act on, and the Xindi developing their own super weapon. My real problem is one of strategy - why not test it in secret, in the Expanse, as opposed to warning your mortal enemy of your intentions? It's very Pearl Harbor-y, and not even as smart, because that attack at least temporarily crippled US naval capability.

Kevin: The only real bum note in the episode is the haphazard use of Duras. It's out of nowhere and exists only to cause artificial tension when the Enterprise enters and leaves Earth space. I think it's also one of those decisions the writer's didn't think through. How is this not also an act of war? Because we already have a war arc coming, that's why. It's the last we'll see of Duras and he doesn't really get an ending to his arc. Is he dead? Further dishonored? This doesn't exactly bode well for a family so powerful they can bend chancellors to their will. I don't really care, but neither, apparently, do the writers.

Matthew: I hate the Duras stuff.  Its boring, it shrinks the universe, and even if it were followed up on, it would diminish the danger of the Expanse - because now not just one but two ships have gone in - and the Klingon ship will no doubt be less scientifically minded and able to counter the strange threats from that region.


Kevin: Bakula does good work portraying the captain trying to be there for his understandably scared crew. I liked his scenes with Trip over drinks. Trinneer turned in great work with initial concern then rage over his sister's death. There was something about the line reading of calling her his 'baby sister' in the first scenes that really got me. Blalock was great giving her decision some real weight behind it. And Vaughn Armstrong and Gary Graham turn in their usual excellent supporting roles, so really well done all around this time.

Matthew: Yep, everyone had some real verve in this outing. In addition to all of the fine performances you mention, I think John Fleck's Silik and James Horan's Future Guy also really delivered in their scenes - which is a good thing, because the temporal cold war stuff always runs the risk of feeling lightweight and ungrounded.

Production Values

Kevin: The scenes of the attack were pretty well achieved, and again, were wisely aided by brevity and distance. The only time it really looked like a video game was when the beam left land for water. The land looked like a CGI cutscene of the era, and the steam effect on the water just didn't work. The on the ground effect was fine, and the deep cutout was reminiscent of the Borg, but the color and lighting just didn't harmonize between the actors and the scenery.

Matthew: Agreed on the water - they did a better job in Star Trek IV.  The CGI matte of the devastation was also wonky yet again for the fake people they put into the scene. I just didn't believe those two Gumby-looking guys were Trip and Malcolm. A similar effect was Better achieved in Best of Both Worlds. It just goes to show that CGI (at least inexpensive CGI) simply isn't ready in 2003. On the other hand, I thought the Starfleet ships intervening to help Enterprise against the Klingons was well done and was a lot of fun to look at.

Kevin: The only real misfire for me was the Vulcan production of Event Horizon in that video. Why would the internal camera have so many angles? I think it would have worked better for its horror elements if it were a static camera with the action only partially scene in the distance. Also the video toaster effects to create interference were pretty blah. It was giving me first generation MTV music video effects.  

Matthew: Or maybe a hand-held "Blair Witch" effect. But yes. Speaking of Kurtzman Trek, it reminded me of the Romulans going insane in Picard. At least this was briefer and more obscured.


Kevin: On the acting front, I think this is a pretty good outing. The story, whatever my macro issues are, is certainly entertaining for the runtime, and the effects are largely well used. Like I said, more than anything, this episode screams "We had a big idea and here it is!" and that is a welcome change of pace from Archer getting unjustly detained for the billionth time. I think the Klingon plot and trying to do a bit too much in one episode hold this back from a 4 for me, so I am going with a 3. 

Matthew: I'm at a 4 on this. If the Duras scenes had been excised and we had gotten more scenes on Earth, with a real full throated debate about what the best course of action is (pacifist vs militarist, large fleet vs small one, etc.), it might even be better. For the first time in a long time, Enterprise feels like it has a reason to exist. That makes our total a 7.


  1. For the Xindi arc, I will probably not be as prolific a commenter as I've been for the first two seasons. If you can't say something nice and all that.
    But I know there is at least one episode in there that I never skip on rewatch, so I won't be entirely silent. And I'll know there is a season four, which will align much better with my tastes.

    1. I did not watch any of season three when it aired, I picked up season 4 and watched the mirror universe and Vulcan episodes, so the Xindi arc is a blank slate for me. The first couple of episodes though have not set me on fire, though to be fair I did watch them while convalescing from the plague, so I will certainly rewatch them again before sitting down to review them. I appreciate Matt's point that we do get some finer detail in the character work, certainly in this episode, than in its Kurtzman counterparts, but I think it's the existential threat that nags me more than anything. Even the Dominion did not represent a Threat to All Life on Earth/Galaxy/Universe/Multiverse. They represented an end to the Federation's way of life, but there would be plenty of people left alive to experience that loss, and therefore, it is dramatically interesting. Also, the Dominion had enough variety in its levels of government and society and a clear enough backstory so they felt like a real people with whom they had conflict rather than the embodiment of pure evil. In the days of every villain have a traumatic backstory that turns them into a monomaniacal death machine, I yearn for the shading of the Founders. They experienced collective, generational trauma, and it turned them into paranoid tyrants, but they weren't exterminating all life in the Gamma Quadrant, just subjugating it before it could subjugate them. That's way more fertile ground for a story.

      I know of but have not really seen the multiple species of the Xindi yet, but I'm encouraged that they will have some variety. I think my biggest concern is the siren song of the galactic reset button and other timey wimey nonsense the backstory of Temporal Cold War will allow.

    2. To be fair to the Xindi arc, the stakes stay almost entirely located on Earth. So they're big but they don't balloon uncontrollably.

    3. And you should comment even if you don't like!