Thursday, October 27, 2022

Enterprise Season 2 Recap

Enterprise Season 2 Recap


Enterprise Season 2 rates among the lowest seasons of Trek we have compiled stats on. What's going on, and is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

It does fulfill the quintessential Trek Trope of wasting Suzie Plakson...

Kevin's Thoughts

I don't think I'll shock anyone by saying this was not a good season. That was the contemporaneous judgment and the judgment of history and our judgment as well. It leans several times on the tired trope of Archer being arrested. It indulged in a fair amount of lazy fan service, and on more than one occasion it committed an unambiguous HR violation to both the character of T'Pol and the person of Jolene Blalock. More than anything, I think this season really drove home the feeling no one had any idea of what we were doing here other than continuing to utilize Paramount's IP. 

I think there are only a handful of moments that really felt like stories that Enterprise had to be the one to tell. Moments in Cogenitor and The Expanse, or even First Flight, did feel like stories that could only be told by Enterprise, but they are few and far between. Beyond that, there's more than one story that has to be hermetically sealed from later stories to work in canon. My main thought after two seasons of Enterprise is that it still hasn't threaded the needle of justifying its own existence. Coupled with the fact that almost half the cast is woefully underdeveloped, and the show just still hasn't slipped into gear.

Matthew's Thoughts

I want to follow up on that idea - how does a show or movie demonstrate its need to exist? I suppose in the simplest sense, "by being entertaining" is a sufficient answer. Most sitcoms strive to meet this standard (in terms of humor). As the show layers on more complexity and "purpose," demonstrating a need to exist  becomes correspondingly more complicated. A show like "Law and Order" needs to be entertaining, but also needs to tell crime and law enforcement stories, and to propound its particular pro-law enforcement worldview. The Good Place, which Kevin and I both love, needs to be funny and thought provoking at the same time, bringing its viewers to ponder questions philosophical, ethical and theological.

Now, Star Trek is among the more complex dramas on television, and it requires skill in a lot of areas to make work. In addition to "just being entertaining," good Star Trek needs to do the following:

1. Tell character stories that are compelling - TNG successfully developed a good number of characters, growing them over the course of seven seasons. Ditto DS9 and Voyager. But that's not enough - soap operas can do that.

2. Star Trek also needs to tell science fiction stories - by which I mean stories in which currently hypothetical or fictional technology or discoveries change the human condition. 

3. Star Trek needs to propound its optimistic, utopian worldview. It needs to offer the viewer hope that a better future awaits us.

4. Star Trek needs to present us moral quandaries and examine them thoroughly, without simplifying them too severely or punting too terribly on their questions. The people in this universe need to come down on the side of questions and to enact policies based on their answers.

So how does Enterprise do in Season 2? The finale does a pretty good job at most of these - characters are challenged and change, the world is attacked by a big energy beam, the optimism of this world is called into question, and choices must be made. I would put forward "Regeneration" as a story, that, despite any continuity beefs, also does pretty well across all 4 axes. "Cogenitor" also gets to some meaty territory with number 4. But the rest of the season... the repetition of "Archer wrongfully imprisoned" stories almost certainly fail on points 2 and 3. "Horizon" simply repeated Mayweather's prior "dealing with cargo crews" episode. "The Crossing" gave us a novel alien but did not engage with the ethical question of destroying their vessel. The same sort of criticism often seems to recur in our reviews - an idea is there but isn't pushed far enough. If you're going to show us a terrorist or criminal and make us question whether or not their actions and/or punishment are justifiable, give us the meat and the stakes, as in TNG "The High Ground" or VOY "Repentance." "Canamar" just doesn't cut it. 

Brannon Braga in the special features seems to be aware of the issues. He owns up to a lot of writing deficiency, saying that he was worn out and that Star Trek writing is hard because of its stringent thematic requirements. He also says he didn't do the right hiring on the staff. It's hard to argue with the results.


Kevin: Unless I were referencing the iconic scene of a man riding an atomic bomb in Dr. Strangelove, I am hard pressed to imagine a situation where the phrase "slim pickens" is more apt. There are good episodes, sure, but there aren't really highlights. Matt and I each handed out a few fours, but no fives. Even for the fours we did give out, I don't really think of any of them as 'highlights,' more 'not bad.' Catwalk had a fun idea and set design. "Cogenitor" was a big idea, but an uneven execution. Judgment had J.G. Hertzler, but even there, his presence merely saved a weak episode from being a failure. I will say whatever my other issues with The Expanse, I can certainly applaud the episode for representing a clear direction for the show and a story the writers seemed to actually care about.

Matthew: "Carbon Creek" is entertaining, and puts a novel spin on alien visitation stories. "The Catwalk" offers us the very real sci-fi problem of space radiation and uses it to challenge and grow our characters. "First Flight" gives us a telling of even earlier challenges with leaving Earth and exploring more deeply into the stars, which does sort of raise the question why more of the show wasn't about this. "Cogenitor" was a highlight for ethical quandaries, as was "Stigma."


Kevin: Where do we start? The nadir of Enterprise (and Star Trek and television and humanity's creative endeavors) has got to be "A Night in Sickbay." Seriously, this episode cancels out at least one Aristophanes play. Just wipes it from the slate like it never existed. A pathetic and silly A story is paired with a pathetic and misogynistic B story. I didn't think we could get a cheaper take on human sexuality than "Two Days and Two Nights" but Braga and Co. loudly declared "hold my beer." On similar grounds, I pretty loudly loathed "Precious Cargo" for basically asking "What if we did Perfect Mate.....but terribly?" Beyond that, it's less a single episode, more the issue with doing the same story so often, but Archer better have diplomatic immunity in season 3. If he's arrested one more time on false charges, I will lose my mind. It would be more satisfying if he actually committed the crime for which he were being accused.

Matthew: You've identified the lowest lights to be sure. But there is a preponderance of below average but not terrible stories in this season, as well. "Horizon" is repetitive. "Marauders" fails to put any real energy or credulity into the "Seven Samurai" or "Dirty Dozen" style story it attempts. "Bounty" completely whiffs on another "Archer in jail" story, but adds an exploitative Pon Farr riff to boot.


Kevin: So this season averages a flat 5.5. That puts it ahead of only DS9's Season 3 and Discovery's season 3 and 4. I remain surprised and where DS9 season 3 landed since my memory of it is still that it's an upswing. But examining that season in more detail is instructive. Season 3 of DS9 picked up three 8s and five 7s from us. This season of Enterprise only managed five 7s and no eights at all. That lack of 8s speak to a core problem. Usually our 7s mean the idea OR the character work was very good and the other component only okay or worse. Matt and I are on record for our preferences between a grand sci-fi/philosophy idea and a detailed character study, and the 8 usually means the episode succeeded on both. The batch of 7s with no 8s means that even where an episode is doing well, it's not doing well across the board. That means something. Even when Enterprise is doing well, it still seems to struggle with doing well on all fronts of a story. Even if you think Matthew or I are being curmudgeons at points, there's still not an episode I would put in the top ten or even twenty percent of the franchise overall. There's no episode that makes me tingle in awe, or even nostalgia. To go back to DS9 Season 3 for a moment, sure it's got the abysmal "Distant Voices" and the ill-advised entry to the Mirror Universe, but it's also got "The Search" and the Andrew Robinson star vehicles "Improbable Cause/Die is Cast." Even with its problems, it is evident that DS9 is an idea about which the writers cared deeply. Season one of Enterprise at least gets us "Dear Doctor." There's nothing even really close to this in terms of ambition or success. It's just one long season of Archer being wrongfully arrested.

Matthew: Yeah, you need to offset your stinkers (detailed above) if you're going to hit the 6 average. This season just didn't get there. No 5's to offset the bad ones really sinks this season as a unit. There's a feeling of tiredness, failure of execution and follow through, and repetition to this season. I wasn't Season 1's biggest fan, but this season makes me yearn for it to return. At least they took bigger swings on weird ideas.


Kevin: I made a point in my season one recap that the show's apparent sexual politics were as dumb as anything we've dinged Kurtzman Trek for, and I renew my objections here. Frankly, I do so with more intensity. While there are episodes that are good, the bulk represent a combination of lazily assuming fan service is a substitute for good story or that I would not notice that T'Pol's scenes were being written by a thirteen year-old boy. There is no big idea under this season. I'm not sure there's any idea under this show. And worst of all, most of this season was boring. Honestly, if the writers' idea was "What if Star Trek were produced by Cinemax and not Paramount?" I could give that a chance if it were entertaining in its own right. My abstract desire for tonal consistency with previous Trek or awareness of canon fall before a good story well presented. This season doesn't get close to that. I increasingly think the only thing that really separates Enterprise from Trek's later stories is that any one of its undercooked stories only lasts forty-five minutes and not ten hours. That's an improvement, sure. But if not many of those forty-five minutes will be good in their own right, I'm not super enthralled by that. I will agree in the balance that this show is 'better' than Discovery or Picard, but, at least for this season, who cares? I'm not really going to rewatch any of them ever. I will take Deep Space Nine's biggest fuck-ups over just about any episode this season, even the better ones. "Distant Voices" is a colossal failure and it earned its 2, but I'd watch that episode again any day of the week before watch "Canamar" or "The Crossing."

Matthew: Going back to my rubric for "Good Star Trek" above, I do think Enterprise Season 2 still succeeds better than any season of Discovery or Picard - mainly because they had completely stopped trying by that point. Characters were wholly subservient to the big plot, sci-fi was paid only lip service, the world was grim and morose, and ethical issues were dumbed down to an insulting degree. Strange New Worlds is a more interesting beast - a good number of those episodes developed characters, several had dilemmas, and the worldview of the show was somewhat more optimistic (while still leavened by heaping helpings of Grimdark Violence). Season 2 of Enterprise sort of reminds me of a bicycle that keeps dropping gears. You pedal and you try to get somewhere, but some hitch in the chain or gear shifter keeps stopping you from really picking up speed. But you're still on the bike path, and you haven't given up on the notion of wheels and chains altogether. Kurtzman Trek has ditched bicycles altogether in favor of radio controlled drones and is desperately trying to claim it's the same thing - it still moves and we're still looking at the same scenery, sort of.

Anyway, the sexist treatment of T'Pol is probably on a par with Kurtzman Trek's gore and violence as being gratuitous and out of place. But they're still at least trying to tell self contained stories that do Star Trek things, although this time around they failed more often than not. There are no "Cogenitors" or "Stigmas" in any of the new shows outside of "SNW," and even that's pushing it, because that show generally only developed an idea for half of an episode's run time, getting bogged down in trauma porn character back stories.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Season 3. A 9/11 analog has a lot of potential for creating dilemmas to build and challenge the characters.


  1. The bicycle analogy is very much on point, and a nicely tactile image. And kudos for using the word 'nadir' about a space show!

    You're laying it out well and clear, and there is nothing to disagree with for me. This season is such a waste of acting potential, with a few real stinkers thrown in for bad measure.

    1. I hope you stick with us for seasons 3 and 4! Your comments have been fun to read.