Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: These Are the Voyages...

Enterprise, Season 4
"These Are the Voyages..."
Airdate: May 13, 2005
97 of 97 produced
97 of 97 aired


Commander William T. Riker faces a moral dilemma during his tenure on the Enterprise D, and investigates the final mission of the NX-01 crew in order to seek guidance.

 Note to directors: shooting in seated profile is not the most effective way to take ten years off of someone.




Kevin: we are. The end. It's been a long road, getting from there to here. And the last hour of the trip felt longer than the rest of the trip combined. This episode was derided as a colossal, epic failure when it premiered and I don't think time has softened that assessment. I had fallen out of regular watching by the end of season 2, but I had watched a little of the Vulcan arc after hearing season 4 really turned things around, and I remember watching the finale shortly after it aired on VHS my father recorded from TV. That was how we did it back in the day. I remember being gobsmacked by how bad it was. Time and a complete rewatch have not improved it for me. I think this episode is a failure in two major ways: what it does to Enterprise, and what it does to season 7 TNG classic 'The Pegasus." I'll start with what the finale fails to do for this show.

Matthew: I am going into this episode in as charitable a mind frame as I can manage. I also remember being very irritated by this finale when it aired, and I think I may have watched it one time since. Berman and Braga have called it a "Valentine to the fans." And I can see what they were going for, in broad strokes at least. The idea of tying one series to another could be fun. Finally delivering on the "birth of the Federation" could be fun. But clearly there were issues in execution.

Kevin: My first complaint is the easiest. It's been seven years since Terra Prime, and no has gotten a promotion, a new job, or even a new hairstyle. Both TNG and Voyager did infinitely more hypothesizing about these characters' lives than Enterprise chose to do, and for no apparent reason. Give Hoshi a kid. Give Reed a scar. Anything. You don't even have to resolve it. You don't even have to comment on it. You just have to add literally anything to the scene to imply a story happened. Even with that obvious path to really fun storytelling, they biffed. Whatever sadness I may have felt that the show was ended is instantly tempered by the confirmation that I didn't miss anything. Another three seasons would still have not seen these characters make any meaningful step in their lives. I reviewed the Memory Alpha page for this episodes and two items jumped out at me that I hadn't considered before, but they strongly support a general feeling I had about the episode at the time. That feeling was the clear problem with the fact that the show's finale was not about this show or its crew. It's about Riker. That's a fun idea for a field trip, like the infinitely more successful mirror universe episodes, but a terrible idea for a finale. This is the television equivalent of giving a best man toast about the groom's ex-girlfriend. Memory Alpha's trivia section points out that this one of two episodes that technically do not feature the actual cast, only their holographic recreations, the other being the infinitely better Voyager episode "Living Witness." The other piece of information is that this episode was the first since The Animated Series and TOS not to get a feature length finale. It's a little thing, but that really struck a chord. The other Berman era shows all got a two hour finale, and that matters. To be fair, those shows had more to wrap up. While neither DS9 nor VOY quite hit the same sublime notes of TNG's, and VOY in particular does not do any wrap up work about these characters' lives going forward, we still got lots of screen time in all of three with those characters, in word and deed, showing us what they mean to each other. The most we get here is the crew mourning Trip, but even that is largely a cheat. It's just another twist to keep Trip and T'Pol from getting to portray an actual grown up relationship. They could have used the time jump to show us literally any facet of their relationship. Their marriage. A child. Moving in together. Trip chasing T'Pol through Washington Square Park to profess his love on New Year's Eve. Literally anything. They had the entire limitless universe of storytelling to pick from, and they chose this. The books that follow the series retcon Trip's death to a ploy relating to Section 31, and as annoying as that sounds, I get the impulse to undo this, one of the dumbest of decisions.

Matthew: Having the characters make no progress as people, as officers, as, well, anything, in six years is just downright bizarre (I read this as being ten years since "Broken Bow," which means six years of unfilmed voyages). It smacks of laziness. And you're right, the other two time hopping finales gave us fascinating iterations of the characters we had grown to care for. Why not here? Perhaps it was a time issue. So that would have been the first step towards fixing this finale. We are to take this as future history - things known to Riker and anyone else in the 24th century studying this era. Fine. Give us some actual history! Put Shran on the bridge. Give Trip and T'Pol a second child and a relationship, not the pointless wheel spinning depicted. PROMOTE Hoshi and Travis, for Ardra's sake. Make Malcolm a secret agent. So yeah. The way the Enterprise crew was depicted was the opposite of fun. Anti-fun. Boring in the extreme, and hard to chalk up to anything but laziness. And indeed, keeping Trip and T'Pol apart for six more years, then teasing a reconciliation only to kill him in a pointless sacrifice to nullify some quite meager baddies is just insulting to anyone who has cared about these characters over the past four seasons. I am not high on character sacrifices anyway, but if you're going to do them, you'd better do them right (something basically achieved once in the franchise, maybe twice if you include Lon Suder).

Kevin: I'm going to separately ding the ending for being quick and lazy. I like the idea of trying to dramatize the foundation of the Federation. I just wish they had done that. They fell into the trap that a lot of real world historical dramas do, treating what happened in the past as inevitable. It's too easy to drop references to the eventual real world outcome in how you craft the lead up in that story. Even if you know these people know the Federation is being founded, that doesn't mean that they have any real idea what it would look like by Kirk or Picard's time. This is more a high-level wishlist than a true complaint, I suppose, but this would have been an incredibly complicated time with nested levels of almost infinite moving parts. Try to picture the Constitutional Convention and the big and little fights and compromises and petty bickering and deal making, but try again without adding what you know about the rest of American history coming after. Every planet member has literally billions of beings breaking down into major group and subgroups, and down almost to the individual, overlapping and conflicting wants and needs and deal breakers. I guess what I want is for the show to find a way to show my why Earth and Vulcan and Andor and Tellar as depicted in this series would want an alliance that basically means the end of their individual political sovereignty for reasons other than "well, we know it happened because TOS says it did." That's the real meat on the bone of a prequel, to find the the specific stories to tell from the perspective of those people, not merely the overture to someone else's symphony. Instead, we get a long shot of Archer signing the documents; the end. It's basically the narrative equivalent of that Lord of the Flies parody episode of The Simpsons. "And then the Federation was founded by...let's say Moe." TL;DR: Enterprise is a ton of missed opportunities for interesting stories that in no way directly relate to any other character or story told in any other series.

Matthew: This thread to the plot could have helped fix the previous one. A big problem here with the action beats, which frankly were pretty decent, was that they had nothing to do with either of the other story threads. Why not have Archer save the nascent Federation at the last minute? Why not have Malcolm get hot intelligence from Section 31 that puts them on the trail of those who would undo it? Why not have a villain besides some rando smuggler/kidnappers? Maybe they felt hemmed in by the previous story arc, which basically told the same story about founding an alliance despite opposition, but did it far better? Well, in that case, ditch it. But I agree - the historical equivalent of a Constitutional Convention is a fertile field for stories. They just sort of.... chose not to tell them.

Kevin: So now, let's look at The Pegasus. By having Riker both disclose the cloaking device to Troi before Picard and deciding in her presence to tell Picard, we completely deflate an excellent hour of television. If nothing else, it moves the most important moments of "The Pegasus" to events not depicted in that episode. That's a narrative no-no. And of course, these changes make the episode worse. In the original telling, Riker decides at the last possible second to reveal the cloaking device, when he simply cannot stall any more and he has to decide between his ship's safety and his career, possibly his freedom. It's a great moment, and Frakes acted it to the hilt, back in the day. Framed between two sides of the same bald coin, Picard and Pressman practically represent the angel and devil on his shoulder and we watch him make the decision, happily the correct one. Now apparently, he had already decided to do that, but just hadn't gotten around to it yet because reasons. I'm not saying there's not a version of Pegasus were Troi serves the role of a moral compass in a gentler, but still effective, way than Picard's disapproval, but that's a different episode and not the one they wrote in 1994. They took a great episode and made it worse and made a bad episode all on its own in the process. And there's no real way to segue into this, so I'll just say it. The misunderstanding they have Data make over the comm with Troi is a season one Data joke, not a season seven Data joke. It just is. It's lazy (again) and it's nagged me for 18 years. Glad I can finally get that off my chest. 

Matthew: The way to fix this part of the story is easy - set it at literally any time whatsoever after the end of TNG. I understand the "Valentine to the fans" aspect of tying it to a beloved episode - but that approach brings with it major problems, not least of which is continuity problems and retconning (another of which will be addressed below). Do you know what we love as much or more than old classic stories? New classic stories. Wouldn't it be amazing to present us with essentially a new TNG adventure starring Riker and Troi, set on a very well recreated Enterprise D? The narrative tie-in was really clumsy, too. Riker is having a problem of conscience, which Troi does not know the particulars of.  Why would she suggest this historical holodeck program? When in the run time of "The Pegasus" does she suggest this program? Trip... disobeyed orders and sacrificed his life in order to save his morally upright captain. How is that an analogous situation? Riker obeyed the orders of a morally corrupt captain, and now must decide whether to risk his career in order to save a treaty, a fragile peace, and the respect of his current captain. It doesn't track that this would give him any useful information that bears on his problem. Maybe the story could have been about the NX-01 crew disobeying the orders of a corrupt Admiral who was trying to torpedo the peace. That would be analogous. But you're right either way - Riker's ethical arc was clearly delineated in the original episode, and needed no amendment.


Kevin: The best thing I can say I don't think anyone in front of the camera phoned it in, an assertion I cannot make with any real certainty about the people behind it. Everyone turned in solid enough performances for a script that just didn't ask that much of them, outside of Archer and T'Pol mourning Trip. Frakes and Sirtis are their usual charming selves. They could do this in their sleep with their hands tied behind their backs. And was adding Shran to the story just a reason to get Jeffrey Combs on screen? Sure. Do I care? Not in the slightest. You get that residual check, Jeffrey Combs. You've earned it.

Matthew:  Oddly, especially given my unalloyed praise of his job these past four seasons, the actor who felt off to me was Connor Trinneer. I wonder if he was thrown off by the royally dumb storytelling choices of the script. He seemed too jocular by half. Frakes delivered nuance in brief scenes, and did some passable chef work, too. Sirtis was a very credible counselor and friend. Of the NX-01 crew, I would say that Peter Billingsley and Jolene Blalock turned in the best work. They've really leaned lately on Blalock's ability to deliver emotion without gratuitous emoting, and this episode is no different.

Production Values

Kevin: Most of the effects were fine. I'm going to focus on the obvious misstep: trying to make Frakes and Sirtis play themselves ten years younger and not having the technical skills to do it. Troi's uniform is distractingly the wrong color. Her wig is horrendous. According to Memory Alpha, they couldn't find the original pieces they used with her natural hair in TNG, so they found a wig, shows. It shows. And whoever tried to get Frakes back in the jumpsuit should be hauled before the Hague. I'm not criticizing either actor for aging, I don't look like I did ten years ago. I don't look like I did three years ago before the pandemic. But I'm also not playing myself in a movie about me from ten years ago. If they really wanted them in and could have worked them in as themselves, it would have worked fine. Sirtis looked fantastic in Picard, and no paunch could erase the twinkle in Frakes' eye. It's just that you can make 25 look 19 with makeup and you can make early 30s look early 20s with some heavy lifting by lighting and fashion choices. It's just harder to make 50 look like 40, especially if you do not have the appropriate wig budget. I don't like to rag on actors' appearance since it's kind of mean and out of their control. I am rightly criticizing a production department for basically setting them up to fail. As a counterpoint, sure, they were only going back in time seven years, and yes, if I watched them side by side, I would probably be able to clock which one was Encounter at Farpoint and which was All Good Things, but both Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby looked amazing and credibly like their season one selves in the TNG finale. It's possible, they just didn't do it here, and it served as another distracting failure in an episode full of them.

Matthew: Yep. Yep yep yep. Just in case the ill-advised nature of the retcon wasn't apparent, the visual signifier of Frakes and Sirtis obviously not looking like their 1993 selves really threw a wrench into the suspension of disbelief. This is why setting their portion of the tale post-TNG would have made worlds more sense. With that said, they did an amazing job on the VFX and set construction of the D, both within and without. Yes, the turbolift wall looks weird, and the decor in the observation lounge was a little off. But boy, it sure felt like TNG - something even Picard Season 3 didn't manage, and on a shoestring budget to boot. I will say though that clearly the Federation Founding scene bore the brunt of that budget emphasis. Back in all their uncanny valley glory are the crowds of Gumby people inhabiting an utterly unreal space.

Kevin: I understand why they kept it to the Enterprises because of the use of the intro, but I kind of really miss the inclusion of DS9 or the Defiant and Voyager. This was the end of an uninterrupted run of television almost twenty years long. That's rarefied air otherwise occupied pretty much only by Law & Order in the modern era. The idea was solid, but for a proper goodbye, everyone should have been included. That aside, the ships looked gorgeous.

Matthew: I would rather get more story than yet another recitation of the TOS/TNG opening. The CGI was very good. But I agree, it missed the mark.


Kevin: This is a one, hands down. I have a strong case to make that this is worse than Kurtzman Trek in that it commits their sin of messing with prime continuity, but it was done by people up and down the line who should have know better. Abrams was a self-professed Star Wars fan who got the job because of the insane way jobs are parceled out in Hollywood. Berman and Braga and Coto should have known that, if nothing else, doing a series finale about a different series was a bad idea. Messing with the otherwise truly excellent Pegasus is what turns misfire into trash fire. There's even a truly gratuitous violent death of a likeable main character for shock value. With some edits and choosing not to set it inside a better TNG episode, this could have been a fun confection and a field trip. I can make a strong case that Barclay and Troi on Voyager got a little repetitive, but I can't deny that they are fun. At least be fun. This episode was neither good nor fun, and it deserves and continues to deserve its reputation.

Matthew: I think this was a mish mash of disjointed parts. Given more emphasis, any of the major story threads could have worked. But shoe-horning them together was a conceptual error. Killing a major character without much preamble or denouement was ill-advised, to say the least. But the actors gave it their best shot and the effects were pretty good. So I'm at a 2 on this for a total of 3. Easily the worst series finale in the franchise, but not altogether unlikable in spurts.

1 comment:

  1. This one never struck me as particularly annoying, though when you point out how it affects Pegasus, I have to agree that is egregious.

    Albeit unannoyed, I was confused and feeling the uncanny valley. I'm sure it doesn't help that I usually rewatch ENT soon after having rewatched TNG, so the differences are all the more glaring than I suppose they would have been if it's been a decade. (Having looked it up, eleven years minus ten days.)
    But the actual people in the story and their world looks and feels slightly different, while the holograms look exactly the same as the people did last episode - although they really shouldn't. And yes, they seem to have forgotten when Pegasus occurred. It was nice to hear the voice, but come on.

    But it is what it is. Season 4 had some moments worthy of the actors, but in the end I feel this finale is sadly fitting to most of ENT's writing.