Friday, January 20, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Home

Enterprise, Season 4
Airdate: October 22, 2004
78 of 97 produced
78 of 97 aired


The Enterprise crew's return to Earth proves to be less triumphant than they might have hoped.

 Someday, you'll visit Rosseau Five, and many other places, all more spectacular. 'Cause this definitely ain't a real place.




Matthew: It is tempting to say "this is just Enterprise's version of Family," but I think that is unfair. Yes, this is the change of pace after a long action arc, and it takes place on Earth in large part. But it both explores the emotional effects of the past season on various characters, as well as sets up continuing themes for this season. I think giving Archer the chance to display some PTSD, like his outbursts against Soval, and his traumatic dreams, really grow his character after a lot of angry shouting last season. Do I like the romance? Sure, it's great to have a woman who is equal to Archer as his romantic foil. Am I confident she will be developed further? Not really, which makes such a potentially meaningful relationship feel weird. Anyway, their interactions really worked well, and I liked very much that banging things out on a mountain didn't "cure" him.

Kevin: I think there are worse things to be called than your show's equivalent of TNG classic "Family." The comparison is apt, and for the first time in a while, a direct comparison to the Trek Golden Age doesn't leave Enterprise feel wanting. It's not a perfect episode. (Any episode lacking the Rozhenkos is, by definition, imperfect.) But the core theme of letting the characters take a beat to absorb the traumatic things they have experienced, just the fact that they are doing it at all warms my heart. Archer is acting like a person. Even if the extreme actions you take are justified by the circumstances, that's not a get-out-of-trauma free card. I really liked how they pitched it as feeling the loss of the man he was, even though they technically won. It was all just a nice, credible beat, before embarking on the next chapter that helps retroactively give some depth to season three's story. This is not as good as Family, as it's not quite the levels of Picard's cathartic homecoming, and again, not enough Rozhenkos, but it sits proudly on the same street as Family. No mean accomplishment.

Matthew: Another recurring theme set up here is the xenophobia on Earth post Xindi Attack. This feels very current and perceptive, and is a very worthwhile theme to examine through the Trek lens. It's a classic move, really, just like looking at Cold War paranoia or consumerism through the TOS and TNG lens. There's no big bad guy per se, and the xenophobia is given an honest motivation even if the people who run with it take it too far.

Kevin: Here the episode faltered for me. I think they went too obvious. It's too cheap to think humans would go "All aliens bad." The men in the bar were lumbering bigots who probably would have manufactured a gripe against Phlox even if the Xindi hadn't attacked, or eventually some other human if Phlox weren't there. They aren't just unsympathetic; they're painfully dumb. A subtler pitch would be that some humans regret First Contact, thinking that if Earth had simply stayed out of interstellar politics, then none of this would have happened. It's still an incorrect connecting of causes, and it can absolutely be informed by unexplored racial animus, but it makes the nature of the problem a little more complex. Dumb bros picking a bar fight is just the least interesting iteration of this story. 

Matthew: Trip and T'Pol get a big development, with the impediment of her marriage reintroduced. They didn't do the Koon-ut-kal-if-fee ceremony, which shows admirable restraint (something I do not think we could have expected from Kurtzman Trek, which will always choose the most violent and sexualized path for characters to take). Am I happy that Trip and T'Pol will have to wait? No. I want everyone to get together all the time. But it was well told, with relationships and motives that felt real. The interplay between T'Pol and her mother, and her eventual warming to Trip, really worked well.

Kevin: Given T'Pol's apparent disgrace, I don't quite get what Koss gets out of this. We just haven't spent enough time with him to really get why he is still pursuing the relationship. The real answer is of course, he needs to be an obstacle for Trip and T'Pol. It's a little too obvious to really latch on to. That said, everyone else in the story really delivers. T'Les makes a case for tradition of individuality that, even if it doesn't have me reevaluating my moral system, sounded internally credible to her. There's something about the line  "I don't approve of this relationship, but T'Pol should have all the facts" when she confronts Trip that made me really smile. It's a very dense line, character-wise. It's that perfect balance of concern for your child while honoring their autonomy. It's the kind of character focused writing that even in the better season 3, there wasn't really a lot of. This is as much Joanna Cassidy's performance (more on that later) but in a few scenes, they managed to sketch a character with a lot of depth and one that portrays rather than just discusses Vulcan ideals. To go back to another of my recurring themes, this is the good version of character versus character trait. T'Les is not just her logic, she is a whole person who values logic and informs a bunch of other traits and interactions. Great job guys, now do it to Hoshi and Travis.

Separately, I want to respond to Matt saying that Enterprise has shown restraint where Kurtzman Trek "will always choose the most violent and sexualized path for characters to take." Not because I want to defend Kurtzman Trek, but because I think it is an inaccurate description of Enterprise. They have gone further than any of the post-2009 shows have done in cheaply sexualizing its female stars. I have seen Michael Burnham cry many times for no good reason. I have never seen her naked butt for no reason. The only gratuitous nudity in Strange New Worlds was Anson Mount's chest, and he can get his tits out whenever he wants, accurate accusations of hypocrisy be damned. And pretty early on in the Xindi arc, Archer tortured a guy to get information with pretty much no consequences or even interior hand-wringing. I continue to maintain that Enterprise pushed the boundaries as far (and occasionally farther) than syndicated television would allow. The Trip/T'Pol arc to date should put to rest the notion that Enterprise was forbearing on cheap thrills. They were limited by syndication standards of the day, not any abstract sense of propriety. I would go so far as to say that if Enterprise were on premium cable or streaming in its day, it would have also had admirals saying "fuck" a bunch, too. I'm pressing this point because, for obvious reasons, Enterprise and Kurtzman Trek often get compared since both at have been treated as the low point of the franchise. I think given how often comparisons will come up, it's important to be brutally honest in assessing both. This episode does show admirable and encouraging restraint in letting genuine, quiet character development drive most of the story. But Enterprise has certainly not always done that.

Matthew: Nor did I say it has, just that this episode did. I think I am firmly on record decrying Enterprise's past sins.


Matthew: Performances like Scott Bakula's here really make the occasionally one-note thing we got last season grate more. He felt wounded here, but still possessing his pride and an undercurrent of hope. His chemistry with Ada Maris' Captain Hernandez was really solid, and she turned in a very "Cage" Majel Barrett sort of performance, which worked well for the part. As far as the xenophobia subplot, John Billingsley turned in some nuanced work as someone who doesn't want to cause a fuss and sort of gets where the xenophobes are coming from.

Kevin: I am on record as always enjoying watching adult portrayals of adult relationships that don't have to end in marriage, and this one felt very grown up. They had dated previously, parted friends, and reconnected, with the knowledge this wasn't forever. Both actors really helped portrayed that nicely. This was just a feat of grounded, organic acting for both. I want Hernandez to stick around, and not just as a love interest for Archer. And credit where it's due. It's not easy to portray a PTSD attack, and especially for a man we have routinely accused of grouchy shouting, it never went there. He wasn't an annoyed suburban dad, just one in a lot of understandable pain. A couple more like this, and I'm willing chalk up  my whole critique of his previous seasons' performances to the writing and not the acting. I liked Billingsley, particularly trying to be empathetic for everyone, even the knuckle dragging goons in the bar. I just wish the script had given his empathy a more interesting target.

Matthew: Jolene Blalock's "barely repressing emotions" thing works well enough as always, but I'm starting to want different shades from her. Connor Trinneer nailed "reluctant but caring Southern Gentlemen not getting what he wants." Joanna Cassidy is clearly a pro's pro. Her T'Les read as both Vulcan enough, but also really effectively as "concerned mom with her own inner life." It helped T'Pol's frustrating decision make sense in the story.

Kevin: I really liked Trinneer's performance in the wedding scene. It really read as a non-petulant decision to be there for some he cares about, even at the cost of his own desires. Cassidy is really just a great actress. She really lent a depth to Vulcan stoicism without coming off like a robot. She's really great at giving depth and humanity to fanciful set ups. It's not surprising. She, of course, played Bob Hoskin's girlfriend in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and anyone who can deliver the line "If we don't find Marvin Acme's will by midnight tonight, Cloverleaf is gonna own Toontown!" as if every one of those words were a real thing is my kind of actress.

Production Values

Matthew: OK, look, the CGI was just not good, and I don't think it's going to get much better. The stadium looked vaguely ridiculous, both in design and execution, and the crowd was full of Gumbies. That, combined with the awkward lighting on the Vulcan Statue plain backdrop were enough to give this a "cheesy" vibe. But I appreciate the effort, whereas other shows might just not show these things. They're trying. 

Kevin: The overhead of the stadium was fine for what it was. It established a place and all. What got me was the shot of the crew in front of the 'windows.' They could have just found an empty conference room on the Paramount lot and done better. Even a handful of chair in a first row of extras would have helped stitch it together. As you say, it wasn't just badly executed, it was badly designed from the start. TOS' oval of gravel and styrofoam rocks at least had charm. 

Matthew: While CGI generally failed, interior sets and location work was really solid. I wish we could have seen the Chinese restaurant, but the bar, meeting room, and Vulcan home sets were all very good. And they found some rocks to climb that really gave Archer and Hernandez's scenes verisimilitude. I believed they were sweaty but still sexy rock climbers.

Kevin: I liked the level of totchkes in T'Les' home, but like the monastery at P'Jem, everything reads as "vaguely Buddhist" in a way that reads closer to cultural appropriation than I think it should, and I don't think I'm just rounding up to 2022 values on the issue. They pulled too heavily from one play book, but in terms of execution they did well. The long shot of the statues in the volcano (a totally logical place for statutes) was fun. My only complaint is, again, the switch to digital film stock. Especially in the courtyard scene, it makes the background too sharp, and therefore too close and small. On film, the grain would blur things just enough to imply a larger space and let the colors blend a little more gently. In the higher definition, it looks like they are on a sound stage. A thoroughly designed sound stage, but still.


Matthew: I'm at a 4 on this. I was involved with the emotional stories on each character grouping, and the acting was quite solid all around. Maybe it didn't reach the transcendent emotional writing and acting heights of "Family," but it was a very welcome decompression after a long action arc. It helps the world and the characters feel much more real, which I'm always in favor of.

Kevin: I agree with the 4. The xenophobia plot is too basic, and the Vulcan plot leaves a couple of more questions that I want, but letting Archer act like a person and not an ersatz Jack Bauer is always going to score well in my book. We got characters taking stock of their experience. We got actual development of T'Pol and Trip's relationship, where they balanced their own desires with those of the people they loved in a way that made both feel like real, worthy things. They didn't hit a hole in one this time, but they definitely got the ball on the green in one shot, and that makes a well deserved 8.


  1. First time watching this (and Family for that matter) I found them pretty slow and boring. But a few decades will do wonders, and now I think they're admirable and enjoyable.
    This particular one also does a lot in puttingpieces on the board for future use - both characters and cultural currents. This is setting up the sort of continuity I've been missing earlier.