Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Enterprise, Season 4: Terra Prime

Enterprise, Season 4
"Terra Prime"
Airdate: May 13, 2005
96 of 97 produced
96 of 97 aired


The crew of the Enterprise must find a way to infiltrate the Terra Prime facility before they can attack the Earth.

 Say it! Say "my uncle was a Denobulan!"



Matthew: So here we are, at the "real" finale for the show, as fans have dubbed it in hindsight. Listening to the writers' commentary, Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens were very clear that they wanted to give every character a satisfying set of scenes, and a resolution of sorts to their story. Not necessarily a sense of fonality, but a sense of growth. I think this episode achieves this. Hoshi is shown as having overcome her nervousness and found her space legs. Travis bags the babe and shows his expertise in the cockpit. Malcolm gains the respect and escapes the manipulation of his Section 31 handler. Phlox shows how dedicated he has become to his new human (and Vulcan) family. Trip and T'Pol finally bond after a long (and annoying) estrangement. Archer makes good on the promise of his father's engine - using it to bring humanity into a larger, collaborative galactic world.

Kevin: I agree with your general take on the episode but will add that it really shouldn't take until the end of season four to remember that you have an ensemble. Shran in a handful of appearances got more development that anyone not Archer, Trip, or T'Pol, probably getting about as much if not slightly more than Phlox. Obviously, part of that is the incomparable acting of Jeffrey Combs, but it's also words on the page. That ongoing critique aside, I agree this episode succeeds in both giving the crew lots to do, and feeling like an orthodox episode of Star Trek.

Matthew: As action plots go, this one was a fairly straightforward "ticking clock" infiltration story. The scenes played out with good pacing and forward momentum, and I never felt like I was questioning why the plot went here or there. If I had a complaint, it would be that the action plot's relationship to the "Birth of the Federation stuff" was a bit abstract, by which I mean that the delegates coming around to greater ties with humans didn't really seem to follow having a giant space laser operated by human extremists nearly incinerate them. With that said, Soval's series arc of coming to approve of Archer and the humans' approach to the larger galaxy worked for me. I think not having Shran at the table was a slight miss, even though I get it from a diplomatic logistics point of view. 

Kevin: This is one of those time's I'm going to invoke Ron Moore's name. I think he has a facility for zippy political writing that would have bridged the gap. The giant space laser (please continue to picture me making Dr. Evil air quotes around that) is silly. An episode that focused on the various factions and their actual wants and needs would have been a little more satisfying. There's the idealists like Archer who want a galactic community for its own sake. There's the isolationists who fear change. There could be other factions that want or don't want an alliance for various reasons, and all that shaken together could have really been something. Still, they hit the beats of ticking clocks and prison breaks with enough skill to leave me basically satisfied, if not truly sated.

Matthew: The baby story... I think it was acted to the hilt, but I sort of didn't know why she was there at all. How does putting a baby's face on the "issue" make it scarier to the average schlub on the street? Humans are pretty notorious for liking babies, making goo goo sounds at them, and generally finding them very sympathetic. So then having it die just wasn't a choice I think needed to be made. It doesn't violate continuity to make her the first hybrid, so why not go for it?

Kevin: I also still don't get what the whole baby was for? Was he assuming that a baby that kind of looks like a LOTR elf would somehow so deeply offend the average person to sway people to his side? People love elves. Like, a lot. The addition of the disease was also baffling. How can this one of a kind hybrid be the treatment? How would they have figured that out? None of it makes sense. It felt like the idea of Trip and T'Pol having a kind was deemed the most interesting idea and then they shoehorned a plot around it. As the acting demonstrates, Trinneer and Blalock could absolutely carry a romantic plot, and this episode really crystallizes why it's so annoying they kept throwing plot in the way. It's a lazy crutch to frustrate your couple getting together. My general note to writers after the strike is over: Characters and relationships are more interesting than plot twists. If you create interesting, three-dimensional characters with their own well-defined perspectives and goals, putting two or more of them in a room will generate all the conflict you need to move a story. I'm not saying a big external event can never be interesting, but it can't substitute for the relationship storytelling. 


Matthew: As mentioned above, Trinneer and Blalock absolutely smashed it on their scenes. I completely believed their investment in the child's well being, their sense of loss upon her death, and their finding of emotional solace with each other afterwards. Peter Billingsley also had some very nice scenes delivering the bad news and such. So while I wasn't on board completely with the story direction, I certainly was all there for the acting.

Kevin: Trinneer's performance was genuinely heartbreaking. He was really devastated in a way that incredibly affecting. Blalock managed that Nimoy/Spiner level performance of inspiring the emotion by not portraying it. Just series high work for both them. I found the plotting only so-so, but that last scene really elevates the whole episode.

Matthew: Peter Weller worked again for me here. I think his confrontation with Bakula at the climax of the show helped to crystallize his worldview as a coherent, racially motivated conservative. The juxtaposition against Archer's hard-headed idealism really helped the episode reach me on an intellectual and character level. Good performances by both.

Kevin: He still just didn't click for me. Maybe I'm just so angry at racist demagoguery generally that I will not enjoy watching even a well portrayed one, or I'm letting my residual annoyance at Into Darkness spill over onto this episode. He just doesn't do it for me. I don't care about his point of view and don't quite see how he amassed a following. I will acknowledge it may be a matter of personal taste and the times we live in, but here we are. 

Matthew: Side character actors such as Linda Park, Dominic Keating, and Anthony Montgomery all got good scenes to chew into, and they each delivered. It was clear they felt this was a last hurrah for their characters, and not in a bad way. I liked Malcolm's comic beat about the barf bag with Phlox. Hoshi's mini-triumph resonated, too.

Kevin: I think one of the great losses of the series in not letting the side characters grow was not letting the actors grow with them. Plenty of actors and characters that I truly love in TNG, DS9, and VOY had to grow into them. That's a natural part of a TV series, and note to the AMPTP, this is why you want human writers on set to interact with and learn from their actors to better write for them. Writers and actors work together to sculpt a character to an actors' strengths. Think of Nana Visitor and Kira between her season one warmed over Ensign Ro and her season 6 performance mourning Ghermor's death in the infirmary. Just miles between those performances and I think it's in large part the writers writing to the way Visitor best portrayed big emotions, barely restrained rather than explosive. This was a long way of saying we've criticized some of the acting of the supporting cast, particularly Montgomery, but I think a more sustained diet of good material would have helped both actor and character improve, as this episode demonstrates.

Production Values

Matthew: I think the Mars shots betrayed their "end of season" budgets. They looked pretty fake - the worst effect probably being the spidery broken glass during the final confrontation. It looked almost laughably fake. They would have been better served by some actual glass and a fog machine. The shuttle re-entry action had a similar fake look to it, though I enjoyed the Sagan monument on the planet's surface. One pretty good effect was the space laser hitting the SF bay.

Kevin: I don't have a ton to add here. The spider effect was not great, and I'm always going to say do it live rather than on green screen. 


Matthew: I think this sticks at the 4. The baby plot from the first part felt a bit tacked on for me and was not fleshed out such that I felt otherwise by the end of this episode. But the whole thing was rather satisfying, with a well developed political/moral message and well paced action. I think a viewer would have to work hard to dislike this episode. It is a fitting finale for the show we've gotten over the past four seasons. Thank goodness they did not follow this up with a different, ill-conceived finale episode.

Kevin: So I have a lot of the same general reservations that I had last week, largely that the very interesting idea of humans dealing with their xenophobia gets filtered through the less interesting lens of an action story. I also continue to not bond with Peter Weller's Paxton, but as I said, I appreciate that may be as much a matter of taste as anything else. The action plotting makes me want to give this a 3, but I think on the strength of the acting, I have also go with the 4. Trinneer and Blalock really gave it their all and my only regret is that they weren't simply allowed to do this the whole time. They could have easily given life to a better crafted arc. But still, for the last substantive episode of Enterprise, there are worse notes to end on, as we will all soon learn. A well deserved eight for what is rightly viewed as the show's actual bow.

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