final frontier friday enterprise

Welcome back to ‘Final Frontier Friday.’ Our countdown to ‘Discovery’ marches on, but the end is near. With the twenty-fourth century shows out of the way, it’s finally time to turn an eye toward ‘Star Trek: Enterprise‘.  As always, I invite you to join us while we examine the show’s two-part premiere, ‘Broken Bow’.

With ‘Voyager‘ nearing the end of its run, the time had come once again to develop a new ‘Star Trek’. This time, the task of creating the successor series would fall to ‘Trek’ veterans, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. If you’ve been following my coverage of the prior ‘Star Trek’ pilots, this next part will sound familiar. In developing ‘Enterprise’, Berman and Braga set out to set the show apart from its predecessors. To some extent, this was a product of the usual desire to avoid retreading what the franchise had done before, but it was also born in part of necessity. Ratings had begun to wane in the later years of ‘Voyager’, creating a perceived need to reinvigorate ‘Star Trek’.

It was those twin goals – setting the show apart and reinvigorating the franchise – that would inform many of the major creative decisions that went into the making of ‘Enterprise’, particularly in the early stages. The biggest change came in the form of the show’s setting. Rather than pushing forward with the twenty-fourth century setting of the prior spinoffs, the show would be set in the twenty-second century, about a hundred years before the original series. The setting was chosen because it was a time ‘Star Trek’ history which had, to that point, remained largely unexplored. The prequel setting also allowed the show to present a more contemporary version of humanity than fans had grown accustomed to from ‘The Next Generation’ onward, allowing the characters to be perhaps a bit more flawed and familiar than the living embodiments of the Roddenberry ideal that prior series often featured. Further, as Berman explained in the lead up to the premiere, the prequel setting meant that “we’ll be seeing humanity when they truly are going where no man has gone before. We are seeing people who don’t take meeting aliens as just another part of the job. It’s not routine.”

Like ‘Deep Space Nine‘ before it, ‘Enterprise’ was originally conceived as a planet-based show, though also like ‘Deep Space Nine’, this was abandoned fairly early in the process. The plan, such as it was, was for the first season of the show to take place primarily on Earth. During this time, it would have dealt with Archer assembling his crew and the later stages of Enterprise’s construction. Ultimately, the ship would have been rushed to completion and launched in response to first contact with the Klingons. If you’ve seen ‘Broken Bow’, many of those plot points probably seem familiar as that material would eventually be condensed into the pilot episode following the network’s rejection of this original approach.

From there the show developed into somewhat more of a “standard ‘Trek'” approach, at least in the sense that it was following the format of an Earth ship boldly going where none had gone before. It would also see a return to a ‘Deep Space Nine’-style focus on galactic politics, albeit in a much less front and center sort of way. Here, that was to be a means specifically to see the foundations being laid for the birth of the Federation. Essentially, ‘Enterprise’ was to be the ‘Trek’ that set the stage for everything that came “after”. The show also introduced the idea of a Temporal Cold War. This plot element, which according to Braga was included at the insistence of the studio, was embraced by both himself and Berman as a way of adding an element of mystery to the new series and as a way of linking ‘Enterprise’ more directly with the future toward which they would build throughout the show’s run.

Would it succeed in carving out its own niche in the ‘Star Trek’ canon? Would the prequel concept be as successful as hoped? And what of the Temporal Cold War? I’m sure you have your own opinions about at least a few of those questions, but for now? Read on.

An alien vessel has crashed in a field in Oklahoma. The pilot (who we soon find is a Klingon) is being pursued by a pair of unidentified reptilian beings. Meanwhile, the farmer on whose land this chase is occurring grabs a plasma rifle and goes to investigate. The aliens follow the Klingon pilot into a silo, by contorting and compressing their bodies so that they can squeeze under the door.  With his pursuers inside, the Klingon destroys the silo with a disruptor blast. The farmer soon arrives and shoots the Klingon.

In orbit, Captain Jonathan Archer and engineer Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker are conducting an inspection of the Enterprise, humanity’s first warp five starship. Still in drydock ahead of her planned launch, Archer marvels at the fact that the ship can make a round trip to Neptune in less time than it takes to make a pot of coffee. Archer is soon summoned back to San Francisco, where the Klingon – a courier named Klaang – is unconscious and receiving medical care. Archer is briefed on the events in Oklahoma by both Starfleet brass and a delegation from the Vulcan embassy, including Ambassador Soval. Admiral Forrest informs Archer than the Vulcans are urging them to delay Enterprise’s launch until the Klingon matter is resolved – that is, however long it takes the Vulcans to return Klaang’s corpse to the Klingon homeworld. Archer is incensed, pointing out that Klaang is not, in fact, dead and suggests that the Enterprise (which he insists can be ready for an early launch in three days) be assigned to return Klaang home alive. Forrest agrees, despite Soval’s objections.

We then meet the rest of the crew, beginning with armory officer Malcolm Reed and helmsman Travis Mayweather as he oversees supplies brought aboard via the transporter. Despite its having berated safe for human transport, neither of the men is terribly comfortable with the new device. Back on Earth, Archer has to convince Hoshi Sato to leave her teaching post prematurely. The reluctant communications officer agrees when she hears a recording of the Klingon language. Back aboard Enterprise, Archer and Tucker are in the captain’s ready room when a Vulcan officer, Subcommander T’Pol, reports for duty. She is there to act as a “chaperone” of sorts in exchange for access to the Vulcan database, though no one involved is terribly pleased with the arrangement. With all personnel aboard and preparations made, the Enterprise is formally launched.

With the ship underway, Archer meets with Phlox, a Denobulan doctor who was on Earth as part of the Interspecies Medical Exchange and is now aboard Enterprise to treat Klaang (being the only doctor on the planet who’s even heard of a Klingon has its advantages). The doctor has eighty hours to get Klaang back on his feet. A few hours later, Klaang regains consciousness, but between his own disorientation and Sato’s unfamiliarity with his language, it’s hardly the most fruitful conversation. They are interrupted when the Enterprise loses power. They are boarded by three of the reptilian species who had been pursuing Klaang earlier, now identified as Suliban. The boarding party makes it to sickbay and after a brief scuffle, abducts Klaang.

With Klaang gone and the mission seemingly a failure, T’Pol insists that the ship return to San Francisco. Archer chews her out and instead sets out to find the Suliban and recover Klaang. In sickbay, Phlox examines the body of a Suliban killed in the attack. He notes, however, that while the man on his table was a Suliban, he was also the recipient of some extremely advanced genetic engineering. Advanced even beyond the capabilities of the Suliban. Sato reports that she has been able to translate most of what Klaang said, barring a handful of proper nouns. One of these – Rigel – is connected by T’Pol to information the Vulcans gleaned from the flight logs of Klaang’s ship, namely that his last stop was on the tenth planet in the Rigel system. We then see the Suliban interrogating Klaang, which confirms that he was on Rigel X to meet a Suliban woman named Sarin. The Suliban are looking for something – Klaang claims not to know what – but they suspect they may find it on Rigel.

Arriving at Rigel X, a landing party including Archer, Sato, T’Pol, Tucker, Reed, and Mayweather head down to the surface in a shuttlepod. Once there, they split into teams to search a local trade complex. While they search for anyone who might have information on Klaang, Archer and Sato are ambushed by a group of Suliban and placed in a holding cell with T’Pol and Tucker. Archer is then taken to meet Sarin. She tells Archer that Klaang is carrying a message to the Klingon High Council, proof that Suliban agents have been staging attacks within the Empire as part of an effort to ignite a civil war. She further explains that the Suliban themselves have no reason to destabilize the Klingon Empire. Rather, they are pawns in a Temporal Cold War, taking orders (and receiving technology) from the distant future. Suddenly, the Suliban attack. Sarin releases the Starfleet crew and escorts them back to their shuttle, though she is killed on the way. Reed and Mayweather have already returned to the shuttle, but a rendezvous is complicated by the fact that they can’t get a signal through the storm. The landing party locates the shuttle, but Archer is wounded in a firefight.

Back on the ship, Phlox treats Archer’s wound while Tucker and T’Pol are detained in the decontamination chamber for a not-at-all-gratuitous scene in which they have to apply decontamination gel to each other’s bodies. While they do so, they debate where to go from here. Archer awakes in sickbay where he is surprised to learn that T’Pol continued to track the Suliban vessel after assuming command, rather than returning to Earth. They trace the Suliban warp trail to a gas giant, where it becomes fragmentary. An analysis reveals that the fragmented trail is, in fact, the warp trails from fourteen Suliban ships that have entered the upper atmosphere in the last several hours. Enterprise follows the trail and finds a Suliban space station hidden in the atmosphere. Enterprise is able to capture a small Suliban craft, which Archer and Tucker use to infiltrate the station. While they do so, the Suliban begin bombarding the atmosphere with depth charges in an effort to locate the Enterprise.

Aboard the station, the two are able to locate Klaang with surprising ease. On the way back to their commandeered vessel, they are pinned down by a guard, who Klaang gleefully dispatches. Sending Tucker and Klaang ahead, Archer triggers a device that cripples the station (itself an amalgam of smaller vessels docked together) by reversing the polarity of the magnetic seals, causing it to basically fall apart. This traps him in the central core, from where he tells Tucker to come back for him after delivering Klaang to Enterprise. While wandering the core, Archer finds his way to a temporal communications chamber where he confronts Silik, the Suliban commander. Enterprise returns for him, but unable to dock, T’Pol instead proceeds with “Plan B”. Fleeing from Silik, Archer suddenly finds himself materializing on the transporter pad, a fact that rattles him more than any of his several brushes with death in the course of this mission.

With Klaang in tow, Archer, Sato, and T’Pol stand before the Klingon High Council. The Council takes a sample of Klaang’s blood, which is revealed to contain Sarin’s message. After a terse exchange with the Chancellor (the meaning of which, Sato insists, he doesn’t want to know), the Starfleet crew returns to the ship. Back on Enterprise, Archer tells Tucker and T’Pol that he’s been in touch with Admiral Forrest, who sees no reason that the Enterprise’s exploratory mission can’t begin right away – seeing as they’re already out there. When Tucker leaves to begin repairs, Archer asks T’Pol to stay behind. The two bury the hatchet, and Archer remarks on how helpful it could be to have a Vulcan science officer, but that if he made the request, it might look like he wasn’t ready to proceed on his own. She agrees, adding that it would be best if she contacted the Vulcan High Command to make the request herself. Heading to the bridge, he has Mayweather set a course for a nearby inhabited planet – at warp four.

Last week, I alluded to ‘Voyager’ being one of the less popular spinoffs. There’s some debate to be had over whether that dubious honor actually belongs to ‘Voyager’ or to ‘Enterprise’, but popular or not, ‘Enterprise’ is without question the most divisive of the spinoffs. Some of that is due to its perceived willingness to bend established continuity, some is owed to the very efforts the producers made to set it apart from other entries in the franchise, and still more may be attributable to what Berman and Braga would describe as “franchise fatigue” in the wake of the show’s untimely cancellation – after all, ‘Star Trek’ had been on the air in one form or another for eighteen straight years at that point.

But whether you love or hate the series, that’s all sort of beside the point for the moment. (And believe me, it’s a point we’ll get back to. I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Enterprise’.) Today though, we’re here specifically to talk about the pilot. And for my money? I’ve always said that ‘Broken Bow’ was one of the strongest pilots that ‘Star Trek’ has to offer. It sets up the show well, makes sure to give each of the characters a moment to shine, and does an excellent job of establishing the core cast, particularly Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker, which has as much to do with introducing the characters as with establishing their relationships. Even the more thinly drawn characters (at this point Reed, Mayweather, and Phlox) are well acted. These are people about whom I am genuinely curious, even if I have only the barest sense of what makes them tick at the end of the episode. The show also does a fine job of capturing the excitement of finally getting into space. If you were ever the kind of kid to stay up at night with an astronomy book, then I fail to see how this can’t resonate with you.

Speaking of characters and casting, I defy you to find a ‘Star Trek’ captain as instantly likable as Archer. The only one who comes close is Kirk, which is no mean feat for a show that is often treated as the redheaded stepchild of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise. And with all due respect to the show’s writers, I credit that almost entirely to the casting of Scott Bakula. Bakula brings an easy charm and relatability to the role. Moreso than most captains, this is one you can see having a drink with his crew.

What about the Temporal Cold War? Well, if you stop and think about it for a few minutes, such a thing is the logical outgrowth of multiple galactic powers developing time travel. After all, imagine if the US and the Soviet Union had the ability not just to wipe each other out, but to prevent the other from existing in the first place. But was this really the place for it? Probably not, honestly. As much potential as it may have had, this would prove to be one of the biggest missteps of the series, and even at this early stage, it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, grafting a time travel plot onto a prequel series is just going out of your way to make things more complicated than they need to be. But even setting that aside, the Temporal Cold War is at once essential to this episode (it’s the reason Klaang crashed on Earth in the first place) and inconsequential (it doesn’t really affect anything our characters do – they basically just learn that it’s a thing that exists). It’s bizarre, to say the least. Bottom line, it’s an interesting idea, and there is a way to do it justice. But this isn’t that.

And finally, I can’t finish this article without mentioning the theme song. This may, in fact, be the single most divisive element of ‘Enterprise’. Unlike prior shows, which all favored orchestral themes, ‘Enterprise’ chose a pop song – ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me’ by Russell Watson (originally recorded by Rod Stewart as ‘Faith of the Heart’). To call this an unorthodox choice would be an understatement, and as I’m sure you can imagine, the online fan community of the early 2000s reacted with all the restraint and open-mindedness that you might expect. Which is to say none. Personally? When I first heard it (during the premiere broadcast on September 26, 2001), I hated it. But over the years, it definitely grew on me. Maybe some of that is just getting used to it, or perhaps the fact that a new (and better) arrangement was introduced in the third season. It’s schmaltzy, it’s cheesy as all get out, and it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to add to my iTunes library, but like so many things to do with ‘Enterprise’, at the end of the day it’s nowhere near as bad as it’s cracked up to be.

As always, thanks for joining us! Feel free to share your thoughts on ‘Broken Bow’ in the comments. More importantly though, make sure you check back with us next week, as our countdown finally draws to a close with our coverage of the long-awaited two-part premiere of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, consisting of the episodes ‘The Vulcan Hello’ and ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’.