Enterprise. That word will forever be synonymous with Star Trek, so it was the perfect title for this prequel series. Taking place nearly 100 years before Captain Kirk’s time, many “firsts” happen on this show, setting up the mythology we’ve all come to know. Technology is scaled back, on purpose, making travelling the stars quite a bit more difficult than it was for any other ship captain. Unfortunately, having it take place less in the future than other Star Trek shows doesn’t make it more interesting, it makes it almost excessively generic.
Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) commands the very first Starship Enterprise on its first ever deep-space mission. With a (mostly) human crew, and significantly inferior technology compared to the many alien ships out there, the Enterprise has to work extra hard to prove that humans belong in outer space just like everyone else. But without the advanced technologies of others, or even a shred of an idea what to expect, this first mission could turn out to be either a crowning achievement, or an unmitigated disaster.
Prequels are always tricky, particularly in science fiction, with generational leaps in filmmaking and special effects totally inverting the tone the producers are striving for. Then there’s the obvious limit to creative freedom so as not to disrupt the established mythology. But like most prequels, in order to keep things interesting, Enterprise throws in a number of curveballs and surprises. And unfortunately, like most prequels, it becomes increasingly difficult to accept that some of these extraordinary past events ever even took place. (A Borg episode? Seriously?) But the most wasted aspect would have to be the formulaic approach this show adopts, with many of its adventure-of-the-week episodes feeling like they could have been on any other Star Trek show. Not a good way to stand out, and not a good way to give the characters an adventure unique to their situation. The only ongoing storyline it really has is the “Temporal Cold War” time-travel plot, which actually does more harm than good. Captain Archer is given far too much information about his own future to ensure certain critical events play out as they’re supposed to, but rather than address that potentially dangerous amount of knowledge, everything instead wraps up in a neat little bow courtesy of either lazy writing or just plain ignorance. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the series finale, widely regarded as the worst episode in Star Trek history, is really an episode of The Next Generation starring Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), with the Enterprise characters in supporting (holographic) roles. I understand that The Next Generation premiered in 1987, and began an 18-year-long Star Trek streak consisting of 25 seasons and ending with Enterprise’s finale in 2005, but using Enterprise to give a proper sendoff to characters who’ve already had theirs isn’t poetic. It’s an unforgivable slap in the face.
If the characters on Voyager were glorified Halloween costumes, then the ones on Enterprise are clothing store mannequins. Most of them are nondescript white men with barely any personality to tell them apart. Sure, one of them has a Southern accent and another one has an English accent, but that’s hardly a lesson in diversity. Oh yeah, and there’s one black guy and one Asian girl, which feels a little too much like they’re just satisfying an ethnic quota. And then there’s T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), the “sexy” female Vulcan. Unfortunately, she is neither sexy nor believable as a Vulcan. She somehow manages to show too much emotion and zero personality all at once. I can’t tell if she’s trying to stand out from previous emotionless characters or if she just needs acting lessons, but Seven of Nine she is not. Scott Bakula is easily the best actor on the show, even though Jonathan Archer is the worst captain Star Trek ever had. He’s thin-skinned, takes countless unnecessary risks with the lives of his crew, steals by force from people who don’t give in to his demands, not to mention how many of his “first contacts” miraculously don’t make it into the history books (Ferengi, anyone?). But all that doesn’t compare to the time he tortured a prisoner for information. Captain Picard he is not. As for the characters’ chemistry, most interpersonal conflicts are morality-based, with one person trying to make a moronically stupid decision while the rest of the crew tries to get them to see how obviously moronically stupid it is. It’s a far cry from Deep Space Nine’s complex gray-area relationships, or even Voyager‘s high-school melodrama, and perfectly demonstrates that if the creators weren’t out of ideas before, they sure are now.
While the series picks up in the second half, it doesn’t hit nearly enough highs to redeem itself. As a prequel, it fails to establish much of what fans would have liked to see, rendering it a negligible experience. As a stand-alone show, it takes itself far too seriously to feel like the adventurous space exploration its premise suggests. A fourth-season cancellation most likely didn’t help matters, forcing the writers to abandon any “bridge the gap” storylines they may have been saving for later seasons. While it does have some good episodes, some good actors, and the best special effects of any Star Trek show so far, Enterprise remains another example of how not to do a prequel.
2 out of 5