DeFlip Side #4: Launch of Enterprise

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Welcome everyone. This is DeFlip Side.

So, is it Star Trek, or isn’t it? Well, it’s called Enterprise, and it’s supposedly set in the Star Trek universe, but the producers have decided to drop Star Trek from the name. So it’s Trek, but it’s not Trek. And is Trek by any other name still Trek?

Got me. But either way, I caught the first episode of Enterprise, the new show in the Star Trek franchise. It was long anticipated, for me anyway, after years of suffering through Voyager. But since the folks who dreamed up Voyager were the creative force behind Enterprise, I didn’t get my hopes up. When I heard the premise of the show, that it would be set in the early days of the Federation and chronicle the journeys of the first Star Ship Enterprise, about 100 years before Kirk, Spock and the Original Series, I got nervous.

Voyager was never big on preserving the continuity of the Star Trek universe. I seriously don’t think the show’s writers have even seen an episode of the Original Series. And here was this same creative team doing a prequel series, gearing up to remake the Star Trek Universe in their own image. Considering Voyager’s mediocrity and poor characters, I feared they were now forging the final nails for the Star Trek coffin.

But Enterprise’s pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” surprised me. It wasn’t all that terrible…

Anyone who knows me might think there’s a Quantum Leap bias that makes me partial to Scott Bakula, who plays Captain Jonathan Archer. But the truth is that I’ve never really cared for him in anything but Quantum Leap. So I really didn’t know if he’d make a good captain or not. I had the same reservations for Jolene Blalock as T’Pol. Since when do we get Maxim models to play Vulcans? She seemed to be no more than the requisite ship babe, the new Seven of Nine.

Bakula did well as Archer. But instead of conveying emotionless Vulcan serenity, Blalock’s T’Pol comes off as snide and angry.

As for the rest of the characters, we get the usual Star Trek cast of representative nationalities and accents. There’s the British guy, the black guy, the maverick good ol’ boy Southern engineer, the Asian chick, and the alien. There might be another one I’m forgetting. The pilot didn’t have time to give the supporting cast much more than summary treatment. In fairness, all of them were likable, or at least weren’t as screamingly bad as they appeared on paper in the advance press clippings. I just hope I can keep saying that as the characters develop.

Overall, Enterprise had some refreshingly good points. It has a darker feel, and seems like it’ll try to grapple with some of the harsher realities of space travel and dangers of first contact with alien species. It has a more cavalier quality about it, kind of like Farscape. There’s no Prime Directive yet, and thanks to that, I think we’ll finally be able to get away from some of the cloying political correctness that was at once a strength and weakness of the Next Generation.

Best of all, there was not one single mention of the larger question of what it is to be human. One of the things that really annoys me about Trek is how it goes on and on defining the galaxy in terms of broader concepts of humanity, as if Star Fleet’s real mission is to spread some great human ideal to the heathen unwashed of the galaxy. The reality is that any alien species probably wouldn’t care much about humans, and certainly wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the broader questions of the human condition. Even the ship’s resident alien, Dr. Phlox, seemed to see humans as a more of a biological curiosity than anything else—which is a refreshing change from that sniveling sycophant Neelix.  I just hope Enterprise holds on to this more realistic view of humanity’s place in the galaxy.

As for the ship itself, I like that, too. Granted, this earlier Enterprise looks far more advanced than the Enterprise of the Original Series, but I think that’s just unavoidable. In this case, I’m going to apply some post-creative reasoning. That’s a term coined by Don Bellisario, the creator of Quantum Leap, whenever he tried to explain or justify glitches in that show’s continuity. Where Enterprise is concerned, we’re dealing with a much smaller ship that needs to house big, crude precursors of Star Trek technology. So it gives the ship a more crowded, technological feel. In the ensuing 100 years to Kirk’s Enterprise, the ships get much bigger and the technology gets much smaller. Therefore, get the later Enterprise’s more streamlined, art-deco look. Sound good?

What this really brings up is larger questions of continuity. And this is where I start to have some criticisms. Enterprise isn’t really such a bad show in and of itself. But, as I asked earlier, is it really a Star Trek show? I think we have two Treks these days: one based on the original vision of Gene Roddenberry and one based on the revisionist vision of Rick Berman, who currently helms the franchise.

In Roddenberry’s vision, the Star Trek universe clearly diverged from ours in 1992 with the onset of the Eugenics Wars that gave rise to Khan and other genetically engineered dictators. By all accounts, the Original Series portrayed this as a world-shattering event that changed everything. It was a large part of the mythos of the Original Series, and the basis for some of the more fundamental principles of the Federation which condemned genetic tampering.

Of course the 1990s have come and gone, with no Eugenics Wars to speak of. And the folks running Star Trek seem to see some value in maintaining the illusion that the future portrayed in the show represents our future. The powers that be say they do this to make the show more accessible to today’s viewers. Hence the rise of Berman’s revisionist regime. He made his disregard for established Star Trek history clear in a terrible time travel episode of Voyager, where the crew went back to a 1996 where the Eugenics Wars clearly never happened. In fact they came back to our 1996.

I’m certain we can expect more of this in Enterprise. The show’s opening credits contain an image of the International Space Station, which is something that likely wouldn’t have been built in the original Trek timeline. They don’t even seem to be adhering to Next Gen continuity. I remember a Next Gen episode where Picard said that disastrous first contact with the Klingons is what plunged the Federation and the Klingon Empire into their long war. But the first contact between humans and Klingons portrayed in the Enterprise pilot seemed to be a resounding success! So it seems that no continuity is sacred.

And I’d be able to accept that if it were an original show. But Trek has a long-established history known and respected by countless fans, who expect some measure of consistency.

So, in light of this fact, I ask again: is Enterprise really Star Trek? I say, yes and no.

I guess it all comes down to how you define Star Trek. Clearly the creators are trying to broaden that definition—and the fan base along with it—by dropping the Star Trek moniker from the title. If you’re a purist like me, then you’ll definitely have some problems with that.

Nit-picky fan points aside, there are some plot lines introduced in the pilot episode that seem iffy and gimmicky, most especially the enemies from the far-future. But change itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just remains to be seen whether the show will flourish in the more promising aspects of that change, or if it will degenerate into another formulaic, humdrum stillbirth like Voyager.

I hope it flourishes.

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