DeFlip Side #203: Enterprise Reconsidered

DeFlip Side #203: Enterprise Reconsidered.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

I’ve been going down a lot of Star Trek rabbit holes on the internet lately, obsessing over ship schematics and mission patches and uniform designs. An then I stumbled on a list of every episode of Trek listed in in-universe chronological order. And the completist in me said, “Yes, this feels right.” So I decided to do a complete chronological Star Trek re-watch.

But as I sat down to fire up the pilot episode of Enterprise, a little voice asked, “Does this feel right?”

I’ve bitched about Enterprise on DeFlip Side before, taking Berman and Braga to task for the sorry state of Trek in the early 2000s and their claim that it was “fan fatigue.” And this negative association almost scuttled my plans.

But I held my breath and pressed play. And damnit if Berman and Braga weren’t right. Maybe fan fatigue was real, because “Broken Bow” was a million times better than I remembered.  And having just finished the series, Enterprise is now, legit, my third favorite Star Trek series after TOS and DS9.

This has everything to do with the characters. Unlike other Trek series, every Enterprise character gets their due. And most episodes use the ensemble cast very well. I was especially surprised by how much nuance Jolene Blalock brings to T’Pol, when you get past that ridiculous catsuit. And John Billinglsly is frequently amazing as Phlox.

Then there’s Archer.

In Captain Jonathan Archer, we have the perhaps the most significant on-screen character development of any Starfleet captain to date. Scott Bakula portrays Archer with a bright-eyed optimism in the early seasons that transforms into an almost bitter cynicism by series end, as Enterprise ekes through an endless parade of deadly scrapes, culminating in the Xindi war.

Archer’s transformation mirror’s the show’s evolution. Every season of Enterprise feels like a different show.

In keeping with post-TOS tradition, season one is by far the weakest — an uneven hodge-podge of what felt like unused Voyager scripts, and NextGen-era fan service, including NextGen-style holograms, and a trip to Risa and the requisite dumb Ferengi episode. But it also gave us a kick-ass reimagining of Andorians and gave Jeffrey Combs yet another iconic Trek character in Shran.

Once season two gets under way, the show sheds most of its NextGen-era baggage and reinvents itself as really decent adventure of the week series, reminiscent of the original series. It’s just fun, and features one of the strongest episodes in all of Star Trek, “Cogenitor.” Then just as we’ve settled in, we get a gut punch from the Xindi invasion.

Now I had seen some of these episodes before, but my new-found investment in these characters had me breathless as Enterprise headed into the Expanse at the beginning of season three. What followed was a serialized war show, giving Enterprise an edge reminiscent of Deep Space Nine. I was actually invested in the outcome of the war (even though I knew how it ended) and was genuinely upset at some character deaths.

And all of this brings us to season four — the season many Trekkers say Enterprise actually became watchable, becoming a true prequel series to the original series. I admit that I was once a member of their ranks. Before this rewatch, I had seen season four multiple times and loved it. But now, not so much.

Placed in context with the rest of the series, much of season four feels like fan-fic. It’s like the new show runners were almost desperate to parade their TOS bonafides. As a result we get Khan-like augments and Organians and sexy Orion slave girls — and even a trip to the Mirror Universe in the TOS-era Constitution Class Defiant. I’m not saying most of these episodes aren’t fun; some are even excellent. But they often feel too much like a desperate attempt to appease stodgy fans like me. It was actually kinda distracting.

And it raised a question for me: is watching Star Trek in in-universe chronological order actually the best way to experience the franchise? I honestly don’t know.

Enterprise references many Trek touchstones, adding revelations that are a lot more fun after the fact. Discovering how the TOS-era Klingons lost their ridges? Freaking awesome. But if you see Enterprise first, it saps the joy of finding an answer to a long-time fan question.

It reminded me of recent reissues of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia that placed The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The former was actually a prequel that came out towards the end of the nine-book series that revealed the origins of many of that series iconic touchstones. But reading them in chronological order — and not the author’s intended order — kinda ruined both books.

Whether or not that holds true for Trek is mainly an academic discussion because I’ve seen most all of it anyway. What I do know for certain is that I was totally bummed when I got to the last episode of Enterprise. I wish I could spend more time with these characters, something I never thought I’d hear myself say.

If, like me, you feel trepidation at the prospect of an Enterprise rewatch, I’d say take a cue from Travis. When asked how he pilots Enterprise through constant pandemonium and danger, he quoted the great Chuck Yeager:

“I never let myself be afraid. I just focus on the dials and concentrate on flying.”

It’s good advice. Forget about your preconceptions and bad memories. Let go of the fear, and concentrate on watching without prejudice. You may find yourself at the end of that long road, glad you’ve gotten from there to here.