So, to begin my (likely) year-long binge of Star Trek, I began with “Broken Bow,” episode one of Star Trek: Enterprise. This show didn’t get a lot of love when it came out in 2001. And it was the first modern Trek to be canceled before reaching the seven year mark. As many have noted, it died when it just started to get good.
However, watching it as the beginning of a still-unfolding epic, more like Greek mythology or Tolkiens’s never-ending notes and scribbles on Middle Earth, Enterprise gets one thing right coming out of the gate. It’s seven people on a ship. It has to twist itself in places. Kirk’s Enterprise might be the first Federation ship to bear the name, but the name wasn’t used for ninety years because the last Starship Enterprise led to the beginning of the Federation.
And we have no Federation when we begin. Humans are like annoyed teenagers who just got their driver’s licenses (in the form of a Warp 5-capable ship) while the Vulcans are, let’s be honest, paternalistic, almost colonizers. This dichotomy is best personified by the Enterprise‘s captain, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and Vulcan’s dour ambassador, Soval (Gary Graham.) Soval is so doubtful of humanity’s chances he twists Starfleet’s arm to assign Vulcan Subcommander T’Pol (Jolene Blaylock.)
But T’Pol is not the “Spock” character in this series. That honor falls to Phlox, the Denobulan ships’ doctor. Denobulans’ social structure and deliberately crowded living conditions give Phlox a rather laid back perspective. We see humanity through him.
Archer is barely removed from characters one might see in For All Mankind. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga described him as a cross between Kirk and Han Solo, and sometimes, he is. However, if he has an analog in the AppleTV series, it’s probably Molly Cobb, the rebellious Apollo astronaut who refused to stay fired or succumb to blindness. Archer is going to take humanity to the stars, dammit, and like Cobb right up to the moment of her death, is going to do it his way. To do this, he taps Trip Tucker (Conner Trineer), a southerner who is Leonard McCoy’s spiritual ancestor, and the Alan Shepard to Archer’s John Glenn. (The show needed a Yuri Gagarin, a goofball pilot amazed he made it into space and lived to tell the tale, but that’s just me.) Rounding out the crew are Malcolm Reed (Dominic Green), Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), and Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery.) Reed, chief of security, is a throwback to present-day military. One might call him the very model of a modern major general, only this is not Strange New Worlds, is it? (Sorry, Una.)
Sato, whose legend is retrofitted into later Nu Treks, begins as a reluctant spacefarer, wanting to stay in Brazil and teach linguistics instead of talking to aliens. Sadly, her fate was slipped into the TOS episode “The Consience of the King” when a Mirror Universe episode reveals she would become one of Kodos the Executioner’s 4000 victims. Which made that episode hard to watch during the TOS portion of the binge. Mayweather is the helm, but he has less in common with Ortegas, Sulu, and Tom Paris than one would expect. He is a “boomer,” one who grew up on a space freighter. So instead of Archer’s (or Kirk’s or Pike’s) flyboy, we get someone at home in space treating the Enterprise as an extension of himself.
Season 1 shows humans blundering into space, proving the Vulcans right to worry about humans slipping the leash before their time. However, they also expose the Vulcans as interfering and a bit prejudiced. Even when confronted with evidence of the Temporal Cold War, the Vulcans are so rigid in their ways that even the Xindi attack on Earth fails to convince them it’s happening.
The show also begins with the Klingons. In fact, Klingons, not humans, are the first species we see. And we realize why they were so overwhelmingly hostile up through Discovery season 1. The Klingons are scared. They won’t show it, but the Klingons fear other species getting foothold in space. For all their bluster, the humans’ willingness to lend assistance and talk freaks them out. You realize, during the opening scene of “A Vulcan Hello,” why T’Kuvma doesn’t trust the words, “We come in peace.” It doesn’t help Archer escapes Rura Penthe and kills that generation’s Duras.
But the Andorians are the first to pair up with the humans, thanks to Shran (played to perfection by Jeffrey Combs.) Shran goes from reluctant ally when Archer exposes some Vulcan subterfuge to one of Archer’s best friends.
The high point of the show is Season 3, a season-long arc centered on the Xindi’s efforts to wipe out humanity. Seems a new player in the Temporal Cold War convinced the five-species collective humans would destroy them. They send a probe to Earth that scorches a swath of land from central Florida all the way to Venezuela. The Enterprise travels to the Delphic Expanse, where weird stuff happens.
If the show has a low point, it’s the finale. TOS got a finale in Star Trek VI. The other shows that have passed into history had solid finales, if varied in quality. (“All Good Things” and “What You Leave Behind” are classics. “Endgame,” not so much.) “These Are the Voyages…” Um… Yeah.
The intentions were good. Use the holodeck to tie Enterprise to The Next Generation. But basically, it’s Riker doing Enterprise fanfic with Troi along for the ride. It lands with a thud and even kills off Trip for pure shock value. Yes, it was great seeing Jonathan Frakes play off the cast, but really, do we need Riker giving romantic advice to T’Pol?
Overall, Enterprise works as the beginning of the Trek mythos by seamlessly weaving in later events from previous Treks, making the familiar technology more primitive. Trip’s engine room would scare the hell out of Scotty? No shields? Hoshi checking the universal translator’s work? Everyone scared of the transporter? It should make anyone nervous, a couple of Short Treks after the finale, Spock casually beams aboard the next Enterprise as an ensign and doesn’t even think twice about it as he strolls off with Una. In legacy Trek, with an occasional malfunction to the contrary, the transporters prove safer than the turbolift, which probably makes “Q&A” the perfect introduction to the next Starship Enterprise in this binge.
Like most Treks, Enterprise takes a season to find its footing and sometimes struggles to keep within canon. But as a whole, its a worthy capper to the Legacy Trek of the 90s and early 2000s.