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Season 4: Go Big, Go Bold, Go for Broke

ENT logo"Star Trek: Enterprise" was renewed by the skin of its teeth in May 2004 for a fourth season. The reasons were mostly financial (although fan clamor did play a part). Rumors continue that the program will wrap up at the end of Season 4 because that will be almost 100 episodes, which is the usual minimum to sell a show into second-run syndication (where the owners make their profits).

UPN suits, who were responsible for the reluctant renewal, complain that ENT has been losing audience and ratings each year. In an effort to "broaden the show's appeal to the mainstream," the aforementioned suits and the Trek PTB tried to raise ratings by changing the Trek formula to ramp up the sex (Dawn Ostroff, UPN President: "More skin across the board on every show," ) and tone down Gene Roddenberry's envelope-pushing (Rick Berman: "This is Star Trek, play it safe!").

The studio heads have already written off the show, we fear, leaving us 22 episodes before the NX-01 goes to warp for good. I sez: if you gotta go, go big and go bold. What do we have to lose?

Forget whatever gimmicks the network kahunas think will bring back the vanished viewers. Reward the ones who never left, the Trekkie faithful who have kept the franchise alive for close to 40 years now. Tell daring, powerful stories. Shake up the status quo. Kill people off. Spin complicated political plots and challenge our crew to navigate the waters safely. If it works, it's a great send-off, and could possibly revive the series enough to earn it a fifth year. If it fails, at least they tried.

Berman and Braga (and newly promoted co-executive producer Manny Coto) have done this before. Whether you liked it or hated the Xindi arc, at least they made the effort to do something new and interesting when the previous two seasons weren't achieving what they wanted.

And how do we go about this ambitious undertaking? Good storytelling. Period.

The two parts of any story are Character and Plot. ENT's characters need to be rounder and more complicated. They need to move beyond the stereotypes and quick character summaries of the first season. The plots need to be riskier -- although without abandoning what defines Star Trek. Taking a chance for the sheer sake of doing something different, rather than for a tactical twist, tends to leave viewers bored or annoyed.

The two issues which are key to a serial story are keeping the action believable, and building on past events. These need work. If the viewers don't buy what Archer did this week, they might not come back next week. If Trip loses his sister, his bereavement and anger should last and slowly ebb over several months. To be fair, outlandish stories and characters who sometimes live in a vacuum are franchise problems, not just B&B's, but that doesn't mean ENT has to keep on going that way. It only takes a little reality-checking from outside sources to keep things from getting out of whack.

So how could "Enterprise" deliver on big bold believable characters and plots which integrate what's happened on the series so far?

Character

ENT has missed out on a lot of character development, especially in sacrifice to the Xindi arc. This is the year to address that problem. These changes, these developments, should grow out of what's already happened to these people, and who they have come to be. As T'Hain correctly points out in her Dictates of Poetics, "a character's actions must flow inexorably from his or her established traits." We need to see how the last three years, and especially Season 3, have affected the crew. They've gone through a war. They've saved the planet, and possibly a large chunk of the quadrant. They're not the same innocent happy-go-Risa adventurers from "Broken Bow." Show us that, in more than blood-spilling spats and corn syrup speeches. Season 3 is over, but it should not go away.

TripTrip: Now that he's ostensibly gotten past the worst of his grief over Lizzie, he should return to his love of exploration. His sense of awe and wonder may be understandably diminished, but all last year he was grimly focused on one task. Let's see him take joy again in finding out what's beyond the next star. We should also see a return to his place as unofficial ship's counselor, acting as the sounding board for the crew (and captain). Resurrecting his dying friendship with Archer would be nice too.

Big and Bold: Trip does very well in when he's in charge, as he's repeatedly shown when Archer and T'Pol are off the ship making the universe safe for democracy or whatever. How about giving him a bigger taste of that? We don't know if Trip has any ambitions for command. What if Trip himself hasn't given much thought to it, and suddenly finds that he likes it? Watching him struggle between his loyalty to Enterprise and his desire to strike out on his own could be fascinating, and revealing.

And while Archer and Trip are trying to reforge their decade-long relationship, they need to talk about Sim. The poor clone has only been brought up once since his demise, in a throwaway line to further an awkward plot. Did Sim leave personal logs? What does Trip think of the entire incident? Does he blame Archer? Phlox? Himself? Does he feel angry, relieved, bewildered, betrayed, objectified, used, resigned?

Upshot: Coto never did explore Trip's emotions from S3 or much of his relationship with Archer, but we did see him more like himself. His scenes with Malcolm in "Babel One/United" were a welcome return of The Disaster Twins, and he was strong and commanding in the Vulcan Civil War arc.

MalcolmMalcolm: We should get inside his head. What drives him? How does he feel about having someone die under his command? Does he enjoy inventing, or is it only a tool to solve the problem at hand? What relationship does he have with his sister? Will he try to mend fences with his parents, or cut his father loose as bad baggage? Does he trust the Andorians, or the Vulcans, or does he think Terra and Starfleet should go it alone? How does he feel about Archer's decisions in the Expanse, now in the cold light of day? Does he genuinely believe that in the end, the captain is always right? Does he think that certain things should have been handled better?

Big and Bold: He's the Tactical Officer. Have we been witness to his tactical prowess? Let's see him plotting ahead for the next few years, or the next few decades. He could be drawing up recommendations and protocols for future Starfleet vessels. His experiences with the Xindi could leave him swinging from reactionary to radical in an effort to cope. After looking back over what Enterprise had to do to save Terra, he could even reconsider his commitment to the service -- a devastating blow for a son of a military family.

Upshot: Besides "Babel One/United," Malcolm's big outing was the proto-Section 31 subplot of the Klingon forehead episodes. It didn't feel believable, because this tough brilliant clever spy was somehow all weepy over being exposed, and he displayed a loyalty to Archer which was so unearned it was almost demented.

ArcherArcher: Season 3 was The Archer Show, frequently to the detriment of the rest of the cast. It was apparently necessary to make everyone else look like an idiot at least once in order to show how fabulous the captain was. Let's give the poor man a break this year and let the ensemble do the work.

Big and Bold: Archer should be more cautious in Season 4. He should be feeling the burn of command, the weight of everything he did last year in the name of the Almighty Mission. Let's see him up late nights, talking to Porthos, dictating a log, grieving over Sim, wondering whether the Ossarians now think they have license to prey on Terran vessels without the barrier of the Expanse to hem them in.

Archer made a few half-hearted comments over the year about crossing the line, and one colossally stupid decision in "Azati Prime" that somehow he was not allowed to order anyone else to die, and that was it. All that suppressed anguish should come back to bite him on the butt. His scenes should be short and emotional through Christmas. And some of those scenes should be with Trip, trying to reconnect with his friend. Archer used him as a tool, and that should be acknowledged and dealt with.

Archer's the captain. He has act like one, consistently. Tin-pot dictators don't belong in Starfleet. Tantrums like the one which fueled ANIS are not acceptable. Ignoring the recommendations of his senior staff repeatedly makes everyone look bad. He needs to be the head, and the head of the team -- not just the Guy In Front.

Upshot: The inquiry board and the anguish on the mountain in "Home" were a good start, but it didn't get any deeper than that. He took point in the Vulcan Civil War arc and wound up the salvation of the Klingons, but at least the rest of the cast got some decent screen time.

T'PolT'Pol: Vulcans with emotions aren't Vulcans as the Trekiverse knows them, they're just Aliens of the Week. And who cares about random aliens? We wanna see Vulcans. I'd love to see T'Pol spending time trying to recreate her emotional control and studying the philosophies of Surak. That would allow us a window into backstory we've never seen before: the inner workings of Vulcan society on a day-to-day basis. She could also spend some quality time wrestling with anti-Andorian prejudice, in one of the plot lines I'll suggest below.

Moderate and Calm: Personally, I just want to see her get past the foolish, hysterical helplessness which overwhelmed her in Season 3. It was unattractive to the point of nausea, and did nothing for her or the story. It was the definition of in-credible, not-believable, for a Vulcan. The addiction plotline, dropped in abruptly and "solved" in a TV hour, was a creaky deus ex medicina to allow for the sexual pairing which the writers apparently couldn't figure out how to develop and present in an adult manner à la Kira and Odo, or even Paris and Torres. T'Pol shouldn't have to be a dope fiend, a tart, or an idiot to be interesting. The Subcommander was complex and unique just as she was at the end of Season 2. Let's see a return to that balanced, curious, subtle scientist.

Upshot: The saddest case and the biggest loss of all the characters. She joined Starfleet but kept the catsuits, helped Archer save Vulcan but didn't get to be in the final moments, and never regained her control or her equilibrium. We heard about her studying Surak, but never saw it, and if Blalock thought "wooden" equals "controlled," she needs acting lessons. Or maybe she was tired of the whole thing and was phoning it in just to get it over with. By "Bound" the writers had completely stripped her of her remaining vestiges of Vulcanity, and she ended the series as Polly, a human with an ear job.

Silent TravTravis: Give the man a life. And some lines.

Big and Bold: Turn him into a reckless risk-taker, always in front of every Away Team, making wisecracks on the Bridge, volunteering for everything. Why? Because he was just part of a mission to save the galaxy, but he doesn't feel like he accomplished anything. He hardly left the ship the whole season. The crew would be lauded as heroes, but Travis would be plagued with inner doubts about being worthy of all the adulation -- so he'd set out to prove that he is really as daring and dashing and brave as the news says. He can make big mistakes, but also pull off huge upset rescues. He could resign from Starfleet and join the MACOs. If TPTB wanted to be really bold, they could put Trav into a fix where the typical Trek ending is that he emerges from the dust of battle, bloodied but unbowed -- and then actually kill him off. For real. No reset button.

Upshot: Nothin'. His C-plot in "Terra Prime/Demons" only showed how poor an actor he is.

HoshiHoshi: While we're handing out lives, make sure she gets one too, and not as a receptionist or another decon mannequin.

Big and Bold: In "Exile," there was the tantalizing suggestion that Hoshi's linguistic skills are due to some kind of telepathic ability. Play that up. She should be doing more than reporting on hailing frequencies; she should be a junior diplomat. The ship could meet with a totally telepathic species, and their communication could nearly possess her.

Or separately, why is Hoshi out here? Once they return to Terra in the proper timeline, Hoshi will have the chance to leave Enterprise and return to ground duty. Why does she choose to stay? What tie binds her to Archer? What if Hoshi stays on Enterprise because she feels she owes something to someone, but then finds her own reasons to continue the journey? Give her some depth.

Travis and Hoshi are the most blank slates, because they've done so little that they have almost no past to build on, and practically anything they do could be written as "believable" if done properly. Run with that.

Upshot: "Observer Effect" was apparently Coto's attempt to make up for four years of not having any character development for her at all, but the traits and history he invented for her didn't jibe with episodes which already aired. We got a hint of her friendship with Phlox, but other than that she might have been invisible.

PhloxPhlox: The doctor is second only to Archer in making life-altering decisions which are crying out for follow-ups. Let's hear about the relations between Denobula and Antara. What if one of his wives leaves him? Or one of his children marries into a race which doesn't believe in polygamy? What if another race developed the cure for the Valakians' medical problem, and the Valakians come back to arrest Phlox when they realize that he chose not to help them?

Big and Bold: One potential landmine from last year is Phlox's relationship with Trip. Between the "alternative therapy" which he prescribed and repeatedly fussed over and forced forward and his actual rearing of Sim, the doctor took an almost paternal interest in the Commander. What about backlash to that? Phlox tries yet again to do what he thinks is best for Trip, and Trip loses it and tells him to butt out and sod off. Phlox would be astonished and hurt at the rebuff, and dealing with the rejection -- and his actions which caused the rejection -- could give us a window into how he thinks.

Upshot: Phlox's main outing, in the Klingon episodes, didn't teach us anything we didn't already know. The Augments arc did introduce us to his boyfriend Dr. Lucas, but we didn't get to spend any signficant time with the two of them.

Of course, characters develop in reaction to what happens to them. Those stories need to be properly constructed, ahead of time and not on the fly, and with an eye on what will happen down the road. As Berke Breathed was fond of reminding us in Bloom County, foreshadowing is a valid literary technique. Use it. TPTB showed that they understood how to create a season-long arc with the Xindi, so they can do it again in Season 4, although with a lighter hand.

Plot

"Enterprise," being a prequel series, is slightly handicapped in the sense of building on the past, because a lot of it hasn't happened yet. And the farther TPTB wander from established "history," the louder the fans yell. Sooooooo...make it happen! Make that the basic structure for the season. What's due to occur in the Trekiverse in the next 10 years? What could be more believable than actually living up to the "prequel" premise which was promised when the series was first developed?

Birth of the Federation: We know, from previous Trek canon and Daniels's most recent lecture, that the founding members of the Federation are Terra, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar. At the end of Season 3, Vulcans and Andorians are pretty much ready to strangle one another on sight. Let's work on that. Commander Shran seems to like Archer, or at least likes having Archer in his debt. T'Pol can usually get through to Archer. Let's see them each battling for Archer's trust, and Archer struggling for theirs. How would T'Pol react if Trip became close with an Andorian? What if Shran saved Soval's life, and then T'Pol saved Shran's? How are the Tellarites -- combative, short-tempered, Klingons-without-the-B.O.-and-bat'telhs Tellarites from TOS's "Journey to Babel," not the wimpy mushballs from "Bounty" -- going to enter this equation? These are pivotal questions to the founding of the Trekiverse. I think the whole series should have focused on this, but a season will be good.

Upshot: We finally got a taste of this in "Babel One/United" but after that, nothin'. The Augments and Klingon arcs showed specific prequel events, which was nice but limited. "Terra Prime/Demons" was clunky and completely unbelievable.

The Romulan War: Then there are those pesky Romulans.

...You will note beyond our vessel a line of Earth outpost stations. Constructed on asteroids, they monitor the Neutral Zone established by treaty after the Earth-Romulan conflict a century ago. As you may recall, this conflict was fought, by standards today, with primitive atomic weapons and in primitive space vessels which allowed no quarter, no captives, nor was there even ship-to-ship visual communication. Therefore, no human, Romulan, or ally has ever seen the other.

So how did the war start? Having just come off seven million casualties of the Xindi, maybe Terra and Starfleet still have an itchy trigger finger about aggressive races blowing up their vessels? It could be something as stupid as Captain Stiles's ship blundering into the minefield but not escaping, and Starfleet going into overkill in sending in the troops. Travis could lead an Away Team over Malcolm's insistence and come back covered in glory, then two or three missions later get killed trying to rescue someone. Those deaths then fuel retaliation against the Romulans, and hostilities escalate.

Big and Bold: Blend the two. Archer trying to get Shran and Soval to trust one another on one hand, and trying to stop Columbia and Intrepid from charging after the mysterious Romulans and setting off the entire quadrant on the other. Or maybe Andorians save some Vulcan ships from Romulan attack, and that begins to build the trust necessary for the Federation to be formed.

People should change sides, or be of uncertain alliance. DS9 raised this kind of whose-side-are-you-on characterization to an art form. It makes for riveting, suspenseful storytelling, since you can never quite put your finger on whether Gowron is a Changeling or just a Klingon on steroids, whether Shran is helping Archer to get his friend out of a jam or to take a pound of pinkskin flesh later on.

Upshot: Well, we did get the Mirror Universe episodes! Those truly kicked ass.

Mom!Want proof this can all be done on ENT? I have one word for you: "Twilight."

Think about it: they blew up the ship and killed off every cast member in the credits. Terra went FOOM. The mission to stop the Xindi failed. Trip visibly aged and suffered and matured after watching Terra get destroyed. T'Pol screwed up, resigned, grew, and softened. Malcolm and Hoshi were promoted. Big, bold, realistic consequences, and building on the past. Now, obviously there are a limited number of times the writers can wipe out Enterprise and the bridge crew before it gets old, but my point is, that kind of powerful writing can be accomplished on this show, with this crew. There doesn't need to be a reset button or stunt casting to do this kind of work.

In taking risks, in taking all the previous tiptoeing and soft-pedalling and chucking it out the airlock, in remembering what's happened to everyone and showing the effects, ENT has nothing to lose except a reputation for mediocrity. Streamlined, character-driven, fact-checked plots and mini-arcs can send the show out with a bang -- or even keep it going another year.

And, of course, we can't forget the one thing "Star Trek: Enterprise" absolutely needs before it goes off the air: a role for Majel Barrett Roddenberry! (Upshot: We heard her doing the computer voice in "In a Mirror, Darkly part 2." I'll take it.)

Photos: StarTrek.com