Trek: Enterprise" was renewed by the skin of its teeth
in May 2004 for a fourth season. The reasons were mostly
(although fan clamor did play a part). Rumors continue that
the program will wrap up at the end of Season 4 because
will be almost 100 episodes, which is the usual minimum to
sell a show into second-run syndication (where the owners
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
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?
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
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,
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
His C-plot in "Terra Prime/Demons" only showed how
poor an actor he is.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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
...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
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.
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
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.)