ENT S02E22 Cogenitor (2 out of 5 stars). Archer meets that sitcom stock character, the more able version of himself, whose ship can get closer to astral phenomena, who has fancier sensors and who smoothly invites himself to dinner. Hanging a lantern on how undramatic these teasers are, Trip comments that nobody seems to be charging weapons. Deliciously, this benevolent counterpart is played by Tomalak himself, Andreas Katsulas – it’s been too long – and pretty soon, Enterprise is crawling with smooth-talking guests, with their liberal ideals, their photographic memories and their third sex, which gives the episode its title.

Nothing seems to baffle Trip more than this feature of their biology (and – despite observing that two sexes is the universal norm – nothing baffles the guests more than Trip’s bafflement). He refuses to let Phlox explain what’s going on, but then starts asking everyone else on board to help him understand. I’m more used to, and greatly prefer the enlightened crews of the Enterprise-D or Voyager who don’t tend to sit in judgment (or who at least earnestly debate the ethics first). Trip’s very twentieth century confusion is unimpressive, and of course it comes back to: in a few hours, the crew spots and tries to solve a systemic injustice which has existed for countless generations. “I’d expect this from a first year recruit,” comments Archer, once everything has gone to hell, and it’s hard to disagree. After years of watching a highly admirable crew work together to solve complex problems, it’s simply not as engaging to watch a supposedly likeable screw-up flail around clumsily and then face no consequences for his clodhopping actions. Whether we agree with Travis’s choices or not (and Archer’s fairly baffling decision to refuse asylum) this is poor storytelling, lacking the moral dimension it’s groping for. But it’s nice to see an alien culture which feels like it makes sense, and the final squeeze of vinegar helps a little (although it also makes for a grimly neat and tidy ending). Malcolm’s storyline doesn’t end, it’s simply abandoned. Travis and Hoshi are both MIA and we only see T’Pol lying about her age and organising a film show.

ENT S02E23 Regeneration (4.5 out of 5 stars). Having helped itself to the Ferengi, which were clearly first encountered by the Enterprise-D, Enterprise now helps itself to the Borg, which were even more clearly first encountered by the Enterprise-D. I’m not 100% sure what “sweeps” are, but I suspect they were happening around the time this aired. The scene in which the drones wake up and assimilate the hapless scientists is predictable, sure, but it’s well-mounted by director David Livingston and it’s more exciting than a lot of things which happen early on in Enterprise episodes. And I appreciate the patience of a story which spends this long on setting all this up, without needing to cut back to people with their names in the main titles.

Once we do get to Archer, T’Pol and so on, we essentially get a cover version of Q Who, only this time the Borg are mysterious only to the characters and not to us. This show is so keen to portray the crew as different from the 24th century characters that it keeps erring on the side of showing them as doofuses. Having them clueless in the face of antagonists we know so well does not help correct this tendency – so it’s gratifying when Archer realises that he’s dealing with some serious shit and takes unusually brutal but effective action. Having Phlox infected with nanoprobes is a great turn, and what much of the rest of the episode is focused on. His dispassionate assessment of his own mortal plight is rather touching and Billingsley shows again why he’s such an asset to this serious (Jolene Blalock has been rather underused lately).

As much as this tries to tie in with First Contact, it can’t be easily squared with other televised Borg stories, which calls into question the very idea of a prequel series, plugging gaps in the lore. But I’d much rather have a really exciting, well-told adventure that didn’t mesh perfectly with existing continuity than a box-ticking exercise which was dramatically inert.

ENT S02E24 First Flight (3.5 out of 5 stars). Here’s some speculative cutting-edge science which hasn’t dated too badly. Dark matter is almost certainly a thing, and still a mysterious one, which makes it a good topic for an story. Alas, rather in the vein of Carbon Creek, the bulk of this episode isn’t about bombarding an exotic nebula with made-up particles, but in the manner of Deep Space Nine, a long shuttle journey is used as a pretext for Archer to reminisce about an old friend who has just died unexpectedly. Once again, the supporting cast isn’t simply in the background, they’re completely absent, as this episode is laser-focused on whether or not Archer has the, er, “right stuff”.

It’s impossible to wring much tension or suspense about much of what happens because of the flashback structure, so this is going be highly dependent on how interesting the details are and how richly realised the characters are. Sadly, this is mainly people reciting technobabble at each other or spelling out the subtext for the hard of feeling. That said the Mission Control/experimental flight/pushing the engineering limits is a pretty solid premise, working as well here as it does in Apollo 13, or the opening of Top Gun Maverick, to pick just two examples. The pilot error/lousy engine debate in the bar degenerates into fisticuffs, further cementing Archer’s position as the least enlightened captain the franchise has ever centred.

Maybe not surprisingly, it’s the framing story – where we don’t know the ending – which is most successful, as once again Jolene Blalock shows her immense class, gently probing Archer for more details as her understanding and appreciation of his efforts slowly grows. Remember that Berman and Braga’s concept for Season 1 of Enterprise was basically going to be twenty-six episodes of this. Might have been more effective in that context.

ENT S02E25 Bounty (1.5 out of 5 stars). A particularly sixties looking alien teddy bear makes off with Archer and MVP T’Pol is stuck in quarantine (and in her scanties) after an away mission. It seems he is still wanted by the Klingons after the events of Judgment and there’s a price on his head. His bonding with his captor is all pretty routine but Jordan Lund manages to carve out something like a character under all that latex and fur, even if the ending can be seen coming from a light year away.

The combination of tactile gel application (seriously, have they never heard of showers in the twenty-second century?) and T’Pol’s premature Pon Farr makes the usually fairly pervy decon scenes look like the something out of the Red Shoe Diaries, and although played perfectly by Blalock and Billingsley, the shooting makes it clear that this is another laughable attempt to “keep the dads watching”, something which no previous series ever worried about (much). Roxann Dawson handles the tense pursuit of an escaping T’Pol rather better. But T’Pol’s absence from the bridge doesn’t affect the main plot at all, so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the only point of this plotline was to have Blalock writhing around half-dressed. It’s also very weird that T’Pol claims never to have been through Pon Farr before. It’s supposed to happen every seven years. Has she been an adult for less time than that? Surely not. Archer’s oral skills would leave Houdini reeling.

ENT S02E26 The Expanse (3 out of 5 stars). If you can overlook the crummy video game-style effects, this dialogue-free teaser does have some impact, depicting as it does a weird alien ship which carves a metres-wide swathe of destruction across populated areas of planet Earth. Wow. After the titles we’re back to the pursuit of Archer by the Klingons which feels rather like letting the air out of the balloon. And there’s a feeling that the production team doesn’t trust either of these potentially massive plotlines, because now, only about five minutes into the episode, the Suliban are back and have abducted Archer.

After a set-to with the Klingons and an awful lot of rather arid debating, Archer is allowed to use the info from the future and is despatched to the Delphic Expanse in pursuit of the death-dealing Xindi. T’Pol has to decide whether to stay onboard, and helpfully Phlox is there to spell out the nature of her dilemma, just in case we can’t figure it out for ourselves. Archer doesn’t even bother to pick out a new science officer – partly because he doesn’t know the name of anybody else on board, partly because he (and I) know she isn’t really going to be dropped off on Vulcan. Trip’s thick-eared bloodlust is yet another stain on what’s rapidly becoming my least favourite regular character in the franchise. And this one doesn’t end, it just stops. To be continued… Archer on the bridge in a cardi is not a good look for him.

Enterprise S2 overview

  • Season 2 doesn’t feel like a massive improvement over Season 1 and this is reflected in the scores. A very similar average of 2.87 with still no 5 star classics, and plenty of “will this do?” episodes hovering around three stars, plus or minus one half.
  • Jolene Blalock as T’Pol is revelatory, far more than another Seven of Nine or Number One, and her relationship with Archer is the backbone of this show. But Scott Bakula seems stuck playing the Captain as a pissed off headmaster, and who can blame him, with this crew full of dopey screw-ups to contend with.
  • That’s really Trip and Malcolm I’m talking about. Phlox is good at his job (and Billingsley at his) but Hoshi and Travis have barely been in this season, and when the scripts refuse to recognise the existence of any member of the crew who isn’t in the opening titles, not even giving them a chance to show us what they can do is pretty unforgiveable.
  • I could also do without the retconning of the Vulcans. The noble, compassionate, logical and dignified characters of TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager have been replaced by a snotty gang of precious and blinkered school bullies who are full of pride, jealousy, snobbery, secrecy, prejudice, treachery and various other toxic emotions. And a series which is filling in the past really ought to be taking more care over things like the use of mind melds.
  • Maybe part of the problem is that Berman and Braga are writing So Many Scripts. A full 14 out of 26 shows this year have their names on them, and for seven they are the sole credited writers. For a franchise used to spreading the load, that’s putting a lot of pressure in a small space.
  • And Enterprise still isn’t sure what show it’s trying to be. Does it want to be Star Trek But Nobody’s Got Their Act Together? Does it want to be Here’s A Hole In Future History Plugged For You? Would it be better off being Time Travel Adventures In The Future? Nobody seems to know, and to be honest, none of these are great ideas for shows. Star Trek in the mid-twenty-second-century could work, but you need to back off from the idea that everyone before Kirk’s time was a dope for that to work.
  • The best shows this year just concentrated on strong adventure plotting, where we don’t notice how thin the characters are and where we aren’t being distracted by either Star Trek’s own past or it’s newly-imagined Temporal Cold War future. In episodes like Minefield, Regeneration or even Marauders we can just enjoy the Thrilling Escapes From Death and go along for the ride. But even that displays a lack of ambition which is very surprising after the massive serialisation of DS9 and the bonkers big swings of Voyager.
  • So maybe it’s not surprising that this episode is being used to upset the status quo. Maybe in Season 3, Enterprise will finally grow the beard.
Trekaday #116: Canamar, The Crossing, Judgment, Horizon, The Breach
Trekaday #118: The Xindi, Anomaly, Extinction, Rajiin, Impulse, Exile