Eulogy for Star Trek

[Originally published on a now defunct web magazine in May 2005]

"All good things..."

May 13, 2005. The finale of Star Trek: Enterprise has just aired. I feel awful.

A cultural phenomenon like Star Trek deserved so much better than this furtive, hastily constructed holodeck coda to usher it into history. Did they actually plan to pull the plug on Friday the 13th? Probably not, but that doesn't surprise me. In my opinion, the Star Trek Powers That Be haven't been on top of things for a long, long time.

Season four of Enterprise was certainly its best. Enterprise finally hit its stride this season by delving into original series aliens and storylines, by expanding stories to two and three episode arcs in order to give them more depth. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late; this was what season one should have been, and wasn't. Enterprise lost its audience before it found its voice, and that's just so sad.

It certainly wasn't Scott Bakula's fault, or the fault of any member of the cast. I place the blame squarely on the Star Trek Powers That Be: Paramount, Rick Berman, and so on. Star Trek has been on life support since the final seasons of Deep Space Nine and the unfulfilled potential that was Voyager. What should they have done? What could have made yet another Star Trek series work?

Well, it always comes down to the writing. Recycle old plots and fail to innovate, and there's no framework to support the series. They needed to find a new direction right from the start. They needed to take risks with the format, to boldly go, so to speak. Maybe instead of Enterprise, they should have tried young recruits at Star Fleet Academy, or the adventures of Captain Sulu and the Excelsior. Instead, they were so terrified of killing their cash cow that they kept it reined in. It's ironic that this was what finally did kill Trek: their own lack of courage and vision, which is what Star Trek was always all about.

Maybe Enterprise never had a chance. Voyager was the series that should have been about human conflict and personal drama... and it wasn't. That ball got dropped but good before Enterprise even hit the drawing board.

Yes, Next Generation was the high point, the pinnacle of Trek. I can understand why the Powers That Be thought it was appropriate to return to Next Generation, to the glory days, for the finale. But to me, it felt disrespectful of Enterprise, which was its own unique self. It was like they were saying to the audience, "Hey, forget Enterprise, here's Next Generation again. Remember how good Star Trek used to be? And by the way, let's kill off the best character on Enterprise just to make it seem like we're giving you a finale. Are you fooled?" No, I wasn't. In fact, I think I'm pretty angry.

The initial rejected pilot for the original classic Trek series, "The Cage," was filmed in 1965, which was forty years ago. Star Trek has been with us for forty years, and now it's done, over, kaput. The only good thing about the finale was the last minute, when we heard Picard, Kirk, and Archer all talking about the continuing voyages, about boldly going where no man has gone before. It just feels so wrong that it ended this way.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

Jerry Modene said...

I actually liked the second finale of Enterprise (I'll explain what I mean in a second). It established Enterprise as a historically-viable part of Trek history (and ironically, the only part left untouched by Nero and Spock's alternate-reality creating ventures). And it was good to see Frakes and Sirtis again.

Now, what I mean by "second finale" is that the previous episode - which also ended with the NX-Enterprise getting their round of applause - was, to me, the series finale, as it wrapped up the story lines and ended with the defeat of the bad guy and so forth. What the "second finale" was was essentially a sequel to the series, explaining whatever happened to the NX crew (note that it was set some years after the previous episode). Perhaps they shouldn't have killed poor Trip, but then there is a theory being bandied about that the death was faked so Tripp could be recruited in that undercover-ops thing that Starfleet has going.

Anyway, I don't think the finale was as bad as some make it out to be. I do agree that Season 4 was their best season, as they seemed to be no longer trying to avoid any connection with any of the series that came before. I wonder how much of that "avoidance" had to do with the story that they kept "Star Trek" off the name of the series for the first three years because Paramount was trying to avoid having to pay royalties to the Roddenberry estate? If so, it wouldn't be the first time Star Trek had tried to deny its past - remember when TNG first came on the air, Roddenberry had declared there would be no Vulcans, no Klingons, and no Romulans - which is why he came up with the Ferengi as the TNG villains. Thankfully Justman was able to talk him into including Worf in the cast and the rest came later.

Great PurpleRobe said...

I know I'm 3 years late, but....

First off, the Roddenberry estate doesn't "own' Star Trek. In about 1977, Desilu Studios had gone bankrupt, and were selling off their assets to anyone who would buy them. They approached Gene about the possibility of his buying the 80 or so master films of the Star Trek series (the regular show, plus two pilots), for the low low price of $100,000. Gene didn't have the money, and couldn't raise it in sufficient time. The masters went to Paramount. One, this is the only reason we were able to get Next Gen et al back on the air, as well as getting the movies made -- because Paramount owned the property. I don't think Gene would have settled for anything reasonable if he had been owner of the property, just my opinion. The Roddenberry estate is able to market Star Trek merchandise under the Roddenberry name through a marketing agreement with Paramount (which, if I recall my SuperCorporation map, is now owned by Comcast/NBC).

I think the major problem with Enterprise was that it was a backstory series, covering a lot of ground that was already Canon in the 4 other shows. In the very first episode, for instance, we see Hoshi struggling to understand Klingon, when half of the Trek Fandom are shouting at their screens what the lost Klingon was saying. That we didn't need.

I, personally, was turned off by the fact that the Vulcans in Enterprise were downright inhospitable to the Humans. I mean, yes, most of our exposure to Vulcan culture was colored by our knowledge of Spock, who was biracial, and that DS9 hinted at the fact that some Vulcans are butts, and not all of them all nice, but on Enterprise it was a bit much. It took over 3 seasons for the Vulcans to finally let up on the Humans, and to finally forge an alliance that survives into the 24th Century. Gee, and all it took was Archer carrying the Katra of Surak and finding the Kir'Shara, no big...

After the '9/11 arc' as the Xindi season is sometimes called, Enterprise was able to get back to its origin stories. This time, it seemed, they were going to do it right. Season 4 rocked, as far as I was concerned. Episodes about the "humanification' of the Klingon ridges is explained, the fate of Vulcan is decided, dealings with the Andorians and the Tellerites are explored. It was terrific, and I wish they could have kept going. The Mirror Universe episodes were the best of the series, possibly the entire franchise.

And then -- they end the show on a bummer of a two-parter, and finish with a Holodeck history lesson from TNG? Wow, what a letdown. But, obviously, Paramount was under the gun to get the show cancelled, and the creators of Enterprise did what they could to bring the series to a close. I could have easily followed another two seasons if they had been more of Season 4.

My biggest problem with the show, like Voyager before it, was the casting of T'Pol. Not the casting of Jolene Blalock -- I can't begrudge an actor a paying gig -- but did we really need another stacked chick in a catsuit? It was really hard to take her part seriously, and I feel that T'Pol's presence seriously undercut any advancement of character that Linda Park's Hoshi could have hoped for. We didn't need the soap opera of T'Pol and Trip, and that, I believe, was what killed Enterprise.

Dustin said...

Wow, has it really been ten years without Star Trek on TV?!?!?

Seasons one and two of Enterprise were just too boring. Season 3 introduced elements that didn't fit into the larger Star Trek Universe. Season 4 was the only one worth a darn and if the whole show had been more like it, we would have had seven seasons of Enterprise and just might be currently wrapping up whatever follow-up series might have been.

The series producers used the term "franchise fatigue" to refer to why Enterprise did poorly in the ratings. They meant that the fans were worn out with the franchise. I agree that there was franchise fatigue, but it was not the fans who were tired of everything, it was the showrunners. Today, I can still pull up most episodes of TOS, TNG, or DS9 and eagerly sit down and watch them. I like Voyager, even though it was more hit and miss, but there are many episodes of Enterprise that feel like more of a chore than a joy to watch. We didn't have franchise fatigue, Berman and Braga had it and it showed.

As for the finale - I have always wished that instead of framing it within a weak TNG episode with a morose Riker, that they would have framed it as a holodeck adventure for the about to be married Rikers. They could have had the whole episode be more of a joy and spread it out over a longer period of NX Enterprise history. And don't get me started on the finale and Trip.