Enterprise “Two Days and Two Nights” (part 1 of 4)
Part of the fun of Trek fandom is that no two fans will have the same opinion of the franchise. There are those who believe, for example, that the original series was a truly groundbreaking piece of TV history, replete with iconic characters, thought-provoking storylines, and plenty of thigh. Then there are those who believe it was a camp bit of nonsense, all wobbly sets, ultra-miniskirts, and hammy acting. Personally, in the interests of saving time, I prefer to call these two groups of people “sane” and “crazy” respectively, but that’s just me.
It doesn’t end there, however. For every person who sings the praises of The Next Generation for picking up the long-abandoned Trek baton and running like crazy with it, there’ll be another scoffing at the pure ’80s wackiness that placed a therapist on the bridge next to the captain, and had an adolescent boy piloting the ship.
And for every person who admired Deep Space Nine for its involved story arcs and bold new concept, there’s my father, neatly summing it up as an experience akin to “watching a security camera in a shopping mall”. And so it goes on.
But there’s one thing I’ve discovered that unites almost every Star Trek fan the world over. And that’s a shared loathing of Enterprise. I have yet to meet one person who has anything flattering to say about this series (although, it’s alleged they do exist, in mysterious corners of the internet). This is perhaps part of the reason I’ve never watched a single episode in its entirety, not even as I write this intro.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to be easily swayed by popular opinion—I fearlessly plunged into the minefield known as the Star Trek movies, and I must confess to loving them all (although The Motion Picture is probably going to remain a one-night stand, because quite frankly, I’m not sure I have enough stamina to endure that kind of tantric experience twice).
And I actually have dipped a tentative toe in the murky waters of Enterprise a few times prior to this; I just never made it very far, mostly because I simply zoned out due to utter lack of interest. For the most part, I’ve been content to trust the opinion of older, wiser, braver Trekkies than me, and leave Enterprise gathering dust on the shelf. That is, until now.
Given that I’m an almost total newbie to this series, I decided to treat this recap as something of a scientific experiment. Other than my unavoidable knowledge of this series’ poor reputation, and some unhappy abortive attempts at watching it myself, I’m approaching this recap with no real idea of what lies ahead, or what I’ll make of it. Unlike the bad movie recapper’s usual tactic, which is to see a movie, experience significant pain, and then resolve to tear it to shreds with a vengeance, I’m coming at this blind.
Will I loathe Enterprise as much as popular opinion would have me believe? Will it turn out to be that special brand of bad that’s actually loads of fun, or will it just be plain bad? Will I take the emergency cyanide capsule in my top desk drawer before the opening credit sequence is even over? Will you hold my hand?
Okay, here goes nothing. A great big load of nothing, according to Albert. I feel slightly nauseous, like when I’m about to take a final exam.
The episode starts out with a standard shot of the Enterprise in orbit around an Earth-like planet. I have to say, I find these slick computer-generated renderings of the ship kind of jarring; it makes the Enterprise look more technologically advanced than starships will look however many years later, during Kirk’s stint as captain. I’ll admit there’s really no way around that problem (short of dusting off old models from 1950s B-movies), but it’s just one of what I suspect will be many little anachronisms that arise from doing a prequel series.
Captain Archer’s log informs us that they’ve finally made it to the planet called Risa. Oh, dear God, it’s a Risa episode. (Why do I dread Risa episodes so? More on that in a bit.) Interestingly, it seems that they haven’t started using Stardates yet. Archer tells us the date is February 18, 2152. Cute.
Cut to Archer and T’Pol strolling through a corridor, and everything looks sort of like the inside of a submarine. Are our friends all aboard? Do many more of them live next door?
Archer is telling T’Pol that, if anything should happen, she knows where to reach him, and oh dear, I really don’t think I’m going to like this T’Pol. I’ve found that Vulcans can run the gamut from mellow (Saavik, Voyager‘s sadly underused Vorik) to gruff (Tuvok, Sarek) to kind of sassy (Spock, Valeris), all under the guise of logic and restrained emotion. They’re my favourite Trek species, actually. What can I say? A large part of me has to relate to the guy standing at the back of the room with his armed folded, rolling his eyes at everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever met one I didn’t like. Until now.
In this episode, T’Pol comes across as nothing more than a stone-cold bitch most of the time, with a facial expression indicative of an unpleasant smell in the air. And this opening scene is no exception. In a dry, monotonous, and unabashedly contemptuous voice, she tells Archer that if there are any problems while he’s away, she’ll alert him immediately.
Archer then confesses that it doesn’t feel right going down to “some pleasure planet” while half the crew stay on board. And funnily enough, he says “some pleasure planet” in exactly the same dismissive tones that most Trek fans use to talk about Risa, and episodes set on Risa.
[Editor’s Note: Guess which Star Trek actor directed this episode? Michael Dorn, the guy who played Worf. If you’ll recall, Worf was the focus of Deep Space Nine‘s own terrible Risa episode. And if anyone should have been aware of the pitfalls of doing a Risa episode and been able to avoid them, it’s Dorn. Instead, he and the writers really went that extra mile to remove all excitement from the concept, making this “pleasure planet” seem about as exotic and sensual as a church picnic. You really have to wonder if this was his subconscious attempt to make “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” look like a decent episode in comparison. —Albert]
T’Pol reminds Archer they all drew lots, and everyone had the same chance of being picked, but Archer insists that the crew should come first. Then T’Pol almost causes me to wet my pants with fear as she turns to Archer, stares unblinkingly at him, and says, “Captain, you need a vacation,” in a tone of voice so stern and sinister I think she might actually have meant, “Captain, I need to snack on your brains.”
And I can’t help but be reminded of the original series episode “Shore Leave”, and the hilariously devious way Spock persuaded Kirk to take a break, and how he, like, managed to not come across as a complete psychopath at any point in the conversation. My hand is involuntarily jerking towards the cyanide already, and we’re not even one minute in yet.
There’s a close-up on Archer’s pet dog, whom a quick googling reveals is named Porthos. Porthos, in his one brief close-up, displays more likeability than either of the two principal human actors in the episode thus far. He lets out a whimper (quite understandable) and follows Archer and T’Pol into a turbolift.
They reach the shuttlecraft bay, where various crewmembers mill about in their civvies. And in the grand old tradition of Risa outfits, everyone’s clothes are garish and hideous. Ensign Hoshi Sato approaches Archer and tells him she’s glad he decided to take a holiday. Archer declares, “Wouldn’t miss it!” T’Pol gives him the evil eye for no particular reason. I guess it’s just Vulcan’s privilege.
T’Pol then sees them off with “Enjoy yourselves,” and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it comes out sounding more like “Enjoy plummeting to your fiery deaths.”
A shot of two shuttlecraft heading towards Risa takes us to the opening credits. Wait, that was it? That’s our teaser? Gosh, I’m positively wracked with suspense!
And then come the Enterprise opening credits and accompanying theme tune, which make all the joy and the hope in me shrivel up and die. It takes rainbows and kittens and ice cream and replaces them with rotting corpses and cockroaches and the Westboro Baptist Church.
This is the point at which I gave up on Enterprise so many, many times before, because I simply could not endure it, and I didn’t even feel generous enough to close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears and wait for it to pass. Every time I heard this song, my capacity for goodwill was instantaneously drained by the drivel that is the lyrics—with its nonsensical cheese-and-corn combo that’s supposed to incite pride and wonder and inspiration, but simply has me reaching for the sick bag. And that’s before we even get to the revolting montage of technological achievements of, well, America, which takes us right back to horrid Space Race-era politics, and that nauseating brand of patriotism for which many criticise Star Trek.
Now, I’ve never had much time for people who cite chest-beating, flag-waving jingoism as a negative in Star Trek, generally speaking. Yes, there was that cringe-inducing incident known as “The Omega Glory”, but I simply prefer to dismiss that as a bad dream.
In general, however, Star Trek does a pretty good job of focusing on a future with a united Earth, and a set of values and principles entirely its own. Sadly, this contemporary pop song and all the accompanying imagery of stuff that happened about five minutes ago drags me right back to the present day, and makes the Enterprise seem like it isn’t all that far removed from us, which I hate. And I do realise that having characters more like present-day humans was the whole point of the show, but that only makes things worse.
I suppose, as a Brit, I just liked the inclusiveness of the old Trek, the idyllic version of our future in which no single nation was dominant. To quote the great Eddie Izzard, when you lot were sending man to the moon, we couldn’t even afford to send a man in a tracksuit up a ladder. And the traditional spacescape openings of Trek, with their majestic orchestral themes, seemed far removed from all that gubbins.
And now we return to our regularly scheduled snark.