Jul 16, 2020
Star Trek: Enterprise “These Are the Voyages...” (part 1 of 2)
As incredible as it is to believe, it’s now been over 12 years since Star Trek: Enterprise aired its final episode. At the time, ratings for the show were hitting all-time lows, Nemesis had recently bombed in theaters, and there was a constant refrain of “franchise fatigue” from the powers that be, so it certainly looked like Star Trek was about to be put out to pasture for a good long time.
Of course, it didn’t turn out that way—a new Star Trek film was in production two years later, and the decade since has seen the release of two more feature films of varying quality. And now, Star Trek is finally returning to where it belongs: on TV. The new show Star Trek: Discovery, yet another prequel series, premieres on CBS this Sunday, and will then be available on CBS’s All Access streaming platform thereafter (in the US, anyway; international viewers will be able to watch the show on Netflix).
To mark the occasion, I decided to take a look at the last time Star Trek was on TV, specifically with the Enterprise series finale “These Are the Voyages…” which originally aired on May 13, 2005. Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who also created the show, wrote the finale and stated in interviews that it was intended as a “valentine to the fans”. But to most of those fans, it was pretty much anything but.
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The episode features Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprising their Next Generation roles of Riker and Troi in framing scenes where they use the Enterprise-D’s holodeck to recreate the final mission of the NX-01. And these framing scenes specifically take place during the events of the seventh season TNG episode “The Pegasus”.
You don’t really need to know the plot of “The Pegasus” to follow the episode, but it helps a bit, so here goes. The Enterprise-D welcomes aboard Admiral Pressman (Terry O’Quinn, years before his big breakout role of John Locke), who also happens to have been Riker’s commanding officer when he served as helmsman years ago aboard the USS Pegasus. There was an accident aboard the ship, and Riker and Pressman and a handful of other crew members were able to escape before the ship was apparently destroyed. But Pressman reveals that the ship survived and they’ve pinpointed the location of the wreck. Pressman needs Picard and crew to help retrieve what’s left of the Pegasus before the Romulans get to it and access the top secret technology inside.
Eventually, we learn that the Pegasus actually possessed an experimental cloaking device that was developed in defiance of a treaty with the Romulans. Pressman orders Riker not to reveal the existence of this illegal technology, but eventually Riker comes clean to Picard, and the crew of the Enterprise uses the cloaking device to get the ship out of a bind and Picard immediately surrenders it to the Romulans.
I can certainly understand why Berman and Braga wanted to revisit “The Pegasus” in this final outing; it’s one of TNG’s most fondly remembered episodes, and it also aired in 1994, when the Star Trek franchise was clearly at its peak, with two successful shows on the air, a blockbuster film about to premiere in theaters, and another new show set to debut as the foundation of a brand new broadcast TV network.
But ultimately, returning to “The Pegasus” turned out to be a terrible decision that mostly twists the finale of Enterprise into all sorts of awkward contortions to mesh with the events of the earlier episode. And it makes no sense whatsoever that Riker would be screwing around on the holodeck in the midst of the ship playing a cat and mouse game with the Romulans. All that combined with the nonsensical death of a fan favorite character ensured this would become one of the most reviled episodes in the franchise’s history.
But to be honest, I don’t hate it. It’s not a great episode by any means, but it’s entertaining enough, and I think that if this hadn’t been the finale for the entire franchise, and simply a ratings stunt episode that aired midseason (minus the controversial death, of course), there wouldn’t have been nearly as much vitriol directed towards it. I think the script has some pretty good ideas, but as is usually the case with Berman and Braga in their final years on Trek, those good ideas are completely smothered by awful execution.
Somehow, it’s fitting that Enterprise’s series finale begins with a boring conversation between its two most boring characters, Hoshi and Mayweather. But ultimately, it’s here to drop the fact that we’ve jumped forward in time, and they’ve all been serving on the ship for ten years now, and soon Malcom and T’Pol chime in to let us know that Captain Archer is working on a very important speech. Reed says that Archer will “undoubtedly make every effort to take no credit,” whatever that may mean.
Archer soon enters, looking at his speech on the proto-iPad in his hand and frowning because “it sounds like I’m trying to take credit for this.” T’Pol asks him something about the “decommission protocols” and it would appear that after the “charter” is signed, the Enterprise is destined to be “put in mothballs”.
Suddenly, we hear a familiar voice call out, “Computer, freeze program!” The camera pans over to Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker, sitting on the bridge in an NX-01 style jumpsuit. The bridge dissolves into a familiar room of black walls and orange gridlines, Riker’s NX-01 jumpsuit dissolves into his TNG-style uniform, and he walks off the holodeck of the Enterprise-D.
So, the big pre-credits hook is that what we’re witnessing is really Will Riker’s holo-recreation of the NX-01’s last mission. And they’ve already screwed up in a couple of ways. First, I’ll get the petty nitpick out of the way: Riker’s uniform actually transforms around him. When did that ever happen on TNG (or Deep Space Nine or Voyager)? I think it was always clearly implied that before entering the holodeck, people actually had to put on clothes appropriate to whatever holo-program they were about to experience.
But much more worthy of critique is that it’s been ten years since the launch of the NX-01, meaning it’s been six years since the events of the previous episode “Terra Prime”, and nothing of any significance has happened. Mayweather is still the navigator, Hoshi is still the communications officer, T’Pol is still the science officer, Reed is still at weapons, and so on. In ten years, nobody has attempted to advance in rank and nobody new has joined the crew. When Voyager was running, people loved to laugh at Harry Kim for staying an ensign for seven years, but with this episode, Travis Mayweather has him beat by a mile.
But it’s even worse than that: You see, nobody has even visibly aged in six years. At all. At the very least, you’d think they could have added a little gray to Archer’s hair, or made T’Pol’s hair a little longer, but nothing. It’s like the entire crew fell into suspended animation for six years.
After the credits roll and we thankfully hear “Where My Heart Will Take Me” for the final time, we get a brand new CGI model of the Enterprise-D cruising through space while we hear Riker’s personal log. He talks about the arrival of Admiral Pressman, his former commanding officer, and about how Troi suggested he might use a “historical hologram” to help him through his current situation.
And then we get footage of Ten-Forward from an actual TNG episode, with a shot of circa-2005 Frakes and Marina Sirtis subtly inserted into the background via digital effects. And there’s no hiding the fact that both of them have gotten older since the seventh season of TNG. Not only that, Troi’s hairstyle is completely different, as is the color of her uniform. While I like the idea of getting to see things that happened between scenes of an old TNG episode, I have to wonder if everyone involved wouldn’t have been better served by redressing a few Enterprise-E sets and calling it the “USS Titan” and giving us a small glimpse of Riker’s post-Nemesis career as captain of his own ship.
Over drinks, Troi wants to know if Riker can admit to what’s really bothering him, but he says he’s under strict orders not to divulge anything. So Troi lets loose with a pretty horrible line when she asks, “Have you learned on the holodeck anything about breaking orders?” And that’s pretty much all the pretext we get for how the events that unfold on the NX-01 in this episode have anything to do with the events of “The Pegasus”. Riker fails to see how the holo-program will help with his current situation, but Troi tells him to stick with it.
Later on, they walk through a corridor as Troi advises him to take on the persona of the NX-01’s head chef, because “almost everybody confided in him.” Yep, they’ve taken an inside joke from a few Enterprise episodes and turned it into a whole subplot. You see, in prior episodes, characters would talk about getting advice from “Chef” and doing things because “Chef” told them to, with the joke being that we never actually saw the head chef, making him the Vera Peterson or Heather Sinclair of the Star Trek franchise (and I almost included Diane from Twin Peaks in that list until I remembered we actually finally did get to see her). So, you know, what better way to add gravitas to your series/franchise finale than by basing several scenes around a running gag that wasn’t all that funny in the first place? Maybe Deep Space Nine should have devoted a big chunk of its finale to finally showing us Captain Boday and his transparent skull.
Troi also advises Riker to fast-forward to when the ship gets “hailed by the Andorian”, and sure enough, the next scene is Archer on the bridge receiving a call from Shran, the Andorian played by Jeffrey Combs who was Enterprise’s most frequently recurring guest star. Archer is shocked to see him again, because Shran apparently faked his own death three years ago for vague reasons. But now he needs help from Archer, who owes him a favor, which is reference to another running gag from Shran’s previous appearances where the two would always help each other out and end up owing each other favors.
But Archer says he can’t help this time, because they’re on the way back to Earth to sign a charter for a “coalition” that’s presumably the forerunner to the Federation. But Shran says his daughter has been kidnapped and only Archer can help, and this instantly changes his mind.
Riker’s on the bridge in his NX-01 jumpsuit again, and he tells the computer to skip ahead one hour and switch to “objective mode”. This puts Riker back in his TNG duds and allows him to move freely around the ship.
Riker enters Archer’s ready room where he’s meeting with Shran, and of course Shran is just as vague about why he faked his death, mostly chalking it up to making bad decisions and falling in with a bad group of people and then having to disappear.
Eventually those bad people found him and abducted his daughter, and now they’re holding her on Rigel X in exchange for something valuable in Shran’s possession. Cut to T’Pol in Archer’s ready room telling him not to help Shran, but Archer reminds her that without Shran’s help, he never would have been able to defeat the Xindi superweapon that might have destroyed Earth. I’ll just take his word for it; I gave up on that Xindi story arc pretty early on in the season.
Archer talks about how he didn’t trust Vulcans at first, but now he’s gotten past that with her help, so it’s time for her to trust him. He also tells her to drop by the galley later, because Chef wants to cook each and every crew member’s favorite meal for their last mission together. As T’Pol points out, there are 83 crew members onboard, so this seems just a tad impractical, but let’s just run with it.
After one last Porthos cameo, we get Riker as Chef talking to T’Pol, telling her he’s making her favorite dish and he’s “already started to reduce the plomeek broth!” T’Pol expresses her concerns about the diversion to Rigel X, but Chef/Riker tries to allay her fears. Then he talks about cooking up an “Edosian suckerfish” (shout-out to Lt. Arex’s race!) for Trip because it’s similar to a catfish, which Trip loves because he’s from Florida, and then he asks if she ever “misses” Trip.
T’Pol once again proves to be the franchise’s moodiest Vulcan when she angrily says that their “intimate relationship” has been “over for six years”. Frankly, I never followed the Trip and T’Pol will-they-or-won’t-they relationship that closely, because I never really cared that much about either character, but this would seem to imply that after the events of the previous episode, their romance just… ended. In “Terra Prime”, we saw the two of them unwittingly become the parents of the first ever Vulcan-human hybrid, which died soon after being born, and I suppose something like that could have been traumatic enough to drive them apart, but this episode never even suggests that was the cause. It comes off more like they just forgot they were into each other.
Then, at Chef/Riker’s prompting, sort of, T’Pol starts to talk about how after spending the last ten years with humans, she’s learned that following orders isn’t necessarily as important as “following your instincts”, providing yet another flimsy explanation for why Riker is wasting his time on this holodeck program in the first place. He orders the computer to “freeze program”, then randomly kisses T’Pol’s eyebrow for no reason.
Another shot of the CGI Enterprise-D leads us into Riker in the ship’s briefing room pulling up the crew manifest of the USS Pegasus and looking at pictures of everyone who died on the ship. And the names/pictures would appear to be of several people who worked behind the scenes on the various Star Trek shows, which is a nice touch.
Troi enters and Riker tells her that 71 crewmen died on the Pegasus. She asks if feels any guilt over this, and Riker is all like, Duh, you’re the empath, how do you think I feel? Good ol’ Deanna, useless to the bitter end. So she decides to change the subject back to the holo-program. Riker cheers up and asks if she’s ever seen the NX-01, and she says she may have seen it in a museum once, so Riker takes her by the hand so she can experience it for herself.
Soon, they’re both in Archer’s ready room and Riker notes there’s no fish tank, and Troi is asking how he could “survive without a fish tank,” and I realize this is a reference to the aquarium Picard had in his ready room, but this is some deep inside TNG humor. She tries to walk out and is confused when the door doesn’t automatically open for her, and Riker comes along to push a button for her.
They walk out onto the bridge to screw around for a while, and Troi sits in Archer’s chair, then she goes and activates that View-Master thing that T’Pol looks through, which is clearly a reference to a similar device that Spock looked through, and in case you never noticed the similarities at any point during the last four seasons, Riker says, “Kirk’s ship had ‘em, I think!”
They head down to Engineering, and Troi finds it creepy to be walking around an empty ship, so Riker tells the computer to add the crew. In Engineering, Trip and Malcolm are debating the trip to Rigel. Then they talk about heading back to Earth to decommission the ship, and Trip gets nostalgic about how it’s been a “hell of a run” and Malcolm gets in another TNG call-forward with, “All good things…” And then he talks about how there’s probably going to be another ship named Enterprise soon. They both walk past Objective Mode Troi and Riker, and Troi says it’s sad that “Commander Tucker had no idea he wouldn’t make it back.” Foreshadowing!
Cut to Archer and T’Pol and Shran discussing the plan to rescue Shran’s daughter, which involves replicating an expensive gemstone that Shran’s former cronies are after. Troi and Riker are here in the background again, and Troi tells the computer to freeze the program for the express purpose of getting up in Captain Archer’s face and calling him “cute”. She then says she’s got to meet up with Reg Barclay for some reason and calls for the arch and leaves the scene.
Riker tells the program to fast-forward to when they reach Rigel X. Archer and Shran and a few others head out on an away party, but Trip steps up to tell Archer that he shouldn’t be risking his life like this, because he really needs to get to that ceremony and give that speech, because apparently the fate of the entire interplanetary coalition rests entirely on his speech.
But Archer dismisses this talk, because “Rigel was the first place we visited” and it’s “poetic justice” that it will be their last. Wait, it was? Yes, according to what I looked up just now, Rigel X was indeed the first alien planet the NX-01 visited in the pilot episode “Broken Bow”, but who the hell (other than this episode’s writers) would even remember that?
Now they’re headed down to Rigel X in a shuttlecraft, and Riker is onboard the shuttle, this time dressed as a MACO, one of those elite security officers that joined the crew in season three. On the way down, T’Pol decides this is the ideal time to turn to Trip and Talk About Us. She asks, “Do you ever miss me?” She’s also apparently worried that they’ll be taking different assignments after this mission ends, and they’ll never see each other again, but Trip tells her not to worry and this won’t be the last time they see each other. More foreshadowing!
That’s all for now. If you’ve never seen this episode, you might be wondering right now why it’s so despised, so just come on back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to “These Are the Voyages…”, where I delve into one of the stupidest character self-sacrifices in Trek history.