Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Top 5 Star Trek Enterprise Episodes
Picking your top 5 favorite Enterprise episodes is like picking your top 5 all-time favorite mosquito bites. Of the hundred-or-so episodes, which five are the least irritating? Alright, so I exaggerate a bit. Enterprise was not a complete disaster. Sure, it was plagued by sloppy writing, rehashed storylines and stiff actors playing boring characters, but what about the important stuff, like special effects and gratuitous semi-nudity?
Okay, my point is made. Star Trek Enterprise (not a typo, the title lacks a colon) is the ugliest baby in the family. Premiering in September of 2001, Enterprise was a prequel series, taking place roughly a hundred years before Kirk's crew sailed the stars. The show was supposed to be friendly to new viewers and allegedly required no previous Trek experience to enjoy. In a controversial move, the series was originally called simply Enterprise; the prefix was added midway through its third season.
Promising a bold new direction for the franchise, Enterprise did not disappoint. Instead of attempting to deliver the smart morality tales of The Next Generation or the character-driven intrigue of Deep Space Nine, Enterprise took its cues mostly from the more financially-successful Voyager, choosing its most marketable traits and exaggerating them to gross extremes. The new show would shed Voyager's occasional thought-provoking tale or remotely-interesting characters, leaving only the weighty effects budget and dependence upon a busty science officer to boost ratings.
There are, however, a few diamonds in this rough, which I've listed below, as always, in ascending order.
5. Shuttlepod One - The premise: a stranded odd couple of obnoxious stereotypes is trapped in a shuttle for days waiting to die. Take one laid-back southern gentleman (Chief Engineer "Trip" Tucker). Add one stuffy Englishman (Tactical Officer Malcolm Reed). Allow to simmer to a boil in a cramped, damaged shuttle while they wait to die. This is the first episode, as far as I'm concerned, that demonstrated any actually interesting character development on the show. (And to be honest, it doesn't provide much.) I still kind of wish they hadn't been rescued at the end of the episode. Now that would be a great twist.
4. Similitude - During the long, Bush-Doctrine-inspired arc of Season 3, we the remaining Trekkie audience were treated to a few breaths of fresh air that reminded us that this was still Star Trek we were watching. In this episode, Trip is badly wounded in an accident, so they clone him some special way so he can keep the ship running. This new Trip, who they call Sim, grows up in a matter of days and slowly acquires his donor's memories and skills. His lifespan is only supposed to be a couple of days - when he reaches maturity, he'll donate some tissue to Trip and then die a natural death a few weeks later. Meanwhile, Sim is developing his own personality, his own hopes, dreams and aspirations. One of them is to be with T'Pol, who has been denying the sexual tension between herself and Trip for some time. But something goes wrong - it turns out Sim won't survive the procedure to save Trip, and he refuses to do it. He wants to live. The Doctor can synthesize an enzyme that will slow Sim's metabolism back to normal human levels, thus allowing him to live a long, full life, but the crew chooses Trip. Sim is killed, and Trip is allowed to live. Heavy.
3. Dear Doctor - Another early episode, "Dear Doctor" lays the groundwork for the Prime Directive, one of Star Trek's guiding principles. The crew happens upon a planet where one species is dying off, while another, more primitive one is slowly evolving to maturity. The advanced species, which is kind and benevolent, begs Enterprise to find a cure to their ailment. Doctor Phlox unlocks the cure, but in doing so discovers that the victims are dying off naturally so that the other species can evolve to dominance. Rather than alter the natural course of history on this planet, Captain Archer has to hide this cure and allow an entire species to die rather than set a precedent of humans playing God on other worlds.
2. In a Mirror, Darkly - What makes this episode so great? Not a single character from Star Trek Enterprise appears in the entire two-parter. This story takes place entirely in the Mirror Universe, where humans are an evil conquering Empire. A love letter to the original series, "In a Mirror, Darkly" sees the badass counterparts of the regular crew capturing a ship from the future - a ship identical to Kirk's Enterprise that was apparently destroyed in the TOS classic "The Tholian Web." The crew puts on the old-school uniforms, fires the old-school phasers and goes on a rollicking old-school adventure! Plus, since we'll never see any of these characters again, anything goes! Why, I ask you, couldn't the entire show have been like this?
1. Twilight - (Yes, I know, the title has been tainted forever by the Stephanie Meyer novels, but ignore that for a moment.) If you recall from my Top 5 Voyager list, I'm a big fan of reset-button episodes. These are the shows in which, at the end of the story, some kind of time-travel-related plot device erases the events of the episode, restoring the status quo. Why are these so fun? Because it allows for the crew of Enterprise (whom I despise) to suffer a great deal more than the producers would normally allow. They can bring about the worst-case-scenarios, killing off regular characters and presenting huge, game-changing events, because at the end they can just take it all back. "Twilight" is one such episode. Picture this: in the teaser, a dazed Archer steps out of the turbolift onto the bridge and witnesses Earth getting annihilated by the Xindi superweapon they've been trying to destroy all season. Flash forward a few decades and Archer's in a refugee camp on Ceti Alpha V, along with the few-thousand survivors of the human race, unable to create new long-term memories since before the destruction of Earth. Now, it's a race against time to fix the mistake that incapacitated our brave (read: wimpy) captain and save Earth in the past before the Xindi can wipe out all the survivors! My favorite part of this episode: Enterprise blows up and everybody dies! Yay! Unfortunately, at the same moment they're able to make their time correction and everybody's returned to safety twenty years earlier and we have to keep watching this stupid show for another year and a half. But it was nice while it lasted!
Top5Trek doesn't end here, folks! No, sir, the countdowns will continue until the release of the new film on May 8th!