Before you read this blog post, you might want to watch Season 4, Episode 22 of Star Trek: Enterprise, “These Are the Voyages…” If I’ve lost you already, I can respect that, but this still might be interesting.
We've all been there. You’re sitting around talking about movies or TV shows, carefully avoiding any discussion involving the real issues of life like mortgages, mortality, or the fact that as time goes on, those aches and pains are becoming the norm. The discussion becomes a indictment of sorts, bringing up pointless charges against the various “crimes” perpetrated by pop culture over the years.
Inevitably, there is no forward momentum to these discussions. At best, we collectively revel in our knowledge that we know what these artists did wrong. All too often, all we do is rage against their wrongness in the face of our incorruptible rightness.
Before, I never seemed to have any other solutions for the problems. Well, with this blog series, I’m going to change all of that. Here, I offer the third (and final, for the moment) of what may end up being several pop cultural solutions.
These fixes can’t cheat. Aaron Sorkin can’t keep writing for the fifth season of The West Wing. Obviously, that would improve the lost season of that show. However, the man wrote nearly every episode of an hour-long drama for four straight years. Burn out would have come along at some point. Just look at the one season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
We can’t go with simple answers, either. It isn’t enough to say just make Batman & Robin (1997) “better.” You take that script and that cast and in just two years make a better movie. I dare you*.
Now that I’ve gotten my obligatory dig into Schumacher out of the way for this week, let’s look to the stars for a moment.
In the 1990s the Star Trek production team at any given moment were producing two television series and a feature film. While they were just a tiny subset of the massive Paramount/Viacom machine, they managed to have more greenlight power than most independent studios of the time.
It didn’t last. As ratings declined for Voyager and Insurrection (1998) engendered a relatively lukewarm reaction at the box office, the machine slowed down. They did not immediately replace Deep Space Nine with a new series. When Nemesis (2002) fared even worse, the one series left on the air didn’t exactly demand the love of Trek fans.
Enterprise started strongly enough, with a concept that took the franchise in a new (if continuity defying) direction. But a writing staff largely unchanged from the creative nadir of Voyager led the show into the same rut of time travel**, holodeck, and Borg stories that hobbled the storytelling potentials of its predecessor.
Things did start to improve for the fourth Trek spinoff. A creative shakeup in the fourth season re-committed the program to its concept and dug deep to further flesh out the universe that Roddenberry ushered into life. The varying head ridges on Klingons? Explained, and with a storyline that weaves in elements of Khan and the Eugenics Wars, Mr. Data’s family tree, and a stray reference to the Briar Patch. The Mirror Universe comes back (or arrives for the first time) in a big way. The show even begins to follow through on the promise of its original mission and depicts the first blossoming of the later ubiquitous United Federation of Planets. The Next Generation didn’t truly find its way until the third or fourth year, and Enterprise was beginning to overcome a shaky start.
It couldn’t overcome an audience that had stopped watching, however. The fourth season proved to be Enterprise’s last. Despite turning in an encouragingly watchable season, the show’s final episode often rivals 1968’s “Spock’s Brain” as the worst episode in all of Trekdom. “These Are The Voyages…” goes back to that holodeck trope I mentioned above, making the entire episode about Commander Riker from The Next Generation watching TV for an hour that he really could have spent working. Episode writers and show creators Brannon Braga and Rick Berman wanted the final send off of 18 years of constant Trek production to be a “valentine to the fans.” What they ended up producing was a room temperature cup of dingy bath water. For eleven years it has left a sour feeling in the stomachs of the fans, the actors, and even the writers themselves, who eventually renounced the episode as “a misstep” and “languid.”
But what if it wasn’t? What if — while the episode may not have been a superlative finale to the voyages of Captain Jonathan Archer and crew, it could have lived up to its ambition and brought the era of The Next Generation to Enterprise to an end and looked forward to the hope that Star Trek might rise again with the help of lens flares.
It would take a lot of work to fix the episode. Here’s just a couple of ideas to recalibrate things.
- The framing device needs to take place post-Nemesis. It’s pretty weird that the thesis statement for all of Trek up until that moment has to be wedged into the middle of an obscure (if pretty good) episode from 1994. If the producers were dead-set on letting the 24th century look back on the 22nd, it would have been better to look forward. For another thing, we wouldn’t have to try to buy Jonathan Frakes as ten years younger, when he is, for lack of a nicer term, definitely not.
- If you want it to be a finale of all Trek, that means all Trek. In the episode as aired, there are a few references to The Next Generation, two quick stop-offs to The Original Series, and then nothing. Deep Space Nine and Voyager—accounting for fourteen of the twenty-eight years of Trek produced to that time—aren’t given so much as an acknowledgement. The producers didn’t have two hours to go everywhere and see everything, but I think there are opportunities that they just whiffed.
- If you’re going to include characters from other shows, it wouldn’t kill you to actually give them an arc. Here is Riker’s story in “These Are the Voyages…”: Riker is debating whether to tell Picard about the existence of a top-secret cloaking device (we know that he does; we've already seen that episode). He then decides to tell him. The End. Credits. If Riker had at least half an obstacle to overcome during his interactions with the holo-versions of the Enterprise crew, that might go a long way to making the episode work on even a basic level.
- The show should probably try to be some kind of a finale for Enterprise. Now, again they only have forty-two minutes to work with here, but the final episode pointedly avoided any sort of pathos towards the larger Enterprise crew. Hoshi Sato, the reluctant comm officer on the NX-01 is reduced to a handful of lines, at least of third of which are devoted to questioning how attracted she was to another to another character.
Granted, that already is a pretty long list of grievances to redress. It would take somebody re-writing the entire episode from page one to make an honest attempt to fix the episode and end things on a high note.
That person would have to be crazy to completely re-write an eleven-year-old episode of television. Right? Right.
So, I re-wrote the episode. All of it. You can find it here.
I’m strangely proud of it, or as proud as I can be of anything that distracted me from other writing projects off and on for three weeks. I hope you get a kick out of it.
Was I crazy for undertaking this project? Have we already gone over that much? Is the final episode of Enterprise a work of staggering genius that must be given its proper respect? What songs would have made a better theme song for the show? Gangsta’s Paradise? One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater? All of them? Let me know in the comments.
*You probably could. Any of you. Even you. I don’t know what I was thinking defending Joel Schumacher.
**A word about time travel stories. I love them. LOVE them. They are my bread and butter. That being said “Year of Hell” style stories run out their welcome pretty quickly. You got to have stakes in your story, guys (and ladies). The reset button should be avoided at all cost, or at least subverted. Therein ends the time travel rant.