One of the gambles of Enterprise's second season was also one of its strengths: continuity. Conventional wisdom in the TV biz is that stand-alone episodes are better than serialized storylines, as stand-alone episodes can be viewed randomly in syndication with little concern for recurrent plotlines. Though Enterprise's story arcs were never as complicated as those on Deep Space Nine, they properly dramatize the learning curve of early Terran space explorers (and the Vulcans who love them); the writers frequently refer to earlier Enterprise episodes to enhance the long-term mission's reality.
First order of business, of course, was to resolve the first-season cliffhanger in the swift adventure "Shockwave, Part II." In short order, Enterprise rewrites the history books with "Carbon Creek," in which T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) claims that Earth was visited in the 20th Century by a trio of wayward Vulcans (one, played by Blalock, is an ancestor of T'Pol). A somewhat logy story, "Carbon Creek" at least displays a winning sense of humor about itself. "Minefield" teases the idea of Romulans while Archer (Scott Bakula) works to rescue Reed (Dominic Keating) from a nasty mine on the ship's hull; the episode basically succeeds in its attempt to replicate the high-drama-in-crisis formula of the previous season's "Shuttlepod One."
In "Dead Stop," the mine-battered Enterprise conveniently stumbles upon a full-service repair station. The 2001 flavored-tale fulfills the suspicion that the news is too good to be true, and just get a load of the ending's Kirkian solution. "A Night in Sickbay" lays on the comedy—not so successfully in a diplomatic crisis for Archer that recalls Picard's worst embarrassments, but with welcome irreverence regarding Archer's unspoken interest in T'Pol, as noted by Phlox (John Billingsley). One of the series' most divisive episodes, "A Night in Sickbay" nevertheless was one of Enterprise's two Hugo Award-nominated episodes of the season (the other being "Carbon Creek").
"Marauders" demonstrates the single laziest tendency of weekly television writers: to rip off the plots of classic or contemporary popular films. In the case of "Marauders," the crew stands in for Kurosawa's Seven Samurai as they save hapless villagers from Klingon bandits. "The Seventh" is essentially Death and the Maiden, with a wonderfully sweaty guest turn by Bruce Davison (X-Men) as a fugitive from T'Pol's past. Flashbacks in "First Flight" replay The Right Stuff as Archer and fellow pilot A.G. Robinson (Keith Carradine) bond while competing to be the first to break the Warp 2 barrier. Happily, the episode succeeds as Trek history, guest-star vehicle, and character-builder for new acquaintances Archer and Trip (Connor Trineer).
Then, there are the episodes that seem to replay previous Treks (inevitable after hundreds of hours of Star Trek). Adventure-oriented "The Communicator" is far less interesting on the subject of cultural contamination than TNG's similarly themed "Who Watches the Watchers?" "Vanishing Point" barely rewrites TNG's "The Next Phase" (Hoshi turns neurotically invisible as opposed to LaForge and Ro turning invisible) by crossing it with TNG's "Remember Me." "Dawn"'s Trip-meets-alien-sans-translator plot recalls the classic TNG episode "Darmok," which was itself a mythological spin on Enemy Mine and the original series' "Arena."
The oft-acclaimed "Stigma" is a bald and stale attempt at the kind of "socially relevant," "special" episode TNG often nailed (T'Pol has a stigmatizing "social disease"!), while "The Crossing"'s alien-possession plot is as old as the hills (TNG did it in "Power Play," for one). "The Breach" uses two old plot elements—an allegory for warring global neighbors and a patient's refusal of treatment, far more dramatic in TNG's "Ethics." The TNG episode after "Ethics" was "The Outcast," which Enterprise recalls with "Cogenitor," in which a crew member's righteous (and romantic) meddling seems so right but goes so wrong. Admittedly, there may be few new science-fiction plots under the sun, but if anyone's wondering, repetition is what sent longtime Trek fans packing.
Enterprise also capitalizes on old stories to generate ratings boosts, as with the tired Borg episode "Regeneration" (inspired by The Thing and, to my eye, Doctor Who's "Tomb of the Cybermen") and "Judgement," about the Klingon's kangaroo court and their prison planet Rura Penthe (both seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)—the latter works nicely due to a refreshingly marvelous guest turn by J.G. Hertzler as a Klingon lawyer who rediscovers his honor.
Enterprise's second season does muster a number of good episodes (and even some original ones) while maintaining its high quality of production value. "The Catwalk"'s novel "batten down the hatches" plot temporarily relocates the entire crew to the nacelles. Jeffrey Combs' Shran returns to play—this time, with Trek vet Suzie Plakson as "Tarah"—in the Vulcan vs. Andorian episode "Cease Fire."
The season ends with a bang that anticipates a burst of renewed creative energy for the series. In "The Expanse," a powerful alien race called the Xindi launch a jaw-dropping terrorist attack on Earth that claims Trip's sister among 7 million victims. To save the Earth from the Xindi's ultimate weapon (the attack was only a test), the Enterprise must travel into "the Expanse," a Bermuda Triangle in space that promises mystery and mortal danger.
Though I somehow expected the image of Enterprise to be sharper, the transfers are free of troublesome flaws. Paramount presents Enterprise in its original widescreen aspect ratio, and the series is so much easier to enjoy without commercial interruptions. Enterprise: The Complete First Season comes in a nifty outer shell that resembles a tricorder case. Inside, a clear slipcover houses a book with disc-trays for pages.
The seven-disc set includes two audio commentaries by writers and co-producers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong (on "Dead Stop" and "Regeneration"), two Michael and Denise Okuda "pop-up" text commentaries (on "Stigma" and "First Flight"), deleted scenes, a fifty-image "Photo Gallery," and even a gag reel (11:09).
Disc seven hosts several featurettes. "Enterprise Moments: Season Two" (19:08) allows producers and cast to highlight memorable scenes from the season. "Enterprise Profile: Jolene Blalock" (14:25) and "LeVar Burton: Star Trek Director" (7:00) profile a current Trek star and a former one who directed numerous Trek episodes (other former Trek cast members who directed second-season episodes: Roxann Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill).
In "Enterprise Secrets" (4:48) first assistant director David Trotti gives a guided tour of "Judgement"'s Rura Penthe set. As in the First Season set's "Inside Shuttlepod One," "Inside A Night in Sickbay" (11:14) looks more deeply into one standout episode. Lastly, the set includes a "Borg Invasion Trailer" (:32) (flogging the Las Vegas Hilton attraction) and easter eggs for the tactically alert.
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