Enterprise boldly went in a new direction in its third season. Aside from the cosmetic changes to its title (now Star Trek: Enterprise) and theme song (a more robust arrangement), the series committed to a season-long story arc that takes the ship into the dangerous "Expanse" on a mission to save Earth from the Xindi. Enterprise dodges nasty spatial anomalies, space pirates, and the like on their way to seek out the Xindi and their super-weapon. Meanwhile, five species of Xindi (Aquatics, Arboreals, Humanoids, Insectoids, and Reptilians) meet in a Legion of Doom-style Council to plan their response.
Those overripe Council scenes are probably much more cool for kids, so let's give them a pass. If the experiment by producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga sometimes went awry, it also occasionally hit the heights of Trek feature-film action, and often used the plot to ask the moral questions that have been Trek's raison d'être on TV.
The series' writers also took the heightened occasion to add new colors and depth to key characters: Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), First Officer T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), Chief Engineer "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trinneer), Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), and Security Chief Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating). Ensigns Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) and Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) mostly recede into the background (a fate bland Montgomery deserved). At least Hoshi gets to play Beauty to an alien beast in "Exile" and plays a key role in the season's crucial last two episodes.
Archer feels his oats as a man of action now that his mission of exploration has turned to a military offensive. The Captain's difficult moral choices make great drama, as he grimly resorts to near-fatal torture ("Anomaly"), harvesting from a human clone ("Similitude"), and out-and-out theft from friendly aliens ("Damage"). Bakula credibly handles these dark turns, as well as the late-season plot turn that twists the military mission into a desperate diplomatic bid (the pursuit of a detente with the Xindi reinforced the core Trek value that no enemy is irredeemable).
Phlox, too, faced ethical quandaries, with Billingsley proving typically charismatic (especially in his showcase episode "Doctor's Orders"). T'Pol flirted with drug addiction ("Damage") and engaged in Vulcan neuro-pressure with Trip (like the decontamination-chamber scenes in Seasons One and Two, neuro-pressure provided an excuse for sexy disrobing). The relaxation technique led to romantic stirrings and eventual consummation ("Harbinger"), with consequences that continued to the series' close. T'Pol also got to spend a lifetime with Archer in an alternate reality ("Twilight") and meet her elderly potential future self ("E²"); Blalock proves to be up to each task.
Trip darkened due to the death of his sister in the initial Xindi attack, which set him dead against diplomacy with the Xindi. Trinneer excels, whether playing "Sim," a fast-developing clone of Trip ("Similitude") or reacting to Lorian, his possible future offspring with T'Pol ("E²"). Trip's buddy Reed faced unique professional challenges as Enterprise beefed up its war effort by welcoming the MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations, or "space marines"). Threatened, Reed clashed often with MACO commander Major Hayes, played by Steven Culp (Desperate Housewives). (Lost's Daniel Dae Kim also appears a couple of times as one of the MACOS).
Like any season, Season Three has its duds. The series fails spectacularly, for example, with "Extinction," the sort of episode that explains why actors must sign long-term contracts (Bakula, Keating, and Park must make like primates when their characters de-evolve). More commonly, the series fell short of grand designs, as in a zombie pastiche (Vulcan zombies, no less, in "Impulse) and the Western episode "North Star," which—though novel for Enterprise—does little more than dress up the cast to play cowboy and halfheartedly tell a tired morality play.
The writers gamble more successfully with "Carpenter Street," a 20th Century time-travel story with a hint of Nick Meyer's Time After Time (and good guest acting from Leland Orser). Jeffrey Combs makes a welcome return as sort-of friendly Andorian Shran. Randy Oglesby played the season's most crucial recurring role, as Degra (a Xindi Oppenheimer haunted by his invention of an ultimate weapon). Fourth season executive producer Manny Coto made his name by penning standout episodes like "Similitude" and "Chosen Realm," which dealt with intriguing questions of misguided faith and deadly zealotry.
The season's core crisis naturally echoed 9/11 and evergreen issues of terrorism, war, their collateral damage and their political divisiveness ("Either you're with us or against us," growls a Reptilian to the rest of the Council). The high stakes served the series well, with a horribly scarred Enterprise taking a high death toll and limping its way to the big finish. Exemplary, Emmy-Award-winning special effects distinguish the space-battle scenes, and the practical fight scenes resemble those in the films, culminating in a fiery climax. Many complained about the season's surprising (and certainly abrupt) cliffhanger, but it appropriately set the stage for Coto's throwback fourth season.
The image of Enterprise remains consistent, if a bit soft, on Season Three (Paramount presents the show in its original widescreen aspect ratio). 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 an audio commentary by assistant director Mike DeMeritt (on "North Star") and another by writers and executive producer Manny Coto (on "Similitude"), three Michael and Denise Okuda "pop-up" text commentaries (on "The Xindi," "Impulse," and "Countdown"), deleted scenes, an extensive "Photo Gallery," and even a six-minute gag reel.
Disc seven hosts several featurettes. "The Xindi Saga Begins" (13:08) details the thinking behind Star Trek's most ambitious story arc. "Enterprise Moments: Season 3" (12:54) gives cast and crew turns to highlight key scenes from the span of the year. In "Enterprise Profile: Connor Trinneer" (17:12), the actor offers surprisingly thorough and insightful commentary regarding his character and his experience on the series.
The all-access featurette "A Day in the Life of a Director: Roxann Dawson" (17:24) follows the former Trek star through production and post-production chores on "Exile" (other former Trek cast members who directed second-season episodes: LeVar Burton and Robert Duncan McNeill). Lastly, the set includes a "Borg Invasion Trailer" (:32) (flogging the Las Vegas Hilton attraction) and easter eggs for the fan with a high warp factor.
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