When Enterprise hit the airwaves in 2001, fans had reason to assume the prequel series would "throwback" to the original 1966-1969 Star Trek. Despite the initial lack of the words "Star Trek" in the title, the character and casting of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) seemed to hearken back to the action-oriented era of William Shatner's Captain Kirk, and the show grabbed attention with occasional Roddenberry-styled sexy time of scantily-clad bodies. Still, it didn't take long for fans to realize that creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were trapped in the formula of latter-day TV Trek, and despite occasional flashes of fun, Enterprise would tend to the dull and politically correct. Enterprise's third-season Xindi arc took risks, but in a direction away from Roddenberry and into troubling reponses to 9/11-esque terrorism. With the Season Four installation of showrunner Manny Coto, Star Trek: Enterprise finally gave a vocal section of fans what they wanted: in lieu of something fresh new, at least some retro fun.
What's immediately noticeable about Season Four is a concerted effort to add literal color, evocative of The Original Series. Brighter backdrops and costumes and engagingly cornier characters recall the bygone days, even in the season-opening, two-part palate cleanser "Storm Front." In something like a mash-up of TOS episodes "Patterns of Force" and "A Piece of the Action," the Enterprise crew contends with Nazis and New Yawk gangsters (including Sopranos alum Steven R. Schirripa). Topped with a dogfight for the Enterprise, "Storm Front" does a fair job of resetting the show's tone while also dispensing with the go-nowhere Time War plotline from the Berman-Braga regime (the creators remained credited as executive producers while giving Coto something like free reign).
Coto also made the wise choice of pursuing mini-arcs after the show's marginal success with the season-long Xindi arc. The fourth season comprises mostly three-part outings that amount to Star Trek movies instead of the formulaic one-off shows that inevitably repeated recent Treks. After the palate-cleanser "Home" (obviously inspired by TNG's "Family"), Coto launches into a trilogy that makes use of plenty of Trek mythology (the genetically engineered superhumans of "Space Seed" and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, the green-skinned Orions, and TNG's scientific Soong family) while also handing a juicy part to Brent Spiner (TNG's Data). In "Borderland," "Cold Station 12," and "The Augments," Spiner brings energy, humor, danger, and poignancy to the role of criminal geneticist Dr. Arik Soong, who makes the mistake of freeing his lab-produced offspring.
Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens make their Trek screenwriting debuts with "The Forge," which kicks off a three-part story arc covering Vulcan mythology rooted in the teachings of Surak. "The Forge," "Awakening," and "Kir'Shara" also incorporate references to TOS (including young T'Pau) and The Animated Series (a sehlat!). One-offs "Daedalus"—about transporter mishaps and dubious scientific research—and "Observer Effect"—about powerful, uninvited alien visitors—feel like receycled TNG, but work surprisingly well, due to sharp writing and acting (including, in "Daedalus," veteran character actor Bill Cobbs). The three-part story arc of "Babel One," "United," and "The Aenar" bring back fan favorite Andorian Shran (Jeffrey Combs) for a prequel to TOS's "Journey to Babel," complete with pig-faced Tellarites. The storyline also incorporates a secret villain from classic Trek and a Shatner-style fight sequence between Archer and Shran.
The season and the series wrap up with a run of three two-parters and two one-offs. "Affliction" and "Divergence" tell a Klingon story that, in part, takes a decent stab at explaining the difference between ridge-headed Klingons and the more humanoid variety seen in TOS, while one-off "Bound" returns to TOS territory in an Orion slave-girl-themed tale. The two-parter "In a Mirror, Darkly" brings back the perennially popular Mirror Universe introduced in TOS's "Mirror, Mirror." As ever, it's an entertaining break from the series' weekly reality, allowing the regular cast to let their proverbial hair down and be as bad as they want to be. The final two-parter, "Demons" and "Terra Prime," remains for some the true Star Trek: Enterprise finale, in that it gives the crew a meaningful, big-scale, Earth-saving adventure that also benefits enormously from the casting of Peter Weller as xenophobic John Frederick Paxton, a 22nd Century Hitler.
The actual series finale, "These Are the Voyages...", was penned by Berman and Braga as much to wrap up eighteen years and four series of continuous TV Trek as to give closure to Star Trek: Enterprise. As such, the episode alienated much of the show's own cast and many of its die-hard fans. Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprise their TNG roles of Commander William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi (and Spiner makes a vocal cameo as Data) in a story that takes place during the events of the TNG episode "The Pegasus." Thanks to the holodeck, Riker and Troi are able to revisit the somewhat shocking final days of Archer's Enterprise.
If not everything works in Enterprise's Season Four, it's certainly the most consistently entertaining and well-written season of the show, a bitter irony for a show that was doomed to cancellation. The season spread the wealth reasonably well amongst its cast members while prioritizing the breakout characters (Archer, the romantically linked T'Pol and "Trip," and Dr. Phlox). Under Coto's leadership, Trek eagerly celebrated the past while trying and succeeding at something new with mini-arcs (future Trek series, take note). As a result, Star Trek: Enterprise left the airwaves with its head held high.
CBS Home Entertainment delivers its most impressive Blu-ray set yet for Star Trek: Enterprise with its fourth and final season. Though in the extras Brannon Braga expresses regret that, for budgetary reasons, this season was shot in HD rather than on film, those HD elements are now paying dividends for this Blu-ray set. Aged HD masters and SD effects plagued previous sets far more than this one, which crucially benefits from color that pops with vibrancy, sharper detail, and an overall more finely resolved image. Though the picture quality isn't on par with a brand-new HD transfer, the show looks terrific and far better than I've ever seen it look. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mixes continue to impress; the authentic reproduction of the original mixes, optimized for modern home theater surround sound, likewise makes the show sound better than ever, maximizing the music, effects, and immersive ambience.
As with previous sets, this one excels in bonus features, archiving all previously available extras and adding terrific new ones in HD. Disc One features a "Deleted Scene" on “Storm Front” (2:45, SD) and an "Extended Scene" (1:17, HD) and "Script Gallery: Original Ending" on “Home” (HD). Returning DVD extra "Enterprise Moments - Season Four" (16:23, SD) interviews Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer, Manny Coto and John Billingsley about favorite storylines and guest stars from the fourth season.
Disc Two includes 2014 audio commentary by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Mike & Denise Okuda on “The Forge” and 2005 text commentary by Mike & Denise Okuda on "The Forge."
Disc Three adds a 2014 audio commentary by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Mike & Denise Okuda on “Observer Effect” while Disc Four adds a 2014 audio commentary by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and David Livingston on "United." Disc Four also includes a "Deleted Scene" from “The Aenar” (:53, SD)
Disc Five serves up two new and three archival commentaries: 2005 audio commentary by Mike Sussman and Tim Gaskill on "In A Mirror, Darkly, Part I," 2014 audio commentary by James L. Conway, Mike Sussman and Mike & Denise Okuda on "In A Mirror, Darkly, Part I," 2005 audio commentary by Mike Sussman and Tim Gaskill on "In A Mirror, Darkly, Part II," 2005 text commentary by Mike & Denise Okuda on "In A Mirror, Darkly, Part II," and 2014 audio commentary by Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating on "Demons." From the video archives comes a "Deleted Scene" from “In A Mirror, Darkly, Part II” (2: 28, SD) and "Inside the Mirror Episodes" (15:41, SD) with Coto, Sussman, Michael Westmore, Dan Curry and John Teska.
Disc Six serves up the lion's share of new bonus features, starting with four-part doc "Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise" comprising "Part One: New Voices" (26:49, HD), "Part Two: Memorable Voyages" (29:42, HD), "Part Three: Final Approach" (30:05, HD), and "Part Four: End of an Era" (29:14, HD). This engagingly exhaustive doc features comments from the entire regular cast (plus Jeffrey Combs), as well as series creators Berman and Braga, showrunner Coto, most of the fourth season writers, and director James L. Conway. Also brand new, "In Conversation – Writing Star Trek: Enterprise" (1:29:52, HD) is a roundtable discussion with Enterprise writers Mike Sussman, André Bormanis, David A. Goodman, Chris Black, Phyllis Strong, and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, joined partway through by co-creator/executive producer Brannon Braga. As per the precedent set by earlier Blu-ray sets, this is a candid, fascinating discussion, in this case lessened by the absence of Coto; it would have been interesting to see Braga and Coto in the same room discussing Enterprise, but for whatever reason that doesn't occur here.
Disc Six also houses an archive of DVD bonus features, including a 2005 audio commentary by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Tim Gaskill on "Terra Prime" and a 2005 text commentary by Mike & Denise Okuda on "These Are The Voyages...". The video archives here include "Enterprise Secrets" (5:52, SD) from the shooting of the final episode; "Visual Effects Magic" (13:25, SD) with Dan Curry and others; "That’s a Wrap" (8:59, SD) with cast red-carpet interviews at the wrap party, as well as speeches by Rick Berman and Scott Bakula; "Links to the Legacy" (4:25, SD), with Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens; "Enterprise Outtakes" (2:16, SD); a Photo Gallery of approximately sixty production stills; and "NX-01 File 10" (4:42, SD), which gets into the “Save Enterprise” campaign with comments from Trinneer and Bakula.
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