Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four

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The fourth and final season of Star Trek: Enterprise arrives on Blu-ray April 29, allowing for the show to be fully re-evaluated and, hopefully, better appreciated. Enterprise holds a unique place among the post-Original Series shows. While The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager each thrived for seven seasons, Enterprise quickly became regarded as the black sheep of the franchise. Though it ran for a total of 98 episodes over its four seasons, the series’ history is fraught with conflict.

Numerous theories abound as to why the show was not well received. Some disgruntled viewers even continue to cite the theme song, “Faith of the Heart,” as an important reason for its failure. That’s a shame, because while it was truly a dubious choice to take a Rod Stewart treacle from the film Patch Adams and repurpose it as a Star Trek theme, it should be easy to look beyond such a superficial gripe. It needs to be said upfront that Enterprise - Season Four is packed with newly-produced bonus materials, all of which are useful and enlightening in understanding the series’ troubled background.

Star Trek Enterprise Bakula (253x380).jpgEnterprise had many strengths, among them being a top notch cast that was not always particularly well utilized. Scott Bakula’s Captain Jonathan Archer began as a true pioneer; eager but cautious in his role as the first captain of the show’s titular starship. Though the writing in season four gave Bakula little to expand his character with, overall he kept the captain interesting as he evolved from season-to-season. Though some have carped about her being just a pretty face (and body), Jolene Blalock turned in consistently fine work as Enterprise’s Vulcan science officer, T’Pol. Connor Trinneer was eminently likeable as Commander Trip Tucker, whose close, complicated relationship with T’Pol provides several emotional high points in season four. Perhaps best of all, John Billingsley really dug into his role as Dr. Phlox, the polygamous Denobulan who time and again comes across as the most logical crew member (sorry, T’Pol).

While the first two seasons sought to establish these strong characters (the rest of the main crew, generally underused, includes Dominic Keating as Lt Malcolm Reed, Linda Park as linguistics specialist Hoshi Sato, and Anthony Montgomery as Ensign Travis Mayweather) in standalone episodes, season three was a game-changer. Presented as a season-long arc following up on the Xindi terrorist attack against Earth, it made for some gripping, longform storytelling. Season four landed somewhere in the middle, mostly eschewing standalones in favor of two- and three-part mini-arcs. Though not as consistently strong episode-to-episode as season three, the season has more hits than misses and remains extremely worthwhile viewing for fans of Trek and sci-fi in general.

Star Trek Enterprise Cold Station 12 (380x214).jpgSeason four highlights include a mini-arc (“Borderland,” “Cold Station 12,” and “The Augment”) that features a guest-starring turn by Brent Spiner as Dr. Arik Soong. A genetic engineer (and criminal), Soong is an ancestor of Dr. Noonien Soong, creator of Next Generation’s Data. This isn’t the first (nor the most explicit) tie to the Next Generation that season four would see (more on that later). “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 1 & 2” offer intriguing (though essentially pointless) variations on each of the Enterprise crew members, with Archer serving as commander to Captain Maxwell Forrest (an effective Vaughn Armstrong). Phlox is a gleeful sadist, Hoshi is a slutty tramp, and Vulcans (including T’Pol) are regarded as indentured servants. The premise takes off from the concept of Zefram Cochrane killing the first Vulcan he meets rather than making peaceful first contact.

Star Trek Enterprise Through a Mirror Darkly (380x231).jpg“Affliction” involves a Klingons plague and ties in directly to the Original Series, attempting to address the difference in appearance of the Klingons (i.e. the lack of forehead ridges). “Bound” also has ties to TOS, with its introduction of the Orion slave girls. These nods to the past are certainly not unwelcome, especially when handled as convincingly as they are in these episodes. LeVar Burton directed “Demons,” which features Peter Weller as a key figure in an anti-alien coalition fearful of the eventual extermination of the human race. Interesting developments involving the first offspring produced by combining human and Vulcan DNA carry over into what really feels more like the series finale than the finale itself, “Terra Prime.”

Star Trek Enterprise Terra Prime (380x215).jpgThe series finale, “These are the Voyages…,” has been a lightning rod for criticism, be it from fans, critics, or even cast members (Blalock hates it). In retrospect, while clearly not the most emotionally effective conclusion, it’s a very clever idea. Perhaps had it served as the penultimate episode rather than the end of the line, it would’ve been better received. Essentially it functions as a long-delayed Next Generation episode, a re-visitation of that series’ “The Pegasus” from season seven. Jonathan Frakes returns as Commander Riker and Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi, each looking a little worse for the wear some three years after last playing those characters (in the theatrical release Star Trek: Nemesis). While fun to see the old TNG characters, who view the events surrounding the last days of the Enterprise crew via a holodeck, the episode shifted focus away from the series it was concluding. Bizarrely, Captain Archer’s big speech in front of many dignitaries and his loyal crew is not even shown. The whole thing has a schizophrenic feel, torn between the two very different series, but it nonetheless remains a fascinating experiment.

Star Trek These are the Voyages (380x214).jpgThe fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is characterized by a budget-conscious switch to HD video instead of film as a production format. Though none of the Enterprise seasons was granted a ground-up restoration (a la The Next Generation), this is easily the most consistent and eye-pleasing season. Yes, there’s a fair amount of questionable CG imagery throughout (the auditorium in which Archer is set to deliver his farewell speech in the series finale is probably the worst). The added clarity provided by the new 1080p transfers only makes this stuff look hokier, but that’s to be expected. The fourth season, generally speaking, looks more like contemporary TV than its predecessors, but the loss of film grain does rob a bit of the series’ cinematic appearance. Again, this is no fault of the excellent visual presentation.

Following the pattern set by the previous three seasons, Enterprise - Season Four is outfitted with lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mixes for each episode. These are sturdy, reasonably enveloping mixes that deliver on the same strong level we’ve come to expect from CBS for this series. The heavier emphasis on explosive action that goosed season three is largely present in the fourth season as well, which allows for some exciting listening.

As for the new bonus materials, six new audio commentaries with various participants are included: “The Forge,” “Observer Effect,” “United,” “In a Mirror Darkly, Pt 1,” “Demons,” and “Terra Prime.” The last two are certain to be fan favorites as Dominic Keating and Connor Trinneer do the talking. “Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise” is a four-part documentary series (each around a half-hour, for a total of nearly two hours). Given the series’ polarizing effect on fans and wobbly ratings, the creative team has been extremely candid in looking back on its strengths and weaknesses. That continues unabated in this new material.

Part one, “New Voices,” explores show runner Manny Coto’s vision for the fourth season. Part two, “Memorable Voyages,” looks closer at some of the season’s key episodes (including Brent Spiner’s role and the Mirror Universe episodes). Part three, “Final Voyage,” includes—among several topics—an interesting examinations of the ratings battle between Enterprise and its prime competitor, the then-new Battlestar Galatica reboot. Part four, “End of an Era,” covers the end of co-creator and executive producer Rick Berman’s association with the Trek franchise.

“In Conversation: Writing Star Trek: Enterprise” is a 90-minute roundtable discussion featuring a whole array of members of the creative team. As with previous roundtable discussions on Trek season Blu-rays, this is an in-depth but laidback chat session. The entirety of Enterprise is delved into, as well as relevant topics pertaining to the wider Trek universe. As with seasons one through three, the standard definition features from the previous DVD release are ported over, most of which being shorter featurettes and additional commentaries (text and audio). Suffice it to say, there’s a lot here to pore over.

Ultimately, Star Trek: Enterprise is a series that did more things right than wrong, despite on-going opinion that often runs contrary. Though it only had four seasons to develop its characters, fans have these excellent Blu-ray editions to revisit again and again. Many thanks go to CBS Paramount for creating quality new supplements to go with Season Four. Given the series’ reputation, it might’ve been tempting to simply port over the old DVD features only, but instead we’re treated to a generous amount of material that enhances appreciation of the this underrated series.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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