Actually the shift happened at the end of season two. An unknown, but obviously formidable, enemy force attacked Earth in the season two finale, “The Expanse.” The path of destruction resulted in the death of some seven million people, including the sister of Enterprise engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer). Rather than a collection of mostly standalone episodes, the third season adopts a season-long arc that charts the Enterprise’s pursuit of the Xindi, a group of six different species from the planet Xindus. The Xindi are held responsible for the attack against Earth, with Enterprise becoming a de facto combat vessel after being complemented by a group of gung-ho military commandos.
Originally broadcast in 2003-04, Enterprise season three was a conscious attempt to offer a politically-charged, post-9/11 allegory. Even today, as evidenced in the awesome new documentaries included as special features, opinion varies amongst the series’ participants as to the effectiveness of the show’s handling of these controversial elements. John Billingsley, who portrayed the Denobulan Dr. Phlox, is particularly outspoken in his objections to the decision to have Captain Archer adopt a more aggressive, “shoot first, ask questions later” stance. One thing’s for sure, there’s plenty to debate and discuss about the ways in which the Enterprise crew handles the on-going Xindi crisis.
The season manages to work in more than a few excellent detours (and a few clunkers) while hewing quite closely to the Xindi arc. One standout episode, “Impulse,” serves as a real showcase for Enterprise science officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) when a ship full of zombified Vulcans is encountered. T’Pol falls under the influence of the mind-altering substance Trellium-D and gradually loses control of her emotions. The potential for a Vulcan to become emotionally volatile is a theme that crops up throughout the season, taking T’Pol into territory that Blalock was uncomfortable with (as she explains in the special features).
Series co-creator Brannon Braga, understandably defensive about his oft-maligned series, insists that the changes endured by T’Pol were appropriately handled. Blalock certainly plays them well, regardless of how she personally felt. Like many elements of Enterprise (beginning with the theme song, which has been remixed with a heavier rhythm section for this season), T’Pol’s Trillium-D storyline and her emerging romantic involvement with Trip are potentially polarizing. But credit Braga and co-producers Rick Berman and Manny Coto (who joined the writing staff during the third season) and the rest of the creative team with taking chances. When compelling, unpredictable storytelling is the result, it’s easier to accept specific elements that might not sit well.
Season three starts off good and gets better as it rolls along. A few earlier episodes, including the mutation-themed “Extinction” and “Exile,” in which Hoshi (Linda Park) is visited by a telepathic stalker, miss the mark. Though Billingsley is excellent as always as Phlox, the mid-season “Doctor’s Orders” is a feature for him that unfortunately goes nowhere. But most of the season is ace, especially the LeVar Burton-directed “Similitude,” in which a sentient clone of Trip is generated for the sole purpose of harvesting organs for its comatose source.
Eventually the true motivations behind the Xindi attack are revealed once the Sphere Builders are introduced. Some of the narrative feels a bit muddled at times, but bear with it. In the illuminating documentary features, members of the creative team cop to the fact that they season-long arc wasn’t as fully developed as it could’ve been. They admit that ideas were hatched along the way, some of which never quite fit into the grand scheme. The Xindi boardroom scenes are hampered by some dodgy CG work (the Insectoids) and the silliness of the tank-bound Aquatics. But again, the production team’s efforts pay off in a big way when considering the big picture.
On Blu-ray, Enterprise - Season Three, much like the first two seasons, looks very good without being as impressive as the ground-up HD restoration The Next Generation has been granted. Whereas Enterprise - Season One was a bit erratic (the pilot episode got things off to a particularly questionable start), the third season is solid throughout all 24 episodes (cut from the previous seasons’ 26 episode runs). Most of the CG involving the Enterprise and other ships looks really good (though the plasma geyser in “The Forgotten” is an example of the limits of the series’ F/X budget). Again, some of the creature-based CG (those Insectoids) looks even worse with the unforgiving 1080p resolution. But the technical presentation is not to be faulted.
No caveats are needed for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, which is first rate. Even though the Patch Adams cast-off “Faith of the Heart” is still the cheesiest imaginable way to introduce a Star Trek episode, the song’s new “heavy” mix is an example of how good the audio sounds. Bass really pulsates, as it does for the action-oriented sequences throughout the season. And there’s enough action in this particular season to really justify the need for a good surround mix, which is exactly what’s delivered.
Having mentioned some specifics about the special features already, it must be emphasized that in no way has CBS/Paramount skimped simply because Enterprise is the “black sheep” of the franchise. The bulk of the new features are found on disc six, with a great three-part documentary series called “In a Time of War.” Running 90 minutes in all, we hear from everyone in the primary cast as well as creative honchos Brannon Braga and Manny Coto and a variety of others. As with the previous seasons, there’s always an air of “what could’ve been” that hangs over the proceedings, with everyone obviously proud of their accomplishments but disappointed things didn’t go further. The participants are allowed to be critical of things they didn’t like, which adds vitality to these retrospectives and keeps them from being mere exercises in nostalgia or glad-handing.
Also new is the 20-minute “Temporal Cold War” featurette, which continues the critical appraisal of the show. In addition to the features carried over from the original DVD release, there are brand new audio commentaries for “Impulse,” “North Star,” “Similitude” (a conversation between Manny Coto and Connor Trinneer about the movie Gravity proves how recently these were recorded), “The Forgotten,” and “Countdown.”
I’ve said it before when discussing seasons one and two on Blu-ray, so I might as well repeat it: Enterprise’s commonly-held reputation as the dog of the Trek universe is truly undeserved. The series started out good, if a bit wobbly, and developed into something great. Even the weakest episodes benefit from the chemistry between the primary cast (though Dominic Keating’s tactical officer Malcolm Reed is admittedly under-utilized in season three), so the time is ripe for rediscovering Enterprise—or diving in for the first time.