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

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With the recently released six-disc Blu-ray set Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Two (still officially titled Enterprise during its original broadcast), the opportunity to rediscover this frequently (and unfairly) maligned series continues. Enterprise is a prequel series, telling the story of Starfleet some 100 years prior to the original series. It was a troubled series, met with highly mixed critical and fan reaction. Season two largely improved on the more uneven premiere season. The chemistry amongst the primary cast keeps even the lesser episodes well worth watching. Ten years after this season concluded, the Blu-ray release allows for a reappraisal of this underrated entry in the Trek canon.

Even more so than in the first season, the characters comes into sharper focus throughout the sophomore year. Scott Bakula is simply indispensable as Captain Jonathan Archer. As decisive as Archer usually is, Bakula makes him a warm, humble, and imminently likable leader. His science officer is a Vulcan named T’Pol (Jolene Blalock). Along with Archer and T’Pol, chief engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer) forms a trio roughly analogous to the Kirk, Spock, and Bones combination in the original series. No one is trying to ape previous characters, however. Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker strike the perfect balance between their relationships as professional and personal comrades. Blalock works wonders with T’Pol, slowly revealing the depth of the stand-offish Vulan’s personality.

Trek Enterprise Season 2 reed t'pol (380x211).jpgMost of season two is episodic, with only the season premiere (“Shockwave, Part II”) and closing episode (“The Expanse”) making more than cursory attempts at establishing an arc. A few episodes do have themes or character elements that pay off in later episodes (such as T’Pol’s growing appreciation for classic American film, for one lighter example). For the most part, the majority of episodes here don’t need to be watched in their broadcast order. Luckily quite a few of the episodes have strong stories, especially the ones that Bakula refers to in the features as “ship episodes.” A fair amount of dynamic action-oriented episodes are attempted, though most don’t rank as highlights. The character-driven episodes are by and far the most interesting, even if they don’t contain the ersatz action thrills of a weaker entry like “Precious Cargo.”

After the rather underwhelming premiere, season two really gets into gear with “Carbon Creek,” T’Pol’s tall tale about the “real” first contact made by Vulcans (her direct ancestors) on Earth. The flashback structure allows Blalock to portray her own great-grandmother. “A Night in Sickbay” is another season high point, with Archer’s beloved beagle Porthos contracting a life-threatening illness after inadvertently insulting the government of planet Kreetassa. Archer loses most of a night’s sleep while Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) attempts various experimental treatments to save Porthos. Speaking of Billingsley, his fiercely intelligent Phlox is another invaluable creation that helps make Enterprise so endearing.

“The Catwalk” is another standout, with a radiation-filled space storm threatening the entire Enterprise crew. They take refuge in a heavily-shielded, but very cramped, catwalk while invaders try to claim what appears to be an abandoned ship. This is a terrifically successful example of the writers combining a “ship episode” (lo-tech and talky) with a suspenseful, somewhat more action-oriented approach.

Trek Enterprise Season 2 t'pol phlox (380x211).jpgWeaker moments include “Stigma,” an interesting but extremely heavy-handed HIV/AIDS allegory. It turns out that Vulcan mind-melding was considered a highly undesirable behavior, of which only a select minority were capable of performing. The HIV equivalent is the deadly illness Pa’nar Syndrome, something T’Pol contracted through no wrongdoing. The ambitious episode combines the intolerance of gays with the fear of revealing a sexual assault, resulting in a ham-fisted mixed metaphor. “Horizon” focuses on one of Enterprise’s least-developed characters, Ensign Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), but suffers from a meandering narrative. Again, the good episodes easily outweigh the clunkers (most of which still have interesting elements), making season two consistently enjoyable.

These episodes, though relatively recent (2002-03), simply don’t look as stunning as the recent Next Generation Blu-ray restorations. This is largely due to the way the show was shot, with a generally soft look. It looks pretty decent, just not “wow”-worthy. Fine detail is inherently lacking due to the diffusion. CG effects sequences looks considerably sharper. All in all, the season two transfers aren’t likely to shock anyone but they are consistently good enough.

Audio is similarly good without ever being super awesome. Each episode is equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Dialogue presents no problems and generally dominates. Music is nicely supportive, but predictably the various effects are the most attention-getting elements. As with the lossless surround mixes on the TNG Blu-rays, some of the most impressive audio is the realistic on-ship ambiance. It’s not “knock your socks off” good, but Enterprise sounds more than acceptable.

Fans will revel in the terrific new special features crafted for season two. Best of all is the 90-minute roundtable discussion, “In Conversation: The First Crew.” For the first time since the series went off the air, all seven members of the primary cast sit together for a discussion moderated by show co-creator Brannon Braga. What’s great about it is that, unlike the vast majority of promotional-oriented Blu-ray features, the participants discuss their negative feelings and disappointments about aspects of the show. It’s so candidly honest, and Braga’s bitterness over the handling/reception of the show is still so palpably evident, that the discussion flies by.

The same kinds of insights are on display in the outstanding, all-new three-part documentary series, “Uncharted Territory.” Each part—“Destination Unknown,” “The First Crew,” “Course Correction”—is roughly a half-hour and dives into the production of season two. The evolution of Enterprise from the shakier first season into the increasingly compelling later seasons is touched on as we learn a considerable amount about the creative challenges faced by the production team. Season one’s similar features were strong enough to begin with, but they’ve outdone themselves with these must-see pieces.

Three new commentary tracks have been included (for “Carbon Creek,” “Regeneration,” and “First Flight”). Otherwise, the remaining supplements have been ported over from the DVD edition (including deleted scenes, gag reel, additional commentaries, actor profiles, and various featurettes). It all adds up to a strikingly successful reissue that makes a strong case for Enterpise’s inclusion among the more universally accepted classic Trek.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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