In theory, there’s a lot to like about the ninth episode of Enterprise, not least of which being that it finally turns its attention to some of the world-building that this show has been crying out for since it began; not “This alien race is nuts,” but a look at how the creation of the Enterprise – and the creation of Starfleet in general – affects regular folk out there in the universe. Sadly, theory only counts for so much, and when it comes to the execution of the ideas behind it… Well, that’s where things start to fall apart.
Following on from the last episode, “Fortunate Son” further underscores what may end up being Enterprise‘s core problem: It can’t quite balance familiarity with enough newness to make the show feel like anything other than deja vu and nostalgia for earlier, bolder shows. The core plot of the episode, again, is fine – A freighter was attacked by aliens and, unknown to the Enterprise crew who show up to help out in the aftermath, has taken one of the aliens prisoner, torturing him to discover where his compatriots are so that they can launch a revenge attack – and the themes that the show attempts to explore are ones that I’d love to see handled in more depth: Should freighter captains feel threatened by ships that can fly a twice their speeds? How do those born and raised in space view space exploration? And what does everyone who’s been flying around in an essentially lawless area of space think about Starfleet coming in and enforcing rules and stuff…?
Sadly, the episode that exists does little more than pay lip service to these ideas; instead, we get something far more generic and safe, with Travis’ central role being one that – somewhat tone-deafly, considering the racial politics involved, which I doubt the creators were even aware of, to be fair – sees his concerns very quickly dismissed by a smug Captain Archer who doesn’t address his concerns as much as tells him, essentially, that he’s being silly and that the Captain knows better (It’s an astonishing scene, and one that I can’t help but assume seemed a lot better on paper; on screen, it cheapens both characters and makes Archer almost unlikable in his patronizing response). The overly conservative nature of Enterprise is brought to the fore again as what could’ve been a more complex, nuanced look into the world of the series is cheapened into a much simpler “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right” story where everyone is in the wrong – apart, of course, from our regular heroes, who are just doing their jobs and making the universe a safer place for everyone.
The more than Enterprise continues, the clearer it becomes that the show is slowly becoming hamstrung by what may be a seeming misunderstanding about what makes a hero in science fiction (and especially Star Trek): the idea that they are somehow above the fray and in the right no matter what, as opposed to overcoming their own problems and prejudices to eventually do the right thing. What would have made this episode better was if Travis had been allowed to disagree with the Captain and learned his mistake the hard way, instead of through a misguided attempt of “Daddy Knows Best.” If Enterprise was willing to allow its regulars to fail, we’d like them better – and the show, too.
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