My Two Cents (Daily) - A smattering of reviews, news & cover art to close out the week http://t.co/z4Yi3ANbNz
Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Two
Release Date(s)2002-2003 (August 20, 2013)
Enterprise’s second year had really no place to go but up. It certainly opened well. Wrapping up Season One’s cliffhanger, Shockwave, Part II delivered an action-intense storyline that was a welcome change from the previous year’s aimless wandering. This was soon followed by a pair of great back-to-back episodes – Minefield (the NX-01’s ill-fated first encounter with the Romulans, unknown to the crew) and Dead Stop (in which repairing the damage caused by the Romulans comes at a high cost) – that gave fans reason to believe the show was beginning to find its legs. Unfortunately, the season’s building momentum was quickly killed by A Night in Sickbay, a fun but dreadfully ill-timed comedic episode that made Archer look seriously incompetent just as he was finally starting to seem like a real Starship captain. The season then delivered a long stretch of the same directionless storytelling the first season offered – mostly recycled Trek plots involving encounters with aliens and spatial phenomena of the week (although there was at least a solid Andorian follow-up and a nice AIDS allegory involving T’Pol and mind-melding). The low points were Precious Cargo and Bounty… and the less said about each of them the better.
The shame is, there were also some great episodes late in the season. In Cogenitor, Archer finally realizes he hasn’t been setting such a great example for his crew, when Trip’s well-intentioned actions (“I did exactly what you’d do, Cap’n...”) lead to the worst possible outcome during a first contact. Regeneration depicts Starfleet’s first encounter with the Borg (a very clever follow-up to the film First Contact by writer Mike Sussman). And the best episode of the season by far is First Flight – a Right Stuff-inspired story that reveals Archer’s early days as a test pilot in the NX program, trying to get his father’s warp engine to work, and the beginnings of his friendship with Trip. It features an outstanding guest appearance by actor Keith Carradine as a rival officer competing with Archer to be the first pilot to break the Warp 2 barrier. And the season ends on a high note with The Expanse, in which a devastating attack on Earth leaves millions dead – and kicks off a continuing arc for Season Three in which the NX-01 crew, scarred and reeling, must fight to save the human race from an unknown enemy.
The Blu-ray A/V quality here is on par with that of Season One. Actually, I think it’s a little better even just because the visual effects look better – not in resolution, but the visual effects department was just getting better at working with CG by this point in the show. The live action footage is shot on 35mm film and scanned in HD, while the effects (which were rendered at 480p/16x9 for most of Seasons One and Two) are upconverted. (Note that visual effects were upgraded to 720p for Season Three – that may have started with the finale of Season Two, I’m not sure.) The image is a little soft occasionally, blacks aren’t quite as deep nor colors quite as vibrant as you might expect. Still, the Blu-rays are greatly improved over the DVDs and broadcast masters. Sound is once again available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with mixes that aren’t as dynamic or immersive as modern feature film 5.1 or 7.1 mixes, but they’re still a nice match with the visuals and compare very well to the other Trek series on Blu-ray.
Moving on to the extras, everything from the Season Two DVD release carries over to Blu-ray – the audio commentaries (Dead Stop and Regeneration) and text commentaries (Stigma and First Flight), the deleted scenes (from Minefield, A Night in Sickbay, Dawn, Stigma, Cease Fire and The Expanse), a Season Two promo, the 11-minute gag reel, all the behind the scenes featurettes, the production photo gallery and the NX-01 File Easter eggs. Once again, the Best Buy bonus featurette (Shooting Feature Tense) is here too. But once again, there’s so much more here. You also get newly-recorded audio commentary on Carbon Creek and First Flight (with writer Chris Black and Mike & Denise Okuda) and on Regeneration (with John Billingsley and guest star Bonita Fridericy). And here’s the kicker – not only do you get another 90-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of Season Two (called Uncharted Territory), you also get to see the first-ever reunion of the full cast in a lengthy group discussion! But more on that in a moment.
Uncharted Territory is split into three parts (Part One: Destination Unknown, Part Two: First Crew and Part Three: Course Correction) that continue where the Season One documentary left off. This stuff is amazing – several cast members appear in it, but once again Brannon Braga and Rick Berman are extraordinarily candid and they’re joined by writers Chris Black, Michael Sussman and David A. Goodman. Braga reveals right off that the writing staff wasn’t working in the first season and takes the blame. He’d tried to cast a wider net for Enterprise, wanting to find character, drama and comedy writers to freshen things up, but they just didn’t fit with Trek and most were let go (including The X-Files’ John Shiban as well as André and Maria Jacquemetton, who would go on to write and produce Mad Men). He also reveals that a regime change at Paramount and UPN at the start of Season Two meant they were suddenly getting notes from both – something that hadn’t happened ever (CBS EVP of Television Distribution, John Wentworth, is even interviewed about it). These newcomers didn’t know or like Trek, resulting in suggestions that included – and I’m not kidding here – a different boy band appearing “in the restaurant” on the Enterprise each week so the network could promote it to their younger demo. Yeah, let that soak in for a moment. Fortunately, Berman drew a line and writers like Black, Sussman and Goodman started stepping up. Nevertheless, with the remaining writers still suffering from burn-out after Voyager and Enterprise’s own 26-episode first season, the result was a very uneven second year, including some great episodes but also several of the show’s worst. One of the most interesting revelations, is that Braga and the writing staff were struggling with how to deal – almost in real time – with criticism from fans on the Internet. They were all reading it and trying to figure out how to process it. Essentially, they felt like they were under siege from both the network and the fans. Then, about halfway through the season, one of the remaining supportive execs at Paramount told Berman and Braga that they had one last chance to shake up the series and boost flagging ratings (which ironically by today’s standards were still quite good). They’d have the money they needed and could do virtually anything – they just had to do something. So Berman and Braga conceived of the Xindi arc that would form the basis of Season Three. Finally, Braga was allowed to do what he’d wanted from the beginning – to have a continuing, serialized storyline for the show. There’s no doubt that Enterprise was creatively reinvigorated because of it.
You’ll note I haven’t even talked about the cast reunion yet! In Conversation: The First Crew runs about 93 minutes and features all seven of the series' principle cast members (including Jolene Blalock, who’s been somewhat reclusive since Enterprise ended), joined by Jeffrey Combs (who played Shran – Connor Trinneer has to leave about halfway through the conversation, so Combs replaces him). Their conversation, which is hosted by Brannon Braga, is fascinating. I don’t want to spoil too much for fans, except to say this, which will give you a good idea of what you’re in store for: Braga comes right out (about ten minutes in) and very candidly apologizes to the entire cast for the series finale. No kidding – that’s where this conversation starts.
Seeing and listening to all of this is extraordinary. I was one of the few Trek fans who watched Enterprise first-run and actually liked the show, frustrating though it was. Let me tell you, I’d have killed to know some of this back then. Had these documentaries been available at the time, I think the reaction of many longtime Trek fans to Enterprise would have been not “Why is this show so bad?” but “How the hell is this show managing to be so good under these circumstances?” Truth be told, I think a lot more fans would really have rallied around Enterprise – maybe even enough (and early enough) to have saved the show.
I’ll tell you this much: My respect for Brannon Braga has grown tremendously. Hearing all the cool ideas he wanted to do on Enterprise but wasn’t allowed to by the network – man, I’d pay good money to see that show. I also want to call out CBS and special edition producers Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett once again for all their hard work on these Blu-rays. I can’t wait to see what they’re cooking up for Seasons Three and Four, which it goes without saying are the show’s best. I’d love, for example, to see a Writer’s Room Roundtable with Manny Coto, Braga, Sussman, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and the rest talking about Season Four, and what they wanted to do with Season Five and beyond. I’d really love to hear a Jolene Blalock/Connor Trinneer audio commentary for Demons and Terra Prime, or an episode like Home. And knowing Lay and Burnett, I’m sure they’re cooking up something cool for the TOS crossover two-parter, In a Mirror, Darkly. No matter what we get, the simple fact is that these Blu-rays are an embarrassing amount of riches for Enterprise fans. CBS is giving the show so much more love now than it ever got when it was on the air… and as a fan, I’m enjoying every damn minute of it.
- Bill Hunt