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Site created 12/15/97.




review added: 10/18/05



Star Trek: Enterprise
The Complete Fourth Season - 2004-05 (2005) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

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Program Rating (Season Four/Series Finale): A/F

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C+

Specs and Features

924 mins (22 episodes at 42 mins each), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), custom plastic shell packaging with inner disc holder, audio commentary with writer Michael Sussman and Tim Gaskill (on In a Mirror, Darkly - Parts I & II - the podcast commentary), audio commentary with writers Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens and Tim Gaskill (on Terra Prime - the podcast commentary), text commentary by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda (on The Forge, In a Mirror, Darkly - Part II and These Are the Voyages), 3 deleted scenes (from Storm Front, The Aenar and In a Mirror, Darkly - Part II - 16x9, DD 2.0), outtakes reel (2 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes (all 4x3, DD 2.0) including Enterprise Moments: Season Four (16 mins), Inside the Mirror Episodes (16 mins), Enterprise Secrets (6 mins), Visual Effects Magic (13 mins), That's a Wrap! (7 mins) and Links to the Legacy (4 mins), production photo gallery, Borg Invasion promo trailer, 1 NX-01 File Easter egg featurette, booklet insert, animated program-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, episode/scene access (8 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Editor's Note: U.K. release (and the U.S. Best Buy/Musicland Group-exclusive bonus disc) includes 2 additional featurettes: Enterprise Goes to the Dogs and Westmore's Aliens: Creating Dr. Phlox and Beyond.

It really HAS been a long road gettin' from there to here, hasn't it? If you've read my reviews of Enterprise's first, second and third seasons on DVD, you'll know that I've said a lot of stuff like, "Yeah, this show isn't perfect... but just hang in there, because it's going to get better." And I was right, wasn't it? It DID get better in Season Three. Well, guess what? Season Four is where Star Trek: Enterprise got a LOT better. At long last, this show finally hit its stride.

After struggling to guide the series through three difficult seasons, producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had finally managed to stabilize the show's plunging ratings with Season Three's 24-episode Xindi arc. The duo then made perhaps their smartest decision in years: They turned the show-running duties over to a recent addition to the writing staff... Manny Coto. Berman and Braga would still run the production, but Coto was left in charge of the writing room. It would be up to him to guide the story arcs - the dramatic course Enterprise would set for its fourth final season. Coto not only brought to the table a fan's love for (and knowledge of) Star Trek, but also a wealth of ideas as to how to finally start bridging the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series of Kirk and Spock. Coto quickly went after (and successfully recruited) pair of new additions to the show's writing staff: accomplished Trek novelists Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens. Together with Coto, and established series writers Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis, they would help to craft Enterprise's most compelling and entertaining season by far. The season's best episodes were simply outstanding. At last, there was genuine energy and enthusiasm to the storytelling! Real risks were taken. The guest actors were of a higher caliber. And even the weaker episodes - generally the stand-alone stories - worked toward the broader purpose of tying Enterprise more closely to The Original Series.

Unfortunately, what most of the cast and crew already knew was that no matter how good the series became in Season Four, it would likely be Enterprise's final year. UPN was eager to target a new demographic (younger women)... and Star Trek no longer fit in their game plan. Concerned with declining viewership and the lackluster performance of the previous Trek feature films, Paramount decided it was best for the franchise simply to go away for a while. So at the end of Season Three, a decision was made at the top levels of the studio: Barring a sudden surge in the ratings, Enterprise would get just one more year to allow the series to approach the 100 episodes mark (a magic number needed to sweeten syndication deals) and that was it. All the cast and crew could do was give the season their all... and hope for a miracle.

The first order of business for Season Four was to resolve the odd little temporal paradox left by Berman and Braga from the third season's cliffhanger finale. Coto himself tackled the difficult dilemma with the season's first 2-part mini-arc, Storm Front and Storm Front, Part II. While it was heavily plot driven and a bit awkward, featuring Archer lost in an alternate New York City circa 1944 during an attempted Nazi invasion of America (and his crew's attempt to uncover how he'd come to be there), the improvement in writing quality - particularly the characters' dialogue - was obvious immediately. By the time the arc was over, the convoluted Temporal Cold War storyline had thankfully been resolved, and the crew was finally able to return safely to the Earth as they remembered it. Well... almost as they remembered it.

The season's third episode, Home, wasn't quite the homecoming the crew might have expected. Archer had to deal with his guilt over the moral compromises he was forced to make in the Expanse. Phlox encountered a disturbing new trend back on Earth - rising prejudice against non-Humans. And when T'Pol invited Trip to return home with her to Vulcan, her former fiance resurfaced with a difficult proposition that could save her mother's career... but derail her new relationship with Trip. The episode marked both the first appearance of T'Pol's mother, T'Les (played by Joanna Cassidy, who sci-fi fans might remember from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner), and also our first real exploration of the planet Vulcan in years.

The effort to start building ties to The Original Series began with a vengeance in the season's first 3-episode arc, a follow-up to the classic episode Space Seed. In Borderland, Cold Station 12 and The Augments, we learned that a handful of genetic supermen left over from the Eugenics Wars have not only survived, but hijacked a Klingon ship. Hiding out in Orion space, they've hatched a plan to start a conflict between Earth and the Klingons, and also to retrieve and revive the frozen embryos of thousands of their fellow "augments," kept on ice at a remote space station. The arc featured a pair of great guest performances, including The Next Generation's Brent Spiner as Dr. Arik Soong (a misguided scientist and an ancestor of the man who would eventually create Data) and Alec Newman as the augments' leader, Malik (Newman previously starred as Paul Atreides in the Frank Herbert's Dune miniseries). The Orions, by the way, are a race of green-skinned slaves and slavers that first appeared in the classic episode The Cage - this is the first time we'd seen them since The Original Series.

The season's second 3-episode arc found Archer and company struggling to prevent not only a Vulcan Civil War, but also a larger conflict between the Vulcans and Andorians. The Forge, Awakening and Kir'Shara featured the return of a trio of popular guest characters from previous seasons (Gary Graham's Soval, Jeffrey Combs' Shran and Vaughn Armstrong's Admiral Forrest), and gave Coto and the Reeves-Stevens the chance to really explore Vulcan history, culture and custom more closely than ever before. The episodes also helped to explain (and set right) something that many fans had complained about on Enterprise, which was that the Vulcans of Archer's era seemed more devious and emotional than they were in later periods. Additional ties to Trek history were made in the appearance of Surak, the telling of the story of the Vulcan IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination) and the discovery that much of the turmoil was being instigated by Romulan operatives in secret as part of a plot to conquer their Vulcan brethren.

A pair of stand-alone episodes followed next. In the first, Daedalus, we met Emory Erickson... the man who invented transporter technology and who was also a former mentor of Archer. Meanwhile, Observer Effect found the crew of the Enterprise being studied by a pair of noncorporeal beings (Organians, as seen in the classic TOS episode Errand of Mercy).

Setting up the inter-species alliance that would one day become the Federation of Star Trek history was the idea behind the season's final 3-part arc, depicted in the episodes Babel One, United and The Aenar. The Romulan Empire was spreading its wings once more, using unmarked, remotely-controlled marauders to attack Andorian, Tellarite, Vulcan and Human ships in an effort to provoke an all-out war between them. Archer and Shran struggled to prevent the interstellar conflict, while attempting to convince the differing races to work together to uncover their real enemy. Not only did this storyline nicely set-up the war Trek fans know must eventually happen between Earth and the Romulans (as mentioned in the TOS episode Balance of Terror), we also got the chance to explore Andorian society for the first time on-screen.

Remember how the Klingons of Kirk's time all had smooth foreheads, while those of later centuries (and even those seen on Enterprise) had bony skull ridges? Well... that discrepancy was finally explained in the episodes Affliction and Divergence, in which we also saw the early dealings (and learned the origins) of the mysterious shadow organization, Section 31.

In the season's final stand-alone episode, Bound, Archer and his crew had another brush with the Orion Syndicate on their way home from the Klingon crisis. The Orions plotted to capture the Enterprise and sell its crew into slavery. A trio of sultry green women were sent aboard to seduce the men of the Enterprise into submission... but the surprising bond between Trip and T'Pol played a key role in foiling their plan. This episode finally resolved the romantic relationship between Trip and T'Pol, which had been an ongoing subplot throughout the season (and the previous season as well). It also revealed a surprising fact about the Orions.

Coto and company weren't yet finished having fun with Enterprise's connections to The Original Series - not by a long shot. In a pair of devilishly fun episodes written by Mike Sussman, we got to see what Archer and his crew were up to... in the hostile alternate universe of the classic episode Mirror, Mirror. Sussman's In a Mirror, Darkly and In a Mirror, Darkly - Part II is best thought of as Enterprise unleashed... or maybe unhinged is the better word. The story followed up on another classic episode as well, The Tholian Web, in which the Constitution-class starship U.S.S. Defiant disappeared from Kirk's time. Turns out, it reappeared in Archer's time, only in the "mirror" universe! There, a war-mongering Archer and his crew stumble upon the more advanced starship... and Archer decides to use it in a bid to take over the Terran Empire. These episodes were PACKED with TOS references, including appearances by both the Gorn and the Tholians. We also got to see our Enterprise characters' counterparts in TOS-era Starfleet uniforms, and operating on a meticulous recreation of a very familiar looking Bridge. Really getting into the spirit of things, the producers even altered the series' opening and closing credit sequences for these episodes, giving them a darker, more ominous tone. The In a Mirror, Darkly saga was a Trekkers' delight from start to finish.

Winding down the season back in the regular universe, the series final 2-part arc - Demons and Terra Prime - is simply outstanding. Conceived by Coto and the Reeves-Stevens, both episodes have a classic Trek feel and subject matter. It's entirely appropriate, I think, that the final obstacle standing between Humans, Vulcans, Andorians and other races joining to form a partnership of equals... a coalition that will one day become the Federation... should be Humanity's own prejudice. Peter Weller (of RoboCop and Buckaroo Banzai fame) guest stars as John Frederick Paxton, the idealistic but misguided leader of a growing faction of xenophobic Humans who have come to believe - in light of the disastrous attack on Earth by the Xindi - that maybe Starfleet should never have gotten involved in interstellar affairs in the first place. Their group, Terra Prime, sees Archer and the crew of the Enterprise as the principal instigators of Humanity's demise... and Trip and T'Pol's inter-species relationship as symbolic of their worst fears realized. The way in which Paxton and Terra Prime take advantage of Archer and his crew, of Starfleet's aspirations and of Trip and T'Pol's relationship is heartbreaking. In my opinion, Demons and Terra Prime represent Enterprise at its very best. All of the cast is involved in the action - even Travis and Hoshi have important things to do for a change. We finally see long unexplored locations in the Trek universe by visiting the Moon and Mars. Weller chews up the scenery as Paxton, bringing a welcome measure of gravitas to his role. And in the final scene of the story (which was originally to have been the last moment of the series), we see Trip and T'Pol united by their grief and their feelings for one another, with a Vulcan IDIC pendant clutched in their entwined fingers. It's one of the most poignant endings of a Star Trek episode in years - symbolic of everything the franchise has come to stand for.

If only the series had ended there. If only...

Unfortunately, producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had to stick their fingers into the pie one last time. Deciding that it was their place alone to write the series' final episode, they hastily crafted what they referred to as a "valentine to the fans." The resulting episode, These Are the Voyages..., is mediocre, depressing and disappointing in nearly every respect. I understand what they were TRYING to do. They were trying to cement Enterprise firmly into Trek history, and give a nod to the rest of the franchise in the process. Regardless, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager had all run for seven years each. Enterprise fans were ALREADY getting cheated out of three full seasons. For many of those hardy fans who'd stayed with Enterprise through four difficult years, and become invested in its characters, that Berman and Braga would waste even a SINGLE episode in an homage to those other series felt like a swift kick in the teeth. My gums are still bleeding.

Set six years after Terra Prime (well, give or take two hundred), These Are the Voyages... almost completely ruins that episode's touching final scene by backing away from Trip and T'Pol's relationship for puzzlingly unexplained and unmotivated reasons. I should note that this relationship was pretty much the only major bit of personal character development in the entire series, and it had already taken two full (and at times agonizing) seasons to FINALLY reach a satisfying place. Then the episode actually kills off one of the pair in a contrived subplot involving a kidnapping, a stolen jewel and Silly Aliens of the Week (not Klingons or Romulans, but petty criminals we'd never seen before). This Important Sacrifice, we learn, is all about saving Archer so he can make another Big Gazelle Speech at the signing of the Federaton charter. Except Archer never even sheds a tear (in fact, no one really does). Most of the rest of the Enterprise cast is reduced to being bit players on their own series, with little screen time and almost nothing in the way of character development. None of these people seem to have changed in six years, aside from slightly different hair styles and new patches on their uniforms. Except T'Pol that is, who's even more emotionally unstable here than she was in the Expanse.

Indeed... the episode's REAL stars are Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, who reprise their roles as Riker and Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The entire hour is basically the continuation of a mediocre Next Generation episode called The Pegasus. All of the Enterprise scenes take place in the Enterprise-D's holodeck, meaning that none of what you see is real anyway. The conceit has Riker watching a supposedly critical series of past events on Archer's ship (at Troi's suggestion) to help him make a tough decision of his own. So Riker steps into the holodeck role of the never-before-fully-seen Chef on the NX-01, and proceeds to badger the crew with questions about their personal lives. The strange thing is, the TNG elements of this story don't even remotely fit in with the tone and urgency of the original TNG episode being referenced (not to mention the fact that Frakes and Sirtis have obviously aged beyond where their characters were back in 1994 when The Pegasus was originally filmed). Making matters worse on the Enterprise side of things, the fan favorite character of Shran is reduced to the status of a common criminal to serve the episode's arbitrary plot twists. Even the episode's conclusion, in which Archer is finally about to give his Big Gazelle Speech (the one his best friend has just died for), is ruined by Riker who actually has the balls to say "Computer, end program" before Archer utters a single word. All of this is frosted with a quick montage of three ships named Enterprise - stunningly, it's the only thing in the episode NOT likely to trigger a brain aneurysm among those brave souls who stuck with this series to the very end.

If it had been a regular episode of Enterprise, it would STILL have been a damned lousy episode of The Next Generation. But as the Enterprise series finale, These Are the Voyages... was absolutely abysmal. This episode has so little connection with the rest of the series, that it's almost as if Berman and Braga hadn't even watched the show since the end of Season Two. Many of Enterprise's cast and crew openly criticized their series finale, and they were right to do so. It's just appalling, ranking right up there with Captain Kirk's death by falling off a bridge in Star Trek: Generations (not the bridge of a starship but a LITERAL bridge). Ugh.

Thankfully, dreadful though it was (and will EVER remain), These Are the Voyages... only slightly taints what was otherwise one of the best complete seasons of any Star Trek series to date. Through 21 episodes, Manny Coto and company did something I hadn't thought possible: They made Star Trek truly fun again. I'm glad to say their work is even more fun the second time around on DVD.

There are only 22 episodes in this final season, but Paramount has again presented them in full anamorphic widescreen video (on 6 discs this time, as opposed to 7 in the previous seasons). The final year of Enterprise was the first season of any Trek series to be shot fully in high-definition video, instead of the 35mm film used previously. This was initially done as a cost-savings measure, but the look and quality of the production was actually enhanced by the digital shift. On DVD, the HD video has been down-converted to a 480p image that's surprisingly film-like. In fact, you can hardly tell that it's not film - the match with the previous seasons is near perfect. Image clarity overall is excellent, with plenty of detail visible at all times. Contrast is rock solid, and the color is even more vibrant than ever before. Let me tell you, this show's always looked great on DVD, but this season takes the cake. Whether it's the fire plains of Vulcan or the colorful bridge of the TOS-era Defiant, the footage here looks outstanding.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as expected, and I think the mix here is maybe just a little more aggressive than in previous seasons. The soundfield is nicely wide, with good bass. The use of directional sound seems a little more enthusiastic than it's been so far. The rear channels still aren't as active as they are on, say... the Trek feature films DVDs, but this is a nicely immersive audio experience for a TV show on disc.

As for the extras on this final Enterprise set, well... they're a bit of a letdown. Not only are there fewer episodes, but you also get just 3 deleted scenes (none of which are particularly noteworthy, but they're thankfully in anamorphic widescreen). There are, at least, a trio of audio commentary tracks this time. But if you've listened to the "podcast" commentaries that were posted on Star Trek.com (for Terra Prime and the two In a Mirror, Darkly episodes), you've already heard them. They've simply been repurposed. At least they're good - quite good in fact, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not giving them a listen. The discs also include 3 more text trivia commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda for those who enjoy them.

Disc Six contains the rest of the extras, which amount to 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a single NX-01 File Easter egg, an outtakes video, a gallery of production photographs and yet another Borg Invasion promo trailer. The outtakes are very funny (maybe the best yet, including a pair of great jokes between Scott Bakula and guest star Jeffrey Combs, and John Billingsley - who plays Phlox - in a VERY funny moment: "J'accuse!"), but there's only 2 minutes worth of them, so the fun's over all too quickly. Those of you who participated in the "Save Enterprise" rally outside Paramount's Hollywood studios will appreciate the Easter egg - it's a video of (and about) the rally, along with comments by series stars Bakula and Connor Trinneer on how much they appreciate the fans' efforts. The gallery of photos includes some nice images of the cast and crew at work (and at play). I didn't even look at the Borg Invasion promo (and neither should you). Paramount's put it on every damn Trek DVD for over a year now, so I think we get the idea.

Unfortunately, the 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes add up to maybe an hour of material in all - a scant hour for the best season of this series! In Enterprise Moments: Season 4, Manny Coto and a few of the actors discuss some of the highlights from the season, but gloss over many of the season's interesting subplots and developments. I would have liked to see the writers talking about the cancellation, and where the series might have gone if a fifth season had happened. Sadly, you won't find any of that here. I had high hopes for Links to the Legacy, which features the Reeves-Stevens talking about all the Trek lore and connections they were able to work into the season... but at only 4 minutes, it barely scratches the surface. Visual Effects Magic is a decent look at how some of the series' CG shots were achieved, both from this and previous seasons. Unfortunately, That's a Wrap isn't what I expected at all. I was HOPING for a look at the filming of the final episode and maybe a chance to see some of the cast's final scenes together - their last moments playing these characters. Unfortunately, what I got was a glossy and sentimental visit to the series' wrap party - a decidedly bitter pill to swallow given the way the series was killed by Paramount and UPN just as it had finally become truly great. Maybe Enterprise Secrets would make up for this? Not really. It's a look at the filming of the final episode all right, but it basically amounts to the second assistant director telling you who's who in the final crowd shot of These Are the Voyages... - great for trivia buffs, but not particularly satisfying. I wanted to see Bakula, Jolene Blalock and Trinner's last scenes together! What were the various cast members' final moments on set like? You don't really get to see any of that, except in a couple of the photo gallery images. The best of the featurettes by far is Inside the Mirror Episodes, in which we learn from Sussman and Coto how the idea for the mirror universe episodes came together. We get to see some behind-the-scenes video shot during the filming, and get a closer look at the recreated Bridge and corridors of the TOS-era Defiant. You'll learn how the sets were researched and put together, etc. It's a fun look at a very fun pair of episodes. Unfortunately, those fans who might be looking for a bit of closure on the untimely demise of this series aren't going to find it on this DVD. I can only hope SOMEONE actually recorded those moments I wanted to see, and that maybe we'll find them on a future HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc release. In any case, as they are, the extras on Season Four are disappointing.

For the record, the packaging for Season Four is identical to the previous seasons, sans the 7th disc. You do get a nice liner notes booklet, featuring an episode guide and a list of the extras. The menus feature animation of the NX-01 with a fleet of Vulcan starships of various types - nice to look at, but you can't skip past it when you switch discs, so it gets a bit repetitive.

Also, you U.K. Trekkers will get a pair of additional featurettes in your Season Four set - Enterprise Goes to the Dogs and Westmore's Aliens: Creating Dr. Phlox and Beyond. U.S. fans who want to see them will have to purchase the set at Best Buy, Musicland or Media Play stores (you'll find them on an exclusive bonus disc packed with the set at those retailers only). Yeah, it's irritating... but hopefully it's the last time you'll have to deal with a Trek bonus disc. After all, HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc are supposed to have all that extra room, so there's no need to... yeah, right.

Its less-then-special features aside, Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season is almost a must-own set of DVDs. These 22 episodes (well... 21 of them anyway) are just that good. I firmly believe that if Enterprise had launched right out of the gate in Season One with the kind of enthusiasm and story-telling direction that it FINALLY found in Season Four, we'd be watching new episodes right now. Why this series took so long to embrace its basic premise is a mystery that Trek fans will be debating for years to come. As far as I'm concerned, however, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Berman and Braga. It's simply no coincidence that when they finally stepped back and passed the show-running duties to Manny Coto, this series immediately got better - not just a little better, but markedly so. It's also no coincidence that the single worst episode of this season by far (sadly, it HAD to be the series finale) was written by guess who? Berman and Braga.

Another case in point: The producers were, for a hopeful time early in the fourth season, negotiating with actor William Shatner to play a guest starring role on Enterprise. Coto and the Reeves-Stevens wanted him to play the "mirror" universe version of Kirk. Berman reportedly wanted him to play Chef. As you can probably guess, the negotiations fell through. Ugh.

Whatever your feelings about the pair's work over the years, for better or worse, the damage has been done. Enterprise is gone, the last two feature films have tanked and Star Trek is dead... at least for now. Whoever Paramount brings in to take the reigns of this franchise next is going to have a helluva difficult task ahead of them. I hope they DO bring someone new in (may I suggest Coto?) or else fans will have suffered through all this grief for nothing. Still, as someone who HAS been a fan of the franchise since the very early days of The Original Series, I am heartened at least by this much: Coto, Sussman, the Reeves-Stevens, Andre Bormanis and the rest of the cast and crew of Enterprise gave the fans a helluva great last season. They've proven without question that there's still plenty of life left in this franchise... and they've restored my faith in Star Trek. I sincerely hope they all get the chance to return to Roddenberry's universe someday.

Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season is easily the best that this series has to offer. Thankfully, it looks and sounds fantastic on DVD, which means that those fans who bailed on this show after its mediocre first two seasons will have a great second chance to see what they missed (and discover just how good this show finally became). I'm both pleased and saddened to say that Enterprise went out at the top of its game. It might be a very long time before any of us get to enjoy good Star Trek again.

One last thing... repeat after me: Terra Prime is the finale. These Are the Voyages never happened. Terra Prime is the finale. These Are the Voyages never happened...

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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