Star Trek Enterprise has always been my least favorite series in the franchise. Like a lot of Trek fans my age, I grew up watching TNG, DS9, & Voyager with my parents. They are fans of the original series and wanted to share that joy with a new generation. But why did I dislike Enterprise so much?
It came out when I was still in school and, like the other series, I watched it with my parents. When I told my mom and dad I was rewatching the series to see why I didn’t like it, my mom rolled her eyes; she’s always liked Enterprise.
“You’re just watching it looking for all the bad stuff you can say,” she said. And…she’s not wrong. That was exactly what I was doing. It would be easy (oh so easy) to list all of my issues with Enterprise. Rewatching it 16 years later, I still see all of the problematic things I did the first time around – and more.
What I really wanted to achieve by rewatching Enterprise wasn’t to rehash all of its problems. What I wanted was to see was how well it answered The Call. What I mean by that is: how well did it do the job of science fiction? In my mind, science fiction is created in response to modern society – to provide criticism, to reimagine, and to inspire hope for the future. It is created, in short, to answer The Call.
The Original Series did this with aplomb – tackling all kinds of philosophical and ethical quandaries. Not to mention, providing the first on air interracial kiss. It pushed boundaries. I would argue that TNG, DS9, & Voyager pushed them as well, although not to the same degree. There have been many calls that have been left unanswered by Star Trek, most notably that of gay and transgender representation. There were at least some feeble attempts made to talk about sexuality and gender in TNG with “The Outcast” and DS9 with “Rejoined.”
But Enterprise, if anything, took a giant leap backwards for mankind. All of the main characters are straight and cis gender. On top of that, everyone else is assumed by those characters to be straight and cis gender. There is also a lot of good ol’ boy nudge-nudgery going on as many of the main characters openly objectify women. So on the point of answering The Call to address those social injustices in America, Enterprise falls flat on its face.
So what ‘call’ is it answering, if any? One thing to keep in mind is that the first episode of Enterprise aired on September 26, 2001. When they were making the first season of Enterprise they couldn’t know what was going to take place just a few weeks before the first episode aired, but it was obvious as the story shifted in seasons 2 and 3, that the writers had September 11 on their mind. The whole story arc with the Xindi weapon that killed millions of people on Earth felt like a direct response to the pain many Americans were feeling.
I’m not letting Enterprise off the hook here. Far from it. Enterprise failed to answer The Call of its generation. Period. Instead, it took the easy way out by playing on people’s fear and hate. 2000s America didn’t need a Jonathan Archer that goes to kick the bad guys’ butts – even if it felt good. It needed introspection, imagination, and a better future. That sweet, sweet, Star Trek future where we not only explore space, but ourselves.
I’m a little leery of Star Trek: Discovery, to be honest. While there was a lot of talk about the first openly gay character, I did not see any sign of him in the trailer. Instead we got shots from a Star Wars-esque set full of Abrams-esque lens flare and dramatic dialog. This generation doesn’t need another distraction on television. More than ever it needs Star Trek to answer The Call.
For instance, I would love to see Discovery shatter gender norms and stereotypes. The casting seems to indicate two women of color are the lead characters, which makes me hopeful. I also hope to see Discovery portray multiple LGBT relationships, not just the one we were told about. Lastly, I think it is very important that Discovery tackle the issues of xenophobia and racism. DS9 does an excellent job of this in episodes like “Far Beyond the Stars.” Let’s see more of that and less of the casual, unanswered xenophobia toward other alien races in Enterprise.
There are a lot of calls pouring in, so I will be watching for what, if any, these new stewards of Trek decide to answer.
I appreciate the troubled trajectory of ‘Enterprise’ in a meta sense. For me, Enterprise straddled both pre-9/11 cynicism/subtlety and post 9/11 paranoia, when the cultural paradigm stopped tolerating complexity and where resistance had to be personal, without the solace of social media affirmation and filters.
In particular, every time I re-watch ‘Stigma’ I am reminded of the exact difficulties I encountered obtaining funding for research into HIV/AIDS when the Bush Administration and others were aggressively pushing a regressive policy of abstinence.
It makes me appreciate the melancholy tone and sadistic writing, where characters who lack self-awareness often discover wisdom through painful, humiliating and lonely failures. Or sometimes they don’t actually learn anything, and it is the reactions and dignified restraint of marginalised characters around them that inform the audience about what is really to be been learned.
Witness T’Pol’s unimpressed reaction at the end of ‘Shuttlepod One’ – I like to think she knows more than Malcolm realises about being object of his weird and unwelcome fantasies, and she is no mood to give him any encouragement even if he thinks he earned it. It would then be a pretty cynical ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ undermining of the whole episode concept that Malcolm might have gained some valuable and noble self-awareness by becoming mates with Trip.
Yes, ‘Enterprise’ failed to boldly go where no show had gone before in terms of on-screen representation (although more than 10% of its episodes were directed by a single woman, which must be a record). However, its depiction of racism and paranoia, as well as the visual cue of realistic, pre-federation, military-style uniforms, served as a timely reminder for our generation of the stark reality of just how far humans actually were from achieving an inclusive future.
The crucial difference with ‘Discovery’ is that, in the 17 years since ‘Enterprise’ was created, the cultural resistance has become more organised since the early 9/11 period, and Star Trek can begin to dream again of a more inclusive tomorrow.
Don’t let the fact that the Lt Stamets wasn’t shown in the trailer turn you off of Discovery before it airs. It’s likely that he wasn’t shown as he’s already part of the USS Discovery crew, and that ship was not shown at all in the trailer – just the USS Shenzhou and crew.
Those are excellent points! I did watch all of it (all 4 seasons). I wish they had explored the Phlox and T’Pol xenophobia more, but they do at least address it. And it does make a good parallel to the times. I like that Archer admits to T’Pol that he used to hate Vulcans, but has grown to understand them. Critiques are always welcome, and I’m sure my mom likes hearing that she’s right! I’m just a fan writing an article for my favorite podcast’s blog, but I wish I got paid news pundit money, lol. Thank you for reading it.
Did you even watch all of season 3? If so, your mother is right if you say that ENT didn’t answer the Call. Archer might have initially went to the Expanse to kick butt though by the end, he makes peace with (most of) the Xindi. That was his practice for building the Federation. You conveniently leave out the fact that Degra, the inventor of the superweapon, was an Oppenheimer rather than a bad guy. In season 4, the story has further ramifications. There are human racists who give Phlox and T’Pol grief just because they’re aliens, nevermind that they made sacrifices to save Earth. This is much like how people attacked Muslims and Sikhs after 9/11. Then there’s Terra Prime, which is eerily more relevant today. By the end of that episode, Archer says point blank that the most important discoveries are in our hearts. I hate to be harsh but you sound like a cable news pundit who takes stuff out of context to support your worldview. Could it have done more to address the issues of the day? Sure. But to say ENT didn’t answer the Call at all is a gross misinterpretation of the story.