The second season of a television show is often the most interesting. Inter-character relationships become more complex and nuanced, plotlines that work are emphasized while those that don’t fall to the wayside, characters that aren’t connecting with the audience can be re-written or replaced. You’ll occasionally find a show that fires on all cylinders from the get-go, but it’s generally the second that winds up really sucking you in - witness the widening mysteries of the second season of Lost, for instance, or the melodrama of season two of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
That’s...not really the case for season two of Enterprise, for better or for worse. I haven’t continued past season two yet, but even I know that the series was retooled for season three; the series was renamed from Enterprise to Star Trek: Enterprise, for one thing, and it had a new intro sequence and a new adversary to confront in a new sector of space. After finishing off season two, I’ll honestly say I’m looking forward to the reboot: while the season is generally solid, it still feels a bit too solid for my tastes. The plotlines from season one were moved forward only incrementally, and such relationships as there are seem to be in something of a standstill as well. Read on for a more detailed breakdown of the season!
Romulans? Check. Klingons? Check. Borg? Check. Get Hoshi topless? Check. None of these things are particularly bad, per se, but I’d be lying if they didn’t seem to be a bit reactionary, as if the new species and enemies introduced in season one simply weren’t enough to hold a traditional Star Trek audience’s attention. The Suliban, for instance, appear in the first episode, pop in about halfway through the season, and then appear in an abbreviated form in the season finale (about which more later). It’s tough to take them seriously as series-spanning antagonists when they simply disappear off into the ether for months at a time and leave the Enterprise to travel around unhindered.
The level of fear that the showrunners display at any kind of serialized drama is kind of telling. Deep Space Nine, still my favorite of the Star Trek series, was densely serialized, especially in its last few seasons, which is arguably why I liked it so much. Enterprise seems to have been destined for five-nights-a-week syndication from its inception, however; you could shuffle the order of most of the episodes (excepting the season premiere and finale) without impacting your ability to follow along. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but given the option to enjoy serialized narratives or the episode-of-the-week format, I’ll go with the former every time.
Archer’s escape from Rura Penthe. Perhaps the most laugh-worthy callback, however, has to be T’Pol and her Vulcan AIDS. I mean, what else can you call Pa’nar Syndrome? A small segment of the Vulcan population performs acts that the majority doesn’t approve of, forcing them to live in secrecy, and they’re the only ones who can contract this disease? And the majority chooses not to spend research money on the topic, seeing that it’s only contracted by undesirables? A bit of a heavy-handed analogy, that. I mean, I get it: Star Trek has always used its sci-fi setting to examine modern-day concerns, like racism, US-Soviet relations, and whale hunting, but Pa'nar syndrome seems like a rather weak echo of the kinds of things that And The Band Played On... was saying 10 years previously.
The bizarre recycling of TNG episodes continues apace, as well. The ones I recognized included: “P recious Cargo”, which features the “female passenger falling in love with the wrong man” motif from the TNG episode “ The Perfect Mate”; “ The Communicator” uses the same “genetically-altered but captured behind enemy lines” theme as the TNG episode “ First Contact”; “ Singularity”, with T’Pol saving the ship while the rest of the crew was incapacitated, seemed awfully similar to Troi saving the enterprise in “ Night Terrors”; and Hoshi’s incorporeal adventures in “ Vanishing Point” were an obvious throwback to Ensign Ro and La Forge’s troubles in “ The Next Phase”. “Vanishing Point” was especially interesting due to the fact that everything that Hoshi went through was explained away as being nothing more than a hallucination. The “It was all a dream!” conclusion to a television show was a hoary chestnut well before Enterprise even took the air; seeing them dust it off for apparently no good reason other than that it was convenient was fairly disconcerting.
Star Trek V, did they?).
All of this unfortunately sounds like a pile of complaints, but don't take that too seriously: despite the problems the show has, it's still Star Trek, and as such is pretty watchable, even if I do tend to whine about the stuff I don't like. It's no TNG or DS9, of course, but I much prefer it to Voyager, largely on the strength of the cast: the actors are a bit bland overall, sure, but I genuinely like Connor Trinneer's turn as the ship's engineer, John Billingsley is refreshingly laid-back as Phlox, and, well, as far as eye candy goes, I'd put Jolene Blalock's T'Pol up there with anyone else in the Star Trek family of shows. (Although the twice-yearly opportunities to get her topless strike me as a bit tasteless.) There were also some genuinely good episodes in the season: " Dawn" was an obvious play on Enemy Mine, but it was still effective as a piece of drama.
So, we boldly go into season three. I'm looking forward to it, honestly; I give the showrunners credit for knowing when to fold an unappealing storyline and move onto new adventures. It obviously wasn't enough to save the show from its ultimate cancellation, but I'm still hoping that it gives the series a bit of forward momentum that it has thus far lacked a bit. We'll find out together, as we boldly go...well, where everyone's gone before me. But I'm catching up!