By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
'Star Trek: Enterprise'
When: 8 p.m. Friday, WPWR-Channel 50
Starring: Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Jolene Blalock, Jeffrey Combs
When "Star Trek: Enterprise" debuted four years ago as the fifth prime-time incarnation of the venerable sci-fi franchise, trouble was evident in the first few minutes: The opening theme was a Diane Warren song.
The blockbuster songwriter — who's penned huge hits for Celene Dion, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Michael Botlon, even (shudder) Milli Vanilli — wrote "Faith of the Heart," which plays over the opening credits along with images of humankind's various achievements in exploration, from the H.M.S. Enterprise to the international space station to the starship Enterprise. The lyrics are typical Warren treacle, full of horrid cliches and vague hopes, promising "a change in the wind" and a chorus questioning "where my heart will take me," whatever that means.
And that's exactly what doomed "Enterprise" three seasons earlier than its "Trek" predecessors ("The Next Generation," "Voyager" and "Deep Space Nine"): We were never offered anything for our hearts — or even our heads — to have faith in.
That shortcoming remains crystalline-entity clear in the series finale of UPN's "Enterprise," airing in a two-part episode beginning at 8 p.m. Friday on WPWR-Channel 50. While other "Trek" franchises have ended with poignant, grand gestures, "Enterprise" wraps up with a whimper as one character — resurrected from another series — attempts to rediscover his own "faith of the heart."
Recognizing that none of the characters in "Enterprise" were ever interesting enough to carry such a weighty episode on their own (a fault of the show's indecisive writing, not of the actors' genuinely engaging performances), franchise curators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga jettison their creation by bringing back a couple of reliable "Trek" heavyweights. The "Enterprise" finale focuses on a dilemma faced by Cmdr. William Riker (the stalwart and sensitive Jonathan Frakes) during a particular episode of "The Next Generation." As he struggles with a decision — he's questioning who to place his faith in — he seeks the usually useless counsel of Troi (Marina Sirtis) and uses the holodeck (a virtual-reality playpen that's been indispensable throughout the franchise) to investigate what happened when the first Enterprise crew wrapped up its service.
Premise was brotherhood
In typical time-bending fashion, this last "Enterprise" event takes place six years in the future, as Earth prepares to join 18 other planets in an alliance called the United Federation of Planets. This Space Age telescoping of the United Nations was series creator Gene Rodenberry's institutionalized notion of universal (literally) brotherhood. It was the source of the core values for each series, namely the "prime directive" (basically: don't speak to another species unless spoken to). "Enterprise" was supposed to be laying the foundation for that great achievement, making a case for how and why humanity established itself as the hub of intergalactic peace and harmony.
Four years of "Enterprise," however, have only shown us a bunch of sleekly uniformed humans covering their own butts. Midway through the series, the story line suddenly shifted radically, a painfully obvious reaction to plummeting ratings and UPN execs crying, "Give us an enemy! We need a Borg! Pander! Pander!" (This was also about the time they added rock guitars to Warren's opening theme, giving a mild edge to the sappy tune.)
In the first season, there was a nebulous, uncertain threat from a time-traveling shadow figure with a spooky deep voice who only appeared occasionally; by the third season the time-traveling was completely abandoned (whither the Suliban?) for a protracted battle against a faraway species called the Xindi who were — for some reason, never quite clear — building a Death Star-type weapon, which they intended to schlepp halfway across the galaxy in order to obliterate Earth. An entire season-and-a-half was wasted on this save-the-planet cliche, the conclusion of which was almost entirely implied — and then the Xindi were never mentioned again. It's as if Mr. Nielsen himself were producing the scripts.
They're only human
Mixed in there was the occasional comic relief (John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox has been an underappreciated treasure) and the inevitable, laughably subdued sexual tension (Braga's trademark distracting influence). We humans bickered with the Vulcans, debated with the Xindi and argued with the Andorians. Our motives always seemed more selfish than selfless.
So it's no surprise that this finale fast-forwards several years to the historic moment of unity. We're to assume that eventually the Enterprise crew tapped into some altruism and leadership, and that humanity became worthy of founding the grand and glorious Federation.
Add to this failure the natural incongruity of a prequel made more than 30 years and countless special-effects advancements after its origin, and it's really no wonder the audience boldly went. George Lucas has struggled with this same quandary in his "Star Wars" prequels. It's asking a lot of any audience to look at the stunning effects of recent "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" productions and reconcile them with the cardboard sets and bad blue screens of the originals. Really, I mean, look at that fancy, techno-savvy bridge on "Enterprise" — they went from that to the featureless set James T. Kirk stalked in the '60s?
That's a lot of disbelief to suspend.
"Enterprise" tries to be arch with several in-jokes throughout this episode — "Here's to the next generation," Capt. Archer (Scott Bakula) salutes over a glass of scotch — but even those can't overcome the purely pointless plot. The Andorian Shran returns (he's not dead, after all, but don't expect a satisfying explanation), and he needs the crew's help to save his daughter, who's been kidnapped by ... no one in particular. So that's the last mission of the first starship Enterprise: getting all Kojak on some nameless space thugs. One of the Enterprise crew dies, too — in the most anticlimactic and dramatically pointless death in the history of the franchise.
It's a deflation of, not a triumphant conclusion to, the series and the bandwagon — for a while, anyway. In the end, of course, Riker learns to have faith in the right person (we've already seen it play out in "The Next Generation"), but the first Enterprise crew scatters with little evidence of where their hearts will take them. So much for boldness in going.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.