Star Trek: Enterprise Season 4 Blu-ray review April 28, 2014by Matt Wright , Filed under: DVD/Blu-ray,ENT , trackback
So we’ve finally come to Season 4 of Enterprise, often considered the best of the series. It is a bittersweet ending, going out on a high note, but it’s sad to think that this is the last TV series of the entire franchise, canceled after only four seasons. What we have in this final season is generally very good, we are treated to excellent multi-part story arcs about the Eugenics Wars, Vulcans, Andorians, Orions, and Klingons (oh my!) plus the mirror universe is revisited one last time. Read on for the review of the excellent Season 4 Blu-ray set.
As the writers reflect in their reunion special, each season was a different experience. Season 4 is quite a bit different from the previous seasons, from the move to digital cameras, the multi-part story arcs, even the way the pre-credits teaser sequences are setup and edited. You can tell there is a different voice (i.e. Manny Coto) this season.
First the season has to clean up the mess of the temporal cold war with a rather egregious Trek trope – “Space Nazis” …once that’s out of the way we get to the real Season 4.
Starting with the excellent “Home” which shows us both T’Pol returning to Vulcan for the first time in years, and how Earth has changed in the wake of the Xindi attack. Seeds are sewn for later episodes including rising xenophobia on Earth and the nearing completion of the NX-02 named (like the second space shuttle) the Columbia.
Based on the success of the season long arc in Season 3, the powers that be finally allowed (the more modern TV format of) multipart storylines. This was also a way to justify the budget needed to give us locations like Vulcan, Andoria, and the mirror universe.
From “Home” we launch right into a 3-part story that connects the Eugenics Wars with ENT starting with “Borderland”. We get a good turn from Brent Spiner as Arik Soong. In the season documentary we find out that Manny Coto originally wanted the villain to be Colonel Green (as seen in TOS “The Savage Curtain”) until Brent Spiner agreed to come on the show.
The next 3-part arc finally gives us an explanation about why the Vulcans in ENT have behaved so conservatively and so closed off. Archer plays a pivotal role in uncovering the true teachings of Surak. The seeds for Romulan interference are also laid (also hinting at the unproduced Season 5 which might have been the Earth-Romulan War).
In the middle of the season are a couple of one shot episodes, the utterly forgettable and odd “Daedalus”, which has nothing to do with the well-known class of starship referenced in previous Trek. “Observer Effect” is a nice try at a prequel to the Organians (from TOS “Errand of Mercy”), but mostly just kind of an odd, eerie episode that feels a bit out of place in Season 4.
Another 3-part arc starts with “Babel One” where we finally start to see the beginnings of an inter-species alliance (finally we get to see what Daniels kept telling Archer about in prior seasons). The Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans, and Humans are starting a very tentative early process for peace talks when a mysterious ship, that can appear to be a ship from another species, starts attacking the various ships to upset the peace process. We get our first look at Andoria and Andorian society and the previously unknown subspecies called the Aenar.
Next up we get a good try at answering in canon the “Klingon forehead problem”, an issue that I still don’t think is really an issue, but oh well, it’s a fun way to explain the more human TOS look. Klingons just can’t resist tampering with Augment DNA and they get p0wned by it. It’s up to a kidnapped Phlox to try and sort it all out. We also go back to the story thread of the NX-02 Columbia finally being ready, and we get some very cool scenes of Enterprise and her first sister ship working together side-by-side (and upside down) in “Divergence” the second part of the arc.
“In a Mirror Darkly” is a really great romp in the mirror universe and a fairly clever way for the producers to tie ENT to TOS via the U.S.S Defiant. We find out where it ended up phasing to after the events of TOS: “The Tholian Web.” The sets and costumes are a labor of love by the production department, and it’s quite something to see the ENT crew regard our beloved 1960’s TOS esthetic and tech as more advanced than their own. Watching evil Archer hold a classic phaser on an alien or go Gorn hunting is a ton of fun. Linda Park might be having the most fun as she owns the mirror universe by playing a very different Hoshi.
Returning to the prime universe, breaking up the arcs is an Orion focused story, “Bound”, which gives much needed back story to Orion society, the “slave women” of Orion, and despite appearances (to trick alien travelers) who’s really the boss in their society.
Earth is close to closing the deal on the Coalition of Planets (a clear predecessor to The Federation) when xenophobic mining magnate John Paxton (Peter Weller chewing the scenery in the best way possible – something he’ll do again in 2013’s Into Darkness) interrupts the talks with threats of retaliation if all non-Humans don’t leave Earth, in “Demons” and “Terra Prime.” At the end of the 2-parter we get a fantastic speech from Archer about the future of Earth and the Coalition of Planets. In the Season 4 documentary, we find out from Many Coto that since he knew this was his final episode as writer/producer he treated it as such, he says he always knew Berman and Braga intended to write the final episode since ENT was their creation, but this is his final episode.
Sadly this isn’t technically the end of the series. Berman and Braga have one final episode to cram in, even though “Terra Prime” was a fantastic ending to the show. “These Are the Voyages…” has good intentions according to its writers, but it does a bunch of disrespectful and annoying things to ENT. It frames it as (potentially, just) a holodeck simulation, bringing into question whether ENT isn’t someone’s work of historical fiction in the TNG-era. Jumped 6-years forward from where we last saw our heroes, they kill off a main character (because why not? the show is dead, right?), and just when we think we’ll finally get to see Archer sign the Charter of the United Federation of Planets (again something they loved to work into exposition in the previous seasons with Daniels), the freakin’ camera cuts over to Riker and Troi and they walk out! Arg!! Oh well… I do like the very end where the Enterprise-D turns to the classic Enterprise, which turns to the NX Enterprise heading off into the distance, bitter-sweetly signifying the end of the Star Trek franchise as we knew it.
Audio and Video Quality
The audio is once again generally excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes. It helps that Enterprise is the most modern of the TV series and so was produced with surround sound in mind.
Season 4 is the season many people are interested to see because of the move to 1080p digital cameras, something that’s now commonplace for TV shows. As such, Season 4 in many ways feels the most contemporary, since it has the very and clean, sharp, HD look that we’ve become accustomed to in the last 5-7 years with prime-time TV.
The live-action is naturally quite clear and detailed. The slight catch-22 to this is that the CGI (which was done on a strict budget and generally rendered at 720p) shows some softness and some aliasing here and there, it stands out a bit more this season since the live action photography changed quite dramatically. But there are really no complaints, and certainly looks no worse than its contemporary Battlestar Galactica.
As with the prior season sets, all DVD bonus content is ported over, this includes deleted scenes, commentaries and featurettes.
New audio commentaries – “The Forge” with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Mike & Denise Okuda
“Observer Effect” with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Mike & Denise Okuda
“United” with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and David Livingston
“In a Mirror Darkly, Part I” with James L. Conway, Mike Sussman and Mike & Denise Okuda
“Demons” with Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating
“Terra Prime” with Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating
In Conversation: Writing Star Trek Enterprise– 90 mins
The roundtable includes: Brannon Braga, Mike Sussman, André Bormanis, David A. Goodman, Chris Black, Phyllis Strong, and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
Brannon Braga was running late, so there’s a placeholder image of Braga on an iPad that they joke about. David A. Goodman leads off the roundtable.
The group goes around introducing themselves and how and when they came to the ENT.
Bormanis was a science advisor to Trek since 1993 and then was able to write freelance for VOY becoming staff for ENT.
Sussman and Strong were both started with VOY Season 7 and continued on to be part of the first group of writers for ENT.
The Reeves-Stevens’ started talking with Phyllis Strong back towards the end of Season 2, and then got their foot in the door via Mike Sussman for Season 4 when Many Coto became showrunner.
Chris Black was a Trek fan and got his agent to get him a meeting to join ENT late in S1.
David A. Goodman wrote for Futurama and wrote “Where No Fan Had Gone Before” and had interviewed for Firefly, Braga wanted a different voice (his comedy background) and was interested in him. He got a meeting with Braga and impressed him with his love for Trek and knowledge of how Braga saw Trek.
Initially Berman and Braga were interested writers who didn’t know Trek, since this was a prequel and supposed to be very different. Berman and Braga had done Trek for so long there is a feeling among the group that they were so used doing TNG-era Trek and their style of story writing and story breaking, etc. that they liked and they ended up wanting (despite saying they wanted it to be different) people who were familiar with prior Trek.
Braga shows up about 20 mins in.
Season 3 was purposefully written as a cliffhanger (despite the studio wanting them to wrap it up) to try and hedge their bets and get the network to renew ENT for a 4th season.
They all agree that each season has a distinct flavor to it and were quite different to write for.
Braga says the best episodes of Season 1 were the ones that stick to the prequel premise, the smaller ship, the universe is bigger, and things took longer to get places.
Chris Black says that at the time the writers didn’t know the pressure and scrutiny being placed up on Berman and Braga, they always saw it begin and end at them. Braga didn’t communicate what was going on with the higher ups. Braga is surprised and apologizes for not doing a better job communicating.
They discuss the boom with broadband internet, and people being widely Internet literate, so there was tons of immediate feedback from fans, which was really hard to take for the writers. David A. Goodman was the first one to start posting under his own real-world name as his screen name and responding to fans, Mike Sussman soon followed.
Eventually we get around to what would be in Season 5, the Reeves-Stevens say Shran would have been a larger character, he’d be on the bridge of Enterprise more. They also say Coto was going to reach out to Sci-Fi authors for Season 5.
They talk about how real life astronauts liked ENT, and would come by the sets, and had DVDs of ENT brought up to the International Space Station.
The documentary covering Season 4 is called “Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise” (broken into four 30-minute sections – Part 1: New Voices, Part 2: Memorable Voyages, Part 3: Final Approach Part 4: End of an Era).
Manny Coto talks about during Season 3 he was already thinking ahead, that he already had plans to do mini-arcs that connect TOS to ENT for Season 4.
Braga talks about being beaten down by the end of S3 and he had to leave, he says he knew Coto would be the showrunner.
Coto loves “Amok Time” and “Doomsday Machine” watched them religiously in ‘70s syndication.
Coto knew of the Reeves-Stevens’ and their depth of Trek knowledge and wanted them to come to work on Season 4. They came in and wrote “The Forge”.
Larry Nemecek talks about S4 and how great it was, but yet the ratings weren’t all that great for network TV. It became clear Season 4 was a “make or break” season.
The Reeves-Stevens’ talk about the signs that they were going to be canceled, one big opportunity for press that UPN passed on was the idea of allowing a recorded message from the International Space Station about the fictional launch of the NX-02 Columbia. The naming of the NX ships was following the real-world naming order of the space shuttles. The astronauts reached out the production team, but when it went up the chain of command to the network, UPN never cared to make the call to NASA to officially arrange it.
Sussman talks about the budget cuts of Season 4, and how it was also a bit of a blessing because if they could amortize the costs of the sets over multiple episodes (the multipart arcs) then they could afford better sets.
Coto wanted to do Col. Green and the eugenics wars (Augments), but then they heard Brent Spiner wanted to do an episode, so they changed him to Dr. Soong. Bakula and Coto praise working with Spiner.
Coto says Berman mentioned that William Shatner might be interested in appear in ENT, Coto of course jumped on the possibility. The Reeves-Stevens’ had an idea about how to do it, that the Tantalus field wasn’t actually a way to kill a person, but to banish a person into the past. So then there is this world where mirror universe people have been deposited, which includes evil Kirk (which they called “Tiberius”), who wants to take Enterprise and get back to his universe. Of course the money involved to get Shatner basically nixed the idea.
The mirror universe idea was kept alive for “In a Mirror Darkly”, Sussman (who wrote it) talks about how it was probably going to be one of his last Trek writing credits, so he wanted to go out on a high note.
The Reeves-Stevens’ talk about how surreal it was to walk the TOS-style sets, and then they got a phone call from Shatner while on the sets.
Linda Park talks about Season 4 brining the fun of TOS back into ENT, and how playing Mirror Hoshi was exciting.
Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock talk about the Trip/T’Pol relationship and how it was left in “Terra Prime”. They wish the-powers-that-be had been bolder about making a real commitment to the characters having a relationship.
Nemecek says that the idea that a Trek show could just die was unheard of at the time, it wasn’t going to go to seven seasons and maybe even movies? UPN wasn’t even seen in all markets, its’ programming was often preempted, which made it really hard for ENT to succeed.
Braga says he had repeated conflicts with the network, and ENT was the first time that they had gotten notes from a network.
Coto says that their timeslot was moved to Fridays (which is an infamous death timeslot).
Bakula talks about all the politics going on behind the scenes with UPN management, it was starting to negotiate the merger with the WB, and how ENT just squeaked by thanks to Trek supporters in the management.
Braga recounts making compromises to keep the budget low to appease the network, even with the budgetary compromises, one day he got a terse phone call that basically just said “it’s over.” He had already felt by then that UPN really just didn’t care about ENT, the short unapologetic phone call clinched it.
James L. Conway (director) talks about how ENT was a victim of the changing trends in TV show style and in how people watch TV (i.e. DVR recordings).
Nemececk talks about how ENT overlapped with Battlestar Galactica for one season, and how Battlestar Galactica was considered a breakout hit, what was unfair about this is that ENT was judged as a network show, and BSG as a cable show. For cable Battlestar Galactica was good, ironically it still had fewer viewers in raw numbers than Enterprise did in Season 4, but the standards were different.
Coto says “Demons” / “Terra Prime” was his intended end to his tenure on ENT.
Coto and the Reeves-Stevens’ worked on Archer’s speech in “Terra Prime” over and over trying to get it perfect. Lots of staff and friends of the production came to the set to see it filmed.
Coto says Rick and Brannon always wanted to write the last show.
Jolene Blalock says she was very vocal about “These are the Voayages” when she heard it was going to be the actual final episode and that it was framed around TNG, thus not giving ENT its own finale.
Connor Trineer got the script and said “F**k Me” when he saw what happened to Trip. He called Braga and was like “we’re really canceled right? There’s no way we’re coming back…”
Coto says he wanted to do more in the next three years (i.e. making it 7 seasons), the Earth-Romulan War, see Stratos, and more mirror universe.
“End of an Era”
This portion covers just what the title says, the end of the Berman-era. Rick Berman says he never felt that he was the king of the kingdom after Roddenberry’s passing. He was doing a job, a job that he loved, but he never thought of himself as the bastion fans made him to be.
Nemececk posits that what initially made Berman the perfect person to take over from Roddenberry was eventually a bit of a liability, he thinks that if he had loosened the reins a bit to allow Trek to change and grow beyond circa 1991 (when he officially took over for Roddenberry) things might have been a bit different.
Conway says it was surreal to see how the Paramount lot changed afterward, all the stages, trailers, etc. that had been there since TNG (18-years) were now gone.
Mike Okuda talks about how it was really hard to see things end, much of the production staff had been there since TNG. They had all become close and spent most of their waking days, during those 18-years, on the lot.
Braga reflects that his time on ENT was bittersweet. He can remember the exact day he burned out making ENT. But, he says, with 10-years of distance he finds it much sweeter. He loves his creation and loved working with the talented actors and production crew.
More Season 4 Images