Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 4)

Guest Post Time! Your editor A9 is back to rant more about Star Trek Enterprise. If you haven’t read earlier parts, it’s not a requirement, but you could read part one, two and three on this blog. This time with a small change in format – no more long and winded episode summaries as they are not relevant. There’s gonna be more focus on what it did for the series as a whole. Now buckle up.

Malcolm Reed

As the armory officer on Enterprise, he was a military man through and through and the guy you called when you wanted to blow some shit up. At the same time, he was a very reserved man in his private life and quite shy at times. When you have a character like that, it’s clear that you’re really have to go and think about how to get a character like this out of his shell. While the writers did come up with one or two episodes, that was also kind of the end of it. Reed was never really expanded upon, proven by the fact that he only really has one friend on his ship, namely Charles Tucker. Ironically this friendship began with a rivalry which is a nice start for a friendship.

The first character highlight episode of his deals with a very simple question: what is Reed’s favourite food? In the process of getting an answer to that question, it’s only underlined how distant Malcolm is from the rest of the ship, but also his family. The way the answer is revealed is by an extensive background check, and finally a medial background check. In other words a big breach of privacy, just to underline the fact that he’s a very private man. While the answer is revealed (pineapple), does this actually progress his character at all? He doesn’t get featured in his own B-plot, as he’s busy with arming Enterprise in the A-plot. It does get him just a little bit closer to the rest of the crew, but that’s it outside of confirming what the audience already knew: that he’s a private, military guy.

The very definition of a soldier.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s where you go from there and we don’t get much more until later in the first season, in one of my favourite episodes called Shuttlepod One. It’s a bottle episode, which means that it’s an episode without any real budget for new sets or guest characters. Make do with what you have, and try not to make it too boring. The episode revolves around Reed and Tucker being stranded in a shuttlepod, thinking Enterprise has been destroyed. In the face of death (since they will never make it back to Earth in that shuttlepod), Reed starts writing letters to his friends and family, even all of his exes back home (much to the annoyance of Tucker). What this episode brought to the table for me, was that much of Reed was just hidden, and not that it was lacking. He does care about friends and family, and even admitted he started to feel at home on Enterprise (which was what he more or less tried to avoid by staying professional as much as he could). At the end of the episode, they shares a nice bottle of bourbon and are laughing in the face of death before finally getting rescued by Enterprise. It also changes the dynamic between Reed and Tucker from rivals to friends – for better or worse. Reed would continue to star on the show and would have small moments of more fleshed out backstory such as his new rivalry with the captain of the MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations, part of the United Earth Military) and finally his involvement with the beginnings of the secretive Section 31.

This was the first time since Deep Space Nine that S31 was mentioned, and unlike the newer series that can’t stop namedropping it every other episode, it was very much a hidden part of the United Earth that was already getting involved in interplanetary affairs.

One thing I was hesitant to write about, but will add in the end, is regarding his sexuality. While on-screen, Reed has always been written as a heterosexual character (with how he likes T’pol’s bum, his many female exes or how he gets affected by Orion slave girls), the actor Dominic Keating has mentioned once jokingly, once more serious (page 5) that he has always played him as gay. In the script bio for Reed, it was stated that Reed was ‘shy around women’, and this is certainly one way to interpret that. Let me be very clear, I have no issues whatsoever about what someones or a characters sexuality is, just do it normally. Subtly. If someone’s gay, will that person always scream it off the rooftops? Does the series need fifteen episodes revolving about gayness? No. If we take those earlier examples away (or just consider him bi), does that change anything about him? No. In my opinion, if Reed was actually gay on the show, it would’ve been the absolute best portrayal of a gay man in Star Trek who was just doing his job. This isn’t just a critique about current Star Trek alone, it’s also Hollywood as a whole who frequently go so over the top with the the portrayal of gay characters that it gets annoying. They are shouting off rooftops that a character is gay. Nevertheless, if it ain’t on screen, it ain’t canon.

Deadalus

As promised, this time we’re going into the three ‘loose’ episodes of the season that aren’t part of a larger arc. The first one is Deadalus, which revolves around Emory Erickson, the inventor of the transporter, that wants to borrow Enterprise for an experiment: sub-quantum teleportation. An improvement to the regular transporter, which would’ve been able to beam an object or person from planet-to-planet with an unlimited range. But the real reason Emory wanted to this experiment is to save his son who was lost during the initial tests of this technology many years ago.

This episode isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s not a great one either. It can be quite slow or even dull at times, and the episode comes across as a semi-horror / mystery story. It does give more story about how the molecular transporter was invented, but it doesn’t really add anything in the grand scheme of things, except for inspiring the transwarp beaming technology in Star Trek ‘09.

In the end, it’s necessary for the show to limit the transporter. After all, why travel somewhere in a ship if you could get there immediately by beaming there? Whilst there has been a lot of different kinds of transporters in Trek, the rules always seem to change as the plot demands. Take the Dominion for example, who can transport people over three light years away.

Frankly, the show should have done away with the teleporter as a whole, or severely limit what it can do. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if it only was featured for non-organic stuff? That way the use of shuttles could be explained more and it would reinforce the ‘low-tech’ angle they were going with.

Observer effect

Time for a bit of a love letter to The Original Series, here come the Organians! Famous for their future Treaty of Organia between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, here they are in a different light. After they found a deadly silicon-based virus on a planet, they kept their eyes on it to see how other lifeforms would react to it. When finally humanity visits with the NX-01, they take over the bodies of Reed and Mayweather and start observing the crew while still maintaining the personalities of the crewmembers. As Hoshi and Tucker get infected and quarantined, they inhabit different people to ask more and more questions. Tragically, Hoshi and Tucker die to the virus, but the Organians inhabit them again regardless, arousing a ton of suspicion because they were, well, dead. They eventually reveal that they were monitoring different species here to see if they would begin an official first contact. In this case, one of them broke a 10000 year old protocol by telling them this, since their refusal to kill or eject their infected crewmembers really shows compassion. They heal all the infected crewmen, erase their memory of this incident, and leave.

Watching any modern Star Trek..

Another ENT prequel to a classic TOS episode. The viewpoint of this episode is mainly the Organians, the observers, as they question what the crew does at certain stages of the illness. As they have been here for over ten thousand years, they have seen it all happen to other species. What would the humans do differently?

The answer that the episode gives, compassion, is not the strongest in my book – but the road leading up to it is. The Alpha quadrant species in Star Trek are historically often a little one-dimensional: Klingons kill people, Vulcans think about shit, Andorians get angry at you, etcetera. That weakens the humans’ solution (as it were) since it’s just.. telling the other to keep it up. With how Andorians are portrayed in Enterprise with their loyalty to one another, one could say the Andorians could’ve solved this in a similar manner. Humans are still the jack of all trades, and from our perspective nothing really straight up defines them. Combine that with Archer giving a speech, and you’re left with not much. Frankly, this episode almost screams for Jean-Luc Picard to give a speech.

The Organians frequently change host bodies and keep conversations going regardless, and it’s a fun way of displaying their powers and really holds your interest, unlike the previous episode. Even without the knowledge of who the Oganians are (which was my case when I first saw this episode many years ago), it still works. The world of Star Trek is filled with many, many strange creatures after all. Talking about strange creatures..

Bound

Time for more Orions! A well spoken male Orion offers the Federation a joint mining agreement. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, he’s just giving Archer some Orion slave girls, that’s fine, right? Oh, whoops, they start causing trouble! They are using pheromones to ‘brainwash’ all the males on the ship to do their bidding! They are about to be sold to the Orion Syndicate when Trip, Phlox and T’pol save the day by stunning the slave girls and disabling the Orion ship.

Bound is the most TOS-like episode in of all of Enterprise. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the term ‘love letter’ a couple of times already, but this episode is the quintessential love letter to Star Trek in so much that you could see this episode working as a TOS one. Sure, the Orion slave girls are one thing, but the sets and costumes also really bring back those feelings. Last but not least, the ending scene features a group ensemble that is a clear nod to ending of many TOS episodes where the whole cast is on the bridge, reflecting on what happened in that episode.

I have mixed feelings about the episode itself however. While it features my favourite portrayal of a Orion male, Harrad-Sar, I felt a bit wanting about how the Orion females are so attractive. While before this episode, it was just that they were incredibly attractive and almost exotic, this episode changes that to a biological reason why (most) men cannot resist them. It also makes you wonder if you would be fine if you held your nose shut when being near one.

The twist in the end is a really interesting take on the Orion slave girl trope. After all, if the Orion females are always secreting these pheromones, wouldn’t the men be affected too? And exactly, that is the case. One cannot help but wonder what the plan as a whole is with the slave trade then: sell all the women, brainwash them, take their assets?

In the end, this episode revolves around the slave girls seducing the male crewmates. There’s not much that happens otherwise, and the female crewmen are just sitting idly by and are observing. It takes too long for the other characters to do something about the situation, in order for their ploy to work. Again, this is television, it’s fiction, it’s fine. But if I could magically add something to this episode, it would be more meat to the middle. But all in all, it already almost feels like a nostalgic episode.

And there you have it, part four is done. I hope the lack of synopsis’ made it more fun to read this time, but at the very least it was more fun to write for me. Next time we’ll visit the best arc of the season, the Babel arc.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 3)

You guessed it, guest post time. We talking more Star Trek, until I run out of things to say, so see ya at part 12. As the title says, this is part 3, so feel free to read up on part one and two. Or just click my username, I don’t know man. Every time I’m forced asked to write one of these it turns into a big mess of words that hold some meaning for me, I just hope it’s mildly entertaining or informative enough for people to read. One of these days I’ll actually tell you what I think it should’ve been.

T’pol and Vulcan depiction

Sex sells, that’s no secret. So why don’t we just cast a model for an acting role where she barely has to do any emoting? Maybe I’m too harsh with that sentence. Look, I like a sexy Vulcan in spandex as much as the next guy (though I prefer T’Pau myself), but she’s really a repeat of Tuvok which was a repeat of Spock. Vulcan science officers are a staple, but it took a long time for her character to bring anything new to the table apart from early ENT Vulcan snobbishness and not liking the smell of humans.

Commander T’Pol

The weird portrayal of the Vulcans before season 4 hurt her, and every other Vulcan character in the series. Sure, you can use that as a steppingstone to create character growth, but that was not what was intended, they were created as assholes. In this regard, Soval got the better deal, but we’ll talk about him another time.

Let’s start with mind melds first, another core staple of Star Trek, especially The Original Series. It’s one of those things people who aren’t that much into Star Trek have heard of, along with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan nerve pinch. It’s classic, and iconic.

So let’s fuck that up (which they’ll do again in Star Trek Discovery) and add an element of rape and HIV into the mix. She was mind melded with against her will, and because of that she got the condition Pa’nar Syndrome (a neural disease that resulted in the degradation of the synaptic pathways). Am I saying it’s wrong to raise awareness for these things in media? No, not at all. But attaching it to a beloved concept just feels tacked on, without any respect for the source material. The Pa’nar Syndrome was even introduced a whole season after the mind meld happened, giving me the impression that the writers were looking for something to attach an HIV storyline onto (as part of a Viacom’s HIV awareness campaign).

But enough of that. What about her character? Vulcans are notoriously to get likable if you play them straight. An actor has to emote, after all (another lesson they forgot in Star Trek Discovery, with the main character) to come across as believable. One can obviously play with this concept a lot – as there can be moments when a Vulcan does emote. Spock is the most obvious example, even if he was half Vulcan and that was what made him so interesting in the first place: the battle between his human side and his Vulcan side. Then you have Sarek, his dad, which actor ages along with the shows he’s in. In The Next Generation, he’s an old man with an illness that hampers his emotional control. He cannot accept that, one could almost say his pride prevents him from doing that. Then we move to Tuvok. He’s Vulcan. And.. yeah. He’s one of the most boring characters on Voyager (not that that’s a feat). There’s just not much going for him.

So with that lesson learned, how was T’Pol different? OK, sexy, check. She comes from the technologically superior Vulcans (in this era), and comes along as an observer of sorts while also filling the Science Officer role. She’s very skeptical. She doesn’t really like humans. She wants to do her job and meditate. Her being Vulcan helped her on numerous occasions because of her different physiology, but nothing really happened to her until episode 17 of the first season: Fusion. This is the episode where a mind meld is forced upon her by a group of Vulcans who, instead of suppressing emotions embrace them. I’ve liked this concept as a whole: it expands the Vulcan culture with this ‘weird’ band of misfits.

As much as I dislike the idea of the whole Pa’nar Syndrome in season 2, it does give T’Pol some development. It isn’t easy to live with serious illnesses and a stigma that surrounds it (as is/was with HIV). But this episode was just too on the nose with it, it could’ve used some subtlety, and it felt out of place for Vulcans to shun an illness. Why would you ban researching an illness? Of course, this is traced back to the changes brought to the Vulcans as a whole, and the governing body of the High Command. First only in charge of space exploration, but transforming into a government over time.

During all this stuff, the writers are really trying to push the T’Pol and Trip shipping. By making her massage Trip to help him sleep, or something. But it’s just to show a scantily clad T’Pol touch a scantily clad Trip. It’s just to make people think about sex. IT’S SEX! BUT NOT SEX!

In the Expanse (Season 3), it was found that a substance called trellium-D could shield the Enterprise against dangers unique to the Expanse. Unfortunately, this was also a neurotoxin for Vulcans. It’s never made clear how it’s a toxin, as you’d normally scan something like this before using it. Or why there’s a toxin in a rock. Would’ve made more sense as radiation. Anyway, the constant exposure to trellium-D lowers her emotional barriers, causing her to have outbursts of (negative) emotions. The more it happens, the more she wants to explore these emotions, as it’s functioning as a release for her. To do this, she injects herself with processed liquid trellium-D. Drug awareness anyone? On it’s own, I like the ideas and the setting, but again feels too on the nose. She eventually has to go through withdrawal and recovers, but she’ll always have a lower emotional barrier. She can finally use some emotions for the writers to make use of. Only took 3 seasons.

And now, we finally arrive at season four. She goes back to Vulcan with Trip, only to be guilt-tripped into an (arranged) marriage with Koss. Due to her actions while on board the Enterprise, her mother got fired from the Vulcan Science Academy, but with Koss’ family’s help and influence she can get it back. Should they get married, of course. Meanwhile she’s still kind of involved with Trip, so this is all a bit awkward.

You’re sorry? You brought me sixteen light years just to watch you get married to someone you barely know.

For me, T’Pol never became much more than eyecandy. She provided technobabble and had some good moments with Trip (especially season four), but we got too little too late.

Syrranite arc

Enterprise has no shortage in reoccurring guest stars. As far as I’m concerned, the three most important ones are Maxwell Forrest (Starfleet vice admiral, Archers’ superior officer), Shran (Andorian captain and ally of Archer) and finally Ambassador Soval (Vulcan ambassador to the United Earth). This arc sadly ends the life of one, and lifts the others up to new heights. This arc is where the Vulcans finally get ‘fixed’. This is the arc where the new showrunner, Manny Coto, takes over the reigns and does fucking amazing work with what he’s handed. Kudos to you, Manny.

The first thing this episode does is to take another look at Vulcan – United Earth relations. We’re on Vulcan for once, with Maxwell Forrest visiting the United Earth embassy along with Ambassador Soval. First, it’s addressed why the Vulcans act the way they do against humans.

“We don’t know what to do about Humans. Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define. You have the arrogance of Andorians, the stubborn pride of Tellarites. One moment you’re as driven by your emotions as Klingons, and the next you confound us by suddenly embracing logic!”

“I’m sure those qualities are found in every species.”

“Not in such confusing abundance.”

“Ambassador … are Vulcans afraid of Humans?”

“Why?”
“Because there is one species you remind us of.”
“Vulcans.”

Moreover, it’s also set up how much the Vulcan High Command operates on a need-to-know basis and how long Forrest and Soval have been working together, clarifying the working relationship, but also their friendship. After this scene, of what I believe is the best scene in the whole arc, the embassy gets bombed and Soval is pushed out of the way by Forrest at the cost of his own life.

The Enterprise is called to Vulcan to investigate along with the Vulcans since the embassy is technically United Earth soil. The head of state, Administrator V’Las and his entourage boards and explain they have two suspects: the Andorians, or the Syrranites– a fringe group opposed to the current government but not violent. The Andorians are dismissed right away (for good reason, as they are on good relations), so the search for the Syrranites begins with Archer and T’Pol looking for them in The Forge: a hellish desert landscape.

Before this, Soval also has a scene with Archer, where Soval talks about Forrest’s hopes for more cooperation between Earth and Vulcan but also to warn him to not trust everything that the High Command tells them. In the desert they meet Arev, which takes them along on a pilgrimage of the path of Surak. On their journey, they encounter a fierce desert storm filled with lightning, a sandfire. They have to take shelter, but Arev gets mortally wounded by a lighting strike, but before he dies, he performs a mind meld with Archer. Although Archer and T’Pol lost their guide, Archer keeps on going, somehow knowing where to go. They make it to the sanctuary of the Syrrantites and promptly get captured.

Meanwhile, on the ship, the crew analyze some Vulcan DNA they found on one of the bombs that didn’t detonate. While the DNA does belong to a Syrranite, T’Pau, it’s revealed it has been tempered with. They also have one survivor from the explosion, the guard at the entrance. He’s in a coma so they can’t question him, but a mind meld might be able to reach him. Soval reveals that he is a Syrranite, and performs his first meld and sees that the one that planted the bomb is someone from T’Las’ entourage – Stel, the Vulcan chief investigator.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Archer carries the Katra of Surak, his spirit or essence. It cannot be removed and so is stuck in Archer, who starts having visions and conversations with him. He insists that Archer has to find the Kir’Shara, his original teachings so that the Vulcan people can find a new path of enlightenment. So, of course Archer goes and finds it, ready to bring it to the capital. But oh no! They are discovered by Administrator V’Las and he just decides to carpet bomb the whole area to be fucking done with these mind melding deviants. Other ministers think this is kind of crazy, but hey, he’s the boss.

T’Pol’s mother (T’Les) is also revealed to be a Syrranite, and she tries to reconnect with T’Pol. She’s rejected, as she just sees this group as a cult. After the area gets bombed, she dies while T’Pol holds her in her arms. In the long term, this means the grounds for her marriage with Koss are void.

Archer, T’Pol and T’Las now need to bring the Kir’Shara to the capital to bring in this new path of enlightenment, but they are constantly under attack by Vulcan commandos. Will they ever reach their destination?!

Quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to keep writing episode synopsis. It was a bad idea in the first place. I hope you kinda get the picture. Sorry.

They do make it to the Vulcan HQ, revealing the true teachings of Surak which had been lost for ages, and revealing that V’Las was not acting very rationally. Especially as he was also orchestrating an attack against the Andorians while the whole Kir’Shara thing was going on. A battle between their fleets was actually ongoing – with Enterprise in the middle. Trip was trying to prevent a war, by ‘betraying’ the alliance with Vulcan to warn the Andorians. The episode ends with V’Las reporting on his failure to someone.. and that was.. a Romulan!

It’s no secret that the portrayal of the Vulcans was vastly different in Enterprise in comparison to the later series and this arc tried to explain why. Although they can never make a scene where a Romulan and a Human see each other (due to canon) – showing the Romulans interfering in Vulcan affairs is fair game, and a good idea too. It gives the hardcore fan a little more background as to what the Romulans were doing before their debut episode Balance of Terror that doesn’t hurt canon by bringing back a classic villain faction (unlike what happened to the pretty bad Ferengi episode). This also was the setup for my favourite arc of the series, the Babel Crisis.

The previous arc with the Augments was more of a love letter to, well, The Original Series. This arc was to fix one of the many faults this series had and bring it more in line with TOS, and I applaud that. Sadly, as good as it is, if the Vulcans hadn’t be fucked in early Enterprise, this episode would’ve been pointless. It’s a great solution to a stupid portrayal.

It also shows us the Romulans for the first time in Enterprise since Minefield, in which only the ships were shown along with some audio-only communication. This time, however, the Romulans have a purpose in the story. We only get a glimpse of the single Romulan and not a silly firefight with Archer or something. Moreover, we also get an idea about what four factions are doing in this arc:

  • The Romulans want to interfere in Vulcan affairs to unify their species once again (under their rule)
  • The Vulcans were being controlled by a Romulan puppet that wanted to wipe out dissidents and wanted another war with the Andorians to weaken both powers
  • The Andorians were preparing for another war with Vulcan, because they were expecting another attack
  • The Humans are trying to prevent war, in all forms. Be it a civil war or space war, they’re trying to prevent everyone from blowing up.

This was your Alpha Quadrant News Bulletin, thank you for reading. Next time, we’re looking at the only three loose episodes in this season, and I’ll pick a random character to feature. Maybe Reed. I’ve always liked him.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 2)

That time of the month is here again, time for a guest post. I’m just here to rant about Star Trek Enterprise yet again, and it looks like I will be for a while if I keep going at this pace. Here’s a link to part 1, should you need a refresher or want to check it out. Enjoy the ride.

Character Spotlight: Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III

Tucker is a damn good chief engineer, plain and simple. You got something broken, he’ll fix it with a can-do attitude. Never having visited an alien world, he is somewhat naive when it comes down to shared values between species. He hails from Florida and is top 5 most American characters in all of Star Trek, foiled only by former U.S. President Lincoln and the like.

When Enterprise finally started its mission to explore space after a rocky start with the Klingons, Tucker had to change his expectations for space quite a bit when they encountered a friendly, more advanced species called the Xyrillians. Being almost freaked out by the extremely alien ship (as opposed to something like Vulcans), he then decided to stick his hands into a bowl with marbles along with a Xyrillian, after which he got pregnant. Although this last element kinda ruins the episode for me (especially since they play it for laughs, it’s just throwing me off), the portrayal on the ship itself helps with his character a lot, since he really is hands deep in alien tech now – and it creeps him out.

As the seasons go on, he keeps proving his worth and expertise and even gets command experience during a conflict with the Vulcans and Andorians. Point being: you can count on Tucker.

His character undergoes a massive shift in the third season, as the Xindi weapon hit the U.S., but Florida in particular. Not too long after he hears that he lost his sister Elizabethin that attack. While she wasn’t seen or mentioned in any episodes before this, it changes Tucker to the hard-working smiling engineer to a bitter man with a lot of grief and anger who just wanted revenge. While not every first contact may be peaceful, outright hate towards another species from the humans hadn’t been portrayed like this before (you could make a point for the Borg, but they are hated by everyone or the Cardassians, but relations had been smoothed somewhat since that war concluded).

On their way to the Xindi, Tucker is so emotionally wound up that he cannot sleep anymore – so he’s forced into ‘Vulcan neuro-pressure’ with T’Pol by Doctor Phlox. These scenes usually felt quite hollow to me, a blatant attempt to put more sex appeal in Star Trek, but I suppose it is a way to get those two closer together with some glimpses of romance.

So when we finally enter season four, we still have this extremely handy engineer, but way more seasoned. He decides to travel to Vulcan together with T’Pol, only for him to get cucked and suddenly attends her wedding with Koss. What a bummer! Then more stuff happens and he blows up in the finale. What a bummer!

Augment Arc

This season is the season of three-parters. We kick things off with (more) remnants of the Eugenics Wars as a small group of rag-tag adolescents take over a Klingon Bird of Prey. Now, where did those Augments come from? Let’s ask the guy that stole a couple about 20 years back, Arik Soong. Oh, and also the Klingons are threatening with war if the Augments aren’t found. Soong promises to bring the Enterprise crew to the Augments but instead leads them in a wild goose chase in which multiple members of the crew get captured by Orion slavers.

The Augments: One big happy family

After failing to escape and with the rescue of the sold-off crew members, he sits in the brig again, moping. Thankfully his Augment children tracked down Enterprise and bust him out and they are preparing to save the rest of the Augment embryos, or as he calls them, his children.

He arrives at Cold Station 12, where all of the Augment embryos are kept, and threatens to kill the scientists there if they don’t hand them over. We are introduced to Phlox’ long time friend Jeremy Lucas from the Interspecies Medical Exchange. Enterprise arrives, but cannot do much since the Augments are sitting on a bazillion deadly pathogens and are keen on using them. After killing one doctor, Phlox is exposed to a pathogen and Lucas gives in and gives them access to the embryos to save his friend. Soong and the Augments escape again, but not just with the embryos, but with a melange of deadly pathogens as well.

Dr. Lucas admires a beautiful piece of weaponry held by Dr. Soong

Soong wants to hide and stay away from Enterprise, but one of the Augments, Malik, is more interested in finding the mysterious ship of Augments, the Botany Bay, but he gets overruled.

On their way to their hiding spot, the Briar Patch (the same one as in Star Trek: Insurrection) Soong starts editing the embryos again, to remove aggression and violent behaviour in the Augments. Malik is furious and comes up with another plan: loading up all the pathogens they collected, load them all up in a torpedo and fire at Klingon colonies! As the Klingons already know humans (Augments) stole one of their ships, they would declare war for sure. Soong is taken aback because that’s pretty much mass murder. Shortly after he’s locked in his quarters as he’s more trouble than he’s worth for Malik.

Soong escapes with the help of another Augment and rides an escape pod to safety – Enterprise, which is still following the Augment ship. As he’s being thrown in the brig yet again, he tells Archer about the plans of mass murder. In a truly dramatic finish, the Enterprise manages to arrive at the colony just in time to shoot the torpedo, and saving the Klingon colony. Malik refuses to surrender, and his ship explodes not much later, killing all the remaining Augments.

..or so you’d think, because when Soong is escorted to the brig (again), he drops from the ceiling of the corridor, and tries to kill him, having beamed aboard at the last second. In the end, Archer is forced to kill him.

The episode ends with Soong having lost confidence in genetics and the Augments, and decides to start work on an android of some type, which might be able to be created in a few generations..

Was it worth it? No, not like this.

This arc gives the audience a lot more information regarding Augments and some of the Eugenics Wars, such as being manipulated in the embryo stage, and not when a baby is born. We still see the ruthlessness of Augments, even in a younger state and the superiority complex regarding ‘lesser’ beings. Soong argues in the beginning that the source of Augment problems wasn’t the lack of high-grade technology, but the inability of humanity to put them to good use. Throughout the episode, he is steadfast in that he wants nobody to be killed, and that he just wants to live with his ‘children’ in peace. After the Augments defied his wishes, he became disillusioned and tried to fix the remaining embryos and thus admitting their flaws. After the close mass murder and the destruction of all the embryos he stopped work on it altogether.

Strangely enough, my personal favourite part about this episode was Jeremy Lucas, whom we’ve only heard about in letters from Phlox or in conversation. Phlox is often underwritten and underutilized, so the fact we actually see this friend from which he has learned so much about Earth (and vice versa) is a nice development for Phlox. It’s a shame it’s just this once, and he gets brutally tortured, but I’ll take it.

The Augments in this story are very young, and all fathered by Soong on a remote planet. Having taught them everything it’s no wonder he’s seen as their father, but he got arrested at some point and couldn’t return anymore. So the first time we see the Augments taking over the Klingon ship, they’re all wearing torn, stretched rags, remnants from their childhood clothing. With Enterprise’s focus on sex appeal, they couldn’t just leave that be and had to introduce a faux-romance plot within the Augment group as well, which did serve as to give them more character, but it felt a little shallow and just an excuse to show a lady in nothing but panties and a tank top.

Using Brent Spiner as Arik Song, and the android reference at the end was a nice nod, but in the end, this arc feels like a mildly enjoyable but unnecessary adventure. This arc was already in production before the Soong angle, as it previously featured Colonel Green, the infamous dictator after WW3. But because Spiner had expressed interest to appear again on Star Trek, this arc was rewritten to feature this Soong ancestor. It’s not surprising then that Spiner got a lot of screentime, and in my opinion, too much screentime. Sure, we get some nice moments, a small moral debate with Archer about his dad’s illness that could’ve (or might’ve) been cured with eugenics, but most of the main cast isn’t very personally involved in this event, as opposed to the upcoming arcs that have higher involvement for the cast.

In the next post, we take a look at the Syrranites arc, along with a look at T’Pol. Maybe more, I don’t know. It’s just more and more clear that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 1)

Hey there! Editor and guest post writer A9 here, known from the Digimon posts ( 1 2 3 4 ) and a long ramble about Mass Effect. I promised to write Aaltomies something while he was moving, but I couldn’t quite deliver on time. Plus it got split up into parts because I’m not a very clever dude. Now, I sure hope you like Star Trek, otherwise these posts might be a little out there. Regardless, enjoy.

Star Trek: Enterprise is a bit of a corny spin-off show, with too much emphasis on sex and action. Now, that’s not a great introduction to a science fiction series, but hear me out. Or a few times, if you like what you’re reading. This is the first post in a three or four-part series about the last season of Enterprise, which did many things right, but too late. It’s a look back on the last season that could. This post will mainly focus on the departure from the third season and a (re)introduction to the series. Future posts will go more into the production (troubles), characters and ‘what-ifs’ would the series continue.

Prequel

Enterprise was the first prequel series for Star Trek, with its setting being 100 years before The Original Series with Kirk, Spock and Bones. It was meant to be a series full of ‘firsts’; how is humanity doing in the years before the mighty United Federation of Planets?

This isn’t an insane idea. Humanity is doing amazing for itself, especially during TNG, but how did they get there? How was war ended? Poverty? Hunger? How did the Federation form? All very interesting questions.

But one of the most prominent aspects of the show was the more low-tech look and feel of Earth ships. As it’s supposed to be more primitive than The Original Series that creates quite a challenge. The response to this was to design a starship that almost looks like a submarine: tight corridors, very spartan looks, and tons and tons of buttons. But more important than anything else: an inexperienced and unfamiliar crew. Humanity has basically only met the Vulcans at this point and they’re being absolute cunts, constantly holding back any progress or slowing it down. But after a crisis opportunity presented itself, humanity went out there and didn’t return to ask for the go-ahead.

Lessons from Season 3

Season 3 ended like an 80s action movie: after Archer jumped away from the exploding Xindi superweapon, he wakes up in the Second World War in the Nazi-controlled USA! He saved the world, but not he’s being held hostage by an SS-trooper. What a twist!

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m an absolute sucker for alternative history stories and through that lens, I think this episode is enjoyable, but unfitting for modern Star Trek. It’s a cheap way to instill drama and to raise the stakes as quickly as possible. When in doubt, bring in the Nazi’s!

So Archer gets captured by Nazi soldiers and sees a mysterious grey-skinned, red-eyed alien before he luckily gets rescued by the American resistance forces. He gets nursed back to health whilst being mistaken for a sailor from the Enterprise of that time period, the aircraft carrier Enterprise. After claiming he’s on a top-secret mission he gets involved with the resistance to figure out why the Nazi’s are occupying a part of the USA and why there are aliens involved.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise gets yoinked into WW2 era earth as well and get visited by a mutated, dying Daniels, the Temporal Agent from the future warning them and slipping into a coma. In the meantime, Archer manages to find one of the aliens to find out they’re trapped here and are working on a portal to make it back home, no matter what happens to the Earth. Besides from that he also steals an alien communicator, so he can finally get reunited with his crew. Daniels also finally speaks about why everyone is here, the Temporal Cold War isn’t cold anymore. How that works, nobody knows but it’s up to the Enterprise crew to stop them.

Now if you love, hate or tolerate this episode, it ends the Temporal Cold War arc that has plagued Enterprise since it’s first episode. You might even ask: Hey, guest spot writer, what even is the Temporal Cold War? And to that, I barely have an answer. It’s a conflict, in the future, where all the parties possess some form of time travel. If your faction has some time travel tech, be it projecting yourself in the past to relay information or just having time machines, you’re in! Nobody likes the changes the other factions are making in the past, so everyone is fucking everyone else over

For me personally, the whole concept never worked but one specific element did: the Suliban. The idea of a species that relies on genetic enhancements (or a portion of the species, in this case, the Cabal) is an interesting one that can be shrouded in mystery. Sadly the Suliban were very underutilised and only appeared in 9 episodes, which is a very sad count for the initial primary villains.

At the end of the episode, Archer meets Daniel for the last time while they’re standing in the time stream and ‘history is correcting itself’ because the Enterprise destroyed the evil Nazi aliens. At this point, I’m just glad it’s over with no matter how rushed this was ended. Sure, we may never know who Future Guy is, but I can live with it. Finally, Enterprise is back home. That would make for a great episode name..

The episode Home is both a reflection of the new showrunners taking a look at the series up till now, along with the crew of the Enterprise as they face repercussions from their journeys in unexplored space. Captain Archer is almost disillusioned with the idea of peaceful space exploration, Tucker visits Vulcan with T’Pol and the crew is shown the rise of xenophobia on Earth. Sure, they’re heroes – but if they hadn’t gone out there, none of this would’ve happened, or so the argument goes.

For Archer, this episode is mainly about his naivete when first starting out. He has to explain all of his actions while being in the Delphic Expanse and is being grilled on each and every explanation. After a (forced) recess is announced, he’s gone out hiking with the captain of the second NX-class vessel Columbia, captain Hernandez, and they have a talk about Archers’ hero status and the many things that happened on Earth while he was away. He appears less enthusiastic about space exploration and wanting to be way more prepared than when they first started out. Combine this with some slight PTSD-like dreams and it seems like Archer is really done with it all – he doesn’t feel like an explorer anymore.

So one more time, why did you blow up that one ship of ours at the beginning of season 3? Also, we’re always gonna be a cunt about it no matter the answer.

On Earth, lieutenant Reed and helmsman Mayweather are enjoying their hero status by sitting in a bar with the doctor, Phlox, whilst being showered in attention. This is all well and good until one chap starts implying that all aliens should be distrusted because of the attack of one alien civilisation. Xenophobia is on the rise. Finally, T’Pol gets married on Vulcan and makes Trip watch. How cruel, but this will be discussed more in a future post.

It was crucial to re-center the show after a season-long arc in a different part of space, completely cut off from the rest of humanity. It had to re-establish its own universe and the problems that inhabit it. It’s also the setup for the rest of the season since things will be closer to home this season to really see what humanity is doing to build the Coalition of Planets, the precursor to the United Federation of Planets. In other words, what the show should’ve been about from the get-go: the journey of humankind, not the one captain going out there and becoming an action movie star. Instead, we got humanity stumbling through every broken door to let everyone know they’ve arrived at last.

Now, this was quite a lengthy setup, now I can finally start telling you about the things season 4 did right. In the next post, that is. Sorry! I really should’ve thought about the length of this damn thing.

 

Digimon Design Evolution

What’s this? No Aaltomies? No! A guest post by some random internet dweeb. The name is A9 and I sometimes work behind the shadows to read some posts over from Aaltomies before they are published. A while ago he asked me to write my own thing, and after postponing it for a long time (sorry Aalt!) I finally wrote this down. I have probably forgotten a few elements, so please bear with me.

So, how did the design of Digimon evolve over the years? For that, let’s look at the very first one created, the famous Agumon (and also a little at the often overshadowed Tryannomon).

As is often the case with any project: it changes over time. Kenji Watanabe, the longtime designer of the Digimon franchise revealed a lot about the series roots in a recent interview. Just like how Pokémon was more a dinosaur catching game called Capsule Monsters, the Digimon franchise started as a dinosaur themed tamagotchi aimed at younger boys (first named Otokotchi and then Capsule Zaurus). However, since these names would infringe on other companies’ products the name was changed to Digital Monster, which was then shortened to Digimon. This also marked the shift from just dinosaurs to the literal digital monsters, a real genre shift. There was a bit of a hurdle to overcome though: Pokémon had really kicked off and they would really have to differentiate themselves. A lot of designs, mainly of cute creatures with elemental colourings had to go due to this and this caused to have Watanabe free reign over the new designs. His inspiration: American comics such as Spawn.

Since these were the first designs, they were fully drawn, converted to pixel art, and then the drawings were tweaked again. In the future releases, the pixel art would come first.

As an example, let’s start with Agumon, since he’s undoubtedly one of the most famous of our Digital Pets. In essence, it’s a tiny dinosaur with oversized claws.

Quite the different look than we’re used to and very close to the pixel art look. This makes sense as the sprites were used on a very small screen, so making it too detailed would give you a pix elated mess. Something that was important though, was that even if some Digimon were cute, they had to have an element of fearsomeness to it. Otherwise it would just be cute critters beating each other up, which felt a bit sad to the development team.

The Virtual Pet proved to be quite successful, as they made five series of these between 1997 and 1998. Because of this, it sprouted two mangas and eventually an anime.

The series first had a one-shot in the 1997 summer issue of Akamaru Jump as C’mon Digimon: The capering monster BUN, featuring the still-popular Greymon, but also two Digimon who made their debuts. Now, even though these two haven’t been seen again since, they were both important building blocks for other Digimon.

Comparison Digimon
Design elements from Deathmon can be found in Evilmon and Gran Kuwagamon.

Let’s start with Deathmon, looking kind of different than the Agumon we’ve seen before. Deathmon, well, his design just screams ‘super evil’. In all honesty, it reminds me of a Super Sentai villain.  Deathmon can be seen back in Evilmon when you compare their mouths and general head structure, plus some nice spiky hair. The body, but mostly the arms and claws can be found back in Gran Kuwagamon. Obviously, it’s possible that this is a coincidence (since there are many, many different Digimon) but even if that is the case, it shows that some designs stick with the series.

Bun
Bun the special baby.

The other new Digimon is Bun, a small character with baby features (huge eyes and head), weird antennae and a weird dinosaur shaped torso with tail. According to its designer it was supposed to look a little bit like a very weird dog. But where does his design return? The serialisation of a manga.

That manga being Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01, a creation by the aforementioned Watanabe and the artist Tenya Yabuno. Although a lot of Digimon were already made for the Virtual Pet series, this manga introduced new Digimon as well through the joint effort of Watanabe and Yabuno. For example, the V-dramon line which stemmed from Bun.

Zeromaru
Zeromaru the V-dramon. The cutest fat fuck in the whole universe.

Now, I can’t lie, this manga made me appreciate V-dramon to such an extent it’s my personal favourite at this point. As its designer, Yabuno explains:

I did design [V-dramon] using C’mon Digimon as a base, so the keyword ‘pet dog’ still stuck with me. […] The Digimon Kenji-san (Watanabe) designs usually sport solid-looking legs, but I designed V-dramon with the image of a small, carnivorous dinosaur in mind. I had initially wanted to design it like a fluffy dog as well.

At the time, most Digimon could digivolve to quite different forms regardless of initial form (Agumon to Devimon for example). During the run of the manga, many more Digimon were created such as Angemon and HolyAngemon. This kind of changed how some forms would really resemble the Digimon from it’s previous level.

While the manga was being serialized, the anime got the OK sign (Digimon Adventure) and was starting preproduction, just like its first video game for the PlayStation 1 (Digimon World). These media really needed references, final designs to base itself on.

Three pretty different forms. Two new versions with their own sets of restrictions. Digimon World was a PlayStation 1 game, so the amount of polygons was severely limited. It’s still quite close to the official art, except for the colour which I’ve always found very strange. Now, for the anime there is obviously a lot less detail as is usually the case. This did cause this version to have less muscle and veins, so it appears a lot cuter than the original design: much smoother and more flat.

So when the game released on January 28 1999 and the anime started airing on March 7 of the same year, merch started to be pumped out. Figures, plushes, a trading card game, you name it.

The TCG and most of the toys are based on the official Bandai art. As a kid this always surprised me, as I got interested into the franchise thanks to the anime. Nevertheless, I have always thought that the cards especially were very striking.

At this point, there are already a ton of Digimon – but Bandai won’t stop, oh no. Even with its quite low budget, the anime was a good hit, and a sequel was made. I’m thankful I don’t have to discuss Digimon Adventure 02.

Let’s start with Veemon, the first critter above. He is in many ways a redesign of Bun from the one-shot manga and designed by working back from V-dramon and creating a more cute version. Heresy I say, V-dramon is cute enough.

One of the main themes of Digimon Adventure 02 was that Rookie Digimon could not digivolve thanks to the evil Digimon Emperor. Enter armor-digivolving, which give the Digimon.. armor. Usually very literally. Let’s not call it mecha, lets call it ‘tacking on random pieces on lengthened Digimon’. Wait, that’s the usual digivolve process now, isn’t it? Take a few pieces of the Rookie, put them on the adult, put it into the blender and presto.

All joking aside (mostly) the armor-digivolve process gave a different feel to the show, even if the show itself wasn’t all that great. Later in the show, everyone can normal digivovle again and Veemon can turn into.. oh, it’s XV-mon. No, no, that’s fine. Sure. Take away the stumpy legs and the big belly. Another redesign of sorts, more cool, more muscle. More importantly, more slim, no fatso’s allowed.

Moving over to the movies with unique visuals, the originally named Digimon Adventure (1999) and Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! (2000).

Both deviate from the main anime in their own way. As can be seen in these screenshots, the first Agumon is a bit bigger than in the anime (and for reference, that’s a baby so he’s not huge) and generally has a more scary, feral look by using more linework for detail in his arms, chest and neck. This is the case for all Rookie level or above Digimon in this movie. Our War Game takes a different approach, as they go for a lighter colour palette with an orange outline.

Now, a rather famous (or infamous) aspect of Digimon is born, the waifumon. Some would argue it would start with Renamon, but they’re a bunch of furries and I don’t want to talk about no damn furries.

Shutumon

Remember how Angemon and Angewoman were humanoids in Digimon Adventure? Yeah, now almost everyone is a pseudo-human. Thanks Digimon Frontier (2002)! Humans changing into Digimon! Bi-pedal, two arms, two legs, some very mild animal features and some element worked through in their design. Oh, and if its a woman, they have big tits. This trend will sadly continue for a while. I’m sure someone made a neat list of them, sorted by breast size.

Omegamon 3D

Another unique look, here is Digital Monster X-evolution released in 2005. Fully 3D, keeping true to designs but very, very far away from the American influence from where they were born. Not that I can blame them, it is more difficult to keep that style in a 3D environment. Also, I doubt that most people at Toei even like that style.

Talking about X-evolution also means talking about redesigns. In the extensive lore of the Digimon world, at one point there were too many Digimon so God decided to kill 99% of them with a virus. Certain Digimon managed to resist though, through the X-antibody, causing them to change appearance and power up significantly.

Take a look at these Metal Garurumon. The original design stems from 1999 and the redesign was made in 2003. And what a difference! It was important to really set the X-antibody line apart from the originals and give them a more unique look. In my opinion, they really succeeded with this one causing it to feel a bit more gritty. Overall, dinosaurs look more like dinosaurs, robots look more like robots, beasts look more like beasts. I don’t want to call it more realistic, but they are definitely set apart from the rest.

Shoutmon X3

Honest acknowledgement: I never watched this series, I just really didn’t feel like it looked like Digimon. Did someone mentioned Gundam yet? No? Good, cause Xros Wars (2010) looks like Gundam. Whole lotta robots, man-shaped machines, bug-shaped machines, but Digimon. Look, I like me some Gundam as much as the next guy, but I’ve lost the Digimon aspect here.

Agumon had many forms, in many games. Usually they look like.. well, a normal Agumon. Either more styled towards the anime, or the Bandai design. But sometimes.. sometimes it just goes wrong. Enter the PSP title Digimon Re:Digitised (2012).

Agumon (Re:Digitize)
“Please kill me.”

I like the shading and it looks like the original design. But why, do tell me, WHY is he slouching like this? Bad posture! Bad! Dragging his claws across the floor. He poses no danger at all, he’s a slouch. A sloth. Sloth Agumon to the rescue. Good thing the game is pretty decent.

Agumon Tri

Did someone say another redesign? Because Digimon Tri (2015) brought us another redesign and a very welcome one I have to say. More faded colours than the original Adventure, more scrawny arms but bigger claws. Not quite as bulky as the original Bandai design, but closer than before. A faithful remake, but I wouldn’t mind him looking a bit less friendly. Still, I cannot deny that I just love that cute little dinosaur.

Updated on 20-01-2018 to add the Gran Kuwagamon similarity to Deathmon (thanks Casp) and a small bit about the X-antibody Digimon that I forgot.