Boldly Going…

James Lileks has a good piece on Star Trek‘s new direction. Yes, it is an exceptionally nerdy topic, but then again I’ve never made any pretense at hiding my geek credentials anyway.

Since I’ll be spoling the season finale of Enterprise you’ll have to click for more. (Those who aren’t geeks can also feel free to skip this one, as a geek-out will shortly follow.)

Basically, the season finale deals with the September 11 of the 22nd Century. Earth is attacked by a mysterious alien race called the Xindi. As Lileks explains, this episode is the sort of metaphor for the times that Star Trek used to be:

Earth is attacked by a suicide bomber. There’s much death and devastation. The Enterprise is sent to a far-off place to retaliate. The Vulcans refuse to help.

It gets better: the area into which the Enterprise heads is called "the Expanse," which shares the same vowels as "Levant," and the same concept as "the Empty Quarter." But that’s probably unintentional. And it’s probably unintentional that the Expanse is known for causing absolute madness to all who go there. We even see a fragment of a log from a Vulcan ship – they’re all at each other’s throats, screaming, drinking blood, etc. Unintentional or not, there’s no other way to read this: the Enterprise is going to the galaxy’s cradle of suicide bombers, and it’s a place where everyone goes absolutely nuts.

What’s more telling is the way in which the characters react to this event:

So the Enteirprise is a few days out of port; Captain Archer and his First Officer are sitting up late at night drinking scotch. (!) The First Officer lost a sister in the suicide attack. He’s not exactly the cheerful fellow he used to be. He kills his drink and glares at the captain with angry, haunted eyes. "Tell me we’re not going to pussyfoot around when we get in there," he says. "None of that noninterference crap."

Archer stares out the window. "Whatever it takes," he says, and he drains his glass.

Enterprise premiered shortly after September 11. The premiere episode was being scored on the day of the attacks. It is highly appropriate that the show acknowledge the real-world events that are going on around it.

Furthermore, this gives the show a much-needed dramatic boost. Before, the show seemed to lack direction. The writers were struggling to find dramatic tension. The storylines were cliche, and the characters often had little to do. Already, Trekkers and reviews were declaring this the end of Star Trek. Certainly the lack of spark in Enterprise made it seem like such predictions weren’t far from the mark.

Now, I have a feeling that Enterprise‘s controversial new direction might be just what the show needs. There already have been a few episodes that were worthy of the Trek mantle, but they were few and far between. Now Enterprise seems to be following in the footsteps of the original. As the original series dealt with the issues of the day such as racism and the Cold War, Enterprise is now dealing with a world that is an analogue for our own. The shock and pain of the characters has a resonance with the audience that never existed before. There’s a new sense of purpose to the show that has been badly needed.

Will this trend continue? Will Enterprise break out of its shell, or will the writers put our more bland alien/particle-of-the-week stories that have been done to death in Trek and elsewhere. Will Enterprise be able to capture some of the edgy and provocative stories that the late, great Farscape and Firefly did so well? Hopefully the answer to these questions will be yes, but only time will tell, and without being able to see into the future like the mysterious Crewman Daniels, it’s anyone’s guess.

One thing is for certain, it’s refreshing to see Star Trek boldly going somewhere rather than spinning it’s wheels (or warp engines) again.

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