Monday, July 27, 2009

Enterprise - Second First Impressions

The Fall that Enterprise began to air, I was a new, full-time graduate student, working a full-time job on the midnight shift, in a new city. I have a slight but specific memory of watching Broken Bow, the Enterprise pilot episode, in my stuffy studio apartment one evening. I realized recently, though, that it might not have been possible that I was watching the episode in that setting, under quite those circumstances. I remembered, correctly, that it was a Wednesday night, and I know I hadn't started my new job yet, but I'm not sure I'd moved into that stuffy, studio apartment in Washington, DC, by September 26th, 2001. Where could I have watched it between couch surfing, sleeping in my car, making the long drive back to Connecticut for the large part of the week that I didn't have classes, and staying in the "hotel" near campus that had old rabbit ear TVs in some rooms? (I remember one night watching a beauty pageant on one of those TVs, but I picture myself in that studio apartment watching Enterprise...)

If my memories of the circumstances around watching the episode are questionable, could I trust my memories of my impression of the show itself?

But then I realized that my memories of the episode itself are... well, basically nonexistent, so I guess it doesn't matter. Whatever I had thought in September 2001 of Enterprise, clearly it did not hook me. I don't think I watched the whole pilot. I may have, out of some sense of duty, tuned in the next week and had the show playing in the background as I tried to get my life in order. Whatever it was, the show did not leave much of an impression on me except a notion of ... well, not digging it. I was vaguely put off by it.

A couple weeks ago, Disc One of the first season of Enterprise arrived from Netflix. Here we go...

The first thing I noticed when Broken Bow began was that it felt weird to have the show start out very Earthbound. "Well, durr, that's the point," I reminded myself. "They haven't even started exploring yet." Also, I initially had thought the title referred to the bow of a ship, not a place in Oklahoma likely named after, you know, an archery bow.

So, the gist of the plot is this: The very opening of the show features a young Jonny Archer, building a model of a ship with his Warp engineer dad, and expressing a dislike for the Vulcans who have been guiding humans move toward deep space travel since the events of First Contact 60 years earlier. Big Brother Vulcans seem to have been holding back baby brother Humans, who they think aren't ready yet to explore the far reaches of space using a Warp 5 vessel, even though in that short time, Earth has become peaceful and prosperous. Like, seriously . In First Contact, people are wearing ratty clothes and living in dusty, makeshift camp colonies built out of scraps, post WWIII. When Enterprise begins, Earth is pretty and green and abundant and boys build models with their engineer dads and everything is good.

Thirty more years later, a Klingon and some other aliens have a little bit of an action adventure chase on some poor guy's farm in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. The Klingon is injured. What to do? The Vulcans, aware of Klingon culture, want to let the Klingon just die, with honor, as is the Klingon way. The humans, of course, want to impose their own ethics on the situation and keep the Klingon alive, insisting that returning him to his home world even a little bit alive would be the better thing to do. Since the Vulcans can't really force the humans to do anything, Captain Jonathan Archer puts together his crew a little bit ahead of schedule and sets off to return the Klingon to Qo'Nos.
  • Here is where I noticed, in her first scene, female Vulcan Subcommander T'Pol's boobs are weirdly accentuated by her Vulcan outfit with its quilted top and jacket thing. Of course they are. She's going to be our resident sexy alien in a skintight space suit. We must meet her and her boobs right away.
  • Also, the Vulcans seem to have a little bit of personality and even express some subtle emotion, in my opinion, in their expressions and inflections. At least, moreso than I expect for a species who are known for suppressing all emotion in favor of logic, which is, to my recollection, too often demonstrated by an annoyingly flat affect. (Although, I'm getting ahead of myself. Most of this assessment is based on the few later Enterprise episodes I'd seen earlier this summer, and it might be a poor sample to judge on.) Anyway, the Vulcans seem smug and annoyed, which challenges my existing concept of Vulcans.
  • Zefram Cochrane is shown giving a speech 60 years after First Contact,and it is really interesting, having just watched that movie, seeing him as the hero the TNG crew idolized, -- a concept which the man himself, a self-interested drunkard during that era, had been reluctant to embrace.
And so, the Enterprise NX-01 sets off prematurely on its first mission out into deep space.
  • People get the first look at the Transporter. Understandably, they find it freaky.
  • Captain Archer sends the Enterprise NX-01 off on her voyage with the command "Let's go", which is much less exciting than "Engage!" or "Punch it!".
  • Dr. Phlox, who was treating the Klingon on Earth, is a Denobulan and is part of some kind of alien doctor exchange program, has come along as the ship's doctor. From the beginning, he is very annoying. "OPTIMISM, CAPTAIN!" he says to Archer, and his voice is far too similar to the goofy head alien Mathesar in the movie Galaxy Quest. Also, they seem to have done some CGI thing to his face to give him this creepy, creepy smile at the end of that scene.
  • Speaking of special effects -- more money and technology allows the crew to do wacky, show-offy things like demonstrate Zero G and fly around uncomfortably.
  • During a meal with the Captain and Chief Engineer Trip Tucker, Subcommander T'Pol, on board as the Science Officer (setting precedent for Spock?) informs us that Vulcans don't eat with their hands, and painfully uses her ability to master eating a crunchy breadstick with a knife and fork as a lesson that "With proper discipline, anything is possible." To which I say "Really? Weak!"
  • T'Pol and Hoshi (the ensign communications officer and genius linguist) are really bitchy to each other on the bridge.
  • Also, they acknowledge they are all speaking English (T'Pol says she was ordered to speak English after Hoshi rudely mutters something to her in Vulcan), instead of pretending there is a fabulously, miraculously effective Universal Translator (UT) properly functioning at all times. And they do refer to it as English, not, I don't know, "Earthican" or something.
So, on the voyage, stuff happens. The aliens (eerily named the Suliban, purportedly named after the Taliban, even before the 9/11 attacks made that a household name in America the very month the show premiered) that were after the Klingon at the beginning sneak aboard the Enterprise with their superior technology and genetic modifications that allow them to be very stealthy, and they steal back the Klingon. T'Pol thinks that since they can't complete their mission, they should go back to Earth, but Captain Archer decides to try to get their Klingon back. This brings them to some outpost on Rigel 10, where they poke around for a bit. They find another Suliban who is sympathetic, and she explains that they are in the midst of a... Temporal Cold War? Yeah... Anyway, more action and adventure ensue as they escape the other, angry Suliban.
  • Upon return from the Rigel 10 trade outpost, T'Pol and Trip apparently have been exposed to some kind of contaminant. They have to spend a bunch of time together in their underwear in this little, sexily blue-lit decon room, rubbing gel all over each other. Really, Enterprise? What is this show rated, with this weirdly sexual gel-rubbing? (Also? Visible nipples are totally distracting.)
  • Early on, they are clearly throwing Trip, the Vulcan-distrusting human, and T'Pol, the smug Vulcan, together.
  • Hoshi embodies the apprehension and anxiety about going on these missions. It is something you don't see in the later crews, of course, who know what they are getting into, and is one of the things that I think is supposed to set this series apart from the others.
T'Pol is able to modify the sensors so they can track the Suliban ship to some crazy Suliban compound at a gas giant planet. Because they don't have Tractor Beams, they use "the Grappler," a giant cable thing that shoots out of the ship and attaches to stuff, (I want to call it "The CLAW!") to nab a Suliban shuttle and get on the compound and get their Klingon back. And they have to use the Transporter for the very first time to save the Captain at the last minute. The crew delivers the Klingon to Qo'Nos, where he is able to deliver his special message about the Temporal Cold War... blah blah blah.

And, because of their success, Starfleet allows the NX-01 to continue on a mission of exploration, and the Vulcans let them keep T'Pol.

What I've learned:
  • Vulcans are patronizing a-holes who don't like to eat with their hands.
  • Humans have a lot to learn about cultural relativism still in 22nd century.
  • Space travel is exciting and scary.
  • Alien microbe decontamination requires slathering gel on each other in our underpants in a dark room (not a special shower, for instance).
  • If I can eat a crunchy breadstick with a fork, I can do anything.*
*Especially if I have Faith of the Heart.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From Apollo to Enterprise - it takes some Faith of the Heart

A little over a week ago, I started watching the first season of Enterprise. At the beginning, it was simply called Enterprise, because the creators I guess thought there were already enough shows and movies with Star Trek Colon Name of Installment for their titles, and they wanted to distinguish the new show from them. Eventually, the show's title would take on the traditional format, but at the beginning, this was new. Oooh!

Another way this show was being distinguished from the others was by having an earnest, rock-ish theme song with lyrics over the opening credits, rather than a sweeping, orchestral piece. And this, among Trekkers and Trekkies, was controversial. I remember when I first tuned in to Enterprise to give the first episode a shot, I found the theme song a little corny and off-putting. Did I hate it? I don't recall. It didn't feel "right" to me, though. I wonder now if it was a factor in how much I was underwhelmed or put-off by that first episode of Enterprise, and if it contributed to why I didn't tune in for the second episode (truthfully, I'm not even sure I finished watching the first when it aired).

Last month, while visiting the Reverend Seminarian Rachel at Seminary in Philadelphia, we went to the Franklin Institute to see the Star Trek exhibit there. For an additional six bucks each, we bought tickets for a silly little shuttle craft simulator ride. The line for it was unexpectedly slow, giving plenty of time to read the vast Star Trek timeline lining the wall while various Trek theme songs played on a loop. The Enterprise song, "Where My Heart Will Take Me", of course stood out from the others. Our reaction was basically "Meh. Whatever, corny soft rock song with words." It still didn't feel like Star Trek. However, it was surprisingly infectious and it replayed in my mind for days.

When I started watching Enterprise last week, I decided to make myself sit through the entire opening credits and song, at least for the first several episodes. It was, after all, part of the show. Could I get something out of it? Indeed, I did.

Even though it was kind of cheesy, I think I "got" it this time around. I didn't need to listen to all of the lyrics (it was hard not to tune them out, and I still haven't paid close attention to them all while listening) to understand that theme song was an effort to demonstrate what made Enterprise different from other iterations of Star Trek. This was a world before we could become space cowboys in a sweeping space opera. This was a mere 90 years since Zefram Cochrane's first warp flight - less than a lifetime for some - and here we, humans, were about to embark on the exploration of other worlds in outer space. The crew of the Enterprise NX-01 were more like us, the real humans of the 21st century, than any other Star Trek characters in time, culture, and experience. What would be more relateable than a cheesy, earnest rock ballad?
If you've never had the pleasure (or tune it out like I do), here are the lyrics, courtesy of some internet site I got when I just googled for them:
(Theme from TV series Enterprise, also known as Faith Of the Heart) Lyrics by Diane Warren

It's been a long road, getting from there to here. It's been a long time, but my time is finally near. And I can feel the change in the wind right now. Nothing's in my way. And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna hold me down.

Cause I've got faith of the heart. I'm going where my heart will take me. I've got faith to believe. I can do anything. I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me. I can reach any star. I've got faith, faith of the heart.

It's been a long night. Trying to find my way. Been through the darkness. Now I finally have my day. And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky. And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna change my mind.

Cause I've got faith of the heart. I'm going where my heart will take me. I've got faith to believe. I can do anything. I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me. I can reach any star. I've got faith, faith of the heart.

I've known the wind so cold, I've seen the darkest days. But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change. I've been through the fire and I've been through the rain. But I'll be fine ...

Cause I've got faith of the heart. I'm going where my heart will take me. I've got faith to believe. I can do anything. I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me. I can reach any star. I've got faith, faith of the heart.

How can we NOT root for the crew of the Enterprise? They've got FAITH. Of the HEART. And Strength of the Soul! And they CAN reach any star!
This week is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, when humans set foot on the moon, and I can't help but think what that must have been like. This was a life-changing event for every man, woman, and child who witnessed it. Forty years ago, children could look out their bedroom windows, families from their back porches, scientists and amateurs alike watching through their telescopes, into the night sky, at the MOON, where some dudes were actually walking around! We, as a society, went from boastful aspirations of breaking the bounds of Earth to setting foot on another celestial body in less than a decade. And you know how? Because we had faith of the heart and strength of the soul and all that stuff in the song. (Also: ego, fear, competitiveness, and many other things not mentioned in the song.)

I imagine, to quote the first line of the song, that when the NX-01 takes flight, it HAS been "a long road, getting from there to here." I think about how, in this fictional universe, less than a lifetime from now we'd be making first contact and setting the events in motion that would bring peace and prosperity to our whole planet and open up the universe for us to explore.

So, this theme song, with its words, can express that at this point, as we confront ambiguity and ambivalence and wonder as we embark on this journey deeper into space, we are still a cheesy soft-rock song. In a few generations, we'll have evolved into a bold, lush, epic orchestration.

Don't get me wrong. I don't love the song. But I can appreciate how it fits into the grander narrative. Maybe that is a function of the sequence in which I'm watching the shows. Maybe I've grown and have had more time to reflect. Maybe I need to justify its existence. Whatever it is, I'm okay with it. And from this point on, several episodes in, I am going to feel free to fast-forward past it.

I do have a lingering objection to it, though. It wasn't even an original song. Maybe it was the right song and they didn't need to write a new one. But this song was previously recorded by Rod Stewart under the title "Faith of the Heart" for the movie Patch Adams. Seriously, Star Trek? Boo.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Contact

Last Thursday, I began my quest to watch all of the Star Trek movies and TV series in continuity order. I started with First Contact because the majority of the action (everything but the first few minutes) takes place in 2063, when the Enterprise-E crew must intervene to restore the proper course of history after Borg conveniently traveled back in time to do some meddling and assimilating. I thought that would make sense (especially since I'm already familiar with the characters and the general Star Trek historical time line), and I know that they kind of integrate details from this intrusion into the past in episodes of Enterprise, closing the loop between the series. After watching it, though, I sort of feel like it would have been more appropriate to watch it where it would fit into the 24th century portion of the time line, since the point was the PREVENTION of disruption of the history, rather than the establishment of new events. It doesn't really matter, particularly since I'm aware of it all, but it probably would frame the narrative a little differently.

As for the movie? This was I think the TNG movie that I enjoyed the most the first time around. It had the convenient, wackadoo time travel plot (like JJ Abrams' reboot, but without the alternate time line consequences), some effective action and effects, and stayed true to the characters and the Star Trek ideals. What would have made it even better for me? Completely eliminating the gross Borg Queen parts. I remember hating them the first time around, and while the idea that borgifying Data would require incorporating organic elements rather than technological components to make him a cyborg is interesting, the whole rest of that Borg Queen plot line was creepy and unnecessary and made me uncomfortable, and I never liked how the establishment of a Queen in the hive changed my perception of the Borg.

I originally posted this elsewhere, and there were some interesting comments, so I am including them below. If you were an original commenter and do not want yours included, let me know and I will delete it. There are slight edits, and anonymity is preserved.

Commenter 1:

I always had some issues with the Queen portion of the programme as well. Although I ADORED the "add organic, make cyborg" twist to the usual concept.

(also, I hate Data-with-emotions, but that's neither here nor there)


(also, I hate Data-with-emotions, but that's neither here nor there)

Oh, agreed. Data trying to understand emotions = compelling mirror turned on humanity. Data WITH emotions = cheesetastic, in a squirmy way, not an awesome way.

That movie would have been fine (IMO better) without the Borg queen. The whole Trek universe would be better off for it, I think.

Commenter 2:

I always thought the Queen was the results of them messing with Hugh, and Lore messing with the Borg.

Still very weird. The Borg were a lot more menacing as just a faceless voice with billions of soldiers behind it.

I see you decided not to go with Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales as the first in continuity.


Still very weird. The Borg were a lot more menacing as just a faceless voice with billions of soldiers behind it.

It is much harder for us to conceptualize the collective mind as it was. I almost want to call them "mindless" soldiers following that "faceless voice", but what makes it so discomfiting is that they weren't mindless, but were part of that hive mind that we cannot experience. Giving it some weird, central "organizing force" that completely upends that by speaking in the first person and trying to seduce Data and messing around with feelings just didn't work for me.

I see you decided not to go with Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales as the first in continuity

Yeah... that. I saw that one as a kid and of course had less of a problem with it than I anticipate I will upon intentional re-watch (I've caught bits and pieces of it again over the years, but not with any attention being devoted to it)... I sort of arbitrarily decided it was not necessary to watch it first. I thought about it, but for whatever reason just decided to ignore it. It actually bugs me that I am not consistent in my approach!

ETA: Also, I'm on the fence about including the animated series.

Commenter 2:

The animated series is usually regarded as outside canon--I'd put it on the same level as some of the better ST books.

ST:IV is part of a larger story involving ST:II and ST:III, so it makes more sense to watch those three in order.

Yeah, Data with the emotions was a little weird... but I did love the Enterprise-E. That's a great ship.

Commenter 1:

I just mentioned your project to my fellow-nerd coworker, and he REALLY wants you to blog this project as you go through it.

Also, he pointed out an interesting conundrum - if you're starting with First Contact because it contains a lot of content from the past, then wouldn't you have to start the whole shebang with that double episode of TNG set in 1800s San Francisco, with Mark Twain and Guinan? Interesting way to frame it...


Yeah, there are some other continuity/time travel/etc issues through all the series ... It would have been too problematic to take individual episodes out of the various series that do indeed take place in another point in time (forward and back, potentially), I think. Punting First Contact up to the head of my Netflix queue is much easier than isolating those episodes and obtaining the correct disc from the correct season and ordering those.

I really probably should have just left FC where it fell in the 24th century, but oh well. What is done is done!

Commenter 1:

DTA theorized that you'd only have to include episodes that start in the past if you were to organize individual episodes chronologically - that woudl eliminate a lot of time-travel-ep reogranization. As far as we can remember, all the TOS episodes that dealt with time travel started and ended on the ship, in "proper" chronology, and there were only 4-5 eps of TNG and other series that started and ended in the past.

But I can see where the practical logistical issues would outweigh other considerations. ;-)

Commenter 3:

I believe Jack, Kate, Hurley, Locke, Charlie, Claire, Sayid, Sawyer, Sun and Jin are feeling a little hurt that they are not as important as Kirk and Spock and Data and Riker and all those other names I don't know or can't remember! :)

(I kid, I kid)


Hee. I actually did feel guilty about it. This probably wouldn't be happening if I hadn't started watching episodes of Enterprise on Sci Fi last month and then they stopped them! My plan is to really get Enterprise out of my system first, and then really devote myself more to Lost for a while. I thought "Oh, just do Lost first" but I KNOW I'd be distracted thinking about Star Trek.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My name is Amie, and I watch TV

So, last weekend I came up with this insane "project" for myself.

First, some background:
I was a moderately big Star Trek geek in my young teen years. I was primarily pretty attached to TNG, and had little invested in TOS, and when DS9 came along I liked that a lot but for whatever reason my attachment had begun to fade. By the end of season 3 of DS9 I stopped watching entirely. I think it had taken a darker turn than I was ready for in my Trek universe. I watched maybe half of the first season of Voyager. When Enterprise entered the scene, not only was I just not as into the whole Trek thing so much anymore, it was also a time in my life not conducive to embarking on a new television attachment. I think I saw one or two episodes of Enterprise before this summer.

Fast forward to now, when the new Star Trek "reboot" (ugh...) comes along. Until I walked into the theater the afternoon I saw it, I wasn't sure I was going to bother seeing it. I just didn't know how to feel. I appreciated and respected TOS, but it hadn't been what I'd been as attached to. But I was feeling nostalgic for that geekiness and what that universe gave to me. There was a little bit of a hole left where Star Trek had been in my life. I saw the new movie, and really enjoyed it, and saw it again. Then I saw it on IMAX (well, listened, actually, since watching it made me queasy) in Philadelphia while visiting a friend, and attending the Star Trek exhibit at the Franklin Institute. I spent money on silly souvenir photos and a t-shirt.

Sci Fi network was showing Enterprise most days, so I started recording it. I started recording some TNG episodes to have on hand for whenever, too. I was just really getting into Enterprise, when I discovered last week that there were no new episodes recording. I checked the Sci Fi schedule and Enterprise was no where to be found for the next month or so. I was sad.

Well, that's what Netflix was invented for, so I reactivated my temporarily suspended account and added all of Enterprise. Then I started thinking "I never saw a lot of DS9 and Voyager, either. I should add those." Then I started thinking about how Enterprise is at the beginning of the chronology, and how they kind of closed some continuity loops between the events in that series and some of the "later" movies and episodes.

(within the continuity of the universe, that is...)

Well, I looked up some information and did some math and I think it amounts to over 550 hours of Star Trek... so this isn't a summer project. This might take me a couple of years...

In addition to this crazy Star Trek idea, I also am planning on watching all of Lost, leading up to the final upcoming season. I've only seen bits and pieces of an episode or two of Lost, and I've borrowed the first 4 seasons on DVD, the 5th will come out this winter, and my mission is to catch up on all of it before the final season. This will be a different experience than the Star Trek watching project, because while I have a passing familiarity with what Lost is about (I read general TV news and hear conversations here and there), watching it will be an entirely new thing to me. I get to experience all of its wonders and frustrations as new discoveries. With Star Trek, although there are a lot of episodes in the various incarnations I haven't seen, and a lot that I haven't seen in a long time, I have a comfort and familiarity with its universe. One of the reasons I was so disappointed that Enterprise stopped airing on Sci Fi recently was because I was getting kind of a charge out of having that to discover anew as the Trek series I'd never watched before.

So, now, I think, until I get too distracted or eventually, possibly bored with it, my new hobby is going to be watching a ton of Star Trek and Lost.

I mentioned this idea to some friends, and they seemed to think it was crazy enough to be entertaining. That's where this blog comes in. Here's the thing. I like TV. I watch TV. I'm an educated woman who likes to read and do other things, but I like TV and I care about it. I'm not engaging in serious criticism or analysis. But I will post my reflections as I watch hundreds of hours of Star Trek and Lost , and possibly other shows if I'm moved to do so.

Welcome aboard for my 630 hour journey through Star Trek and Lost ... Engage!