Star Trek: Enterprise is rightly celebrated as the series that showed us a lot of Trek firsts, dealt with the real-world reaction to the 9/11 attacks and gave us arguably the most-likable “regular guy” in the quadrant, Trip Tucker. Less discussed is just how wonderfully weird the show got from time to time.
Take, for example, virtually anything to do with Dr. Phlox. While Captain Archer represented Starfleet taking its interstellar baby steps in a pre-Federation context, the Denobulan Chief Medical Officer (as well as Vulcan Science Officer T'Pol) were guides from “the future” to aid when necessary. Yet Phlox's apothecary was, in its way, less high-tech than anything on Earth, or at least stranger. Why use a hypospray when there are Edosian slugs or Regulan bloodworms to do the trick?
This zeal for oddity is felt throughout the series, but I've taken it upon myself to list my top five. You may disagree. Enterprise brings out the disagreements. But, here goes.
The Temporal Cold War
Even just hearing that phrase packs a punch. The only reaction is, “Yes, go on.” Unfortunately, the show maybe did stretch it out a bit far. There are 13 official episodes in the Temporal Cold War arc, beginning with the pilot and wrapping up at the beginning of Season 4. The more casual fan might have found themselves a little flummoxed by its intricacies. (The Suliban Cabal vs the Sphere-Builders? Come again?) But the concept of a Temporal Accord having been signed in the far future prohibiting easy time travel (and factions opposed to such a concept putting up roadblocks throughout the timeline) is absolutely fascinating. A key point about the Temporal Cold War is that all of the belligerent actions our heroes must defeat/prevent originate from a perceived threat. The Xindi and the Na'khul are, from their points of view, saving themselves (or so they think), albeit by extreme measures. This is heavy stuff.
Charles “Trip” Tucker III seems like the type of guy who might meet a lady in some port of call and perhaps woo her for the night. But that is not what happens when he meets Ah'len, a Xyrillian engineer who needs some aid with her teraphasic coils. During some downtime, she shows him around her ship and they put their fingertips in some rocks. Seems like an odd thing to do, but go with the flow, right? This leads to an unexpected problem: Trip Tucker gets pregnant.
Comedy ensues, but also some great insight into our characters. “Unexpected” – great title, right? -- was very much a season-one episode.
While on the topic of weird things happening to Trip, there's the season-three episode “Similitude,” which rides into some bona fide philosophical coordinates. An accident sends Trip into a coma, and the only way to save him is for Phlox to create a mimetic simbiot – essentially, a clone. From there, neural tissue can be harvested. The whole procedure will take 15 days.
An infant, Sim, is “born” and soon it is a child. What seemed like a good idea on paper soon makes everyone feel queasy, especially since the child has Trip's memories. As Sim gets older, he becomes aware of his purpose. He is somewhat defiant, but also aware of the importance of the mission. (We aren't just seeking out new worlds here, we are trying to stop the Xindi from destroying all life on Earth.) The conclusion of this episode can sit on a shelf with Voyager's controversial “Tuvix,” but might even be a little more bizarre since it is someone essentially dying… to save themselves.
Meet The Parents
Or, wait, I guess it's meet the kids? It depends on your point of view. All I can say is the episode “E2” is a real mind-scrambler.
Racing against time in their struggle with the Xindi, the NX-01 enters a subspace corridor hoping for shortcut. To their surprise they find a souped-up version of their own ship. Turns out that they were sent back in time 117 years, at which point Captain Archer decided the best thing to do for the timeline (and to make a bizarro episode of television) was to wait until everything caught up with them. Alas, not even Phlox and his Pyrithian bat guano could keep them alive this long (except for T'Pol), so our crew comes face to face with their own descendants. The crews pair-up (after some counter-moves), but will success mean the evaporation of this newly discovered timeline? Lots to think about here.
No, They're Not Gonna Change My Mind
If you've never been at a Star Trek convention after hours, then you've never experienced it. “Faith of the Heart,” the controversial theme song from Enterprise, is, under normal conditions, something of an embarrassment. But in the right context, together, within the circle of trust, and oftentimes after a few drinks, it becomes the most-cherished melody anyone can think of. And suddenly all are singing along, though whatever else happens in Faith of the Heart Club stays in Faith of the Heart Club.
We'll never quite know what inspired the producers to take a Diane Warren-penned tune recorded by Rod Stewart for the forgettable movie Patch Adams and alter it for Enterprise (the official title is “Where My Heart Will Take Me”), but some things are better left a mystery. Russell Watson's vocals and the clean production (crisp cymbals, emotive violins) really do grow on you after a while (I kid you not; remember: drinks help). The only thing weirder is the shredding guitar licks in the closing credits' “Archer's Theme.”
Four seasons of television offers a lot of opportunities to get strange. I'm definitely leaving some stuff out, so let me hear it in the comments.
Jordan Hoffman is the former host of Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast. He is also a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.