"These Are the Voyages..."

Written by Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Brent Spiner
Directed by Allan Kroeker

In which Commander Riker from the Enterprise-D, faced with a difficult moral choice, takes a look back at the final mission of the NX-01 and a fateful choice made by a member of its crew...

Captain's Log - Final Analysis

Captain's Log

The end of “Enterprise” also brings with it the end of modern Trek as it has been known for 18 years. No longer will there be a constant television presence from the franchise, and the films have come to an abrupt end with the disappointing “ST: Nemesis”. Whatever arguments the fandom might have regarding the “fatigue” of the franchise, there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear: the current regime is out of ideas and Paramount has little interest in churning out product for an increasingly wary audience.

The fourth season of “Enterprise” has been something of a love letter to the fans in and of itself. Not only did it smooth over some of the bumps that the series had created in the first two seasons, it also catered to the continuity-minded. Gone were the attempts to bring in new viewers; it was all about making the Trek fans happy. For the most part, it was a success. Those who dismissed the season were already displeased with the series and the recent direction of the franchise.

Rick Berman has been many things to the Trek franchise. Initially, he seemed to be the heir apparent to Gene Roddenberry, taking the reins of the franchise and exploring new ground. But very quickly, it was apparent that Berman was more a businessman than a dedicated fan. Gene lived the concepts of Trek, he gave them life and meaning, even to the point of making “Next Generation” a potential flop in the name of maintaining a certain idealistic vision. (Gene wasn’t perfect, of course, but Trek was his baby.)

Berman, on the other hand, had to think in terms of franchise growth. That meant, in some cases, walking a very fine line. Early Berman efforts with other writers were often well-received. Good people were brought in to develop the later seasons of “Next Generation”. The first sign of trouble came at the height of the Trek revival, when “Next Generation” was winding down and “DS9” was struggling to gain a foothold. To bolster the new series, the best efforts of the “Next Generation” writing staff would be handed off for retooling as a “DS9” script.

From a numbers perspective, Berman was doing what he had to do to ensure future viability. But fans didn’t want a watered-down “Next Generation” or a spinoff with different characters but the same old stories. It’s a matter of record that when fresh blood was brought onto “DS9” to give the series a solid identity, Berman didn’t like the idea of a more serialized format. Berman made his case rather plainly: serialized shows are harder to air out of sequence, and thus have more limited syndication value.

With the public interest in Trek still high (the era between “STVI: The Undiscovered Country” and “ST: First Contact” would be the high point of public admiration for modern Trek), Berman wanted to counter the direction of “DS9” through another business move. Not unlike the “Law and Order” and “CSI” franchises of current television, the theory was that two series with different overall concepts could co-exist. “DS9” would cover a more serialized and self-referential territory, while “Voyager” would return to the episodic format of “Next Generation”.

The result was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Berman was correct: “DS9” was appealing more to the kind of Trek fan that wanted the storytelling evident in competition like “Babylon 5”. Indeed, those two series were locked in a constant struggle to raise the bar, and fans responded to the creativity. But Berman saw that as self-limiting from a business perspective: the “DS9” universe was too arcane for new viewers, and the franchise was beginning to lose momentum. “Voyager” would, in essence, be more friendly to new viewers. As such, Berman gave vast support to “Voyager”, mostly to the detriment of the more critically acclaimed “DS9”.

The miscalculation was largely on the side of Paramount. “Voyager” was launched as the flagship series for UPN, a weak new network that barely had coverage in the major cities, let alone the heartland and college towns where Trek fandom finds such strong expression. Those who grew up with “Next Generation” were suddenly unable to watch the new series. Those who could were deeply divided. Some loved the return to episodic storytelling, but others soundly criticized the lack of consistency and character growth.

As the franchise suffered from the slow bleeding of ratings, thanks to the struggles of UPN and an audience that demanded less retread and more creativity, Berman (with his now-constant writing partner Brannon Braga) focused on business-minded attempts to revitalize the franchise. The infamous addition of Seven of Nine was a clear attempt to play on young male demographics, and after Braga began dating the actress, the series seemed to focus less on character and story and more on highlighting Seven. Add to that the frustrations of a writing staff ordered to keep things simple and avoid anything resembling a plot arc (“DS9” was firmly in the throes of serialized storytelling at the time), and it was clear that “Voyager” was struggling.

By the time “Voyager” ended, the franchise was in deep trouble. “ST: Insurrection” had proven a disaster in terms of overall critical and fan reception, and fans were annoyed by how abruptly “Voyager” ended. Yet Berman was pleased by the ratings and the fact that there was still support for more, and there was no reason to stop moving forward. He was aware, on some level, that the fans were unhappy with the direction of the franchise, but as his public statements have indicated, he felt disdain for the fans that were too focused, in his view, on the continuity. The real question was one of concept.

“Enterprise” was an attempt to cater to the maximum possible audience. It was originally divorced from Trek in order to give it a unique identity; the idea was to gain the interest of those who were beginning to avoid anything labeled “Star Trek”. This failed miserably. While the series got an initial strong reaction, many fans didn’t even know it existed, and it didn’t take long for the new viewers to recognize that the same old writers were struggling to give the new series a unique voice.

Much of this falls on Berman and Braga, in the minds of the firmly rooted fandom, because from the beginning there was a concerted effort to play it safe. The concept was supposed to be gritty and less reserved, reflective of the era in question; instead, it often felt like more of the same. The characters were even less complicated than those on “Voyager”. Indeed, the ratings prove out what was apparent to all by the end of the second season: Berman and Braga had put together a series that was designed to appeal to everyone, and as a result, it was appealing to hardly anyone. (What role Brent Spiner played is unknown, but his contributions to “ST: Nemesis” and this episode are perhaps indicative of a serious drop in creative writing ability.)

By the end of the second season, Berman was forced to make a serious change to avoid cancellation. This is often forgotten. The decision to move into a more serialized storytelling format was not Berman’s original idea, no matter his capacity for revisionism. Original statements about the series clearly indicate that serialized elements were intentionally being set aside; even the “Temporal Cold War”, Braga’s brainchild, was kept undefined and to one side; the intent was always to keep things safe and episodic.

While fans were divided over the success of the third season, the critics responded. This was especially true when Manny Coto was brought onto the writing staff. While Berman denies it to this day, comments from the time confirm that Coto was brought in to inject a fresh perspective and vision. Paramount had finally realized what many fans had long since noted: Berman was a businessman, not a well of creativity, and as such, he had presided over the decline of the franchise in the public awareness.

Coto was brought in by Paramount when the writing was on the wall. Berman and Braga had been given an ultimatum: revive the interest in “Enterprise” and regain ratings power or the series will be cancelled. Many fans understood what Berman still cannot admit: Coto was brought in to make the best of a bad situation until enough episodes were in the can for syndication purposes. When “ST: Nemesis” hit an iceberg with the fans, never mind the public overall, the franchise was over. Berman, for all his business savvy, couldn’t keep things profitable.

Coto’s presence was felt immediately by the fans. The second half of the third season saw a more focused storytelling, even if the initial plot elements by Berman and Braga were still lingering. Fans also noted that whenever Berman and Braga were brought in to write an episode, it was poorly received; indeed, the impression was that the two would force themselves on the writing staff in some vain power play. So it is that the fourth season was written, until the end, exclusively by Coto and his hand-picked writing staff. The mandate was to go out swinging, and Coto did exactly that. Berman’s comments to the contrary, there was no turning back from the direction he had set the franchise on, in the name of preserving business needs. It was only after the writing was on the wall that the fans got what they had been looking for all along (which just happened to be contrary to gaining new audience).

There’s a point to this discourse, beyond simply bashing Rick Berman for taking a creative vision and turning it into a business-driven franchise. It’s about pointing to the fact that it’s not “Enterprise” itself that was denied a true ending, but the franchise as a whole. This episode is a single episode exercise in trying to achieve two separate goals: give the adventures of the NX-01 “historical” relevance and give closure to 18 years of modern Trek. In that regard, Berman’s concept for “These Are the Voyages…” is sound.

It’s the doom of any franchise to die a slow and painful death. Seldom are franchises allowed to go out on top, and it’s only under such circumstances that series are typically afforded the opportunity for a true ending. This story really needed to be a double-episode, if only to allow the two major requirements of the episode to come together. Since Paramount and UPN weren’t willing to give the money or the time (UPN unfairly lumped episode 21 in the previous hour, destroying that episode’s ability to be seen as distinct), the final product struggles to find balance.

The right pieces are in place for a realistic series and franchise finale. Some might have scoffed at the idea of having Riker and Troi look back on the adventures of NX-01 from the future, as if it were a forced connection between “Enterprise” and the overall continuity, but it’s a strong idea. And the death of Trip, coming just before the forging of the alliance that becomes the Federation (in very short order, given the fact it’s already 2161), is a dramatic hook that might not be necessary, but is meant to give the story emotional depth.

The problem is quite simply the execution of the idea. Clearly, Berman and Braga felt that it wasn’t enough to give Archer and his crew “historical” relevance. Riker had to be undergoing a personal crisis and in need of some kind of assistance. Thus Troi must send him into the holodeck to see if Trip’s choice to sacrifice himself for a better future, breaking orders in the process, can give Riker insight. The crisis of conscience takes place during scenes set during the “Next Generation” episode “The Pegasus”.

But was this truly necessary? For one thing, if the viewers aren’t intimately familiar with “The Pegasus”, part of the episode is wasted trying to gain perspective. Riker’s plight isn’t well communicated, and since the final decision is already a known quantity, it’s not very compelling, either. While Frakes and Sirtis don’t look nearly as bad as one would expect in the old uniforms, the scenes are a bit stiff, especially given the fact that they were forced to play a situation out of the original context. The effort is there, but the depth is missing, thanks to the limited time allowed.

On the other side, Berman and Braga try to develop an adventure for Archer that not only places his future in jeopardy but also allows Shran to make one last appearance. Instead of making this story something truly special, something unexpected, it plays like a truly bad stand-alone episode. The villains are incredibly laughable, and they are pulled in and out of the story in a way that makes “plot contrivance” sound innocuous in comparison. (In fact, there have been villains on “Power Rangers” with more credibility.)

If the point of the episode was for Riker to equate his psychological crisis with some past decision on Trip’s part, it doesn’t make logical sense. What exactly is Riker supposed to learn from Trip’s impulsive decision to sacrifice himself to ensure that Archer can give a speech? It’s not even close to resonating with Riker’s situation. Between the depiction of the villains and the manner of Trip’s death, it just doesn’t come together. (Considering that this was the original script written as the third season finale, when the renewal for the fourth season was up in the air, it’s amazing to think how this sat around for a year and still ended up so disjointed.)

Again, there’s no faulting Berman’s logic in tying up modern Trek in a single tale. It’s just that the story wasn’t properly conceived to achieve the two goals that it had to fulfill. Both sides of the story had to be equally self-contained and logical, and in turn, the connective thread had to exist between past and future to make the story a timeless exploration of the human condition. All three facets were lacking in this episode, and so it’s no wonder that the overall sense of the fandom is negative.

The sad thing is that it didn’t have to be that way. With a little retooling, the overall premise could have remained intact, but far more meaningful to the audience and reverential of the franchise and its cultural context. Granted, any real attempt at such an ending would have required a double-length episode to get it right. But would it have really been so hard?

What this episode needed was an emotional hook. Killing off Trip is not really the sacrilege some believe it to be; it’s the fact that his passing has so little meaning. In terms of changing the story in some minimal way, why not have Shran’s child be abducted by a group looking to disrupt the signing of the charter for the Federation? Indeed, this would have instantly tied the events of “Demons”/”Terra Prime” to the series finale. Trip could have died saving Archer during the rescue attempt, and the story could have unfolded in flashbacks.

Instead of placing the “future” subplot during a “Next Generation” episode, wouldn’t it have been more fitting to place it after “ST: Nemesis” in the timeline? In one fell swoop, the full scope of the established history of modern Trek would have been bridged. Why would this have worked better? Because Riker becomes the captain of the Titan at the end of “ST: Nemesis”, and as such, he’s embarking on a new journey in his life, all because of Data’s sacrifice.

And therein lies a far more meaningful concept than the one offered. It’s about the death of someone (something) important, someone (something) a part of one’s life for so long, and moving on. Troi could have sent Riker to the holodeck to play Chef, just as he does, and in the process of helping the crew of NX-01 deal with their emotions over Data and the end of their time on Enterprise, Riker could have gained insight into his own feelings. And that would have also resonated as a general theme for fans of the franchise, as they mourn the end of an era.

In other words, what was accomplished by the very short montage at the end of this episode could have been the overriding theme of the entire hour. An episode of reflection over life, death, and change could have been interspersed with flashbacks of the rescue attempt. Ideally, Archer’s speech would have actually made it on screen, so that the ideals of Roddenberry’s vision could be expressed through stirring monologue in the end. That, too, would have served to give Riker a context for his own command and moving on.

It’s not as if the budget wasn’t there to create the Titan and its interiors; the NCC-1701-D had to be recreated for this episode anyway. And any questions about how old Frakes and Sirtis look compared to earlier episodes would be a moot point. More to the point, the emphasis would have been shifted, if done properly, to the cast of “Enterprise”. As it is, the NX-01 might as well be revealed as a holosuite program with pretensions of grandeur.

Not everything about this episode is poorly executed. Several individual scenes are very well done, especially when the characters get to open up with Riker as Chef. It’s equally obvious why Jolene Blalock found this episode to be “appalling”. The focus is squarely on Riker and Troi as the main characters; the cast of “Enterprise” is secondary. Beyond that, as mentioned, the events on NX-01 wouldn’t have worked as a regular episode, let alone as part of a series finale.

Berman and Braga put together a series finale that served their interests more than those of the audience. This was about tossing in the elements that they thought the audience would enjoy, and in fact, they were close to the mark. But their lack of vision is evident by the slipshod quality of the episode and its failure as an emotionally resonant ending to the series. Identifying the pieces that are popular and knowing to pull them together is a business-level decision; bringing those pieces together into a satisfying whole is art. Berman has always been about business, and so it should come as little surprise that this finale misses the mark.

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode was not the satisfying series finale that the audience deserved. In fact, it serves none of the functions that the writers were clearly hoping it would fulfill. It wouldn’t have taken much to create a finale with true resonance, focused on the characters of “Enterprise”, even retaining the perspective of characters from a future time. The death of a main character comes as the result of events that wouldn’t have passed muster as a regular episode, let alone the series finale. In the end, modern Trek ends not with pride, but instead, with a sense of profound disappointment.

Writing: 0/2
Acting: 1/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 4/10

Season 4 Final Average: 7.3

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