So, Erin and I watched the Enterprise episode Regeneration yesterday evening. It was a decently directed episode, with some tense action scenes, and some compelling dramatic moments for Dr. Flox. It did, however, confirm to us that Star Trek, as a franchise, is creatively dead.
The rot has been setting in for a while. Deep Space Nine was, and remains, the best Star Trek series of the canon, with fascinating characters that developed over time, with cultures that were politically realistic and interesting. This was the part of the franchise that had fun. This was the show that really explored. True, as some of its detractors suggest, the space station just sat there, but the show explored where it mattered: in relationships, both personal and planetary. Deep Space Nine was the show that took the real risks -- and the show that showed that actions have consequences.
Few of Deep Space Nine's writers stayed with the Star Trek franchise after the series closed. What was left was Voyager, a show with considerable dramatic potential, which suffered from production edicts (especially from Mr. Roddenbury-lite Rick Berman) that characters not be developed, that storylines not grow beyond the confines of the fourth act, and that the series be more about scientific anomalies than the dramatic effects of a closed community of people facing an uncertain future by their wits alone.
It was Voyager that perfected the reset button. It has been said that Paramount executives wanted the series to be made in such a way that the episodes could be shown out of order, without "confusing" the audience. It was Voyager that blas+-ly violated its own continuity whenever it suited its purpose (see Neelix's departure), and which dumped the Voyager crew back at Earth after stringing us around with the Borg, with not a word given to the far more dramatic questions of: how is this lost crew going to adjust? What have the changes been on Earth since they left and how will they react to them? What do they say to their loved ones? Tom Paris didn't even get to reunite with his father and show off the man's new grandson, for heaven's sake! The writers behind Voyager have always been more interested in spiffy anomalies of the week than in real storytelling.
And it is the writers of Voyager that have gone to Enterprise. It's no surprise that they should (a) blas+-ly risk violating their own continuity in order to bring back the Borg (one wonders just why Picard was so surprised to see them in Q Who, given that it's clear that Earth knew everything there was to know about them for 200 years), (b) turn the story on some lazy plot points ("Gee, these ugly looking people seem to be repairing themselves with nano-technology far in advance of our own. Should we put them someplace where they can't do us any harm?" / "Naah. The tall one looks cute. I don't think he'll be a threat to us" -- this happened twice. And by the second time, I was half expecting to see Flox, the second after being punched in the nose, say that he still didn't think his attacker was an imminent threat) and (c) tell a story that really served no purpose (adding nothing to the Borg, nor the Enterprise Crew) except for the fact that it was really spiffy?
And Regeneration has been one of the better episodes this season, held together by some great direction and stellar acting. There was an episode earlier on where Hoshi confronts strange teleporter effects and then aliens trying to sabotage the ship -- only to learn that it was all a dream brought on by a transporter side-effect, the most clumsy and obvious use of the reset button in Star Trek history. The show serves up easy episodes; it wallows in its continuity while doing little to develop it. It has become intellectually lazy.
I never said that Voyager and Enterprise didn't have good bones. They do -- that's what makes the past few years of mediocre-to-crappy episodes so frustrating: the show could do much better. Deep Space Nine did the best of all the Star Trek series, and yet the crew behind the franchise can't seem to see that. They continue to look for neat and spiffy things to throw at the feet of the crew of the Enterprise, and not explore the deeper dramas that made the original Star Trek so groundbreaking in the first place.
Star Trek fans deserve better. We as viewers deserve better than this Pablum. But we're not getting it.
It's just one of the great injustices of the universe that Farscape got cancelled, but Star Trek continues to lurch around like a zombie, or the last two seasons of The X-Files.
We did have some fun hectoring portions of Regeneration however. I already talked about the terminally stupid research scientists in the arctic. Then there was the continuity reference to the Star Trek movie First Contact. In this episode, Archer describes a speech Zephram Cochrane gave wherein he gave a "true" account of what happened, which he later recanted. He was probably drunk at the time of the speech.
I wondered idly how the speech went.
So, Erin improvised, "Sho I shaid to the Captain, jusht let me at him, wisth a couple of grenade launchersh, shome gravity bootsh and a spoon, and the Captain shays to me, "I don't think we have a shpoon", and I shaid to the Captain, "Hey... You don't shound French, what gives?" and he shaid...
Well, there's hope for the short-term future of television if :Angel: gets renewed. It and Buffy were swell this week, with :Angel: rising just a notch above its sibling show. I just felt that the episode (Peace Out) brought a lot of things to a satisfying climax: Connor's doubts, Angel's efforts to free humanity from the influence of Jasmine, Jasmine herself. We were also treated to the consequences of Angel's actions.
Although I don't doubt that Angel did what was necessary (Jasmine's "can't I eat a thousand to save a billion" argument has been said before by other people just as evil), the consequences of his actions are going to hurt, and that makes for dramatic television. The direction was great, with the tension rising and falling in just the right fashion. There was a good mix of comic relief, and a cliffhanger that had Erin actually scream "Holy S--t!" I knew it was coming, having been spoiled rotton, but it was still a fantastic moment, marvellously played.
As for Buffy, it continues to build on its strengths. It hasn't reached its climax, yet, so perhaps the lack of payoff was one reason why I rated :Angel: higher this week. But we get to see the Scooby Gang and the potential Slayers struggling to organize themselves (and doing a not-bad job of it), and we get to see Buffy working through her attitude adjustment. Spike's loyalty to her was really touching, as was the moment where they spent the night just holding each ohter.
And yes, we will be nicknaming this episode, "the Buffy where everybody got some". A lot of sex, but as this was sold as the last night of the world, I think the context fit. And the pairings were nice reflections of the characters. Faith continues to grow in this episode (nice cameo by the Mayor), and she'll make a pretty decent Slayer if Buffy doesn't want the job after this season. We also learned more about the First, who floored me along with Caleb with the revelation that she was envious of everybody's ability to feel. Hmm... a chink in the First's armour, perhaps?
There was wonderful action, too (not that kind of action). Buffy realizing that, though she wasn't as strong as Caleb, she was still faster, was a great moment. I loved Caleb's frustration, and the spinning was beautifully shot. And I loved the symmetry of Buffy finding the one weapon feared by the First, and Faith finding the bomb. One more week until Caleb dies, and two more weeks until we see how they end this thing. I can hardly wait.