Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
What’s worse than a bad episode of Enterprise? As the show’s fifth episode demonstrates, the answer is a boring episode. I can deal with the show being obvious, gratuitous and even downright nonsensical, but if “Terra Nova” is anything to go by, I appear to have a real problem with the show being dull.
I’m not exaggerating; even though the Star Trek prequel has had moments of being crummy in previous episodes, I found it easy to keep watching. There was something enjoyable about the crassness and unevenness, somehow; an idea that people were at least trying to be entertaining even if they couldn’t quite get their balance right, perhaps, or that there was always something worth paying attention to, even if the quality wasn’t quite there at all times. Watching those earlier episodes, I found myself wondering why Enterprise had such a bad reputation, because there was something gonzo-ly compelling about them; even if they flipped into cheesiness or whatever at times, they were easy on the eye and easy on the brain, and worse things have not only succeeded, but been lionized. And then I saw “Terra Nova.”
It’s strange how entirely boring the episode is. The basic plot – the Enterprise visits the site of the first human colony on a planet outside of our solar system to discover what happened seventy years earlier when they cut off communications with Earth, only to find an underground colony of aliens… who are actually the descendants of the original vanished colonists! – isn’t just a sound one, it’s potentially an exciting one; you have the mystery of the missing colonists (which is built up as being one of the big mysteries of human history) as well as the discovery of the underground colony and the battle that ensues before everyone works out who everyone else is. There’s material there for a good episode, if done well, especially with the conflict that unfolds where the underground colonists believe that humans are responsible for their mutation/evolution (They’re not, of course; Enterprise doesn’t go that dark, like most Star Treks). But in execution, all of the intensity and tension that should be in the episode is entirely missing; everything that happens seems dull, even to the characters it’s happening to, and the stakes – which should be life and death for an entire species – seem to be as important as the question of what to have for dinner at the end of the episode.
I’m not sure who to blame for this – the writers of the episode are series creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (Trek veterans by this point, and writers behind most of the episodes so far), and the director is LeVar Burton who, as well as being Geordi LaForge in The Next Generation for seven years, also directed (good) episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, so it’s not as if this was the work of some newcomers who didn’t have a handle on the Trek format yet. And yet, everything here is a misfire; there’s not even the little moments that suggest a humanity and heart behind the structure of a work-in-progress Starfleet, as in earlier episodes. The entire thing centers around this core idea, which is delivered to the viewer in a disappointing, unconvincing, unexciting manner.
This, then, points to the downfall of Enterprise as a series; it’s not that it’s going to become so bad as to force the faithful away, it’s that it could easily become so boring and inconsequential that even the most die-hard fan will find themselves thinking “What’s the point? Even the characters don’t seem to care about what’s going on, so why should I?” Here’s hoping that next week’s episode will be better.