Tuesday, March 22, 2016
“Reclaim Your Gods”: These Are The Voyages...
As absolutely everyone who has ever commented on this episode has pointed out, it plays out far more as a Star Trek: The Next Generation story than it does an Enterprise one. Which is fine because, the textual quality of this particular outing aside, in spite of everything Star Trek: The Next Generation was frankly a better show than this one. And you have to remember the context into which this was coming: In 2005, Star Trek was going away from television, possibly forever. “These Are The Voyages...” wasn't just closing off Enterprise's final filming block, it was closing off a sustained and uninterrupted period of Star Trek constantly being on the air dating back to 1987. You can't think of “These Are The Voyages...” as being of the same ilk as “All Good Things...” or “Endgame”-Really the only remotely comparable thing I can think of in media history is Doctor Who's “Survival”. This is the end of an institution that has to acknowledge not just the end of the current incarnation, but pay tribute to the entire twenty-plus year era of history it's a part of. In that context, the framing device of this story is more than fitting.
If you're going to criticize “These Are The Voyages...”, do so within its proper context. Most of the arguments I see leveled against this episode are quite frankly idiotic: It's a poor series finale and more of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode than an Enterprise one? No shit-That's what it was *supposed* to be: A lost episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that addressed the New Universe of Enterprise. This was going to be the last episode of the filming block whether UPN renewed Enterprise for a fifth season or not. It's fanwanky? Well, yeah. An episode like this kind of has to be fanwanky by default. And hey, have you, hypothetical interlocutor, even been paying attention for the past year? This whole season has been fanwanky as shit. So “These Are The Voyages...” is too weighed down by continuity nods and references, but utter nonsense like “The Forge”/“Awakening”/“Kir'Shara”, “Babel One”/“United”/“The Aenar”, “Affliction”/“Divergence” and “In A Mirror, Darkly” get a pass? That's just bald-faced hypocrisy. Then there's the astonishing criticism that Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirits look too old to be reprising their characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Oh, and I suppose you happened to have some time machine kicking around your apartment that would have allowed you to cast a ten-years-younger Frakes and Sirtis in 2005, then?
That's not to say there aren't valid criticisms to be leveled at this story. Problems do start to arise once we start to piece out the actual execution here. Firstly, all my talk about how “These Are The Voyages...” isn't a series finale for Enterprise and should be seen as a bonus episode of Star Trek more broadly is all well and good, except for the fact it still opens with the traditional Enterprise credits sequence. Even “In A Mirror, Darkly”, to which “These Are The Voyages...” is the most immediately comparable, had a unique title sequence that helped emphasize the fact that this was supposed to be something different outside our usual continuity. Wouldn't it have been a hoot if instead this episode had opened with a variant of the old Star Trek: The Next Generation intro sequence except with the names of the Enterprise cast (along with Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and “Special Guest Star” Brent Spiner) in place of the Next Generation one? That would have been a laugh riot and would have spelled out far more clearly what I think this episode was aiming for.
Speaking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, invoking it here raises a few more questions worth discussing. For one, instead of making this a real “hidden story”, which would have been more befitting the Temporal Cold War connection and a much more appropriate tribute to Enterprise, the creative team decided to set it inside a previously made episode that tangibly exists. Furthermore, the episode they pick is a complete piece of shit called “The Pegasus”, a Ron Moore grimdark special from the seventh season that sees Commander Riker having a crisis of conscience about his involvement in a Starfleet cover-up masterminded by his former commanding officer involving a stolen Romulan cloaking device. Riker eventually tells Captain Picard the truth, but not before getting into a verbal altercation with him and being thrown in the brig. It's a contemptible, hateful relic from the Old Universe that should have been left in the 90s. But “These Are The Voyages...” would have us believe it's a sterling example of the lasting power of Starfleet values in a universe of moral ambiguity, or at least what Star Trek writers think pass for moral ambiguity.
Yeah, about that...
So part of this episode's conceit is that the Enterprise crew are beloved heroes from history specifically because of their involvement in the founding of the Federation charter, which raises eyebrows for several reasons. The first is that, for obvious reasons, anything from Enterprise is going to be, by definition, absent from the official historical record. This is the secret occult story of history's losers and marginalized, not its golden glowing Master Narrative. It is also quite frankly a kind of whitewashing: In “These Are The Voyages...” we see a Jonathan Archer lionized for his efforts at bringing people together to sign what is for all intents and purposes the Federation charter. Does this sound like the Captain Archer we've spent four (well, OK, three) years with to you? The Captain Archer who has given so much to resist the Federation's incessant meddling in the lives of him and his crew, and to deny its nonstop efforts to micromanage and strongarm their destinies? The Captain Archer who has fought tirelessly for freedom and liberation from the oppression of history's Master Narratives? It sure doesn't to me. I think you can hear it all in Scott Bakula's delivery when the holographic Archer tells the holographic T'Pol about beginning his mission as an explorer, and having to end it proclaiming that it was all worth it to bring about the Federation. That all of history will march gloriously and teleologically to this moment.
He doesn't buy it, and neither do we.
Enterprise's presence within Star Trek: The Next Generation makes things...decidedly complicated. This is of course, a history that, speaking on one particular level of superficiality, this crew should not be aware of. That they are, to the point there's an entire holodeck programme dedicated to lauding and recreating the exploits of Captain Archer and his crew, raises all manner of potentially headache-inducing implications. It's not so simple as Enterprise trying to retcon its way into the diegetic history Star Trek: The Next Generation's universe, if that were the case why only this episode? And you still have Arik Soong to account for. This is not Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christiansen getting sloppily re-edited into Return of the Jedi. No, what we're witnessing here is nothing so straightforward as the presumptuous prequel trying to legitimize itself. I think things start to reveal themselves more clearly as soon as we remember this story is largely set in a holodeck simulation: Remember Leah Brahms? She wasn't the real Doctor Brahms, but rather a simulation created through the computer's historical databanks and given life so the Enterprise could have an avatar to communicate with Geordi. That's what we're witnessing here, but the implications of this are a lot more disturbing then they were in “Booby Trap”.
History has to be written by someone.
This is not Captain Archer and T'Pol, this is what Federation history thinks Captain Archer and T'Pol were like. Or, to be more exact, what Federation history wants you to think Captain Archer and T'Pol were like (incidentally, you can also use this knowledge to save Trip from his fate here as well. If you want). This is Enterprise *re-written* as Officially Sanctioned Starfleet History, whitewashed and neatly compartmentalized into its own Proper Place in the grand unfolding history that leads inexorably to Us at the endpoint of history and teleologcial evolution. Suddenly, the fact that “These Are The Voyages...” is supposed to slide into “The Pegasus” and provide a way for Commander Riker to deal with that episode's alleged crisis of conscience becomes way more insidious. In essence, “These Are The Voyages...” is reappropriating Enterprise in service of 90s grimdark, which is now being presented to us as the teleological endpoint of history. And of utopianism to boot. The Empire of Capitalism once again dispatches its threats by assimilating them, warping them and weaponizes them for its own ends.
It's a dangerous move by the plutocrats, because it's not just an attempt to efface Enterprise's true radical history, it's an attack on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's surprisingly enough that show this episode poses the greatest threat to, not Enterprise, which has been effectively dead and buried for the past year and a half. This is just the reanimated corpse made to dance for the fanboys, who will never be able to deny their compulsion to the grotesque. An attack on Star Trek: The Next Generation is an attack on utopianism at its source. But Star Trek: The Next Generation left the War behind long ago. It's immortal and eternal now, transcending this plane of existence to return to the collective consciousness. But what our enemies fail to understand about Star Trek: The Next Generation is that it will resit its efforts to contain or control it. They may try to make it serve them, but they can never own it because it is incapable of being owned, being as it is everything and nothing at once. Any role Star Trek: The Next Generation may have once played in bring about the War is irrelevant now because it is formless, and formless things cannot be forced to hold one shape above and beyond any other. Star Trek: The Next Generation can be anything it wants to be.
The Empire may think it has a Star Trek: The Next Generation, but so do we. One thing history does teach us is that conquering powers will try and claim authority by subjugating the local gods. But gods can never be truly taken away from their people and live on through folk beliefs and stories. These things cannot be taken away so long as the stories continue to be told. Tradition and mythology are stronger than written history, because they can constantly adapt to changing times, and these are certainly times when time is changing before our very eyes.
A written history is a dead story, extinguished and filed away for the archives. But a story that continues to be told is a voyage that never ends.