Monday, March 07, 2005

TrekCheck: All bad things?...

As the Enterprise season and officially its existence as an ongoing series come to an end, there is more than the usual conflict in Trekdom.

On the one side there are the people associated with Enterprise who speak only in terms of finality. It's striking how many of them use the same word to describe the prevailing attitude: "bittersweet." Jonathan Frakes used it, and Brannon Braga at his college speech; I heard Dan Curry at his college speech use it twice.

Within this group, though not totally unanimous, is the sentiment that the cancellation of Enterprise is a necessary thing, because Trek needs a rest, a pause, a period of "gestation" (to use Braga's word) before the next try. As noted before, Rick Berman has settled on the "franchise fatigue " description, which justifies not only the cancellation but the idea to abandon established Trek characters (and presumably actors) for the next feature.

On the other side is the Coto Counteroffensive, and the fan attempts to save Enterprise. Manny Coto hasn't backed off his belief, stated to me and anybody else who would listen before the season started, that what the world needs now is more Trek, not less, and certainly not none. He talked recently of his 5th season stories for Enterprise, though he also agreed that the next Trek series should go farther into the future, into the 25th century perhaps.

When fans showed up to demonstrate their support at Paramount, Coto and the writing team came out to greet them, as did members of the cast. While Coto doesn't say a word against Rick Berman, he is clearly on the other side of this question. Scott Bacula seems to have a foot in each camp---he says he'd like the series to continue, but he talks realistically about its chances. His pessimism sounds the most realistic, based on his knowledge of the people involved who are making these decisions. (There was also the $3 million pledged to save Enterprise, a startling but probably risk-free assertion of faith in Trek, as paying the actual money probably depends on raising the full $38 million goal, which is highly unlikely.)

So even as faint hope at least keeps our ears perked up for surprises, most fans seemed resigned to cocooning quietly one last time, to watch the farewell episode, and wave a fond goodbye.

But a new element was added last week when a couple of long-time BBS posters, believed to be close to the Enterprise production team if not part of it, went public with a scathing critique of the script of the final episode, said to be titled, "These Are the Voyages."

BBS fans going nuclear is hardly news, but these "sources" claimed that there was widespread dissatisfaction on the set with this script, which is now in production. Perhaps coincidentally, a previously scheduled press event with Berman, Coto and Scott Bacula, among others, was cancelled, and the Enterprise set was abruptly closed.

Then over the weekend, Jolene Blalock called the script "appalling." She's made negative comments about scripts before, but "appalling" is very strong language, particularly as she was praising this season's scripts.

So now should fans be expecting an even greater disappointment: not just the loss of Enterprise, and with it the loss of new TV Trek stories for the indefinite future, but a final farewell to Star Trek episode that's "appalling?"

There is a certain symmetry to the possibility. A bad end to a troubled series would not be unexpected. But a bad end to "Trek as we know it," coming to us in an interrupted but unbroken line from Roddenberry to today, especially with many of the same people involved for decades, would leave us with worse than a bittersweet taste.

It does suggest that while all good things may come to a good end, a less than happy situation sometimes cannot transcend itself, and the bad end seems inevitable.

There are conspicuous examples of both in Star Trek. The miracle and the love fest that was TNG, came to a great end with "All Good Things..." Even the ignominious cessation of the original cast's TV run was vastly overshadowed by their movies, and a magnificent Star Trek VI with a wonderful ending.

But when things don't go over well, the differences seem to matter more, and things get bent out of shape. They don't quite mesh, and bad decisions instead of magically right ones seem to emerge. It seems everyone involved was shocked, and in a way still are, by the box office failure of Star Trek Nemesis. Without analyzing details, it seems that somehow things got out of synch. The cast was clearly surprised by the ad campaign of a generation's last voyage. Perhaps the most telling detail was how the movie itself ended. The DVD contains a perfectly good Star Trek ending, full of humor and feeling, and with the kind of "conclusion" we anticipate and need: the Enterprise warping off to its next adventure.

Unfortunately that ending wasn't used. Instead the Enterprise is static, not even whole, still in drydock being repaired. That was only one aspect of an unsatisfying ending, but an important one. It's the feeling people leave the theatre with that counts. The movie felt abandoned, and perhaps so did we.

This kind of contrast of endings happens in sports sometimes as well. Remember Michael Jordan, at the apex of his fame, in the final game of his stellar career with the Chicago Bulls, hitting the shot that won Chicago's last championship? It was a perfect ending to an incredible career.

But it turned out not to be Jordan's last game. That was several years later, when he was playing for a Washington team that never even made the playoffs. Jordan had become increasingly critical of his younger teammates, and in his actual final game, they simply ignored him. The dissension was obvious, as the crowd begged for Jordan to take a final shot, but his teammates, fed up with his criticism and celebrity, showed only disdain. In exasperation, Jordan took himself out of the game. It turned out that management as well as players had enough of Jordan. He was essentially fired from the team he’d once owned.

And just a few years ago, when the Los Angeles Lakers were playing well, playing together and winning, they overcame their differences. But who knows what happened first: the egos and differences erupted, or the quality of play fell off, or the winning luck just wasn't with them for the big moments? But it all fell apart last season, and now that team doesn't even exist anymore.

What's happening with Enterprise, and what may happen with its ending, may be attributable to exactly what Rick Berman says: franchise fatigue, too many ideas used up, and not enough creative energy left. Whether or not others could have done better is debatable, given all the circumstances. If the fourth season had come in the second season? Who knows? But there was enough good coming out of this season to produce the hope that if this was going to be the end of what for almost four decades had been a very good thing, it would be a worthy ending.

Trek has been going through a stormy period, but there was---and in fact, there still is---the possibility of one last return to the qualities that made Star Trek legendary. We can still hope that this final episode will emerge as a fitting end, that down at Paramount dissatisfaction becomes creative rescue. For hope, after all, is what this franchise has always been about.

One thing for sure: we'll be looking for that last shot of one Enterprise or another heading into the stars, taking our hopes into the future.

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