Remembering ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’s Much-Maligned Finale, 15 Years Later
Between Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and the newest forthcoming Star Trek series, all on streamer CBS All Access, it’s a wondrous time to be a Trekker. Fifteen years ago, however, it seemed the sci-fi franchise was ending on a sour note, leaving the airwaves for the first time in 18 years with the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, which turned out to be an episode many fans and critics flat-out hated.
“These Are the Voyages…,” the series’ 98th episode, written by Enterprise co-creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, aired on May 13, 2005. It opens with Capt. Archer (Scott Bakula) piloting the Enterprise (the NX-01) home to Earth in 2161 for the ship’s decommissioning, while gearing up to give a speech at the signing of the Federation Charter. But when the voice of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) freezes the story, viewers realize that the Enterprise’s final journey is just a holodeck simulation.
In fact, it is the year 2370, and Commander Riker—troubled by the events of the TNG episode “The Pegasus”—is revisiting the events of the year 2161 at the urging of TNG’s Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).
Riker watches as Archer, en route to Earth, gets roped into a rescue mission that ultimately claims the life of Commander Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer). Through these holodeck visions, Riker finds inspiration for how to proceed in the Next Generation timeline.
TV history is rife with polarizing series finales—think Sopranos’ abrupt cut to black, Lost’s flash-sideways reveal, St. Elsewhere’s snow globe—but the decision to end Enterprise with a frame story centering on TNG characters was understandably maddening for viewers. William Riker and Deanna Troi may be important characters in Star Trek canon, but Enterprise fans deserved a finale devoted to the characters they spent four seasons following, not an episode devoted to Riker as he learns a retconned lesson he never once mentions on TNG. It smacks of a stunt-casting ploy, one crafted more to generate buzz than to satisfy fans. Apparently, the episode would have capped off Season 4 even if the show were renewed for another season. As a season finale, “These Are the Voyages…” probably would have worked—and fans would have even gotten more time with Trip, since his death would have still been years in the future when the show returned for Season 5. As a series finale, though, the episode robbed viewers of closure.
Indeed, the holodeck contrivance and the nostalgic appearances of Riker and Troi turned off fans and critics alike. “That framing story, which is a self-serving epitaph on the part of TNG producers Berman and Braga, doesn’t do the Enterprise cast justice,” Sci Fi Weekly‘s Patrick Lee said at the time. “It reduces them to the status of lab rats, and Riker’s supercilious observation is condescending … It’s not surprising that the epilogue for the weakest Trek series ended up so anticlimactic.”
“For the first time ever in Trek history, a series ends with holographic versions of the real characters fans spent years following,” Phil Pirrello wrote for a Hollywood Reporter retrospective last month. “It’s shocking how much wrong they managed to pack into one normal-sized episode of television.”
Fan reactions at the time ranged from neutral to negative. “That’s how Trek comes to an end after a run of 18 consecutive years—with a somewhat ponderous whimper that still manages to show its self-affection,” fan reviewer Jamahl Epsicokhan wrote after the episode aired. “Maybe too much misdirected affection for TNG. And not enough for the characters we’ve been watching for the past four seasons.”
Commenters on Epsicokhan’s post, however, weren’t so charitable—and expressed vitriol toward Braga and Berman. “It was just a total mess,” one wrote. “Why bring back two TNG characters? Why kill off Trip? Why set it years after the previous episode? The blame lies in the people who wrote the episode, responsible for [Enterprise’s] failure in the first place.”
Wrote another, “What exactly did the cast of Enterprise do to deserve this finale?”
Perhaps some of the cast members were wondering the same thing. Jolene Blalock, who played Vulcan Commander on the show, called the finale “appalling” in an interview with the Toronto Star. Anthony Montgomery, a.k.a. Ensign Travis Mayweather, told TV Zone Special, “I feel there could have been a more effective way to wrap things up for our show as well as the franchise as a whole. It just seemed to take a little bit away from what the Enterprise cast and crew worked so diligently to achieve over the past four years, do you know what I mean?”
For his part, Frakes admitted in 2008 that “everybody probably” feels the episode was a disservice to Enterprise. “The theory was it was a valentine to the fans,” he added in an IF Magazine interview, “but the reality is it was a bit of a stretch to have us shut down their show.” (Less than a year later, he said the episode “stinks.”)
Braga defended the episode at the time, but at a 2017 panel at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention, he gave fans a mea culpa. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever when we were writing it, the idea of doing a ‘lost episode’ of The Next Generation, but they’re going to the holodeck to look back at Enterprise,” he said at the time, per TrekMovie.com. “Rick and I thought was a great sendoff to Star Trek, and it didn’t work out so well … It was a kind of a slap in the face to the Enterprise actors. I heard it from everybody. It was the only time Scott Bakula was ever mean to me. I regret it.”
Even a transcription site prefaces its “These Are the Voyages…” transcript with a warning: “Transcriber’s note … Worst Trek Episode Ever!”
Luckily, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and producer J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the franchise with the 2009 film Star Trek, which honored the original story while finding a new “final frontier” in an alternate timeline—and kicked off a $1 billion big-screen trilogy. And in 2017, the franchise returned to the small screen with Discovery, the first of many CBS All Access Star Trek series on the air or in the works.
Now that “These Are the Voyages…” isn’t the last story Trekkers will get from the franchise, perhaps they’ll come to view the episode as Sirtis did in 2005: “a good episode” but not “a good last episode.”
What did you think about the Enterprise series ender? Let us know in the comments below.