"It was a kind of a slap in the face to the Enterprise actors. I regret it."
Brannon Braga didn't sugar coat his feelings about Star Trek: Enterprise's infamous 2005 series finale, "These Are the Voyages …", in this 2017 interview addressing the problematic episode he developed and co-wrote with executive producer Rick Berman. While Braga and Berman thought framing the Enterprise finale as a "lost episode" of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a great idea while writing it, Braga soon realized after watching it that "great" was far from an apt description. Fans often credit the episode for putting all the nails in Star Trek's coffin as a viable television franchise, given that it would be a long 12 years before The Final Frontier would be explored again on the small screen, thanks to Star Trek: Discovery. While Enterprise's declining ratings throughout its four-season run (coupled with the series finale's negative reaction) didn't help the franchise, the show's network, UPN, already signed the DNR on both the series and any others' future before the finale aired.
As "These Are the Voyages …" celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, it's time to look back at what went wrong with the story and, surprisingly, what could have gone much, much worse.
Enterprise's isn't the worst series finale ever made, but it's definitely its cousin. Structured as a Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) TNG episode that happens to have the entire cast of Enterprise in it, "Voyages" centers on Riker's struggles surrounding the events of TNG's season seven episode "The Pegasus," forcing the Enterprise-D's first officer to use the holodeck to help him solve his problems by revisiting the final mission of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and the crew of the first Enterprise, the NX-01. That means that all the 22nd century scenes featuring Archer and his crew are all holodeck simulations. Yup. For the first-time ever in Trek history, a series ends with holographic versions of the real characters fans spent years following. It's shocking how much wrong they managed to pack into one normal-sized episode of television — the first Trek finale since The Animated Series not to be feature-length.
Braga and Berman, from TNG to Voyager to Enterprise, logged 18 years and hundreds of hours boldly going where no one has gone before. They get how to service and protect Trek. At the same time, even with all their experience, not all ideas are good ones. Given the pressure-cooker atmosphere of making a TV series — let alone one as scrutinized as this underperforming Star Trek prequel — it's hard to get 30,000 feet on a story like this and up against the shadow of one of the best TV series finales ever, TNG’s "All Good Things …", co-written by Braga.
Setting aside the fact that Riker never once mentioned an affinity for Archer, his ship and crew or this time period throughout his entire TNG tenure, making a 24th century character the focus of a series finale that takes place in the 22rd century denies agency to the Enterprise ensemble that deserves the spotlight — not have it stolen by characters who already had their fair share of it. (Marina Sirtis’ Counsellor Troi cameo is more distracting fan service.) Even Bakula was incensed with the story, with Braga recalling that this episode was the first time Enterprise's lead actor ever got confrontational with the writer-producer.
Bringing back popular characters from a more popular Star Trek show to play roles in the finale of a less-popular one feels as much now as an obvious ratings stunt as it did then — and only more problematic. (This wasn't the first time Paramount Television would turn to Next Gen to help/hurt its crown jewel.) The short-term goal of fleeting ratings ultimately soured the legacy of the series in the long-term. What was originally conceived as a "love letter" to fans — and to the other Enterprise-centric Trek shows — "Voyages" felt, as Braga said, like a slap in the face to this one. While Enterprise's main characters lacked the iconic pop-culture resonance of Kirk and Spock or the TNG crew, they deserved more than being curtailed by characters who already had their shot at series finale glory. Revisiting Riker and Troi at a time before "All Good Things …", but after the actors playing them had already made TV history with their final signoff, also retroactively dings Next Gen's satisfying finale. (The show doesn't even let its crew have the last scene together; it ends with Troi and Riker exiting the holodeck and deactivating the Enterprise program.)
Even though Enterprise's main characters come off as guest stars in their own series finale — which, ironically, centers on guest stars — they do manage to have a few scenes that let them shine; good scenes and character beats that deserve a greater showcase. The insanely likable Engineer Charles "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trinneer) is the show's beating heart, so it's a gut punch when he dies after a sacrificial play aboard Enterprise to save his shipmates. That precedes the dramatic scene between Vulcan officer T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) and Archer, moments before giving a speech at a ceremony that will spark the birth of the Federation. And the final montage of CG Enterprises — including Kirk's and Picard's — with their respective captains sharing duties speaking Trek's famous pre-titles "Space, the final frontier …" is impressive. But it could have been so much more; a perfect passing-of-the-torch scene buttoning a finale that serves its heroes instead of giving them lip service.
The finale is filled with good intentions executed less so: That ending montage could have been an all-timer sequence following what should have been one last adventure for the first Enterprise crew ever. Instead, we're left with a dwindling series of returns, a shoulder shrug of a finale for a crew that deserves better than getting sidelined in their series' finale moments. Silver linings? In the 15 years since Enterprise went off the air, streaming has given audiences a chance to revisit the show and see it less as a failure and more as the noble experiment it intended to be — letting the series as a whole age far better than its final hour.
May 26, 6:19 p.m. A previous version misstated which century in which the Enterprise finale takes place in. THR regrets the error.