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Top 10 Episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise

To make most Star Trek fans squirm you need only plaintively sing, in your best impression of latter-era Rod Stewart at his worst, “It’s been a looong roaaad [pause] getting from there to here.”  That, of course, is the opening line of “Where My Heart Will Take Me,” the Dianne Warren-penned tune that served as the theme song for Star Trek: Enterprise.  When the show was still on the air, fans hated the song with so much passion that they even started multiple petitions to get it off the show, presumably to be replaced by a more traditional Jerry Goldsmith-like orchestral score.  Beyond that, fans had other reasons to turn on Enterprise.  The premise (i.e., a prequel to the Original Series) seemed iffy, the cast charisma-free, and it had the misfortune to premiere mere weeks after 9/11, a time when a Star Trek Utopian future seemed offensively naive.  As such, when Enterprise ended its 97 episode run after 4 seasons it was regarded as a failure – the show that killed Star Trek.

Yes, the theme song was horrible, there wasn’t a whole lot of comedy to go around, Jolene Blalock was objectified even more than Jeri Ryan had been on Voyager, and it had a bad habit of simply re-purposing previous plots used on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  However, Enterprise receives far more disrespect than it deserves.  When viewed now, it’s apparent just how much the show’s narrative experiments with serialized storytelling in its incredibly ambitious third and fourth seasons exceeds even that attempted by the more notoriously serialized Deep Space Nine. Plus, as the show progressed many of the characters grew into fascinating portraits of people in transition, particularly the central triumvirate of Captain Archer (Scott Bakula, who did eventually manage to stop merely playing it as Sam Beckett in space), T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and Trip (Connor Trennier). 

Here 10 amazing episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise:

(SPOILERS AHEAD, FUN A-HOY)

10) “Damage” (Season 3, Episode 19)

enterprise damage

A.K.A.: The one where Enterprise is badly damaged, needs a new warp coil to get to secret rendez-vous coordinates to help turn the tide in the Xindi war, and along comes the innocent, genial Illyrians and their warp coil, which they foolishly refuse to give over since they need it to get home.

Through years of Gene Roddenberry idealism shining through his characters, there is a certain set of expectations as to how Star Trek characters will behave in most scenarios.  That’s why it’s so interesting when that doesn’t happen.  In a different context, the plot of “Damages” (our heroes need something, an alien ship needs something, let’s compromise) would be pretty standard Star Trek.  However, this happens smack-dab in the middle of war, and the fate of Earth hangs in the balance.  So, much as he hates himself for doing it Archer just straight up steals the warp coil from the Illyrians even though he knows it means they won’t be able to return home for 3 years.  For Captains Kirk and Picard to go out into space and rather imperialistically tell other people and races how things should be Captain Archer had to do stuff like this and react to the way things were while pledging to someday make up for it.

Check out a Trailer Below:

9) “Twilight” (Season 3, Episode 8)

Enterprise Twilight

A.K.A.: The one where Archer gets Memento-style memory loss (i.e., he can’t form any long-term memories), and we jump a decade into the future to see what would happen during the war with the Xindi if the bad guys won.

Ah, yes, the giant magic re-set button ending Star Trek episode where we get a fascinating character study via a time-jump to an alternate future which will be erased when the episode ends by returning everything to its default setting.  However, “Twilight” uses this trope rather effectively, examining T’Pol and Archer’s relationship (loyal friends? more than that?) in a plot in which she feels obligated to him since he suffered a debilitating brain injury while saving her life.  Plus, we get to see just how important it is that the heroes defeat the Xindi because in this alternate future humanity has been reduced to a mere 6,000 colonists.  Bakula plays his memory loss moments exceptionally well, such as a meeting where he informs Trip and T’Pol of an idea he had for a ship improvement only to learn he had told them before and the improvement had already been implemented.

Check out the Final Scene Below:

8) “Home” (Season 4, Episode 3)

Enterprise Home

A.K.A.: The one where our heroes saved the Earth the prior season, and all they got for their efforts was sneering, dickish Vulcans, xenophobic humans who don’t like Phlox being on Earth, and an emotionally traumatized Captain Archer.

This is in some ways an anti-Star Trek episode – mass ignorance and misguided cultural tradition are not solved in a neat speech in the last act because the world is still evolving into the Roddenberry version of it.  Phlox realizes he is no longer welcome on Earth due to massive post-Xindi xenophobia, and T’Pol’s non-traditional (Vulcan/human) romance with Trip is completely destroyed by her mother on the planet Vulcan who forces her to complete an arranged marriage.  Elsewhere, we discover just how emotionally scarred and changed Archer is as a result of the escalating conflicts of the prior seasons.  He is a hero (dude saved everyone on Earth) who doesn’t feel like one.  Even if Archer’s storyline receives a slightly too nicely wrapped up conclusion (with a seriously out-of-character turn from a Vulcan) it is still an interesting post-war character study.

Check out a Trailer Below:

7) “Impulse” (Season 3, Episode 5) 

Enterprise Impulse

A.K.A.: The one where the crew encounters a stranded Vulcan ship full of zombie-like, rage-fueled Vulcans who have succumb to a mysterious ailment which begins affecting T’Pol.

Vulcan zombies!  What, you need more?

Okay, they’re not really zombies, but that’s basically how the infected Vulcans behave in this episode (though the fast-moving zombie, not slow and steady).  It makes for an incredibly thrilling episode with plenty of creepy -by Star Trek standards at least – imagery.  This is Enterprise‘s horror movie episode, right down to a double fake-out ending.  There is one slight catch: this is the same basic plot of the Deep Space Nine episode “Empok Nor”: away team boards a ship/station it believes to be unoccupied, discover they are wrong, and then the member of the away team who is the same race as their attackers becomes infected just as their attackers were and may or may not become a threat to our heroes.  However, when a rehash looks as good “Impulse” who are we to complain?

Check out a Trailer Below:

6) “The Forge”/”Awakening”/”Kir’Shara” (Season 4, Episodes 7-9)

Enterprise Kir-Shara

A.K.A.: The one where the bombing of Earth’s embassy on Vulcan triggers an investigation by Archer and T’Pol who discover that, basically, Vulcans are some serious war-mongering a-holes.

Some will never forgive Enterprise for what it did to the Vulcans, i.e., depicting them as something less than paragons of virtue.  Among them, apparently, was the new show-runner for season 4 Mann Coto, who designed this three-parter as a way of re-establishing the Vulcans as not a race of bastards but instead a people who had temporarily departed from their ideals due to corruption by an outside force.  For those who were actually okay with how the Vulcans had been depicted, this bit of ret-conning might be a bit annoying.  However, the fourth season was about establishing and drawing the connections for how the Federation was finally founded, and for that to happen the Vulcans had to first get their house in order.  So, a previously antagonistic presence like Vulcan Ambassador Soval is made a hero here, as are many other Vulcans who begin noticing just how bad-shit crazy the story’s main villain, High Commander V’Las, appears to be.  However, its plot of terrorist bombings of embassies, and an oppressed faction of Vulcans on the run in the desert makes for a freakishly engaging three-part political thriller with a fantastic performance from Blalock.

Check Out a Trailer Below:

5) “The Expanse” (Season 2, Episode 26)

Enterprise The_Expanse

A.K.A.: The one where the second season concluded with the show evoking 9/11 by having an unknown enemy attack Earth out of nowhere, killing many (including Trip’s sister) and sending the ship on a, “This means war!” mission into dangerous space while they are unknowingly stalked by Klingons.

In Star Trek films, Earth can be placed in peril (Star Trek IV and Star Trek: First Contact), but in the TV shows that’s generally a no-no.  That’s what made it so stunning when Enterprise‘s second season finale began with a weaponized space probe entering Earth’s atmosphere and firing on North and South America before self-destructing.  This attack would later be explained and contextualized in the third season, but “The Expanse” is largely about getting to watch our characters react to what they would think of as an unimaginable tragedy.

To put it another way, this is basically their 9/11 episode.  It reveals fascinating new depths and demands upon loyalty, e.g., T’Pol resigns from the Vulcan High Command to join Enterprise full time.  On top of that, there are some incredibly well-executed space battle scenes between the Enterprise and pursuing Klingon ships.

Check Out a Trailer Below:

4) “Carbon Creek” (Season 2, Episode 2)

Enterprise Carbon Creek

A.K.A.: The one where T’Pol tells the story about the time her great-grandmother spent some time with two other Vulcans (all three of whom concealed the pointy portions of their ears to appear human) in small-town Pennyslvania in 1957 after their ship crashed and they awaited rescue.

To break from the doldrums of space exploration (seriously, it gets boring) and switch things up, Enterprise had not the holodeck nor Q to lean on.  Instead, they used time travel and flashbacks, at their best at that with “Carbon Creek.”  Its set-up is astonishingly simple:  over dinner, T’Pol tells Trip and Archer a story about an ancestor of her’s, ala Janeway in the Voyager episode “11:59.”  What follows is a delightfully quiet character study of three Vulcans forced to integrate with humanity at a time, i.e., the 1950s, when doing so was not easy.  As a post-9/11 show that happened to be set prior to an idealized future, Enterprise was largely about the challenge of coming to accept the mysterious other, both from the alien and human point of view.  “Carbon Creek” addresses this is in a beautifully quiet way, showing us three dryly funny (one of them loves American television) Vulcans struggling with their need to help their new human friends at the risk of exposing themselves and thus risking their lives.  Plus, fans of unreliable narrator tropes will delight in the ambiguous ending.

Check out a Trailer Below:

3) “Similitude” (Season 3, Episode 10) 

Enterprise Similitude

A.K.A.: The one where after an accident threatens Trip’s life Doctor Phlox basically says, “I know – we’ll grow a fast-aging clone with a lifespan of two-weeks, and use his organs once he’s reached the real Trip’s current age.”  However, the clone has all of Trip’s memories, and even briefly becomes a member of the crew when Trip’s engineering expertise is require.

Brutal.  That’s the best way to describe “Similitude.”  It is so beautifully sci-fi, featuring a premise that is a perfect excuse for the show to explore the unanticipated ethical dilemmas delivered unto us by advances in medical science.  In this case, their story appears to be a stem cell debate allegory.  When Phlox devises of his way of saving Trip’s life, he never stops to ponder how much it would feel like murder when it came time to harvest the clone’s organs.  The way the rest of the crew also comes to this realization is beautifully done, aided in large part by Connor Trenier’s fantastic performance as Sim, the Trip clone.  However, it refuses to give into any soapbox speechifying, instead focusing on the noble sacrifice made by a selfless hero when faced with an impossible moral dilemma.  It also uses the plot to finally advance the Trip-T’Pol romance, giving her a wonderful moment where she admits her feelings fro Trip to Sim.  This is among the easiest Enterprise episodes to simply watch without having seen any prior episodes (the same goes for “Carbon Creek”).

Check out a Trailer Below:

2) “The Andorian Incident” (Season 1, Episode 7)

enterprise andorian incident

A.K.A.: The one where the crew visits a Vulcan monastery only to discover it is in the process of being taken over by the Andorians, who surprisingly are 100% correct in their suspicion that the a-hole Vulcans have violated a treaty by using the monastery as a secret military outpost.

From a strict storytelling perspective, Vulcans are an incredibly boring alien race, regardless of how beloved they are due to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (who was, rather tellingly, half-human).  They are only ever made captivating by having their logic-driven worldview counter-balanced by the more emotional humans they encounter.  Minus that interaction, Vulcans are a race crucially bereft of narrative conflict (even when their backstory has them constantly suppressing their emotions to achieve their calm demeanor).

The controversial position Enterprise took was that, basically, Vulcans aren’t perfect (or at least didn’t used to be).  In fact, they could be right bastards.  The first major indication of this new direction came in “The Andorian Incident,” which sort of plays out like a bank robbery plot where the good guys walk into a bank, notice everyone is acting weird, and when they try to leave a thug appears out of nowhere at the door to reveal that in fact the banks is in the middle of being robbed.  Except here the bank is a Vulcan monastery and the thugs are the blue-skinned, antennae-spouting Andorians, an Original Series alien made only slightly less goofy here due to the formidable acting of Jeffrey Combs as Shran, the Andorian in charge.  The resulting episode is a fun hostage scenario equipped with clever scheming on the parts of the heroes and the sneaking suspicion that the bad guys may in fact be the good guys.  The ending implicates the Vulcans and sets up a series-long conflict between Vulcan and Andorian while also establishing Enterprise as a show in which, for better or worse, what you thought you knew about Star Trek could not necessarily be trusted.   

Check out a Trailer Below:

1) “Zero Hour” (Season 3, Episode 24)

enterprise zerohour_019a

A.K.A.: The one where the long and convoluted season-long story arch surrounding the war with the Xindi reaches an epic conclusion, and the viewer is completely blown away … until the horrible, horrible, horrible last second cliffhanger.

This is my Return of the King for Best Picture pick – the award given to the last in a line of installments that on its own individually is not the best but taken as a whole is deserving of immense applause.  So, no, “Zero Hour” is not really the best Star Trek: Enterprise episode nor is it my favorite.  However, it is the third season finale thus concluding the season-long conflict with the Xindi, and while they arguably never became as interesting a villain as the Borg or Dominion they were still the tool by which the writers put the heroes backs up against the wall.  So, “Zero Hour” is our heroes finally landing the knock-out punch, with some thrilling action and plenty of fist pump in the air moments.  It is the culmination of an entire season of story and character work and benefits by association, even if on its own merits it might actually be a bit weaker than some prior episodes.  However, that’s Enterprise for you – good, but always with an asterisk behind it.

Check out a Trailer Below:

Honorable Mentions (The Ones Just Outside the Top 10):

  • “Cease Fire” (Season 2, Episode 15) – Where T’Pol and Archer are caught in the middle when arranging a meeting between the Andorians and Vulcans.
  • “Stratagem” (Season 3, Episode 14) – Where Archer attempts to fool a member of the Xindi council into helping him through a rather elaborately staged con.
Check Out Our Prior Top 10 Lists for Other Stark Trek TV Shows:

So, what do you think, guys? Are you a fan of our picks, or are there other episodes you think should have made the cut? Let us know in the comments!

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17 comments

  1. Good list. It’s hard for me to disagree with any particular pick, though I might put “Shuttlepod One” on the list. It’s nice to see someone defending Enterprise (at least, a little bit). I always thought the reactions to the theme song were overblown. A show is about more than its opening credits, and if you’re so focused on that you’re missing the point. And you’re right, “Zero Hour” is totally the Return of the King of Enterprise. Too bad about the last second twist.

    1. I’ve seen other Top Enterprise lists that read more like “this show doesn’t even deserve a Top 10,” which is horribly untrue. Enterprise was the show on the air when the TV and film lights went out on Star Trek for a while, ergo it is the show that killed Star Trek. I think that kind of thinking is what derails a lot of people from liking the show. I think Star Trek was largely killed off by simply having been on TV in some form or another non-stop from 1987 to 2005. I think there was just a general malaise that set in, and Enterprise’s efforts to distance itself from its predecessors (a non-orchestral score for a theme song, initially not even using the phrase Star Trek in its title, depicting the Vulcans as gigantic a-holes) too off-putting for some long-time fans and not inviting enough to gain new fans. That was my personal experience with Enterprise, which I bailed on after the first couple of episodes when it was on the air. It’s only through Netflix in the past year that I caught up with it, and once you get to that third season it is the most compulsively watchable season of Star Trek I’ve ever seen. The show, in general, eventually became a fun show to binge watch.

      When I wrote the list, I re-watched the beginning of “Zero Hour” and rolled my eyes at the Reptilian Xindi eating cute little mice before going into battle thing, which I had forgotten about. That’s what inspired me to take the “Return of the King” angle as it reminded me of just how much the episode is good but not as good as everything that immediately preceeded it. I have to confess, though, that I somehow never saw the episode “Dear Doctor” (just missed it on Netflix), and having seen that now it probably would have made my list or at least an honorable mention.

      1. I agree with you completely. I think all of your points about Enterprise are spot on. I thankfully stuck it out through all of the seasons when they were on, but it works much better as a binge show in season 3.
        “Dear Doctor” is another great one I’d forgotten about. Good call!

    2. Oh, btw, I just re-watched “Shuttlepod One” last night and holy crap is that episode so much better than I remembered it being. I remember how in “The Expanse” Malcolm is concerned for Trip and trying to help with the grieving process, and when I watched it I wondered when did those two become the O’Brien/Bashir buddy duo. Well, that would be in “Shuttlepod One.” Malcolm’s drunken, almost childlike glee in remembering T’Pol’s “great bottom” was a particular delight, a surprisingly rare occasion in Star Trek of one character acknowledging how attractive another character is.

  2. Replying two years late, but I love your list and agree with just about everything on here. The only big fan favorite you ranked that I’ve never been quite so hot on is “The Andorian Incident”… it’s good, but I don’t think it’s quite this good.

    I’m really, really fond of the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, so it was nice to see the list almost wholly dominated by their offerings. 😛 I think I might replace the aforementioned episode with “Babel One/United/The Aenar”. Actually, strike that — I would definitely replace it. “United” in particular is just such a fan-friggin-tastic hour.

    1. My love for “The Andorian Incident” is undoubtedly influenced by fandom for Jeffrey Combs, who somehow pulls off playing a blue-skinned alien with ant-like antennae.

      I am similarly partial to the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, which makes a top 10 list a bitch since so many of the show’s best moments are either multi-part episodes or paying off heavily serialized story arcs. The multi-parter you picked, “Babel One/United/The Aenar,” is a more than worthy selection. It even has Jeffrey Combs in it! I could see trading out “Andorian” for “Babel…” but I wanted to include “Andorian” since it nicely sets up so much for the rest of the run of the show, and is a reminder that the first season had its moments.

  3. I think “Demons” and “Terra Prime” should be on the list because these two episodes are the series finale (not the TATV crap). If you’re a fan of the Trip/T’Pol relationship add “Bounce” and “Harbinger”. The third and fourth seasons were much better than the first two. And I hated the theme song.

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