The boldest and most controversial Star Trek series of all time debuted 20 years ago on September 26, 2001. Since 2011, all four seasons of the show have been streaming on Netflix, but, along with The Original Series and Voyager, the earliest voyages of Starfleet will leave Netflix on September 30, 2021. Maybe forever.
Before Discovery and before the J.J. Abrams reboot, there was Star Trek: Enterprise, the rough and tumble adventures of the 22nd-century ship. If you’ve never watched Enterprise, here’s why you should, and the best five episodes to binge while you still can. (Extremely mild spoilers for Star Trek: Enterprise ahead. You’ve been warned.)
What is Star Trek: Enterprise?
A good amount of Trekkie dogma will tell you that Enterprise — a retroactive prequel set before The Original Series — is the worst of all the post-Next Generation shows. While there’s a certain amount of been-there-done-that to many of Enterprise’s plots, its overall quality right out of the gate was, arguably, higher than TNG and Voyager.
In an attempt to tell the story of what Starfleet was like 100 years before The Original Series, the show not only ran into a lot of canon problems, but long-term, created a huge amount of foundational continuity that the rest of the franchise still relies upon.
Enterprise is kind of like The Phantom Menace of the Trek canon.
The plot of Star Trek Beyond is a direct outgrowth of everything that happened on Enterprise, and, tonally and aesthetically, Discovery’s first season is as much a direct sequel to Enterprise as it is a prequel to TOS. In short, Enterprise is kind of like The Phantom Menace of the Trek canon. It caught a lot of flack at the time it was released, but over time, you have to just accept that it exists.
But, in addition to the canon connections and world-building, Enterprise also contains a few stand-out, utterly thrilling episodes. After Enterprise leaves Netflix, the series will, of course, still be streaming on Paramount+, along with the rest of the Trek shows. But if you’re looking for a minimalist approach to the show, the following five episodes are your best bet.
5. “Broken Bow” (Season 1, Episode 1)
A farmer shoots an alien running through his field — and it’s a Klingon! The first episode of Enterprise starts things off by trying to ground the world of Earth we know today with a projection of only 100 years in the future. The plot is a bit wonky, and the shape-shifting enemies, the Suliban, won’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense later, but the vibe of this episode is great. If you can’t handle Captain Archer’s (Scott Bakula) “NX-01” baseball cap and the syrupy theme song, you’re not gonna like the rest of the show. Strap in! It’s gonna be a long (short?) road.
4. “Dear Doctor” (Season 1, Episode 12)
A bizarrely prescient episode focused on ethical dilemmas amid a planet-wide disease outbreak, this episode is one of the best examples of how Star Trek’s famous “Prime Directive” of non-interference doesn’t always have easy answers. And at this point in the timeline, Starfleet doesn’t even have the Prime Directive yet, making some of the ethical problems faced by Archer and Dr. Pholox (John Billingsley) messier than anything Picard or Kirk ever faced.
“Dear Doctor” also begins an interesting Enterprise tradition: leaving the audience unsure if the crew even did the right thing. Enterprise might not look gritty, but its ethics are much messier than TNG and Voyager. For most fans, this was the first episode of the show that proved it was real Star Trek, unafraid to ask hard questions.
3. “Impulse” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Vulcan zombies! In Enterprise Season 3, the crew spends most of their time trying to deal with a hostile multi-species alien culture called the Xindi in an area of space called “the expanse.” (No connection to the contemporary sci-fi series of the same name.) But, in the expanse, the wild final frontier of this early Trek prequel gets a little wilder.
In this episode, Enterprise encounters a Vulcan ship in distress, only to learn that a specific substance, called "trellium-D" has turned all the Vulcans into insane murderers. This episode is one of the best examples of Trek doing a horror story well, and the events have far-ranging impacts on the rest of the show.
But, perhaps most important, “Impulse” is one of the episodes of Enterprise that sports a writing credit from Terry Matalas, the new showrunner for the forthcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard. (Matalas also has a story credit on the Enterprise episode “Stratagem,” which is worth watching as well.)
2. “Damage” (Season 3, Episode 19)
This is a great follow-up to “Impulse” and an episode that doubles down on the fractured Starfleet ethics that pervades much of the series. While T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) grapples with addiction issues, Archer has to figure out how to fix the warp drive of Enterprise without extra parts.
Will Starfleet resort to piracy just to keep its mission going? This episode does not care if you think Starfleet officers can’t act like this. It’s a hardcore, compelling story, and one of the most underrated episodes of the Enterprise, and Star Trek in general.
1. “Demons” and “Terra Prime” (Season 4, Episodes 20 and 21)
The crowning achievement of Enterprise, this two-part story is technically two episodes, but you have to watch both. Many hardcore fans consider this to be the true series finale, and not the actual last episode, “These Are the Voyages...”
The plot focuses on an extremist xenophobic group that takes hold on Earth. This group wants Earth for humans only and is going to great lengths to make it happen. The only thing standing between this conspiracy and total chaos is the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
Had Enterprise continued for a fifth season, the events of this epic two-parter would have certainly created several new plot points. But, as it stands, it's easily the finest hour of this underrated Trek series.
Enterprise is on Netflix until September 30 and on Paramount+ for the foreseeable future.
Check out two great streaming recs you should also add to your queue: