Every Star Trek series is someone’s favorite (Star Trek: The Animated Series stans, we see you), but when it comes to the 18-year Golden Age of Trek between 1987 and 2005, the prequel series Enterprise is easily the least beloved. Airing on UPN for an abbreviated four-season run, Enterprise was meant to shake things up after three consecutive series set in the late 24th century.
- 10. Babel One/United/The Aenar (season 4, episodes 12, 13, & 14)
- 9. Shuttlepod One (season 1, episode 16)
- 8. Zero Hour (season 3, episode 24)
- 7. Carbon Creek (season 2, episode 2)
- 6. First Flight (season 2, episode 24)
- 5. Demons/Terra Prime (season 4, episodes 20 & 21)
- 4. Damage (season 3, episode 19)
- 3. In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts I & II (season 4, episodes 18 & 19)
- 2. Twilight (season 3, episode 8)
- 1. Similitude (season 3, episode 10)
Imagined as a sort of origin story for Star Trek in the style of The Right Stuff, creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga wanted to capture the danger and excitement of United Earth’s early interstellar space program, even planning to spend the entire first season on Earth preparing for the launch of Starfleet’s very first Starship Enterprise. The network, however, had other ideas, insisting that Berman and Braga not meddle with the consistently successful Star Trek formula. Thus, despite taking place two centuries earlier, Enterprise became, essentially, “more Voyager,” which in turn had been “more Next Generation,” a once-great sci-fi procedural that was nearly a decade past its peak.
That’s not to say that the series didn’t improve throughout its four-season run. After two years of struggling to justify the show’s very existence, Berman and Braga swung for the fences with a radically different third season that reinvented Enterprise (now renamed Star Trek: Enterprise) as a grim and gritty serialized drama unpacking the aftermath of a 9/11-scale attack on Earth. While immediately more compelling, the revamp failed to boost the show’s sagging ratings, and it was reworked yet again the following year, and leaned further into the “prequel to Star Trek” angle under new showrunner Manny Coto. This, many fans will argue, is where Enterprise finally found its legs, but it was too little and too late to prevent its cancellation. Still, each iteration of the troubled spinoff had its highlights and our list of the 10 strongest Enterprise episodes is spread fairly evenly throughout the run of the show.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for each listed episode.
10. Babel One/United/The Aenar (season 4, episodes 12, 13, & 14)
After struggling to establish an identity for three seasons, the final season of Enterprise focused on setting the groundwork for important moments in the franchise’s fictional history. This three-parter marks the first team-up between all four of the worlds that will one day found the United Federation of Planets: Andoria, Earth, Tellar Prime, and Vulcan, as they’re pitted against each other by a mysterious enemy. That enemy, naturally, turns out to be the Romulans, the shady alien empire that Earth and its allies are destined to go to war with in the years to come. The Babel One trilogy promises that the story of this momentous conflict is forthcoming, and that the alliance born in this episode will be key in winning the day. Alas, the series was canceled before it could make good on this promise, but it’s still an entertaining chapter in the history of the franchise.
Of course, what really lands the Babel One trilogy on our list is that it’s a three-hour story featuring the show’s best character, the Andorian Commander Shran (recurring guest star Jeffrey Combs). You heard us — not best guest character, best character, hands down. Shran is a prickly, but noble warrior obsessed with repaying his debts. He’s a little paranoid, but he’s also fairly reasonable and trustworthy, particularly once you’ve won his respect. He might not have seemed like such a treat if he’d been on the show every week, but this story is a welcome triple dose of our favorite Andorian.
9. Shuttlepod One (season 1, episode 16)
The early days of Enterprise are thoroughly unspectacular, as its bland characters and insufficiently fresh setting struggle in comparison to the shows that preceded it. Shuttlepod One is a relatively bright spot in the first season and a showcase for two characters that helped endear them to audiences for the remainder of the series. In this episode, chipper chief engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) and strait-laced armory officer Malcolm Reed (Anthony Keating) are trapped in a Shuttlepod together and, after happening upon some ominous wreckage, believe themselves to be the sole survivors of the Enterprise crew. The story is about how these two very different people each handle the prospect of death and the slim possibility of survival.
It’s fairly heavy-handed, casting Reed as a pessimist despite being the only one of the pair to accurately assess the gravity of their predicament, but it’s really about the birth of a friendship, one that would become a staple of the rest of the series. Behind the scenes, Trineer and Keating would remain buddies for decades, often appearing together at conventions and launching their own podcast in 2022, called The Shuttlepod Show.
8. Zero Hour (season 3, episode 24)
Enterprise wasn’t the first Star Trek series to attempt a long, serialized story arc — Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War played out over the course of years — but it was the first in the franchise to fully commit to the modern model of telling a single story over the course of an entire season. Season 3’s Xindi arc gave Enterprise a new prime directive, to find and destroy a planet-killing weapon before it could be unleashed on Earth. And, when you ask an audience to commit to an epic story that unfolds over a period of months, whether or not that audience feels satisfied with that commitment rides on the success of its finale.
Zero Hour is big blockbuster Trek on television, an hourlong action finale for what is still the longest unbroken story arc in the canon. It ties together threads that had been left dangling throughout the season and brings them all together for a rousing adventure with its fair share of fist-pumping moments. (It’s always a delight to see Combs’ Shran, but his appearance here gets a hearty “Hell, yeah!” out of us every time.) While its tacked-on twist ending takes a bit of the air out of the balloon (the writers simply needed a head-scratching cliffhanger to try and avoid cancellation), it’s still a satisfying ending to one of the franchise’s riskiest stories.
7. Carbon Creek (season 2, episode 2)
If you’ve been following our entire series of Star Trek countdowns, then you know that we were bound to include one of the really silly ones on this list. Carbon Creek is a divisive episode that fudges with the franchise’s established history of alien contact for the sake of a goofy, but heartfelt story that speaks to the essence of what Trek is all about. Here, Subcommander T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) regales Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and Trip with a tall tale about one of her ancestors (also Blalock) becoming stranded in Pennsylvania in 1957, along with a small crew of Vulcan scientists. While they await rescue, the Vulcans are forced to blend in with the human population and engage in some fish-out-of-water comedy.
As with a number of our other picks, Carbon Creek stands out from the crowd for being notably different from the “planet of the week” stories that had gotten stale before Enterprise even debuted. In addition to being a period piece focused on a new set of characters, it’s also an inversion of the expected. Instead of being a story about humans arriving at a new world and seeing their humanity reflected back at them, it’s a story about Vulcans coming to our world, which is new to them and makes them ponder what it is to be Vulcan. This probably makes the episode sound more high-minded than it is, but Carbon Creek remains fun light entertainment that, unlike a lot of early Enterprise episodes, will probably not bore you.
6. First Flight (season 2, episode 24)
Berman and Braga’s original concept for Enterprise was that it would recapture the energy and excitement of the 1960s Space Race by framing its early Starfleet crew as pioneers and trailblazers in the new field of interstellar travel. This version was tossed in favor of a more familiar kind of Star Trek, but we do get one brief glimpse at the series that might have been in the show’s 50th episode, First Flight. This story flashes back to Archer’s early days as a Starfleet test pilot, long before the Enterprise was constructed. Back then, the mission of Starfleet wasn’t to explore strange new worlds — it was to reach Warp 3 without exploding, and Archer had to compete with an array of other pilots just for the privilege of possibly blowing up. First Flight tells the story of Archer’s rivalry with fellow officer A.G. Robinson (guest star Keith Carradine), and how their fight to be the fastest human in history nearly tanked — but ultimately saved — the entire space program.
Though not exactly groundbreaking television, First Flight earns a place on our list as an example of Enterprise’s unfulfilled potential. As much as this series got more in line with fans’ expectations in the later seasons, a Star Trek series with this setting and tone would have been something truly new for the franchise, a prequel with an identity all its own. Until the franchise inevitably cycles back around to the 22nd century, we’ll have to settle for this one episode.
5. Demons/Terra Prime (season 4, episodes 20 & 21)
Ask any Trekkie and they’ll tell you straight: The series finale of Enterprise is bad. These Are The Voyages, which takes place years after the rest of the series, but is actually a holodeck simulation being played centuries after the rest of the series, is a total mess and an awful way for the show to end. The finale feels all the more anticlimactic since the previous story, the conclusion of which aired that very same night as the finale, actually offers a fairly satisfying conclusion. The two-part Demons/Terra Prime brings the Enterprise back home to preside over an historic agreement between worlds that will someday lead to the birth of the United Federation of Planets. However, these proceedings are jeopardized by a terrorist group called Terra Prime, which threatens to destroy Starfleet Command unless all extraterrestrials leave Earth. Escalating the stakes is the revelation that Terra Prime has created an infant human/Vulcan hybrid to serve as an example of their “corrupted” future, and she’s the genetic daughter of T’Pol and Trip.
Lending an air of gravitas to the story is guest star Peter “RoboCop” Weller as terrorist leader John Frederick Paxton, who fancies himself the savior of the human race. Paxton and Terra Prime represent the very real madness of xenophobia, drawing one-to-one comparisons with the logic and motives of white supremacists who view cultural or genetic cross-pollination with other races as an attack on their identity. Star Trek, of course, preaches the opposite philosophy, that every group is stronger when they embrace each other’s differences and work together as one. Demons and Terra Prime have the crew of Archer’s Enterprise fighting for the very ideals behind Star Trek at a juncture in history where they are in direct jeopardy. It’s a key turning point in the evolution of humanity from the new kids on the galactic block to a leader in the pursuit of interstellar peace and prosperity. The fact that the stakes are personified in Trip and T’Pol’s fragile baby is just icing on the cake.
4. Damage (season 3, episode 19)
The third season of Enterprise delivers some of the most “post-9/11” television you’ll ever see. Debuting in 2003 while 24 was at its peak, the Xindi arc dealt with the impact that a deadly surprise attack can have on a society that views itself as untouchable. Like America after the Cold War, the United Earth of the 22nd century thinks of themselves as existing at “the end of history,” as if trouble and strife are behind them. They’re the good guys, and they’ve won. Suddenly, their illusion of primacy is shattered, and they don’t know how to handle the prospect of another tragedy. However, where in real life the 9/11 attacks did not turn out to be a precursor to a new era of dramatic foreign terrorist activity on U.S. soil (as we were all told to expect by the news of the day), the firing of a power weapon at Earth by the mysterious Xindi, is, in fact, only a test for a much larger attack that would destroy the planet outright. Thus, Earth dispatches its only capable starship, Enterprise, into a dangerous area of space to locate and destroy the Xindi’s weapon of mass destruction before it can be completed, by any means necessary.
So, when Enterprise is badly damaged in a skirmish with Xindi forces, Archer is forced to abandon his “evolved” moral code and make terrible choices to complete his urgent mission. A Good Samaritan answers their distress call and offers assistance, but what Enterprise really needs is a critical set of parts that the friendly vessel also needs to survive. The overall ethics of Star Trek have always maintained that you can’t save humankind by sacrificing your own humanity, and nearly always constructs stories to validate that point of view. This time, Archer is given no way out. At the same time, Commander T’Pol is facing a totally different internal struggle, as the truth about her abuse of the psychoactive substance Trellium-D finally comes to light. Blalock, of whom very little is asked in the first two seasons apart from wearing tight outfits and being leered at by the camera, outshines the entire cast with her performance in this intense and demanding episode.
3. In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts I & II (season 4, episodes 18 & 19)
That In a Mirror, Darkly is many fans’ favorite Enterprise episode is about as damning a criticism one could make about the series. The two-parter is set in entirely the Mirror Universe, the topsy-turvy parallel timeline in which the Enterprise serves the fascist, xenophobic Terran Empire, and thus features none of the show’s regular characters. Instead, the cast gets to ham it up by portraying their dastardly counterparts who, while certainly over the top, are more fun and more interesting than their Prime Universe counterparts. Here, a disgruntled Archer leads a coup against stubborn Captain Forrest (frequent guest star Vaughn Armstrong), who’s an Admiral in the Prime Universe, and takes the ISS Enterprise into enemy territory to seize a powerful ship from an alternate future — the Constitution-Class USS Defiant from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode The Tholian Web.
This, of course, is why the episode is so beloved — it’s second part is a smorgasbord of nostalgia, as the Enterprise cast wanders a perfect reproduction of the 1960s Star Trek set, dons old-school uniforms, and faces classic Trek villains the Tholian and the Gorn, which are redesigned using contemporary CGI. Since the story is outside of the normal continuity, anything can and does happen, and it’s a wild ride. Practically none of this episode’s success has anything to do with the series from which it’s sprung, but it’s a charmingly bonkers 90 minutes of television that has, against all odds, actually had canonical relevance for episodes of Star Trek: Discovery that were produced 15 years later.
2. Twilight (season 3, episode 8)
Any sci-fi show with high stakes can benefit from a “worst-case scenario” time travel episode. Nothing clarifies the importance of a hero’s mission more than seeing for themselves exactly what will happen if they fail. And like any story set in an alternate future, there’s the added excitement of seeing events that would never be allowed to happen in an episode that “counts.” Take, for instance, Twilight, which opens with a disoriented Archer fighting his way to the bridge of the Enterprise just in time to watch Earth get blasted into bits. After this shocking teaser, we learn that Archer has sustained an injury that prevents him from forming new long-term memories, and that as a result, the Enterprise’s mission to destroy the Xindi superweapon fails and most of humanity is killed. Twelve years later, a method is discovered to undo Archer’s accident, possibly saving Earth in the process, and the scattered Enterprise crew gathers for one last mission for all the marbles.
The scenario is intriguing in itself, as are the glimpses into the possible futures of the rest of the regular characters, but the heart of the episode is the relationship between the ailing Archer and T’Pol, who has remained by his side throughout his illness. By this point in the series, the romance between T’Pol and Trip Tucker was already in motion, but this alternate timeline shows a very different sort of bond developing between T’Pol and her former captain, one which is, perhaps, not particularly healthy. Blalock’s performance as this future T’Pol (one of two she would portray that season) is quietly compelling, and an early indicator of how much her character would evolve over the course of the Xindi arc.
1. Similitude (season 3, episode 10)
At face value, Similitude seems like a retread of a dilemma faced by the Star Trek: Voyager crew in the episode Tuvix. Strange circumstances have led to the creation of a new life form, and the only way to save a familiar member of the crew is to take his life. The new life form, naturally, doesn’t want to die, but the rules of television demand that everything go back to normal at the end of 45 minutes. Similitude retains everything about that story that worked in Tuvix, while making it more interesting at every step. Here, chief engineer Trip Tucker is mortally wounded in an accident, and the only way to save him is to grow a rapidly aging clone of him and harvest its brain tissue. Even though this procedure is supposed to be nonlethal, Archer and Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) would ordinarily balk at performing such a morally dubious experiment.
However, this story takes place halfway through the Xindi arc, and the Enterprise is the only hope of saving the Earth from total destruction. Earth needs Enterprise, Enterprise needs Trip, and Trip needs his clone’s brain tissue, so Archer has no choice. Worse, the crew has to watch this clone, who they name “Sim,” grow up over the course of weeks, gradually inheriting the memories of his donor. When he reaches the age at which he’s supposed to donate his brain tissue, Phlox determines that the transplant to save Trip will be fatal to Sim.
Similitude places our Starfleet heroes in an impossible situation and explores it from several practical and emotional angles. There’s Archer buckling under the pressure of his daunting mission, becoming ever more willing to play the villain so long as it serves his mission. There’s T’Pol’s confusion over her romantic feelings for Trip, versus Sim’s professed love for her. There’s Phlox, a family man, raising a little boy in his sickbay only to be asked to sacrifice him by his own hand. And, finally, there’s Sim himself, an innocent kid who is accumulating two contradictory sets of memories as he grows up and struggling with an identity crisis and a resentment toward the man he was created to save, who is also him.
The script, performances, and production all make the most of the episode’s concept, resulting in a gut-wrenchingly emotional hour of television. It’s no wonder that Coto, this episode’s writer, would be handed the keys to the series for the following season, and why so many fans wish he’d gotten the chance to see it through for a few more years.
Stream all four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise on Paramount+.