Star Trek: Enterprise: Cogenitor   Rewatch 
June 24, 2019 1:24 PM - Season 2, Episode 22 - Subscribe

Enterprise encounters a species with three genders. (CW: misgendering, suicide, other nonbinary mistreatment.)

Memory Alpha discussion:

Background information
Cast and characters
> F.J. Rio previously played Enrique Muniz in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "Starship Down", "Hard Time", and "The Ship", as well as Joleg in VOY: "Repentance".
> Andreas Katsulas played Tomalak in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "The Enemy", "The Defector", "Future Imperfect", and "All Good Things...". This episode marks his final appearance on Star Trek before his death in 2006.
> Laura Interval previously played Erin Hansen, the mother of Seven of Nine, in the Star Trek: Voyager two-part episode "Dark Frontier", credited in that episode as "Laura Stepp."

Sets and props
> The Vissian stratopod interior was a reuse of the Starfleet inspection pod first seen in "Broken Bow".

> This episode contains the second mention of photonic weapons (the first being in "Sleeping Dogs", where they were employed by the Klingons), a technology employed by the Vissians. Enterprise was equipped with photonic torpedoes only a few episodes later, in "The Expanse", suggesting that the Vissians may have shared the technology with the Enterprise crew, or that Starfleet had developed the technology, based on the crew's observations of either the Klingons or the Vissians.
> The piano music played in his quarters by Tucker for the cogenitor is an excerpt from the first movement of Mozart's Sonata in C, K.545.
> When Tucker chooses a film to show to the cogenitor, the computer shows among the available science fiction films The Bride of Chaotica, the B-movie that inspires Tom Paris for his holonovel The Adventures of Captain Proton, especially for the chapter "Bride of Chaotica!".
> Other films on the list include Dixon Hill and the Black Orchid, a reference to Captain Picard's favorite gumshoe as well as Mister Willis of Ohio and Celestial Navigation, the names of episodes of the political drama The West Wing. (Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 126))
> The stratopod's ability was later seen in a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, which was viewed withstanding the outer edge of a star's corona. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; TNG: "Redemption II"; DS9: "Shadows and Symbols")
> A Federation/Starfleet-built stratopod as Captain Drennik would have suggested to Captain Archer was not developed until 2369, when Doctor Beverly Crusher used the Ferengi-invented metaphasic shielding technology on a Starfleet shuttlecraft to enter the corona of a star in TNG: "Suspicions".

Reception and aftermath
> The book Star Trek 101, by Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block, lists this episode as one of the "Ten Essential Episodes" from Star Trek: Enterprise.
> Manny Coto cited this as one of two episodes, from the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, that he "especially enjoyed" (the other such episode being "Regeneration"). (Star Trek Magazine issue 118, p. 25)

Memorable Quotes/ This Week In:
Skipping headers due to the general horridness of this experience, (see below).

Poster’s Log:
I’ve been dreading this episode since I remembered which one it was. Watching it was worse than I remembered. As with a few of these, I’m going to editorialize heavily:

So this is another episode where our crew meet friendly, helpful people with whom an alliance would be useful... except for the fact they’re blithely perpetrating a massive injustice on a third party. It was a recurring theme in VOY, (Alliances and Nothing Human, among others).

These episodes are uncomfortable to me because they make it clear how easy it is for a society with the Federation’s values to just look the other way when people are suffering. This particular episode was well received, (it even got high marks from Jammer and Bernd back in the day, I went and checked), but it’s a particularly galling example of the form. Here’s some stuff that really sticks out to me:

* The cogenitor’s treatment made this a tough watch generally.
This could have been a good thing for the realism. Views like this, (people can just be objects, chattel shouldn’t learn to read, ‘nature finds a balance,’ the entitlement the Vissian couple displays) are all sadly believable.

However, going there for a shitty reason just made the whole thing that much bigger of a jab in the eye in the end.

* The dilemma is presented as binary.
This story only presents two options:

1) ZOMG do something RIGHT NOW!
2) Do nothing because this is another culture and you shouldn’t interfere or judge.

The reason this episode was well received that I saw had to do with what a cunning moral quandary this is supposed to be, but that’s bullshit. We’re presently having a pretty serious discussion of race relations on Metafilter itself over on Metatalk, and this very problem is one of the things causing an issue: privileged people want to wade into situations to fix them without understanding anything, which frequently makes problems worse. I won't get into it here, but this episode of ENT was.... timely.

To its credit, Cogenitor displays this as a bad move: Trip’s efforts are disastrous in ways I find realistic enough, and that elevates the episode above the likes of Dear Doctor, though that is certainly damning with faint praise. At least we see that going off half-cocked is wrong. Further, we see that Trip’s idea of ‘you’ll convince them!’ was stupid and horrible. So far, so good.

Where the episode fills me with rage is that this is presented as the only thing he could’ve done. When Archer reads him the riot act, there’s no discussion of ‘why didn’t we talk about this first? Why don’t we try diplomatic solutions? What would MLK or Gandhi have done?’ The only alternate perspective we’re presented with is ‘do nothing.’

That’s morally reprehensible and an extremely narrow vision: real change is hard. It’s a long game that involves protesting, discussion, negotiation, moving the Overton window, maybe even violence. It’s a serious commitment, but it’s also important to do.

Star Trek’s usual ‘warp in, encounter a problem and warp out, never to check up on shit again’ approach to storytelling basically cannot handle moral problems of the kind we see here without making things worse both within the text and for any impressionable members of the audience because it’s specifically embracing a bad lesson: ‘if we can’t help immediately, we should turn our backs on the suffering of others.’

DS9 was only able to handle the long term consequences of slavery and attempted genocide and the like by sticking with that storyline for years, which is what this takes. Helping people who have been oppressed requires a serious commitment, on the level of what Sisko and the gang did.

* Evolution is presented as a semi-religious principle again.
Last week, I talked briefly about how ‘evolution’ was presented as an end unto itself. This is done in Cogenitor as well: the Vissians talk about how Federation technology will evolve, (and even imply Starfleet might mind if they share tech, like it’s impolite to offer), and T’Pol’s justification for not interfering with Vissian culture comes down to it as well.

I know it may look silly to modern viewers, but this style of thinking is basically what led to the development of eugenics in the first place, and people still hew to these kinds of ideas today: Social Darwinism and other really bad stuff basically hinges on ‘let nature take its course.’ Star Trek is a bastion of this. I’m pretty deep in a project right now, (part of why this is late), but I’ll try to dig up older discussions of this if anybody’s curious for justification about why I keep saying that.

It's especially bad here because the implication is that problems will go away on their own if only you ignore them long enough.

* Archer does not take responsibility for his role in the cogenitor’s death.
Archer refused a request for asylum. It’s not entirely clear to me why he did that, although the factors are plain enough:

- An alliance with the Vissians was potentially beneficial for Earth.
- He liked the other captain personally.
- The Vissians had more firepower than Enterprise and would’ve defeated them trivially in any military action.
- Archer seems to buy the morally reprehensible ‘evolution’ argument.

Not making his reasoning a lot more explicit is a poor treatment of the character, even if he was wrong. He looks like he’s going off half-cocked too by being unable to justify himself better. (Janeway had this problem a lot too, of being unable to explain why she believed something. TOS/TNG/DS9 featured leaders who were much better speakers and thinkers than anybody B&B wrote.)

Either way, some of the blame is his for refusing a formal request for asylum, which is literally part of his job to look into. A lot of this episode might have been salvaged if he had simply reamed out Trip for not waiting to talk to him before taking action, and seeking a diplomatic solution instead of just wandering into someone’s quarters uninvited. Like, ‘we could have helped if you had just worked with me instead of taking this upon yourself with no plan.’

It also showed off some serious hypocrisy, because Archer has meddled plenty of times where Trip could see it, and he conveniently forgot to mention how this might be different, (if it was supposed to be).

* The lives of marginalized people do not exist to teach the majority lessons.
The cogenitor’s death should never have been used as an opportunity to make Trip think. Archer does so explicitly, and that is, again, abhorrent. Within the context of the story, that was a real person with their own feelings and hopes and dreams, and treating their death as an opportunity for a clueless white guy to maybe shape up this time is... well. It should never have been suggested because, again, it models this behavior for the audience with clear authorial intent. This is an attitude that exists in real life and is bad for living people, and should not be amplified by stories.

So this was a shit story that made me sad to review, in part because I know a lot of this went over the heads of even fairly critical reviewers all while presenting a case for ‘when you see the suffering of others, you should not do anything because you can only make it worse’ instead of ‘here’s some basic stuff you can do: listen to the voices of the less powerful, and shelter them if they ask.’

Anyway, sorry to be a downer. If it helps, I actually liked Regeneration a lot last time, and should be able to find fun stuff to talk about next week. Also: my distaste for this story didn’t delay me, just got a lot on my plate for awhile, still.
posted by mordax (20 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If this rewatch has taught me anything it's that I absolutely made the right call in not watching Enterprise during its initial run.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:31 PM on June 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yeah. ENT has its moments, but I'm not sure a 'good parts' viewing of it would even hold up as well as a 'good parts' distillation of VOY. (Though to be fair, VOY had 3 more years and much more developed characters, which feels so fucking weird to say. But VOY offered significant character development to B'Ellana, the Doctor, Neelix, Seven, Tom, etc. while ENT really just feels like 'The Trip Show' at this point, and we're almost halfway done.)

Gonna be interesting to see how I feel when we've run through all four seasons.
posted by mordax at 4:55 PM on June 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yeah- I’m not re-watching this. I think there was another one before this where I was like- oh I saw this once when it aired and I do not have the spoons to watch it ever again. But this one I wish I could scrub from my memory. It’s not just bad- it’s offensively bad. Worse- you can tell they were trying so that almost makes it worse? Like you can forgive some of the bad TOS ones, even the offensive ones because to even try was a big deal for the 60s. But this was done in the Aughts when they should have fucking known better. Argghhh this one makes me so mad.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:29 PM on June 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

One of the things that I did after watching this episode was watch the TNG episode "The Outcast", which likewise dealt with gender, albeit from a very different angle: the J'naii are "an androgynous race", i.e. monogendered, and treat anyone identifying as male or female as mentally ill and subject to involuntary "psychotectic treatment" (i.e. "corrective therapy"). The episode is problematic in some ways, notably in conflating gender and sexual preference (oddly, for an episode that was meant as a commentary on sexual preference, it's assumed that, because Soren identifies as female, then it's inevitable that she is attracted to men), and probably other things that, as a cishet man, I'm probably not picking up on. But I still think that there are a lot of positive aspects to the episode: Soren's speaking on her own behalf at her hearing, Worf's choosing to aid Riker's attempt to rescue her even though he's personally committed to the cishet paradigm, even Riker developing an attraction for someone who isn't femme (for once). I mean, there are far more cringy episodes of TNG, even (or especially) dealing with aspects of sexuality, than this one.

And it's instructive to compare that with "Cogenitor" because of the main difference between the primary alien subjects: no matter how fucked up the ethics and laws of the J'naii are, they still treat Soren as a person; on the other hand, the Vissians are, bluntly, slavers. They consider all of the Cogenitors their property; they won't even give them names. There is zero ambiguity about this. And the failure of the show to even use the word "slave" once is profound. They may have not been able to do anything for Charles in the end, because, as noted, the Vissians are technologically superior in many nontrivial ways. But, as you observed, they could at least have a discussion about it. Trip is once again showing his tendency to rush into situations, especially regarding aliens, heedless of the consequences--I'm starting to think that he shouldn't leave the engine room except on rare occasions--but, again as noted, Archer is simply abominable in this regard. Regardless of their friendship, Trip would have been perfectly in the right to demand a transfer to the Columbia.

And, once more as noted, the episode wasn't completely unsalvageable. I thought that they spent an awful lot of time with the crew palling around with the Vissians, but that could have been to establish that the decision, if they'd made it, to not pursue a diplomatic relationship with them in the future, absent their deciding to treat the Cogenitors as people, wasn't without pain. Andreas Katsulas and F.J. Rio did a good job, as usual. I even appreciated that Charles' appearance was not unlike that of David Bowie around his Thin White Duke period. But, regardless, this is one of the worst episodes of Trek ever.

In another SF franchise, Iain M. Banks' Culture series, the book Player of Games has a tri-gendered species, although they're set up quite differently than this one. If you haven't read it, you should; it's a meditation on how an interstellar power chooses to intervene with a civilization that they believe is ethically corrupt, in a manner that may not be ethically pure itself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:48 PM on June 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah- I’m not re-watching this.

Good. :)

I was thinking of you in particular when I slapped a content warning on this one: *I* found this a pretty harrowing rewatch, and I'm a cis het man.

One of the things that I did after watching this episode was watch the TNG episode "The Outcast",

Thanks for doing that. I wish I'd had time: it's absolutely pertinent.

And it's instructive to compare that with "Cogenitor" because of the main difference between the primary alien subjects: no matter how fucked up the ethics and laws of the J'naii are, they still treat Soren as a person; on the other hand, the Vissians are, bluntly, slavers.

Yes, very much so. This is absolutely brutal even compared to most of the dalliances VOY had with horrible space people. (I guess it's closest to being up there with Nothing Human, where the Federation canonically papered over Cardassian war crimes to smooth stuff out diplomatically.)

But I still think that there are a lot of positive aspects to the episode: Soren's speaking on her own behalf at her hearing, Worf's choosing to aid Riker's attempt to rescue her even though he's personally committed to the cishet paradigm, even Riker developing an attraction for someone who isn't femme (for once).

Yeah. I remember cringing at The Outcast, but I really liked all the elements you called out. And I did feel like it was trying in a way this wasn't: for similar results here, Trip should've taken Charles in a shuttlepod and tried to make a run for it or something, tried to let them run free where the Vissians couldn't get them, or made a plea for asylum. (Honestly, if asylum had been Trip's angle the whole time, he would've come out of this looking a lot better even with the shitty way he went about stuff.)

And, once more as noted, the episode wasn't completely unsalvageable

Agreed. This could have been handled in a much better way even with the same basic story elements. All they really had to do was show that the crew had the right principles but inadequate firepower, even if it didn't come to a fight.

But, regardless, this is one of the worst episodes of Trek ever.

Yeah. :(
posted by mordax at 8:05 PM on June 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yikes. Hard room to say this. Here goes:

This episode is excellent. One of the best.

I don't want to go to the mat, but I feel like some of the criticisms you guys are levying aren't criticisms as much as restatements of the message the episode is trying to convey. The Vissians are unambiguously slavers. The episode presents them as such: we are meant to see things as Trip does even if we disagree with his methods. And there is a catastrophic failure of organization and diplomacy on the part of Enterprise in dealing with the Vissians. The crew acts badly and we are meant to understand that. I don't really buy that the episode only presents two extreme solutions to the problem of facing injustice and that it ignores the fact that real change is hard. Real change being hard is a big part of the message: the crew fails dramatically when looking for simple solutions.

Archer is particularly culpable. The show has been slowly inching up on the idea that Archer is a great pilot but a bad captain, and this is where that theme comes crashing to the fore. Archer spends the episode zipping around in a shuttle, getting high-fives over his piloting chops, ignoring what's happening on the ship. When he returns, he's suddenly thrown into the role of leader and administrator and he is just not prepared to deal with it. Trip is right when he says that he did what Archer would have done, but Archer doesn't really get what happened in his absence. He's underinformed, he doesn't have the personal connections that he would have had if he had been the moral adventurer -- in fact, all his personal connections are on the other side, with his co-pilot buddy. Without having had boots on the ground, he's forced to make a moral decision from an impersonal perspective, and it locks him up. He tries to pretend he's a captain, and he tries to be all Vulcan about things, and he tries to stand by a kind of personal Prime Directive as a conservative way of doing nothing. He's to blame for what happens, and he knows it. The episode is the beginning of the harrowing of Archer.

I think the final scene with Archer yelling at Trip is fantastic and totally unique to this series. How often do captains take their officers to task like that? Picard yelled at Wesley and Sisko yelled at Nog, but they were putting cadets through their paces when the cadets weren't acting like Starfleet. Picard yelled at Data when Data did something dumb like building a daughter without telling anyone, but Data could take it. The Trip-Archer scene is atypical and it seems like a real push against the Roddenberry dictum "No conflict among protagonists." But it's not, really. Archer's yelling at himself. The scene is bad if you understand each of Trip and Archer to represent one side of an argument, and the scene to be presenting a dilemma about intervention and injustice. That is not what it is. It's a frustrated howl: an expression of Archer's personal moral failings. Archer is freaking about how he has no idea how to do what he's meant to do, and he has no idea how to delegate moral duties to subordinates, and he doesn't know how to take charge. He blames Trip for getting to play the role of moral hero instead of him and for putting him in the role of unqualified administrator. And he is dying to confide in a friend but his friends are suddenly revealed to be his subordinates. It's one of the more complicated and interior speeches we get on any of the Treks. I'm not sure I can think of any Trek scene that is harder to interpret. It elevates the episode incredibly in my mind.

This does mean that the episode falls into the old trope of using a minority's death to advance a non-minority's story... that's the strongest criticism. It's a big problem. The episode isn't too interested in Charles, and that's to its detriment. The idea of a third biological sex is interesting and it feels like it should hearken back to The Outcast, but not much is done with the premise. This could be a story about any caste system, aside from a few details. I've seen a few criticisms that the episode is barely about gender when it seems like it should be entirely about gender. That's fair. I think it's mostly respectful when it does touch on Charles's gender, though. I like that Trip is honored by her choice of name.
posted by painquale at 11:59 PM on June 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

painquale: A Trek in which the captain has been badly overpromoted into the big chair and isn't coping with it very well would indeed be boldly going where the franchise has never gone before. I don't believe for an instant that that's the intention here, since we are literally told by someone from the future that Archer will be considered one of the greatest captains in Starfleet history, but nice try, sincerely.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:50 AM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

This episode is excellent. One of the best.

With all due respect, that you could even consider it such is a reflection of some pretty extreme privilege on your part. Speaking as a gender-fluid individual this is a horrific episode that treats people like me as *literal* name-less chattel, and ends with the individual's *suicide* due to bigotry. Think about the message that sends to people like me. I'm *so* glad the context-less and consequence free ill-treatment of someone like me on a show that should know better gives you entertainment.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have something to say in favour of this episode: It guest stars the late Andreas Katsulas, who also played G'Kar on B5, Romulan Commander Tomalak on TNG, Sykes (the one-armed man) in Harrison Ford's reboot of the Fugitive.

This could have been an episode in which a fledgling Starfleet confronts some of the moral dilemmas inherent in the mission - the Vissians are more technologically advanced, friendly, curious, helpful. And they engage in slavery. How do you resolve this quandry? And I don't think the episode should try for any answer, because there isn't a good one...yet. This is the kind of encounter that should spur the conversation about who do we work with, and for what reasons, and how do we make that call, because that will become part of what guides entry for various species into the Federation.

Anyways, this episode goes some strange places. You know Trip's efforts, while well-intended, are going to crash and burn and yet I spent a great deal of time waiting for that crash to happen while Archer pilots a shuttle and Reed makes time with the alien tactical officer (to, I would point out since it came up in the discussion of the last episode, no purpose other than to apparently reinforce the idea that Reed likes the ladies). The storyline around the cogenitor deserves & needs more time and attention so that when the request for asylum is made, we actually see Archer grapple with the decision and hear points of view from the command staff. The true hard moment of this episode should have been Archer making his decision - but we don't see that, we don't even hear him say the words...he just stalks around grim faced.

Evolution is presented as a semi-religious principle again.

Yeah, this grates, especially since part of the conversation this episode is about technology which does not equal evolution. I feel like somewhere in the writer's room they got the idea that evolution was a big thing in science, and since this is a science fiction show, evolution somehow must be a key part of it...and then it starts being deployed in a way that justifies some pretty horrendous ideas and behavior.

The show has been slowly inching up on the idea that Archer is a great pilot but a bad captain,

With respect, I feel the show has done no such thing...we as the audience have suggested the character can be read that way, but as for the show itself I find nothing in the text or subtext that is trying to suggest it. The show wants us to accept that Archer is a great captain, the first explorer, and the founder of the Federation.
posted by nubs at 9:18 AM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't want to go to the mat, but I feel like some of the criticisms you guys are levying aren't criticisms as much as restatements of the message the episode is trying to convey.

I'm not particularly interested in a dogpile, nor do I wish to make you feel unwelcome. However, this is completely untrue.

Here's what actually happens:
PHLOX: It's good advice. Mating habits are often quite personal. Some species aren't comfortable discussing them.
TUCKER: I'm not interested in discussing their habits. I'm concerned with the way they treat this cogenitor.
PHLOX: They're most likely one and the same.
TUCKER: Yeah, well, that doesn't make it right.
PHLOX: It's not a question of right or wrong.
Phlox dismisses the problem as a private matter for the Vissians. He's already heard of them, meaning that nobody in his circles considers this a big deal. His opinion does not change when he sees the scans.
TUCKER: That's not what I'm talking about. This is a question of human rights.
T'POL: They're not human. Captain Archer hopes to develop a productive relationship with this species. It might be best you kept your opinions to yourself.
Along with:
TUCKER: I'm teaching her how to read.
T'POL: Her education is not your concern.
T'Pol's position: this is an internal matter and screwing it up just messes up a productive relationship between the Vissians and Earth. T'Pol isn't conflicted and does not present this as a hard choice.
TUCKER: I understand.
ARCHER: Do you? I'm not so sure you do. You knew you had no business interfering with those people, but you just couldn't let it alone. You thought you were doing the right thing. I might agree if this was Florida, or Singapore, but it's not, is it. We're in deep space and a person is dead. A person who'd still be alive if we hadn't made First Contact. I guess I haven't been very successful at getting through to you. If I had, you would have thought a lot harder before doing what you did.
TUCKER: You're not responsible.
ARCHER: Dismissed.
And now that I look back, I retract my complaint that Archer's reasoning was too muddy. I guess I was too upset to really hear this by the end of the last watch: he's clear that they shouldn't have even talked to these people. Not, 'we should've done something better.'

With respect, you're just putting words in their mouths. You are assuming good intentions that do not exist in the text. Two perspectives exist within the text: do something stupid or do nothing, and it angles everything toward 'do nothing.' This is part and parcel with the idea of them telegraphing the development of the Prime Directive later, where Trek makes a quasi-religion out of 'do nothing.'

I think it's mostly respectful when it does touch on Charles's gender, though.

Why? The Vissians refer to Charles as a literal object, ('it' vs. 'they'), and Trip misgenders them as female.

ENT was written by ignorant people, representing an extremely limited worldview. It's one thing to say it was a different time I guess, but it's another to give people the benefit of the doubt about what they 'really' meant when we know what they actually said. Nothing to support your argument occurs in the text.

And again, not interested in picking a fight about this: I'll drop it if you will. But I would exhort you to listen to people who are hurt by these kinds of stories. You did see one massive thing they did wrong. Can this be an excellent story, as you've said, if it encourages even one thing that harms real people?
posted by mordax at 9:36 AM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

And should've previewed:

I feel like somewhere in the writer's room they got the idea that evolution was a big thing in science, and since this is a science fiction show, evolution somehow must be a key part of it...and then it starts being deployed in a way that justifies some pretty horrendous ideas and behavior.

This one's specifically a Roddenberry thing, I think. He believed in the idea of evolution as a teleological process:
"You can't study evolution, particularly the evolution of humanity, that you don't see that it's getting better and better."
This is a common misconception in science fiction, and it's easy to see why: the idea that we're only making progress over time is an optimistic one, and Trek is an optimistic series even when it's racist/sexist/etc. This is a strong undercurrent in all of Trek that I can find citations on later if need be.

ENT's pretty bad about it because the people involved are extremely lacking in diversity and actual education, and therefore much less able to get called on their blindspots than other Treks. (I mean, they didn't even know you can pee in a space suit, nor did they check. These are not thorough, well-educated folks.)

The show wants us to accept that Archer is a great captain, the first explorer, and the founder of the Federation.

Agreed. I've never heard Archer's incompetence called out, really. Everybody shills him. (Hell, they shill him in the MMO.) At no point does anybody understand that he's a well meaning schlub who needs to be behind a desk somewhere and not representing all of humanity.
posted by mordax at 9:46 AM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm still pretty bugged by this, so one final thought:

I am very critical of Star Trek. I am embarrassed to say that by volume of text written on Metafilter, that's practically my job here, (along with Halloween Jack and some other long timers). It's funny because by weight of fan gushing IRL and elsewhere, I should probably be our Babylon 5 expert, or possibly resident Stargate SG-1 apologist.

Anyway, I can sound negative. I'm aware.

Here's the thing:

One thing Star Trek does right is that it teaches us to tear down the things that hold us back: it teaches us to destroy Landru, to leave Eden, to reject Q, to shoot the Apollo in the face. It tells us to break even the highest law if the law is unjust. It teaches us not to trust Admirals if they're acting shady just because they outrank us.

It teaches us to grow, even if that means killing what we hold sacred.

I dunno that I would've been able to articulate that without being so mad this morning - I've long framed this in other ways. But a recurring and crucial moral lesson in Trek is: we outgrow things. It's the positive flip side of the disgusting talk about evolution: we are supposed to be better today than we were yesterday, and that it's going to hurt.

So picking through Star Trek itself to see where it taught us the wrong lessons - to see where it was sexist or racist or otherwise regressive, and maybe taught us to embrace things that are wrong so that we can do better than those that came before us - is what Star Trek itself teaches us to do.

Many times, Star Trek taught us that it was better to do nothing. That happened, and it was wrong.

Many times, Star Trek taught us awful things about gender. That happened, and it was wrong.

But it also taught us to try and see that, and that is a lesson I will always both embrace and be grateful for, even while I'm here, pointing out all the painful ways the franchise failed over the years.

Tappin' out a bit to avoid threadsitting, but I will return after others have had a turn.
posted by mordax at 10:32 AM on June 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

If I may be incredibly nerdy for a minute...

I think what people are missing about ENT is that the attitudes of non-human species have been formed over decades and centuries of warp-capable flight. While there are alliances and friendly relations here and there, overall the Alpha Quadrant as seen in the 22nd Century (and before, presumably) is one of balkanization and periodic conflict. Also, canonically, the Vulcans are a bit... different than they are in the 23rd and 24th Centuries due to the corruption of Surak's teachings.

In this context, it's easier to understand why Phlox and T'Pol have the attitudes they do. What the hell do humans know?

I'm not trying to argue that Braga had a grand unifying historical theory for this stuff, but I think the above is a reasonable interpretation that fits the facts on the ground of ENT in the 1st and 2nd seasons. Certainly it does smack of human-centric, "Earth is so wonderful" thinking, but that's always been a part of Star Trek and so I don't think it's really fair to criticize ENT for going along with it.
posted by Automocar at 11:57 AM on June 25, 2019

If I may be incredibly nerdy for a minute...

I'd like to ask a favor, here. Can we not pursue this in this particular story?

I am not speaking with any voice of authority. Anybody's entitled to say stuff within terms of service and all. But I'd like if we didn't treat this particular story as any kind of intellectual exercise.

Some background:

VOY was racist as fuck. It informs why I don't give B&B the benefit of the doubt about ENT - not only do I understand the context you're discussing, I've been studying this as a hobbyist for some years now, and one important fact about those two is that they hired Jamake Highwater as their consultant for Native American culture after he was outed as a lying fraud.

They didn't mean well. We can quibble about the precise nature of their mendacity: was it willful? Was it laziness? We'll probably never know. But either way, they're a pair of bigoted assholes.

At the time, seeing racial issues treated as something we could just have an intellectual debate about from people in the majority was really painful for me. Made me so tired I left awhile.

In these threads, we have one routine nonbinary member who was really upset by this story. Out of respect, I'd appreciate if we handled this one with some kid gloves and maybe didn't worry about 'do the details of the story check internally.' (Full disclosure: you're not wrong. Sure they do. But it doesn't matter to me, and I don't see why it matters to you.)

I'd also like to add: we all like problematic shit. I loved Firefly when it was on the air, even though it's a long form argument against modern civilization that appears to lament the South losing the Civil War. I loved it even though Mal was a total shit to Inara the whole time. I've changed my mind in the years since, but... you know. I liked it and that's okay.

I think it's okay to like Cogenitor. It doesn't make the viewer tainted in some way. It's just important to remember that when we like something that hurts someone else, there's no call to rub their noses in it, if that makes sense?

Anyway. That was long. I really oughta get outta here some more: see you all next week. I just felt really bad for anybody who saw this and identified with Charles because good goddamn, this was hurtful.
posted by mordax at 7:30 PM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I too skipped this one as soon as the Netflix blurb on it reminded me of what was in it. Maybe it's partly just 2019 influencing my perceptions, but the ENT rewatch is proving a lot rougher than I anticipated. Luckily, these threads are helping maintain my Trekkieness in the face of all this ENT; keep up the great discussion.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:05 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

It wasn't my intention to dismiss people's feelings about this episode and I'm sorry that it came across that way. That's all I've got to say about that. Enjoy your threads.
posted by Automocar at 8:14 AM on June 26, 2019

As a trans Trekkie I might have something relevant to say about this one, but unfortunately I haven't seen it since it aired and I'd totally forgotten it until this thread. If I'd seen this recently it's possible I'd have a very different take than a lot of you (I tend to disagree with Mordax about Trek in ways that can get shouty) but I read the full Memory Alpha page and this one sure does seem like a baffling misstep.

The Prime Directive is a great engine for conflict in Trek, because its goals are admirable (avoiding colonialism and all that stuff) but then our characters encounter injustice and the law says they're not supposed to do anything about it. So they kind of pick and choose when they're going to follow the law and when they're going to break it, and generally we can agree with their choices. Even when things get more muddy, they present a persuasive case for why the characters made the choice they did or they make it very clear that the characters feel profound regret. But in this case Trip meets a slave, he tries to help the slave escape, the former slave commits suicide rather than going back to slavery... and then Archer yells at Trip for trying to help the slave, and Trip actually seems to feel guilty about it. WTF, show?

It doesn't fit the ethos of any Trek we've seen before. I disagree with Mordax that Voyager was racist (that's a whole other discussion) but I hope he'd agree with me that this scenario would play out very differently on that show. If Torres (for example) befriended a slave and wanted to help them, it's not impossible she'd get some initial, reluctant push-back from Janeway (It's not our place to start revolutions in alien societies, plus we're stranded out here and we're desperate for help from these people) and Torres would give her hell for it (We can't condone slavery just to keep our engines running, etc.) It would get very heated and Janeway would probably come around and help the slave... or, if the slave ended up committing suicide, Janeway would feel really shitty and regretful about the whole mess. At the very least, if Janeway maintained a hard line that we can't interfere, Torres would not budge and the episode would end with her saying something like, "And I'd make the same choice again. Always." (And not just Torres. Any of Voyager's crew would feel that way. Including Neelix!) That scenario would end with a deep rift between the captain and the crewman who'd defied them. Worst case scenario, if the writers were having a really bad week, the crewman would feel guilty and Janeway would drop the hardass act and say something like, "You had honorable intentions. Of course, anybody would want to help. But the Prime Directive exists for a reason. When we meddle with other cultures, terrible things can happen." It sure as hell wouldn't end with the crewman telling the captain "you're not responsible" for the slave's death and then slouching away under a cloud of shame.

When Enterprise was airing I had the feeling that B&B had been at the helm too long, that a combo of creative exhaustion and dealing with relentless (and frequently unfair) criticism was causing them to create a deeply mediocre show. They'd caught endless crap for Voyager and DS9 and now they were just kind of punching the clock. But reading about this episode makes me wonder if they'd actually lost sight of what Trek was even supposed to be. The moral reasoning in this episode just doesn't fit what Trek is (or perhaps was. I still haven't caught up with Discovery.) If they were trying to establish the need for the Prime Directive, they picked just about the worst scenario for it. Why would they think that Charles committing suicide would make us believe that Trip was wrong to get involved? Of course our sympathies will go to an enslaved person, and the crewman who wants to help them!

This has already gotten too long, but I think this plot pales in comparison to The Outcast, which was derided at the time as a botched gay rights story but which I think turned out to be a pretty good trans rights story. Soren is a compelling character and her conversion to "normal" is played as an absolutely tragic thing. Riker fought it and he's distraught about it. Picard pays lip service to the Prime Directive, but there's none of this HOW DARE YOU stuff from him. If there had been, Riker probably would have transferred off the ship!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:10 PM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I fucking SCREAMED when Archer said the suicide was Trip's fault, and I SCREAMED FUCKING LOUDER when Archer also blamed Trip for the FUCKING UNBORN BABY. Fuck you Captain Archer forever.

I like to think Trip was thinking that too. Trip was acting like a naive, idealist child who first learns that the world is bad and his daddy/hero is fallible and it destroys his world. I thought he was going to request a transfer. It felt like something irreparable happened. He was like a kicked dog.

Fucking HELL.

I agree with painquale to the extent that ending on SUCH a discordant note is way more dramatic and thoughtful than anything Enterprise has done. Archer is just fucking WRONG and it felt like the show knew it and let it end that way. They never let their characters come into conflict this much. I don't know if I fully believe the show *intends* to have this amount of dramatic depth, but this episode seems deeper than others to me.

And yes probably it just is accidental because they have dipshit 9/11 brain sickness about Archer's authority now, iurgrhrguihrrheguirhurghudhuf.
posted by fleacircus at 12:06 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are so, so, so many things to hate about this episode, but the lack of interiority it confers to members of the third gender is for sure one of them. They're not given names, and so... it doesn't occur to them to give themselves names! They aren't allowed to read, and so... until the benevolent Trip comes along, they appear not to have an iota of intellectual curiosity. There is no hint that the "cogenitors" have any identity, culture, or indeed any drive, ambition, or agency of their own without a benevolent outsider giving these things to them. Fuck this episode and its writers.
posted by klaniaphage at 6:23 AM on April 23

Seriously, even Uncle Tom's Cabin portrayed enslaved people with more nuance and agency than this piece of trash did
posted by klaniaphage at 6:28 AM on April 23

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