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March 8, 2004

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  Star Trek and Egg Spit
or Does War Have Limits?

My brother and co-editor, "Drooling" D.K., recently pointed out something I hadn't thought of before.  Remember in the original Star Wars (for fanboy braniacs -- "Episode IV: A New Hope") when Luke and friends had just escaped from the Death Star and Grand Moff Tarkin (played by the late, great Peter Cushing) says to Darth Vader: "This had better work, Vader."?  Remember that?  Clearly the implication was that everything was going according to Vader's plan -- his plan apparently being to allow Princess Leia to escape with the schematics to the Death Star so she could lead them to the rebel hideout.  Now, I think we can all agree, few plans have ever gone as badly as that one did.  Not only did they fail to annihilate the rebel base, but it was only because they had allowed the rebels to get their hands on the Death Star schematics that the Death Star itself was destroyed.  But, when the smoke cleared and both Grand Moff Tarkin and the Death Star were just scattered atoms drifting through the cosmic void, did Vader take it in the neck?  No he did not.  He came out smelling sweet as a rose.  But it was his stupid plan!

I guess it really is who you know.

Anyway, on to today's much more elevated topic of discussion...Star Trek: Enterprise.

Watching last week's episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, I was majorly perturbed and, at the risk of turning these editorials into a gripe of the week column, I just felt I had to share my concerns with you.  Now Enterprise, as you almost certainly know, is one of the Star Trek spin-offs, this time set prior to even the original series, featuring Captain Archer and crew aboard the starship Enterprise, the first starship to venture beyond the bounds of our solar system.  Word is the series hasn't performed as well as the Network would like and so recently the premise was fiddled with.  An alien race called the Xindi attacked earth with a nasty superweapon, killing millions.  The Enterprise was dispatched into a weird section of uncharted space there to locate the Xindi and prevent them from launching another attack with an even superer weapon.  No "to seek out and discover" crap for these cowboys.  This is a bug hunt, plain and simple.

First off, let me say that I don't really enjoy this latest incarnation in the Star Trek franchise.  The truth is, I haven't enjoyed any of the spin-offs.  I remain loyal only to Classic Trek.  All the same, I admire the fact that, as these types of shows go, the various Star Trek spin-offs have all tried for a certain elevated level of sophistication, exploring moral issues even as they try to be fun.  And that is precisely why I was bothered by last week's episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, called "Hatchery".  If it had simply been a mindless shoot-em-up, I wouldn't have complained (well, not as loudly).  But because it insisted on anchoring its story in serious, Real World issues, I have every right to take exception to the moral attitudes expressed. (If you don't want to read spoilers, pull your cord now.)

In "Hatchery", the starship Enterprise happens upon a crashed Xindi starship, the crew all dead.  The Xindi are a multi-form race, one form -- the form aboard the crashed starship -- being that of man-sized insects.  The problem is that the Xindi crew left behind a hatchery filled with eggs.  If someone doesn't fix the hatchery, all the little baby Xindi (insects like their parents) will die.  Captain Archer is sprayed with a mild poison when he is spat upon by one of the eggs but doesn't give it another thought.  Soon, however, he begins acting strangely.  He becomes obsessed with repairing the hatchery and saving the baby Xindi -- obsessed to the point where he is even willing to endanger his entire crew by sending a distress call to any Xindi who might be within earshot.  The entire episode basically becomes an extended argument as Archer explains why they must save the babies and his crew explains why they should let the babies die.  Eventually, the crew forces Archer into sick bay where the doctor determines that the egg spit was actually a chemical which affected Archer's mind, forcing him to act as the "mother" of the baby Xindi, even at the expense of his own life.

Now, I will admit it's a pretty clever science fiction concept.  It feeds into a certain parental paranoia --  the idea of babies who can override the will of an adult through a chemical is surely creepy as hell.  The Midwich Cuckoos meets Arachnophobia.  And the concept is certainly plausible enough.  We can imagine such a chemical would definitely be a keeper where evolution is concerned.  Imagine, little toddler Billy wants a cookie before supper.  Mommy says, not before supper, honey, you'll spoil your appetite.  Billy horks a goober on mommy.  Billy asks again.  Billy gets his cookie.  Creepy.

So, sure, I can see why the creators of Star Trek: Enterprise thought it was a good idea.  It is a good idea.  The problem came in when they decided to have Archer start justifying his actions in the face of his crew's opposition.  Again and again, Archer argued that saving the baby Xindi was the humane thing to do.  His crew (especially his best buddy, Tripp) told him: "That's crazy!"  But is it?  Archer even laid it on the line and asked Tripp: Would you let them die if they were anthropoid instead of insects?  Tripp didn't  have an answer for him, but it was a damn good question and deserved an answer.  As a viewer, I couldn't let it lie.  I wanted to know. 

Of course, by the end, Archer's behaviour had obviously passed the point of being reasonable.  Once he was prepared to risk the entire crew for the sake of the hatchery by transmitting a distress signal which would bring every Xindi battleship within range down on their collective derriere -- I think we can agree his crew had a right to be nonplussed.  But that crew, especially Tripp, had been criticizing Archer from the moment they discovered the hatchery, long before he was endangering the crew.  Repeatedly Tripp insisted that the babies were only Xindi, that they were the enemy and should be left to die.  Archer countered that they were innocent victims of a war they had nothing to do with.  He even compared them to a busload of innocent children caught in the crossfire.  Tripp was unmoved.

Ever since this war-with-the-Xindi story arc started, there has been a glaring problem which the series has failed to address to my knowledge.  The only reason the Xindi attacked earth in the first place was because they were under the impression that, some time in the future, earth would destroy them.  They thought they were acting in self defense.  Whether their fear is justified or not, we don't know.  But, the point is, surely we can't really portray the Xindi as black hat bad guys, not if they honestly think they are fighting for their very survival.  But so far, Archer and his crew have obstinately refused to see things that way.  Until now, that is.

In this episode, Archer finally presented precisely that argument.  While Tripp was busy ranting and frothing and demanding they bring Holy Hell down on the Xindi for their attack on earth, Archer pointed out that the Xindi were only fighting earth because they believed earth was going to destroy them.  In fact (argued Archer), by saving the baby Xindi, the Enterprise might actually prevent a war by proving to the Xindi that earth meant the Xindi no harm.  That sounds like fine reasoning to me.  But, in the end, we were made to understand that Archer wasn't thinking straight.  The egg spit had messed with his brain and he had forgotten their "mission".  Once the doctor had given Archer an antidote, Archer realized how insanely he had been acting.  The Enterprise abandoned the hatchery and got back to its "mission" to kick some Xindi butt.  Case closed.

Giving the makers of Star Trek: Enterprise the benefit of the doubt, I can easily imagine how they ended up with this appallingly immoral episode.  As I said, the initial premise of children overriding the will of adults is irresistible.  Beyond that, the thinking probably went something like this.  Just as it is claimed that you can't hypnotize someone to do something they wouldn't do without hypnosis (such as killing themselves, for instance), the writers felt Archer, even under the influence of the Xindi chemical spit, would have to be able to justify his actions according to his own view of morality.  So, that is what they did.  That may have been what happened, and the writers lost sight of the big picture -- which is that, in this episode, Archer is supposed to be acting crazy.  So, everything he says is ipso facto crazy too.  And that includes all the crap he lays on about even war having its rules, about their obligation to protect innocents, even the innocent children of their enemies, about how maybe they could accomplish more by saving the hatchery than by killing more Xindi.

I say that may be what happened.  Maybe the story got away from them.  But maybe not.  Maybe they meant every word and they really did think Archer's arguments were so much Liberal hogwash.  Either way, the end result is a disturbing argument for war without limits.  One which would have Gene Roddenberry rolling in his grave.

And the most annoying part of it all is that even they knew how messed up was their argument.  How do I know?  Because even they weren't prepared to follow through with the unpleasant implications of their argument.  The crux of the debate between Tripp and Archer was that Tripp wanted them to leave the baby Xindi to die, Archer wanted to save the little grubs.  Tripp was supposed to be right, Archer wrong.  But, in the end, the writers knew how bad it would look if the crew of the Enterprise really did let the babies die.  And so, we were told that Archer had repaired the hatchery just enough, before coming to his senses, that the babies would survive long enough for a Xindi starship to reach them -- by which point the Xindi wouldn't see the Enterprise for dust.

Having put forward an hour long defense of war without limits, the writers didn't even have the courage of their own convictions.  I don't know whether I should be comforted by that or disgusted.

Maybe I'll be both.

Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate

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