Images from the Star Trek Enterprise episode, "Twilight," following the narration of an alternate universe and then the correction of cause and effect in "real time"
Captain Archer awakens bewildered
Dressed just in pyjama bottoms, he struggles to get his bearings and must push ...
... past a guard at his door, from whom he demands answers, and then knocks out.
On the bridge, he struggles to take command but finds T'Pol in a Starfleet Captain's uniform. She orders him taken back to his cabin.
They are facing a crisis, an apocalyptic alien menace. In this episode the superweapon becomes a metaphor for T'Pol's entire command, which could have destroyed humankind.
The Xindi weaponship heads for Earth.
The Earth will be destroyed by a swirling, circular mass, an image of female sexuality, “the monstrous-feminine.”
The weapon commences fire with T'Pol at the bridge and ...
... Archer reduced to an infantilized, de-sexualized, de-militarized, emasculated baby-male.
Archer wakes up in a small, modest home: "Where am I?" Like caring for someone with Alzheimer's, T'Pol has to repeat to him the same personal and political history everytime he wakes up.
As if in penitance, T'Pol has assumed the traditional heterosexual roles of nurse, lover, and chef. She renounced her command to stay here to take care of Archer.
Archer looks in the mirror and sees he is much older. Bewildered, he wants answers.
Twelve years earlier an "anomaly" hit the ship with a distortion wave from time-warping hostile aliens.
Archer was hit by it and it removed his short term memory capacity. Each day when he wakes up he can't remember anything from before the accident.
T'Pol was trapped and despite her Vulcan strength, could not free herself ...
... and Archer heroically saved her, putting himself at risk.
"Since the Captain got sick, this mission's taken on wrong turn after another."
Dr. Phlox has been searching for years to find a cure for Archer's mind parasites, but they lie in another time field and can only be eliminated by a subspace explosion, which would also kill the patient (his medical exposition here narratively foreshadows the ending).
[Images from "Twilight" continued on next page.]
Enterprise is about the early missions of Starfleet, the spacefaring military division of the United Federation of Planets, the democratic interplanetary alliance central to the Trek universe, but the series is pointedly set before the establishment of the Federation. In the premiere episode, “Broken Bow” (2001), Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula, of Quantum Leap fame) spouts extremely conservative, xenophobic rhetoric. He aggressively loathes Vulcans — who in Enterprise are the shadowy, cryptic heavies, having held humans back from spacefaring progress for the past one hundred years because the Vulcans have doubts about their fitness and readiness for space exploration — and seems to have serious issues with women in command.
In “Broken Bow,” the premiere episode, Archer shrieks at T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), the Vulcan woman who will become his first officer, that he will “knock her on her ass” if she doesn’t do as she’s told. Tellingly, Archer fulminates here against an assembly of Vulcans, of whom T’Pol is the only female; yet she is the sole target of his threats of physical violence. Hating Vulcans, thereby nixing one of the great themes of Classic Trek, the intense love Captain Kirk has for his Vulcan science officer, Spock; hating strong women, thereby nixing the twenty-fourth century feminist Trekkian innovations in gendered relations, Enterprise squarely reimagines the Trekkian mythos as a stridently intolerant social system in which male power regained not only validity but unquestionable, even brute, new strength.
Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III, the Chief Engineer, a conventional Southern good ol’ boy (played by Connor Trinneer, whose looks eerily evoke those of George W. Bush), is presented from the start of the series as provincial, xenophobic, and crass. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, the security officer, is British and given little screen time; it is also revealed in the last season that he works for the shadow conspiracy group of the Federation, Section 31, a “subtle” suggestion of the untrustworthy nature of foreign members of the community. Tellingly, the show’s inclusive representation of the “foreign” is an Englishman, whereas Classic Trek had the Russian Chekhov. Ensign Hoshi Sato is an Asian-American linguist and the Communications officer. Prone to fearful fits and generally seen as ineffectual in any terms other than the linguistic aspects of her job, Hoshi is the resident screamer. Ensign Travis Mayweather, the helmsman, is African-American and a complete blank, rarely getting even one non-technobabble line an episode; without the slightest exaggeration, it is entirely accurate to say that Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura on Classic Trek had more lines of dialog. The most intriguing character, Phlox is the chief medical officer; this creepy, mirthful alien doctor comes from a species with highly unusual and polyamorous mating customs.
This generally grim and uninteresting cast (except for T’Pol and Phlox) specifically revises the potential and occasional radicalism of previous Trek series. As the ambiguous recurring Enterprise character Daniels, known as “Future Guy,” informs Archer in “Zero Hour,” the Season Three finale, in which Earth and the galaxy itself are threatened (not, incidentally, by androgynous, trans-dimensional, Third Sex aliens), "Reed and Hoshi are not crucial to the future of mankind — you are.” In other words, racial and cultural others and women are not crucial to the future; institutionalized white male power is. Comparing the characters on Enterprise to those on Voyager and Deep Space Nine reveals a great deal about Enterprise’s overwriting of Trekkian values to fit with an emerging new reactionary national political climate. Enterprise systematically overwrote the innovative casting and characterization choices that, to varying degrees of efficacy and radicalism, made the post Next Generation spin-offs progressive Clinton-era shows.
Voyager was a show conceived in feminist or at least pro-woman terms. Conceived by a woman writer-producer, Jeri Taylor, along with Michael Piller, Voyager was the first Trek series with a woman Captain. Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was an interesting mixture of Kirk-style heroics, nurturing, maternal sensitivity, and thoughtfully enquiring scientific curiosity (Janeway is a scientist as well as a Captain; unfortunately, this aspect of her persona was downplayed in later years). Whereas Voyager had a strong female Captain, Janeway and several other strong women characters, Enterprise features two female characters who represent two sides of the debased woman in patriarchy, the tough woman denounced by hostile males and the fumbling, wan hysteric. Patriarchy remains unchanged and unchallenged in Enterprise’s twenty-second century; women once again must assume hypertraditional roles[open endnotes in new window] ; non-white characters are relegated to off-screen space; non-heterosexual characters are non-existent.
At its best, Voyager was an epic for women, as evinced by the sweeping two-part episode “Dark Frontier”(1995) in which Janeway travels into the heart of Borg space to rescue former Borg Seven of Nine. (As “Dark Frontier” also makes clear, Voyager could be read as a stirring allegory of female same-sex desire.) Borrowing its great theme of the longing for nostos — the return home — from The Odyssey, it was a series about a female hero, surrounded by other heroic women. Not so Enterprise, which delimited the roles of women and fatally impaired the strength of its strongest female character.
The female characters on Voyager and Deep Space Nine were tough, empathetic women delineated as heroically complex and daring characters. Deep Space Nine was also innovative in having an African-American actor (Avery Brooks) in the leading role. Enterprise took the two great political accomplishments of the recent Trek series — the enlarged visibility and social power of women and racial minorities — and relegated them to the dustbin of pre-history.
The fans, who stopped watching the show in droves, spoke out, and Enterprise made hasty changes to redress the show’s pugnaciously intolerant early tone. Rather than focus on one of the early Enterprise episodes to point out misogynistic, retrograde aspects of the series, since the show in its early seasons was obviously rife with them, I will now focus on the episode “Twilight” (2003), from the show’s third season, which many fans view as, along with the fourth, a marked improvement over the first two. Indeed, in terms of storytelling and characterization, the third and fourth seasons do improve on the preceding ones. Yet even at its best, Enterprise is a deeply misogynistic, reactionary Trek series. To demonstrate my view of the series, I will examine two episodes, “Twilight” and “Bound,” at a certain length.
The “Twilight” of powerful women
In its third season, Enterprise experimented with ongoing, continuous storytelling arcs. The major plot of the third season is Starfleet/Earth’s battle against the Xindi, a complex and ingeniously conceived race (on Xindi, several species simultaneously evolved into sentient beings; there are mammalian, insect, reptilian, and avian sentient/humanoid Xindi species). These creatures, having been deceived into believing that humans are their great enemy who will destroy them in the future, misguidedly and preemptively retaliate against the Earth, which they repeatedly attempt to destroy. In the season finale of Season Two, the 2003 episode “The Expanse,” the Xindi destroy a significant portion of the northern hemisphere, including Florida, leaving seven million dead. The annihilation of a sizeable chunk of the United States — significantly, Florida, the contested political zone in which the fierce battle between Democratic and Republican parties yielded George W. Bush as President in 2003 — topically reflects national terrors over terrorism. The Xindi, though, displace the more explicitly topical alien metaphorical threat of the first two seasons, the Suliban, a creepy, shape-shifting race able to spontaneously retool their DNA in order to plot against Starfleet and crawl under doors and atop ceilings. “Suliban” is almost comically hypersuggestive of “Taliban.”
In “Twilight,” first aired during November sweeps month in 2003 and (disquietingly) declared the Number One Fan Favorite in an April 2005 poll/re-airing, we see Archer waking up, in the teaser, in his room to the sound of the red-alert klaxon. He is nearly naked, only in boxers. Bewildered, he staggers to the bridge, where the now-Captain T’Pol bellows, “Get him off the bridge!” and orders him back to his quarters. Archer grows more bewildered still as the security officers grab him. As he looks out the viewscreen, he watches as the Xindi weapon, an enormous round grey-silver globe seething with the powerful might of its accelerating weaponry, approaches and then fires upon the Earth, which it swiftly proceeds to destroy. We then get a close-up of utterly befuddled Archer, as nude as a new baby, with apparently similar abilities to make sense of the situation. The implication of this opening sequence is remarkably clear. T’Pol in charge, Archer is reduced to an infantilized, de-sexualized, de-militarized, emasculated baby-male, and the Earth itself is destroyed, by a swirling, circular mass, no less. The globelike Xindi weapon is an image of female sexuality, in this case retooled as an apocalyptic weapon in the form of, in Barbara Creed’s terminology, “the monstrous-feminine.” The remainder of the episode only reinforces these initial impressions.
Whereas Voyager’s superlative two-part episode “Year of Hell” (the November sweeps episode of 1997) gave us a defiantly determined Captain Janeway intransigently facing off against a similarly apocalyptic threat and restoring order, through her sacrificial death and rebirth, to the universe, “Twilight” gives us apocalypse as the direct result of a woman in command.
“Twilight” is, much to the relief of the imaginary Enterprise fan (I confess to never having met one), an alternate reality (AU) episode. It’s about what might have happened had Archer been forced to relinquish command to T’Pol. Some temporal parasites infect Archer’s mind and he, in Memento-fashion, loses the ability to retain any short-term memories. With T’Pol in command of the Enterprise, not only do the Xindi destroy Earth but they also destroy nearly all existing Earth colonies throughout the galaxy. Now, only 6,000 human beings remain. This T’Pol informs Archer when he wakes up, his mind still teeming with those time-parasites, many years later, on one of the few remaining outposts. In harrowing long shot, we see him stagger out of their makeshift dwelling, anguished, almost unable to contemplate the inestimable significance of the near-total destruction of the human race, the result of his relinquishment of command to T’Pol.
T’Pol is now Archer’s nurse and lover. Not only has she herself relinquished command but she has also properly, as if in penitence, assumed conventional gendered roles as maternal nurse and heterosexual companion. Adding a layer of perversity to this set-up: Archer has no awareness of his sexual relationship with T’Pol. The implication is that, much like the Salt Vampire succubus of the Classic Trekepisode “The Man Trap,” T’Pol predatorily preys upon Archer’s very body, draining him of life force. T’Pol also assumes the position of automated drone who must drone the same narrative unceasingly, each time Archer awakes. Effectively, the episode turns T’Pol into the Echo to Archer’s sleepy Narcissus.
Fascinatingly explicit about its own masculinist agenda, the episode rigs Archer’s return to health — through Phlox’s new medical procedure, derived after several years of research, to eradicate the time-parasites, which will restore the timeline, give us back a pre-infected Archer — as the return of humanity’s hope for the future. When Archer reboards the Enterprise many years later, about to test Phlox’s new treatment, and sees his old crew again, he is greeted by Trip, now Captain of the Enterprise (and more intensely suggestive, with aged-make-up, of President Bush than ever), and Malcolm, who informs him that he is Captain of a different vessel. “Did everyone get their own ship while I was away?” Archer wryly asks. “Not everyone, sir” — this comment is delivered, unsurprisingly, by Asian-American Hoshi, who almost mutely embraces Archer. African-American Travis was killed on the bridge several scenes, and years, back.
In sickbay, Enterprise now again under Xindi attack, a tense discussion occurs among T’Pol, Phlox, Archer, and Trip, who unswervingly argues that the Archer-procedure cannot be conducted because the ship cannot afford to lose power. T’Pol passionately makes the case that restoring Archer to command in the past is the only chance for humanity left. The episode not only posits that white heterosexual manhood is the necessary linchpin and sign of rational power and that its absence results in the destruction of the human race. But it also puts this rhetoric in the mouth of T’Pol, who must, in issuing forth, condemn both women and the Other to the categories of agents of social destruction and the extinction of the race. In the words of Judith Fetterley, in a different context, T’Pol — like the viewers who identify with her — is
“Twilight” most coherently realizes the sexist campaign against T’Pol that undergirds the series. Why Enterprise felt the need to impair, hobble, and demean its most interesting, well-acted, and exciting character is a saddening mystery. One of the most revealing features of this sexism is in Season Three in an episode depicting the massage techniques that T’Pol is forced to administer to Trip. The scenes are played as soft-core porn, with gasps and other forms of heavy breathing, partial nudity (we see T’Pol cupping her breasts, Trip shirtless), nighttime atmosphere, and obvious sexual tension. What is most remarkable about these scenes is the ways in which they represent white manhood. Trip not only provides a white male body to be consumed by the viewers’ gaze but also a body that exists to be seduced; the series rigs the situation so that it is T’Pol, at Phlox’s matchmaker suggestion, who initiates and insists upon the nighttime neuropressure sessions. This is like a rewriting of the classical myth of Selene and Endymion — in which the moon goddess keeps the beautiful male youth Endymion perpetually asleep so that she may adorn him with nighttime caresses — except Endymion here has all the power, Selene the pitiable need. Trip is new-style white heterosexual manhood, as an erotic canvas upon which women’s unrealizable and untenable desires are writ large — and as essentially ungraspable as figure on the page. This version of white manhood represents the extraordinary resilience of the model, its ability to adapt to the pressures and demands of alternative and now more visible and vocal forms of sexuality and gendered identity — feminist, queer, transgendered — while only more effectively consolidating and maintaining its power.
One of the most telling aspects of the series’ masculinist bias and misogynistic sensibility is the relationship between Trip and Archer. Trip emerges as Archer’s mini-me. In the first two seasons, especially, Trip primarily exists to reinforce Archer’s xenophobic and misogynistic traits, often vociferously echoing Archer’s castigating threats to T’Pol. Trip’s behavior not only crudely mirrors Archer’s but also reinforces images of Southern manhood as pugnaciously crude, rowdy, anti-intellectual, coarse. Trip and T’Pol develop a sexual relationship in the third season, in which T’Pol also becomes addicted to drugs and experiencing emotion, the major druggy high for a wayward Vulcan (all developments much to T’Pol-actor Jolene Blalock’s chagrin. ).
Despite their burgeoning sexual and romantic relationship, in “Twilight” Trip expresses a characteristic vehement and ungenerous hostility towards T’Pol — and one heavy-handedly overdetermined to lay the blame for the mission at T’Pol’s door, as it were. In one military encounter with two Xindi ships, the Enterprise is badly damaged and in danger of being completely obliterated. A Xindi vessel clings to their starboard nacelle, facilitating access to Enterprise to hordes of warlike reptilian Xindi soldiers. T’Pol makes the gutsy move of ramming Enterprise and the parasite-like Xindi ship into the other Xindi vessel, thereby disabling both Xindi ships. The Xindi ships are indeed disabled, but not without doing a great deal of damage to Enterprise. Instead of bonding together about the further difficulties they all now face — clearly, T’Pol’s military actions have resulted in a calamitous situation, but one not nearly as calamitous as the threat of destruction posed by both Xindi ships if no action had been taken — the crew appear hostile to T’Pol. Trip explicitly denounces her:
Not only is T’Pol denounced by a senior officer — it is unthinkable that anyone would speak this way to Archer — but also by the man with whom she has become intimate. Clearly, Enterprise reimagines Voyager’s daring displays of female heroism as dangerous, foolhardy, destructive. Neither T’Pol nor any other woman can command a ship lest apocalypse ensue.
This episode makes sure to resolve everything nicely and restore order. Archer’s time-parasites are technobabbleishly eliminated by Phlox (actually, in a rousing return to virility, Archer both outmaneuvers Xindi reptiles and implements his own cure) and Archer returns to Normal and his Captaincy. As T’Pol, now properly re-garbed in her Vulcan attire and back to being First Officer (though hardly Number One), leaves Sickbay in the restored Enterprise present, Archer, with a faintly leering expression, says to her, “You know, you’d make a great nurse.” This line says it all about the sexual and gendered politics of Enterprise (and is, to boot, offensive to nurses).