Written by Daniel McCarthy and Chris Black & John Shiban
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
Season 2, Episode 21
Production episode 047
Original air date: April 23, 2003
Captain’s star log. Phlox receives a message from the Denobulan Science Academy. There’s been a coup on Xantoras, and the nasty new government has ordered all offworlders to leave. There’s a team of three Denobulan geologists exploring the caves, and nobody’s been able to get in touch with them. Enterprise is closer than any Denobulan ship, and can they maybe try to rescue them, please?
Archer agrees, and they set course for Xantoras. Tucker, Reed, and Mayweather head down on a shuttlepod, with Mayweather taking the lead in exploring the caves thanks to his greater experience in such matters. The new Xantoran government has given offworlders three days to get off the planet, or they’ll be arrested. Archer tells the landing party to search for a day and a half, then head back—they don’t want to take any chances.
A ship suffers catastrophic failure in orbit, and the Xantorans refuse to let them land. Archer has Enterprise dock with them. Phlox treats the injured, one of whom is Antaran. Phlox is obviously very disturbed at the sight of an Antaran, and when he regains consciousness, the Antaran, whose name is Hudak, refuses to be treated by a Denobulan.
It turns out there some serious history there. The Antarans and Denobulans fought some nasty wars, though there’s been no contact between them since the last war ended three centuries ago. However, each side still views the other with distrust and disdain. Archer tries to mediate between Hudak and Phlox, but Hudak doesn’t want to hear it, and Phlox is reluctant to stir the proverbial hornet’s nest.
The problem is that Hudak is suffering from radiation exposure, and Phlox needs to treat him or he’ll die. But Hudak is refusing treatment, and Denobulan medical ethics put the patient’s needs above all else. If Hudak refuses the treatment, then Phlox can’t treat him.
Archer points out that Phlox can still talk to him, and after several attempts, much of which involves vitriol and shouting, Phlox finally explains that he never accepted the blind prejudice toward Antarans that some of his people—including one of his grandmothers, who was old enough to remember the last war—have. He made sure that his children didn’t have that prejudice, either, and was successful with most of them. The exception is his son Mettus, who fell in with a virulent anti-Antaran crowd. The two haven’t spoken in years because of it.
Reed slips and falls down a cavern, and takes the other two with him, since they’re tied together, but eventually they stop, with Tucker and Reed dangling and Mayweather holding them up (barely). They straighten themselves out and get back on a ledge, but Mayweather’s leg is broken, so they have to leave him behind.
Eventually, Reed and Tucker find the geologists, who initially refuse to leave. The government on Xantoras changes all the time, and the people in power now probably won’t still be in power by the time they get to the surface. Tucker makes it clear that staying behind is not an option, and they finally agree to be evacuated—though one geologist stops along the way to gather more samples.
What seems at first to be a seismic rumble turns out to be weapons fire. The Xantoran military is attacking some enemy or other nearby, endangering the landing party. Enterprise’s scanners detect this, and Archer threatens the Xantorans with his ship’s firepower if they don’t move their fight elsewhere.
Hudak finally agrees to let Phlox treat him, moved partly by Phlox’s honesty, partly by the desire to not die. The ship Hudak is on is also taking the three Denobulan geologists home, and Hudak is okay with sharing a ship with them, and he hopes they feel the same.
Phlox then composes a letter to his son Mettus.
The gazelle speech. Archer plays mediator between Phlox and Hudak, trying to convince them both to put aside their prejudices, and the former to also put aside his medical ethics, or at least bend them a little bit…
I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol proves to be a useful sounding board for Phlox when they chat in the mess hall after hours, with T’Pol just listening to him unload about the way his grandmother talked about Antarans and how Phlox himself tried to do the opposite with his children.
Florida Man. Florida Man Threatens Geologists With Violence When They Won’t Do What He Says.
Optimism, Captain! In Denobulan medical ethics, the wishes of the patient override any other consideration, even if the patient’s life is in danger. When Archer tries to get him to think of the patients’ medical need rather than desire, Phlox pointedly says, “Hippocrates wasn’t Denobulan.”
More on this later… Phlox has a few tribbles he keeps around to feed to one of his reptiles. Sato’s look of pure horror as Phlox feeds this cute purring little tribble to a vicious predator matches that of the audience that remembers them from the original series’ “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the animated series’ “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” and DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.” Though this isn’t the last time tribbles have been seen as food, as we’ll see in “The Trouble with Edward” on Short Treks…
I’ve got faith…
“The last cave I was in had handrails—and a gift shop, and a snack bar.”
–Tucker complaining about the Xantoran cave’s lack of amenities compared to the ones on Earth
Welcome aboard. Henry Stram plays Hudak, while the three Denobulan geologists are played by Mark Chaet, Laura Putney, and D.C. Douglas.
Trivial matters: This is the only time Antarans appear onscreen on this show, though they’ll be seen as background characters on Lower Decks. The Enterprise: Rise of the Federation novel Live by the Code by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett follows up on what we learn in this episode about Phlox’s family. Phlox’s daughter Vaneel marries an Antaran, and his son Mettus, angered at this, kills Vaneel’s new father-in-law.
Mayweather’s love of climbing in dangerous places was established in “Two Days and Two Nights,” though that was rock-climbing, which isn’t the same thing, but close enough, I guess…
Phlox casually mentions that, on their homeworld, tribbles have natural predators that keep their population down—which confirms the theory Spock proposed to an uncomprehending Cyrano Jones in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Mayweather claims to be the only person with experience caving, despite the fact that we’ve seen several members of the Enterprise crew navigate caves, in “Strange New World,” “Terra Nova,” and “Vanishing Point.”
It’s been a long road… “You’re the reason we haven’t been able to put the past behind us.” Surprisingly, given that one of the main characters if from the species, we’ve learned very little about Denobulans through most of two seasons. By this point in TNG, we’d learned more about Betazoids than this, and by this point in Voyager, we’d learned more about Talaxians and Ocampa than this.
So it’s nice to get some notion of Denobulan culture, including that they have a boogeyman—and the boogeymen feel the same about the Denobulans. It’s not particularly illuminating about who the Denobulans are as a people, but it does that other thing that science fiction is good at, which is use alien species to shine a light on human behaviors. The tension between the Denobulan and Antaran people is completely ridiculous and also completely believable. It’s what happens when opposite sides of a war believe the propaganda even when confronted with the reality, something we still see far too often on twenty-first-century Earth. The whole thing is, of course, beautifully played by John Billingsley, who gives a very real and very moving performance as a very conflicted Phlox, who is processing so many different things: his instinctive discomfort in the presence of an Antaran, his discomfort with that discomfort, the awful memory of his grandmother’s prejudice, and the even more awful memory of the rift with his son. Just a bravura performance.
The other half of the plot is mostly harmless. I find myself disgusted by the fact that they felt the need to break Mayweather’s leg to keep him out of the action for absolutely no good plot reason, as it feels like they’re trying to get the Black guy off-camera as fast as possible. It might have worked if Tucker and Reed then struggled to navigate the caves without Mayweather to lead them, a notion the script even set up nicely. (“You’ll be all right.” “Respectfully sir, it’s not me that I’m worried about.”) But then the two of them do just fine and find the Denobulans.
Which leads to the best part of the episode: the geologists who refuse to leave their incredibly important work, because it’s just stupid politics, and there’ll probably be another coup attempt anyhow, and can’t we just do our jobs, please? Luckily, they gave in before Tucker was forced to make good on his threat to shoot one of them in the ass….
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be the Principal Speaker at Philcon 2022 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey this coming weekend. Philcon is the oldest still-running science fiction convention in the world, having gotten its start in 1936. Keith will be doing panels, presentations, and performances, as well as autographings and readings and such. His full schedule can be found here.