Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 2, Episode 22
Production episode 048
Original air date: April 30, 2003
Captain’s star log. Enterprise approaches a hypergiant star in order to examine it and study it and do all that fun exploration stuff they’re supposed to be doing—and then they discover that they’re not the only ones. A Vissian ship is also examining the star.
Archer invites Captain Drennik and members of his crew on board, and the favor is returned. The Vissians have support craft that can get much closer to the star than Enterprise or its shuttles can, and Drennik invites Archer to accompany him on a jaunt deeper into the sun.
The two crews mingle. Food proves a useful bonding mechanism, as it often does, though Vissian food tends to be far more pungent than even the most aromatic human food.
Tucker introduces two Vissians to ice cream sundaes, and then Reed introduces Tucker to his counterpart on the Vissian ship. Tucker sits with the engineer (who inexplicably never gets a name), his wife Calla, who runs the microgravity lab, and a third person who apparently doesn’t have a name.
The couple explain that the third person is their cogenitor. Cogenitors make up about three percent of the Vissian population, and they are a third gender, one that is necessary for reproduction. The couple wishes to have a child, so the cogenitor is living with them until the birthing process is completed. Apparently they had to wait quite some time before they were given a cogenitor, as there are so few of them.
Tucker wants to visit the Vissian ship and check out their engine room, but Vissian engines emit omicron radiation, so Tucker needs an inoculation. While he gets that, he asks Phlox about this cogentior business, though the engineer cuts the doctor off when he gets all TMI on him.
Tucker is not entirely pleased with how the cogenitor is treated more like a pet than a fellow person, and asks Phlox to do a mental scan to see if the cogenitor really is as unintelligent as the Vissian men and women indicate.
While Tucker is fascinated by the engines, he’s disgusted with how the cogenitor is treated. He takes it upon himself to expose the cogenitor to reading and entertainment and suchlike.
Drennik allows Archer to pilot the pod for a bit, and he does some crazy-ass shit before giving the stick back to Drennik, who is both impressed and nonplussed.
The Vissians find out that Tucker has been sneaking around and exposing the cogenitor to the concept of individuality. Tucker is kicked off the Vissian ship—and then the cogenitor, having now been denied the ability to read and explore, requests asylum on Enterprise.
Archer and Drennik return just in time to deal with this. While Archer respects the Vissians’ culture, he has to take an asylum request seriously. Drennik understands and is more than happy to wait for Archer to consider his decision.
Archer rips Tucker a new one. Tucker tries to say that he was just doing what Archer would do—and, in fact, what he did do by giving the Vissians copies of Earth literature and drama. But the Vissians asked for that, and Archer is appalled that Tucker thinks he was behaving the same way Archer would in the same circumstance.
Ultimately, Archer can’t grant the cogenitor asylum. Not long thereafter, they’re informed that the cogenitor committed suicide. Now a life has been lost, and a couple may have lost their opportunity to have a child. Tucker is devastated, and Archer is unforgiving in his reprimand.
Despite this, the Vissians and the humans part ways on good terms, hoping that this incident won’t sour their new friendship.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? When confronted with a massive solar flare that they can’t get around, Archer pilots the Vissian pod straight through it, applying the same principle to a flare that you do to a giant wave when you’re bodysurfing. Except flares are superheated hydrogen and fire and stuff, not water, and there’s no guarantee that that would work the same way…
The gazelle speech. Archer is absolutely merciless with Tucker, not cutting him a micron of slack because he’s also his friend. In fact, he feels even more betrayed because they’re friends.
I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol tries to warn Tucker that he’s being an idiot. She does not get through to his dumb ass.
Florida Man. Florida Man Jeopardizes First Contact By Being A Spectacular Dumbass.
Optimism, Captain! Phlox very enthusiastically starts to explain to Tucker how Vissian reproduction works before the latter cuts him off.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Reed introduces one of the Vissians, a woman named Veylo, to cheese. He also shows her the armory, and this eventually leads to her propositioning him. (I’ve always firmly believed that cheese is an aphrodisiac, so this all tracks…)
More on this later. The Vissians have photonic weapons, the second mention of such after “Sleeping Dogs,” when it was established that the Klingons had such—these are forerunners to the very familiar photon torpedoes that future-set shows have. Enterprise will be equipped with photonic torpedoes four episodes hence in “The Expanse.”
I’ve got faith… “I might have expected something like this from a first-year recruit, but not you. You did exactly what I’d do? If that’s true, then I’ve done a pretty lousy job setting an example around here. You’re a senior officer on this ship. You’re privy to the moral challenges I’ve had to face. You know I’ve wrestled with the fine line between doing what I think is right and interfering with other species. So don’t tell me you know what I would’ve done when I don’t even know what I would’ve done!”
Archer ripping Tucker a new one.
Welcome aboard. Three old friends are back here: Laura Interval plays Veylo, having previously played Seven of Nine’s Mom in Voyager’s “Dark Frontier” (credited in the earlier episode as Laura Stepp). F.J. Rio plays the Vissian chief engineer, having previously played the recurring role of Muniz on DS9 and also Joleg in Voyager’s “Repentance.” And the late great Andreas Katsulas plays Captain Drennik, having previously had the recurring role of Tomalak on TNG. It was one of Katsulas’ final roles before his death in 2006.
In addition, Becky Wahlstrom plays the cogenitor and Larissa Laskin plays Calla.
Trivial matters: This is the only onscreen appearance of the Vissians, though they are mentioned in several Enterprise novels, including the Romulan War duology by Michael A. Martin and the Rise of the Federation series by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett. A Vissian is also seen as a Starfleet engineer in the twenty-fourth century in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella The Future Begins by Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster.
Your humble rewatcher introduced a three-gendered species to Trek four years prior to this in the TNG comic book Perchance to Dream, but in that case the three genders were more or less equal in numbers and more or less equal in status, as well. (Though there was a prejudice on some people’s part against people who only had one partner instead of the “usual” two.)
The music Tucker plays for the cogenitor is from Mozart’s Sonata in C, K.545. The list of movies he calls up includes two references to fictional fiction from the twentieth century established in prior Trek shows: The Bride of Chaotica (a Captain Proton story, referencing the holodeck program favored by Paris and Kim on Voyager, as first seen in “Night“) and Dixon Hill and the Black Orchid (a story featuring the fictional detective, referencing the holodeck program favored by Picard on TNG, as first seen in “The Big Goodbye“). Two other “movies” are titles of episodes of The West Wing which aired on NBC at the same time that Enterprise aired on UPN: Mister Willis of Ohio and Celestial Navigation.
It’s been a long road… “It has no name.” This is actually a very good episode, but man, does it piss me off. Honestly, I was all ready to tear this episode apart in my rewatch until we got to the bit where Archer asked to talk to Tucker alone, at which point Archer basically made all the same arguments I was making in my head as to why Tucker was a big honking doofus.
And make no mistake—Tucker is a big honking doofus here. He manages to make the wrong decision every single time in this episode, starting with his already-established inability to get his mind around any cultural norms that differ from his own (seen most recently in his being completely bumfuzzled by Phlox’s wife flirting with him in “Stigma”). Then he proceeds to sneak around, lie to his hosts, and interfere with what is pretty much by definition a family matter. Seriously, if some alien from a species Tucker had never seen before started messing around with, say, his relationship with his sister, you think he’d take kindly to it?
Yes, he sees this as a horrible thing, and perhaps he’s even justified in doing so, but there’s absolutely no way his solution could possibly do anything like good. He doesn’t have enough information about the biology (one brain scan from Phlox is not sufficient, sorry) of the Vissians, and especially about the societal norms of the Vissians to even make an informed judgment about how the cogenitors are treated. Never mind be in a position to take any kind of action…
This episode reminds me of two prior Trek episodes, both of which handled this slightly better: TNG’s “Half a Life” and Voyager’s “Thirty Days.” In the case of the TNG episode it worked because the person who is trying to effect change in an entire society because she doesn’t like the way one person is being treated is Lwaxana Troi, an eccentric, and very self-centered, civilian. And even there, Lwaxana comes around to understand that there’s not really anything she can do. As for the Voyager episode, it’s also got a dumbshit Starfleet crewmember acting on too little information and causing major problems, but at least Paris got a month in the clink and a demotion.
Tucker should goddamn well know better, and at least try to go through channels to find out more and question what’s happening instead of going straight to sneaking music, books, and movies to the cogenitor behind the backs of the other two. (Seriously, why the fuck couldn’t scripters Rick Berman and Brannon Braga be arsed to provide a goddamn name for F.J. Rio’s engineer?)
But I’m also frustrated by the fact that I know that Tucker won’t suffer any kind of consequences the way Paris did. He should be demoted, court-martialed, transferred back to Earth, something. He’s pretty much directly responsible for the cogenitor’s death—something he himself admits to—and yet next week he’ll be back to running the Enterprise engine room as a full commander and third-in-command of the ship.
I do like that the episode shines a light on Archer’s past inability to get this sort of thing right. In general, this is the sort of thing a Trek prequel should be doing, showing why some of Starfleet’s policies evolved. Tucker’s moronic actions here do a good job of showing why something like the Prime Directive is important.
And I really like that, throughout all this, the Vissians are incredibly reasonable and understanding. This is a genuinely good first contact, even with the drag effect of Tucker’s idiocy. I really appreciate that the Vissians aren’t stereotypical obdurate aliens or seemingly nice but with a horrible twist! that Trek in general and Enterprise in particular have an annoying tendency to default to.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a short story in the newly released anthology The Eye of Argon and the Further Adventures of Grignr the Barbarian, edited by Michael A. Ventrella. It includes the original (and annotated) text of the famously terrible fantasy novella, as well as several sequel stories, including Keith’s “The Rat’s Tail.” It’s available from Fantastic Books.