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A Night In Sickbay

Review

Series : Enterprise Rating : 0
Disc No : 2.2 Episode : 31
First Aired : 16 Oct 2002 Stardate : Unknown
Director : David Straiton Year : 2152
Writers : Brannon Braga, Rick Berman Season : 2
Guest Cast :
Vaughn Armstrong as Kreetassian Captain
Moral :
Pets : There's nothing more important, to a human, than his pet
YATI : There seems to be an oddly high level of compatibility in spare parts in the Trek universe. For instance, here Enterprise is trying to buy a new plasma injector for its warp drive. There's no indication that they have given the Kreetassians a set of plans to build a new unit from, they seem to be just buying an off the shelf unit. It seems incredibly unlikely that the Kreetassian plasma injectors would just happen to fit Enterprise - it's like taking your car to China, buying a spare carburetor at random from a shop, and expecting it to fit into your engine.

Also, wasn't the whole point of last week's episode that the alien repair station repaired their ship to a "good as new" status, even going so far as to fix the scratch where the travel pod bumped into it in the pilot episode? So why do they suddenly need new plasma injectors here in the very next episode? Surely they should have been able to go a good long while without needing any further outside help after that big repair job last week, right?
Worst Moment : Archer is badly out of character for this whole episode. He's never shy about getting angry, but he never loses control of himself to the extent of ranting at subordinates like he does in this episode. And where did the whole T'Pol thing come from? We've seen hints that Trip and Reed might have some attraction for her. But never Archer. But the single worst moment was the decontamination room scene. I'm getting really sick of this thing as an excuse to show the actors in their underwear. This one was so silly that it was actually hard to watch.
Body Count : Zero.
Factoid : Longtimer Vaughn Armstrong chalks up yet another Trek role...

This episode is a nominee for the DITL "Worst of Trek" award.


Plotline

When Porthos falls ill after a visit to the Kretassian home world, Archer spends a night in sickbay watching over him.

Analysis

Oh my, where to begin?

This episode comes across like a deliberate attempt to assassinate the character of Captain Archer.

One of the things Enterprise could - and very much should - have done was to depict a crew that really wasn't too ready to explore space and meet aliens. We should have had episodes where the crew screw up, and learn the lessons from that screwing up.

But here's the thing. In doing that, it's vitally important that what the crew does must seem like the right and sensible thing to do when they do it. You would not, for example, have Archer arrive on a planet and shoot the planetary leader in the face with his phaser, in order to learn the lesson that humans should be diplomatic about their exploring - because shooting somebody in the face when you meet them is an obviously idiotic thing to do, so all that plot would accomplish would be to make Archer look like a moron.

And alas, the show often fell into that area. This episode is a great example. Archer and co have encountered the Kretassans before. And in that episode the Kretassans became extremely offended, because the humans ate in front of them - a major social faux pas in Kretassian society. They had to apologise and everything. So they know these guys are easily offendable.

Actually, that's not the case. It's not that the Kretassans are easily offended, it's just that they're offended by different things than we are. Imagine having a Kretassian at a state dinner in the White House. Imagine if he unzipped in front of everyone and took a leak on the dinner table. It would cause a storm of offense and bad publicity, right? But to a Kretassian that might be no more offensive than smiling is. "Can you believe those humans got upset because I urinated? It's a perfectly normal bodily function, what's the big deal?"

Point being, offence is cultural. The show makes the Kretassans out to be overly sensitive and weird for their foibles, when actually their foibles are really just different in detail to our own whilst being alike in kind.

Anyway. At the very least, the crew should know that the Kretassans will take offence at things. Does it make any sense, then, to bring your dog along with you when you go see them? Even having one with you might cause offence. Then again, for all we know not bringing a pet along might cause offence. Why not ask them in advance? Why not list a few things dogs often do and see if it's a problem? Imagine if Archer or somebody had said "Hello sir. I need to ask you some etiquette questions. I apologise in advance if asking the questions themselves is offensive, but I wish to make absolutely sure that my actions in our meeting are correct. Now, I was going to bring along my small pet animal. Is that alright? These animals like to run up to strangers and sniff them. Is that okay? What if he makes physical contact? What if some of his hair rubs off on a person? What if he emits short sharp noises? What if he urinates on the ground or on a nearby object?"

I'm no Starship Captain, I'm no trained diplomat, and even I can see that it would be a good idea to ask those sorts of questions before you take your dog anywhere. Yet Archer simple takes him along.

He then acts incredulously when he discovers what the Kretassans are so upset about. His dog peed on some sacred trees. "I'll tell you one thing, Sub-Commander. If anything happens to Porthos, I'll be the one watering their Alvera trees."

Yeah. You know, there's a story circulates now and again, maybe an urban legend, maybe not. The version I heard, it's a British tourist who goes to America. He's caught short in public, needs to pee. So he goes and finds a wall somewhere and pees on that. Then the cops arrest him and throw him in jail, because the wall in question was a wall of the Alamo. Point being... even in human culture, there are some places you're allowed to pee, and some you just aren't. And getting that wrong isn't always a big deal, but it really can be! I bet if he took Porthos to Admiral Forrest's office and Porthos peed on his carpet, Forrest would be pissed off, right? But Archer seems utterly oblivious to this. He acts as if Porthos should be able to pee anywhere he damn well pleases, and anybody who thinks otherwise is just being ridiculous.

Things go from bad to worse. Archer has tasked T'Pol with sorting this mess out for him - probably wise since he's the one with the dog, so the Kretassans are probably as angry with him as he is with them (though they have a justification, and he does not). She reports back, explaining about the trees. "Did you apologise for whatever we did wrong?" says Archer. Clearly he's told her to do this, right? Earlier on we see him tell her to go find out what happened. We don't see him ask her to apologise, specifically, but he questions her on whether she has in a way that clearly indicates that he expected her to do it. So she says yes, she conveyed his apologies to them. And what's his response? "Where the hell do you get off conveying my sincerest apologies?"

Um, what else was she supposed to do? You screwed up, you offended them, you need to apologise! You asked her to look into it, you either asked her to apologise or it was at least understood that she would, and now you're pissed because she did? What the hell? The impression Archer gives here is that T'Pol should have apologised for herself, that Archer doesn't mind somebody apologising as long as it isn't him. When in fact, non-diplomat me would have thought that any poor behaviour by anybody on the landing party should have been Archer's responsibility. He's the Captain; when T'Pol speaks in her official capacity as first officer, she's effectively a spokesman who is speaking in his name. A personal apology from her is meaningless unless it's her screwup she's apologising for.

Imagine the US President screwing up. He tells his press secretary to go apologise for it. His press secretary says "On behalf of the President, I apologise." Then the President screams at him "Why are you apologising for ME! Apologise for yourself!" It's insane!

(Okay, I have to say... from the perspective of 2017, one can very easily imagine something like that actually happening right now. But only because... well, you read the headlines, so you already know.)

One of my favourite examples of this comes from the novel Dune, in a scene where Duke Leto meets a Fremen for the first time. The Fremen spits on the Duke's table, causing great offence - until it's pointed out that on a desert planet like Dune, a few drops of water can make the difference between life and death. The Fremen was giving a small portion of his bodily water to the Duke, and for a Fremen that is a profound gesture of respect. To ignore such cultural differences is really no different than going to a foreign country and speaking English to everybody, then getting angry with them that they don't speak it back.

The driving force for all this anger is that Porthos came back with some kind of infection or fungus or whatever the hell, and he's in a bad way. Archer is annoyed because they transmitted copies of both human and dog genomes to the Kretassans before beaming down, and Phlox assures us that if the Kretassans looked at them, this should have tipped them off to the fact that some bacteria or virus in their atmosphere did not agree with Dogkind.

A few things on this. One... is that necessarily true? Kretassian biological technology may not be up to the standards of Humanity at this point, after all. But okay, let's take it as true.

Second... was the effect possible, or certain? I mean, there are plenty of diseases right here on Earth that can infect and kill a dog, right? If this is the equivalent of Porthos picking up Lyme disease from a tick bite, then Archer really doesn't have much ground to complain here. EVERY planet has potential dangers to both humans and dogs, Earth included.

(Actually it's arguable that biochemistries on an alien world would be so different that there's no chance whatever of catching a disease on an alien planet. But whilst that may be true in reality, it's very clearly and obviously not the case in Star Trek.)

On the other hand, if it's the case that there's enough of whatever it is blowing around in the atmosphere that any dog that enters it will invariably be affected, then I could see that he'd be annoyed that they didn't report this.

But then again, why doesn't it work both ways? Do the Enterprise sensors not scan the atmosphere of the planet? In every single case we've ever seen before or since, it is the job of the ship itself to work out whether a planet is safe to land on. They don't generally harp on it in episodes, but there's sometimes at least a "it's a class M planet, breathable atmosphere" kind of line thrown in there.

So for Archer to be justifiably angry here, we have to assume that the Kretassans could work out there would be a problem. We have to assume that the problem would be likely or certain to happen. And we have to skip lightly over the fact that it also demonstrates the incompetence of his own ship and officer, most especially including Phlox.

And for this, he is so pissed off that he's arguing to abandon the planet (at least! He almost seems about ready to start firing at them!) and continue on elsewhere with the ship hovering one component failure away from being dead in the water. That's what's at stake here - they need a part from the Kretassans. They can carry on without it... but they have no spares for this part, and if another one happens to fail the ship will become inoperable. And given interstellar distances, if that happened it might well mean that his entire crew would literally wind up dying in space without help ever coming.

And he is willing to risk this on a fit of petulant anger. Because he took his dog along, and it pissed off (ha!) the locals.

It's not shooting the leader in the face with a phase pistol. But it's not far off, either.

The other element that makes this episode oh so enjoyable is that apparently, Archer is also frustrated because he's horny. Yeah. Phlox actually suggests this to him. Archer blows it off angrily, then goes off to make a minor slip up by mentioning breasts to T'Pol.

*sigh*

So, after painting Archer a a horrible, awful diplomat who doesn't have a clue how to act around other species, they're now painting him as some kind of horny teenager who can't keep his own libido in check.

Now don't get me wrong. Trek has pretty consistently depicted it as a custom bordering on a rule that Captains don't get involved with subordinates - the only time we've really seen it happen (TNG's "In Theory") the whole thrust of the episode was to demonstrate why it's a terrible idea. Somewhat strangely, it's also been generally accepted that this rule only applies to the Captain. For instance Riker outranked everybody but Picard, and he never had any hesitation in dipping his wick amongst the crew. So there is an angle you could explore there, because Archer is literally the only guy on the ship that doesn't get to have sex, possibly for years on end. That's got to be frustrating, right? How does he deal with it? You could put that in a story, if you did it right. But geeeez, doing it right does so not mean having him drooling on T'Pol and generally acting like a horny kid.

Suffice to say in the end he decides to do what he has to in order to apologise, which involves a little ceremony. the Kretassans accept this and give him his part. I seem to recall that it's a truism that cultures with highly formalised codes of behaviour generally also have formalised codes of apology - and pretty much require that those who go through them are forgiven and the incident dropped. It's just the other side of the same system, really - easy to offend must line up with easy to forgive, or else the whole society breaks down in everlasting grudges.

Contrast this with much of western society, in which we're relatively easygoing about being offended... but once some lines are crossed, an apology often doesn't earn forgiveness and acceptance. If Archer had peed on the White House dinner table, it's entirely possible that an apology would have gotten him precisely squat, beyond a bunch of "Ha, he's shown how weak he is!" comments.

It's just a passing thought, but it makes me wonder - who's really the more unreasonable species here?
Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 14,202 Last updated : 18 Mar 2017