Saturday, December 17, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise: “Demons” and “Terra Prime” (Paramount Television, 2005)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Fortunately, the next item(s) shown — the first two of the three final episodes of the Star Trek: Enterprise series, which took place a century earlier than the original Star Trek and dealt with how the United Federation of Planets came into existence after a century of civil war on Earth and attacks between some of the planet populations that later came together to found the Federation — was absolutely brilliant, vividly written, insightfully directed and beautifully acted. At least part of my admiration for this show was that, though it was made over a decade ago, it featured an uncannily exact metaphor for the 2016 Presidential election, albeit it had a considerably happier ending than the election. The two episodes, “Demons” (May 5, 2005) and “Terra Prime” (May 12, 2005), center around an organization called “Terra Prime” whose agenda is very Trumpian: it demands that all non-human species be expelled from Earth and that when Earth explores the stars, it go to conquer the indigenous species on each newly discovered planet rather than try to befriend or learn from them. The head of Terra Prime — at least during the period in which the show takes place, since the implication from the writers (Rick Berman and Brannon Braga as overall creators of Enterprise, Manny Coto on “Demons” and he along with Judith and Garfield Reese-Stevens on “Terra Prime”) is that it’s actually existed for decades (one member of the Enterprise crew admits joining it briefly in her teens) — is John Frederick Paxton (Peter Weller, who here looks oddly like Trump’s good buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin), whose big speech notes that Earth has just settled a series of wars among its own people and the last thing it should try to do is play nice in the rest of the universe and trust species from other planets who are likely to attack and destroy us. In his big speech, Paxton outlines his and Terra Prime’s philosophy: “‘No’ is a word that Starfleet better get used to hearing from now on. Because up until today, it’s always been ‘yes’, hasn’t it? Yes, yes, go right ahead, roam the stars. Yes, inform potentially hostile species of the whereabouts of Earth. Yes, entrust the entire future of our world to non-Human creatures, who don’t even feel like we do. Yes, promote the total degradation of mankind, by encouraging alien-Human... relations. Well, ‘yes’ is a word that ends here and now! I’m returning Earth to its rightful owners. I am giving Earth back to Humanity, back to Human beings. It is my life’s work; it is what I was born to do. And there is no one, not an alien, not a Human, that will stop me from achieving it.”

As one of the weirder parts of his plan, he’s had his minions steal genetic material from two Enterprise officers, human male Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Connor Trineer) and Vulcan female T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and gene-splice them to create a baby whose DNA tests reveal she’s the product of Tucker and T’Pol even though neither of them can remember having created a child and T’Pol is sure she’s never been pregnant. Paxton cites this baby as an example of what’s going to happen if the Federation is formed and human and non-human species start having sex with each other (though actually the biological definition of “species” is any population whose members can mate with each other and produce fertile offspring, so if humans and Vulcans can mate, that’s a good indication that their DNA is so similar they would be the same species despite coming from different planets — though in this case the human-Vulcan child dies while still a baby due to a mistake in the gene-splicing technique used and I don’t think the original show ever nailed down whether Spock, the Star Trek universe’s most famous human-Vulcan mix, could have a kid). Paxton is also the administrator of a mining colony on the Moon and his foreman, a heavy-set Black guy named Daniel Greaves (Peter Mensah), are organizing the workers to join Terra Prime and take action against the non-humans who are currently meeting in San Francisco to form the Federation. (This show seems to have begun the conceit that all these centuries later the Golden Gate Bridge would still exist in the form in which we know it; that was done again in the 2009 Star Trek movie that kicked off J. J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise.) Tucker and T’Pol end up being held hostage on Mars by Paxton, who has lifted off the entire mining colony from the Moon and flown it there — apparently the writers had seen or heard of similar schticks in some of the 1930’s and 1940’s Republic serials, in which entire communities on other planets turned out to be spaceships — and he intends to fire an energy weapon that will wipe out the building at which the Federation-founding conference is taking place and end any hope of peaceful coexistence between Earth and other planets. (I wonder if the writers chose San Francisco as the venue for this because it was the city where the United Nations was actually formed after World War II, though its headquarters were soon relocated to New York City.)

Paxton forces Tucker to work on his energy weapon (another cop from the 1930’s Republic serials, in which scientific geniuses who were normally on the side of good were quite often taken over and mind-controlled by the baddies to work on their infernal machines), while back on board the Enterprise the ship’s captain, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), wants to destroy Paxton’s installation even though that will mean killing two of his most valuable and high-ranking crew members in order to spare the Federation from the annihilating attack Paxton has planned. In the end enough of Archer’s crew members resist his orders to spare the installation, Paxton fires his weapon but the ray lands harmlessly in San Francisco Bay (Tucker deliberately screwed up its aim), the Enterprise rescues Tucker and T’Pol, and the engaging side plot of a relationship between crew member Travis Mayweather (African-American actor Anthony Montgomery) and reporter Gannet Brooks (Johanna Watts) which is temporarily derailed when Travis becomes convinced she’s the Terra Prime spy on board the Enterprise, and doesn’t survive even when it turns out she’s actually a Starfleet secret agent sent on board the Enterprise to find the Terra Prime “mole” — the two have a bittersweet Third Man-esque parting that adds to the power of this show. I’ve never seen any other episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise but if these two are any indication, this might have been the best series in the Star Trek universe since the 1960’s original — and the election of Donald Trump as President on an openly racist and xenophobic platform makes this show seem even more relevant to current events than it would have when it debuted during George W. Bush’s Presidency. Indeed, during one of Paxton’s nasty rhetorical flights I couldn’t help but joke that his slogan was, “Make Earth Great Again!”