Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Terrible Writing Plagues “Unexpected.”

The Good: Basic concept, Special effects
The Bad: Huge continuity (in episode and in franchise) issues, No decent performances, Huge ethical issue overlooked, No real character development.
The Basics: Trip Tucker gets more than he bargained for when he is impregnated by an alien female in “Unexpected.”

As a writer, I am big on continuity. After all, I hope when I encounter – and create – a body of work, I can enjoy a story that makes sense (especially in context) from beginning to end. In the Star Trek franchise, there are numerous continuity issues that pop up simply from the fact that Paramount never employed a Star Trek expert fact-checker to keep all of the new stories in line, as far as the details went. But sometimes, there are stories or elements of stories that are just plain sloppy. “Unexpected” is one of those episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise.

What makes “Unexpected” sloppy, as opposed to riddled with continuity problems? Take, for example, the moment – surprisingly early in the episode – where Dr. Phlox reveals to Trip Tucker that Tucker has been impregnated by the Xyrillian female. At that moment, Phlox speaks about how the female impregnates the male Xyrillian in a way that indicates he has prior knowledge of the Xyrillians. However, his very next line is that he has no way to know how long the gestation period of a Xyrillian embryo is. So, which is it? Does Dr. Phlox have prior experience with the Xyrillians where he knew that females impregnated males, but failed to warn Trip about the possibility of such medical risks or does he completely guess about Xyrillian biology and then give up trying to explain? Because if it is the latter, Dr. Phlox is a real bullshitter; when he finds Trip has been impregnated, he has no records or documents about Xyrillian DNA, so he’s just guessing that the growth in Trip’s ribcage is a Xyrillian fetus and not, for example, a xenomorph from Alien (reviewed here!). Sloppy writing . . . grumble.

Enterprise is coasting through space experiencing mechanical malfunctions, like the Captain’s shower failing when E Deck loses gravity. By igniting their warp plasma, they reveal the presence of an alien ship in their wake, which is causing the feedback that is causing the shipwide disruptions. Trip Tucker is assigned to aid the alien ship and after a decompression wherein his body tries to acclimate to the alien environment, he board the Xyrillian ship and discovers the environment is a bit much for him. After a short nap, though, he manages to fix the alien compression coils and he makes a friend of the Xyrillian engineer, Ah’Len.

When Ah’Len has Tucker to a holographic simulation unlike anything the human has ever encountered, they do an exercise that forges a temporary telepathic bond between them. After three days aboard the Xyrillian ship, Tucker returns to Enterprise and the two ships head their separate ways. Within a day, though, Tucker is aghast when he grows a nipple on his wrist and Dr. Phlox informs him that he is pregnant. As the Enterprise tries to track down the Xyrillian ship, Tucker’s pregnancy commences and he begins to exhibit side effects of his impregnation. When Enterprise finds the Xyrillian ship, it is in the wake of a Klingon ship and Archer and Trip’s problems are multiplied.

As far as the basic story goes, “Unexpected” has one massive problem that is never explored and, considering Enterprise is part of the Star Trek franchise, the social message issue not being explored is unconscionable. Initially, Archer, T’Pol, and Phlox chide Tucker about having been unable to control his hormones and having had a sexual relation with an alien in the brief time he was with the Xyrillians. The fundamental flaw is that the chiding never ends and the most likely, probable, explanation for Trip’s pregnancy is never even mentioned.

Trip Tucker was raped.

Commander Tucker was unconscious on the Xyrillian ship for at least an hour. Between that and the fact that he claims to not have had consensual sex with an alien, the most logical explanation for his pregnancy is that he was raped. In fact, given what limited experience viewers have with Trip Tucker by this point, he seems like he is the kind of guy who would brag about “banging the alien chick.” But, no, he is adamant that he did not have sex with any Xyrillians. Ergo, the most logical explanation for his pregnancy is that he is raped. Yet, this aspect is never broached.

That makes the episode a pretty banal concept episode where “heh, der, a man got pregnant! Ha!” instead of something more sophisticated. Like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Angel One” (reviewed here!) where the only real gimmick to the episode is that the crew visits a planet with a matriarchal society, “Unexpected” has a simple and ridiculously droll concept that is not deeply explored or affords the opportunity for no deeper conversation or concept. Trip Tucker does not have any sort of moralization about keeping or aborting his rape baby, instead, he just wants a parasite removed.

I’m also disturbed when I can engineer a better design than the writers/production designers and “Unexpected” initially set me off for that. Captain Archer starts the episode in the shower when the gravity kicks out. It seems to me that a sensible starship design that actually uses water in the pipes would have an automatic shut-off if the gravity fails and a drain that immediately becomes a vacuum under the same circumstances. That is how smart people design such a system. Why? Because when you’re stuck in space on a journey of several weeks, months or years, it makes no sense to risk your most important officers to the potential of what happens in “Unexpected,” namely the captain slipping and falling in the shower (which, realistically, could have fractured his ankle, knee, or tailbone).

Because there are no deeper moral issues raised, “Unexpected” becomes a lame novelty episode without any real character development. In fact, the episode illustrates T’Pol to be something of a lame tactician when she mortgages the cache built with the Klingons from “Broken Bow” (reviewed here!) on a comparatively low-stakes encounter with the Klingons. Archer continues to be painfully uncertain and shockingly uninteresting.

As for Connor Trinneer’s performance as Tucker, he seems to be channeling William Shatner’s performance from “Turnabout Intruder” (reviewed here!) here. Instead of an organic presentation of Trip as a pregnant man, he begins to impersonate the worst stereotypes of women in playing his character as pregnant. At least he gets that dumbfounded, shocked, open-mouthed expression right when he is told the news of his character’s pregnancy.

Sadly, that is almost all that the episode does do well.

The three biggest gaffes in “Unexpected:”
3. Yet another brand new alien race never again seen or alluded to in the series’s that followed. This might otherwise not be so bad, save that in Star Trek: Voyager when Tuvok is listing off aliens that use biological components in their technology (one of the many allusions to the Breen), and he does not mention the Xyrillians. If the Xyrillians are pretty much local to the Earth/Vulcan area, then it would have seemed like a race he would have mentioned and that the novelty of finding a race that integrated biological and technological components would have diminished after two hundred years,
2. From reality, males have gotten pregnant in our times (less than ten years after this episode originally aired). Therefore, T’Pol is wrong with her conclusion at the end of the episode,
1. In this episode, both StarFleet and the Klingons encounter aliens with (essentially) Holodeck technology. Holodecks were still new in “Encounter At Farpoint” (reviewed here!), so viewers are meant to believe that it took almost two hundred years for the Federation to adapt the Xyrillian technology?! At least as important, the only reason for the Klingons (in context) to be granted the same technology is the implication that they used it to develop their cloaking devices. However, Klingons got their cloaking technology from the Romulans in Star Trek.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!


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© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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