In the third episode of the first season of Enterprise, YES. YES. If you’re intrigued by this, then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For body horror, blood, phobias/fear.
This show is the Star Trek universe’s first real attempt to show what it’s like to boldly go where no one has gone before, and I am still impressed that the writers manage to be so honest about it. The title of this episode – “Fight or Flight” – speaks not just to the coping mechanisms we come up with when we’re afraid, but to the possible reality of space exploration. Any of the other Trek series could not have truly gotten away with this episode because it doesn’t make sense for characters in those time periods to run away from something as frightening as this.
And yet, that’s exactly what they do. Hoshi screams at the Axanar bodies that hang from the ceiling of their vessel. Archer takes T’Pol’s advice, and they all leave. Look, on a very basic level, I loved this because THIS IS WHAT I WOULD DO HALF THE TIME IF FACED WITH THE SHIT I’VE SEEN ON STAR TREK. It’s such a human response. Actually, let me go a step further: it’s a human response within the context of exploration. These crew members don’t have the training that latter Starfleet officers will get. So there’s no real First Contact protocol for them to follow. They’re literally making it up as they go along, which is why the discovery of the Axanar vessel was so damn exciting. The debate surrounding it is the manifestation of that lack of protocol. They have to question everything. What if everyone on board is dead? Is the ship abandoned? What if the lifeforms on it don’t want visitors? What if by entering the ship, they’re declaring war? WHAT IF SCANNING THE SHIP OFFENDS THEM? This is precisely the right questions for them to ask, but we’re getting to watch them be asked for the very first time. IN REAL TIME.
“Fight or Flight” feels bold to me, then, because this examination of fear and first contact is not a pleasant one. The show could have taken a more inspiring route, you know? After weeks of no contact with any lifeforms aside from a slug, we could have just gotten an episode about the difficulties of translation, but NO. How about a race that MURDERS PEOPLE and then TAKES ALL THEIR BODILY FLUIDS that they can use for their own purposes? Yeah, cool, not terrifying at all. The episode manages to invoke the whole “abandoned ship floating in space” trope and take it to an emotionally challenging place. Seriously, I can’t get over the fact that they RAN AWAY. They left the ship behind! It’s not an illogical decision, and indeed, it would have kept the crew of the Enterprise safe from further harm.
Two things develop from this: the establishment that Starfleet cannot just run away from danger if there’s a way they could do something moral and good, and Hoshi grappling with numerous fears exacerbated by this situation. I wanna focus on Archer first. He, too, struggles with the conflicting emotions of the problem. Like many of the other people on Enterprise, he’s curious about what’s inside the ship, and even after T’Pol calls his desperation illogical, he still pursues it. Yet when he discovers the truth of what’s happened to the Axenars, he also runs, though. At the same time, he’s reluctant about it, and he’s also the first person to seriously protest what they’ve done. HOW GREAT IS THAT SCENE OVER DINNER WITH TRIP AND T’POL. Moments like that make me excited for Enterprise. What else will these characters discover along the way? How many epiphanies will they have about how they should conduct themselves while exploring the galaxy? They’re learning these things as they go, and that means they’re probably going to have to learn the hard way, sometimes.
Which brings me to Hoshi, who was Archer’s number one choice for Communications Officer, who is brilliant when it comes to languages, who deals with claustrophobia and fear and self-doubt, who knows that she has a deep-seeded duty to make sure she doesn’t disappoint Archer. Yet she knows that her fear feels all-encompassing, as if it is going to close in around her at any moment. I am thrilled that we got to know Hoshi through this episode, and I am just as thrilled that she got to be scared. That’s not an emotion we see much in the Trek world because… well, again, later officers are far better trained to deal with terrifying situations. But this whole scenario is unlike anything she trained for or even conceived. Her first away mission involved DEAD BODIES HANGING FROM THE CEILING. To me, it seemed reasonable that she would scream at the sight of them, but I also understood why she was so upset that she’d reacted this way.
“Fight or Flight” features a ton of growth for Hoshi, and y’all, IT’S ALL IN A SINGLE EPISODE. She is forced into adaptation, which isn’t portrayed as an easy, enjoyable thing. It’s horrible! Traumatic! But Hoshi, while under immense pressure, does what Archer asks of her. She ditches her universal translator, and she talks. In the end, she doesn’t disappoint her captain at all. She astounds him.
The video for “Fight or Flight” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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