In the fifth episode of the first season of Enterprise, well, that was a weird one. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of consent, sexual assault, cissexism.
I can sort of see what the writers were going for with this episode. This is a “first,” yet another chance for the show to explore what it was like for Starfleet to break new ground as they explored the galaxy. That means things will be sloppy; messy; upsetting; uncomfortable. I could keep listing terms, but you get what I mean. So I don’t want my criticism to come from a place where it seems like all I want from this show is positivity. This is, as far as I can tell, the first canonical male pregnancy in Trek lore. And for a show that deals so heavily (already!) with the horrible and awe-inspiring ramifications of space travel, this seems to tread way more in humor than in an honest exploration of what this new thing means.
Humor isn’t bad, of course, but it’s the context in which it is used here that troubles me. The canonical time period in which “Unexpected” is set is well into our future, and this episode wasn’t created all that long ago, either. Yet Trek clings to the binary gender in ways that are frustrating because this show is supposed to be about possibility. Now, I can’t claim to be an expert on any of this, and I’m still learning (and unlearning) all the biological essentialism I’ve been taught growing up. I’m sure if you went back to 2001, you’d find anything I wrote rife with transphobia or internalized homophobia or anti-blackness or any number of oppressive, destructive systems that I, like many of you, was conditioned to believe. So I’m also not trying to say that I am in any way better than the cis folks who made this, nor am I trying to ignore that I’m writing this nearly 16 years later, when these kind of issues are discussed far more openly than they were back then.
Still, I can’t ignore how uncomfortable this episode made me. My initial concern was for consent. Not one character in this episode brought it up, and if the casual cissexism weren’t so glaring, too, I’d say that was the major flaw. When the team finds out that Tucker is pregnant and also maintains that he had no sexual relations with anyone, someone probably should have considered that he was the victim of a sexual assault. If he didn’t know that he’d had some form of sex and was pregnant from it, then that’s where my mind went. Had Ah’Len impregnated him without his consent and knowledge? Is that why the Xyrillians high-tailed it away so quickly? The show clears it up by the end – Ah’Len genuinely thought that humans could not get pregnant through Xyrillian means – but we’re still left with a lot of uncomfortable shit floating around.
Look, men can get pregnant. The end. This isn’t a belief or a philosophy, but actual fact. And what I worry is that this show contributes to a lot of stigma, namely in stating what bodies should and should not do. I imagine that there are parts of this that are potentially quite triggering to people. Plus, there’s all the weird implications that Tucker becomes like a woman through all of this, but then at the end, he’s rewarded with his stoic, manly manliness. Which is absurd! If the show was trying to say that Tucker is normally not very emotional and that the pregnancy would fuck with him by making him emotional, maybe don’t stick this episode after “Strange New World”? Like, that is a chronicle of HOW VERY EMOTIONAL TUCKER GETS.
In the end, I felt like we were supposed to laugh at Tucker and laugh at men who get pregnant. Archer sure did. Multiple times!!! That’s not helping!!! And when the lead character is laughing at someone’s traumatizing predicament, the expectations is that we will laugh, too. This was supposed to be a major breakthrough in the history of Starfleet and humanity. Instead, it comes off as an embarrassing story that people will tell years later to shame Tucker. That doesn’t feel too redeeming or thrilling, y’all.
The video for “Unexpected” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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