Mark Watches ‘Enterprise’: S04E21 – Terra Prime

In the twenty-first and penultimate episode of the fourth season of Enterprise, Archer leads a team to stop Paxton. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of child death, terrorism, xenophobia, and racism. 

I so desperately wish more of season four – and all of Enterprise, for that matter – could have been like this.

This arc is heavy-handed, make no mistake. I don’t have a problem admitting that. The metaphor the writers use to tackle the changes in human society is about as subtle as a brick, but it still works. It helps that Peter Weller’s performance as John Frederick Paxton is so relentlessly disturbing, and it also helps that this episode demonstrates one of the most insidious elements of this kind of reactive, restrictive thinking:

There’s no logic to it.

In the past year, I think all of us have come to accept this because, at numerous moments, the political nightmare that’s unfolded in Washington has made no sense. The number of contradictory messages, the sheer amount of hypocrisy, the cartoonish nature of it all, it doesn’t stop anything. People who believe in extremist and reactionary nonsense do not care about making sense. They don’t care if their existence relies on the very thing they want to get rid of it. All that matters is their feeling, and you can’t strip that away from most people.

“Terra Prime” has a fantastic example of this. T’Pol discovers that Paxton suffers from a genetic disease that makes him “impure” by the very standards he upholds. Does that matter? Nope. Even worse, he uses a Rigelian therapy system to keep himself alive, meaning that despite that he believes humans don’t need any alien influence, he is comfortable contradicting that belief privately. And when T’Pol confronts him with this, he doesn’t beg her to hide what she knows. His whole terroristic regime doesn’t fall apart. In the end, it’s just a slight complication, but nothing to worry about. It is, admittedly, enraging. The man does not live by the very rules he wants to KILL others over.

Thus, Paxton feels horribly realistic, and it only adds to the ongoing tension of the story. And lord, THIS IS SO SUSPENSEFUL. The plotting here is tight, brilliant, and emotional, and it’s that final part that really makes “Terra Prime” so meaningful. At this point, I sat through four series and hundreds upon hundreds of episodes of Star Trek, and the idea of the Federation was at the heart of them all. Paxton sat completely opposed to that, and it felt wrong. This wasn’t the timeline that we were supposed to be on! Rather, it’s the growing pains that I had hoped Enterprise would address more often than they did. What problems did Earth face when they tried to create the Federation? Well, in the wake of the Xindi attack, it was a swelling wave of xenophobia.

But nothing represents that more than the tragedy of young Elizabeth, the child created to be a literal pawn of a terrorist movement. It’s so awful when you think about it that way, but it’s the truth. They didn’t care if Elizabeth lived or died. (They didn’t even name her!) All that mattered was that she stoke the flames of bigotry in humans (and hopefully Vulcans, too) so that Terra Prime could expel all alien forces. AN. ACTUAL. PAWN. Still, given how close we were to the end of the show, I thought that this was how Enterprise would give T’Pol and Tucker a child. I am fucked up by the choice to have Elizabeth die instead. Honestly, I didn’t expect it at all, and both Jolene Blalock and Conner Trinneer give some of their best performances as sudden parents who are thrust into grief over their lost child. That was the emotional cost of this fight for them. They lost something that no one else did, all because Paxton wanted to prove a monstrous point.

There’s an odd sense of hope at the end of “Terra Prime,” though. The negotiations that will eventually give way to the Federation are continued; Travis is able to begin to repair his relationship with Gannet, who was Starfleet Intelligence, NOT a Terra Prime spy; and Phlox reveals to Tucker that Vulcans and humans are compatible to have children, which he couldn’t have learned without Elizabeth. There’s a hint of future stories here, which I imagine won’t get to be fulfilled in just one episode, but it’s like this was a seed planted to an eventual season five. Y’all: I don’t understand how there’s not another episode? How is that POSSIBLE?

The video for “Terra Prime” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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