Connected to the Preserver interface device, Spock relives an encounter with his father on Vulcan where they both exhibit a manner of tension over Spock’s decision to stay in Starfleet instead of returning to work at the Vulcan Science Academy. In the present, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty monitor the experiment from one of the Enterprise‘s science labs. After Arex detects a massive random energy spike centered around the device and McCoy warns him that Spock’s central nervous system is about to collapse as a result, Kirk has the interface destroyed and beamed out into space, but not before Spock was able to determine that it was the Preservers who constructed the galactic barrier (a ribbon of energy at the boundary of the Milky Way galaxy that was the focus of a number of Original Series episodes). While he wasn’t able to determine the exact purpose, Spock believes the Preservers intended it to protect the younger peoples of the galaxy, and that they hoped one day it would no longer be necessary.
</The Galactic Barrier evokes a number of episodes, but perhaps the most telling are “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “Beyond the Farthest Star”, the first episodes of both the Original Series and the Animated Series. In the former episode, crossing the barrier caused Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner to suddenly transform into Godlike beings who, drunk on their newfound power, immediately set about trying to crush the entire universe beneath them. While it wasn’t mentioned in the latter episode, recall that a key aspect of the reading we afforded “Beyond the Farthest Star” was that the Enterprise crew, and thus Star Trek, had grown to a point where it could leave the galaxy behind and begin the next stage of its journey. In other words, leaving the galaxy can be seen as a sign of a particular wisdom and maturity, but also a source of great power that is inconceivably dangerous and destructive if misused, a reading reinforced by the presence of Ayelbourne at the last Preserver outpost./>
Determining the location of the last Preserver outpost, Kirk has the Enterprise race to try and beat Kor to it. However, as soon as they arrive, Kirk, Spock and Arex are whisked away to a chamber bathed in soft white light by Ayelbourne, the elder Organian who played a pivotal role in forcing the Klingons and the Federation to sign the Treaty of Organia in “Errand of Mercy”. Kirk and Spock are furious that Ayelbourne refused to show himself earlier, but Ayelbourne counters that his people have decided their intervention in the affairs of the galactic empires has done more harm then good. The Organians, he reveals, are one of a handful of peoples who are tasked with preserving the knowledge and memory of the Elder Races, infinitely old cultures from the dawn of time, of whom the Preservers are one, who left behind relics that, it was hoped, could be of use to the younger civilizations were they to reach specific points in their development. However, the discovery of the Preserver outposts by the Klingons and the Federation in the midst of a prelude to a galaxy-spanning war has forced the Organians’ hand, as this is proof to them that the universe as it exists now is simply not ready for such things, and furthermore, that it’s hopeless and counterproductive for the Organians to try and guide it any longer.
</This scene is a complete inversion of one of the most bog-standard Star Trek story structures and, at first glance, a rejection of one of the founding core tenets of the franchise’s philosophy: Instead of the Enterprise crew charismatically out-debating some hyper-advanced Godlike alien to show how humanity and all its imperfect foils is preferable to immortality and Godhood, Kirk’s “debate” with Ayelbourne is a complete slaughterfest, and its abundantly clear we’re meant to side with Ayelbourne. Indeed, this is almost a complete 180 from “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”, where the point was that while humanity was still growing, it had outgrown its primordial phase. And while this has happened once before (and under Fontana, natch), there’s a darker side to having the Godlike being win this time: Like Q, Ayelbourne sees humanity as beyond redemption, but this time there’s no chance for humanity to defend itself. Totally frustrated and fed up, Ayelebourne washes his hands of the entire galaxy and essentially says “It’s up to you from now on. I’m outta here”./>
This is, at first glance, something of a problematic scene. One could almost read a Foundation-esque attitude towards cultural development in the way Ayelbourne describes the Organians and the Preservers: That there’s a Modernistic, teleological path of evolution all societies go on and it’s the responsibility of older, more advanced cultures to help younger, less advanced cultures reach the predetermined designated checkpoints. D.C. Fontana was certainly around during the Golden Age of science fiction and thus these themes would not be entirely unfamiliar to her. However, there are two ways in which I find this scene interesting: Firstly, it’s an inversion of the most stock and irredeemable Roddenberry Original Series plot: The Federation waltzes into a so-called “primitive”, “backwards” culture, wrecks shit, and then puts them on the “proper” path of cultural development whether they like it or not. Here, Fontana has Ayelbourne use the Federation’s own language of entitlement and privilege against it, and it’s wonderful to see Kirk bluster and sputter ineffectually against it with not one ounce of his signature charisma coming to his aid. It also gives us two utterly fantastic exchanges:
“You consider potentially saving the lives of millions of Federation citizens a burden?”
“Yes I do. And we consider it your burden, as we have grown weary of watching you toil with your fruitless conflicts and plots against one another.”
Which to me reads as just about the loveliest up-yours to my least favourite mode of Star Trek storytelling ever, (and is much appreciated, given how much the rest of this series has invoked the Dominion War) and the concise-yet-biting
“We did not seek war with the Klingons!”
“Nor did you pursue peace, Captain.”
</Secondly though, there’s something that can be made of the fact that the Organians are keepers of ancient knowledge. Throughout the Animated Series, we talked about how one thing that Star Trek has the ability to do is reconceptualise the archetype of the shaman for a science fiction setting. The point of shamanism is, as we’ve discussed before, to seek advice and guidance from the world of spirits, gods and ancestors to improve the quality of life in our world while also sharing the experience of living in the mortal plane with beings who aren’t able to. If so much of the Animated Series was about teasing the potential for Star Trek to embrace shamanism as a worldview, “The Enterprise Experiment” shows Fontana perhaps changing her views, and has the Organians smack Kirk down for his hubris in presuming he was wise and disciplined enough to be a shaman. On the other hand, Ayelbourne does say that Arex’s people, the Edosians, may have a role to play in guiding humanity in the future, so maybe the Animated Series wasn’t a total wash-out after all./>
In a sense it’s cathartic, at least for someone like me who never did quite *get* the big deal about the Original Series to see Kirk and Spock so roundly curb-stomped by Ayelbourne. Fontana lovingly and leisurely extends this scene for about two thirds of the book, lingering on every single moment where Ayelbourne calls out the crew on their hubris, pretentiousness, petulance, warmongering and self-absorption. Fontana is finally giving the soapbox to people echoing my fundamental problems with this era of Star Trek, and I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a little validating and affirmational. On the other hand, this is a bloody cynical story and the ramifications it holds are a bit up in the air. For the first time in the entire history of the franchise, the ultimate relevance and worth of Star Trek seem in doubt. Even during the darkest, most miserable days of the Dominion War, there was at least a sliver of hope that Star Trek maybe meant more than this (even though the particular notion Ron Moore and Ira Behr had of what Star Trek meant was arguably the wrong one). With “The Enterprise Experiment” Fontana, like Ayelbourne, seems ready to give up on Star Trek for good, and that’s a rather heartbreaking position for debatably the franchise’s leading luminary to adopt in 2008.
</The killing blow comes near the end of this scene, where Fontana goes out of her way to show even William Shatner isn’t enough anymore. Kirk’s trademark wit and rhetoric, traits of his so beloved by generations of Original Series fans, won’t help him anymore: As he’s done throughout this series, Kirk spends a lot of this issue spouting off hackneyed and cliched quotes from Old Dead White Guys, making him sound embarrassingly trite and middlebrow: A devastating critique to level against Star Trek. This is the dark side of Kirk’s much-celebrated improvisational skills: Kirk’s gone from being a skilled Poker player who can bluff his way out of anything to a bullshitter who gets promptly called on his bullshit by absolutely everyone, from the Romulan Commander to Spock, to McCoy and finally, to Ayelbourne. While Kirk and William Shatner both used to revel in their artifice, now artifice is revealed as the hollow and vapid simulacrum of meaning an impotent has-been is desperately hoping will allow him to duck out of responsibility. It’s a truly gutting moment, and I don’t even consider myself a fan./>
We end, I suppose, where we began, with the Romulan Commander. After Ayelbourne appears to all the major galactic powers condemning them for their inherent violence before departing this plane for good (and a skirmish breaks out between the Klothos and the Enterprise), we see a clandestine meeting between the Romulan Commander, her Subcommander and a Klingon delegation led by Kor and Koloth on a neutral planet where, OK, let’s just cut the pretense and flat-out call her our heroine, warily accepts a proposal to ally her people with the Klingons in the interest of pooling their resources to defend themselves against the rising threat of the the Federation, which puts everyone in grave danger. It is soon revealed, however, that this meeting was set up by Admiral Nogura, who we saw bantering with the Subcommander last issue. Before we depart, we see the Commander wonder whom she should fear the most of her two new allies. She never comes up with an answer, and neither do we. The future of the Federation, and of Star Trek, is now in serious doubt.
I of course feel there’s something worth salvaging about Star Trek, otherwise I wouldn’t still be doing this project. But I very much empathize with D.C. Fontana in that I see it as a constant uphill battle to keep the franchise’s more problematic tendencies in check. And, after over forty years with Star Trek, and forty years of never getting her vision ever really taken seriously, I can understand how Star Trek: Year Four and “The Enterprise Experiment” may well have been the last straw for her. But, just as the Organians departed this plane because they felt it was time for the galaxy to look after itself, maybe we can say the same about the departure of D.C. Fontana. With the leading architect of Star Trek potentially signing off for good, perhaps its time to follow Ayelbourne’s advice and take our destiny into our own hands.