“Dream not of today.”: The Enterprise Incident # 4
</I am now convinced I am being haunted by Margaret Armen. I keep running into her just after I think I’m finally rid of having to square away her influence for good. All that said, she has indeed cropped up once more so it’s time to look at her work yet again. I have to say, invoking Margaret Armen in any capacity other then “vehemently trying to pretend her scripts didn’t happen” is always going to seem a bit suspect to me. Nevertheless, she was one of the most seasoned and experienced writers of the period of Star Trek history, and considering she contributed almost as many stories to the Animated Series as she did to the Original Series it would seem D.C. Fontana was considerably more enamoured of her work than I am./>
Beneath the surface of Loren 5, Kirk and the Enterprise away team discover what Sanderson and his team had found while mining for Dilithium and what Kor’s crew was after: A sprawling underground city that seems ancient and deserted, and yet built around scientific and technological concepts far beyond the comprehension of any of the major galactic powers. As they search the site for clues, Kirk and Spock eventually locate what is likely to be the source of the city’s power and import: A gigantic Preserver obelisk, much like the one that stripped Kirk of his memory back in “The Paradise Syndrome”. Oh dear.
</The best way to approach this, or at least the only way I can think of that’s not horrible and soul-crushing, is to presume Fontana saw something in Armen’s work that I don’t, and that this is why she brought her back time and time again and why she gave her a nod in this story along frankly far more deserving candidates like Gene Coon and Nicholas Meyer. Armen was, of course, the only other regular female writer on either the Original Series or the Animated Series. This didn’t have to be the case: Both shows had very promising talent in people like Joyce Muskat, Joyce Perry, Jean Lisette Aroeste, Shari Lewis and Judy Burns who were, for whatever reason, never asked to come back despite many of the absolute best and most beloved episodes of either show being their work. And that’s not getting into the rabidly loyal and obscenely talented people in the fanfiction community, any of whom Fontana could have cherry-picked for the Animated Series in a heartbeat at any time. But be that as it may, the only significant female voice we get on “official”, “canon” Star Trek apart from D.C. Fontana until the 1980s is Margaret Armen./>
I know “The Enterprise Experiment” is a massive bit of fanwank, but of all the people whose work Fontana could have pulled from, I’m at a complete loss to explain why one of them had to be Margaret Armen, a writer whose track record on Star Trek can charitably called “disastrous”. I’ve never understood why “The Paradise Syndrome” was considered such a beloved episode of the Original Series (well, actually I do, but I try to pretend I don’t to preserve my enthusiasm for this franchise and project, not to mention my faith in humanity in general): One could, I suppose, read the Kirk/Miramanee love story as an early version of the much more famous, and, for all its other faults, frankly better, manifestation of this kind of story in Carol and David Marcus in the Original Series movies. But that’s being *incredibly* generous, because everything else about “The Paradise Syndrome” was an almost note-for-note demonstration of how *not* to make television (or any other work of fiction for that matter): It was sloppy, ponderously paced and just terribly written on every level, with egregiously amateurish writing mistakes in basically every single scene. And, oh yeah, it was unimaginably racist and sexist.
</It would be something of a gross oversimplification to say that only female writers are interested in characters and motivations. But there is a particular tendency towards nuance in this regard that is at least more associated with women writers, and given the reputation “The Paradise Syndrome” has amongst fandom it’s possible this is what Fontana likes about Armen’s writing. Certainly it can’t be a coincidence that this of all episodes gets referenced in a story about Kirk trying to figure out what his family is. And, as if to drive the point home, the very next scene shows us McCoy’s own questions about family, brought upon by Kirk’s mood of late and his own recent brief reunion with his estranged daughter Joanna…/>
Thankfully, we don’t have a lot of time to ruminate on this before we cut back to the Enterprise where McCoy is treating the casualties from the skirmish with the Klingons on the surface last issue. As he’s doing this, he goes into a flashback of his own and internally monologues to himself about his estranged daughter Joanna, whom he last saw when he took leave to see her graduate Starfleet Academy as a medical officer of her own. Joanna McCoy is, of course, someone Fontana had been chomping at the bit to address basically forever, and, perhaps understandably, this scene is formidable and one of the best moments in the series. Both Leonard and Joanna are sorry they never got to spend a lot of time together while Joanna was growing up because Leonard’s duty kept him away from his family all the time. Eventually, Leonard’s distance caused Joanna’s mother to divorce him, and the family hasn’t spoken in years. But, nobody holds any grievances, because they all understand and empathize with each other. As Joanna says of her family
“Look, dad, I don’t blame you. I gave up on that long ago. I understand your passion…It’s mine too. We were always proud of you, but we missed you.”
And of her mother and herself
“She moved on…And so did I. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
And here’s the point where it becomes blatantly obvious that there’s no way “The Enterprise Incident”, like the rest of Star Trek: Year Four, could ever have been done on the Original Series. Because this is D.C. Fontana the master penning an absolutely perfect Star Trek scene that effortlessly demonstrates what the utopianism of Star Trek is really all about. Star Trek isn’t trying to show us that the Federation is some Platonic ideal form of government, it’s trying to show that it’s possible for humans from all walks of life and all positionalities to overcome hardship and deal with conflict in a constructive manner, and always with love and understanding. And that story was simply impossible to tell on the Original Series, because it requires a wisdom and maturity Star Trek only got much later on in life.
</It’s somewhat deliciously satisfying to finally see Joanna McCoy. Fontana has been trying to get this story told for so long, and to have it show up in this form in Star Trek: Year Four of all places seems like a perfect kind of poetic justice. And Fontana runs with it, giving us a truly heartfelt and moving scene depicted in lovingly meticulous detail that simply relishes in the moment. And, just to go that little step beyond, Fontana reveals that the source of Leonard McCoy’s estrangement from Joanna McCoy was due to his lengthy positioning to Dramia II, as depicted in “The Albatross”, and has them heal that rift by having Leonard visit Joanna in time to see her graduate from Starfleet Academy as a medical officer of her own and giving her the medal he was awarded for his efforts. As Leonard says, it belongs to a healer, (actually, what he really says is, somewhat wonderfully, “I’m a healer, not a seeker of fame”), and this is what both he and Joanna share in common: They’re both healers. It’s what allows them to heal their own emotional wounds./>
This is a scene about empathy and human emotion, both of others and of ourselves. It’s showing us how important it is to acknowledge our emotions and where they come from. This doesn’t mean we don’t still feel them, but it’s reminding us how recognising this will help us to better understand each other and, ultimately, lead to peace and material social progress. And that is, fundamentally, a Star Trek: The Next Generation theme or actually, to be even more accurate, a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine one. But furthermore, it’s not like D.C. Fontana didn’t want to go in this direction from the beginning (after all, where does all of this come from originally but from Spock?): Look again at “The Enterprise Incident” and “Joanna”, both of which were gutted reprehensibly before they made it to screen. Fontana would never have been able to tell this story on the Original Series because she would never have been allowed to. And, as much as this kind of nuance requires Michael Piller, it also requires Star Trek to respect D.C. Fontana, respect itself, and, honestly, to respect its feminine voice.
</But as great as this one moment is, we’re quickly reminded there’s more to this story. We meet up again with the Romulan Subcommander, in Federation custody after his botched attempt to capture the phased Enterprise with a shuttlecraft and one strike force. Meeting up with an as-yet-unnamed Starfleet flag officer, the Subcommander engages in some touchy diplomatic back-and-forth, once again praising Starfleet’s cunning and tactics as strong, admirable Romulan qualities. Back on the Klothos, Kor is irritated that progress on the Preserver interface device his team lifted from the Loren 5 archaeological site hasn’t been swifter. While on Loren 5 itself, Kirk and Spock discover the absence of said device. This leads to possibly the most shocking scene in the series so far: Needing information at all costs, Kirk has Arex use his telepathy to forcibly probe the mind of a Klingon prisoner they captured, leading to this chilling exchange between Arex and Scotty:
“This may cause him some discomfort”
“His discomfort is the least of my woes. Proceed.”/>
If that had been it, that would have been enough, but we’re swiftly reminded that the galaxy is still teetering on the brink of war. We get a tense scene between the captured Romulan Subcommander and a Starfleet flag officer where they praise each other’s calculating, tactical resolve, a scene where an annoyed Kor threatens his crew if they can’t figure out how to work the Preserver interface they lifted from Loren 5 and, most shocking of all, a scene where Kirk sanctions Arex’s use of coerced mind probing to extract information from a Klingon prisoner. This is chillingly reminiscent of Mirror Spock’s mind rape of McCoy in “Mirror, Mirror” (tellingly, another episode that came out of D.C. Fontana’s interest in darker moral concerns). When we last talked about that story, I mentioned that the point of the mirror universe as I saw it was not to have a fun sci-fi romp where our heroes fought off against their evil twins, but rather a cautionary tale about a path the Federation could go down with very little effort. Now it would seem those concerns are starting to prove justified.
</This would be bad enough in lieu of “Mirror, Mirror”, which was already deeply concerned about the Federation’s darker predilections, but what’s so jaw-droppingly disturbing about this scene is that this is *Arex* and *Scotty*: Two everyman characters voiced by the universally beloved James Doohan. Arex in particular stems from the *Animated Series*, ostensibly D.C. Fontana’s attempt to *correct* the inherent problems of the Original Series. To see him administrating essentially state-sponsored rape and torture is *appalling*. To have this come right after that pitch-perfect scene between Leonard and Joanna is a massive tone shift, but it also makes a terrifying amount of sense in the context of Fontana’s worldview and everything else “The Enterprise Incident” is doing. This is D.C. Fontana showing us that the absolute best of Star Trek, or at the very least this incarnation of it, are simply inseparable from the absolute worst of it. Even the Animated Series, via Arex, isn’t beyond reproach: OG Star Trek is fatally flawed, and this is what happens when writers approach it unexamined with slavish fealty and reverence./>
Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any more uncomfortable, Fontana throws us the absolute capstone. In order to reach Kor and lay down an ultimatum, Kirk and Spock pretend to be captured by a Klingon patrol…And have Sulu disguise himself as a Klingon so he can sneak into Kor’s base and capture the Preserver interface. Uh, wow. In case it wasn’t clear how absolutely horrifying that is, let me lay it out for you. Remember, the Klingons have always been associated with questionable race politics, and the primary Klingon in this story is Kor, whom John Colicos explicitly modeled on Genghis Khan, and who he portrayed in brownface and a Fu Manchu moustache. In other words, by Star Trek logic, Sulu is the best person to go undercover as a Klingon because he’s the Asian one. YIKES. Now, in a somewhat hasty effort to spare Fontana, recall that, while she’s never said as much, she always seems to have seen the Klingons as somewhat crap villains: She never found them as interesting as the Romulans, hated the name and stressed a number of times that Gene Coon created them as generic antagonists for “Errand of Mercy”. So, far from committing a race fail of her own, it’s very easy to read this as the latest in a line of slowly escalating moments that serve to point out each and every little thing wrong with the original Star Trek.
</Even so, I’m not sure I can ever look at the Original Series or the Animated Series the same way again thanks to this. Next issue we get to find out if the galaxy will become consumed by war, but no matter what happens there D.C. Fontana has already fired an opening shot of her own. There’s no more dangerous traitor then a former patriot./>
To Be Concluded…
February 26, 2014 @ 8:29 am
To begin, I've been loving your extended essay treatment of this series.
Given the dual nature of Fontana's storyline in this comic series, I can't help but find a slightly more positive interpretation of Sulu's going undercover as a Klingon. Basically, the questionable race politics of how TOS treated Klingons have always been on display. And Klingon culture after TNG has borrowed so much from stereotypes of Japanese samurai that the weird race politics simply continue. Doing this story in 2008, in the lead-up to J. J. Abram's franchise launch, we're all aware of the uncomfortable racial imagery that the Klingons have always fostered. And your analysis always includes how Fontana seems to use this story as a critique of TOS' iconography. The story always has a meta-fictional angle to it.
So putting Sulu in the forefront of the Klingon infiltration plot strikes me as possibly having the tone of a Chappelle's Show sketch, where racial stereotypes are thrown so obviously and in such an intense form at the audience, that they can't ignore the details of implicit cultural racism anymore. As well, because we're dealing with meta-fiction, Fontana would have done so while being well aware of George Takei's activism on behalf of imprisoned Japanese. So meta-fictionally, Sulu is critiquing the racial weirdness of Klingon iconography by engaging in a plot behaviour whose racism is impossible to ignore.
That's at least my own redemptive reading of this idea.
February 26, 2014 @ 8:30 am
Japanese-Americans imprisoned in internment camps during the Second World War, that is.
February 26, 2014 @ 9:10 am
I think you're largely on the mark here. I am of course extremely sympathetic to the idea of The Enterprise Experiment being a metafictional endeavour meant as much to critique the iconogrpahy of the Original Series as anything else. I think your reading is a far more nuanced and detailed version of what I was, somewhat clumsily, trying to get in the second-to-last paragraph: Sorry if I didn't make that clear enough.
The problem for me is that this story is cynical and depressing as all hell. And, once we get to the final chapter on Friday, it will maybe become more clear how much of a dead end this feels like. No matter how bang-on and overdue Fontana's criticisms are, it still feels pretty heavy and upsetting to have the scene with Sulu layered on top of the one with Arex and have them both come after the flashback with Joanna. It almost feels…perverse and sadistic.
If there had been some call-forward to one of the other Star Treks or some statement that reaffirms Star Trek's commitment to neverending personal improvement, like there frequently was on TAS, that would be one thing, but there isn't. Not anymore. Fontana's taking TOS and TAS apart bit by bit, but she doesn't seem to have an idea for something better to put in its place anymore. And that's sad to me.