Synopsis: When Archer is infected by a Xindi hatchery he becomes the proud and overprotective godfather of a whole bunch of Xindi spawn.
Review: Viruses, mind-control devices, hallucinogenic plants, remote hypnotic suggestions and various radiations on STAR TREK have often been the vehicle for exploring behavior and playing out conflicts that the producers and writers do not dare have the characters act out in reality. Such plot devices are convenient because they allow conflict and dramatic events to take place without consequences that would redefine the characters and their relationships to each other. But such episodes are also often lifeless and dreary because ultimately we know that the Reset Button will be pressed by the end, eliminating whatever development has occurred in it.
“Hatchery” partially dodges this trap by limiting the effects of the Xindi chemical to Archer alone. The actions of his crew and the MACO’s were not undertaken due to any outside influence and so continue to be a factor even though the episode hastily wraps up the conclusion with Major Hayes accepting everything without too much fuss — although as far as he knows the people giving him the information may well now be the enemy. The bigger questions about Enterprise’s command structure remain unanswered, however. A single scene of Archer telling Hayes not to accept any illegal orders from him in the future or orders that violate Starfleet’s chain of command would have gone far in that regard. As would T’Pol and Trip or Phlox questioning whether the presence of the MACO’s gives the Captain too much power and subverts the Starfleet approved hierarchy on the starship.
Still, “Hatchery” does well given the timeworn and derivative material. Despite the fact that just about any viewer with any STAR TREK experience under his belt realized that Archer had been infected and his behavior was due to the infection very quickly, “Hatchery” manages to draw out the suspense by framing Archer’s behavior with appealing liberal rhetoric from the him. The more obviously bizarre and dangerous Archer’s behavior becomes, the more appealing his rhetoric becomes, like a drug addict finding increasingly persuasive ways to defend his addiction. A literal metaphor since Archer had, in fact, been drugged. Unlike previous Captains in similar episodes whose behavior was clearly aberrant, Archer remains deeply persuasive almost until the end.
“Hatchery” also manages to throw in a good deal of background and character development for the Xindi Insectoids, more so than anything that we’ve gotten in the past. We’ve seen the Xindi Insectoids at their worst but now we also see them possessed of a compelling instinct to preserve their offspring, even if that instinct appears to be a chemically-generated fact of their biology. “Hatchery” also throws in a variety of other continuity references, including a long-awaited one to the Eugenics Wars, even if Archer does make it sound more like a UN peacekeeping mission than the hell and horror of WWIII. The revelation that the MACO’s were trained at West Point points to continuing questions about the status of individual nation states in this time period.
The key conflict in the episode simmers occasionally but never really boils. Trip’s takedown of Archer is anti-climactic where a more extended scene in which Archer tries to use his newfound persuasive abilities and call on their friendship before Trip is forced to shoot him would have worked better. Major Hayes has also not been all that developed throughout the season and his tension with Reed should have been far better defined by this point. Nevertheless, the crew’s willingness to defy the Captain for the mission even without any solid proof of a foreign agent acting on his mental state shifts the balance of power a bit as Archer recognizes jokingly in his final scene with Trip.