Space Ramblings

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Stigma

Summary: T’Pol gets a disease from a mind-meld. Archer gets self-righteous. Trip copes with sexual harassment in the workplace. And we learn that the Vulcans are a really evil bunch of people in comparison to the enlightened and noble humans.

Anyone who has ever had to sit through a well-meaning but disastrous Star Trek episode like “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” “Angel One”

star trek enterprise stigma

"I am sensing that this will be an STD metaphor episode."

or “Critical Care” knows that the quality of an episode does not necessarily correlate with the seriousness of the political issue it tries to address. In this case Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have produced a sequel to the embarrassing “Fusion” that goes where 21 Jump Street and Touched by an Angel have gone before.

Social relevance has always been part of Star Trek’s legacy, but it’s hard for Star Trek fans to deny that the emphasis tends to be on the ‘been’ as explicit social commentary is something that is mostly in Star Trek’s past. “Stigma” will do little to change that perception as it is neither ground-breaking or relevant, but a case of Enterprise tackling an issue that was tackled by TV shows that wanted to be ‘edgy’ in the 80’s and 90’s. Such an episode might have been timely had TNG shot Gerrold’s AIDS script; today Enterprise is just the last guest at a wedding and has nothing to add that an afterschool special on the same subject wouldn’t have said. Indeed the only way for “Stigma” to be as important and ground-breaking as Berman, Braga and the UPN promo department seem to think it is would require building a time machine and going back two decades.

Where the Original Series tackled controversial issues in new ways, Enterprise spools out a by-the-numbers episode without a trace of subtlety that includes every possible cliche and is dated to anyone who’s watched a few episodes of ER, let alone anything more substantial. And in a time when the real challenge of AIDS is now focused on a global effort to fight AIDS in impoverished nations, “Stigma” is still stuck in a time warp addressing issues that even Touched by an Angel tackled years before. And when an issue has already become fodder for Touched by an Angel, it’s pretty obvious that “Stigma” is a day late and a dollar short insofar as TV shows tackling AIDS and intolerance towards homosexuality are concerned. It is more reminiscent of celebrities holding fundraisers for key issues that have more to do with promoting their image than with solving the issue. “Stigma” smacks of that same self-congratulatory air that suggests that it’s more about having the producers and the audience feel good about how enlightened they are, than about saying something vital and meaningful about a disease that’s killing millions of people around the world.

None of this, though, is really the problem. “Stigma” may be a dull and not particularly entertaining or interesting viewing but it is in its continuing assault on continuity as it goes further into turning the Vulcans into despicable and evil characters than any Enterprise episode up until now has done, that it commits its real offense. When Berman and Braga decided to set the next Star Trek spinoff in the past for a Birth of the Federation scenario they decided that they would need antagonists for their hero and flying in the face of everything that made Star Trek work, the Vulcans were slotted to fill that role. But if anyone had expected that the Vulcans would present obstacles through a clash of ideas, Berman and Braga have repeatedly made the Vulcans villainous and despicable people who act out of character and behave in ways that decades of Star Trek tell us is entirely contrary. Aside from T’Pol, Archer’s Vulcan antagonists don’t merely disagree with him. They sink to new lows to oppose him in ways that make Archer seem noble and the Vulcans like Ambassador Soval in “Shockwave 2,” the Vulcan elders in the Andorian Incident and now the Vulcan Doctors in “Stigma” seem to be petty, manipulative and despicable people. Anyone who doubts how extreme this state of affairs has become only needs to consider that on Enterprise the Klingons have come off a lot better than the Vulcans. That alone says it all. On Enterprise the Vulcans are actually worse people than the Klingons.

Enterprise was supposed to showcase a raw and more undeveloped humanity in transition to becoming the centerpiece of the Federation. Instead the humans have become noble heroes and the Vulcans have become spiteful villains who lie, blackmail and threaten; who are bigots, imperialists and the villains of nearly every episode that focuses on them. When Archer proclaims to the Vulcans that their criticisms of humanity are not only wrong but that humans are better people than Vulcans, you can almost hear Gene Roddenberry spinning in his grave. When he insists that humans have gotten rid of bigotry, you tend to wonder how they did it. With some sort of bigotry vacuum cleaner that just sucked up all the bigotry from the planet, or maybe some piece of technobabble molecular ‘de-bigotrizing’ ray?

Enterprise offers no clues in that regard or even any supporting evidence. Indeed, by now we know a lot more about Enterprise-era Vulcan culture than we know about its human culture, which demonstrates yet again that Enterprise has forgotten its mandate in favor of sweeping questions about human development under the rug. Because it’s so much easier to just put a villainous Vulcan on the screen for the audience to hiss and boo at than to question the morality of our heroes. And this makes Archer’s claim that humans had long abandoned bigotry all the more ironic, considering his constant outbursts of bigotry directed at Vulcans and aliens in general. But then “Stigma” is dedicated to the premise that the best way to come out against gay bashing is by bashing Vulcans.

“Stigma” is a case study of an episode that demonstrates why stories about social issues should be written by the people who actually care about them and why Star Trek should be written by people who don’t think IDIC is the abbreviation for the name of their local phone company. It takes a plot derivative of DS9’s “Equilibrium,” which also featured a female alien crew member in danger of dying because of a dirty secret kept by her species’ doctors, grafts it onto their perception of a socially-relevant issue gained from reruns of better TV shows and turns it into a follow-up to the awful “Fusion;” another Berman and Braga product. Instead of having the characters say what they feel, they rely on having the characters deliver flat and artificial issue-oriented dialogue that is as stylized and hollow as any ad jingle. By the end, what’s left is another episode in which Archer gets to sanctimoniously lord it over the Vulcans who are revealed as being more despicable than ever. Oh and there’s a not particularly amusing B-Plot involving Trip being stalked by one of Doctor Phlox’s wives who like any TV male from the 50’s hasn’t the faintest idea what to do about a sexually aggressive woman.

Next week: When Vulcans and Andorians get in a snit who can possibly come to the rescue? Noble Human, Captain Archer perhaps?

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