Synopsis: When an accident puts Trip into a coma, a mimetic symbiote is grown with a lifespan of only 15 days to serve as a donor of neural tissue.
Review: “Similitude” is an interesting episode with an interesting concept. LeVar Burton‘s direction is smooth but unremarkable, giving the characters room to breathe while Manny Coto‘s script works through the material without any of the clumsiness that might be expected from a new writer. Bringing back Archer’s boyhood remote control spaceship from “Broken Bow” was a nice touch of continuity as was revisiting Dr. Phlox’s issues with his son. Coto has clearly done his homework.
Like VOYAGER’s controversial “Tuvix”, this episode involves the creation of a ‘new’ crew member out of an old one and sacrificing his life to save the life of the original. It does dodge some of the controversy by soft pedaling the elements that made “Tuvix” so controversial, however. “Similitude” doesn’t really feature the destruction of a unique being, since there really isn’t much of a difference between Trip 1.0 and Trip 2.0 or Sim. Where Tuvix was a unique combination producing a personality very different from either Tuvok or Neelix, Trip 2.0 quickly becomes all but indistinguishable from Trip 1.0 making the entire debate somewhat moot.
The only difference between them is that Trip 2.0 has a few days extra memories spent around the ship. The situation might have been better if it had been the teenaged Trip who had to make the decision and fight for his life since there would at least have been a clear difference between the two of them.
“Similitude” also dodges the bullet of having the captain force the new crew member to die in two ways. First by giving him a limited lifespan so that his death becomes inevitable anyway. Second, despite an intense scene between Archer and Trip in Trip’s quarters, Trip ultimately makes the decision to undergo the operation himself. These, however, aren’t weaknesses because “Similitude”‘s focus really isn’t so much on the controversy of the situation, despite the apparent analogies to stem cell research and cloning, as on the character interplay of the cast and Trip 2.0’s evolution within the ongoing Xindi arc. That’s why when Trip decides to undergo the procedure the reason he gives ties in with the beginning of the entire Xindi storyline in the Xindi probe’s attack on earth.
In a way “Similitude” is actually closer to lifespan episodes like TNG’s “The Inner Light” that give us the sense of experiencing somebody’s life being lived from beginning to end within the constraints of a single episode. Of course the problem is that Trip’s life isn’t very interesting and neither is Trip. We relearn such revelations about Trip that he loves engineering, key lime pie and T’Pol. Oh and he apparently has had the same hair cut for 30 years, unless the hair style was also encoded in his DNA, which considering this episode’s scientific credibility is entirely possible. It’s Trip 2.0’s plight that is interesting, not his personality.
Usually when STAR TREK does episodes of this kind, medical techniques of questionable morality figure prominently. Such as the research on Bajoran slave laborers by the Cardassian holographic physician Creel Mosset or Dr. Crusher’s colleague who used patients as test subjects. Despite their moral qualms, the characters end up succumbing to the necessity of using these means to serve the end of saving the lives of their crewmembers even while shaking their heads over the moral leap. “Similitude” is no different in that regard, with Archer being prepared to go much further than ever before to save Trip’s life and oscillating between appeals to Trip’s humanity while treating him as less than human. Like “Tuvix” there isn’t much of a debate in “Similitude” and the appeal of the other side is mostly the unspoken presentation of Trip 2.0’s life weighed against the necessity that drives Archer’s actions.
Unlike “Tuvix” though the crew isn’t presented as being quite the amoral Stepford zombies that VOYAGER’s crew was. Here the crew members find different means of relating to Trip 2.0. But then unlike “Tuvix,” “Similitude” never pushes the moral dilemma to the breaking point, leaving no middle ground besides rescuing a crewmember through cold-blooded murder. That is probably a good thing since either letting Trip 1.0 die in the name of morality or killing Trip 2.0 to save a friend would be a decision that would make it impossible for a large portion of the viewers to view Archer as a credible Starship Captain. So despite Archer’s murder threat the choice is ultimately left up to Trip 2.0 to make. Still, you have to wonder if Archer isn’t exploiting the Xindi state of emergency to take an action that has more to do with his personal friendship for Trip than with the mission itself. But at least the Enterprise crew is portrayed as more professionally oriented and lacking the cliquish feel of a false family that made “Tuvix” so unnerving. They remain friendly with Trip 2.0 even as they categorize him as ‘disposable’, which is still disturbing but in a whole different way.
Trip 2.0’s own challenge to Archer over what makes him different from Trip 1.0 goes to a long time question on STAR TREK which has offered plenty of duplicates, clones, time traveling selves and other challenges to personal identity. First we might simply argue that a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all and so if we can’t define clearly how Trip 2.0 is a different person, then we’ve failed to prove that he is. An alternative track might be to argue Continuity of Consciousness, that what matters is not simply a perfect duplicate but the continuity of the consciousness of the original person. You can create an exact duplicate of someone with the same body and memories but without a continuity of consciousness we would end up with a different person. The problem with that is the transporter, which regularly breaks apart crewmembers into energy and then reassembles them from the pattern stored in the buffer. So arguably continuity of consciousness falls apart with each transport, as Dr. McCoy feared, and every time you’re transported you die and a stranger with your memories shows up on the pad on the other side. That would mean that Archer himself is probably Archer 4.0 or 5.0 by now.
But putting aside the philosophical questions, it’s important for the characters to pretend that there is a difference so they can do what they need to do. And if they can’t pretend that he really isn’t human, they can at least pretend that he isn’t one of their friends because that way it would be even harder to recognize what they’ve done. Of course we create moral boundaries by drawing lines to demarcate moral and immoral acts. Both the animal rights and abortion debates center around such lines, where different belief systems draw them, how you define who has rights, and how you balance necessity with morality.
After “Similitude” it’s no real surprise that the mimetic symbiotes have not exactly become standard equipment in the sickbay across Starfleet. We could all too easily imagine the horror of a Blade Runnerish society, with two classes of citizens: those who are the long-lived and those who are short-lived and which 15-day doubles are raised and disposed like everything else in a consumerist society.
The final funeral service in which Trip 2.0 is treated like an officer who died in the line of duty instead of an organ donor with a built in self-destruct sequence does show exactly how “Similitude” differs from “Tuvix.” The crew recognizes the moral cost of their actions and attempts to recognize Trip 2.0’s humanity in the best way they know how. Ironically enough it is Trip 1.0 who is confused at the service since it centers around a man he’s never met, himself.
Next Week: The day before Thanksgiving hasn’t been kind to ENT.