Enterprise Traces the Evolution of the Prime Directive
A Hard Learning Curve for the First Crew
Photo by GabboT
For people who’ve never seen Star Trek, the prime directive in action must completely blow their minds. I mean, what do we do as humans when we see injustice. Whether it’s real life or the movies, we want to go in and save the day. Gene Roddenberry obviously understood the flawed thinking, and all the problems caused by well intentioned humans or cultures. Still, the Federation had to get there and three particular episodes of Enterprise really trace the evolution of Star Trek’s most important human lesson.
This season one installment painfully moves Archer along his Prime Directive learning curve. On a shuttlecraft mission, Archer and Mayweather find themselves in the middle of a war and are forced down to the planet below.
They are well treated, but security measures require that the duo await legal procedures before being released. Obviously perturbed, the craft-mates are forced to make do and learn that they are sharing captivity at a detention center.
The Tandar hosts are at war with the Cabal and play hosts to the captive Suliban. Thus, the Tandar fear that release would have the detainees hunted down and forced to join the ranks of the Cabal.
Messy business for sure and one that falls under T’Pol’s deeper understanding of noninterference. “If you want to explore alien cultures, you'll need to learn to respect their laws,” the sub-commander lectures Tripp.
Of course, any detention inevitably meanders its way toward dehumanization. “Be careful of their wicked smiles, their shining yellow eyes. At night, they'll squeeze right through your door and everybody dies, the Tanderian children’s rhyme goes.
So the urge to save the day is epitomized in Archer’s full thronged empathy, and the wayward captain cites Earth history to make his case. “During the Second World War, Japanese-American citizens were imprisoned there even though they didn't do anything wrong. The same thing's happening here,” he reasons to T’Pol.
The historical wheels kick in, it is on. Among the Suliban, though, there is doubt as to whether escape is the safest way forward. But history is on Archer’s side and his moral compass set. Leaping without looking, any takers are welcome to point due North with Archer’s escape plan.
The heady adrenalin rush of Archer’s heroics must pass, however, and safe passage gives way to ambiguity. Do I think they'll get out of Tandaran space safely? Yes. Do I think they'll be all right?
The Captain’s grimace says it all and sums up the doubt of his actions. A good lesson learned, though.
Dear Doctor gives Captain Archer the chance to play the long game and apply the lesson to his understanding of noninterference. The NX-01 comes in contact with a pre-warp culture that is suffering from a global pandemic.
The Prime Directive not really in question, we love it when lending a hand has no strings attached - and good ole Dr. Phlox - he conjures up a cure. Ok, let’s distribute the needles and be on our way.
Yeah, not so fast. A lower order of humanoid species is unaffected by the virus, and Dear Doctor lays out the conundrum for the eager Archer. “What if an alien race had interfered and given the Neanderthals an evolutionary advantage? Fortunately for you, they didn’t.”
Can you say too much information, and Archer balks at Phlox’s philosophical gymnastics. But the captain is forced to relent and gives voice to Roddenberry’s vision. “Until somebody tells me that they've drafted some sort of directive, I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God.”
He’s getting there…
At this point, Archer is pretty down with the program. But Tripp is still lagging behind, and Cogenitor really reveals the cracks.
Thus, the species of the week has three genders, and all incubations are gesticulated in Cogenitors. Well, that’s not so bad until we learn that the third sex is deemed a subspecies by the dominant genders.
They eat, incubate and mostly stay sequestered in their rooms. The tale becomes even more problematic when it becomes clear that Cogenitors are on equal genetic footing. We - along with Tripp - are appalled.
So the engineer does some outreach, and informs the oppressed individual that “she” has the right to have rights. Tripp teaches her to read, question and angle for an actual life.
The Jeannie has been let out of the bottle, and the Vissian order is not happy. The same goes for Archer, and Tripp’s reasoning doesn’t do him any favors. “I did exactly what you'd do, Captain,” the engineer implores.
“You did exactly what I'd do? If that's true, then I've done a pretty lousy job setting an example around here,” Archer fumes. But even those of us well schooled in the Prime Directive are having a real tough time with this one, and Archer hasn’t completely secured his PD bearings either.
“What if one of your stewards, the men who are forced to serve you food, what if they should ask us for asylum,” asks the expectant father.
“They're not forced to do anything,” Archer forgets his place.
Nonetheless, how can an Earthlings just waltz in and undo or fix generations of tradition. More importantly, what might they break in the process.
Tripp learns the hard way. The Cogenitor kills herself, and Archer hammers his underling. “You knew you had no business interfering with those people, but you just couldn't let it alone. You thought you were doing the right thing. I might agree if this was Florida, or Singapore, but it's not, is it. We're in deep space and a person is dead. A person who'd still be alive if we hadn't made First Contact. I guess I haven't been very successful at getting through to you. If I had, you would have thought a lot harder before doing what you did.”
Ouch and in the development of the Prime Directive, this misstep could easily be called a Tripp. But at least the lesson amounted to an important fall forward.
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