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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stigma (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a long road.

Continuing the effort in Dawn to refocus Star Trek: Enterprise on franchise core values, Stigma offers a good old-fashioned allegory episode. It is a script clearly designed to stand alongside earlier iconic Star Trek shows like A Taste of ArmageddonErrand of MercyLet That Be Your Last BattlefieldToo Short a SeasonThe High GroundHalf a LifeEthics, The Outcast, Rejoined and Distant Origin. This is a big and important episode, dealing with big and important themes. In this case, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and (whisper it) homosexuality.

It's just not in the show's DNA at this point...

It’s just not in the show’s DNA at this point…

Of course, it arrives well over a decade too late. Writer David Gerrold had pitched his own allegory about HIV/AIDS and homosexuality with Blood and Fire during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The script was a little clunky, but – rather than rework it – the producers decided to shut it down completely. During that show’s third season, David Livingston was on hand to stop the show from providing the franchise’s first glimpse of a homosexual couple in The Offspring. What queer content made it into Star Trek seemed somewhat haphazard.

The decision to allow Lal to chose her own gender in The Offspring is remarkable, because it goes almost unremarked. Dax’s deduction that Pel has a crush on Quark in Rules of Acquisition comes before Pel reveals that she is a female passing herself off as male. The sincerity of The Outcast was somewhat undermined by the decision to cast a female performer in the role of genderless alien who is attracted to Riker. The good work of Rejoined is undercut by the crassness of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak.

Meditating on a contemporary issue...

Meditating on a contemporary issue…

There was a time when an episode like Stigma would have seemed cutting edge and provocative. Broadcast during the first (or even the second) season of The Next Generation, the episode would have challenged a number of the underlying public assumptions about the spread of HIV/AIDS and attacked a very real (and very frank) homophobic policy from the government. The biggest problem with Stigma is that it features Captain Jonathan Archer instead of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Of course, this suggests a very tangible issue with Enterprise at this stage of its life-cycle. It still feels like a show stuck in the past. This is still Star Trek as it was being produced in 1989, despite the fact that it is now 2003. It is a problem that has haunted Enterprise since the broadcast of Fight or Flight, but one which is really emphasised not only by the plotting of Stigma, but also in its political targets.

"You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed..."

“You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed…”

Stigma ran as part of the “Know HIV/AIDS” initiative that Viacom announced in late 2002. The plan was to raise public awareness of HIV and AIDS, devoting advertising space to public service announcements and incorporating the condition into the plots of their scripted shows. A wide range of Viacom television shows dealt with the topic of AIDS in a variety of ways across a number of networks. There was a very conscious effort to inform viewers about these conditions and to raise the general level of awareness.

The campaign was a massive success by just about any measure. In 2004, Viacom won a Peabody Award for their work trying to spread the word. The “Know HIV/AIDS” campaign also won the Public Service Emmy the same year. $120m in advertising space was devoted to the initiative. Twenty-two public service announcements ran across Viacom’s broadcast networks; fourteen ran on its almost two hundred Infinity radio stations; thirteen billboard and transit ads were featured in fifteen major markets. There was even a toll-free number, 866-344-KNOW.

Happy couple...

Happy couple…

While there are, in theory, possible ethical objections that could be made to editorialising through scripted drama like that, it is hard to object to raising awareness of the situation affecting so many people. In fact, Rick Berman stated that Stigma was not explicitly mandated by the network:

“They didn’t actually say that they’d like us to come up with a story line. They invited us to a presentation that they had, which was quite impressive, that they asked all the producers on the lot to attend — which Brannon and I did,” Berman explained. “This episode depicts the Vulcan physicians as unwilling to supply research, medicine or preventative efforts in order to stop the spread of this disease simply because they don’t condone the behaviour of this Vulcan subset. Many in today’s society believe that it is this kind of intolerance and ignorance that allows the HIV/AIDS epidemic to spread.”

As such, Stigma was the result of the production staff seeing something truly horrific and trying to comment upon it in a way that felt organic to Star Trek. After all, what is the point in doing large-scale science-fiction television if you can’t use it as a vehicle for social commentary?



It just feels a little disheartening that Enterprise needed to be prompted at all, and that the result should feel so bland. Viacom’s initiative drew a wide range of support from any number of television shows. The staff on those shows each embraced the idea in their own fashion. The same month as Stigma was broadcast, Frasier aired the episode Faternal Schwinns. In it, the eponymous radio psychiatrist tried to duck his way out of a fund raiser for those suffering from the disease. It was not a “message” episode, just one that raised awareness.

Other shows fully embraced the opportunity to say something bold and provocative. It is hard to imagine that trying to encourage safe sex should be seen as political, but Becker sparked controversy by having the eponymous grumpy doctor provide a horny teenager with a bag full of condoms in Bad to the Bone. It was an episode that generated some conservative backlash suggesting that the series was promoting condom usage rather than HIV/AIDS awareness. It is crazy that trying to keep kids safe should be so politicised, but at least Becker put itself on the line.

The outside looking in...

The outside looking in…

So, in contrast, Stigma feels a bit half-hearted. The episode has nothing particularly bold or novel to say about suffering from HIV/AIDS in the twenty-first century. Its commentary is tame, rendered safe by the passage of time. There is nothing provocative or confrontational about the moral at the heart of Stigma, no big challenging idea and no biting social commentary. Ironically for a show set in the distant future, Stigma seems primarily concerned with addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis as it existed in the late eighties rather than in its present form.

This is not to diminish or belittle the plight of those suffering from HIV/AIDS. While coverage of the disease has decreased since the nineties, it remains a pressing concern. When Stigma went to air, it was reported that people under twenty-five accounted for half of all new HIV infections in the United States and that AIDS was the number one killer of African Americans between twenty-five and forty. Those are harrowing statistics, and there is definitely insightful and probing social commentary to offer about this situation.

A sick plot twist...

A sick plot twist…

As the title implies, Stigma plays up the social stigma around those suffering from similar illnesses. In this case, T’Pol is revealed to be suffering from “Pa’nar Syndrome”, a never-before-mentioned-but-vitally-important disease that affects Vulcans who mind meld. The parallels are obvious, with those Vulcans who mind meld serving as a none-too-subtle metaphor for the homosexual community that was subjected to much scare-mongering and hatred in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Stigma underscores the comparison, just in case any members of the audience might miss it. “We’re hesitant to discuss Pa’nar Syndrome, Doctor,” Oratt tells Plox early in the episode. “This illness is unique to a subculture, a small percentage of our population. Their behaviour is neither tolerated nor sanctioned.” Later, he expands upon that point to reinforce the bigotry at play. “We find their behaviour unacceptable, and since Pa’nar Syndrome is transmitted by these people, its cure is not a priority.”

"Hey, Bob, do you really think that bigotry is logical?" "Shut up, Dave."

“Hey, Bob, do you really think that bigotry is logical?”
“Shut up, Dave.”

Stigma is so eager to hammer home the prejudice at play that the script seems trip over itself. In a later conversation with Oratt, Archer seems to finally grasp the horror of what the Vulcan High Command is doing. “You’re saying a single mind-meld is enough to destroy her career?” Archer demands. “Or is it that she contracted the disease? That’s why you’re so hesitant to find a cure, isn’t it? Why bother to help people you don’t approve of?” The episode treats it as a revelation, but it seems like something Archer should have grasped in his first conversation with Oratt.

Much emphasis is placed on the idea of melders-as-homosexuals, to the point where the script awkwardly refers to the subculture as “this minority”, “that minority” or “the minority.” In fact, the word “minority” is used with much more frequency than the noun “melders”, which leads to some really forced dialogue as Stigma tries to ram home the vital socially important point that it is trying to make about the members of this oppressed group. Stigma is hardly subtle in its allegory.

An ally in the alley...

An ally in the alley…

As David Greven notes in Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek, the story even includes a character who might be coded as “queer”, an unrepentant member of the subculture:

As played by the dark-eyed, tremulous Jeffery Hayenga, Yuris is obviously meant to be read as a queer character, a sense deepened by the meeting Yuris and T’Pol secretly have in a dark nighttime alley, a scene coded as a coming-out memory or as gay cruising.

Yuris’ final scene can thus be read as a “coming out” sequence, the point at which a queer character decides to abandon their attempts to pass as a member of the majority.

"Oh, hey, we remembered that the gym exists!"

“Oh, hey, we remembered that the gym exists!”

There are elements of this approach that work. Most obviously, Star Trek has always a long history of coding the mind meld as an erotic practice; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country presents a mind meld as something akin to a sexual assault, even if the script is not ready to deal with the consequences. Even the male-on-male meld featured in Meld is presented as a most intimate (and almost taboo) encounter. Tolaris’ attempts to meld with T’Pol in Fusion were presented as a sexual assault.

Vulcans also lend themselves to these sorts of metaphors, given their characterisation as a repressed species. Late in the episode, (the none-too-subtly named) Stromm tells Archer, “We take great pride in our ability to contain emotions. Sharing them is offensive.” As such, it feels appropriate to use Vulcans as a metaphor for the experience of closeted individuals. There is a reason that Spock is an icon to the gay community; he speaks to those unable to publicly (and occasionally even privately) acknowledge parts of themselves due to attitudes engrained since youth.

That said, with the sexual subtext of the episode, the ultraviolet scan is even creepier than it would have been otherwise...

That said, with the sexual subtext of the episode, the ultraviolet scan is even creepier than it would have been otherwise…

However, Stigma strains the metaphor quite a bit. As with any science-fiction allegory, there a lot of grey areas; some of those grey areas cannot help but seem a little unfortunate. For example, Fusion seemed to suggest that the “melder” subculture was predatory and dangerous; hardly the best metaphor for homosexual subculture within the framework of Star Trek. While Stigma introduces the character of Yuris and presents him as sympathetic, there is a clear sense that the “melder” subculture is not developed enough to support such a metaphor.

There are other problems with Stigma‘s metaphor for HIV/AIDS. Most obviously, the episode seems to suggest that Stromm and Oratt are entirely correct in their understanding of the illness. “There’s only one way to contract Pa’nar Syndrome,” Stromm tells Archer, and all the medical experts on the show must be reasonably confident that they know enough about the spread of Pa’nar Syndrome to allow T’Pol to continue to serve on Enterprise. So Pa’nar Syndrome is an AIDS allegory specific to the episode’s homosexual allegory. That is problematic, to say the least.

"Ear, ear!"

“Ear, ear!”

Writing a contemporary review for the Boston Herald, John Ruch was scathing in his assessment of the episode:

Stigma suggests AIDS is fundamentally a minority (i.e., gay) problem. In fact, it is at its worst as a plague afflicting the heterosexual majority in Africa. There’s now an HIV-positive Muppet on TV over there, by the way, if you’re interested in real bravery.

Worse still, the show makes very clear that T’Pol is not actually a member of the minority – Trek allows no permanent gays even by analogy. (A minority Vulcan doctor appears briefly and seems unlikely to return.) Instead, her disease was forced upon her in a mind-rape.

T’Pol says she won’t condone prejudice, refusing to escape social stigma by revealing that she isn’t herself a melder/lesbian. But, of course, the show itself condones prejudice by revealing to us that she isn’t.

Truly brave dramas make audiences question themselves. The only question here is whether you’d give an AIDS cure to a straight woman raped by a minority.

While T’Pol does try to protect the “melder” subculture, the episode cheats and tries to have it both ways.

"Take my wife... please!"

“Take my wife… please!”

Stigma gives T’Pol the moral high ground of refusing to condemn those who deviate from social norms, while straining to assure viewers that T’Pol herself is not “queer” in any sense of the word. T’Pol is a normal person living a normal life, who was assaulted by a member of a minority affected by a deadly disease. While Stigma argues that it is wrong to condemn the minority, it is still very careful to distance T’Pol from that grouping. Stigma reinforces the idea that Enterprise has a very conservative interpretation of the Star Trek ethos.

To be fair, this would be an interesting and provocative treatment of HIV/AIDS in the late eighties, when people widely believed that the disease had confined itself almost exclusively to the homosexual subculture. There were a host of ill-informed and offensive sentiments offered at the height of the crisis, as HIV/AIDS became another vehicle for widespread homophobia. A survey in April 1986 revealed that 50% of people supported quarantining AIDS victims, 48% supported mandatory ID cards, and 15% supported tattoos branding sufferers.

Travis' time to shine!

Travis’ time to shine!

This attitude was allegedly supported at the highest levels of government. Although Ronald Reagan’s government dramatically increased the budget to fight AIDS, C. Everett Koop noted a deep-rooted indifference to the epidemic:

And because transmission of AIDS was understood primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs, the advisors to the President, took the stand, they are only getting what they justly deserve. And the domestic policy people, as well as the majority of the President’s cabinet, did not see any need to come to grips with AIDS, or indeed to have a governmental policy towards this disease. And these combined attitudes did nothing to dampen.

Indeed, they very well may have aided and embedded the hatred of homosexuals in this country, the discrimination against innocent school children like Ryan White, and the acts of arson on the homes of hapless children with haemophilia, such as the Ray Children.

This is a horrifying suggestion, one that underscores just how backwards some attitudes were in the late eighties. Stigma is a searing indictment of these attitudes; it just happened to arrive a decade-and-a-half late.

Cure for what ails you...

Cure for what ails you…

After all, public perception of AIDS changed dramatically in the late eighties and the early nineties for a number of reasons; a number of high profile cases of straight people affected by the disease caught the national attention. Although Ryan White was not gay, his family were conscious to draw attention to the victimised subculture:

“You never want to condemn another person with AIDS,” Mrs. White-Ginder says. “People forget the family suffers as much as the patient. So I say this softly. There was so much bitterness about her being an innocent victim. But Ryan always said, ‘I’m just like everyone else with AIDS, no matter how I got it.’ And he would never have lived as long as he did without the gay community. The people we knew in New York made sure we knew about the latest treatments way before we would have known in Indiana. I hear mothers today say they’re not gonna work with no gay community on anything. Well, if it comes to your son’s life, you better start changing your heart and your attitude around.”

The tragic death of Ryan White offered a very touching counter-narrative to the public’s perception of the spread of HIV and AIDS. More than that, his family used that position to give support to an embattled subculture. Ryan White helped to change public awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS.

Pa'nar Syndrome sufferers are treated with the utmost respect...

Pa’nar Syndrome sufferers are treated with the utmost respect…

Similarly, Magic Johnson’s announcement in November 1991 that he had contracted the condition helped to break down all sorts of barriers and perceptions:

In 1991, many Americans remained convinced that AIDS was a disease that affected gay, white men—people like Rock Hudson—but almost nobody else. As Ronald Johnson, who was then executive director of the New York-based Minority Task Force on AIDS, told me at the time, “This is a tragedy beyond measure for Mr. Johnson and his family. But for the first time this could convince people in our community that when it comes to this disease we are all very much at risk.”

He was right. Within a month of Magic Johnson’s announcement, the number of people seeking H.I.V. tests in New York City rose by sixty per cent. A similarly sharp increase was noted in many cities throughout the nation. (New York’s health department even had trouble marshalling the resources needed to accommodate the demand. By December, 1991, it took as many as seven weeks to get an appointment for a test at the city’s counselling and testing centres. Before Johnson’s announcement, most centres provided tests without an appointment.)

There was massive change in how people looked at the disease, and the way that they responded to it. HIV/AIDS was no longer a mysterious killer stalking a subculture; it was a haunting and tragic reality affecting everyone.

"Don't worry, T'Pol, I'll try to save you from becoming an active participant in your own narrative!"

“Don’t worry, T’Pol, I’ll try to save you from becoming an active participant in your own narrative!”

So Stigma seems to have arrived quite late to the party. Even David Gerrold argued that the story might have had a much stronger impact if the franchise had been willing to engage with the idea earlier:

“While I’m delighted that Star Trek is finally doing a show about AIDS, they should have done it in 1987, when it could have had a much greater impact,” Gerrold told the Sun. “I think if the episode had been made, and if a plea for blood donors had been attached to the end of it as I had hoped, we could have ended the Red Cross’ chronic blood shortages.”

Watching Stigma, it is hard not to accept that Gerrold may have a point. And not just because the viewing figures for the first season of The Next Generation were considerably higher than the viewing figures for Enterprise.

Love is in the air...

Love is in the air…

Star Trek is quite proud of its history of social commentary. Even if that history is occasionally overstated, the franchise did do a lot of bold work. Although commentators tend to gloss over the pro-war allegories in episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever or Friday’s Child or A Private Little War, the original television show did engage with the Vietnam War as it was happening. Although the show never treated Sulu or Uhura as fully-formed characters, shows like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield did deal with racism and oppression.

Stigma does not feel like an episode grappling with a contemporary issue; it feels like an episode arriving twenty years too late. It would be as if the original Star Trek treated the Second World War as an on-going concern rather than as the starting point of modern American history. Like much of the show around it, Stigma feels like a relic from an earlier age. At the start of the new millennium, television was reinventing itself. It seemed like Enterprise was living in a rather deep denial of that reality.

Under the microscope...

Under the microscope…

Stigma generated considerable media attention at the time. It was arguably an episode that pushed Enterprise closer to the mainstream than any episode before this point. More than that, the media curiosity around the allegorical exploration of HIV/AIDS provided a welcome reprieve from the “Star Trek is dying” talk that had media commentators circling like sharks sensing blood in the water. This was an important episode for Enterprise; if Star Trek was no longer at the forefront of these sorts of social issues, it could at least take advantage of the spotlight afforded it when it took part in group initiatives.

That said, the media coverage does suggest how deeply out of step Star Trek had become with the zeitgeist. When it was announced that Enterprise would be writing an allegory about gay rights and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, people were understandably excited. Would Star Trek introduce its first openly gay character? People seemed to expect as much. “Enterprise to explore gay storylines,” ran the USA Today headline announcing the episode. The great irony of Stigma is that in trying to deal with the issue in allegory, it underscored how the franchise had failed to deal with gay identity in any tangible fashion.

"Are you, or have you ever been, a melder?"

“Are you, or have you ever been, a melder?”

After all, sexual orientation is part of the human experience; it is not something that needs to dealt with exclusively through allegory. After all, the same limitations have not been imposed on heterosexual relationships. When Data wanted to explore romantic relationships during In Theory, he did so by involving himself in a romantic relationship. When Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres decided to settle down and raise a family together, the issue was not confined to metaphor. Stigma inadvertently invites viewers to wonder why homosexual relationships are so different.

It is worth conceding that the subplot involving Trip and Feezal does handle the idea of unconventional sexuality much better than the primary plot line. While attending the medical conference, Enterprise receives a visit from one of Phlox’s three wives. With Phlox tied up in Stigma‘s primary plotline, Trip finds himself fending off advances from Feezal. He eventually confesses to Phlox, who is quite open-minded about the possibility. “Oh, any man would be a fool to ignore the romantic overtures of a healthy Denobulan woman. Don’t you find her attractive?”

The romance of his wife...

The romance of his wife…

To be entirely fair, there are a number of obvious problems with the subplot. Most obviously, there are moments when the script strays into the “aren’t sexually confident older women pursuing usually debonnair men hilarious?” clichés that marred Lwaxanna Troi’s early appearances. More than that, there is something very juvenile about the awkward sexual innuendo while installing the microscope sequence that recalls the excesses of A Night in Sickbay. Feezal advises Trip, “It’s very simple. Insert the thick end into this opening. It’ll automatically programme the frequency. You can pull it out now.”

Still, despite these issues, Stigma suggests that it is possible for people to have lasting and meaningful relationships that extend beyond heterosexual monogamy. The universe is a big place, with infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Trip might be uncomfortable with Feezal’s advances, but just because he is not interested does not mean that Feezal is wrong. Phlox and Feezal have found a relationship that works for them, even if it does not conform to human standards of conventionality. If only Enterprise were so open-minded about human sexual orientations.

"Well, at least it's more subtle than Detained..."

“Well, at least it’s more subtle than Detained…”

It seems like Stigma is afraid of even keeping a metaphorically queer character around for more than episode. Yuris is very clearly intended to stand in for members of the LGBT community, and Stigma takes great care to shuffle him off at the end of the episode. Stigma offers no indication that Yuris will ever be seen again; sure enough, he disappears completely from the mythos. Ironically for an episode designed to showcase the tolerance and open-mindedness of Star Trek, Stigma also emphasises how uncomfortable the franchise seems to be with sexuality.

Of course, Yuris’ status as a one-shot guest star points to another weakness of Stigma as a HIV/AIDS allegory and Enterprise as a twenty-first century television show. Pa’nar Syndrome is an allegory for HIV/AIDS that comes with none of the weight or pressure that accompanies a real-life diagnosis of the illness. A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence that it once was, but it does represent a very significant milestone in a person’s life.It changes absolutely everything, and serves as a defining moment in a person’s a life.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

However, Enterprise is not in a position where it is willing to deal with that sort of commitment to its central allegory. A person who is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS lives with that diagnosis. However, Stigma retroactively suggests that T’Pol has been living with Pa’nar Syndrome since Fusion. It is a very obvious attempt to give weight to Stigma, to suggest that T’Pol is facing more than just a generic space-illness-of-the-week. Still, the show has done nothing to properly set up the reveal. There was no indication that T’Pol is unwell between Fusion and Stigma, no foreshadowing or hinting.

To be fair, this could be the point; to illustrate that HIV/AIDS does not diminish a person by having T’Pol go about her daily business without allowing the disease to dictate her life. However, that approach would ignore the reality that suffering from HIV/AIDS does restrict options and limit opportunities, despite advancements in medical care. It seems more likely that the reason Pa’nar Syndrome was not mentioned before Stigma is because the writers had not decided that T’Pol had contracted an illness from Tolaris in Fusion. It is, in other words, sloppy and lazy episodic storytelling from a plot that demands more.

This oversight would be easy to forgive if the show had decided to pick up the ball and run with it from this point onwards. After all, there is nothing wrong with making up a story as you go along, if you are willing to be true to that story. Unfortunately, Enterprise never seems too bothered with what it must be like for T’Pol to live with a life-altering illness. T’Pol’s Pa’nar Syndrome is not an issue again until it is quickly (and offhandedly) cured in Kir’Shara. Enterprise is willing to devote entire arcs to getting to Risa or Duras’ feud with Archer, but it can’t invest any energy in a piece of T’Pol’s development.

If the politics of Stigma‘s HIV/AIDS allegory reveal the franchise’s social conscience to be almost out of date, the storytelling employed in crafting that allegory is similarly outdated. The second season of Enterprise is largely episodic in nature, with most of the season consisting of done-in-one stories that feel generic and safe. This most of storytelling was already feeling a little strained when Star Trek: Voyager was first broadcast; it feels completely antiquated in the era of The Sopranos and 24.

The second season of Enterprise is packed with stories that would really work a lot better if the show were willing to commit to them. The decision to reduce Stigma to a single forty-five minute episode instead of an extended character arc undermines a lot of the potential power. Cease Fire would work a lot better if felt like the show knew where it was taking the Vulcans and Andorians. Future Tense is the first time the Suliban or the Temporal Cold War have appeared since Shockwave, Part II.

There are some strong concepts to be found in these stories, but they are held back by a reliance on outdated storytelling techniques. It isn’t just the stories that are broken; it is the storytelling structures. Enterprise is still using the sort of approach that The Next Generation had honed during its third season; and it seems like the show is as terrified of moving past the episodic structure now as it was when Sins of the Father first aired. The twenty-second century setting is not the only part of Enterprise that marks it a ghost of Star Trek‘s past.

Tehre are other problems with the plotting of Stigma. It is not an episode that does much for the character of T’Pol. As with a lot of her character development over the course of Enterprise, it seems like the staff has no idea where they want to take her. Outside of the decision to give T’Pol a disease that is never really explored, Stigma simply rehashes familiar plot beats for the character. As in Shadows of P’Jem, T’Pol is threatened with her removal from Enterprise; as with Shadows of P’Jem, the audience knows that she is highly unlikely to be removed from the ship.

Stigma reduces T’Pol to a rather passive character amid all the drama around her. As with Fusion and Shadows of P’Jem, T’Pol is ultimately saved through the intervention of more active masculine characters. This time, Archer’s efforts to save her are in vain; Yuris sacrifices himself. While T’Pol’s passivity is framed as a noble and justifiable choice, Stigma just draws attention to how passive T’Pol is a character. T’Pol does not seem to set her own agenda or pursue her own goals. Instead, she is a character who serves to provide drama for other members of the cast. It is a frustrating approach to characterisation.

Stigma arrives midway through the second season, and seems to confirm the prognosis of so many pop culture commentators eager for blood after the failure of Star Trek: Nemesis. Star Trek is just the walking dead, at least in this iteration. Something radical is needed; something new. It might not be enough to save the franchise, but perhaps it can redeem the show.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

9 Responses

  1. I must say, you are mining great dramatics out of the behind-the-scenes workings of this predictable pablum.

    You’re right, the show just stiffened and played possum the closer it got to the guillotine.

  2. Really enjoying your excellent reviews of what was for me the most bitterly disappointing era of Star Trek ever (for the first two Enterprise seasons, at least). Your reviews are far more interesting and engaging than watching many of the shows themselves.

    Thanks for the well-researched and fascinating review of ‘Stigma’. I’ve always found Star Trek’s engagement with LGBT issues to be disappointing and it was fascinating to learn about Star Trek’s failed attempts to grapple with this and about the wider context of AIDS in America at the time.

    Looking forward to reading your take on DS9’s ‘Rejoined’ at some stage which I thought was a bright spot in Star Trek’s otherwise dismal track record on this issue.

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      Provisionally, Rejoined should be reviewed in September/October as part of DS9 season four and VOY season two reviews. If I can get the schedule sorted.

  3. I did not hate this episode per se, but lol @ the idea Trip hasn’t heard of polyamory by the 23rd century or whatever.

  4. “efforts to save her are in vain”, not “vane”

  5. “It is crazy that trying to keep kids safe should be so politicised.”
    Oh, trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet, 2015 Darren…

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