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Star Trek: Enterprise – Hatchery (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 August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Hatchery is a very odd episode.

On the one hand, it feels like another irrelevant detour on the path to Azati Prime. It is a standalone episode about a wacky adventure that the crew have upon discovering a crashed ship on the surface of a dead world, playing with the standard Star Trek tropes about mind control and possession. This is not the first time that a Star Trek character has had their behaviour dramatically altered by an alien compound, and it does seem a bit distracting to tell this story at this point in this season, even in the aliens in this case are insect!Xindi.

Slice o' life...

Slice o’ life…

At the same time, it does feel like an important episode thematically. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is packed with all manner of existential explorations of what it means to be Star Trek. What are the essential ingredients of the franchise? How far can you wander off the template without breaking it? What does Star Trek even mean in a post-9/11 world? There are aspects of Hatchery that deal with these questions rather directly, as the episode explores the consequences of putting a bunch of marines on a Star Trek ship.

It just feels rather surreal that “Archer goes crazy from bug spray” should be the jumping-off point for that particular story.

"Hey there, little fella..."

“Hey there, little fella…”

The MACOs are an interesting addition to the Star Trek canon. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alluded to the existence of a particularly militarised branch of Starfleet who engaged in ground warfare; they appeared in episodes like Nor the Battle to the Strong or The Siege of AR-558, wearing combat uniforms distinct from those of the regular cast. Although there was no indication of their presence in Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager, it seems reasonable that there would be a tactical force adhering to a more military model than our leads.

As a rule, the Star Trek franchise has a very strange relationship with militarism. Starfleet is very obvious a military organisation. If the Star Trek franchise existed as a metaphorical ocean full of stars, then Starfleet was an idealised navy. Starfleet is ultimately a military organisation, no matter how loudly Picard might protest in Peak Performance. It just so happens that Starfleet is not a very military organisation. It is quite relaxed and casual in its application of military protocol, lacking the sort of rigid definition that one expects from a truly military organisation.

"What do you mean have I seen 'Alien'?"

“What do you mean have I seen ‘Alien’?”

In Starfleet, it seems like every member of the crew is valued and respected, that the commanding officer welcomes input and opinion to help reach a decision approaching consensus in the majority of cases. It has been suggested that Gene Roddenberry was inspired to create Starfleet as an idealised version of the United States Navy:

“The reason the Enterprise looks so realistic, even though it’s futuristic, is that there’s certainly these trappings of the Navy,” said John Tenuto, a sociology professor at Illinois’ College of Lake County who studies the production of Star Trek. “Although Roddenberry has a sort of progressive view of the future, those military experiences certainly appeared in Star Trek and shaped it.”

It is perhaps telling that the scripts most critical or subversive of Starfleet as an institution came from writers other than Roddenberry himself. In the original Star Trek, Gene L. Coon was prone to interrogate Starfleet’s moral authority; The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine become more critical after Roddenberry’s passing.

"This might come in handy..."

“This might come in handy…”

There are logical reasons why Starfleet does not resemble a real-life military organisation. There is little point in casting seven regular characters if all six of them get to say is “yes sir.” More than that, drama stems from the sort of conflict that could never exist within a rigid military hierarchy. There is no time for soul-searching and debate in a military organisation; a captain doesn’t generally solicit opinions, a subordinate generally doesn’t question orders. However, that would not make for exciting television.

The Star Trek franchise frequently finds itself grappling with issues related to the military nature of Starfleet and the utopian ideals of this speculative future. There is a very weird paradox in play, where Starfleet is presented as the best possible military organisation without any of the sorts of compromises and problematic elements that are necessary for such a body to function. The crew of the Enterprise are celebrated as fully-realised individuals, but operate within a very clear command structure.

The only good bug...

The only good bug…

As Luke Hockley contends in Frames of Mind, there s a conflict at the very heart of the franchise related to the exact nature of Starfleet and how that relates to the primary characters:

Further, their sense of self is clearly defined in relation to the quasi-military structure of Starfleet and any move away from the ethos of the organisation risks danger and disaster. This points towards a deep ambivalence that is at the very heart of Star Trek. Each series is concerned with the individual, yet there remains a distrust of individuals and an awareness of the capacity for evil that is intrinsic to the human condition. under no circumstances must an individual surrender their own identity, yet (and here is the contradiction) the crew must conform to Starfleet protocols.

This is most obvious in episodes like The Measure of a Man, where Data is caught between his own urge to survive and the demands of Starfleet. Tellingly, Roddenberry insisted there was no conflict; Data should surrender willingly.

Lighten up...

Lighten up…

It makes sense that these sorts of issues would bubble to the surface as part of the show’s third season. The Expanse was largely a response to 9/11 and the War on Terror, part of the radical geo-political shift that found the United States waging two separate ground wars on the opposite side of the planet. Given the themes and context of the arc, it was only logical that Enterprise would receive a squad of highly-trained marines who were specifically trained for combat in a way that our lead characters are not.

One of the big conflicts at the heart of the third season is the question of just what it means to be Star Trek. After all, a utopian future seemed further away than ever in the early years of the twentieth century. How is it possible to reconcile idealism and optimism with the brutality of real-world conflict. The MACOs provide a nice vehicle for those sorts of questions. Under the command of Major Hayes, the MACOs are a much more rigidly militaristic organisation than Reed’s security team, making for a powerful juxtaposition.

"How egg-citing..."

“How egg-citing…”

It would be easy to fetishise the MACOs, to present them as a bunch of no-nonsense gung-ho soldiers who were willing to do the things that the regular crew were not willing to permit. The MACOs are properly trained for combat and ready for action. They are a logical and practical response to a chaotic and threatening universe. However, the third season of Enterprise never quite gets comfortable with the newest arrivals. Instead, the show constantly and repeatedly draws attention to their presence, and how their presence represents a failure on the part of the crew.

(In contrast, the fourth season gets very comfortable with the MACOs. They remain on the ship even after the Xindi mission is complete. This feels like an ill-judged decision, at least from a thematic perspective. During the fourth season, there are no major MACO characters of which to speak. Instead, the MACOs are reduced to background extras and military muscle, becoming the sort of quiet subtle militatisation that many fans feared would arrive with the third season. While their presence in the third season is questioned, their presence in the fourth is unchallenged.)

T'Pol's decision to stop wearing the catsuit was surprisingly controversial. "What? I have a commission."

T’Pol’s decision to stop wearing the catsuit was surprisingly controversial.
“What? I have a commission.”

Reed has made it clear that he is deeply uncomfortable with the MACOs in episodes like The Xindi and Harbinger, treating their presence as a judgment on his own performance. In a way, the presence of the MACOs is a judgement on Enterprise as a television show. They are a living embodiment of the more military aesthetic of the twenty-first century, part of a retool designed to bring the show up to date. If Enterprise had engaged more fully with contemporary realities as it went along, maybe the MACOs would not be there.

Hatchery is an episode that plays as a criticism of the rigid militarism embodied by the MACOs and as a defense of the more relaxed utopian approach traditionally adopted by Star Trek. Major Hayes and the MACOs behave like properly trained military officers; they respect the chain of command, they don’t question their superiors, they do their job. There is a wonderful moment where Archer briefs Hayes about his plans, and Hayes is clearly concerned about the orders that Archer is given, but Hayes never questions them.

"I think it's ornamental..."

“I think it’s ornamental…”

When Archer embarks upon a course of action that will have dramatic consequences for the larger mission, T’Pol and Trip both challenge his state of mind. This is a fairly standard Star Trek set-up, with the captain trusting his officers so much that they are smart enough to recognise when something is not right. Spock can identify the wrong Kirk in episodes like The Enemy Within or What Are Little Girls Made Of? and the senior staff can challenge the replacement Picard in Allegence. However, the dynamic in Hatchery is different because the MACOs exist.

Unlike the replacements or duplicates in those earlier episodes, Archer can turn to the MACOs to help him enforce his will. “My senior officers don’t seem to understand what I’m trying to do here,” he advises Hayes. “I guess I have myself to blame. In the past, I’ve encouraged them to ask questions, but we don’t have time for that now. I need officers who respect the chain of command and can follow orders.” The MACOs are just the sort people that Archer needs. As such, they almost enable Archer’s attempts to sabotage the mission.

Baby bug...

Baby bug…

It is, perhaps, a very simple story conflict. In many ways, it seems like Hatchery exists to justify the more relaxed chain of command that exists on Star Trek as opposed to in a real-life military. It is essentially an episode about how Star Trek will never be militaristic science-fiction, even if it does introduce marines with camouflage and does construct an elaborate metaphor for the War on Terror. Given that Hatchery was airing only a few months after Battlestar Galactica had suggest militaristic science-fiction was the future, it is an important thematic point.

The problem, however, is the episode around it. It seems like the big conflict at the heart of Hatchery would work better if it had a strong hook that “Archer gets insect gunk on him and goes crazy.” After all, it is hardly a compelling argument against militarism to suggest that it is good to question the chain of command just in case your superior gets insect gunk on him and goes crazy. It almost seems to argue for the franchise’s own irrelevance, suggesting that questioning the chain of command is only really useful in a world populated with Star Trek trappings.

"This is going to bug me all day..."

“This is going to bug me all day…”

More than that, there is something rather uncomfortable in the details of the conflict in Hatchery. Archer is sprayed with insect gunk that makes him feel protective of the insect eggs that are stored in the eponymous hatchery. As a result, Archer begins working really hard to save the lives of the innocent insect!Xindi children. eventually, he starts putting his own ship and crew in danger. As a result, T’Pol and Trip stage a mutiny to take control of the situation and prevent any further loss.

There is fairly significant problem with all of this. Archer might be drugged up and out of his mind, but he is also acting in a heroic fashion. There is an argument to be made about all of the sacrifices that he makes to protect the hatchery, but his fundamental position is entirely justifiable. There is a ship full of children crashed on a hostile planet, and the crew of the Enterprise can save the lives of those children or they can leave them to die. Archer’s methods might be extreme, but is position is valid.

"I apologise, Captain. I did not mean to sound insect-ative..."

“I apologise, Captain. I did not mean to sound insect-ative…”

“There are rules, Trip, even in war,” Archer reflects. “We have to help these children.” It’s hard to disagree. He explains, “If we let them die, we’ll be proving to the others that they’re right about us. I don’t know much about Vulcan ethics, but humans don’t throw morality out the window when things start getting a little rough.” After all, you’d imagine that “we saved an entire ship full of baby Xindi” would be a useful rhetorical device when Archer captured and tortured in Azati Prime. (More to the point, why don’t they take the children with them?)

Archer is arguably behaving more heroic than he has in quite a while; this is the version of the character who was reluctant to kill the zombified Vulcans in Impulse. While T’Pol and Trip raise valid concerns about the lengths to which Archer is willing to go to protect those eggs, the episode’s knee-jerk response feels tasteless. “I never imagined Captain Archer would put the welfare of a few Xindi before his own people,” Reed whines at one point. The structure of the episode makes it clear that we are meant to agree with him.

"It's okay. The captain's back to only caring about cute animals."

“It’s okay. The captain’s back to only caring about cute animals.”

There is an uncomfortable subtext to all of this, particularly given the babies are insect!Xindi. Early on, it seems like the episode is arguing that insect!Xindi are not so different. “What if we found a nursery filled with thirty-one infant primates?” Archer asks rhetorically. “Would you want to torch them?” Archer is profoundly moved when he discovers that the insect!Xindi willingly gave up their lives to protect the hatchery. “They sacrificed themselves to save their children.” There is an important moral there that might play into the larger themes of the year.

Although the teleplay for Hatchery is credited to André Bormanis, the story is co-credited to Mike Sussman. One of Sussman’s big recurring themes across the third season is the question of the future; what about the children? The hatchery could be seen as a literal embodiment of those fears, giving form to questions about the lost future threatened by Twilight and the doubts voiced by Degra in Stratagem. Archer is fighting to preserve the future; what is that future worth if he is willing to let a bunch of innocent children die?

"Well, somebody's not getting a promotion this year."

“Well, somebody’s not getting a promotion this year.”

Unfortunately, the episode ultimately decides that the insect!Xindi really are very different from anything we might find recognisable. The only reason that Archer can find sympathy for these most alien of creatures is because they sprayed him with some bug gunk. The creatures are so distinctly alien that they have to drug other species into recognising that their children are worth protecting. This is to say nothing of various questions about biology and physiology associated with said gunk. It feels a little cringeworthy and awkward.

To be fair to Bormanis, there is a sense that this subtext is more accidental than intention; it is a result of a muddled teleplay rather than authorial intent. The mutiny against Archer only makes occasional reference to the “otherness” of the insect!Xindi, with the script implying that the biggest problem is Archer’s paranoia and militarism.The script seems to suggest that the real evidence that Archer is not himself is the paranoia and mistrust that he is fostering, not to mention his refusal to tolerate discussion. (In other words, a standard War on Terror metaphor.)

Ship-shape...

Ship-shape…

The script even has T’Pol say as much. “The Captain’s behaviour is becoming increasingly illogical, even for a human,” she reflects. “He’s preoccupied with the hatchery, he’s displaying signs of paranoia.” It just seems unfortunate, then, that his paranoia manifests itself in a willingness to help defenseless infants. It feels a little tone-deaf in a way that a lot of the third season feels a little tone-deaf when dealing with insect!Xindi or reptile!Xindi. Apparently it is only possible to truly aliens that resemble us. (Or resemble things that we like, like whales.)

It is interesting how little Hatchery actually seems to matter in the grand scheme of things. The pod recovered here is handy when Archer arrives at Azati Prime, but the rest of the episode seems curiously disconnected from the larger arc. Given how awkwardly the third season has tried to make the events of Raijin and Carpenter Street matter in the larger scheme of things, it is weird that there are no real consequences to Archer and his crew finding (and rescuing) a ship packed with Xindi children.

"This blob really ties the room together."

“This blob really ties the room together.”

It seems like Archer and the crew might have brought the children with them, just in case they weren’t found and rescued in time. It also seems like the kind of good will gesture that Archer might have mentioned to Degra during his interrogation in Azati Prime. It feels odd that so little continuity accrues from Hatchery, given the attention to detail that later episodes pay to earlier instalments in the Xindi arc. The stopover in Hatchery almost feels like a distraction or a waste of time.

Hatchery doesn’t quite work as well as it needs to, despite a smattering of clever ideas. The idea of actually focusing on the role that the MACOs will play on Enterprise is interesting, because they represent a dramatic departure from the established Star Trek set-up. Hayes is a recurring character who feels unique in the larger Star Trek canon, a military officer who measures his self-worth purely in efficiency. Hayes plays almost as an unironic version of Michael Eddington, which makes for a nice contrast with the rest of the cast who are generally more romantic and ambitious.

Boy, is my face partially discoloured...

Boy, is my face partially discoloured…

Conducting a web chat only hours before the broadcast of his final appearance in Countdown, Steven Culp confessed that Hayes was very much an ambiguous character to him:

I’m not sure what my favorite thing about Major Hayes is. He’s still somewhat mysterious to me. He’s very self-effacing, in the sense that he puts the job before everything. If you’ll notice in the “Harbinger” episode, when he and Reed have their fight, the big question on Hayes’ mind is “Why won’t you let me do my job?” I can speculate a lot about his background, what drives him, and where he comes from, but all that seems to be irrelevant. When you see him on Enterprise, he seems to be someone who’s not interested in sharing anything about himself. Because that’s not what the job requires. I think you’ll see some interesting things tonight, there are moments, especially toward the end, where another person might be concerned about themselves, but Hayes’ concern is always with other crewmen and giving Reed advice. He’s very, as I say, self-effacing, in his way. But at the same time he’s not a shrinking violet. He’s very definite in his ideas about what constitutes duty and honor and allegiance and being a good soldier and being someone who can lead men.

In that respect, Hayes is the kind of pure military-minded character who could never have served in a major capacity on any earlier iteration of Star Trek. The character is particular to this time and this season.

We might have a Major problem here...

We might have a Major problem here…

It is probably worth pausing here to acknowledge the work put into the insect!Xindi. Trying to realise a fully CGI insectoid species on the budget of a UPN show was an ambitious creative choice, no matter how it turned out. (They do represent a step up from Species 8472.) The insect!Xindi cannot quite compete with cinematic CGI, even allowing for the state of the art in the early years of the twentieth century. At the same time, there is something quite bold and striking about the design and animation of the creatures. They do appear truly alien.

More than that, the attention to detail on the creatures is quite striking. The design of the heads of the insect!Xindi are patterned so as to evoke the reptile!Xindi, creating a consistent look and feel to the species. The insect!Xindi have their own wardrobe and production design. Even little details, like the fact that these creatures communicate through clicking sounds rather than vocal chords helps to create a sense that they are radically different from any major species to appear on Star Trek before this point.

Beaming with enthusiasm...

Beaming with enthusiasm…

The execution might not be entirely convincing or earth-shattering, but it is still an incredibly bold technical accomplishment for a television show that was very much in decline at the time. It is almost a shame that Hatchery is the most development that the insect!Xindi receive over the course of the entire third season; they are such a visually interesting alien species that it feels like a waste that they are secondary antagonists (after the reptile!Xindi) across a single long-form arc.

Hatchery feels very much like a wasted opportunity to explore the consequences of have the MACOs on board the Enterprise. The third season of Enterprise is very much about stretching Star Trek as far as it can go in the face of a radically different world; putting highly-trained and heavily-armed marines on the ship is a pretty clear statement that the show has touched on a couple of times, but never addressed as directly as it does here. It is just a shame that the episode housing this debate ultimately feels so shallow.

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4 Responses

  1. >Each series is concerned with the individual, yet there remains a distrust of individuals and an awareness of the capacity for evil that is intrinsic to the human condition

    Wow, that’s an insightful observation. Certainly on the original series whenever the crew met a lone Starfleet officer, he would tend to be either a would-be tyrant subjugating another culture or insane – separation from the herd was not to be encouraged.

    When I pause to consider it, I’m certainly reminded of episodes such as “Learning Curve” or “Good Shepherd” where individuality is something to stamped out while conformity is encouraged (“Good Shepherd”‘s Mortimer Harren became my personal hero – and for some 15+ years my hotmail address – because of his refusal to conform).

    Look also to “Alliances,” where an engineer who questions the Captain’s decisions is verbally smacked down by B’Elanna; just as Voyager didn’t like to upset its status quo, it also didn’t like characters questioning the command structure (until they introduced a character whose function on the show was to question the captain’s philosophy; in a better world, that might’ve been the first officer’s role). The captain tends to be right with a capital R.

    Contrast with “In the Pale Moonlight,” where Sisko issues an order to force Bashir to do something which is against his conscience; it’s presented as wrong, yet complicated because of the ultimate goal of Sisko’s plan. Then in “Hippocratic Oath,” O’Brien ignores direct orders from Bashir in a way that doesn’t force the audience to accept either man’s position is correct – Bashir has a good point about undoing the damage the Founders did to the Jem’Hadar’s species, while O’Brien has a good point about not collaborating with the enemy.

    Good food for thought, Darren.

    • Thanks, Michael!

      Although I wish I could take credit for that insightful observation! I think that Hatchery is an interesting episode botched by execution. I think if the script had been assigned to Coto or Sussman or Strong, you’d end up with a more compelling treatment of its interesting themes; those are the writers who do the best “… is this what the future of Star Trek must be?” episodes of the third season.

      But that’s a good observation about the Original Series! I hadn’t thought of that!

  2. You know, if you subscribe to Sfdebris’s interpretation of Captain Archer as the dumpster diving hobo “Dutchess” that was somehow found and made captain of the Enterprise, then it amusingly makes whatever that bug goo was a powerful antipsychotic! Finally cured of his manic bipolar disorder and no longer beholden to the voices in his head whispering of “prime directive”, Archer finally now respects the sanctity of life and is finally capable of walking the hard, moral path. The crew, naturally confused that a captain that was perfectly willing to let the Valakians all die a lingering death over some future “directive” is now wanting to save aliens lives, mutinies in an effort preserve their xenophobic status quo. That’s make for an awkward report to Starfleet “Mutinied because the captain wanted to save the lives of some alien children.” For once, it sounds like Archer is the only sane one on The Enterprise.

    • I quite like the concept of Hatchery in theory. But the execution… ugh.

      I like the idea of the rejection of an even more militarised Starfleet aesthetic, but the mind-control agent is just so hackneyed.

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