August 9, 2013

Enterprise: "Cogenitor"

While studying a hypergiant star the Enterprise makes first contact with an alien species, the Vissians. While Archer accompanies the Vissian captain in analysing the star, the two crews spend time getting to know one another. Trip is particularly intrigued by the Vissians' reproductive system, in which the male and female require a third party - known as a cogenitor - to successfully reproduce. When he realises that a cogenitor is being deliberately held back by its male and female partners, he makes it his mission to give them an education.

"Cogenitor" is one of those rare episodes of television that lulls you into a false sense of security for 30 minutes before punching you hard in the gut by surprise. It's a difficult episode in many respect, raising a number of moral and ethical issues and then cutting to credits with the can still open and the worms squirming everywhere. Series producer Manny Coto cited this as one of the best episodes of Enterprise's first two seasons and having now seen it, it's hard for me to disagree.

At the episode's heart is a crisis between doing something because it is morally correct to your personal morals and not doing anything out of respect for other people's own morals and culture. The Vissians treat the cogenitors as objects - somewhere between a tool and a pet - despite there being little biological difference between them save for sex. Trip can't abide by this, and deliberately teaches the fast-learning cogenitor to read and think for herself (I'm going to say "herself" because the cogenitor is played by a female actor, Becky Wahlstrom).

When the Vissian couple with guardianship over the cogenitor learn what's going on all hell breaks loose. The cogenitor applies for asylum on the Enterprise and Archer refuses to give it - she's not in any danger and he's unwilling to interfere with the cultural traditions of another species. At the episode's end Archer informs Trip that the cogenitor has committed suicide. Trip feels that it's all his fault, and in an unexpected twist of the knife Archer actually agrees: it is Trip's fault. He interfered where he wasn't supposed to, and now someone is dead. Life with it. Roll credits. It's rare for a franchise as deeply optimistic and utopian as Star Trek to be so blunt and unforgiving.

What I like the most about the episode is that it deliberately leaves the moral argument open. It doesn't give you a neat answer, or reassure you that one character or another is in the right. It's up to the viewer to decide, and the effect is an episode that is brilliantly uncomfortable and very thought-provoking. Personally I found Trip's intentions morally correct but his actions ethically wrong.

Explorations of sex and gender are something I always welcome in science fiction television. This episode in particular reminded me of the short-lived Fox series Alien Nation, in which the Tenctonese had a similar division of the sexes; while there were women, there were two separate sexes of men - the commonplace Binnaum and the comparatively rare Ganum. Unlike the cogenitor in Enterprise, who was treated like an object, the Ganum were feted as holy in Tenctonese culture. It's an interesting comparison.

It's a very well performed episode: Connor Trinneer plays Trip's growing concern very well, while Becky Wahlstrom does a great job with the childlike cogenitor. Cult TV fans will likely get a bigger kick out of seeing Andreas Katsulas as the Vissian captain. He appeared several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation, not to mention playing G'Kar in all five seasons of Babylon 5. It's always a pleasure to see him, even in a comparatively easy, non-descript role like he has here. This was his final television role; he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer shortly afterwards.

This episode gets a big thumbs-up from me, giving Enterprise Season 2 14 good episodes out of 22 and a season score of 64%.

10 comments:

  1. This episode was 1 dimensional, predictable, and horrible.

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  2. This episode was 1 dimensional, predictable, and horrible.

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  3. This is the worst episode of this show (or many others) that I have ever seen. Tripp didn't kill that alien, Archer did. Before meeting Tripp, Charles was not truly alive. This episode was like if someone read the book Native Son and took from it that we should re-enslave black people.

    Furthermore, the show quite clearly expects us to side with Archer. He is the captain, he is given the last word on the subject, and Tripp even directly states that he was wrong.

    Just an awful shit show of an episode, the exact opposite of what made TOS excellent tv.

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    1. I don't think the episode sides with either Trip nor Archer, but simply presents an ugly, awful situation and leaves the audience to make up their own minds. Certainly I don't think the episode is saying slavery is a neat idea.

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    2. This. I felt like this episode was a triple insult to gender variant people. 1)The characters in the episode pretended that there were no gender variant humans and that it was a totally alien thing.
      2)The only non-binary person we get exposed to dies tragically.
      3) The audience gets informed that it was wrong to try to help this person in the first place. Archer even seems more focused on the tragedy of the couple not being able to have a child and Charles being lost as a resource rather than as a person. I honestly wanted Trip and Charles to steal a ship, go rogue and have their own adventures.

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  4. This is not stating slavery is good whatsoever. The reproduction and physiology of these Vissians is extremely different. 3 of the race with no other wat to procreate. Anyone who is a true fan of the show aND it's moral fights understanding evolution. Perhaps after befriending humans and learning from one another will they start looking at things differently. Using their advanced science instead of a simplier natural biology. Too think this is worst episode is insane to me. It's heartbreaking and challenging. Things that make you FEEL are excellent. That is just my opinion.

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  5. The cogenitor was clearly female . The so called Vissian "women " being either infertile or not actually female .
    Thus we see the logical conclusion of the whole "women" , "men" and "cis- women" trope .
    Men and women , being both male , having ownership of females , who - reduced to "breeder " - sorry cogenitor status , are for gestating young alone .

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  6. I was pretty shocked at the way this episode ended. I too feel that the message could be received as 'Lincoln was wrong to free the slaves.' After all, the dominant culture had decided that slavery was a natural and acceptable situation, hadn't they?

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  7. This episode could also be construed to suggest had we had visitors in our past, it would be inappropriate for them to react negatively to slavery. We decided it was correct at the time; thus, it was correct.

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  8. Trip's behaviour is just excuse to prevent Enterprise from acquire new tech for free.Lazy writing..disapointing because writers ruin this awesome episode.

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