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The Trek Nation - Unexpected

Unexpected

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 18, 2001 - 3:56 AM GMT

See Also: 'Unexpected' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When dozens of mechanical problems plague Enterprise, the captain realizes his ship has picked up a hitchhiker -- a smaller ship hiding in the plasma exhaust to siphon its energy. The crew uncovers and hails an alien vessel that pleads for assistance. Archer offers to send someone over to help the Xyrillians with their engine problems. After an unpleasant three-hour decompression that leaves him woozy, Tucker tries to work on the strange new ship's coils, but he can't focus. Xyrillian engineer Ah'Len offers him a bed and food. She also allows Tucker to experience the unusual energy that flows from the aliens' skin when they touch.

When the coils have been fixed, Ah'Len takes Tucker into a room with iridescent walls and proceeds to demonstrate her people's holographic technology which allows them to recreate entire landscapes. As they sit together in a boat on a lake, she invites Tucker to play a game in which they both put their hands into a bowl of foamy bubbles. After they do so, energy passes between them and they can read one another's thoughts. Tucker realizes that Ah'Len finds him attractive, but leaves her ship as soon as the repaired coils come online. Back on Enterprise, he discovers a strange growth on his wrist. Dr. Phlox identifies it as a nipple and informs Tucker that he's pregnant.

While Enterprise looks for the Xyrillian ship, Tucker spends a few days adjusting to new hormones and a bulging chest cavity. They find the aliens in the plasma wake of a Klingon battlecruiser. With T'Pol's help, Archer manages to convince the Klingons to negotiate with the Xyrillians for their holographic technology, and to take Tucker on board so he can deal with his pregnancy. Ah'Len says the embryo can be transplanted to one of her own people. Tucker returns to Enterprise, apparently more traumatized from having gone through decompression with Klingons than from having become the first pregnant human male in recorded history.


Analysis: Since I started reviewing Enterprise for Trek Nation, I have received three letters (all from men) telling me that I am a feminist shrike, and a couple dozen letters (mostly but not exclusively from women) wondering why I'm going so easy on this show with its cat-suited Vulcan babe, its screaming bimbo Uhura-replacement and its boys' clique. My reply to the latter has been that the series is only a few weeks old, the catsuit's just a marketing tool, Mayweather and Sato haven't gotten any decent scripts yet, and the writers haven't done anything patently offensive. But all that's changed with 'Unexpected.'

To you guys who find all discussions of gender to be inherently indicative of some vague political conspiracy, I offer this warning. When we are given an episode that asks the question, "What would it be like if a man got pregnant?", we are being asked to think about the future of sex and reproduction. Among fans who take science fiction seriously rather than as mindless entertainment, there will be inevitable extrapolation about gender identity and sexual politics. In other words, there is no way I can review 'Unexpected" without bringing up those issues. If that makes me a feminist shrike, I don't mind...but you might.

Let's look at what happened to Tucker. I won't call it rape, though from a legal standpoint that would be a fair label -- Ah'Len knew they were engaging in activity that would be considered sexual among her people and could result in pregnancy, yet she didn't bother to explain these facts to her innocent friend, which puts her interaction with Tucker somewhere between seduction of a minor and bestiality. But if Deanna Troi accepted her impregnation in "The Child" without calling that rape, we can assume Tucker might make the same choice here. I only wish we'd heard the reasoning or the gut-level emotion behind his acceptance. As my friend Nance observed, if he discovered after the fact that he'd had sex with and gotten pregnant by a male-looking buddy instead of a feminine babe, his reaction might have been different.

We'll also have to take it on faith that Tucker doesn't feel violated when he learns of his pregnancy, that he's not terrified of permanent disfigurement or dying in childbirth, that he's never seen Aliens or Andromeda's Magog or the dozens of other sci-fi examples of alien embryonic implantation that ended poorly for human hosts. We'll buy that he's an easygoing guy who's only a little distracted by growing nipples on his arms as long as they can be hidden by strategically placed bandages, even if that doesn't quite seem like a typical male reaction to developing female sexual characteristics. We won't even ask the big, scary questions like would he have terminated the pregnancy if Phlox thought it could be done without causing permanent damage to the host. No one on Trek talks about abortion even when the unborn life-form in question is a super-advanced Borg like Voyager's One, right?

So let's stick with the superficial issues posed by the episode. On the question of whether parenting skills are learned or inborn, 'Unexpected' suggests the latter. As soon as prenatal hormones start raging through his system, Tucker worries about whether the ship is safe for children and other small aliens. When his colleagues warn that he may have to put those new nipples to work, Tucker looks a bit put out but doesn't argue the point. He's a bit moody, which Phlox attributes to hormones, but he's not panicked, not furious. Either Trip Tucker is the most flexible, adventurous guy we've ever seen on a Trek show, or those alien parental instincts are incredibly potent.

Tucker's calm is all the more admirable because none of the others on the crew makes any effort to sympathize with his condition. Archer smirks. T'Pol, who sounds more like a Romulan infiltrator than a logical Vulcan, contemptuously ridicules Tucker for getting himself into such a situation; she throws human courtship stereotypes in his face and makes a crack about how he shouldn't stick his fingers where they don't belong. Perhaps T'Pol is envious, remembering their decontamination chamber bonding. With so little support, no wonder Tucker gets upset when he realizes he might have to become a working mother. Enterprise's crew may be able to accommodate a dog, but will anyone help with the late-night feedings? Archer and Phlox don't seem to believe Tucker should get a say in whether or not he wants to raise the child -- at least, they never ask him. But he doesn't complain very much. Nor does he complain in the end when he surrenders the child, probably forever, to its biological mother.

Connor Trinneer plays his character's situation with good humor. Tucker seems much more agitated about going through decompression early on in 'Unexpected' than he does about getting pregnant. The script gives little indication of underlying suffering or conflict, and Trinneer doesn't try to inject any into the performance. So we get a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve -- he asks for privacy about his condition, but he's his own worst enemy, blabbing about the ship being a death trap and letting the captain discuss his medical condition while a crewman arrives with more food to assuage his raging appetite. As in "Strange New World," Trinneer demonstrates fine comic timing and does a good job portraying Tucker's enthusiasm for going where no man has gone before. Is it appropriate for a storyline like this one? Well, that's not really the actor's decision, is it?

There are some nice moments in the episode that have nothing to do with the plot. We get to see Trek's first holodeck, and we get the first joke about how if Starfleet ships had holodecks, they'd primarily get used for exactly what T'Pol assumed Tucker did with Ah'Len. We get to hear Archer cleverly figure out that the Xyrillians are hitchhiking by igniting his ship's plasma. When an angry Klingon threatens Enterprise, Archer stands up to him and T'Pol defends her captain, using a Spock excuse: "I exaggerated." Sato translates a previously unknown alien language after hearing fewer than ten words. And how could I forget: there's a gratuitous shot of Archer naked in the shower! We're finally getting to see some male flesh! It's a sexual free-for-all that only a prude could criticize. A lizard-lady who gives Tucker her love touch, oh yeah! A man with nipples on his arm, woo hoo! Alien finger sex in a bowl of bubble bath, yee hah!

Okay, I'm not kidding anyone. I might as well come out and say that the only way to enjoy 'Unexpected' is to dismiss it as a light-hearted piece of fluff that doesn't even pretend to take seriously its science fiction premise. This isn't an episode about alien technology -- they can resequence photons but can't synthesize water? Right. And if one believes for a moment that the writers have any serious interest in exploring sex and reproduction, pregnancy and parental responsibility, nature-vs.-nurture, alien-human interaction or any of the hundreds of complicated biological and gender issues underlying this premise, one can only become disgusted at the puerility. Where did they come up with this gem?

Wait, I think I know. In Jeff Greenwald's book 'Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth' (Penguin Books, 1998), Greenwald reports on a Voyager pitch session where Brannon Braga ridiculed a freelance writer's storyline in which Tom Paris got an alien pregnant. In the course of dismissing the pitch, Braga scornfully joked, "'How was I to know that sticking my tongue in her anus would get her pregnant?'" In essence, that's the subject of 'Unexpected' -- slightly more tastefully presented. Some viewers may find it humorous, especially if they're too young to remember the egg-laying episode of Mork and Mindy or the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Junior from which the minimal wit seems to have been borrowed.

Yet in an effort to avoid messy questions like how a man's body would adapt to a pregnancy, how he would give birth to a baby, how alien DNA could create a blastocyst without direct genetic exchange, how he would feel about the discovery of an unknown life-form growing inside his body, how other people would respond to this radically new notion of maternity -- we're told more than once that this is the first human male pregnancy -- the episode ends up being about nothing at all, not even gratuitous titillation or creepy, icky reproductive horror. It's not science fiction, not drama. At its core, it's precisely the sort of garbage Braga once had the sense to reject.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written television reviews, interviews and other features for sites such as Cinescape and Another Universe, as well as a a number of other web sites and magazines.