This week I finished watching Enterprise, the troubled Star Trek prequel series. I confess that I gave up on it back when it was on the air after only seeing a couple of terribly written episodes. Having seen the whole thing, however, I now think it is fairly well done. There are a handful of terribly written episodes in the first two seasons, but the writing is really stepped up for the third season where the series shines, throwing caption Archer and the Enterprise crew into a desperate mission to save Earth. Archer must push both his crew and his ship past their breaking points. He finally falls from the moral certitude that has always characterized Star Trek, even resorting to torture and piracy.
Archer manages to save Earth and go on to lay the groundwork of an interplanetary alliance that will eventually become the United Federation of Planets, the sympathetic political entity in the other Star Trek series. Through various mechanisms, the series shows viewers that Archer’s place in history as a great peacemaker and explorer is secure. However the final episode, rather than focusing on Archer’s accomplishments, is more of a paean to Enterprise‘s chief engineer, commander Charles Tucker III, affectionately called Trip by his friends. The episode features several of his crewmates discussing their favorite memories of Trip (and accordingly, some of the viewers’ favorite memories) before Trip gives his life to ensure that captain Archer can attend the signing of the charter of the proto-Federation, thus ensuring its success.
The last episodes focuses on Trip rather than the history-making Archer because in many ways Enterprise is the story of Trip. To examine this, I want to bring in Yamaguchi Masao‘s theory of kings and princes in literature. Yamaguchi proposes that kings must consolidate power at the center, giving birth to chaos engendered by exclusion from that order. The prince must go outward from the center to the excluded groups at the periphery of power and develop techniques to mediate between chaos and order. He must ameliorate the chaos inevitability caused by the king’s consolidation of power. Yamaguchi finds this pattern in several works of classical Japanese literature: read in this light, Hikaru Genji’s many famous romantic conquests of mid-ranked (in the aristocratic hierarchy) women can be seen as an attempt to reintegrate families excluded from the center of political power.1
Obviously this theory is not one hundred percent applicable to Enterprise, but it is nonetheless very instructive. In this scheme Archer is the king, and he must constantly push to complete his goals, whether that be weaning humanity off Vulcan guidance, saving Earth or founding an interspecies alliance. This push inevitably creates chaos. Trip, on the other hand, is the prince. He is a close personal friend of Archer, having known him long before Enterprise is launched. He is close to the king and the center of power, but moves outward from that center in order to ameliorate the chaos Archer causes and reintegrate excluded groups into the king’s order.
Archer’s first mission is exploration of the portion of the galaxy near Earth. Implicit in that mission, however, is friction with Vulcans, the first alien species to make contact with humanity and who have been mentoring humanity’s development for a century or so. Vulcans believe that humans are not yet ready to venture out into the dangers of the galaxy. In pushing for his mission, Archer constantly creates friction with humanity’s closest ally. Trip initially shares Archer’s resentment towards and distrust of Vulcans, but as time progresses he forms a relationship with T’pol, Enterprise‘s Vulcan science officer. At first Trip overcomes his distrust and begins to respect T’pol as a competent fellow officer, but eventually the relationship develops into a friendship and finally an intimate romance. Trip even travels to Vulcan during his shore leave, meeting T’pol’s mother and staying in her house. As Archer’s alienation of Vulcans pushes them farther into humanity’s periphery, Trip travels to that periphery and forms a romantic relationship (in fine Genji fashion) with one of it’s members in order to mediate between the periphery and the king’s center and reintegrate Vulcans into the king’s order. Trip ameliorates the chaos and disaffection Archer causes by stubbornly pursuing his mission.
When Archer must save Earth from an attack by a powerful weapon from the mysterious Xindi, he becomes completely obsessed with his mission, to the exclusion of everything else. He eventually even resorts to torture, piracy and unethical medical procedures in order to ensure its success. Ultimately he pushes both his ship and crew to the breaking point; a significant portion of his crew is killed in battle, and Enterprise itself is broken and battered, a sad shadow of the proud ship of exploration that had left the shipyard only a couple of years before.
The heavily damaged Enterprise
The ship is a metaphor for its crew. They too are broken and battered, disheartened by the increasing desperation of their mission and the descent into moral corruption that it has required of them. As chief engineer, Trip is literally the person holding the ship together. And at the other end of the metaphor, Trip is also holding the crew together. He uses his intimate relationship with both Archer and T’pol to mediate between the two. As Archer becomes increasingly obsessed with his mission and increasingly distant from his crew, Trip is in the unique position of a prince; able to move freely between the center and the periphery. Archer confides in him personally but Trip also spends most of his time with the alienated crew. Trip mediates between them, mending the chaos Archer causes. And as Archer callously demands greater and greater sacrifice in the name of the mission, Trip becomes the humanity of the center by agonizing over the death of a single peripheral ensign.
The final season focuses on the formation of an interplanetary alliance, which viewers are assured will eventually become the Federation. As Archer forges increasingly deep ties with alien species, he also becomes enmeshed in a web of obligation that has the potential to undermine his mission. This is realized in the final episode when Shran, an Andorian to whom Archer owes favors, demands his help in a dangerous rescue mission. Archer is on his way to the signing of the proto-Federation’s charter. As humanity’s de-facto ambassador in space, Archer has played a central role in constructing the alliance, and his absence at the ceremony might derail the whole thing. Trip must rescue Archer from the dangers inherent in this web of obligation; he sacrifices his life to protect Archer from the vengeance of Shran’s adversaries. Again, Archer’s drive to complete his mission, creating order in the form of a political alliance, creates chaos in the form of favors owed. Trip must mediate between that chaos and order, ultimately giving his life in order to ensure the king’s order endures.
So while Archer is the driving edge who history will remember, who has schools named after him, Trip is the the real heart of the ship, the crew and the mission. He mends the chaos the king creates, ultimately becoming the key to the success of the accomplishments that Archer will be remembered for. So in a real sense, Enterprise is a story that centers on Trip, just as he is central to the story’s eponymous ship as chief engineer. It may seem like Trip’s death in the final episode is abrupt, but it was rather the show’s cancellation that was abrupt. Since Enterprise is a story about Trip, it is entirely appropriate that it closes with his death.