Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Enterprise, Season 2: Cogenitor

 Enterprise, Season 2
Airdate: April 30, 2003
47 of 97 produced
47 of 97 aired


The Enterprise makes contact with a species that has three biological sexes - one of whom seems like a victim of systemic oppression.

 Trip tries and fails to give away his cherry.


Kevin: Overall, this is a good episode. I would say, even really good, in places. It has your straight forward individual rights versus cultural relativism debate that fuels most great Trek. We finally, and I mean finally meet an alien race that has no ulterior motives and doesn't resort to violence, even in the face of actual conflict. I'm going to deal with that element first. It managed to clear the hurdle of being an enjoyable Trek story and one that (again, finally) managed to feel specific to Enterprise. I would almost go so far as to say that it's one only Enterprise could tell. Other shows encounter nice races of explorers, and it's nice when they do, but it's not the first time it's ever happened to those crews or humans generally. Archer's palpable joy/relief at finally meeting someone who also just wants to look at stars and talk about books is really nice. It retroactively peps up the few too many imprisonment plots. I'll get to this in the acting, but there was almost something akin to first date glow about Archer, and it really serves the story. This is finally meeting Mr. Right after a string of losers and it was really fun to watch, and gave some consequence to Archer's decision. He wasn't neutrally applying Kantian ethics. He wants to preserve this relationship both for its benefits to Earth, and for itself, and that gives the debate some potential.

Matthew: It's taken me a while to sort out my thoughts about this episode, and what you lay out here is a major reason. I think Archer's response to the situation as it unfolds is out of character. He has put his own safety on the line to help non-Cabal Suliban who were being oppressed by a carceral state. How could he turn a blind eye to the plight of members of the Vissian third gender? This is pretty clearly slavery, and sexual slavery at that. I don't care how much he likes Captain Drennik or wants to preserve relations - slavery really rubs most humans the wrong way. And this slave literally asks for asylum. Even T'Pol (who has been intimately violated) and Phlox (who withheld a disease cure in the service of an oppressed minority) should be able to recognize the ethical dimensions at play here, and that they surmount any desire for non-interference by violating universal (indeed, Kantian) moral laws against using an intelligent being as a means to one's own ends, especially against their will.

Kevin: The story of the cogenitor is certainly a fertile idea, if you'll pardon the expression. It's a pretty Trek application. You envision a really different way of structuring a society to give insight into ours. Great job, everyone. I think it stumbles slightly in the execution. It doesn't stumble as hard as Stigma does, but I will fully admit I am far more sensitive to and invested in allegories about sexuality and AIDS than gender, seated as I am comfortably in the gender I was assigned at birth. That said, I don't think the episode actually explores gender in any super interesting way. We advance the idea of a third gender, but it felt like Charles could have easily been a cisgendered woman in a society that treats them like breeding stock for all the insight we got. The main thrust is Charles' right to autonomy versus the interests of the society in sustaining itself in its current form. And I think we fumble the ball a little here too. At first, the question seems to be whether the cogenitors are truly 'intelligent.' But then we dispense with it unambiguously right away. Charles is smart verging on savant. Go is a really hard game, just saying. Making them sooooo smart raises the question why cogenitors wouldn't have realized their plight on their own. It's a lazy storytelling trope that enslaved people need to be informed of the concept of freedom before they seek it. The interesting avenue here is how intelligent does Charles have to be before they have rights? What if Phlox had said, "They're like a precocious six year old human." Intelligent, self aware, but not capable of making their own decisions by our standards. Is it okay to treat them like breeding stock then? But we move on pretty quickly from it. Now we're at the individual versus society question, and I think we just didn't spend enough time on it to really make it cook. I was also annoyed with T'Pol's position. It's crystallizing that the Vulcan point of view is that all cultures much be deferred to on internal cultural matters except humans. The human history of using women as breeding stock would be proof of humanity's illogical nature and they should stop. But to even wonder aloud about the ethics of the cogenitors is cultural imperialism. I would have liked just a little internal acknowledgment that T'Pol would be troubled by the enforced servitude of the cogentiors once its unambiguously established that they are sentient, at least as much as we are, even if her other ethical concerns would prohibit intervention.

Matthew: Yeah, I have a hard time believing there haven't been multiple instances of rebellious cogenitors in Vissian history. With Charles exhibiting this level of analytical intelligence, clearly they should know that they are being taken advantage of, and that they potentially wield enormous power in their society. I also find it hard to believe that the Vissians, who say one of their primary missions is to meet new races, haven't aroused any antipathy among other races. Are every species but the humans aboard Enterprise radical cultural relativists? I agree that there wasn't much exploration of a third gender - Trip treats and refers to "her" as a woman, pure and simple. Now, it may be that the cogenitor gender is an evolutionary offshoot of female Vissians. But it wasn't stated, and so from our 2020s vantage point, things are being overlooked here.

Kevin: The last thread to examine is another one that could have sustained the whole episode, but I don't think they stick the landing. Trip's relationship with Charles, and Trip absorbing the consequences of his actions are fun. I think Trip manages to do a good job of being present for Charles without lecturing Charles on their own existence. I also like the idea that maybe there was no way this has a happy ending, and that's something Trip will have to deal with if he wants to be out here. That's all fun and well achieved, but I found the ending a little off. The suicide nags me, since in a perverse way, I think it lets Trip and the story off the hook. The harm suffered is real, but it's also finite, and now hermetically sealed. I'm not saying a cogenitor revolt is the better story necessarily, but I was annoyed at the off-screen death of a character we're supposed to have gotten to care about. I also got really annoyed at Archer's reaction at the end. When he said, "You did exactly what I'd do? If that's true, I've done a pretty lousy job setting an example around here," I was screaming YES YOU DID at my television. Archer has intervened much more haphazardly over the last two seasons. In sum, I think there were a lot of threads that flow from this idea, and rather than pick one and fully develop it, we nibbled at several. That said, I think the finished product was enjoyable to watch, and the focus on Trip trying to build a relationship rather than just opine on human values was by and large nicely done.

Matthew: Yeah, ultimately it was muddled for the reasons we've unpacked. But the scenes of Trip interacting with Charles and opening their eyes to knowledge were really pleasant, as were Archer's scenes on his away mission. I liked it too that the Vissians didn't react violently or with bribery. They started friendly, and they stayed friendly.


Kevin: It was very nice to see Andreas Katsulas again, and in such a different role than Tomalak. I knew it from watching his G'Kar in Babylon 5, but he was really a gifted actor. He just reads instantly and thoroughly as his species' equivalent of Captain Picard, the quintessential poet explorer. When not being an Angry Suburban Dad, Bakula turns in great work, too. I bought their rapport and their sheer joy at exploration really shone through. Like I said, it almost felt like Archer had a crush on him, and it's a credit to both actors and the writing that I buy that (non-romantic) crush totally.  

Matthew: Very much agreed on Katsulas. I believed that his character had an interior life and a set of consistent values - always the hallmark of a great portrayal of an alien of the week. Speaking of the Vissians, I thought FJ Rio and Laura Interval did a really nice job as the Vissian engineer and the horny Vissian armory officer, respectively.

Kevin: Trinneer really did some nice work this week as well. In the balance, I was glad there were no notes of romance in the relationship, as that is way ickier given the experience difference. I bought his concern at the start, his care throughout, and his remorse at the end. The story may not have explored what I wanted it to in the detail I wish it had, but Trinneer delivered without question. Becky Wahlstrom as the Cogenitor was a bit too much of a cipher for me. I suppose that makes sense story wise, but it continues to nag me that Trek writers, when told to write a character that is not feminine nor masculine as we understand them, keep landing on hyper-reserved.

Matthew: I think Wahlstrom did what was asked of her by the script, and portrayed her character's awakening as well as could be expected. Trinneer did a good job of seeming morally incensed, but not letting it boil over into anything but determined action.

Production Values

Kevin: The nebula is par for the course on Enterprise, brightly colored but a little soupy. The interiors of the Vissian ships were nicely detailed. Nothing revolutionary, but everything had a nice, solid feel to it. It's been a complaint that other sets have been too dark or somewhat cheap looking and I think they nailed it here. The Westmore heads are fairly average, but they don't detract. My main complaint in terms of design is that Charles reminds me too much of the J'naii. It feels like a lack of imagination that we can't envision a character outside human, Western gender binary norms as something other than "David Bowie but sad." The make up and wig together made Charles look kind of like Swedish pop singer Robyn, and once my brain volunteered that, it refused to think about anything else for the rest of the day.

Matthew: These were pretty bog standard Westmoreheads, for sure. The Vissian ship was nice, and felt like not only a real place, but a different one than we've seen so far on Enterprise. The solar pod was kind of hokey. If you're going to go with that conceit, you need to indicate to me that the problem of crippling stellar brightness has been resolved somehow.


Kevin: On the strength of the scenes between Trip and Charles and between Archer and Drennik, this is a 4. It's a very Trek story, and the first one on Enterprise that felt like the Trek story only Enterprise could tell. The ethical issues are certainly there, I just think the focus wasn't as tight and the exploration not as thorough as it could have been. Still, nice character interactions will always make me a happy camper.

Matthew: I think I'm stuck at a 3. I thought a lot about this episode, which is the sign of good Trek. But it's not great Trek for me because of the mushy characterization on several characters, Archer chief among them. That makes a total of 7.


  1. Ah, for once we have very different takes on the story! :D

    I saw this much more like meeting a very interesting person, and then finding out they are a dipsomaniac. Now what do you do? Well, Trip goes behind their back to their spouse, and tells them not to put up with this behaviour - putting the onus of acting on a victim of the situation.

    These Vissians, more than any species met by this Enterprise, seem like that they could come to see reason with the proper conversations. They certainly don't lack curiosity. But as soon as Trip encounters hesitance (in the ones who desperately want to be parents, and so have extra reasons to behave that way), he closes off that avenue - which could have helped all the cogenitors.

    I see this as an exercise in trust, which Trip fails for interesting reasons. I love this episode, because it feels like proper Trek for a multitude of reasons. Not saying it is flawless by any means, but I never skip it on rewatch.

    1. I'm actually surprised by Matt's score. I was expecting this to get a 5 from him on the strength of its "Trekness." I think a 7 is on the low end, but still fair. We have 40+ years of the show swinging for the fences with good intentions and ideas but also better executions.

      In the rewrite in my head, I think we give a little texture. There is a viable, if underground, cogenitor rights movement which maybe Charles has avoided, and meeting Trip triggers a crisis in the balance they have been trying to strike.

      I also love our anonymous commenter, since they have a fun and different perspective on things. It did not occur to me that the episode could have been working on these otherwise apparently reasonable people. I think that would have been a fun angle for Drennik. He could be one of the people who objects to the system but won't go tooooooo far in risking his own position to fight it. I think a direct scene between Archer and Drennik really wrestling with 'the right thing to do,' would have been nice, given their rapport earlier.