To what extent, if any, do you think the premise of Star Trek: Enterprise could have worked if the casting of Archer and T’pol had been reversed? Enterprise had an interesting premise, although it never managed to pull it off in a good way: The clash between a captain and an officer who both live in the very different social contexts of a civilization (a global context where the captain’s “race”/species is socially marginalized, while the officer’s “race”/species has all the power) and a ship (a local context where the roles are reversed).
In the actual series, this dynamic seems to have been drowned in sour bigotry and awkward casting. On one hand, the captain has a strong tendency to handle his frustration through creepy bigotry, and on the other hand we have a casting which may be counterintuitive for a contemporary Western audience: The character from a socially marginalized racial group (the Human captain) is being played by a white man, while the character from the dominant group (the Vulcan officer) is played by a woman of color who is also two decades younger than the captain’s actor. What effects on the show do you think it could have had to remove one or the other of these two problems, or to remove both?
Hey Xzenu, thanks for writing in!
You caught me, I love to theorize about how to improve Star Trek. Enterprise is a particularly fruitful topic because the basic concept is fine, but nearly every aspect of its execution is wrong. In a vacuum, “humanity takes its first steps into space while navigating political tensions with Vulcan” sounds great! What we actually got is… not so great. So, how could we improve the Archer/T’Pol dynamic?
First, it’s not clear to me that T’Pol is played by a woman of color. Jolene Blalock is certainly tan, more so in that role than in others, but she’s white from what I can find online. Apparently there was some controversy about her being cast to play a Black character back in 2006. However, a lot of her interactions with Archer still come off as fairly sexist, especially when they start making jokes about him and Tucker smelling bad, so the general point still stands.
I think the biggest issue in the Archer/T’Pol conflicts is that they have nothing to come into conflict over. Archer’s entire reason for hating the Vulcans is that they didn’t give his dad warp tech fast enough. Earth didn’t need this tech for any serious problem; it was just something they’d like to have. That’s like someone hating Italy because they didn’t export enough Lamborghinis. There’s nothing to build that animosity on.
As a result, Archer just comes off as a huge asshole, even though humans are technically the less powerful party in this situation. To give him some cover, they also have the Vulcans act like major jerks, T’Pol included. So we’re left with a story where everyone is being horrible to each other for no reason. In that context, Archer being a dude adds sexism to the already unpleasant conflict between him and T’Pol.
To fix this, what we need is a real conflict between humans and Vulcans. Ideally, it would be something where both sides have a point, since we want the Vulcans to be good guys eventually. That’s harder to do if we reveal that the Vulcans were full-on imperialists in the 22nd century. If it were up to me, the Vulcans would actually be in the position of giving Earth advanced tech, then using the resulting influence to discourage human space flight. They do this with the best of intentions: it’s a dangerous galaxy out there, and there are several alien powers who might not take kindly to a new player on the block.
This way we can have a situation where the characters try to be kind and polite to each other, but come into conflict over policy. Rather than the barely contained loathing Archer currently has for Vulcans, he would make every effort to cooperate, but end up frustrated when his ship has to make do without important supplies because of political interference. Likewise, T’Pol wouldn’t look at humans with obvious contempt. Instead, she’d be concerned that Archer is taking on greater risk than his ship can handle.
From there, changing the characters’ demographics would help too. Enterprise has way too many white guys anyway, so if it were up to me I’d make Archer a woman of color. Tucker too if I could get away with it. Movies and TV shows always act like “southern” means “white” in the US, as if the majority of African Americans don’t live in southern states.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your Star Trekking!