Written by Manny Coto
Directed by Allan Kroeker
In which an Orion privateer gives Archer three Orion Slave Women as a gift, and predictably, things begin to go wrong when the women have a distinct effect on the crew...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
With the cancellation now beyond reversal, the season and series come on their final approach, having covered more ground this season than any season of “Enterprise” before it. The writers have dealt with an inconsistent and poorly executed Temporal Cold War, major upheavals in Vulcan and Klingon society, and the earliest stirrings of Federation. Now the writers turn to something even closer to the “original series” flavor, bringing back the Orion Slave Women in an episode that wants to take itself far less seriously than it does.
It’s easy to see why the attempt at pure levity doesn’t quite hit the mark. Two major items get in the way: the established tone of the series and the unnecessary attempt to make a statement on the Orions. The first is an old complaint and one that will hopefully be addressed before the next series comes along in however many years: there’s a crushing seriousness inherent to the style of the series that prevents any true deviation from the typical format. Like “A Night in Sickbay” before it, the humorous elements are overwhelmed by the lack of comic energy.
Other series have managed to jump from pure farce to deadly serious without losing their unique voice. Examples like “Farscape” and “Angel” come to mind: the overall arcs were filled with angst and personal pain, but there were episodes that were hilarious along the way. An episode like “Bound” is attempting to tap into the latent whimsy of the original series, in which the idea of a crew becoming slaves to sexually aggressive women would have been played to the hilt.
Manny Coto attempts to have it both ways: beginning the story in a situation drenched with sex appeal and corny one-liners and letting it slowly build towards something violent and disturbing, yet all the while making damn sure that things don’t get too far from the norm. That’s not the kind of thinking that went into strong episodes like “Twilight” or “Cold Station 12”. And by all indications, the next episode will break format in a major way. Why not cut loose a little and break free of the suffocating seriousness.
Far more annoying, however, is how an episode that could have been an homage to the bizarre sexual politics of the original series (racial equality tempered by a latent sexism) turns into a continuity brain-twister. It’s not enough to have Orion Slave Women take over Enterprise by seducing key members of the crew, all so the Syndicate can nab Archer. Apparently Coto wanted to add a clever twist, some grander statement about how what seemed massively sexist really wasn’t the case.
It’s a bad move. Removing that one line about how the Orion Slave Women are really the ones in charge would have left the episode’s logic intact. After all, it’s not that the concept of the Orion Slave Women and their power is wrong or a break in continuity, since it was established from the beginning that the Orion women in question had a hypnotic effect on Human males. It’s the idea that all of Orion society is not what it seems. This concept doesn’t work on first glance, and that alone makes it easy to place this episode at arm’s length.
The rest of the episode makes perfect sense in terms of established continuity. The Orion Slave Women emit a pheromone that has an intense effect on Human males, driving them into an aggressive and suggestive state, which the sexually charged Orion women then use to their advantage. The effect on Human women, it seems, is detrimental, helping the Orion women to establish dominance. Even if this doesn’t make scientific sense, it’s consistent with what’s been seen in the past.
More importantly, it could have been tied to the ongoing dialogue regarding genetic alteration. What if it had been revealed that the Orions purposefully altered their female population, all for the purposes of turning them into the perfect weapons against other humanoid species? The same logic would dictate that Orion men would ensure their own immunity. This is where the writers probably lost their way. They had to have made the assumption that the pheromones of the Orion women were natural, and that the women themselves used their sexual dominance as a means of covertly seizing and maintaining power.
The problem with that is the way Orion Slave Women have been treated by Orion men in the past. Unless one can reconcile every single scene with Orion Slave Women as an instance where the woman is allowing herself to be treated badly as part of an agenda, the concept doesn’t work. And for that matter, it doesn’t really fix the sexism angle, so much as take it in a different direction.
The original concept of the Orion Slave Women rendered them little more than animals, predatory towards men due to overwhelming sexual appetites. Roddenberry was obsessed with the idea of women with lethal sexuality, as if that were the ultimate expression of female power. Indeed, it’s rather evident that women can and do influence men through sex, and it’s one of the few bargaining chips for women in male-dominated civilization. To have women enslaved by their own sexuality is about as close to the ultimate sexist male fantasy as one can get.
The alternative offered in this episode is that the Orion Slave Women are not ruled by their natural sexual allure, but rather, they use it to dominate. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they were, in fact, shown as the ones in charge. It would appeal to a very different male fantasy, as it is still a woman defined by her sexuality above all else, but it gives the woman the dominant role. And from a certain point of view, the suggestion that the Orion women are in fact playing a specific role to achieve their agenda, allowing themselves to seem submissive in order to achieve power by using the male desire for dominance against them, gives the women enough intelligence to suggest that they are making the choice for themselves.
But it’s still a form of sexism, because the Orion Slave Women are not known for their devious intelligence. They have been promoted from the savage sexual animals that they were assumed to be, but they are still forced to apply their agenda through sexuality. Even with this episode, it’s not that the Orion women are using one tool of many to achieve a goal; they are still entirely sexual creatures, allowing themselves to be denigrated. It’s not that this is the best way to do things, but rather, that it’s the way the Orion women have learned to deal with the situation they’ve found themselves in.
So the new conception of the Orion Slave Women is that they choose to let themselves be seen and treated in that fashion, so they can use their sexuality as a means of dominance. It’s not that they are hormonally-driven animalistic sex kittens; they’re devious and evil ambition-laden sexual dominants. It’s not exactly an upgrade, since female sexuality is still something to be feared and overcome. The conception in the recent “DS9” novels is somewhat better: all Orions have the pheromones to influence through sexuality, but those without power are enslaved by those in charge, unable to use their minds/bodies as they choose. It allows the power dynamic to be explored while also giving the Orion Slave Women a mind, just one that the male dominated Syndicate doesn’t foster.
Indeed, it could be argued that this episode could have fit into the same mold as the “DS9” novels, if only by taking into consideration that things change over time. And at this point, perhaps the women are secretly working things behind the scenes, and in short order, their strategy backfires and they end up true slaves. And perhaps Navaar is somewhat unique, having learned how to use the system for her own purposes. There’s still enough room for future writers to take all the Orion information and work out a true culture; it’s unlikely that the Orion Slave Women in this episode define the full breadth of possibility, after all. But it’s the fact that it’s so different than what has been suggested or revealed in the past, even this season, that elicits such a negative response regarding “continuity” issues.
At least that argument against this episode makes a certain amount of sense. Decrying the depiction of Orion Slave Women as sex objects is far less logical. It’s not as if Manny Coto developed the idea himself; the Orion Slave Women have been trotted out as a symbol of the original series and its daring sexuality from Day One. The flaw is not using actresses as sex objects, because if that’s the case, why single out this episode or series when the source is far older? This is clearly an homage to episodes like “Mudd’s Women”, where women as sex objects were the norm. The flaw comes with the so-called “fix”; the revisionism of the Orion Slave Women and their place in Orion Syndicate society merely replaces one damaging concept with another.
Manny Coto is clearly a fan of the original series, and so it’s not surprising that he chose to resurrect the Orion Slave Women. Certainly they represent a more logical (if annoying) source of sexual tension than, say, the Vulcan first officer. Coto drops the ball by focusing once again on the relationship that never should have been: Trip and T’Pol. Whenever Coto writes their relationship, it’s like something out of a 1950s film with the streetwise investigator and his sharp-witted reporter gal pal. The dialogue is sharp enough, but casting them in this peculiar light doesn’t fit the characters as well as Coto would like.
Trip’s banter is in keeping with the “smart romantic comedy” motif, but T’Pol’s character is not a good fit. The writers have made an effort, in the wake of “Kir’Shara”, to show T’Pol working through the changes in her society and how they impact her personally. There was brief attempt to maintain a tighter control on her emotions, which has since faded away. As suggested by the Vulcan Arc, T’Pol remains the confused and conflicted product of the former Vulcan society, where control over emotions was often driven by negative emotional context. For all that, it still highlights the fact that T’Pol shouldn’t be engaging in romantic banter.
This episode also reveals that Trip’s exit was a mere contrivance. Trip’s return to Enterprise would and should bring up some serious issues, especially given the circumstances of his exit. Archer should be wondering whether or not Trip is going to have personal reasons to leave the ship again, and the quick return to Enterprise has to have burned some bridges back on Columbia. In fact, since Trip reveals that he already had plans to return to Enterprise for good, all of his assurances to Kelby are revealed as outright deception. That’s hardly a good thing.
The final act could have been more brutal, and it would have been, if the producers had been allowed to carry the consequences of actions beyond the end of the episode. For all that Coto has tried to make things more interesting, tying together the various mini-arcs with character threads, he’s still working within some annoying constraints. And those are the same constraints that crippled the series from the beginning: the inability to affect real change in the status quo and thereby deliver consequences.
With the lack of definition for the Orions and the disturbing implication that Coto and his writing staff don’t recognize the message they are sending about feminine sexuality, this is not one of the better episodes of the season. Add to that the pathetic interaction between Trip and T’Pol, and it’s even more disappointing. The comic moments work well enough, but the serious pall hanging over everything stifles what could have been something closer to farce. Hopefully, the remaining episodes will jump back to the quality of the mini-arcs.
Overall, this episode is a perfect example of nostalgia gone horribly, horribly wrong. Coto tries to justify an update to the Orion Slave Women, and ends up stepping into a different kind of sexism in the process. The Trip/T’Pol dynamic is also as weak as ever, adding to the letdown. Coto is usually far better, but one wonders if his intentions were tempered by the demands of the franchise and his own desires as a fan.
Final Rating: 5/10
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