I caught "The Gamesters of Triskellion" on the SciFi Channel
last night. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov are captured and enslaved
by disembodied brains who make them and a bunch of other captives
of random races fight each other so the brains can gamble
on the outcome. Each slave, called a "thrall" (one wonders
if the etymology is from "being held in thrall," insert rimshot
here), is trained by a "drill thrall" to fight well. Kirk
gets the typical TOS female love interest for a drill thrall;
in this case, she looks like the offspring of Carol Channing
and Carmen Miranda by way of Marge Simpson. At any rate, after
being introduced to Shana, Kirk does what he usually does
with a pretty lady: he starts flirting with her. Later on,
Kirk is running laps, or whatever the excuse is for Shatner
to have his shirt off, and during a break he starts questioning
and then kisses his lovely companion. She responds with surprise
and then delight, wanting more. Okay, nothing out of the ordinary.
The night before, on ENT's "Rogue Planet," Jon Archer is alone
in the woods on a dark planet, and a mysterious woman lures
him away from the camp (to ask him for help). Archer is attracted
to her, describes her to Trip as "beautiful" and "perfect,"
and nearly kisses her at the end of the show before she slithers
off to resume her normal form (something like a cross between
a six-foot flatworm and the subspace death dolphins from VOY's
"Equinox"). A few weeks earlier, in "Civilization," Archer
actually does get to kiss the local apothecary, a spunky dark-haired
lady who helped him unmask the Villain of the Week.
Now, "Gamesters" is one of the clunkiest episodes
of TOS, although perhaps not the absolute worst, due in large
part to the characters of the drill thralls (not the actors'
fault, but the casting and directing choices which were made).
But watching Kirk pace the papier-mâché matte-painting
ruins, posing questions about the nature of the thralls' existence
and captivity and giving Shana a glimpse of life Out There
-- and then seducing her with a gentle but fiery kiss -- was
about five hundred times more convincing and natural than
Archer on a carefully built and artfully lit streetcorner
awkwardly mashing lips with Riann when his UT conks out.
Attention Berman and Braga: You can't tape a
feather duster to a chicken and call it a peacock.
I have nothing against Scott Bakula. I've heard
lots of praise for his work on "Quantum Leap," his coworkers
speak highly of him and his professionalism, and he's clearly
thrilled to be on Trek. But really, the man has NO presence.
When he walks into a room, he doesn't even part the atmosphere.
Before I get too much farther, let me head off
some of the brickbats by acknowledging that this IS the first
season of ENT, so nearly by definition it's going to be pretty
bad, and that I know Bakula is only doing what he can do with
the script he's given.
However: when Geneviève Bujold first
sat down on the bridge of Voyager, folded her hands in her
lap, and whispered "Engage," it was obvious to all and sundry
(including Bujold, to her credit) that she was not the right
person to be speaking those lines. It was not enough to have
good words to speak; the actress had to deliver them correctly.
Enter Kate Mulgrew, and the rest is history.
The problem as I see it is not that Archer is
the wrong guy for the job, but that TPTB are giving Bakula
the wrong job to do.
Kirk is a swashbuckler. He's reckless and romantic,
daring and dashing, brave and ballsy, confident and commanding.
He yanks his ship back from commanders, commodores, admirals,
his tripping first officer, even Death itself. He talks computers
into self-destructing, saves entire planets from dictators
and decay, defeats Klingons and Romulans and the no-win scenario,
breaks records, breaks hearts, and (in the movies) even outfoxes
His exploits with women are legendary -- even
within the show. When "Living Color" parodied "The Wrath of
Khan," the Sulu character shouted, "Captain, you get all the
girls! Even the ugly ones!" In Trek VI, Kirk kisses
Martia, and Bones mutters "Don't you ever stop?" (Later, when
she takes Kirk's image, he grumbles "I can't believe I kissed
you!" and she retorts, "It must have been the biggest thrill
of your life.")
But Kirk is not the fatherly type, as Carol
Marcus well knows. His two best friends address him by his
rank as often as his name. He is not a "buddy" to his crew.
He is a leader. He is a captain.
to TNG. Picard is not precisely Kirk's opposite, but their
styles are vastly different. Picard is much more reserved,
and his babysitting XO won't let him go on too many away missions,
so any inclinations he might have had about meeting pretty
natives don't have much chance to be explored anyway. He does
have a few discreet romances, and the whole love-hate-flirt-retreat
thing going on with Q, and one sort of holographic marriage
("The Inner Light"), but Picard is hardly sowing the cosmos
with his seed. He is cautious and conservative, somber and
studious, determined and dignified -- and confident and commanding,
albeit more quietly.
He treats everyone with respect, giving the
most weight to peoples' competence. In "All Good Things,"
when he's back in the first-season timeline trying to convince
his thoroughly bewildered crew to risk their lives and enter
the anomaly to create a static warp shell, he tells them,
"I know, without a doubt, that you are the finest crew in
the fleet. And I would trust each and every one of you with
my life." We believe him. Utterly, absolutely.
Conversely, for Picard to turn around and tell
"Wil" or "Geordi" to do anything while on the bridge would
feel strange and a little embarrassing, like someone had reported
to duty and forgotten to put pants on. Picard is in fact uncomfortable
with getting too chummy with many of his crew; he doesn't
unbend enough to join the senior officers' poker game until
the last five minutes of the series. That's okay; it
suits Stewart's Shakespeare-and-Dickens mien. The actor has
a great deal of gravitas, with which he has imbued the captain.
People stand a little straighter when he steps out of the
grows into a more paternal view of his crew over the seven
years of DS9, some of which comes from his increasing acceptance
of his role as The Emissary and some from actually having
a son to rear. He falls early on for one "pretty native" who
turns out not to be a real live girl, has a few semi-consensual
flings in the mirror universe, and then marries Kasady Yates.
He is hurt and healing, caring and committed, reluctantly
religious -- and confident and commanding. He is even lower-key
than Picard, but that lack of volume does not indicate lack
of depth, or intelligence, or maturity.
Sisko organizes baby showers and ball games.
He has intermittent visions from the Prophets, which sometimes
prod him to get involved in Bajor's politics. As the Dominion
War drags on, he feels a great personal stake in making sure
his people get out alive -- and "his people" also include
all of Bajor. But he addresses his closest friend Jadzia as
"Dax" unless they're alone, and then he frequently calls her
by the nickname of her previous incarnation. He guides his
crew, not quite a shepherd, not quite a parent, but not an
equal. Civilians, Bajorans, and Starfleet alike look to Sisko
to lead them out of danger and trouble.
Janeway has a more immediate pull to care for
her crew maternally, because she is so very responsible for
where they are and what has happened to them. She takes a
close proprietary interest in certain crew members (not just
Seven, but Paris and Torres also) whom she feels need extra
attention. She is strong and stubborn, crazy (caffeinated?)
and compassionate, diplomatic and driven -- and confident
and commanding. There is NO doubt who runs the place when
she steps onto the bridge. I remember watching "Future's End"
and being really struck by the image of Janeway staring down
Henry Starling, who topped her by a least a foot. This is
a woman who stopped fearing the Borg after a few fights.
started the trip as formal, almost hyper-military, and mellowed
as the journey progressed. Sometimes the familiarity did breed
a few discipline problems, but the brig (or the holographic
code) was always available. Her intermittent habit of addressing
her bridge crew by their first names felt natural because
it was the third or fourth season by the time it became regular,
and Voyager's unique circumstances helped make everyone a
little more intimate.
But not too much. After the first season in
Sandrine's, Janeway is never shown playing with her crew.
Relaxing, celebrating, interacting -- but not playing. She
and Chakotay never "cross the line" into a romantic physical
relationship. Actually, she gets the least action of any of
the captains; she has exactly one liaison with a real person
when she's in her right mind, and the episode ("Counterpoint")
is deliberately ambiguous about whether she was really interested
or just doing her duty. Her other involvements are holographic
or when her memories were wiped.
Janeway is more aware than most captains of
the consequences of her actions, and sometimes she deliberates
a great deal. The decision she makes for the greater good
in "Caretaker" never stops haunting her. She can't ever forget
that her orders not only affect her 140-odd crewmembers, but
possibly huge swaths of an entire quadrant. There are instances
when the pursuit of what she perceives as the greater good
-- stopping 8472, destroying the Borg, shaking off the out-of-phase
scientists, bringing Rudy Ransom to justice -- leads her to
risk herself and Voyager, but she usually gets good
second opinions and will consider them in her final (if sometimes
hasty) judgment. And when those decisions come around to bite
her on the ass, as in "Flesh and Blood," she admits what she's
done and deals with what has happened.
What I'm leading up to here, rather long-windedly,
is that Archer is an uncertain man. He needs to be
accepted. He'll take acceptance anywhere he can get it, and
he's looking for it everywhere -- his father, his Vulcan officer,
his engineer, the Klingons, the dog. He wants to be liked.
This is not an attitude for any captain, much less
the first captain of the first Starfleet vessel.
Archer calls everyone on the bridge by their
first names -- it's to the point where I'm forgetting what
the characters' last names are -- as though they were on a
camping trip. He treats the Klingons with the same bubbly
openness he has for the Terran schoolchildren who write to
him. When he leans over Travis to look at a readout or tells
Trip "the moment you give up, you've lost the game" I get
unfortunate GalaxyQuest flashbacks. He goes out of
his way to find Malcolm's favorite food to make him a birthday
meal, just because. (Sisko would have had Worf over for Cajun,
but not offered him a menu. Janeway has known Tuvok for years
and years and gave him a cake in private. Kirk and Picard
would have sent PADDs with "Best Wishes.") Archer is simply
too cozy with people who report to him. When it will come
time to enforce discipline, as Janeway discovered, it will
hurt twice as much, because it will be not only the breaking
of rules but the betrayal of a friend. And the officers will
be obeying Archer's rank -- not Archer. He has no confidence,
and he does not command.
Briefly in "Broken Bow" and again in "Shockwave,"
Archer collects his staff and starts dictating plans and orders.
It's a little funny to watch the other characters act as though
Archer actually has presence, as though they are being led,
when there's just a desperately jaunty cheerleader in the
Big Chair. When Archer tells Trip and T'Pol that Enterprise
is being recalled to Terra after the mining colony disaster
in "Shockwave," Trip complains, and Archer dismisses them
in what is meant to be a sharp manner. Where another captain's
dismissal would be barked, hissed, or rimmed with ice, Archer
sounds... petulant. He doesn't even have enough charisma to
throw people out properly.
Let's look at the dog issue. Janeway has Molly,
an Irish setter. She adopted Molly "because she had spunk."
A spunky dog is not looking to make you happy, a spunky dog
expects you to BE happy and to play with her. Archer has Porthos,
a big-eyed flatulent beagle puppy who doesn't even know enough
to bite the Suliban who's phasering the snot out of his master.
Janeway is Alpha Dog of her pack. Archer wants to be a littermate.
Back to the smooch-the-girl problem which got
me started: Archer is too kind, too needy, too eager to be
convincing as a Lothario, or even a Leisure Suit Larry. There's
no passionate urgency to his cover-up-the-TECH-blunder buss.
His explanations are tentative, as if he can't even sell himself
on his ridiculous story. He has no faith in his own convictions.
We don't even know if he has convictions, other than wanting
to do something to avenge how Big Bad Vulcans hamstrung
his father's career. He encounters a mysterious, vaguely familiar,
scantily-clad woman in the dark woods, and doesn't even try
to take her hand. And when he and poor T'Pol are tied together
and they fall so his face is right between her breasts,
he looks so humiliated it's as if he can hear the audience
Don't get me wrong; I don't want Archer to be
a sexist, obnoxious, misogynist jerk who shouts at his crew
and leaves a trail of little half-breed Jonnies and Joanies
behind him. He is as embarrassed for T'Pol as he would be
if he and Phlox were tied together naked and they had to squirm
out of ropes. (ooh! that was an image I really didn't need
to come up with) These are his friends and colleagues, not
love interests. But the scripts keep throwing the babes into
Archer's lap. The poor man stammers and fumbles, because deep
down he's a gentleman, and a gentle man. Then he remembers
he's supposed to be the designated Starfleet Stud, and gives
the leering and groping the ol' college try. He's given orders
to recite, and recite them he does.
What is happening is that Jon Archer is being
told to act like Kirk. We knew Jim Kirk. Jim Kirk was a friend
of ours. And you, Captain Archer, are no Jim Kirk.
But that's okay! Archer doesn't HAVE to be Kirk.
Picard was no Kirk. He wasn't even a Kirk knockoff. Sisko
could never have been Kirk; he had a son and a father (and
later a wife) to answer to. Janeway would have gone drinking
with Kirk, but they both would have gone home, separately,
sober, at the end of the night.
This is the crux of the problem, and also its
solution. TPTB got this great idea of setting the newest Trek
series pre-TOS, so they figure all the PC niceties can go
out the window. We can return to the good old days of cowboy
exploration, when men were men and sheep were nervous. And
they figure that on that kind of series, the captain has to
be more Kirk than Kirk: more daring, more reckless, get more
girls, beat up more aliens, talk more computers into FOOMing
themselves, get more girls, straighten out more backwards
societies, break more records, get more girls.
no wonder Archer always looks like he's working on his third
ulcer. Who could perform under that kind of pressure?
The solution is to let Archer be Archer -- let
him be his own kind of captain. Don't force him to liplock
the cuties if he's really better suited to a handshake. Don't
put him on every away team with T'Spock and BoneScotty. Don't
give him big sweeping speeches and proclamations to recite
if he's better with quiet discussion.
Seriously, if Archer the character is allowed
to develop free of the baggage of other series, then both
the character and the actor can relax and develop the attitude
of competent command which a captain needs. Archer needs to
be able to trust himself to make the right decision. He doesn't
need the Vulcan to bail him out all the time.
One could argue that this is deliberate, that
Archer, representing humanity, is supposed to be making a
lot of mistakes the first time out. I don't object to the
premise, but that doesn't explain why the captain is so timid
all the time. The people who blaze the trail can't be afraid
of going down the wrong path. Brannon Braga stated in a recent
Star Trek: The Magazine interview that he enjoys seeing
Archer being a little naive, needing the Vulcan's help. Guess
what, Brannon: much like George Lucas found out with The
Phantom Menace, just because you enjoy it doesn't
mean the audience thinks it's cool. We can forgive
Hoshi, drawn as she is as the ship's designated Ensign Screaming
Meemie (in the grand tradition of Pavel Chekov, Sonia Gomez,
Ezri Dax, and Harry Kim), because we know she's going to grow
out of it. The captain should be well beyond this kind of
behavior. He rants in "Broken Bow" that he wants to prove
that humanity is ready for the stars and doesn't need the
Vulcans to hold our species's hand, but all his behavior points
towards a longing for approval from some authority who knows
better than he does. Archer is shy, blustery, desperate for
an Attaboy, uncomfortable in his uniform. Nobody's attracted
to that. Trip's inadvertent fling with the Xyrillian engineer
had more spark than Archer has had with any of the catsuited
babes shoved his way. For that matter, there was more chemistry
in "Shuttlepod One" than in all the rest of the first season.
I don't think Archer is a bad guy. I think he
can be the captain this Enterprise needs. There have
been a few moments when Archer, or Bakula, seemed to break
out of puppy mode. Twice he's threatened someone he was going
to "knock you on your ass" (T'Pol before she was working for
him in "Broken Bow" and a dehydrated Trip in "Desert Crossing").
It was coarse, but it was clearly heartfelt, and without doubt.
That clarity of purpose may have come from anger, but at least
it was there. He has the potential. He is capable of
making the hard decisions, as he did in "Dear Doctor" (whether
we agree with him is a different issue). But he has to believe
in himself, and he has to be allowed to be himself.
He can't keep walking in the footsteps of a man who hasn't
been born yet. B&B should take note: if we want Classic
Trek, we'll pop in a tape or a DVD and watch the actual episodes.
The theme of Star Trek is exploration, boldly going where
we haven't been before -- so go there.