9/20/11

Star Trek: Asterisk "Cogenitor"

Vital Information
Series: Enterprise
Episode: S02E22
Air Date: April 30, 2003
Written by: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by: LeVar Burton

Premise
The Enterprise encounters a race of super-awesome aliens with amazing technological advances and three genders. The third of which is treated like an appliance.

Review
While checking out a supergiant star, Archer regrets not being able to get any closer to study some awesome readings. But then they're surprised by a ship that's actually coming toward them from inside the star! What is this witchcraft, they wonder! The Vissians are a race that are far more advanced than Enterprise, but aren't total douches like the Talosians.

The Vissian captain takes an immediate liking to Archer. One dinner together and the two captains are best bros. Drennik, the Vissian captain, offers Archer a chance to get an up-close and personal look at the supergiant star using his stratopod. So that gets him out of the ship for long enough for things to go wrong.
BFFs!
While Drennik and Archer are busy looking at the guts of the supergiant star, the rest of the crew gets a good chance to get to know their new Vissian friends. They and Archer learn that the Vissians retain the written word very quickly, they know lots of stuff, they're generally really friendly and they have three genders.

Trip is the one who especially picks up on this three-genders thing. For some reason he finds it more interesting than anything else. When he meets a Vissian couple who are trying to conceive, he meets the third gender, their cogenitor. Right off the bat, things look pretty grim for the cogenitor. Obviously, the English language doesn't have a pronoun available for a third gender, so the universal translator has to turn whatever the Vissian word is into "it." So the Vissians are calling their third gender "it" all the time and freaking out Trip who thinks that the cogenitors are being treated as second-class citizens. The Vissian population is made up of about 3% cogenitors which seem to be just the right amount. They're treated basically like conception appliances, shipped all over the world to whoever wants to have a baby.
Nature finds a way!
Trip befriends this cogenitor and learns that they are very much just as intelligent and able as the other two genders. So he takes it upon himself to teach it to read and play the piano and stuff, despite warnings from both Phlox and T'Pol that alien races have different ideas of what is or isn't right for their culture.

Well, naturally, Trip decides he needs to give the cogenitor a "normal" pronoun, so he starts calling it a she. He shows her around Enterprise, teaches her all about being an individual and human art and literature and stuff. All behind the back of the Vissian couple who wants to conceive. They get really upset when they learn that the cogenitor is growing a sense of self-worth. Then things get out of had when the cogenitor realizes she can ask for asylum.

The purpose of the third gender is for the other two to be able to reproduce. And now, since the cogenitor doesn't want to go back to her own ship, the couple can't reproduce. But Archer can't ignore a request for asylum, right? Right?! Yes, he can. In order to not offend the Vissians, he decides to give the cogenitor back to the Vissians and guess what happens.

The cogenitor kills itself...

Archer informs Trip and Trip insists he only did what Archer would have done. This is Archer's reply:

"I might have expected something like this from a first year recruit, but not you. You did exactly what I'd do? If that's true then I've done a pretty lousy job setting an example around here. You're a senior officer on this ship, you're privy to the moral challenges I've had to face. You know I've wrestled with the fine line between doing what I think is right and interfering with other species. So don't tell me you know what I would've done when I don't even know what I would've done."

There are a lot of peripheral sub-plot elements in this episode. They explore what sexuality would be like for a species that requires a third gender to reproduce (contraception between two genders is natural, so sex is free), they explore Archer learning about technological advances from Drennik, Reed showing off his weapons collection, etc... Somehow, when the cogenitor kills itself, nothing else seems to matter. What was the right thing to do? This episode doesn't have any answers, but the questions are what make it great.

Overall Thoughts
This episode is another diamond in the rough. I'm coming up on the last season of Enterprise and I am not regretting it because of episodes like this. This is truly one of the more essential episodes of Enterprise that one needs to see.