All television drama is based around conflict. Whether it’s the conflict of two athletic teams competing for the win, a police detective struggling to solve a mystery, or a starship crew struggling to save Earth from destruction at the hands of an alien race— conflict is what drives the plot, and compels us, as viewers, to keep watching. Without conflict, there’s nothing left but the pointless actions of going through the motions. Conflict is the point.
And in many television dramas, nothing gets people more interested than when members of the primary cast are set at each other’s throats. Long-running conflicts become more interesting, and more complicated. There’s more background, and it’s more difficult to take sides when you have a better understanding of both perspectives.
So what is it about Star Trek that, whenever it sets its crew against its captain, there has to be some sort of glib justification that easily settles any and all consequences in an inter-crew conflict?
Let’s go all the way to the original series’ “Turnabout Intruder"— because the plot line in that episode was about Kirk’s bitter former girlfriend taking over his body, the prospect of a mutiny made sense to the viewers, and could even be justified.
The next example of a mutiny that I can think of is the excellent Voyager episode, “Worst Case Scenario.” Of course, that was a holodeck episode, but the prospects of conflict really drew you in, despite the fact that it wasn’t real— or perhaps because we knew it wasn’t real.
Then there’s Voyager’s much less attractive mutiny episode, “Regression.” This seventh season episode was nothing more than one last “viva Maquis!” story to falsely create tension between the two former halves that had long before become a whole. But even worse than that, the instigator of the mutiny was a single, insane fanatic some 30,000 light-years away, who somehow (ahem) managed to transmit mind-controlling information to Voyager and convince the former Maquis to take over the ship— for no apparent reason, no less. This story was so poorly justified that it deserves no further attention.
Finally, there’s last night’s intense but hollow Enterprise episode, “Hatchery.” On a mission as crucial as the NX-01’s quest to stop the Xindi from destroying Earth, it’s almost inevitable that nerves would begin to fray— just as we saw with Lieutenant Reed and Major Hayes a couple of weeks ago. And so, in that case, a mutiny, while an extreme way of developing that tension, seems at the very least logically possible.
And yet what’s the justification for this mutiny? Captain Archer gets sprayed by some alien eggs and starts thinking he’s their caretaker. He becomes paranoid and irrational, willing to sacrifice a third of their fuel reserves to help save a bunch of Xindi-Insectoid eggs— certainly a worthy cause even under the circumstances— it’s just that he’s giving too much and risking the ship’s ultimate mission, which is of course to stop the Xindi. He confines T’Pol and Reed to their quarters and threatens the same to Trip and Phlox.
Our intrepid main cast decide to stage a mutiny to keep Archer from sacrificing their fuel stores. They break into the armory, neck-pinch and shoot a few MACOs, and then storm the bridge. Meanwhile, Reed and Tucker beam down to the surface and shoot the captain to get him back to the ship, where Phlox conclusively proves that the captain was not in his right mind.
And so, we’re left with a perfectly easy excuse for this entire escapade. The mutiny is completely justified, there’s no hard feelings, and Major Hayes and the other MACOs are left with egg on their face (pardon the pun) for supporting a captain who wasn’t running on all thrusters.
In other words, we’re never going to hear of this incident again. So simple, so neat and tidy. Why can’t we see some real conflict for a change, and have something other than a perfect victory that completely justifies the whole thing? Why not leave some doubt?
For instance, the Enterprise could’ve been forced to retreat after more Insectoid ships arrived at the end, there could’ve been less of a proof that the egg’s spray had affected Archer’s mental faculties. There could’ve been lingering resentment from Hayes and the MACOs about being shown up in guerilla combat by the Starfleet crew they’re supposed to be “protecting.”
Instead, we’re left with a safe, simple conclusion to the story. And in a season where Star Trek: Enterprise is supposed to be taking more risks, supposed to be bolder and more exciting, this glib and simplified conflict is seriously disappointing.