“Home” wraps up the Xindi arc and introduces two new, significant female characters: Captain Erika Hernandez and T’Pol’s mom, T’Les. It’s got a lot that’s awesome, but also suffers some familiar blind spots.
The episode starts out with a familiar theme in Enterprise: people overlooking Hoshi. Hoshi at this point is still suffering from the Xindi parasite infestation, so she misses the massive coliseum ceremony welcoming the Enterprise crew home.
But then we meet Erika Hernandez! She’s Archer’s former flame (shrug) but is soon to be the captain of the Columbia, the only other Warp 5 vessel in Starfleet (yay!).
I’m inclined to love Erika Hernandez from having read the Destiny novels, but she is very much in this episode to assist Archer and his character development.
Because Archer has a reason to be emo, which he reveals to Erika after she tags along on his attempt to clear his head by mountain climbing.
Archer: You want to know why I’m out here? I figured this is the last place I’d run into anyone who’d want to shake my hand or take my picture or tell me I’m an inspiration to their children. If they knew what I’d done.
Hernandez: You did what any captain would have done.
Archer: Does that include torture? Or marooning a ship full of innocent people? Because I don’t remember reading those chapters in the handbook…All I’m trying to do is get away from you. I look at you, and I see the person I was three years ago. The explorer that my father wanted me to be. I lost something out there, and I don’t know how to get it back.
And then she kisses him, says that basically she’d like to help him get whatever it his he lost back.
You know how in horror movies you see a character walking into a dangerous situation and you want to scream, “Don’t open the door!” or “Look behind you!” at them?
There were so many points in this episode I wanted to scream to Erika, “Look out! He’s not that much of a catch!”
Archer tends towards being condescending to others at the best of times, and he repeatedly makes slightly snarky comments to Hernandez that imply she couldn’t possibly know what it’s like out in space, such as saying, “Did you read my reports?” when she questions his recommendation to assign a whole squad of MACOs to her ship.
“Yes, Captain, I did,” she says calmly. To her and the writers’ credit, she is always in control. She’s helping Archer and open to his advice without ceding her authority. As she says to Archer in her first scene, “I’m married to Starfleet, just like you.”
So, maybe for the first time, I’m going to say something good about Archer: if he’s into Hernandez, he’s got great taste.
Meanwhile, on Vulcan, T’Pol brings Trip home to meet her mother. Turns out T’Les has lost her job at the Vulcan Science Academy as retribution for T’Pol’s behaviour on Enterprise. But if T’Pol agrees to marry her fiancé, Koss, T’Les could get her job back.
Whereas Erika Hernandez is totally in control in this episode, T’Pol is almost totally disempowered, subject to her mother’s anger and disappointment and offered a lose-lose situation by Koss: she can marry him or call the khal if fee and force a fight to the death.
It’s a bit painful to watch T’Pol, who has been subject to constant demands to change who she is aboard Enterprise, being coerced into changing again. She’s an outsider, even in her own home.
Trip realizes in this episode that he’s in love with T’Pol, and admits this to T’Les, but won’t tell T’Pol because “she’s under enough pressure already.” So he attends her wedding to support her. This is probably the most empathy I’ve ever seen from Trip towards T’Pol, even though, as T’Les points out, it might have been better to make sure T’Pol had “all the facts.” But ultimately, respecting her decision, even though he deeply disagrees with it, is a big deal.
Finally, there is a C plot in this episode, which is the beginning of xenophobic movements on Earth as a result of the Xindi attacks. Phlox experiences this first-hand when he’s targeted in a bar by racists and a fight breaks out. After, Hoshi tries to get Phlox to talk about it, when he refuses to go back to Earth to try Madam Chang’s egg-drop soup:
Hoshi: This isn’t the way to deal with prejudice. The best thing is to show your face and remind people that there are aliens who don’t want to blow up the planet.
Phlox: I can’t blame those men for the way they reacted. Earth has survived a horrific attack. It will take time for the trauma to heal.
Seasons 3 and 4 of Enterprise were obviously heavily influenced by 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. John Billingsley (Phlox) has spoken on convention panels about his objections to the way the U.S. responded after 9/11, and how Bush-style jingoism made its way into Enterprise plots and scripts.
I think this scene is a classic example. Although we’re meant to see Phlox’s side and know that racism and xenophobia is wrong, there is no push to hold humanity to a higher standard, as I think we would’ve seen in the earlier Trek series.
I think that’s kind of appalling, because Phlox is an obvious stand-in for Muslims (or other visible minority people confused or conflated with Muslims) in this allegory. So this has real world implications: saying xenophobia and violent racism is a reasonable outcome of trauma and the subjects of that hate should just lie low, is a deeply offensive message.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. T’Pol and T’Les talk about several subjects, including T’Les losing her job.
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I agree pretty much with your review, although I always liked the episode, partly because it’s a welcome interlude after the almost relentless darkness and drama of Season 3. I liked seeing (for the first time, I think) what home life is like on Vulcan, and felt sad for T’Pol and Trip, who has come far since his irritating teasing of her (really quite racist) in earlier seasons. And like you, I love Erica Hernandez! The Destiny novels were very good, and Hernandez is really the lead character in those, I think. Her very long captivity, and the even worse fate of a few of her officers, were pretty upsetting, but I was so glad to see more of her. It would be nice to hear Women at Warp review that complex and gripping trilogy!
Why DO people ignore T’Pol and Hoshi? I like them both as characters, just not how they’re treated. T’Pol has a really good character arc, and Hoshi is stronger than she at first seems to think she is and becomes more confident and authoritative as the show progresses. I love her kinda sorta friendship with Phlox. But they’re the only two main women characters on the ship. In Destiny, the Columbia has a bridge full of women; why couldn’t Enterprise be more representative? Hernandez proves that the show could do strong female characters, but she was woefully underused. And it was made at the start of the 21st century! Discovery is at last righting the balance somewhat, though I’m not sure how I feel about the show in some other ways.
I agree with you about the post-9/11 part. I think I took it that Phlox was just self-effacing about his experience, and trying to be forgiving and empathetic, but I still agree with Hoshi, and remembering how DS9 pulled no punches about political issues (Past Tense, Paradise Lost), it’s disappointing that Enterprise didn’t send a stronger message. More positively, I always thought the three part Vulcan story in Season 4 was an allegory for the War on Terror, with a similar idea to Paradise Lost and (interestingly) the actor who played Admiral Leyton in a very similar role. Maybe after 9/11, Berman and Co found it easier to tell the story about an alien culture than set it on our own Earth, much closer to home.
I still like a lot of Enterprise. It has a fair number of dull or frustrating episodes, but at its best I think it’s very good. My favourite Star Trek is DS9, my second favourite TNG. The rest is – mixed! And I really enjoy Women at Warp. I’m listening to several episodes a night (catching up!), and keep wanting to join in the conversation with you all. I’ve learned a lot about LGBTQ+ issues from listening to it (so hard to unpack the complex difficulties of The Outcast, but I love thinking of Dax as an analog of a trans person; that had honestly never occurred to me before!), and am thinking about Trek in a more feminist way now. It’s also great fun! I hope you all continue the podcasts for a long time; after all the subject matter is pretty inexhaustible.
Could I please make a request for an episode on Vic Fontaine? 🙂 I know he’s corny but he’s meant to be (it’s 1961, pally!), and I think he’s a charming character and strangely very real. His Way and the one about Nog’s recovery are very touching episodes, I think. I also love the mysteriousness of him, how his sentience and ability to turn himself on and off are never really explained. I don’t think that’s a cop out, I think it’s deliberate, and feels better that way.
Anyway, best wishes to you and Grace and Andi and Sue. And thanks to all of you for all your Star Trek-related work.