“Unexpected” – ENT 1X5

When I was about nine, I thought the movie Junior (the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant) was hilarious. I now realize it was terrible – from the over-the-top acting to the cliché writing to the over-reliance on gender stereotypes. I bring this up because Enterprise’s “Unexpected” relies on the same humour as Junior, with about as much success.

So, to begin we have Archer in the shower when there’s a gravity malfunction and he starts floating. Haven’t seen much to endear me to Archer so far, so I admit I enjoyed laughing at him a little.

T'Pol and Phlox in the mess hall

In the mess hall, Phlox continues the trend of all the dudes on the ship giving T’Pol a hard time for something. This time it’s her lack of culinary adventurousness. She encounters more ship system issues when she goes to the drinks dispenser and black gunk comes out instead of water.

After some investigating they figure out a cloaked ship is sucking up the Enterprise’s plasma exhaust and its proximity is causing the malfunctions. They hail the Xyrillian ship and offer to send Tucker over to help repair their systems.

Tucker awakens on the alien ship after undergoing an intense “decompression” process. His vision is blurry but eventually his head clears, with the help of the Xyrillian engineer, Ah’len. Ah’len, like the other Xyrillians, looks reptilian. But she’s also wearing a skin-tight silver catsuit in case dudes in the audience didn’t find her sexy enough (see Green Skinned Space Babe trope).

Ah'len

It doesn’t take long between there’s an implied interest between her and Trip – after he gets woozy after doing some initial repairs, she actually feeds him these cubes that are supposed to approximate water, and as her fingers touch his lips we hear what sounds like a light electric zapping sound.

They go back to repairs. By this point I’m feeling like Ah’len is a missed opportunity. She’s a woman engineer but she gets more time nursing Trip than she does talking about anything engineering-related. If the ship is damaged, wouldn’t her time be better used working until Trip is feeling well enough to assist?

Also, why is everyone else just hanging out on Enterprise? This is a new, very alien species (big props to the people who designed the sets for this one – they feel unique and you get the sense of how weird it would be to be there). Even though the Xyrillians are cautious, they don’t seem that hostile. Shouldn’t Archer be trying to establish something more long-term or at least learn more about them?

Taking another break from repairs, Ah’len takes Trip to her ship’s holodeck, where they sit in a boat overlooking the sunset on a sea.

Ah'len and Trip on the boat

They play a telepathic game where they each put their hands in this square bowl filled with granules that let them read each other’s minds. The biggest revelation:

Tucker: You find me attractive. 
Ah’len: You like having people find you attractive, don’t you? 
Tucker: Sometimes.

Repairs completed, Tucker returns to Enterprise and the Xyrillians take off. In the mess hall, Tucker is catching up with Reed, remarking on Ah’len’s “certain sensuality”, when he notices a weird red mark on his wrist. He’s also started eating ravenously.

In Sickbay, Phlox reports that Tucker is pregnant! All right, time to run through the clichés about pregnant women, only they’re funnier because it’s a man, right?

First he starts freaking out about the ship’s layout not being suitable for a child. Later, Phlox tells him to expect mood swings and heightened emotions. Trip also becomes worried that he’s the subject of ridicule – because what man wouldn’t be embarrassed to be pregnant? Sure it’s the future, but god forbid anyone should be able to suspend judgment and find anything fascinating about the situation.

The Enterprise goes after the Xyrillians but Archer tells Tucker he needs to be ready to raise his child if they can’t find their ship.

Trip looks afraid for the future

“I never had any intention of becoming a working mother,” Trip moans.

They find the Xyrillians, cloaked, drafting off the plasma of a Klingon ship. T’Pol gets a halfway decent scene where she bails out Archer (who proves himself to be a terrible diplomat) to convince the Klingons not to destroy the Xyrillians.

Tucker also has to lift up his shirt to show the Klingons he’s pregnant – cue more laughter at the emasculated male!

They contact the Xyrillians and they make arrangements to transfer the alien fetus to another host.

Ah'len scans the fetus in Trip

Having settled things with the Xyrillians and Klingons, the Enterprise officers enjoy one of their regular dinners in the Captain’s mess.

T’Pol: I’ve run a check through the Starfleet database. You might be pleased to know that this is the first recorded incident of a human male becoming pregnant.

Tucker: Just how I always wanted to get into the history books.

Dude, seriously, why not?

So this is a fluff episode, no question. It’s disappointing. I have a few things I don’t love about “The Child” (for a later post) but at least it grappled with actual ethics, issues and emotions. “Unexpected” could’ve delved much deeper into issues around fatherhood, parenting, alien vs. human biology, or reproduction and consent. But instead it just trades off lazy stereotypes.

The way it treats male pregnancy is problematic for two reasons: it devalues pregnancy by having it be  so much beneath a man to experience; and it ignores the fact that there are men who can and do get pregnant – trans men.

On the latter point, I recently read a Sociological Images article on a City of Chicago campaign using images of pregnant men to discourage teen pregnancy, and I thought this quote was also valid to the underlying transphobia in “Unexpected”

“Cis-gendered boys won’t feel like pregnancy can happen to them. Rather, they will scoff, or laugh at the ‘absurdness’ of male pregnancy, reassured that their (utterly and fixedly ‘masculine’) bodies are ‘safe’ from such conditions. More devastatingly, the cis-gendered general public looking at these images will have their own prejudices and expectations about male pregnancy reinforced: as something ‘unexpected,’ shocking, and ‘unnatural.’”

What we learned from this episode:

  • Seeking out new life is all well and good, but don’t bother trying to learn too much when you encounter it
  • There are few things more embarrassing for a male than to go through a natural biological process if it’s something usually experienced by females

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail

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