Fight or Flight is the third Star Trek Enterprise episode, the sneakily nationalist Broken Bow having been spread over the first two. In it, the Enterprise, steering pretty aimlessly out into unexplored space, comes across an alien vessel apparently drifting in space. On scanning and eventually boarding the ship (against the advice of the Enterprise‘s resident Vulcan, T’Pol), the crew finds a bunch of dead aliens being harvested for chemicals; they leave, but Captain Archer is morally unable to leave the ship there, so they return, send a mayday message from the dead ship to its home planet, are attacked by the chemical harvesters and finally have to convince the ship returning to the rescue of the dead ship that they are not the culprits.
The emotional core of the episode is Ensign Sato, the linguistics expert who’s communications officer aboard the Enterprise. She’s on the initial expedition onto the alien ship, and she’s essentially traumatised by the dead bodies the crew find there; the rest of the episode sees her working her feelings of worthlessness and guilt out and finding her feet aboard the Enterprise.
So that’s a point in favour of the episode, for me: that it addresses what feels like a realistic emotional response to the dangerous work we see SF characters do so often, and that Sato’s supported through it in a reasonably healthy and well-adjusted way by her colleagues. We don’t often get to see functional work environments in SFF.
I enjoyed, too, the way the episode’s denouement isn’t an explosive space battle (the ship’s targeting software being offline or something) but an act of negotiation with an alien species, one that, moreover, requires a deal of patience on both sides as Sato tries to work out their language. It goes some way to redressing the irritation I felt about the last episode, in which humanity can apparently ride roughshod over interspecies cultural differences because American Values Conquer All.
Only some way, though, because this episode still requires a bit of riding roughshod on the part of the Enterprise; as I mentioned above, Captain Archer’s initial bioscan of the alien ship is a breach of space ethics. It annoys me that the episode weights the consequences of this decision so that we can’t help but agree his actions were correct, despite their cultural insensitivity; once again, we see human values (read: American values) uncomplicatedly held as superior to everyone else’s, which is the beginning of the route to colonialism and other unpleasantnesses.
Star Trek‘s fans always reference its progressiveness; so far, I’ve yet to see that. My mind, however, is open to changing.