Trip-centric review of “Rogue Planet” (not too slashy)
by Kylie Lee
September 16, 2002
There’s just no easy way to say this: “Rogue Planet” is simply bad. The notion of Captain Jonathan Archer half-falling in love with a weird shapeshifter is ridiculous, and the sexual tension between Archer and every other crew member, including Tucker, is nonexistent. The story is moody, set on a planet where it’s always dark, and the Enterprise crew is forced to wear stupid jackets with strangely large lapels, although the night-vision apparatus they strap to their heads in many ways makes up for the unfortunate lapels. This is really an Archer episode, although there are some nice dynamics between Reed and Archer (as Archer learns, to his dismay, that Reed has more Eagle Scout badges than he does), Archer and Tucker, and Archer and T’Pol.
The plot, briefly, is as follows: The Enterprise crew discover a rogue planet, one not in orbit around a star, and when they explore, they find out that hunters are on the surface on a four-day hunting jaunt, ostensibly seeking the elusive drayjin, a piglike creature. Several of the Enterprise crew decide to camp out with the hunters in the spirit of friendship and curiosity. Archer is lured away from camp by an incredibly beautiful woman wearing a nightgown and flowers in her hair who calls him by his name: “Jonathan.” Naturally (he noticed the nightgown), he follows, only to be disappointed when she almost literally disappears. The next day, Reed goes hunting with their new friends, and he learns of something called a “wraith.” Apparently the hunters seek these too. As events unfold, Archer discovers that the wraiths are the game the hunters seek, but the wraiths are clearly intelligent. They can read people’s minds, and they are shapeshifters. In fact, the beautiful woman he saw is a wraith. She looked deep into Archer’s mind and created the shape she uses when she sees him, which is why he thinks she looks familiar, although she delved so deep that it took him a while to remember: she is the personification of the beautiful woman in a poem he liked as a child. Clever Doctor Phlox manufactures a masking agent that hides a chemical the wraiths emit when cornered, and Archer gives it secretly to the beautiful woman, who hands it out to all her pals, and the day is saved. The episode concludes with a tender moment between Archer and his unobtainable dream, as represented by the woman: their hands unclasp, and the gorgeous woman turns into a huge flatworm and slithers off into the night.
Tucker has little to do on the rogue planet, and unfortunately, his role is almost entirely that of helpmeet. From the very first moment, with Tucker attempting to catch the noble Archer on film so an artist can use it to craft a painting to hang up at Starfleet headquarters, Tucker is portrayed as the amusing pal, the sweet sidekick. His propensity to record moments for all time is further highlighted when he, T’Pol, and Archer visit the thermal vents while Reed is off killing things, and Tucker snaps picture after picture despite the incredibly poor light, barely stopping to set up shots and refocus--this in contrast to the care he took when photographing Archer to compose the shot perfectly. With his half-assed photography, Tucker is protesting the role Archer has temporarily cast him in: that of agreeable friend, who has little more to do than say things like, “She must have been some woman.”
The object of Tucker’s gaze at the beginning of the episode is Archer, but the object of the gaze becomes the planet itself when he snaps pictures of the vents. What occasioned this change? In a word: the wraith. Archer’s desire to discover who and what she is is all-consuming, and Tucker is relegated to the role of good friend and sounding board. Archer and Tucker’s talk in the mess late at night further foregrounds Tucker’s role as confidant as Archer explores the feelings the wraith occasions. Although Archer and Tucker are good friends, in the mess, Archer seems almost unaware of Tucker, despite the content of their conversion. Archer speaks with his back to Tucker, and when he speaks, it’s almost as if he were speaking aloud to himself. The body language implies distance. Archer does not seek Tucker for advice or help. Rather, Tucker is simply a sounding board as Archer attempts to articulate and clarify his thoughts.
“I went out to the hazelwood because a fire was in my head,” Archer tells Tucker, quoting the Yeats poem, “The Song of the Wandering Angus,” when they are alone together in the mess, Tucker drinking milk, a symbol of the feminine. Alas, however, the fire in Archer’s head isn’t for Tucker. Rather, it’s for exploration--for experience. Archer is consumed and driven by his work, and he is rewarded for this all-consuming passion: he is rewarded by his command, and he is honored by the portrait to be hung up at Starfleet. The wraith has only emphasized his single-minded intensity. “Never stop seeking what seems unobtainable,” the wraith tells Archer just before they part.
Whereas Archer is presented here as the masculine, driven explorer, the object of the gaze, Tucker is presented as the feminine helpmeet, the recorder of experience, the one who passively gazes. This is also in contrast with Reed, who, as an Eagle Scout, surpassed Archer, with twenty-eight patches to Archer’s twenty-six. Reed treats Archer with amused condescension on the whole Eagle Scout matter (he already has a patch for xenobiology, he informs Archer when Archer makes a joke about it), leaving Archer slightly miffed. Reed is presented as active too: he was an Eagle Scout, and he wants to go hunting with their new friends.
In only one scene is Tucker presented as the object of interest. While everyone is sitting around the campfire, Damrus, the unofficial spokesman for the hunters, tells Reed that they are heading out in six hours, and if Reed wants to come along on the hunt, he would do well to get some sleep. Reed, who can take a hint, rises and says, “I suppose I’ll turn in, then,” and he pats Tucker on the back twice. Tucker immediately responds, “Sounds like a good idea,” and he gets up and follows Reed. The implications here--that they are close enough friends that the fairly reserved Reed can touch Tucker, and that they are sharing a tent--is unmistakable. Archer keeps his distance from Tucker, even speaks to him with his back to him, and at the campfire, he sits next to T’Pol and they discuss work, leaving Reed and Tucker to sit together. But Reed engages Tucker, touches him, acknowledges him.
This episode’s theme--the desire for experience, be it exploration or hunting--only foregrounds Tucker’s relative passivity. Although Archer clearly values Tucker’s friendship, he apparently does not realize that he has cast Tucker into a role that Tucker finds chafing, as expressed by Tucker’s impatient picture-snapping. Although Tucker repeatedly backs up his captain in front of others, telling the alien hunters that if Archer said he saw a woman, then he saw a woman, in private, Tucker is more direct in his skepticism, as in his conversation with Archer about the nightie-wearing wraith (“She must have been some woman”). With his skepticism, Tucker makes clear his disappointment at not being the object of Archer’s gaze, as Archer is the object of Tucker’s gaze.