Nov. 2, 2021

039: ENT: Acquisition

Archer shows us how to unlock the potential in others.

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Enterprise, Acquisition (Season 1, Episode 19). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Archer.

Captain Archer and his team are boarded by a group of unknown aliens (Ferengi...). Archer decides to use the talents, and social status, of one of them to leverage his way to escape.

Leaders and managers listening to this will learn how to unlock the potential in the people they work with. And we'll all have a chance to decide is THIS is the episode of Star Trek that destroys canon....

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Welcome, and thanks for joining me today. Captain Archer shows us how to get the best out of someone that doesn’t even believe they’re capable of it, while we decide if this episode destroys all continuity in the Star Trek universe as we kick off the 19th episode of the first season of Enterprise, Acquisition. 


The Enterprise is adrift, floating in space. We join a crew of unknown aliens speaking in their language, scoping the ship out and docking with it.

Ok, let’s get it right out. They’re Ferengi. Mainstays in TNG and DS9, yet here they are, a few hundred years before official First Contact with them, so we’ll go along with the illusion for the recap here. They’re an unknown alien race. 

They board the ship; the crew are all lying around in corridors, passed out. They take an interest in T’Pol and notice her ears are different than everyone else’s. They have a weird fascination with ears. 

In Engineering, they disable a device that was spewing out some gas. Presumably what put the crew out. They dive into salvage operations.

In the decon chamber, Trip is waiting for his time to complete. He says “you said 20 minutes, it’s been at least an hour,” as he tries to get Phlox’s attention. But, he, like everyone else, is passed out. Trip picks the lock and leaves the chamber. He ensures the crew is alive but isn’t sure what has happened. He hears the aliens talking so he hides away and keeps an eye on them. While in his boxer briefs. 

We’re about 11 minutes into the episode at this point. They handcuff Archer and wake him up. They take a little while to calibrate their universal translator. They start hitting him and asking, “Where is the location of your vault?” He tries to reason with them, but the alien they call Muk keeps hitting him. He sees Trip on an upper deck. He changes his approach; plays along. “I’ll show you where the vault is if you let me keep half the gold.” They agree, but we start seeing some cracks in the cohesion of this team. “Why am I always stuck doing the menial labor?” They make Archer do it instead. 

He starts applying pressure where he can. He’s paired off with Krem and he asks a lot of questions. He’s trying to sow seeds of doubt and make Krem an ally. But Krem sticks to his principles, quoting the Rules of Acquisition. Those are the code that Ferengi live by, mostly directing them to predatory business practices. Of course, we don’t know that yet. These are still unknown aliens that are just pirates to Archer at this point. Funny moment between them here, “That kind of thinking almost drove our planet to ruin. You should have managed your businesses better.” 

Archer keeps on it. He finds out Krem’s cousin handles his finances and that he gets the smallest share. His dream is to have his own ship, but Archer can see that he’s just getting taken advantage of. “Never let family get in the way of profit.” One of the Rules of Acquisition. 

Archer sees Trip nearby and asks Krem to get him something to eat and some water. Krem cuffs him to a bulkhead and heads off to the mess. Trip comes around and they update each other. There isn’t anything Trip can find that will wake up the crew and the aliens have taken all the phase pistols. But, Archer thinks that if Trip can find the hypospray they used to wake him up, Trip could probably get one person to help him. They are up a creek without a paddle but might have a glimmer of hope. 

Trip finds the hypo and wakes up T’Pol. He tells her what’s going on. She determines that the thing the aliens turned off earlier in the episode, the one that was spewing gas, was left out for someone to find as a trap. Trip had found it on the mission he was returning from when he was in the decon station. So the whole thing was an elaborate trap by these aliens so they could break into a ship and clean it out. 

The other aliens, Muk, Grish and Ulis are still searching for the mysterious vault. And they start getting a little too greedy, “This beauty’s going in my personal collection.” 

Trip and T’Pol come up with a plan and they’re moving around the ship to set stuff up for it. After a few more minutes of them arguing and salvaging, while they’re distracted, T’Pol messes with their bags where they’ve been stowing the gear in. “Where’s my scanners?” They continue arguing with and threatening each other. They split up with Muk going off on his own.

Down in Engineering, Archer continues chipping away at Krem’s confidence in his team. “He wouldn’t cheat me. Don’t let family stand in the way of profit.” He offers to split the gold with Krem if he turns on the team but he refuses. 

Muk finds Trip and chases him down but Trip gets the better of him. Ulis runs into him in the corridor and uses his energy whip to disarm him and knock him out. They drag him to Archer and ask what’s going on. They play off of each other, both offering to help the aliens and double-crossing the other. They work with Trip.

He runs them all around the ship in a roundabout way, trying to confuse them. He takes them to a hatch we saw him prepping back when he and T’Pol were getting ready for their plan. He opens it up, they walk in and find T’Pol waiting for them. She blasts them with a phase pistol, stunning them. They get locked up in the brig as the crew begins to wake up and recover. 

Trip and some security guards supervise the aliens as they return everything they’ve stolen. After that, Archer escorts them to their ship and puts one in for Krem, “if you want to be unshackled, you’ll think about showing Krem some more respect.” He sends them on their way as Krem sits in the captains chair and takes off. 

<<Red Alert>>

At the end of the last episode, when this one came up, I mentioned it was controversial. We first saw the Ferengi in the season 1 TNG episode The Last Outpost. They were supposed to be the new big-bad now that Klingons were friendly with the Federation. In that episode we learned First Contact with the Ferengi happened in 2364; this episode, Acquisition, happens in 2151. So here, we are, 213 years before First Contact, but face to face with them. And that’s the controversy. When this episode aired in ’02 people kinda freaked out, which was too bad because the Ferengi were used to try and boost ratings. 

But before I share my thoughts on this, let’s hear from the most iconic Ferengi of them all. 

Quarks – Ads 

I think this was great! Space is huge! And why wouldn’t a couple of Ferengi, on the hunt for profit end up in a part of space the Enterprise was in?? They never said who they were, where they came from or anything. They were just space pirates that pulled a good one. If I could change one thing that would really clear up the debate on this one, other than using a different alien, I wouldn’t have had them reference the Rules of Acquisition. That was a little too on the nose, but that could just be me being nitpicky too.

So this was fine. And if you have a problem with the continuity on it, well, get over it. 

This was a pretty fun episode too. I mean, there are huge swaths of time where basically nothing happens, but it’s all in fun. All in all I enjoyed it.

You could call the Ferengi a problematic species in Star Trek. They’ve been called anti-Semitic and aggressively misogynistic. While Deep Space 9 did a lot to address some of that, those are totally valid impressions, especially being misogynist. I ignored some pretty creepy scenes between T’Pol and Krem. “You would make a handsome wife. Oo-mox.” That really showed that side of them. 

But, again, DS9 offers a lot of development and even redemption for this species.

The real shining light of this episode, though, were the hall-of-fame guest stars that portrayed the aliens. We’re talking Jeffrey Combs, Clint Howard and Ethan Phillips! I’ve talked about the gift of Jeffrey Combs before on the podcast. He plays a semi-regular Ferengi on DS9, Brunt and this episode was so cool because Krem is everything Brunt is not: nervous, low self-esteem. I mean, Combs plays them so differently you almost can’t tell it’s Jeffrey Combs!

We all know Ethan Phillips as Neelix. And, well, you know my feelings on Neelix. But he was great as Ulin. The way he carried himself was aggressive and kind of scary! Totally different than Neelix! But, here’s something you might not know about Ethan Phillips: he played one of the earliest Ferengi in all of Star Trek, in the 3rd season of the Next Generation. And he was a holographic host on the holodeck in Star Trek: First Contact. Dude’s done all kinds of Star Trek! 

But all of the guests really had a lot of fun in these roles and it showed. For an episode that doesn’t really mean anything in the scope of Star Trek or even Enterprise, this was a lot of fun. 

<<Command Codes>>

One of the gifts a leader offers is being able to see something in others that they don’t see in themselves. And not only do they see it, but they are able to help encourage and influence that person to become that. I like to call this unleashing the potential in others. It takes real insight to be able to do this, but it also depends on a leader’s ability to listen and observe. 

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In this episode, Archer accomplishes this with Krem. Now, he’s actually manipulating him to take advantage of the situation and help save his ship, but I’m going to focus on the positive things he did here that you can also do to help unleash the potential in the people you work with. 

In the episode where I watched DS9: Things Past, I talked a lot about being curious. About approaching a situation openly and not assuming you already know the answer to something. When you do this, when you watch and listen, all from a place of curiosity you will notice things. 

(28-ish, 32-ish and 35-ish MINUTE MARK FOR ENCOURAGING KREM)

For example, in this episode, Archer observes the interactions of the aliens with each other while they’re grilling him for the location of the vault. He sees the clear hierarchy between them and that Krem is the grunt of the group. When he’s left alone with him, Archer starts asking questions. His questions are trying to do two things here. First, he’s validating his assumptions based on his observations. Second, he’s gauging Krem’s desire and his ability to achieve his desires. 

These are critical and necessary when coming from a place of curiosity because you’re leaving yourself open to anything you see and hear. You have to validate what you’re observing to determine what’s important and what is true. In this first interaction, for example, it’s pretty clear that Krem is subservient to the rest of the team, but maybe there’s something cultural with this mystery species that Archer doesn’t know that flips that on its head. Like, subservience is a sign of power, or something like that. So he asks open-ended questions, and then listens to the responses. Based on those responses, he encourages Krem to take action on his desires.

Now if you manage people, I would imagine you spend time talking with them. Or at least I sure hope you do! You likely have impromptu conversations and scheduled, more formal confers and one-on-one discussions. On top of that, you probably have opportunities to see them in action, doing the work they’re there to do. 

In these interactions, you can follow Archer’s example. Listen, with curiosity, observe their performance and ask questions. When you do these things, you will observe and validate things about the people you work with that they may not have considered or had the confidence to attempt. And that’s where the magic happens! Once you have that, you can work to develop opportunities and offer skills or training that can help move that person towards their talent or desire. 

I want to give an example. I used to work in pro wrestling. It was one of the greatest gigs I ever had; at least one of the most fun. I mostly worked on the mic as a commentator or announcer, but did some time in the ring too. I was a referee, a manager, kind of like a Bobby “The Brain” Heenan or Jimmy Hart, and even wrestled a little. It was a fun time. 

Because I worked mainly in support roles and not in the middle of the match, I had the opportunity to see a lot of what happened during the matches. Especially when I worked as a commentator where I not only watched every match, but along with the broadcast team would call and analyze what was happening in there. Well, because of that, the talent would often ask my opinion on their performance and on their matches. And as we’ve talked about in other episodes of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, it is important to always add value in your conversations with others. So I was always very honest and constructive when someone asked for my opinion. 

So I was working with a smaller organization. It was fun because we could try things out and get away with things the larger companies I worked with just couldn’t. It was a little more loose. And because it was a little more loose, they hired wrestlers and talent that didn’t necessarily fit the traditional molds. That led to them hiring this one guy that had been training for a few years to get in the ring.

As a side note, you probably have an opinion about pro wrestling, and that’s cool, but let me tell you that it is no joke. The athleticism and training that’s necessary to even do a halfway decent job is extraordinary. And, if you ever think, or even dare to say, that it’s fake, allow me to introduce you to my orthopedic surgeon who would very much disagree with you. 

So this guy gets hired to wrestle. He’s not in great shape, he’s super pale, skinny and has the same, kind of embarrassing and fuzzy shoulder hair that I have. His tights just kind of hung off of him. He didn’t look good in there. He did an okay enough job, like her knew what he was doing, but, honestly, he just wasn’t much of an athlete and it really showed.

But he had real passion for this. When I watched him prepare for his matches, he did it with real intention; he wanted to do a great job. He very much understood what he needed to accomplish in the ring and his very best to do it. When he was in his match, he was absolutely beaming; there was nowhere he would rather be.

I’d visit with him in the locker room. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge about the sport and the industry. I found myself mesmerized by the stories he could tell about other matches and performers. When I asked him questions about the stories, his training, or just about wrestling in general, he would answer them in the most engaging way that, again, just showed his passion.

Now, we all know it takes more than passion and drive to really make it, and this guy just didn’t have much more than that. Despite that, the promoter booked him in a relatively high-profile match. I wanted to help him however I could, so I suggested he film one of those pro wrestling interviews we all know and love to hype and build himself up for the match. Well he did it. And you know what…it was amazing!! Like, next level fantastic. And that’s when the light went off in my head. 

This guy belongs on a mic and not in the ring!!

I shared my opinion with him and then helped advocate for a new role in the company for him. He started managing wrestlers very quickly, where he’d be their hype-man and help them get away with nefarious deeds in their matches. He had a ton of success and now makes his living, working full time both as a performer and a commentator in pro wrestling.

That was his dream! It’s what he wanted to do, but he thought he wanted to be a wrestler, to be in the ring doing the stuff. But his skills and talents showed his potential was just a little different than that. And a part of helping him get there was me, pulling an Archer. I observed him, I listened to him. I was curious when he spoke and I asked a lot of questions. Then I made a proposal, much like Archer did! The difference is my guy wasn’t Krem. No, he was, and is brilliant. He’s living the dream; he has unleashed his potential and it’s the coolest thing ever. 

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

We got through this one quicker than most episodes. Again, this is absolutely one worth watching, but they kind of took a 20 minute episode and stretched it out to 44. Still, a lot of fun.

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Computer, what are we going to watch next time…. 

The 18th episode of the 7th season of The Next Generation, Eye of the Beholder. This one deals with some very sensitive subject matter – suicide. It also features Troi prominently, so I am hopeful for another thought-provoking episode like Face of the Enemy. Be sure to join me on our next episode to find out if that’s the case. 

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!