May 17, 2022

ENT: Two Days and Two Nights

If you think you are too important to take time off, you're wrong.


On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Enterprise, Two Days and Two Nights (Season 1, Episode 25). He will examine the leadership lessons from Captain Archer.


Article from Dr. Tema Okun, on toxic, dominant culture: https://rrapp.hks.harvard.edu/the-culture-of-white-supremacy-in-organizations/


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Transcript

Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. We often think of culture in a positive context, but, believe me, not every culture is positive. In fact, in this episode, thanks to Captain Jonathan Archer, I’m going to examine how the dominant, toxic culture in most societies impacts a leader’s ability to take care of themselves, and the negative impacts that has on their team. Fun stuff in the 25th episode of the first season of Enterprise, Two Days and Two Nights.

<<Transporter>>

The ship is at Risa, planet that will become THE destination for time off, good times, debauchery and jamaharon. They’ve got time for two days and two nights of limited shore leave for the crew. They drew lots to see who got to go and who had to stay on board. In a classic martyr tactic, Captain Archer participated in the drawing and then complains about being able to go to the planet. “I shouldn’t be going down to some pleasure planet.” 0:40. Dude! Then don’t play the game!! You don’t get it both ways, sir!

T’Pol, the science officer and first officer, agrees with me, and, maybe a little selfishly tells Archer, “Captain, you need a vacation.” 0:50 Or, to translate, get the fu BEEP out of my hair and go relax!

They load up a shuttle, Hoshi, the linguistics and communications officer, Trip, the Engineer, Reed, the tactical officer, Travis, the navigator and Archer all head down together. Archer brings his beagle, Porthos too which is super cool. I mean, what good is a vacation without your good boy??

They’re talking about their plans for their time off. Hoshi’s going to learn some languages, in the two days they’re there because that’s how she rolls, while Reed and Trip are planning to, um, well, Trip says, “Malcom and I intend to expand our cultural horizons.” 3:46 and Travis is going to go rock climbing. He ends up falling within a few hours and ends up back on the Enterprise pretty quickly. T’Pol has given Archer a little gift to help him pass the time. Some light reading, you know, The Teachings of Surak. Sounds exciting. 

There’s a whole story arc about how Dr Phlox needs to hibernate for six days a year, but he’s sure he can get away with 48 hours. They end up waking him up early to help treat Travis and it’s a weird, sort of attempt at kind of comedy while he’s trying to recover from a false start hibernation. A couple sort of chuckle scenes, but, not much more. 

Trip and Reed head to a club. Back in ’02 when this came out, this was pretty funny. Now, it’s pretty cringe and borderline offensive, but they are two guys that are waaaay out of their element. “What about that one?” 7:42 

Archer’s diving into Surak’s teachings when another dog ends up on the balcony with Porthos. This brings a neighbor from the hotel to his room. “I’m Jonathan. Kayla.” 10:10 They hit it off and agree to go out the next day. 

Hoshi impresses some locals with her ability to learn Risan. She meets a guy named Raavis and they have dinner together. She’s into him because she can’t immediately nail his language. She says she speaks over 40 but can’t quite get his. And I totally get that! This is the name of eavesdropper-dude’s planet, “gibberish” 14:02 Yeah, looks like they’ll have a super fun night. 

After an uncomfortably long time sitting at the bar, two women approach Trip and Reed. It’s hilarious how bad they are at this! “We’re kinda new to the neighborhood.” 16:05 I mean, it also hits really close to home…I had no business interacting with women when I was in my 20’s, or teens, or 30’s, or, well…yeah, let’s just say I can really feel where these two are coming from. But, hey, looks like even the, um, cool kids can win sometimes, “Have you seen the subterranean gardens” 19:29 The ladies lead them down into, a, basement…shape shift into two, creepy, early Buffy the Vampire Slayer looking demons, knock them out and rob them! “We could sell their clothes.” 21:04 Ok…maybe nice guys do finish last. 

Archer tries to get to know Kayla better; she’s been the one asking questions the whole time. He steps on a landmine. “I did have a family, They were killed. We’d been warned about the Suliban.” 28:47 Oops. But, really, how was he supposed to know?? You might remember the Suliban from the Enterprise episode Broken Bow. They have a large group called the Cabal that are connected to someone in the future. They have genetic enhancements and are brutal. While we’ve only talked about them once on the podcast, the Enterprise crew, and Archer, specifically, has run into them a few times. This vacation just took a turn for the Captain. 

They share a drink and she starts asking more questions. Not about Archer this time. About the Suliban. “Where do they come from? Where are they? What are they planning next?” 34:30 He starts getting more and more suspicious. He’s able to get a bio scan on her and send it to the ship for analysis. Turns out she’s a Tandaran. Tandarans are at war with the Cabal. One kidnapped Archer awhile ago and interrogated him. Some cool easter eggs in that episode, when we get to it! 

He confronts her. “Your surgeons did a nice job.” 37:05 She denies it, then she uses her fingernail to inject him with something that knocks him out. When he comes to, she’s gone and her hotel room is empty. 

They all get on the shuttle to return to the ship. Reed and Trip and pretty glum but making the most of it, “I’m guessing you two had an interesting couple of days. Fascinating culture, sir.” 42:50 And Hoshi is looking like she had a really good time. They get back to the ship and that’s it. 

<<Red Alert>>

Brannon Braga, who along with Rick Berman created this series, summed this episode up in two words: who cares. And I absolutely cannot disagree with him. 

Quarks – Ads 

Shore leave. When you’re on a ship you look forward to it and when you’re watching Star Trek, you watch with cautious optimism. You get some good ones, like TOS’s Shore Leave and TNG’s Captain’s Holiday. But then you get DS9’s Let He Who Is Without Sin and well, this one. 

I imagine the pitch in the writer’s room was, let’s make Reed and Trip look like idiots. Knowing that wouldn’t eat up 45 minutes they decided to give Hoshi a little romance, have some fun with Phlox, oh, and mention the ongoing storyline arc in this season in passing. 

I believe they were truly trying to be funny with Trip and Reed but missed the mark. They make a lot of jokes rooted in toxic masculinity and cross into homophobia more than once “I don’t think she’s the right pronoun, but if you think it’s worth the risk.” 8:00 It’s very much a product of its time, but even for 2002, this is pretty rough stuff. 

It’s pretty fun watching Hoshi do her stuff. She’s being all productive and studious and ends up with the most Risan experience of them all! I wonder how much of the languages are just gibberish the actors make up and how much they actually write. Like, she said the same thing more than once and the subtitles were the same, so either they told her what to say or she’s just good enough to keep using the same sounds. 

The Phlox waking up stuff could have been fun but it was ridiculous. I mean, he was sleeping for maybe like 8 hours. If they had explained that his hormones had adjusted or something, it might make more sense, but instead, it’s just, well, pretty over the top. “Incredible. I’ve been standing up for almost 5 minutes.” 31:26 I guess it was a great way to stretch the time on this episode. A couple of the gags land, but not really. T’Pol is great as the straight man to his chaos. I have to believe John Billingsley is thankful for every dollar he’s ever earned for this episode; but still, it’s not nearly enough. 

The Tandaran thing felt forced and did absolutely nothing except add a tiny bit of meaningless tension. The Suliban Cabal stuff is actually pretty interesting in this season; they do some cool stuff. Watching this out of order, though, it totally felt shoe horned in. And, like, aside from her knocking Archer out, it’s never even really confirmed that she is a Tandaran and that this was all a set up to get info from Archer. 

Ultimately, I have to credit Michael Dorn as the Director for pulling this all together and making it as fun as it was. Without his touch, this would be just about unwatchable. 

<<Command Codes>>

This episode wanted so badly to be funny, I think it kind of forgot that it’s still Star Trek. Even with that, we have the opportunity to talk about two critical topics. I’m going to talk about the importance of taking time off, like really taking time off, and I’m going to pick up on a topic from the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode on Lower Decks, Second Contact when I address how Archer is driven by the dominant, toxic culture. 

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Work is hard. That’s why they give us money to show up! We engage our minds, bodies, our emotions and often even our spirituality when we’re working. And our whole selves just aren’t designed for that. An older study, from 2016, by the World Health Organization, or WHO has some alarming statistics that demonstrate this. People that work for 55 or more hours a week have a 35% higher chance of having a stroke and a 17% higher chance of dying from heart disease than someone who works 40 hours or less. That’s huge!! And terrifying. Like, that money they’re giving us to show up…we’re literally killing ourselves for it, and that’s not cool. 

Taking time away from work has a positive impact on those numbers, but, here’s the thing. You can’t just take a day here or a day there. No, you need to take like 2 weeks off to really get the benefits of being away. It takes a few days to sluff off the daily stress from work before you can really begin relaxing and enjoying yourself. Then it takes a few days to get back into a headspace to return to work. If you’re just taking 2 or 3 days, or even one week off, you don’t have enough time for this to happen. You’re basically Phlox getting woken up from hibernation too soon! “Phlox Moment.” So, even though some of the crew gets to enjoy a little time off in this episode, it’s not enough to really make an impact on them…other than some fun stories to tell, or to never tell anyone. Ever.

And we see in this episode, from Archer, something we see, at least in the United States, on a regular basis, is an active resistance to taking time off. There are a lot of reasons for this, and they are all rooted in the toxic, dominant culture that pervades our society. We have this feeling that if we aren’t working, we’re wasting time. We believe that progress always equals more and that, if we’re not working, we’re wasting. 

But that is objectively and patently not true. At all. The Gross Domestic Product, or GDP is a global measure of, basically, a country’s economic strength and productivity. There are different measures for GDP, like nominal and PPP, but, it’s important to note that there are a lot of mitigating factors around these numbers. 

So, if this is a measure of productivity, high level logic would say that the more people work, the better the numbers, right? Like, we, in the US, who take some of the lowest amounts of vacation in the world, in fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls the US the No Vacation Nation, but if we take the lowest vacation, we should have the highest GDP, right?

Well, high level, you’re right. As of 2021, the US has the largest economy, measured by nominal GDP by a healthy margin. But, that’s not the end of the story. There is another measure of GDP that I think is more relevant here, and that’s GDP per capita. So, simply put, how much does each person contribute to the economy, or, put even more simply, how productive is each person?

Again, being the No Vacation Nation, this should be easy math, right? The US must be dominating here too. Oh…but you’re wrong. Ireland, Switzerland and Norway all beat out the US on this measure, and by a sizeable amount! But here’s where that becomes even more jaw dropping. 

In the US, there are no laws or regulations that require paid leave be offered to people; that’s at the sole discretion of the employer. But, in Norway, between federally mandated paid time off and paid holidays, workers there are entitled to 35 paid days off each year. Switzerland is 27 and Ireland is 30. So, if working more makes us more productive, why are economies that mandate that people have up to a month off each year outperforming the US? 

The answer is both more simple and more complex than you think. You’re a leader, right? That’s why you’re listening to this. And as a leader, one thing you know and that we can all agree on is that humans are the ultimate wild card. Like Dr. McCoy would say, logic be damned! When it comes to people. But, to put it simply, think of people as cars. Cars have a tank of gas, or a battery, and those have a range on them. You have to refill that tank before you can go any farther. So, if you can travel 400 miles on a tank of gas, it doesn’t matter too much if you drive all that at 25 miles per hour, or 80. That 400 miles is the range. 

But, imagine if you could still drive your car beyond the range of the gas tank. But instead of using gas or the charge in the battery, it started consuming the equipment in the car. It eats through the tires, the axels, the headlights, the seatbelts…everything else. At some point, that car is going to fall apart and maybe even be beyond repair. If only you had pulled over at that gas station and filled the tank. 

That’s us. We only have so far we can go, so much we can do, before we need a fill-up. When we hit empty, though, we can keep going, at the expense of our hearts, brains and everything else. So take the time to recharge and refresh, to fill your tank. You will go much further, much faster if you do. 

If you’re refusing to take vacation because you think you’re too important or the work you’re doing needs your constant attention, you are wrong. Dead wrong. Pun intended. 

At the beginning of this episode we get some good, and we get some bad from Archer on how to handle time off. First, you need to prepare for your time off. If you’re leading a project, or people, or you have tasks that others are depending on you for, you need to let people know you’re going to be away and what the status is for those things. This does not mean you need to delegate or assign them to someone. In fact, this is a great opportunity to go back to the exercise we did in the episode on TNG’s Elementary, Dear Data, where I asked you to categorize the tasks you are responsible for as being routine, urgent and critical. If your task is routine or maybe even urgent, let it go! Give your up and downstream colleagues a heads up that you’ll be out and let them be. For the critical stuff, though, you do need a plan and Archer actually sets that up here. “If anything happens, you know how to reach me.” :19 Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, sometimes stuff does happen and you need a plan. I have an executive assistant, for example, and they always know how to get a hold of me. But they also understand when they would need to get a hold of me. They’re not going to reach out because a PO, that someone else can sign off on, is waiting. They will reach out if there’s a crisis. And, in nearly a decade of working with an executive assistant, they’ve only reached out to me once. Just like I talk about in TNG’s Elementary, Dear Data, you have to understand that, with notable exceptions, almost nothing is so critical that you need to get pulled away. 

I know that this next tip isn’t one that everyone can use, but I’m going to share it anyway, maybe there’s something in this that can be useful even if this isn’t the world you work in. 

You want to know why I dread returning to work from vacation? The literally thousands of emails sitting in my inbox waiting for me! Because here’s the thing we all know. If I have a thousand emails waiting for me, there are probably 20 with info that is interesting to me and maybe 8 that I actually need to take action on. But the thing is, I have to sift through all of those to get to the 28 or so that matter in any way! So here’s the secret. The stealth vacation day. 

If I’m returning to work on a Monday. I’ll actually work the Friday before, but no one knows that except for my supervisor, because they approve the time off, right, and my executive assistant. My calendar still shows me as out and my email auto-responder says I’m back on Monday. But, I log in, and follow this process to get through the literal mountain of correspondence. 

Step one, before leaving on vacation, I turn on a Rule that takes all the routine, daily or weekly stuff that is interesting in the moment but not beyond, and puts it directly in the trash. These are the emails that I look at when I receive them and then never again because I’ll be getting an updated one the next day or soon after. 

Step two, I use a tool called clean up, or conversation clean up. The deletes all the superfluous email in a conversation thread and leaves you with the ones that have all the responses on them. 

Already, with these two steps I’ve gone from 1,000 emails to like 300. Then, step 3. I sort by sender. I generally know who is sending me emails and what level of urgency they have. After sorting, I first look for any odd senders, people that may have reached out that don’t normally who might need something I didn’t anticipate. Then, I go through the people that tend to send higher priority emails and work through those. 

Now I’m down to about 50 emails and that took me maybe 3 or 4 hours. I can sift through those to get to the 28 that really matter and start working through those by the end of the day. Then I get the weekend to finish getting in the right headspace for work and when I show up on Monday morning, I’m mostly caught up and can immediately start adding value. Hopefully this is something you can either do or you can leverage pieces of to help you on your return to work. 

Now that’s the good that Archer offers us. He quickly descends to the bad, though. 

He basically mansplains the importance of his job to T’Pol, “it’s the unexpected that will get you.” And treats her like she has no idea how to do her job let alone help cover for him. Then he plays the martyr, like he’s so important to the ship that he can’t be gone for two days. Can’t be gone with his communicator and just a shuttle ride away. Like, how is this any different than any away mission he’s gone on? And on those, he even takes T’Pol with him! But, I believe, it’s that difference between working and taking time off that makes him act this way. 

If he’s on an away mission, he’s working, so everything is ok and he’s contributing, but if he’s relaxing and reading a book, he feels like he’s not. So he exercises one of the aspects of the toxic, dominant culture we all experience. He believes that he is the only one that can do his job. And he is simply wrong. Stuff does go wrong on the ship while he’s away, Mayweather has a medical emergency and T’Pol handles it. In fact, Archer never even hears about what happened! There was no reason at all for him to be on the ship. T’Pol and his team had everything handled. 

Please don’t hear from this that he and his role are unimportant. The Captain is a key part of the operation of the ship just like you are a key part of your organization. But we are part of a team, and teams help each other out. And, the entire team benefits when we take the time to fill our tanks, “Captain, you need a vacation.” 0:50 

Just recently I took a month away from my work. Some of it was refilling my tank but it was mostly to take care of my family. My Dad passed away in March and I needed time to grieve. I also had to help take care of all the work that comes from that. So I was away for about a month. Was I buried in emails when I came back? Absolutely! Did I miss some things that I wish I was there for? Yeah. Did my team wish I was around to help on some tasks and decisions they needed to make? Of course! But it was all fine. Everything was ok. They know their jobs super well and they know what I’ve had going on because we communicate regularly. 

But here’s the thing. When I got back, my tank was full. I was ready to support the people I work with and add value in my work. I was able to progress projects that had been idling because I had refreshed my perspective on them. Also, my team is so much more prepared for handling these tasks too. Me taking time away is an invaluable part of their development. So, while logic might say that I was unproductive during that time, the reality is the entire team is better for the time I took away. 

Do not succumb to the toxic, dominant culture. Take care of you so that others will know they can take care of themselves too. Changing this culture is a huge undertaking, it’s massive, but it literally starts with you. You have to be the change you want to see, to borrow a line that we attribute to Gandhi. When you change your behavior, as a leader, others will begin to change theirs, and that’s how we dismantle this toxic culture. 

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

And when you’re on vacation and taking time to fill up your tank or recharge your battery, you want to look and feel good doing it, right? Well now you can! Check out the Starfleet Leadership Academy store by visiting starfleetleadership.academy/store or by clicking the link in the show notes. How’s that for an off the cuff ad read? Seriously, though, I’ve got some cool designs up there and you can get them on all kinds of things. Make an order, share a picture on social media, tag me and I’ll amplify you across my channels.

I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and on Instagram and LinkedIn, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Teachings of Surak, a k i n. 

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

We’re going right back to the 6th season of The Next Generation, its 23rd episode, Rightful Heir. Oh, man, we’re gonna get some origins on Kahless in this one. I remember this as a really good Worf and Klingon story that has real repercussions through Star Trek. And, again, only if I’m remembering right, but I think this shares some themes with the Broadway musical the Book of Mormon, so I’ll be dusting off that soundtrack for sure! 

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!