Lt. Nicanora Cabello: A Thought Experiment

On a recent rewatch of Enterprise, I found myself conducting a thought experiment. Why not try replacing just one crew member, one white male, with someone just a little outside the box? I decided to flip out Malcolm, not because I have anything against the character/performance, but because he seemed prominent but not utterly pivotal. It seemed interesting to see how a change in that area might affect the bigger picture. But who to put in his place? Well…Roxanne Dawson notwithstanding, Latin folk have been seriously underrepresented, so welcome Roselyn Sanchez as Lt. Nicanora (Nica) Cabello…

As I watched, I imagined Sanchez delivering Keating’s lines, and tried to picture Cabello in place of Reed. Amazing how many scenes and scenarios were transformed, in terms of representation; I’ll just highlight a few moments in Season 3 (Note: images are not necessarily from episodes mentioned.)

So, right at the outset – ‘The Xindi’ – things look different. Our first scene aboard Enterprise features Archer talking to his tactical officer while T’Pol stands by listening; with Nica in place, at least women are not reduced to passive observers, and the personnel are not all white. (Immediately following this, the MACOs that Hoshi introduces herself to are reasonably diverse, but they’re all men and commanded by a white man.)

Following two more scenes between white actors (Archer/Trip, Phlox/T’Pol), the shuttle puts down; Archer and tactical officer. Our two heroes are conducted by two male guards past male workers and more male guards to meet a male. Thank the casting gods for Lt. Cabello…

More all-white all-male exchanges (Archer/Phlox, Archer/Trip, Trip/Phlox) and another venture in the shuttle (Archer/Trip) lead to meeting a male Xindi, and then a sequence where T’Pol is in charge of the bridge and turns to the tactical officer for a plan to recover Archer & Trip. For this Nica Cabello would have to co-operate with Major Hayes, so phew! – at least we’d still have one white male on the job, eh…? Thus is set up perhaps the main rivalry of Season 3, between the Enterprise’s tactical officer and the MACO commander. Perhaps the writers found it impossible to imagine any kind of ‘alpha’ contest between characters other than white males (cf. the race to become first starship captain), but how much more interesting to see a developing respect between Hayes and Nica Cabello, two (on the face of it) even more mismatched characters. And Nica is prominent in the final fight scene in the mine, so at least the one female MACO is not entirely adrift in a sea of testosterone…

Back on board, we have a short scene between Trip and the tactical officer, a friendly and yet professional summing-up of a kind that is common enough between men on Trek, but not so often seen between men and women. Then follows a bridge scene during which everyone gets to contribute, but how much nicer – how much more Star Trek – if half of the bridge crew were women, and half were POC?

Farther down the line, ‘Harbinger’ opens with the first/only female MACO who gets any number of lines; interestingly, she and Trip are discussing the Enterprise’s tactical officer, whom Trip describes as the one ‘you’d want watching your back’. This is followed by a scene where Archer orders his tactical officer to take part in training sessions run by Major Hayes; so as it stands we have a scene with a white man praising another white man who then goes into a confrontation with another white man about taking orders/guidance from a fourth white man. It would break things up a little to have Lt Nica Cabello in place.

Following Enterprise’s arrival at the bubble-bath of anomalies, the grappler is brought out – with the tactical officer at the controls – and then, as the episode stands, it’s all white boys to the batpole to witness the emergence of the (male!) alien. This is an instance where my social seems to conditioning make itself felt; it’s actually difficult to picture Nica helping Trip remove the end-section of the alien craft (even after 7 seasons of Torres/Janeway/Seven getting their hands dirty). But isn’t that precisely why we need to see more such scenes?

The workout sessions are a good opportunity to showcase otherwise neglected members of the crew, and are taken as such, but we are not long allowed to forget that this is really about the rivalry between the two officers, and the second session is followed by a discussion between Trip and Malcolm/Nica. As the conversation moves from imagined machinations of Hayes onto the subject of T’Pol and MACO Amanda Cole, and thence to a Pulp Fiction-type moment about the intimacy of massage, it’s interesting to visualise it played between Connor Trineer and Roselyn Sanchez with the lines unaltered…

Hayes and our tactical officer fight; I do relish the image of Nica holding Hayes down and saying: ‘See, you were looking at my hands, when you should have been looking at my eyes.’ A subsequent line, ‘You just can’t stand taking orders from me’ would have a very different possible reading; it might have been altered for a female character, but then this whole arc would almost certainly have played very differently with Nica opposite Hayes, and it’s worth considering, even after the examples of Yar, Ro, Kira and Jadzia (even ignoring the Voyager women!), what it says about the default assumptions about men and women still operating here.

Security alert! And the feuding officers lead their all-male team into action. The ship is saved by action on the part of Enterprise’s tactical officer, which set me to wondering how often the crucial final step in an episode has been taken by Archer, Trip or Malcolm as opposed to say, T’Pol or Hoshi… anyway, in my Enterprise AU, Nica saves the day.

Jump to ‘The Council’. The cold open features the power behind the Xindi, the apparently all-female aliens who feel rather like warmed-over changelings… The presence of these aliens does mean that we have a near-record-breaking three female guest stars – but two of them come right at the end of a list that includes seven male guest stars.

Into the episode proper. After a succession of white actors talking (Phlox/Trip, Archer/T’Pol/Degra) Nica is a welcome change, as the tactical officer singles out – gasp! – a white male MACO for the mission ahead. In fact, looked at as a whole this episode features women as: a kind of ultimate evil; introduced as a recovering drug addict (T’Pol); a relayer of messages (Hoshi). And Travis chauffeurs everyone about. The shuttle crew looks better, though, with Nica filling Malcolm’s chair – left to right we have Nica, Travis and T’Pol, with the latest product of the Large White Guy Collider relegated to the back of the cabin. And T’Pol does well on the mission itself; Hoshi’s role is also crucial, but she is simply supporting and facilitating Archer (and her skills lead to her being a kidnap victim). Trip is left back on the ship, but note that Enterprise’s original generous allowance of white guys allows for there to be one in each of the theatres of operation, and each either in charge of or vital to that part of the mission. (For the second time in these highlighted episodes, replacements at tactical and helm are white and male.)

‘Countdown’. Hoshi does at least get to show some steel here. But the most significant thing about this episode from our point of view is that it brings to a close the Major Hayes arc; we clearly see the respect that Hayes now has for the Enterprise’s tactical officer. And Nica gets to deliver an important line in the strategy session between Starfleet and friendly Xindi: ‘We’ve been outgunned before, sir. We didn’t come all this way to give up without a fight.’ With Hoshi a prisoner and T’Pol working on the sphere problem, Nica is the only woman involved here (although we do find out in a later scene that one of the aquatic Xindi is actually female); at the moment the aquatics finally lend their support, Archer is left nowhere to look in relief but tactical. His officer gives him a nod and half-smile of support.

The final armed conflict looms, and the almost-overwhelmingly male MACOs prep for action; Nica delivers her written report on the corporal’s death, and Hayes expresses his last lingering doubts, his feeling that things might have been different had he been there, but there is understanding between these two officers now, and a full awareness of each other’s commitment and capability. How wonderful to have given this arc to a WOC, when it could so easily have been different…

White person convention around the captain’s table for a final meal, while Nica is in charge of the bridge. And when the crunch comes, Nica is the one on point, the one on whom the battle depends.
Archer: Feel like taking them on?
Cabello: Give me the word, sir.

During the rescue, including Archer co-ordinating, Hoshi’s fate rests with three white men, as Hayes carries/protects her and Trip struggles to get the transporter back online. If it wasn’t for one meaningful look between Archer and Nica Cabello, this would certainly be a white boys’ club. There is one female MACO, and she is the first to fall to Xindi fire (this has happened before, in ‘Dajin’); she has to be supported by her colleague as they beam out after the first pair—Hoshi supported by another male MACO. So, women in this battle inevitably have to be rescued by men. Sigh. At least we have Nica doing her stuff on the bridge…

However, all is not lost re the MACOs, as the dying Hayes recommends a female officer, Mackenzie, as his successor. Great. However, when Nica has to report Hayes’ death, she speaks to seven men, with nary a sight or sound of a woman. At least Nica is Archer’s right hand for the final mission to destroy the weapon.

In the final battle, with her rivalry arc concluded, Nica’s main contribution is disposing of the final reptilian and then getting Hoshi and the others to safety. The grand heroic gesture is left to Chief White Guy, obviously, but at least it’s not just another white guy getting the others away. And of course it is also Nica who has to deliver the crushing news that Archer (apparently) didn’t get out alive. Everyone is affected by this news, of course, but the only exchange of words is between Trip and Nica. As Trip’s confidant and effective equal, as Archer’s right hand in crisis situations, and as a character both threatened and threatening, Nica Cabello is a lynchpin of Enterprise’s third season.

  2 comments for “Lt. Nicanora Cabello: A Thought Experiment

  1. I would LOVE to hear a Women at Warp podcast discuss this very issue.
    Can you Ladies Make it So?
    (Topic is near and dear to my heart)

  2. Extra info not necessary for the post: according to the book I got it from, ‘Nicanora’ means ‘victorious army’, which seemed appropriate for a tactical officer, but of course the real reason I wanted to use it was so I could imagine an episode called ‘Nicanora’s Infinite Playlist’.

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