When you mention the word “Decon” to “Star Trek: Enterprise” fans, they probably either cringe or cheer. It’s divisive. Fans may even have different reactions depending on who’s in Decon and which episode it is.
What Is Decon?
Decon stands for decontamination chamber. Enterprise crewmembers are sent to this location immediately after returning from away missions. According to Memory Alpha, the chamber is located on D-deck and can scan the crew for biohazards. To protect themselves and the ship, the crew heads to Decon and rubs Decon-gel – a topical ointment that helps neutralize pathogens and prevent infection – on themselves and each other. There could be other gels used, specialized for different issues. While they do this, a faint blue light, presumably UV, shines overhead.
Some have called Decon scenes an iconic portion of “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Fans may remember it differently.
Episodes in Decon
Although people may think that “Star Trek: Enterprise” has many Decon scenes, in actuality, there aren’t many. Decon scenes include “Broken Bow,” “Acquisition,” “Sleeping Dogs,” “A Night in Sickbay,” and “Bounty.”
A couple of episodes have people in the chamber without the seductive gel scenes, purely for medical reasons. Those episodes include “Observer Effect,” “Extinction,” and “The Catwalk.”
Of the total 98 episodes of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” only one (“Bounty”) has one plotline that takes place almost entirely in Decon.
Technology Behind It
In theory, the idea and some of the science behind a decontamination chamber make sense. After away missions, the crew should isolate and go through a sterilization procedure to ensure they don’t bring pathogens onboard or infect others. It’s a sound protocol.
Today, hospitals use UV lights to sterilize items and areas quickly. During COVID-19, some hospitals, schools, and businesses use a cart that sterilizes laptops and tablets.
One would think in the future, they could find a way to easily protect people in much the same way.
While it does have a practical purpose on the ship, the Decon chamber is also used, especially in earlier seasons, for something else: sex appeal. Executives used the plot device to show characters in a faint blue light, smearing gel on themselves or each other. From the Post-Gazette, interviews costumer Bob Blackman and co-creator Brannon Braga from “Star Trek: Enterprise.” They conceded the show was trying to appeal to teenage and young adult male demographics.
But steam isn’t really new to “Star Trek.”
In “the Original Series,” there’s a beautiful woman nearly every week that gets a soft camera filter and a Captain Kirk kiss. Even Kirk himself is often without a shirt. The show also explored Vulcan procreation, with the episode “Amok Time” and in the movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
The rest of “Star Trek” isn’t immune either. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had episodes like “The Naked Now,” put Marina Sirtis in form-fitting clothes, and showed off Commander Riker’s chest occasionally. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” had a few episodes like that as well, including “Fascination.” And even “Star Trek: Voyager” put Seven of Nine in a catsuit and seemed to introduce her into a relationship often.
Science fiction, the genre, includes lots of examples of steam. Forbidden Planet and Barbarella are two examples of flashy sci-fi movies. Modern examples aren’t exempt, including “Farscape,” “Firefly,” and “Westworld.”
So fans are mixed on whether they want it. Executives think they need it in order to keep up ratings. But what do the actors think?
Connor Trinneer (Commander Tucker) wasn’t a fan. He says they had to scrub the gel off after takes, leaving their skin red and sore. He explains more in this interview with Science Fiction:
“Unfortunately, it’s not as sexy as it seems. Imagine thirty people peering at you while you perform half-naked. Then imagine that the gel they use on you has to be wiped completely off between takes with a dry towel. Essentially, you’re naked, vulnerable, red from the toweling off, and just generally uncomfortable.”
Dominic Keating (Lt. Reed) calls the Decon scenes, “a bit of fun.” Then again, his Decon scenes were less involved.
The actors also have thoughts about doing these scenes with their acting counterparts. An interviewer from Trek Today recalled a scene from “A Night in Sickbay,” where Scott Bakula (Captain Archer) goes without a shirt asking Jolene Blalock (T’Pol) what she thought. Blalock says, jokingly, the days Bakula goes without a shirt go well as he has a nice physique.
“Actually, as we speak, we’re shooting a scene like that. Thank God, he’s got a kick-*** body.”
Bakula was asked who his favorite actor was in Decon scenes at the “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas in 2016. He replies, “Porthos. Phlox would be a close second.”
Decon Problems: Chest Hair & Gas
There’s another reason Trinneer dislikes Decon.
In “Broken Bow,” Trip is in Decon with T’Pol. The production crew worried about gel getting caught in Trinneer’s chest hair. The solution? They asked Trinneer to get rid of that hair. So, he used a razor – not wax – to remove it.
Trinneer explains he hated it, complaining it’s uncomfortable when the hair grows back. And since that was his last shirtless Decon scene, he let his chest hair grow back for other scenes, such as Vulcan neuro-pressure, such as in “The Xind.”
It is worth noting, Bakula for “A Night in Sickbay” didn’t have to shave or wax his chest.
John Billingsley says the real issue is gas.
Acting Is Tough
Some fans may love Decon scenes, episodes of people running around in their underwear, shower scenes, or neuro-pressure treatments, but acting is hard. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes, it gets personal. Acting for “Star Trek” has grueling hours, hot lights, itchy clothes (or sprouting new chest hair), wardrobe malfunctions, needed bathroom breaks, and other issues that make Decon annoying. But they exist, and they impact acting.
Maybe when fans watch the next Decon scene, they’ll understand it may be awkward for their favorite actors. They may remember several takes were needed. Or maybe they’ll continue to cheer or cringe.