Star Trek: Enterprise: Stigma
April 28, 2019 8:25 PM - Season 2, Episode 14 - Subscribe

T'Pol faces prejudice. Dr. Phlox's wife pays a visit.

Memory Alpha has some stuff that bears discussion, maybe even editing:

Background information
> This episode retcons some of the events and revelations in Fusion. It is claimed that T'Pol was assaulted, but in that episode it was shown that she willingly participated in the mind meld, only interrupted it when Tolaris became agressive. Also, the mind meld was presented as an obscure, largely forgotten process unfamiliar to T'Pol.
> The episode's strong undertones regarding HIV and sexual orientation are not coincidental. This was Enterprise's contribution to Viacom's HIV awareness campaign of early 2003.
Rick Berman commented, "They didn't actually say that they'd like us to come up with a story line. They invited us to a presentation that they had, which was quite impressive, that they asked all the producers on the lot to attend – which Brannon and I did. This episode depicts the Vulcan physicians as unwilling to supply research, medicine or preventative efforts in order to stop the spread of this disease simply because they don't condone the behavior of this Vulcan subset. Many in today's society believe that it is this kind of intolerance and ignorance that allows the HIV/AIDS epidemic to spread. In this case, the people are genetically capable of performing mind-melds. This is all something that would be different in the age of Kirk or Picard, but in our century there is definitely a stigma against people who go against normal mores and policies and attempt this very emotional and intimate act of mind-meld."
> Brannon Braga remarked, "We're not here to provide answers to questions. We're here to provoke thought about an issue. This episode stands on its own. Even if you don't draw the analogy, it's still an interesting episode, because it deals in general with prejudice. The metaphor will be clear to a lot of people."
> Some critics, such as John Ruch (of the Boston Herald) in an article, felt that the episode was too vague in dealing with prejudice based on sexual orientation.
> One of the written languages seen on Dekendi III is a reuse of the Vidiian written language from Star Trek: Voyager. Another language, seen on some of the banners in the Conference Center was the Andorian language developed for the Star Trek RPG supplement Among the Clans from Last Unicorn Games. (A different Andorian written language would later be introduced in Enterprise.)
> The Dekendi ship that carried one of Phlox's wives was previously seen as a Ferengi vessel in "Acquisition".
> The Vulcan PADD is a reuse of the Bajoran PADD, and the scanner is a modified modern-day computer scanner.
> T'Pol's illness is not cured for another two seasons until season 4's "Kir'Shara".
> This episode marks the first appearance of Denobulans other than Phlox on the series.
> In a 2011 interview, Brannon Braga commented that he thought this episode was "very strong." Concerning the way the episode depicts the taboo aspect of Vulcan mind melds, Braga stated, "To me, that's an interesting exploration of Star Trek and also tells us something about people who are ostracized."
> This episode is very similar to TNG: "The Outcast" where Soren, a member of an androgynous race (the J'naii) is revealed to have been born with female attributes -- a quality treated as an aberration and criminal perversion in J'naii society. Soren is put on trial for her crimes and makes a very similar diatribe to that of Dr. Yuris.

Memorable quotes
"You can bet they're not coming up for coffee and donuts."
- Archer, on the Vulcans heading to Enterprise from Dekendi III

"The accusation against T'Pol stands. It's not open for debate."
"Where I come from everything's open for debate. And if I read these protocols correctly, so is the accusation you made against my science officer."
"You're wasting your time."
"It's mine to waste."
- Orat and Archer, on T'Pol's rights

"I wanted to see both of you. It's been a while since I was embarrassed by a Vulcan dignitary."
- Archer, to Phlox and T'Pol

This Week In:
* Pointless STO Comparisons: Denobulans are not among the officially designed species in Star Trek Online, which might not sound weird, except that Pakleds somehow are.
* Vulcans Are Superior: Averted in a big way, see below.
* Non-Catastrophic Equipment Failures: The B-plot is framed around Trip’s difficulties installing a neutron microscope.
* Aliens Outclass Enterprise: Played with. Phlox wants Vulcan research on Pa’nar Syndrome because he assumes they will have more data than he does, only to discover that they really don’t.
* Science Marches On: Neutron microscopes are a real thing as of 2013 or so, looks like.

Poster’s Log:
This episode’s A-plot and B-plot are completely at odds, to the significant detriment of the episode.

Talking about them separately:

* Trip, Feezal and Phlox.
It’s been obvious that Denobulans had less restrictive sexual mores than Federation humans for awhile now. In Fight of Flight, Phlox told Tucker he wanted to watch two redshirts have sex, and the Denobulan system of group marriage has also been a thing since his introduction or so.

So on the one hand, this has actually been adequately telegraphed. On the other, the whole thing is bad and the writers should feel bad, because it’s yet another attempt by ENT at lighthearted/farcical sexual humor. We’re clearly supposed to be amused by Trip’s discomfort at unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, and he’s supposed to come across as backward for not taking Feezal up on her offer. It's simply that unwanted sexual advances aren’t funny, and the writers just made me feel bad for Trip. Plus, this creates some serious tonal dissonance with the A-plot. I'm not sure why they thought this story needed a 'funny' subplot, but it didn't.

* T’Pol, Phlox and Archer vs. the Vulcan medical establishment.
As with the unfortunate Denobulan plot, this one also goes back awhile. We've known Vulcans are uptight about all sexual matters since Spock’s pon farr in TOS. We know ENT-era Vulcans hate mind-melders ever since last year’s story.

So the first thing I feel obliged to do is point out that Memory Alpha has a detail terribly wrong: T’Pol plainly and obviously withdrew consent, so Tolaris' actions were an assault. It doesn’t really matter what happened before that, he kept going after a 'no.'

The second thing is that the language is, as some critics complained, much too cutesy. Real bigots have nicknames for people and things that they despise. There's always shorthand. Dog whistles. Using words like ‘the minority’ detracts from the overall heft of the story because as a minority myself, I'm too familiar with this sort of crap to believe the lack of jargon. It's like having a cardboard prop in the middle of a serious story.

That said, the episode still gets bigotry mostly right. I’ve talked about this on Metafilter before, (mostly on the blue, mostly pretty sharply), but many people believe that prejudice is an active thing. Bigots are the guys who burn crosses, bomb churches and so on. Those guys are real and those guys are dangerous, but those guys are not the bulk of the harm that comes to minorities. Most bigots are just passively willing to let minorities of various sorts suffer and die. It's mostly indifference. The doctors in this episode reflect the larger part of how this works in real human society with reasonable and unfortunate accuracy: rather than doing much proactive harm, they're happily allowing bad things to happen and then victim-blaming. So, props to ENT for getting that part right. Further props to Viacom’s presentation, which presumably helped with that a lot.

The other thing I appreciate here is T’Pol’s moral stance. I liked that the reason T’Pol wouldn’t even discuss what had happened was that she refused to be complicit in the bigotry going on even if it meant the end of her career. I also appreciated Archer and Phlox backing her up even though they didn’t want to. It was good to see a story where a woman made an ethical stand like that with low pushback from the men around her, and furthers the notion of her and Archer as BFFs the way the series wanted.

I also appreciated the Vulcan doctor coming out of the closet because he couldn’t stand what was happening to T’Pol. Narratively, it was a way to get her out of trouble without forcing her to compromise, but his speech made it work for me. (Even though it was still hampered by the poor phrasing.)

For me, the A-plot was a strong effort despite the clunky dialogue. So this was a wildly uneven episode that would’ve benefited from dropping the B-plot and engaging in a little more worldbuilding in the A-plot. It really could’ve been worse.
posted by mordax (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
As someone who's family was touched by HIV/AIDS I appreciate this episode for what it tries to do- even if the B plot falls down a bit. I feel like the energy and vision in the A plot is something that Enterprise fails on a lot, and wont really succeed on again until the last season. But for once the moral of the story is a good one, and the one they tried to actually do instead of by accident or in spite of it, and I appreciate it. But for family reasons, I cannot re-watch this one, it's too painful.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:38 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I have to admit that I didn't regard this episode as well as you two did when I was watching it, but after processing it for a bit, I will grant it the benefit of good intentions. I tend to be cynical about Very Special Episodes [TVTropes], and it really bothered me that, after some time of not being great about LGBT characters and situations in the franchise generally, with the exception of Jadzia Dax in DS9, they finally get around to doing an AIDS allegory in 2003. (Not that there still wasn't a problem with HIV infection at that time, we understand.) It also bothered me that, with mind-melders standing in for gay men, T'Pol got infected by one as a result of rape. They also could have put in a line or two about there being other routes for transmission. But I did like the bit about the doctor coming out of the closet, and there's a valid historical point about a non-[minority] person with the disease being the sort of vanguard in helping to remove prejudice and misconceptions about a disease, as happened in the AIDS epidemic with Ryan White.

As for the B-story, that just kind of seems wrong. I just don't see Trip, who has already mated with more than one alien, and had some pretty major consequences as the result of the first time, being hesitant to be very direct with Feezal doesn't scan very well. The writers are trying to play off the old trope of the jealous husband maybe threatening to go aggro about the wife's flirtations with someone else, except that we already know that Denobulan society is openly polyamorous. We could have seen some interesting discussion of the gap between Trip being willing, if not actively enthusiastic, about mating with different species, and his being willing to accommodate different patterns of relationships. An interesting contrast to this sort of interpersonal conservatism is Becky Chambers' book The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, in which (among other things) a human interested in a relationship with a member of a reptilian species has a long and sincere discussion regarding not only their physical differences but also the very different patterns of relationships, sexual and social, that their respective species have (the Aandrisk are considerably more casual about physical affection and sexual relationships).
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:34 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I truly enjoyed the acting here. Blalock and Billingsley really bring it. In the case of the latter, he must've relished being able to stretch his dramatic and subtle-comedy chops in the same week, even though the combination of this A story with this B story is indeed super weird. (Perhaps the writers rationalized it because the Melder stuff isn't "really" sexual, though if so, that's far too Watsonian an interpretation for them to use.)

Good stuff from the guest Vulcan actors, too, such as the always-reliable Guy Who Was Also the Defense Minister in TNG: "First Contact." Worthy of note: the character name for the other of the two jerk Vulcans? "Strom." That brought a smile to my face, though I would've respected the writers more if he'd been named in dialogue, rather than just on my subtitles.

And Trinneer once again has some solid comic reactions even if the situation isn't funny. But how can his character actually go so long without figuring this out? As-is, the whole scene with him and Malcolm working out has no other purpose but to remind us of how ethnocentrically clueless these two still are.

Like Jack, I was a bit more forgiving of the script on reflection. My remarks while rewatching it largely focused on Archer being kind of an unprofessional jerk about all this: he (A) puts far more pressure on T'Pol than is appropriate and (B) looks about ready to chew the face off of some of those apparently-important Vulcans. But then I decided that item A seems realistic in terms of the lived experience of assault victims—and his decision to obey her wishes helps offset his remark about how "my top priority is the health of my first officer" rather than supporting her choices. And item B makes perfect sense in-character given Archer's experiences in this episode, and throughout his life.

I would've liked to have seen one of the asshole Vulcans learn an Important Lesson and maybe indicate that he was going to try to advocate among his people somehow. The continuing tarnishing of the Vulcans is leaving a sour taste in my mouth, not to mention the slight anti-intellectualism of it generally, and specifically here, right down to the white lab coats.

I tend to be cynical about Very Special Episodes

Right, and we've seen some Trek faceplants in that category in recent memory. They deserve credit here for not having Archer say, "You know, my people used to have this thing called AIDS...", which I totally expected TBH. In this respect I strongly disagree with "John Ruch (of the Boston Herald)", assuming MA was accurate there.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:08 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Something else that occurred to me: with the retcon about only certain Vulcans being mind-melders, and this having been looked down upon in (for Vulcan) relatively recent history, it casts a different light on Spock, Sarek, and Tuvok being capable of and willing to do so.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:35 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Something else that occurred to me: with the retcon about only certain Vulcans being mind-melders, and this having been looked down upon in (for Vulcan) relatively recent history, it casts a different light on Spock, Sarek, and Tuvok being capable of and willing to do so.

Oh huh, I didn't take that as a retcon so much as I took it as a furthering of the plot point that bigotry has stifled research and investigation in melding, either leading to ignorance that in fact all Vulcans can meld, or stemming from the idea that the Vulcan high leadership knows all Vulcans can meld, and wants that information suppressed to keep those who do physically othered as well as socially, similar to how HIV/AIDs was portrayed as a purely queer illness in media for many years.

It still casts a different light on how willing they are to do it, but I don't think that it's true in canon that only certain vulcans can meld, or at least I hope not. Spock doesn't need anymore canon reasons why he's so dang special.


On the whole, an episode I didn't want to rewatch, and I was correct. It might have its heart in a good place, but it's clunky at doing it. Sci Fi is great at metaphors for societal and cultural ills, but I don't think it's a great tool to talk about actual specific diseases, at least not in this guise.
The B plot was weird, and I'm also not a fan of the joke there being that polyamorous people are weird? I really enjoy the continued building of Phlox though. He's what keeps me going. I wish the show was more about all the humans slowly learning to be more like him, because he's what a starfleet person ought to be.
posted by neonrev at 1:16 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I don't have positive associations with the main plot in this episode because it's a continuation of the writers putting T'Pol through the paces and being pretty brutal to her. (The most prominent two examples are this episode and one later where she becomes a permanent drug addict.) T'Pol's trials are this show's version of the O'Brien Must Suffer trope from DS9. But those episodes were always sort of fun because sending Miles through a harrowing gauntlet felt like playing a prank on a peevish buddy. There's no fun in torturing T'Pol so much.

I think the writers kept doing this because they needed to make T'Pol interesting, and they really wanted an event that would change her archetype for them. They keep lashing out at her in a blind attempt to give her something -- anything -- to crack her character open. I mentioned in the comments for the last episode that we started getting lots of Trip episodes once the writers finally cracked his character. (That involved taking the everyman hero characteristics away from Archer and importing them into Trip.) Up to this point, the writers have given T'Pol just two main characteristics: she's a Vulcan, and she's hot. That's not enough for one of the three main characters. T'Pol's actually a lot more interesting and watchable than that, but it's because of Jolene Blalock's acting choices, not the writing. Her glares of sulky derision at the rest the crew are great. She's super goth. I love how she squares her jaw in frustration at all the dumb jocks around her. But that gothiness is always on the screen and never in the script.

The central problem the writers were trying to solve is something that I bet they didn't want to admit: Vulcans suck. Narratively speaking. They're almost impossible to write well, and they allow for not much character differentiation. I think it's telling that DS9, the best series in developing alien races, ignored Vulcans entirely outside of a single joke episode. T'Pol was in danger of being another block of wood like Tuvok, and the writers desperately wanted her to be Spock, so they kept trying to figure out how to give her emotions by changing something about her. They even considered making her half-Romulan. Giving her a drug addiction did it eventually. I wish they got it over with in this episode and made Pa'nar syndrome an emotion disorder.

As for the B-plot: I had forgotten that it was paired with this A-plot, and yes, that's a terrible match. But in my memory it stood alone, and standing alone, I remember it pretty fondly. I love how Phlox just beams with compersion as he imagines Trip getting with his wife. I don't think we ever again see Phlox so excited.
posted by painquale at 6:20 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


But for family reasons, I cannot re-watch this one, it's too painful.

I'm sorry to hear about that, but glad you're taking care of yourself.

It also bothered me that, with mind-melders standing in for gay men, T'Pol got infected by one as a result of rape.

Yeah. :(

I just don't see Trip, who has already mated with more than one alien, and had some pretty major consequences as the result of the first time, being hesitant to be very direct with Feezal doesn't scan very well. The writers are trying to play off the old trope of the jealous husband maybe threatening to go aggro about the wife's flirtations with someone else, except that we already know that Denobulan society is openly polyamorous.

Right? This is why I assume this was all Idiot Ball for laughs.

And Trinneer once again has some solid comic reactions even if the situation isn't funny. But how can his character actually go so long without figuring this out? As-is, the whole scene with him and Malcolm working out has no other purpose but to remind us of how ethnocentrically clueless these two still are.

Yeah, the stuff with Reed was just cringey. And it reinforces this idea that the crew aren't really there to learn, so much as teach everyone else about themselves.

It still casts a different light on how willing they are to do it, but I don't think that it's true in canon that only certain vulcans can meld, or at least I hope not. Spock doesn't need anymore canon reasons why he's so dang special.

I bet it's like any other skill: all (or most) Vulcans can learn it, but some people have a predilection or gift for the work, and others don't.

I wish the show was more about all the humans slowly learning to be more like him, because he's what a starfleet person ought to be.

Right? It's so weird to me that nobody else is really into exploration, here. (Made sense on VOY, but not on ENT.)

I don't have positive associations with the main plot in this episode because it's a continuation of the writers putting T'Pol through the paces and being pretty brutal to her.

Ouch. Good point.

The central problem the writers were trying to solve is something that I bet they didn't want to admit: Vulcans suck. Narratively speaking. They're almost impossible to write well, and they allow for not much character differentiation.

I don't really think that's true. I think a lot of the writers missed why Spock was so much fun: in isolation, he's a wet blanket, but watching him work with McCoy or Kirk is fun. Tuvok didn't really have any close relationships - while he and Janeway were canonically friends, they just didn't interact much. He was interesting when we got to see him present his point of view to people, and I enjoyed his friendship with Seven.

I think the same shows here, too: IIRC, T'Pol is more fun after she and Trip are an item because it gives them something to do with her (besides gratuitous torture). Right now, her interactions with Phlox are probably the most interesting character stuff she gets, but that's pretty rare.
posted by mordax at 7:10 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


(T'Pol's friendship with Archer isn't interesting because Archer's pushy, clueless and her ranking officer - if they were equals who could snark at each other, it might work.)
posted by mordax at 7:11 PM on April 30


The central problem the writers were trying to solve is something that I bet they didn't want to admit: Vulcans suck.

I don't really think that's true.


Yeah, I kinda surprised myself with that conclusion. I've been thinking about it a lot. I don't think it's impossible to write a good Vulcan character, but it seems to be hard enough that it eludes almost everyone. (I guess I don't know whether there are good Vulcan characters in tie-in fiction.) Emotional characteristics are how we usually describe personalities; without emotions, it's hard to create distinct characters.

I'm sure we'll talk more about this in future Vulcan episodes. I know that audiences rebelled against what this show did to Vulcans, but I'm kind of a fan. (I also really like what this show did with Klingon culture, which we'll get to in a few weeks.)

I think a lot of the writers missed why Spock was so much fun: in isolation, he's a wet blanket, but watching him work with McCoy or Kirk is fun.

I love Spock, but I think that his success can't really be repeated in other Vulcans. Three reasons. First, he was first on the scene and he used up the interpersonal character traits that aren't strongly emotional and that fit with the Vulcan adherence to logic (fierce loyalty, trust, friendship even in the face of teasing).* You're right that his banter with Kirk and Bones was super fun, but that's because he was Spock, not a Vulcan. To make a non-Spock Vulcan, you have to find different ways for a Vulcan to relate to others, and it's turned out to be nearly impossible to find different non-emotion-manifesting personality traits that make for a good protagonist. The other strongest Vulcan characters kinda feel non-Vulcan, like the Vulcan in Carbon Creek who was curious and compassionate.

*(One of my favorite Spock-defining scenes is in Court Martial, where Kirk is on trial and there's video evidence of him committing a crime. Spock's in charge of checking the camera, and when he's asked if there are problems with the camera, he says yes. When he's asked to elaborate, he says that he found no problems, but Kirk says that he didn't do it, so there therefore must logically be a problem that he hasn't found. That is so good. But that's who Spock is, not what Vulcans are.)

Second, he was created long ago when standards of writing were a little more slipshod, so we're willing to overlook a lot of inconsistencies in the way that he treats logic. Remember when he complained that Kirk kept winning chess games by making illogical moves? That didn't make any sense but it was fun to watch Kirk smirk back at him. Fun character moments at the expense of making any sense no longer fly, which makes Vulcans way harder to write. It's hard for any writer to write a character smarter or more logical than themselves without cheating.

Thirdly, he was half human. He got to exemplify an internal war between emotion and logic. Full Vulcans aren't quite so interesting. I think that's why Enterprise leaned harder than previous series into the idea that Vulcans actually have extremely powerful emotions and that suppressing emotions was difficult for them. It was an attempt at a wholesale Spockification of the race. But they could only go so far without betraying what had already been established, which is why they kept trying to Spockify T'Pol in some further way and let her have emotions that would give her a real and unique personality.
posted by painquale at 4:19 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


The FF Talk discussion on Vulcans

(That's not a passive-aggressive suggestion that the discussion here should end! It just seemed like a good moment to remind everyone that it exists.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:04 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Whoa, a big discussion on Vulcans! I wasn't aware of those Star Trek Club posts. Thanks for the notice. This'll be fun to dig into.
posted by painquale at 10:11 AM on May 1


I think that's why Enterprise leaned harder than previous series into the idea that Vulcans actually have extremely powerful emotions and that suppressing emotions was difficult for them.

The idea Vulcans don't actually have emotions is Flanderization that was embraced by VOY because B&B didn't understand Star Trek very well. It's clear in TOS that Vulcans have emotions that they suppress because that's their entire deal: Sarek loves Amanda. T'Pring plays Spock (intending to kill him) because she is in love with a different guy. The entire ritual combat thing around pon farr is a ridiculous display of toxic masculinity. Also, Spock's background hinges heavily on dealing with racism against him because he's half-human - it's why he joined Starfleet instead of joining a Vulcan science crew. Prejudice is an emotional reaction - judging Spock on anything but his raw academic performance at that age would've also been highly illogical, and yet.

Also: Romulans are an offshoot of Vulcans. That's canonical from TOS - they left Vulcan centuries ago, but are even still cross-fertile (Saavik is half-Romulan). Romulans do, in fact, have emotions. They have some stiff mannerisms... the end?

*shrugs*

The post Cheeses linked to has more, (disclaimer: much of it written by me), but the short version is 'ENT had to do it this way because this has been canon since TOS, and only VOY ever really muddied those waters.'
posted by mordax at 10:56 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


(Also, this is the entire point of Surakian philosophy: reject emotions because anger almost destroyed Vulcan. Can't reject what you don't have.)
posted by mordax at 11:17 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Right, I didn't mean to suggest that previous shows imply that Vulcans don't have emotions. I know that's a myth.
posted by painquale at 11:20 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Then I'm confused by the whole notion of 'Spockification.' Vulcans have always had emotional beats. It's not weird to give them some. All prior Vulcans in canon had emotional character traits. They're not a monolith, they just want to present themselves that way.

Basically, it's not cheating to write any Vulcan as pretty Spock-y. They all have been to date.

If I were rewriting ENT, the first thing I'd change is to make T'Pol know Phlox better. It's highly logical: they were both alien scientists stationed on Earth. They would've been to all the same parties, conventions and so on. That would've given them a potentially mellower Bones/Spock dynamic: T'Pol as the rigid judgmental observer of human and alien behavior, Phlox as the guy who cheerfully accepts whatever craziness he meets, but each respecting the other from decades of prior contact. It's right there. They could've even slotted Archer in as growing into a Kirk-y role of trying to balance their perspectives over time, as he learned about how things work out in space.
posted by mordax at 11:48 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Like instead of the Spock/Bones thing of 'emotions suck vs. no YOU suck' we could've had 'humans suck vs. humans are pretty okay if you think about it.'
posted by mordax at 11:51 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Oh, further thought - and apologies for spamming the thread, I'll step back for today after this - I think the place they really dropped the ball with Vulcans on ENT is the whole 'Vulcans don't explore' beat. That's completely antithetical to everything we know about them from all prior stuff, and doesn't work with them even coming to Earth.

T'Pol should be curious. That would give her a reason to do stuff, engage with people, etc. All Vulcans should be. Science is about curiosity, and science is their hat. Right now, T'Pol doesn't really have any clear motivation to do anything, and that's a problem we haven't encountered previously with Vulcans.

I think a lot of the terrible decisions ENT makes about Vulcans actually stem from that in retrospect, (and by extension, from ENT's soft commitment to anti-intellectualism).
posted by mordax at 11:56 AM on May 1


Haha, please, keep spamming the thread! I like it and I keep being tempted to do so myself.

The point I was trying to make was something like this: most of the Vulcans we had seen up to this point are good Vulcans, successfully suppressing their emotions. But ENT shows us Vulcans continually failing to suppress their emotions. It, more than previous shows, really drives home that Vulcan emotions are powerful and dangerous and that it's hard to suppress them. I don't think it had been driven home quite so forcefully and depicted on-screen that following Surak's teachings is hard. So we actually see Vulcans expressing nasty affective traits in a way that was rarer in earlier series.

And I think the writers did this partly because there are only a few interesting ways to be a portray a good Vulcan who successfully suppresses emotions. Those good Vulcans end up looking a lot like Spock. To make T'Pol an interesting character who wasn't just a Spock, they needed her to be an emotional Vulcan... but they could only go so far without making her bad at being a Vulcan! That's why they kept trying to give her diseases or whatever that would let her express her emotions more forcefully through no fault of her own.

("Spockification" was a terrible term to use to refer to a character grappling with emotion. Spock is actually an excellent Vulcan with excellent emotional control. He's not really at war with himself internally except metaphorically. I see how that was misleading. I think I just got caught up in liking the sound of the word. )

I like some of your suggestions about how they could have improved T'Pol's character. Making her especially curious is an interesting thought. It's another character trait that fits pretty well with an affectless disposition. I think Data might have already fulfilled that archetype though. (He also had the advantage of being able to curious about emotions, which is kind of hard for a good Vulcan to do.) Making T'Pol especially curious would really upend her character, because Archer is presented as the curious one who can't wait to get out into space; T'Pol usually tries to hold him back and be prudent. She'd be a really different character if she were the one pushing Archer into dangerous situations.

Blalock herself was furious that the writers kept making her express emotions. She wanted to play T'Pol as a good, emotion-suppressing Vulcan, but the writers couldn't find a way to make that character work.
posted by painquale at 1:03 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Spock's background hinges heavily on dealing with racism against him because he's half-human - it's why he joined Starfleet instead of joining a Vulcan science crew. Prejudice is an emotional reaction - judging Spock on anything but his raw academic performance at that age would've also been highly illogical, and yet.

Wow, I never thought of it quite in that way. The Vulcans in this episode suddenly seem less like outliers.

ENT shows us Vulcans continually failing to suppress their emotions. It, more than previous shows, really drives home that Vulcan emotions are powerful and dangerous and that it's hard to suppress them. I don't think it had been driven home quite so forcefully and depicted on-screen that following Surak's teachings is hard.

It may be worth pointing out here that a lot of the noncanon stuff (novels, RPGs) does drive that idea home pretty forcefully IIRC. And we also know that at least some of ENT's writers consulted that material.

And I think the writers did this partly because there are only a few interesting ways to be a portray a good Vulcan who successfully suppresses emotions. Those good Vulcans end up looking a lot like Spock.
[...]
Blalock herself was furious that the writers kept making her express emotions. She wanted to play T'Pol as a good, emotion-suppressing Vulcan, but the writers couldn't find a way to make that character work.

I'd argue that Tuvok is a more apt exemplar of the "good" Vulcans. I've always felt (maybe this is more of a feeling than an actual verifiable perception) that when you put Spock up against Tuvok, you realize how human Spock really is. And, since this is largely the same crew that wrote Tuvok, it's little surprise that they wanted to go in a different direction with T'Pol. (Maybe they themselves realized how much they squandered the potential of the Tuvok character…but now I'm opining again :p )

And speaking of wasted Vulcan opportunities, let me go even further off-topic at this point and proclaim that TNG reeeeeally should have had more of Dr. Selar. I mean, I get why they didn't, but Suzie Plakson is a goddamn MVP of the Berman era.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:01 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Haha, please, keep spamming the thread! I like it and I keep being tempted to do so myself.

Thanks. I mostly don't wanna steamroll anybody. I appreciate your contributions as well, whether I agree with any specific point or not. :)

Blalock herself was furious that the writers kept making her express emotions. She wanted to play T'Pol as a good, emotion-suppressing Vulcan, but the writers couldn't find a way to make that character work.

I think you may be onto something with them not wanting to retread too much, but I still feel like it didn't have to go down like that.

The Vulcans in this episode suddenly seem less like outliers.

Yeah. I actually think a lot of the Bad Vulcans stuff could've worked in the hands of better writers. I'd be tempted to take a crack at it myself if I were a fanfic person. We'll probably circle back around to this again when we get to the later Vulcan stuff.

I'd argue that Tuvok is a more apt exemplar of the "good" Vulcans. I've always felt (maybe this is more of a feeling than an actual verifiable perception) that when you put Spock up against Tuvok, you realize how human Spock really is.

I think he might've been an above average Vulcan, personally. Sort of like how Worf is better at Klingon ideals than most Klingons. Nevertheless, that's an apt comparison and an interesting point.
posted by mordax at 12:51 PM on May 2


... and I realize you just said the same thing, Cheeses. Apologies. Operating on not much sleep today. Heh.
posted by mordax at 1:17 PM on May 2


Ok, so this is a problematic episode that got off to an interesting start and then falls apart quickly.

In an episode that touches on consent rather significantly, the Vulcan doctors take T'Pol's genetic scan without her consent; they complain about Phlox's lie to them, while lying to Phlox and T'Pol in their efforts to get that genetic scan; and Tuck's unwillingness to engage in sex with Phlox's wife is treated as a joke rather than being used to underline the importance of consent in matters of intimacy. It just doesn't work, when taken all together.

I appreciated T'Pol's stance: her utter refusal of the worldview and any participation that would support it, even if it would benefit her. I appreciated that Archer actually respected her enough to follow her lead on that.

And I liked the extra wide smile that Feezal seemed to have; it felt like a nice callback to that feature when Phlox displayed it in the pilot.
posted by nubs at 8:13 PM on May 6


Just as a side note: Feezal was played by Melinda Page Hamilton, in one of her first roles. She would go on to play Anna Draper in Mad Men, amongst many other roles.
posted by nubs at 9:59 AM on May 7


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