Monday, June 17, 2013

T’Pol Gets Repressed Memories Back In “The Seventh.”

The Good: Engaging guest characters, Good character conflict for T’Pol, Generally decent acting.
The Bad: Horribly mischaracterizes the Vulcans, Plot set-up is somewhat ridiculous.
The Basics: One of the better episodes of Enterprise, “The Seventh” has a good character conflict for T’Pol that is built on a shaky foundation.

One of the ironies of my life is that there are a number of circumstances under which I believe that the ends can justify the means. And yet, when it comes to storytelling, I do not grant such leniency. So, even if a story ends up moving a character in an interesting direction, if it is built upon a shaky or disturbing premise, it is impossible for it to get particularly high marks with me. Such is how I find the Enterprise episode “The Seventh.”

“The Seventh” is one of the better T’Pol-centered episodes, but it continues to thoroughly undermine the Vulcans. The set-up and execution of “The Seventh” makes the Vulcans into humans. In fact, in “The Seventh” there is such ignorance of Vulcan culture and personality that they are indistinguishable from human characters, making it a disturbing episode for fans of the Star Trek franchise.

The Vulcans hail T’Pol to let them know they have found Menos, which piques her interest immediately. As a courtesy, she lets Archer know that StarFleet will be contacting him to divert the ship to an apparently barren system. T’Pol informs Archer that she will need a shuttlepod and after she and Mayweather prepare for their mission, T’Pol personally requests Archer accompany her. Agreeing to help her, Archer leaves Trip in command and they go after Menos, a rogue Vulcan undercover operative who went rogue after his mission was over. T’Pol, who had hunted Menos and his fellow operatives, is eager to capture and repatriate the alleged smuggler. Menos is reputed to be smuggling biotoxins, but when Archer and Mayweather help her capture Menos, he claims only to have injector casings for sale for a score that might allow him to return to his alien family.

While Trip discovers that command means making actual decisions and he prepares to impersonate Archer to a Vulcan ship requesting the Captain, T’Pol discovers Menos is telling the truth about his cargo. With her faith in thee Vulcan security forces and government called into question, T’Pol uncovers repressed memories of Jossen, another operative she helped apprehend years prior. When Menos makes an escape attempt, T’Pol is unwilling to pursue him based on her feelings of guilt over having killed Jossen years prior.

The first major issue with “The Seventh” comes from the whole idea of the “Vulcan ritual” that is performed on T’Pol to repress her feelings of guilt. In addition to making it odd that she would then ever be trusted with a mission like being the only Vulcan to accompany humans on their first major exploratory voyage, it makes no real sense based on all established Vulcan culture. Vulcans pride themselves on self-discipline. To date, the only Vulcan ritual performed on a Vulcan as opposed to taught to a Vulcan is the resurrection rite from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (reviewed here!). That makes a lot of sense as the dead cannot simply resurrect themselves and re-integrate their own katra (soul). But on Star Trek : Voyager numerous times when Tuvok had flashbacks or discussed Vulcan mental disciplines (all of which were characterized as “ancient”), they were taught by Vulcans to allow the individual to control themselves. So, how T’Pol was subject to (essentially) a brainwashing is culturally questionable, at best.

Moreover, it seems like particularly sloppy logic on the part of the Vulcans to assign T’Pol to the mission in the first place. With a Vulcan ship so close, it makes more sense to send a security team to apprehend Menos that does not have a history of emotional breakdown with the case.

As for the character of Menos, the concept of the character is a weak one – a Vulcan who switches sides during an undercover operation – but the real problem is with how he interacts with T’Pol. To soften T’Pol up, he whines about how his return to Vulcan will prevent him from being reunited with his wife and children. While that is factual, the only reason it would affect someone is if they had emotional ties to such concepts as family and love. Vulcans do not or they are not supposed to. It ought to mean nothing to T’Pol that Menos has a family on the planet he infiltrated, yet it shakes her. Furthermore, Menos is entirely un-Vulcan to begin with in that he has developed emotional ties with common citizens on the corrupt planet he infiltrated and then acts so much like them that he forgets that playing off sympathy is not likely to work on a Vulcan.

On the acting front, “The Seventh” sees the appearance of Bruce Davison on Enterprise and he is solid as ever as Menos. Davison emotes remarkably well to be plausibly a man backed into a corner who just wants to return to his (adopted) home. He has the charisma to make Menos work, though he never truly sells the idea that Menos was ever a Vulcan. As for Jolene Blalock, she gets a pass on her emotional performance in the episode as that is pretty much the point of “The Seventh;” T’Pol has repressed memories that cause her to feel extreme emotions. For sure, it was something done to death with Seven Of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager (who filled the same niche as T’Pol does on Enterprise).

What saves “The Seventh” from being depressingly average is that the episode works to develop the relationship between Archer and T’Pol. Filled with a repetitive series of exchanges about trust and loyalty, “The Seventh” has T’Pol putting her faith in Archer and Archer working to keep his Vulcan science officer on task, seeing Menos for the manipulator he is and giving T’Pol the best chance to succeed in her mission. It plays well and develops both characters; it is a shame the episode is otherwise so preposterous in the way it was conceived that so many good character moments come in such an otherwise terrible episode.

The three biggest gaffes in “The Seventh:”
3. Vulcans “going native” is a pretty ridiculous idea in general. Given how long Vulcans live, the idea that after only a decade or two undercover so many Vulcan operatives would defect is preposterous,
2. The Vulcan priest in the repressed memories is reading from a book to perform the ritual on T’Pol. For Vulcan mental disciplines, there are no magic words, just psychic contact. Chants and magic words make no sense for a Vulcan psychic-based procedure,
1. T’Pol is given the mission as a “matter of honor,” which Archer notes is “very Vulcan.” “Honor” is not Vulcan; logic and pragmatism are; “Honor” is Klingon.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophmore season here!

For other works with Bruce Davison, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The L Word - Season 4
X2: X-Men United
Star Trek: Voyager - "Remember"


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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