Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vulcans Are Further Undermined In “Stigma”

The Good: Generally decent special effects, Good theme, Decent continuity within the series.
The Bad: Terrible acting by Jolene Blalock
The Basics: “Stigma” might have been a fine allegory episode were it not for the fact that so many Vulcans have already appeared in the Star Trek franchise.

There are some great allegory episodes in the Star Trek franchise, very few are as subtle as they initially appear. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, well before the censors were comfortable with issues pertaining to homosexuality appearing on television, the show produced “The Outcast” (reviewed here!) which used an androgynous race as an allegory for homosexuality. “Stigma” in Star Trek: Enterprise is an allegory episode and it is not at all a subtle one. “Stigma” is an AIDS issue episode where Vulcan mind melds are treated like contracting HIV.

“Stigma” is a de facto sequel to the first season episode “Fusion” (reviewed here!). In “Fusion,” T’Pol had an experience with a Vulcan mind meld and in “Stigma” it is treated like an act of rape, which was not as explicit in that episode. Instead, T’Pol seemed more the victim of a date rape style of assault. Panar Syndrome in “Stigma” makes medical professionals seem like utter jackasses in that the Vulcans treat a rape victim like a willing participant in a “deviant act.”

Opening with Phlox revealing that T’Pol has some form of degenerative illness, but that Enterprise is headed to a medical conference, Phlox is reunited with one of his wives, Feezal. Feezal comes bearing a neutron microscope and Phlox goes to the conference to get information from the Vulcans. As Trip and Feezal work together, Tucker is put off by the fact that Feezal is clearly flirting with him. The Vulcan contingent comes to Enterprise where they explicitly deny Phlox’s request for information on a cure to a condition that is only transmitted via a Vulcan mind meld.

When Dr. Oratt and his staff surreptitiously scan T’Pol and realize T’Pol has the syndrome, Archer gets involved. The Vulcans take a hardline stance that the deviants who perform mind melds ought to be isolated and allowed to die, so they withhold the research on the syndrome from Archer, Phlox and T’Pol. When one of the Vulcans, Yuris, provides information to T’Pol with research that allows Phlox to develop a treatment. When Archer confronts Dr. Oratt, a hearing is called and Archer argues on behalf of T’Pol and the melders.

Allegory aside, “Stigma” has some serious problems, most of which come from the Vulcan characters who act remarkably un-Vulcan. Michael Ensign, who played a Vulcan ambassador in “The Forsaken” (reviewed here!) plays Dr. Oratt and is an even less convincing than his earlier Vulcan.

“Stigma” is marred almost immediately by the acting of Jolene Blalock. Even in the teaser, Blalock (who appears to be wearing an even tighter corset than usual) is much more physically expressive than almost any Vulcan ought to be. Blalock prances around in “Stigma” in a way that is vastly over sexualized and expressive than a Vulcan ought to be.

The saving grace of “Stigma,” outside the strength of the allegory for bringing to the forefront the issues of stigma associated with sexually-transmitted disease, is the b-plot. Feezal is interesting and the whole idea that the Denobulans are open in their relationships instead of being guided by Earthbound and evangelical Victorian notions of intimacy is refreshing. One of the real joys in “Stigma” is seeing how Feezal flirts and how uncomfortable Trip is made by her advances. It plays off Phlox’s much more even-tempered reaction wonderfully.

Unfortunately, “Stigma” belabors itself. Long after the point of the episode is absolutely clear, Archer rants explicitly about how ridiculous the Vulcan prejudice is. So, the menace to T’Pol’s career – which takes up half the episode after the medical jeopardy to her is resolved – seems far less compelling.

“Stigma” continues to build the bond between Archer and T’Pol and that is refreshing. So, despite all of the serious conceptual problems with the episode, “Stigma” has enough worthwhile elements to be worth watching.

The three biggest gaffes in “Stigma:”
3. T’Pol lies repeatedly,
2. “Melders” are treated as a dramatic minority in “Stigma,” so much so that the Vulcans have a list of the known melders on them. The odds that every Vulcan who has served on a starship since being one or two generations removed from that stigma being a melder is absurd. Moreover, the fact that Archer has to lecture in favor of the ancient philosophy of Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations, is absurd,
1. You don’t get much more straightlaced in the Star Trek universe than Sarek. The idea that when Sarek was a child (as he would have been during the Enterprise timeframe) Vulcan mindmelds were taboo is ridiculous, especially given how Sarek melds with Admiral Kirk. If Sarek was raised conservative (which he was) and it was taboo when he was raised, then it seems utterly implausible that he would have shed such a deeply-held belief by his midlife.

[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 Michael Ensign, please visit my reviews of:
The Five-Year Engagement
“False Profits” - Star Trek: Voyager
“First Contact” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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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