In “Breaking the Ice”, Enterprise encounters the largest comet ever observed by humans, one rich in rare mineral deposits. As Reed and Mayweather are sent down to collect some samples, a Vulcan ship shows up and asks to observe, those pointy-eared killjoys. I feel this part isn’t treated as carefully as it could be. They could’ve better explained the tension and the Vulcan commander Varik being kind of an asshat by tying it into the massive revelation about the Vulcan spy network from “The Andorian Incident”.
Meanwhile, something is eating at T’Pol. When Tucker discovers T’Pol has received an encrypted message sent to her quarters from the Vulcan ship, he takes it straight to Archer, who’s disappointed. He orders Hoshi to decrypt it and it turns out it’s a very personal letter, involving T’Pol’s arranged marriage and her choice to honour it or remain on Enterprise.
Also meanwhile, unfortunately, the crew records a transmission to a class of schoolchildren in Ireland. I say unfortunately because the scene is painfully long and although it develops characters slightly (Hoshi being confident was a nice change), the writers seem to briefly forget the actual viewing audience isn’t in grade four.
Even for new viewers, do you think by eight episodes in they really needed a dumbed-down explanation of the universal translator? Do we need to be reminded that germs can live on countertops and under our fingernails?
Trip getting asked about where the ship’s toilet waste goes made me feel almost as exasperated as he looked. At least they made his answer interesting: it gets recycled and the molecules made into all kinds of other things for the ship.
But as a feminist, clearly the T’Pol arranged marriage subplot is the aspect of this episode that most interests me, which is lucky because I think it’s actually the most interesting, best written and best acted plot thread.
For one thing, it’s subtle, certainly subtler than the largely-failed attempt at toilet humour. If T’Pol was looking for someone to help her make this difficult decision, you might expect her to go to Archer. But the way Archer reacts with disappointment knowing she’s received the message shows a lingering distrust between them.
Likewise, Hoshi decrypts the message but refuses to read it, feeling like it wouldn’t be right. I think that was a cool moment to put in there to subtly add to Hoshi’s so far badly-underdeveloped character.
As for Trip, the guilt and internal conflict he feels at having ratted out T’Pol and then violated her privacy makes him so much more interesting than the episodes so far, where the most interesting thing we’ve seen him do when not palling around with Archer was accidentally getting pregnant.
Though they may already have been laying the groundwork for the Tucker/T’Pol relationship in this episode, his interest in her at this point doesn’t necessarily read that way. It comes across as him being friendly and concerned for her, which is an attitude that would’ve been nice to see from really anyone in the series until now.
Jolene Blalock’s acting in this one, especially in the scene where Tucker confesses he read her letter, is outstanding. It conveys embarrassment, anger, disappointment and betrayal while never breaking the Vulcan facade of logic and control.
T’Pol: You read my letter?
Tucker: Believe me, I don’t feel very good about it.
T’Pol: I have more letters in my quarters. Would you like to read those as well?
Tucker: I’m trying to apologize here.
Overall, and I’ve mentioned this before, I think it’s problematic that T’Pol’s character starts out disliked but becomes more likeable as she “softens” and becomes less Vulcan, less like herself. But I obviously don’t have a problem with her turning against the Vulcan tradition of arranged marriages. In addition, this is the first time we get to see the inside of T’Pol’s quarters, complete with candles and ornaments that remind us of the parts of her Vulcan heritage she identifies with.
I wish T’Pol was shown as having a bit more of a hand in coming to the right decision, rather than having to have Tucker make that argument so strongly. When we see her meditating at the end with a piece of Trip’s pecan pie in front of her, it reinforces his role in her decision.
But on the plus side it builds character for both of them, and it shows people on the ship now at least sorta care about her. And I like the way his argument is framed as about her right to make a personal choice, rather than her duty to Enterprise.
Tucker: What do you want to do?
T’Pol: That is irrelevant.
Tucker: No, it’s not. It’s very relevant. Do you want to go back and marry this guy, spend a year with him, ten years, a hundred years, or do you want to stay on Enterprise?
T’Pol: I have an obligation.
Tucker: You’ve got an obligation to yourself. You’ve spent the last year around humans. If there’s one thing you should have learned it’s that we’re free to make our own decisions. There’s a lot to be said for personal choice.
I also really like how, near the end, she tells Archer to quit being all hubris-y and hail the dang Vulcans already to save Mayweather and Reed, whose shuttlepod has fallen down a hole in the shuttle.
“You can save them, or you can let your pride stand in the way. You’re human; you’re free to choose.”
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail