Back when I started watching/snarking about Enterprise earlier this summer, a few Tumblr folks were kind enough to give me some recommendations of ENT episodes that do at least an okay job of portraying and developing the women characters. Two Season 1 T’Pol eps helpfully suggested by Sereynity were “Breaking the Ice” (which I reviewed last week) and “Shadows of P’Jem”.
I enjoyed “Shadows of P’Jem” a little more than “Breaking the Ice”, just because it’s more consistently interesting and actually puts T’Pol’s plot front and centre. Both episodes look at T’Pol making a tough choice between staying on the Enterprise or following an obligation to the Vulcans. And I thought both episodes had similar strengths and weaknesses in how they told T’Pol’s story.
Here are the similarities:
1. The rest of the crew is starting to appreciate and even like T’Pol
In my view, one of the biggest problems in early Enterprise is how much everyone else on the ship seems to dislike T’Pol. It’s species-ist, but because she’s one of two women main characters it also comes across as potentially sexist. “Breaking the Ice” shows Archer’s distrust and Tucker’s dislike being challenged so at the end, Tucker and T’Pol have begun forming a bond.
In “Shadows of P’Jem” almost the whole crew is upset that she’s being transferred back to Vulcan. Phlox approaches T’Pol in the mess hall and is really nice to her, in that slightly weird way of his, suggesting she deserves promotion, not discipline from Vulcan High Command. Tucker accepts Archer taking T’Pol on the away mission instead of him, given the circumstances.
Slightly less impressive is Archer’s vow: “Your people took something away from my father that meant a lot to him. They’re not going to do the same thing to me.” Basically he manages to say something nice (she means a lot to him) while still being prejudiced against Vulcans in general. But one step at a time for Archer, I guess. Overall his actions speak louder and less annoying than his words do in this one.
2. But they’d still like it if she were more human
Archer is the master of passive-aggressive guilt-tripping and condescension in this one. Take these two exchanges. The first is when Archer tells T’Pol she’s being sent back to Vulcan:
T’Pol: I understand the situation, Captain. I’m certain the High Command will find you a suitable replacement.
Archer: Am I the only one who has a problem with this? Because you seem perfectly fine.
What the heck kind of reaction does he expect? And this one from when he and T’Pol are heading down in the shuttlepod. Note that he’s taken her on this mission to try to convince her to fight the transfer, but isn’t really up-front with her about this. When she questions why he’s brought her, Archer channels my mother when I tell her I don’t have time to come home for Thanksgiving:
T’Pol: I have a lot of work to complete before the Vulcan ship arrives.
Archer: Don’t worry, I’ll get you back in plenty of time. I just thought you might enjoy one final mission with your Captain…Or maybe I should just take you back to Enterprise.
3. T’Pol shows emotional range within the limits of Vulcan control
Most of the credit for this should go to Jolene Blalock’s acting, but it seems it also required the writers to give the character more story and more screen time to really help us empathize with T’Pol.
4. T’Pol chooses to stay with Enterprise, but not without the help/encouragement of a male crewmember
This part bothered me more “Shadows of P’Jem” than in “Breaking the Ice” because even though we know staying on board is what T’Pol wants, she has less in the outcome of this episode than turning down her arranged marriage in “Breaking the Ice”.
What happens is, when she’s unconscious after taking a particle blast to save the Vulcan captain, Archer convinces the Vulcan to put in a good word for her. He and Phlox also lie and say T’Pol might not live and definitely can’t be moved for several days.
When they awaken her moments later, it’s almost like it’s not enough for Archer to just have her back alive, he wants her to be grateful.
Archer: You made quite an impression on Sopek. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to talk to the High Command about that transfer order. I’d say the odds are pretty good you’re going to be with us for a while longer.
T’Pol: You should have consulted me first. (fair point – she was unconscious!)
Archer: It’s probably not too late if you want to catch up to him.
Of course T’Pol demurs, I like to think because it’s just not logical to even try to have a conversation with Archer about autonomous choice and respect for differences.
But overall, I’ll give both episodes an A- for their depictions of T’Pol.
And “Shadows of P’Jem” has a couple other awesome things that differentiate it from “Breaking the Ice”
- Hoshi gets a couple decent scenes, including one near the end where she gets to lie to the Vulcans and create static on their transmission.
- Particularly nice touches during the rescue operation, including one shot that shows the shadows of an Andorian’s moving antennae as he enters the rebels’ compound.
- A woman chancellor is leader of the Coridan system, which is something considering all the other leaders in this ep (Vulcan, Starfleet, Andorian, rebel) are dudes.
- Jeffrey Combs!
Thanks again so much to Sereynity for helping me with the recommendations. Glad I watched both of these. If you have an episode of any of the series you’d like to suggest I watch and review, send it to me here on Tumblr or on Twitter @jarrahpenguin.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail