In the fourth episode of the first season of Enterprise, the crew has their first away mission on an alien planet, and suffice to say, it does not go well. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Damn, this was so good! Once more, I can see a great deal of potential in this show, even if this plot is fairly basic in the science fiction genre. Hell, even within Star Trek canon alone, this is certainly not the first story about an unknown agent causing hallucinations and paranoia within the main characters.
Yet there’s a very real threat that sits within this episode that makes it so compelling and so urgent: Tucker believably could have harmed T’Pol. See, I have to keep reminding myself as I watch Enterprise that this show deliberately lacks much of what the others have. Using the transporter is a rare occurrence rather than an easy solution. There’s that bit about Archer wishing there was a pool on the ship, and I had to admit that I thought he could just use the holodeck, which also doesn’t exist yet. But the most obvious difference here is that these characters don’t live in an “enlightened” era yet. (Which isn’t to suggest that everything was perfectly enlightened all the time on the other shows, of course.) Humanity is still living in the shadow of suspicion when it comes to the Vulcans, and all of that is exploited here by the unnamed toxin that spreads through these characters’ systems.
It’s fitting, then, that the show draws this parallel between an infection and the sort of prejudicial attitude that Tucker has, and, to some extent, that the other crew members have towards T’Pol. Attitudes like Tucker’s are created by external stimuli and information and they “spread” when they are left untreated. In this case, his mistrust of Vulcans spreads as the paranoia-inducing pollen spreads in his body. This was exciting to watch for two reasons:
1) It is the first time the crew got to test out this part of his training in the field. Again, this is all very new to me and to everyone else., and this episode struck me as being yet another sign of how fun Enterprise might be. There’s a moment within “Strange New World” where Archer reminds Tucker that he trained for a scenario similar to the one he was in. But y’all, he never actually faced it in real life. The same goes for the rest of the crew! Training for something and then actually experiencing are two very different things. So how does the team deal with this?
Pretty. Fucking. Terribly. I mentioned before (I think it was on video) that I wanted to watch the Enterprise crew mess up a lot, since they were boldly going where no one had gone before and had practically no protocol to guide. Here, they had protocol, but they had no collective experience to help them beyond training and that one example that Archer uses to try to get Tucker to comply with orders. Y’all, I can’t wait to see more of this team struggle to use their training in non-training situations.
2) Tucker has to accept that he is horribly biased against Vulcans. It’s undeniable after this episode, and I appreciate that Enterprise was willing to go to this point so early in its run. Tucker is downright terrifying at times because we know that it’s not merely the paranoia agent that makes him behave as he does. I haven’t had much time with these characters, but this isn’t a case like “The Naked Now” in The Next Generation, where the story required me to know way more about the characters before it messed with their behaviors. This show has done a fine job making it clear how uncomfortable and awkward the relationship between humans and Vulcans are, and in many ways, Tucker is the most exaggerated version of that. Even Archer never gets to the level Tucker does.
So when Tucker’s paranoia is ramped up, it made sense that he would turn on T’Pol, and it made even more sense that he would do so in such a violent, ridiculous manner. Yet the writers don’t shy away from depicting this as horrific, and nor do they simply wash it all away at the end of “Strange New World.” I honestly thought they were going to when T’Pol tried to excuse Tucker’s behavior by saying that he was under the influence. Instead, it’s Tucker who vocalizes the epiphany: maybe he needs to challenge his view of the world, especially as it relates to Vulcans. That’s a huge reason why this escalated as it did, and Tucker confirms that this prejudice is real. That is not something I expected from this show AND CERTAINLY NOT THIS EARLY. Now, I hope the show follows through with this in later episodes, but I gotta say: for such a familiar story, this really felt new and exciting.
The video for “Strange New World” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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