In the seventeenth episode of the first season of Enterprise, T’Pol meets a group of Vulcans who willingly allow themselves to experience emotion. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent and sexual assault/rape.
I knew there was a reason for concern when it came to Tolaris. I KNEW IT. The way that he seemed to push T’Pol further and further from what she was comfortable with… GODDAMN IT.
I’m getting ahead of myself, I know that. It’s hard not to when this episode so painstakingly builds to that explosive and horrifying climax, a perfect manifestation of the very problem T’Pol claimed existed the whole time. You can’t talk about the Vahklas without discussing Tolaris, though the show doesn’t claim that Tolaris is the inevitable end of this philosophy. We need only look to Tavin for evidence that emotion doesn’t lead to assault, and his emotional journey is way more challenging than what Tolaris goes through.
And yet, here we are. I didn’t get the sense that Enterprise‘s writing team wanted to say that the Vahklas were inherently evil or wrong. Instead, the script for “Fusion” saves all its derision and anger for Tolaris. Who came onto that ship and made a beeline straight for T’Pol, I should remind you. That scene where he sees her for the first time is now the start of a horror movie, or one of documentaries on predators in the wild. He sees what he wants, and he decides right then and there that he’s going to get T’Pol. He manipulates his way into conversations with her, drops enough information to get her intrigued, and then he goes in for the kill.
Abusers and manipulators know how to navigate situations like this, and Tolaris even managed to get Archer on his side. But that’s the whole point! I know this from experience: you often can’t tell you’re being manipulated or that you’re a part of someone else’s manipulation. Sometimes, you just think someone is being charming (because you’re meant to). Sometimes, a person has an energy that feels attractive and unique (because you’re meant to). And sometimes, you are enraptured by someone because of what they can offer you. Because you’re meant to. Tolaris knew that T’Pol was intrigued by his philosophy, so he gave her tidbit after tidbit. Then, he recommended that she avoid meditating one night before she slept, and what did that do?
Well, it put her at a disadvantage. It made her vulnerable. It unsettled her. It’s after this that he attempts the mind meld. And look, if there is even the slightest chance that he did all of this by coincidence or if he truly wasn’t aware of how manipulative he was being, it still doesn’t explain away what he does. He might have wanted to share na intimate moment with T’Pol and help her “evolve” as a Vulcan, but the second she revoked consent, he should have stopped. THE END. His continued assault on T’Pol’s mind was monstrous, and I also can’t help but feel like it was calculated. I really think he knew that she was unnerved by her disturbing dream, and he figured that would make her “easier” as a target.
I’m glad he gets such a verbal lashing from Archer, and I’m glad that the show is incredibly explicit about how he did an awful thing. Y’all know I’ve been harshly critical of Trek’s seeming refusal to truly deal with consent, so the bar was pretty low. But there’s no ambiguity here, no attempt by the writers to make excuses for Tolaris. My only concern is with T’Pol. Did this experience change her? How will she deal with trauma as a Vulcan? I have vague ideas of how that works given what we saw of Tuvok on Voyager, but the final scene in “Fusion” hints at the idea that maybe T’Pol will be more openly emotional. She is so forthright with her statement of envy, and it’s shocking. Are we meant to draw a correlation or not?
I don’t know. But lord, that was an INTENSE episode.
The video for “Fusion” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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