In the second episode of the second season of Enterprise, T’Pol tells a story. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
This is like a more charming version of “Little Green Men,” or perhaps a spiritual successor to “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which isn’t a suggestion that this is merely a copy of something that’s come before. Indeed, there’s a lot here that made this feel unique. For one, it’s a bold choice in terms of focus because the entire episode is devoted to three characters we’ve never met and will likely never see again. It’s an extended flashback AND a story within another story. And it’s all about Vulcans!
Ultimately, I thought “Carbon Creek” was endlessly charming and endearing, which is a feat in and of itself, given that T’Mir, Stron, and Mestral themselves were often so stoic. (Well, maybe not Mestral, but more on that in a bit.) As a storyteller, T’Pol is very matter-of-fact, which is not that surprising, but what thrilled me about this was all the small moments that revealed that Vulcans are not as un-emotional as they claim themselves to be. Here, after crashing on Earth in the 1950s, three Vulcans (including T’Pol’s great grandmother!) attempt to survive on their own before being forced to interact with the people of Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. The writers exploit a lot of the awkwardness and tension that I expected from this sort of scenario, so in that sense, this was familiar. They’re aliens trying to blend in with humans while avoiding detecting. Of course, there’s gonna be a lot of culture clashing that almost risks spoiling who they really are.
Yet the big thing that distinguishes this from the episodes I mentioned at the start of this is the character work. You can see a similarity between T’Pol and her great grandmother, T’Mir, though T’Mir is much more rigid and strict than T’Pol usually is. There’s Stron, who is unimpressed with humanity and just wants to get home as quick as possible. But Mestral finds humanity fascinating AND THEN PROMPTLY BREAKS ABOUT A BILLION PROTOCOL OUT OF THIS FASCINATION. But it’s rewarding to watch this because he’s so sincere about everything he does. From his decision to hustle people in pool to make money to his interest in Maggie, he commits to everything so completely. He doesn’t half-ass anything in this episode. Why? Well, unlike T’Mir and Stron, he’s willing to engage his emotions. Mestral begins to develop an intense compassion for humanity, and I’m not just referring to his romantic interest in Maggie. That’s a part of this, too, but in hindsight, I see how Mestral rethinks his perception of humans and adjusts himself accordingly. He goes from a curiosity to caring. Look how determined he was to risk himself, his well-being, and the safety of the Vulcans so that he could rescue the other miners! Yes, it was the kind of behavior that could have gotten them all discovered, but that’s partially why this was so rewarding to watch. Mestral became emotional about humans. OF COURSE I WAS GONNA LIKE THIS.
Yet this transformation is not reserved for Mestral alone. T’Mir developed a quiet compassion within “Carbon Creek” as well. She comes to see the tragedy in how money can often limit a person’s opportunities, no matter how “fair” this is or not. Should she have intervened? According to Vulcan protocol, no. She should have left Billy alone and let him delay going to college. BUT SHE INSTEAD “INVENTS” VELCRO, SELLS IT, AND THEN GIVES THE MONEY TO BILLY. Also: oh god, how cheap was tuition back then? I don’t even want to know because I’m sure it’ll make me mad.
So, is every detail in this episode true? I think I’m delighted more by the idea that T’Pol made some of this up; that implies that she’s more creative than she’s letting on. But I don’t doubt that first contact was made in Carbon Creek over two hundred years prior. Instead, I’ll just accept T’Pol’s story at face value. It’s just a story, right?
The video for “Carbon Creek” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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