WARNING: Spoilers flow like water in this review of "Carbon Creek."�
In brief: Gack. Slightly less in brief: GaaaaAAAAAAaaaaack.�
"Carbon Creek" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 2 Teleplay by Chris Black Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Dan O'Shannon Directed by James Contner Brief summary: T'Pol tells Trip and Archer about her great- grandmother T'Mir, who was part of an expedition to Earth that crashed in the 1950s.
It's hard to know where to begin here, really -- "Carbon Creek" fails on so many levels that it's hard to know which creative wasteland to address first. I suppose one has to start somewhere, so let's start with the core concept.
Having lived in the L.A. area for ten years before fleeing north in terror, I'm very familiar with the idea of a "high-concept" premise: something that can be easily summed up in a single sentence and that can provide the advertisers with a sure-fire way to market the episode. A running joke is that one can turn almost anything into such a pitch - - "it's like Hamlet, only with gerbils!" is one of my personal favorites. (And no, that's not referring to anything actually filmed ... I hope.) In Trek history, the most obvious one coming to mind at the moment would be "Ferengi were the Roswell aliens!", used for DS9's "Little Green Men."
The idea behind "Carbon Creek," rather obviously, was "T'Pol's ancestor was on Earth too!", or something akin. There's the inevitable danger of playing with "established" Trek history, but just on the face of it I'd certainly be willing to give the premise a look.
Unfortunately, this really turned into "let's screw with history to absolutely no good end." Dealing with part of the "let's screw with history" part first...
So first contact with the Vulcans wasn't when we thought it was -- T'Pol's great-grandmother T'Mir lived in Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania for several months back in 1957-58, along with crewmates Mestral and Stron. All well and good -- but if the Vulcans were well aware of and interested in Earth back in the time of Sputnik, why the hell did Zefram Cochrane's warp mission as shown in "First Contact" mean a damn? Why did preventing it help the Borg so much? In many ways, "Carbon Creek" just went a long way towards invalidating "First Contact" ... and given how much I enjoyed said film, this did not exactly raise the episode in my eyes.
All that even assumes the Vulcans would be in a position to observe the launch of Sputnik. Why would they *care* about a single backwater planet launching one satellite? Part of the idea behind "First Contact" was that the warp flight is what got the Vulcans' attention and made us noteworthy -- if they're checking out every hick planet with a rocket anyway, the appeal is rather strongly blunted.
But, let's take all that as a given for the moment. I can live with tweaks to history as we know it if they're plausible, and if if they're done for a good reason. (Remember, I was quite fond of both "Acquisition" and DS9's "Little Green Men," so it's not as though I have an immediate bias against all things revisionist.) If it makes us as viewers re-examine our perspective on Trek history a bit, that's a good reason. If it tells us something truly enlightening about our characters, that's fine. If I can admire the creativity with which history was tweaked, I can usually justify it to myself.
Did "Carbon Creek" do *any* of those things?
Not so far as I can see. Instead, we got a limp collection of "fish-out- of-water" cliches, "humanity has more worth than you think" arguments which we've seen lots of in the 22nd-century already, all wrapped up in a rather pale imitation of "October Sky."
In any given scene, there was almost a guarantee that at least one thing was horribly contrived. Some contrivances were small, some weren't. A sampling, going more or less chronologically:
-- Okay, so when T'Mir and Mestral change clothes, T'Mir happens to oh-so-conveniently be behind the clothesline so that she's only seen unclothed in silhouette. Coy, but workable. However, when she then comes out with her dress on backwards and has to change again, she goes back behind the clothesline to change again. I can't imagine she's bashful around Mestral given how much time they've spent on a cramped ship, so who's she hiding from -- the cameras?
-- Similarly ... where'd she get the high heels? It's not as though shoes are typically hiding on clotheslines...
-- Mestral wears a knit cap to cover his pointed ears (gee, y'think we're supposed to react fondly based on our memories of Spock doing the same thing?), yet T'Mir simply covers her ears with her hair, when a good strong wind would expose her to everyone. (And don't tell me there wouldn't be any for three months -- this is central Pennsylvania in autumn and winter we're talking about.)
-- Mestral manages to win them grocery money in several games of pool, saying that it's based on "simple geometry" that wouldn't challenge a Vulcan child. I've no doubt that the game would be trivial for Vulcans to *understand*, but there's a huge difference between theory and practice, and I have a lot of doubt that Mestral would understand all the nuances of the table based on two minutes' observation. (As a physics teacher with a younger brother who's a pool shark, I have quite a bit of experience distinguishing theory from practice in this particular area ... if it were just theory, I shouldn't get my head handed to me every time I play him. :-)
-- Mestral gets a job in the mines -- fine, given that it's a mining town. However, bumps and scrapes happen in mines. You're telling me that Mestral never, *ever* had an accident where he took the skin off a knuckle and oozed green blood? (Trip keeps wondering why no one ever noticed the ears, which rather conveniently forgets the many other ways Vulcans would show up as different...)
That should suffice to make the point. I kept getting tossed out of the narrative noticing all the things that were clearly taking place in Hollywood-Land rather than in what should pass as Trek "reality." That doesn't help make the episode any more enjoyable.
Of course, when the narrative is this thin it's not as though I mind getting tossed out of it. The story, such as it is, is really "Vulcans observe 1950s Earth close-up," and pretty much all the observations they make are the same ones we've seen several times before, only more spelled out and less interestingly portrayed. Humans glorify violence, yet are capable of much compassion. Humans are on the verge of destroying themselves, yet are on the verge of many breakthroughs. Vulcans don't care for human culture, yet find "I Love Lucy" strangely appealing. Vulcan males look like Moe Howard. There's groundbreaking stuff for you.
(I did, for the record, like the conversation between T'Mir and Mestral about violence and the Vulcan past. It was all pretty old news, but I thought that moment came off pretty well regardless.)
And the human residents of Carbon Creek? As I said earlier, they were basically in a retelling of "October Sky." Now, granted, at least the Trek staffers picked a good story to crib some ideas from ... but I've seen this before, with far better writing and acting. (Hank Harris did just fine as Homer/Jack, but he's not exactly threatening to steal all the good roles away from Jake Gyllenhaal. And no, I'm not just saying that because I taught Jake when he was in middle school. :-)
So the humans were basically stock characters who occasionally got to display a second dimension, and the Vulcans were generally there to offer warmed-over observations, be mocked by the episode for one reason or another (the "Moe" incident being a case in point), or to behave in such an exceptionally stupid way as to enable another pointless argument. (As an example of the latter, when Mestral sneaks off to a baseball game he tells the others that he's going to the ship to get a waveform discriminator. He's caught on the way back, but it's not as though he had one with him to back up his story.)
Given all of that, the only answer I can assume was given for "why screw around with history in this episode?" is "because it's there and we can." You may comfortably seat me with those distinctly unimpressed folks over there.
And we haven't even gotten to the ending yet. By the end of the episode, I was saying, "okay, the only thing that's going to improve this even marginally is if it turns out this is all T'Pol spinning a shaggy dog story." Given that such an ending is the equivalent of "it was all a dream," and thus opening the episode up to charges of "so an entire episode that didn't even happen," for me to consider an ending like that an *improvement* should give you a hint of how I felt about it up to that point.
So what did we get? We got the "T'Pol spins a tale" bit to annoy all those people who don't like the "'twas all a lie" cheat, and *then* we got the "but wait! she's got the purse, so it must have happened!" twist that everyone saw coming anyway. Let's burn *all* those bridges there, boys -- no, no, don't leave a single one standing.
One possible thing I was hoping for at the end as well is that T'Pol could have had a good "personal reason" to go to Carbon Creek. Given Vulcan lifespans, it's possible that Mestral died only recently -- which means it would have been very plausible that T'Pol went to be there to receive his katra and cremate the body. Since her exact reason for going was never spelled out, I'll just keep that little chunk of assumed reality in reserve.
Some other brief notes:
-- So Velcro was invented by Vulcans. I'm starting to wish the "transparent aluminum" scene in ST4 had never happened, because I feel it's given carte blanche to scenes like this. Come on, guys.
-- Does anyone else have the disturbing feeling that we could be heading for a revelation that Spock wasn't the first Vulcan-human hybrid? Mestral does give every impression that he might hang around with Maggie for a while, and she certainly looks young enough that kids are still a possibility. (If that revelation ever comes to pass, by the way, don't blame me.)
-- Trip remarks early on that the whole thing "sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone." Oh, and of course the fact that UPN's new "Twilight Zone" is on immediately after Enterprise is nothing but the sheerest coincidence.
That more or less wraps it up. I fully intend to assume "Carbon Creek" was nothing more than a fever dream the writers put to paper as the result of an undigested bit of potato and move on. Here's hoping that it's the exception to the season and not the rule.
So, let's sum up:
Writing: Generally obvious scenes filled with lots of bad dialogue, and tortuous let's-f*ck-with-history playing to no good end. Direction: Generally flat, the T'Mir/Jack scene in the bar being a minor exception. Acting: Hank Harris did fine; he should be calling his agent to avoid such roles in the future.
OVERALL: 2, mostly for the benefit of a couple of decent scenes. I have no wish to see these events repeated or alluded to.
Reed finds himself in extremis, and a new race (to humans) rears its
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"They revel in violence. They devote what little technology they have
to devising ways of killing each other."
"So did we, centuries ago."
-- T'Mir and Mestral
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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