WARNING: Spoilers ahead for ENT's "Fusion," so be careful not to lose thy equilibrium.�
In brief: Not convincing, and thus not compelling.�
"Fusion" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 16 Teleplay by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by Rob Hedden Brief summary: The Enterprise crew meets a group of Vulcans who've chosen to embrace emotion, and T'Pol finds one of them strangely compelling.
The title of "Fusion" was undoubtedly meant to refer to the synthesis of logic with emotion that this week's guest stars all claimed to have accomplished; unfortunately, however, in reality it seems to refer more to the combination of good work and bad (on every level: writing, directing, acting) that led this episode to fall so firmly in the "mixed bag" category.
For starters, the pacing of the episode felt entirely too sluggish early on. A lack of action certainly isn't a problem (after all, two of my favorites this year have been "Dear Doctor" and "Shuttlepod One"), but a lack of *activity* is, and that's closer to what we wound up seeing here. In "Shuttlepod One," there was an immediate crisis; "Dear Doctor" had a distinct day-in-the-life feel to it early on, but also had an under-exposed and fundamentally intriguing character as its focus. Other than a very vague and ill-defined sense of foreboding, "Fusion" had no crisis -- and to be blunt, I do not see T'Pol as nearly as interesting a character as I do Phlox, either in characterization or in portrayal.
Instead, we begin with the Enterprise planning to explore a nearby nebula (and one that was an inspiration for Archer in his childhood, which was a nice touch). When a Vulcan ship comes along, everyone gets a bit suspicious that they're all about to be checked up on again -- but to their surprise, Captain Tavin and company are no ordinary Vulcans. They consider themselves explorers, they ask Archer for help, they eat meat, and seem far more emotional than any Vulcan Archer's ever seen. It turns out that this group of Vulcans don't believe that emotions should be repressed, but rather mastered, and incorporated into everyday life.
The idea's one with some meat, and one that should be interesting. The way it was done here, though, required you to accept the current party line that Vulcans completely repress all emotion and consider anything else anathema. I simply can't buy into that. No Vulcan of regular standing has acted that way up to now -- not Spock, not Sarek, not Saavik, not Tuvok, nobody. Vulcans attempt to keep their emotions from influencing their judgments and ruling their decisions, and tend to consider any sort of excessive emotion distasteful, but to turn that into a full-blown repression of emotion is a substantial character change, and in my view not one for the better. (For one thing, it's a hell of a lot more difficult to write interesting characters who are purely emotionless.) Those characters often become foils and straw men for whatever viewpoint the writer might want to debunk, not characters in and of themselves -- and as a result, I think we as viewers start feeling that we're watching propaganda rather than drama. (I use "propaganda" merely in the sense of its one-sidedness, however; I'm not suggesting any sinister intent.)
Given that, it's almost an equal given that the typical Vulcans we've seen on _Enterprise_, from T'Pol on down, don't feel like proper Vulcans. As such, anything dealing with a conflict between Vulcans has to overcome an innate "but they're not *really* Vulcans" reaction I'm going to have right off the bat. The issue may be interesting, but the story and/or characters have to work harder to get me involved. "Fusion" didn't do that.
Perhaps as a result, the part of "Fusion" I found most involving involved Trip and Kov, the Vulcan ship's engineer. Kov initially serves as a way for each race's rumors about the other to be addressed and cleared up, which is all well and good. Later, however, we hear that Kov's father is close to death, and that he wishes to contact his son one last time to try to mend fences split a decade earlier.
I suspect that the Trip/Kov material was interesting precisely because it *wasn't* related to the series' dictates about what is and is not Vulcan. Sons can be estranged from fathers regardless of culture, and the appeal for reconciliation is often going to take some similar forms whether the character's human or Cardassian. As such, during all of that stuff my "Vulcan impostor" alarm wasn't going off at all, and the scenes themselves were, if not particularly original, sufficiently well played to keep me involved. (Trip's story about the girl he never worked up the courage rang particularly true; I can't be the only one watching who's got all kinds of might-have-beens on *that* front.)
The main focus of the show, however, was T'Pol. She's initially very wary of the visitors, saying that other groups have tried to embrace emotion in the past and found themselves dangerously overwhelmed by it -- but when Archer assigns her to work on the Vulcans' ship while charting the nebula, she finds herself in conversation with Tolarus, a silver-tongued Vulcan who seems to know all the right buttons to push. He urges T'Pol to skip her nightly meditation one night, letting her emotions flow closer to the surface than they normally do. Consider it an experiment, he says: "I think you'll find your dreams will be far more interesting."
He also suggests on more than one occasion that T'Pol is already a bit more emotional than most Vulcans, and that that's why she's adapted so well to living on a human ship where others have failed. *That* strikes me as a point worth pursuing -- just as Worf, for example, was trying so hard to be Klingon that he often wound up more Klingon than "proper" ones, we could have some interesting problems here in the future. Tolarus's initial arguments about Surak's teachings (that his group is simply interpreting them differently, and that just because he's in the minority doesn't make him wrong) were also well placed and quite rational. As long as Tolarus kept up that sort of appeal, simply making just the right suggestion at the right time, he was a somewhat interesting character, and I wondered if T'Pol might give us some interesting revelations -- or even, dare I say it, growth.
I wondered; unfortunately, I didn't wind up pleased with the outcome. T'Pol does in fact dream of an old visit to a jazz club while she lived at the Vulcan Embassy, but in a way that she characterized as disturbing rather than interesting. I give the dream full marks for weirdness and for incorporating old memories with recent ones in that bizarre way dreams sometimes do -- but rather than taking that dream in and of itself and seeing its effect on T'Pol, "Fusion" then gets awfully single- minded.
Upon hearing of T'Pol's dream, Tolarus applauds her progress and urges her to continue her studies, saying that he can help her recapture the "exhilarated" emotion she felt that night at the restaurant. T'Pol agrees -- not quite inexplicably given how far she's already gone, but certainly inadvisedly -- and Tolarus tells her of a way she can access those memories quickly. That method, it turns out, is a mind-meld, which is a lost art abandoned centuries ago.
It was at that point that my "Vulcan impostor" alarm rang so loudly as to knock over small animals. So the mind-meld, something which was clearly in accepted use during Spock's era, is not only discouraged by "normal" Vulcans a century earlier, but flat-out *unknown* to them and used only by exiles who normal Vulcans clearly disapprove of? No way. Among other things, it's back to the overcompensating thing: Spock tried so hard to be a proper Vulcan while on his Enterprise that he wouldn't possibly use something not regarded as completely acceptable by Vulcan society -- at least, not early in his career. I can buy that T'Pol might be reticent to meld with Tolarus, someone so like and yet so unlike herself, but extending that to make T'Pol unaware of what a mind-meld even is smacks of nothing more than needless retconning.
The meld is just as disturbing as the dream, except that Tolarus is inside the meld egging the visions on. T'Pol tries to cut the link, but Tolarus is too caught up in the flow of emotion and refuses to break contact, forcing T'Pol to physically separate herself from him and order him to leave. She winds up in sickbay with possible neurological damage, and Archer, after goading Tolarus into a rage to prove he's capable of such an assault, orders him and his associates off Enterprise for good.
I give the episode credit for not quite making this a full-blown date rape analogy, but it's no less subtle than one. The meld sequence suffered from bad direction, I thought -- the cuts to facial close-ups were a bit jarring, and both Jolene Blalock and Enrique Murciano seemed to be competing in the Bizarre Facial Contortions To Show Emotion contest. The Archer/Tolarus confrontation wasn't much better: the direction was fine, but neither Murciano nor Bakula struck me as particularly believable. (Bakula wasn't nearly as bad as Murciano was, though.) Additionally, we're not given much of a sense of *why* Tolarus did what he did. Was he showing some warped version of attraction to T'Pol? Was he simply so addicted to emotion that he wanted to force someone else into a fellow addiction? Was he an aberration, or typical of what all these emotion-embracing Vulcans would become? I don't mind that we didn't get answers, but I very much mind that no one appeared interested in acknowledging the questions.
The closing scene between Archer and T'Pol made up for that a bit, but was also a mixed bag. Archer says that he finally understands why T'Pol meditates so much, which frankly seemed odd to me -- but T'Pol's subsequent question about Archer dreaming was good, as was her still-emotional "I envy you" when told that his dreams are pleasant. The episode at least ended on a decent note.
Some other notes:
-- As I mentioned earlier, I appreciated Archer's interest in the nebula, particularly since they were then going to send back information to help revise astronomy books. Always a worthwhile endeavor. :-)
-- Kov's "Oh, you mean SEX!" was a bit much, even given how un- Vulcan these folks were supposed to be. I did, however, like the reactions of all the people in the background right after he said it -- sort of a "did we just hear what we ... nah" moment.
-- Fans of Diane Duane's novels probably won't be surprised to see me recommending _Spock's World_ here; it gives some explanation of Vulcan philosophies as regards logic and emotion, and an explanation that I find far more believable than what we've been given here.
-- Nice to see Admiral Forrest again, and in particular it was nice to see him remind Archer that the Vulcans did him a favor recently in letting T'Pol stay on board.
-- I have a little difficulty believing that it would take weeks to chart this nebula given the sizes involved. If it's 8 billion kilometers across, that's approximately the size of our solar system; would Enterprise take a month just to chart a single star system? One would hope not...
-- My usual technobabble rant: T'Pol finds a region filled with "disodium" in the nebula. Okay, so we're taking dilithium's lead and playing with the periodic table, but it's just silly. Dilithium filled a Magic Plot Element need, and thus couldn't be anything we already knew about; there's no reason for the nebula to be filled with technobabble items when its actual contents are (a) just as interesting, and (b) just as mysterious-sounding to the majority of viewers.
There's not much left here. "Fusion," along with some other episodes this season, may be deliberately making these Vulcans very different in order to effect some sort of grand change in Vulcan society down the road. If so, I'm interested in seeing it, and may even be persuaded to look at shows like this in a new light. As it is, however, "Fusion" spent most of its time showing me the adventures of characters I didn't accept as real, and as such fell increasingly flat as it came to a close.
So, to sum up:
Writing: Real Vulcans were few and far between. Trip and Kov came off well; most everyone else was two-dimensional at best. Some nice ideas, but no development. Directing: When the episode wasn't flat, it was jarringly off-putting. That's not necessarily the best of combinations. Acting: Neither Blalock nor Murciano was convincing for extended periods, which is a problem. Smaller characters came off better.
OVERALL: 4.5. Better luck next time.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Civilization." See you in the spring!
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Do you dream?"
"Sure. Sometimes they're even in color."
"Is it ... enjoyable?"
"I envy you."
-- T'Pol and Archer
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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