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The Trek Nation - Carbon Creek

Carbon Creek

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 26, 2002 - 7:57 AM GMT

See Also: 'Carbon Creek' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When Archer invites Tucker and T'Pol to dinner to celebrate her first anniversary on the crew, he asks why she took a five-day leave at the old mining town of Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. She tells them that she wanted to visit the site of the first contact between humans and Vulcans -- which was not Montana as every schoolkid learns. T'Pol claims that her great-grandmother was on a vessel that crashed in Carbon Creek in 1957 during a survey mission, and asks whether they would like to hear the story.

As Sputnik circles Earth, a Vulcan ship in higher orbit develops a problem with its impulse manifold and goes down, killing the captain upon impact. T'Pol's ancestor T'Mir takes command of the mission and goes into hiding with the remaining two crewmembers, though they are not certain their distress call made it out of the system. Desperate for food, the Vulcans steal clothing and venture into town, where Mestral risks interaction by playing pool for money in a local bar. Soon T'Mir has a job cleaning the bar, Mestral is working in the mines and Stron has found work as a plumber. T'Mir continues to warn against socializing with humans, but Mestral becomes enamored of television and accepts a date with Maggie, who works in the bar to raise money to send her son to college.

After an accident in the mines traps several of Mestral's new friends, he wants to use a particle weapon to help dig them out. T'Mir refuses, saying they can't risk such interference, but the other Vulcan says he plans to save the humans with or without her help. Reluctantly she talks him through the underground passageways so that he won't be seen when he uses the weapon to cut through solid rock. Three months later, the Vulcans receive a message from a ship headed to their crash site to attempt a rescue, but Mestral refuses to leave, for he wants to stay and watch human culture evolve. T'Mir -- who has already meddled with history herself by patenting Velcro in order to raise money to send Maggie's son to college -- lies to the captain of the rescue mission, claiming that Mestral died in the initial crash.

On Enterprise, Tucker says that this will rewrite the history books, but T'Pol shrugs it off as just a story. However, when she returns to her quarters, she takes from a storage cabinet the purse her great-grandmother used during her sojourn on Earth.


Analysis: A derivative but fairly delightful episode, "Carbon Creek" takes the best aspects of the movie October Sky and the Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men" and combines them into a fairly touching tale. Also set in a mining town, October Sky tells the story of a boy who sees Sputnik and desperately longs to go to college to build rockets rather than rot underground in the mines, while "Little Green Men" establishes that the first human contact with aliens actually came several years before these Vulcans, when a group of Ferengi crashed at Roswell. "Carbon Creek" is worthwhile just for Mestral, whose enthusiasm for exploration and open-mindedness about other cultures goes beautifully with his Spock-like deadpan humor. All right, so it's farfetched for him to remain on a planet where his very existence could cause humans to destroy themselves even more quickly than T'Mir fears; he's still surprisingly logical compared to the other Vulcans, who don't consider suicide a viable option yet haven't got a real plan to survive without risking self-revelation.

It's curious that Vulcans seem to have devolved between the 1950s and Enterprise's era, though maybe it's only the Vulcans in charge of human relations. My correspondent Tim Holquinn is adamant that Soval must be a Romulan agent and perhaps Silik's evil future correspondent as well; that would certainly explain a lot, though I still think Daniels is a more probable candidate for double agency unless Vulcans in general are a lot more oblivious than we've been led to believe in previous shows. Stron plays the role of the traditionalist in "Carbon Creek," making the speeches that I rather expected to hear coming from T'Mir -- she's surprisingly non-assertive in command, though if one could count on logic from one's underlings all the time, perhaps assertiveness wouldn't be as valued in commanders. Her disdain for human culture is reminiscent of her descendant T'Pol's behavior in early Enterprise episodes, but Stron's the one who really suffers, having gone from Vulcan astrophysics to cleaning toilets. This time out, stone knives and bearskins don't cut it, at least not compared to an illicit particle weapon.

I'd have preferred considerably more ambiguity on the issue of whether T'Pol's story was, in fact, just a story. Forgetting that it contradicts all established Trek history -- you'd think Archer and Tucker would have told someone about it, thus getting it handed down to Picard or at least to Section 31 -- it leaves lots of big niggling questions like what happened to the remains of the crashed Vulcan spaceship and wouldn't the Vulcan who remained have needed inoculations against human diseases and vice versa. I won't touch the issue of Velcro from Vulcan, considering that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home suggests that humans received the blueprint for transparent aluminum from our own future, but I am curious whether the actual inventors of Velcro made a deal with Paramount for cross-promotion.

Jolene Blalock carries much of this episode admirably, despite some clunky dialogue and a gratuitous scene undressing behind a sheet (you knew I was going to mention that, didn't you?) I'm mystified as to why T'Mir keeps her hair short, considering her need to cover the tips of her ears -- Mestral at least dons a dorky little cap la Spock in "The City on the Edge of Forever," leading to a joke about whether he might be a pointy-headed guy from Mars.

J. Paul Boehmer, who plays the charming Vulcan, has a long and illustrious career as a Trek guest star -- he's been a Cardassian, a Klingon, a holographic Nazi and a 29th-century Borg -- gets many wonderful lines, from a well-publicized reference to I Love Lucy (do I even need to mention the Lucille Ball-Desilu Trek connection?) to a touching and awkward first kiss with a divorce. "It's not easy keeping a lid on my emotions," she confesses to him, handing him the opportunity for the best line of the episode: "I know." The second-best line belongs to Stron, who wants to know exactly what Mestral admires about humans -- frozen fish sticks or the threat of nuclear annihilation?

For all her talk of non-interference, T'Mir takes what is probably the biggest step towards pushing humans into space: she sends an enthusiastic young student to college, after suggesting that he discipline his mind and continue his research into foreign cultures. One wonders how she rationalizes this after not wanting to help save a group of miners whom she already concluded only had a few short violent years left in them anyway, not to mention the decision to leave Mestral behind...and to think I was so sure at first that he was going to turn out to be T'Pol's great-grandfather. Too bad he couldn't stay with Maggie.

Sometimes a series needs a sweet romance, or a nostalgic yet non-idealistic look at the past. This one had the right balance of humor and drama, with well-crafted performances and just enough cheesiness to make the visuals fun. It didn't have any big dramatic moments leading to fear of discovery, but we've seen enough of those over the years. Instead we get a nice human story...about Vulcans.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.