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The Trek Nation - Impulse

Impulse

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 9, 2003 - 3:31 AM GMT

See Also: 'Impulse' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: T'Pol finds Archer and Tucker working late on charting anomalies, but they are all interrupted by Sato who has picked up a distress call from a Vulcan ship, the Seleya. When Archer takes a shuttlepod with T'Pol, Reed and Hawkins aboard, he discovers a severely damaged ship caught in an asteroid field. The asteroids are rich in Trellium-D, so Archer tells Tucker to try to acquire some while he is gone. Aboard the Seleya, a ship on which T'Pol served before being sent to Earth, the Enterprise crewmembers find physically altered, paranoid Vulcans who brutally attack them and block them from returning to their shuttlepod.

The team fights its way to temporary safety first in sickbay, where Reed treats a wound sustained by Hawkins, then hiding in a passageway where they attempt to learn from T'Pol their options for escape and contacting Enterprise. She is being affected by whatever has altered the Vulcans on the Seleya, becoming first paranoid, then violent. Meanwhile Tucker and Mayweather try to use the transporter to beam small asteroids with Trellium-D aboard, but the transporter malfunctions, forcing them to take the other shuttlepod to try to mine the Trellium directly from a larger asteroid. They are successful in acquiring it but an anomaly and resulting asteroid collisions cause damage to their ship.

When Archer finally contacts Enterprise, he discovers that the second shuttlepod will require two hours of repair before it can be sent to help them. He also sends scans of T'Pol and the Seleya Vulcans to Phlox, who determines that they are suffering from neurological damage caused by exposure to Trellium-D. Because it is essential that T'Pol receive treatment immediately, Archer orders Reed to overload the Seleya's power grid to disrupt the bulkheads, though T'Pol tells him that could cause a reactor breach. She accuses him of trying to exterminate all the Vulcans on the ship, refusing to believe that they are already dying; she pulls a weapon and threatens Archer before he knocks her out.

After a risky escape across a fallen strut used as a high-wire, the Enterprise team reaches the shuttlepod and tries to flee, only to find that the docking clamps have jammed. Tucker arrives in the newly-repaired shuttle and rescues them. The two ships flee as the Seleya explodes. When T'Pol has recovered sufficiently, Archer tells her that proximity to Trellium-D caused her condition. She says that it is essential for him to protect Enterprise and suggests that he leave her on the next habitable planet, but he refuses. Then she has a nightmare about being trapped on the Seleya with the insane Vulcans, but Phlox wakes her, assuring her that she is on Enterprise.


Analysis: When I saw the previews for this episode, I had terrifying flashbacks of Andromeda's "Dance of the Mayflies" (not to mention Night of the Living Dead) and was really prepared for the worst. But "Impulse" is actually a well-done haunted ship story, though it owes much of its success to a spot-on performance by Jolene Blalock and superb directing by David Livingston. This script could have seemed really hackneyed were the visuals and the emotional focus not so perfectly controlled.

We get a different Trip/T'Pol scene at the opening, a discussion of reviving movie night rather than a massage, and the dynamics are different with Archer in the room; ironically, it sounds more as though they're planning a date when Tucker asks if she'll come to the film than it does when he makes plans to meet her for neuropressure. From that relaxed opening, which shows the strength of her working relationship with both men, T'Pol heads straight into fraught territory. First she discovers that her former ship and crewmates have become trapped in the Expanse which also threatens her current ship and crewmates. Then she finds that her formerly logical co-workers have lost control of their emotions. And then she realizes that she is suffering from the very affliction that brought them to that state, when paranoia and panic have already begin to set in.

It's a difficult tightrope act to perform, more difficult than Archer's traversal of the fallen strut, and Blalock really rises to the challenge. She must convince us that T'Pol is losing her mind, that the character is not herself, all while remaining familiar enough that we will feel sympathy for her; she must play a character who represses her emotions yet is suddenly unable to control them, without ever seeming out of control in the role. The character seems much stronger here than she did in "Rajiin", thrashing around on the floor in the throes of forbidden sensation, or even in "Extinction" when Archer's much too touchy-feely and trying to get her to eat maggots.

I think it's a foolish choice on the part of the writers to keep forcing emotion onto T'Pol, rather than letting her discover it naturally — it happens here, it happened last week, it happened when she was in heat and when she was mind-raped, and that's much too often — but they're certainly allowing the actress to demonstrate her range. Personally, I think she has better chemistry with Scott Bakula than Connor Trinneer, too, so it's a lot of fun to watch them interact when there isn't any forced "A Night In Sickbay" wet-dream stuff going on. Archer literally walks T'Pol through much of the Seleya, keeping her focused and reminding her of what's at stake. (And with a military-type like Hawkins recommending shooting to kill, I'm glad someone doesn't want to save humanity without holding on to what makes him human, to quote Archer at the end of the episode.)

There's a great deal of violence in "Impulse", much of it unnecessary, for the Vulcan hands pushing against one another to open a door is far scarier than actual fight scenes with Vulcans and humans hitting one another over the head with blunt objects. The damaged ship itself, with panels and wires hanging all over the place and panels sparking out along the bulkheads, creates an effective sense of the Seleya as a time bomb, though I couldn't help but wonder why the ship still had life support at all, given T'Pol's rapid degeneration. It's hard to get a sense of how vicious the Vulcans had become toward one another, given how readily they banded together to destroy the outsiders.

Once again we get an episode with lovely continuity, not only with the Xindi arc, the hazards of the Expanse and the need for Trellium-D, but in terms of Vulcan-Human relations over the course of the series. T'Pol may have lost control of her emotions but she clearly hasn't lost her memory when she gives Archer a list of the reasons she suspects he may have it in for Vulcans, from his distrust of their treatment of his father's warp drive schematics to his belief that they held him back on this mission. Even the presence of the Seleya ties in with the footage from "The Expanse" of Vulcans driven insane by that region of space, retroactively making Soval's concerns seem more substantive. And Archer finds himself in the conundrum that his best hope for protecting the humans on his ship is also a deadly threat to his science officer.

This season we've gotten several frustrating glimpses of Mayweather as extremely competent yet not getting any storylines; he can land ships on a dime, he can work transporter controls (well, when they're not being overwhelmed by Trellium-D and turning rocks inside-out). There's also the oddity that Archer, T'Pol, Reed, Tucker and Mayweather all leave the ship at the same time, on vital but potentially deadly away missions; did we miss Sato in command, or discovering who got to sit in the big chair? Shouldn't Tucker have sent a junior engineer? He has nice moments in this episode with Archer, T'Pol, Mayweather and Phlox, though I'm not clear on whether that movie night is supposed to be part of T'Pol's dream sequence. It seems strange that she's still sleeping in sickbay if she's well enough to gripe about chatter during the film, and they're not watching the planned comedy but a murder mystery.

In this episode, the conventions of sci-fi and horror are used to tell a compelling tale that ties into several storylines already in place. Though the zombie ship theme has surely been done as often on Trek as alien transformation — "The Tholian Web" comes immediately to mind — the story feels relevant and interesting, and it's neat to see T'Pol remain so recognizably herself under such duress.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.