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By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 28, 2002 - 10:50 PM GMT

See Also: 'Fusion' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A Vulcan ship approaches Enterprise while Archer's crew is exploring a nebula. Captain Tavin asks for help with repairs and offers to join Enterprise's survey, since unlike other Vulcans, his crewmembers are also explorers -- they are trying to balance logic and reason with emotions that they refuse to repress. Though T'Pol initially labels them 'Vulcans without logic' and finds excuses to avoid them, Archer suggests that she keep an open mind and asks her to work on the Vulcan ship to help survey the nebula.

Tolaris, who assists T'Pol with sensor readings, says that because she lives among humans, her emotions are very close to the surface. He encourages her to allow herself to feel them, telling her not to meditate at night so that her dreams will be more compelling. Though she is disturbed to the point of illness by an old memory of leaving the Vulcan compound to listen to jazz, jumbled with dreamy images of making love with Tolaris, T'Pol agrees to try a mind-meld with him. When he demands that she relive reactions he labels excitement and elation, she asks him to stop, but he tries to force her until she fights him off.

With T'Pol in sickbay, Archer tells Tolaris to leave his ship, provoking a violent outburst from the Vulcan who clearly has not mastered his emotions. Meanwhile, Tucker tries to convince the young engineer Kov to contact his dying father -- a member of the High Council who has relayed the request through Admiral Forrest to Archer. Tucker knows that Kov has no experience with regret; he relates his own experiences with a girl from school to convince the young Vulcan that it's an emotion to be avoided if possible. Ultimately, Kov contacts his father, and departs Enterprise considering Tucker his friend.

Analysis: I have lived in terror of this episode since reading Brannon 'Speculum' Braga (see Esquire archives) claim that it was the Vulcan version of 9 1/2 Weeks. Many victims of physical or emotional abuse find that film upsetting, and even erotica aficionados are sometimes offended by the sexual politics, so given the number of adolescents who watch Enterprise -- based largely on the fact that Enterprise has been aggressively marketed towards adolescents -- I found it disturbing that Braga would even consider producing an episode that might blur the line between sexual experimentation and degradation.

Thankfully, 'Fusion' is nothing like 9 1/2 Weeks. All sexuality takes place at the level of fantasy, and from the point the woman says 'no' to emotional intimacy, the episode goes out of its way to depict her as the victim of a violent attacker. Sexual violence is clearly identified as such, and there's no suggestion that T'Pol is at fault for agreeing to experiment with Tolaris. Still, I'm very glad I did not let my children watch, and will hesitate to let them watch the series again, given the content matter of the past two episodes. It's not a problem if Enterprise plans to become a show for adults only -- that would be a welcome change from a lot of genre television -- but the network needs to market it responsibly as such.

I am utterly confused about Vulcans in Enterprise canon. Perhaps I've been unduly influenced not only by the previous shows, but by Pocket Books' wonderful novels that have given the Vulcans a much richer, deeper backstory and history with Earth than anything on Enterprise to date. T'Pol makes ominous allusions to disasters occurring from Vulcans experimenting with emotion -- presumably the schism that caused the Romulan exodus -- but it's not clear any longer that we can take any previous understanding of Vulcan culture for granted, not even the teachings of Surak which have always been characterized as monolithically in favor of repressing emotion in favor of logic.

Spock says in the original series episode 'Amok Time' that a betrothal between young Vulcans takes place via something very similar to a mind meld -- each touches the other to feel one another's thoughts. Maybe T'Pol didn't participate in such a ceremony with her former fiancé -- maybe not all Vulcans practice mind-touching -- but presumably she and other Vulcans are aware of the implications and can conceive of a mind-meld even if they've never experienced one directly. Yet Tolaris suggests it's an ancient custom no longer familiar to most Vulcans. Even if they don't permit themselves full mind-melds, how could a telepathic species not have some sort of guidelines on mental barriers and the risks of breaching them? What exactly was T'Pol doing with Sato in 'Sleeping Dogs' if not something akin to a mind-touch?

It seems incredible in retrospect that Kirk and McCoy never heard of pon farr, given the apparently widespread chitchat among Andorians and at least a few humans about Vulcan mating rituals. Kov's indication that his ship carries few females really makes one wonder about the sexuality of the rebel Vulcans, who have been in space for longer than one seven-year mating cycle, but I'm rather glad the episode didn't go into too many details about how they cope. There are other practical issues that niggle about the eight-year voyage -- this can't be the first time the old ship has broken down, yet other Vulcans apparently shun direct contact unless they're dying, so I'd like to know who else they've met on their travels and whether incidents like the one with T'Pol have occurred previously.

Which brings up my major concern with the episode: neither Archer nor T'Pol reports Tolaris to Tavin, his fellow shipmates and every Vulcan authority they can reach. The man is clearly dangerous to other Vulcans; imagine the damage he could do to a non-Vulcan, or anyone unschooled in meditation and self-control. Even if she values her privacy about the incident, wouldn't T'Pol want to warn others of the danger this individual presents? And if a human male from Enterprise tried to rape a crewmember on another ship, wouldn't Archer want to know about it? Kov appears to demonstrate that Vulcans can learn to balance logic and emotion, as Tavin claims, despite his apparent immaturity and lack of control in certain areas. The experiment isn't a failure. But Tolaris needs help, and if someone doesn't see that he gets it, a lot of others may end up needing help as well.

Perhaps Tavin's crew misstates Surak's intentions in much the same way that a few Christians insist on twisting Christ's words to promote racist agendas, but for the most part, Tavin and particularly Kov are portrayed very sympathetically -- certainly in comparison to Soval and his ilk. That's a pity, because I really dislike the suggestion on this show that anything different is bad. When Archer tells Tucker he's disturbed by how much time T'Pol has been spending with Tolaris (leading to one of Trip's two great lines of the episode, suggesting that the captain might be jealous), Tucker replies that of course she'd rather spend time among her own people -- who wouldn't? Well, Phlox for one seems quite content to live among aliens, and Hoshi's specialty is communicating with other races, and as Tolaris points out, T'Pol has chosen to spend the better part of three years among humans. Even Kirk's imperialistic attitudes seem more open to true exchange and bonding with other species than the human-centered Enterprise, and although one might rationalize that this is because Enterprise is set in an earlier era of Trek history, it's being written in a later decade of our own history, and seems disturbingly anachronistic.

Tucker's other great line, 'They're not trying to kill the quarterback!', epitomizes what's fun about this show. The Vulcan request for the recipe for chicken marsala, however, would be more witty if it were accompanied by a reverse request -- surely Vulcans in space for eight years have come up with some creative culinary delights. So T'Pol gets a secret thrill from jazz; hasn't any other species come up with some sort of music that might give humans a thrill, even if Klingon opera and Vulcan harp will never make the Top 40?

The acting by Bakula, Blalock, John Harrington Bland (Kov) and particularly the creepy, sleazy performance of Enrique Murciano (Tolaris) enhance 'Fusion.' Murciano knows he's playing a dangerous character before we do; what looks at first like enthusiastic eagerness turns slowly into menace. He keeps invading T'Pol's personal space, staring at her in a manner I'd consider inappropriate in just about any public place, talking into her ear, raising his hands just enough that it looks like he might touch her even when he doesn't. I was thrown for a moment when Tucker called Tolaris 'sullen,' because we mostly witness the opposite -- his smile looks too large, his voice sounds too loud.

Blalock gives T'Pol quite a bit of visible emotion in response, which works very well in this storyline. After her initial resistance to the emotional Vulcans, T'Pol's behavior seems rather reckless -- though Tolaris suggests guided meditation before a mind-meld, she wants to try the more intense experience. Blalock must demonstrate the character's vulnerability without making her appear weak or victimized; she does an excellent job. It's hard to know what to make of her deadpan assertion at the end that she envies Archer his pleasant dreams. I'm worried that the writers are humanizing the character too much, too quickly; they're certainly sexualizing her as much as possible. I'd love to see a show focused purely on her intellect or emotional development with no attention whatsoever to her bum, which is going to be onscreen anyway.

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Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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