Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr The first STAR TREK television series in more than a decade, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, premieres on September 24. To celebrate, we here at ComicsVerse are bringing you all things TREK all month long. Today, we look at a disturbing scene from ENTERPRISE and evaluate how the show tackles a sensitive subject: the sexual assault of ENTERPRISE’s first officer, T’Pol. Trigger Warning: This article contains a discussion of sexual assault. For some reason, ENTERPRISE is the STAR TREK show that most people seem to forget. Everyone knows about THE ORIGINAL SERIES and THE NEXT GENERATION. Then there’s DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER, plus quite a few movies. But no one seems to talk about ENTERPRISE. Fierce debates rage over who is the better captain, Kirk or Picard, but no one brings up Archer. Fans have their favorite episodes, and their favorite episodes to groan over. It’s rare that someone talks about ENTERPRISE unless they bring up some of the more cringe-worthy episodes. CLICK: STAR TREK has been along for over 50 years! What does the franchise do well to endure so long? Find out here! Why don’t people talk about ENTERPRISE more? The show does pale a little in comparison to the ground-breaking TOS or the iconic NEXT GEN. There’s also that unfortunate early-2000s combo of bad fashion and worse CGI. And, admittedly, ENTERPRISE does have some real misses. ENTERPRISE also does some things well, though. One thing the show does well is something you perhaps wouldn’t expect: a surprisingly nuanced sexual assault analogue that tackles such a sensitive subject in a well-thought out and delicate manner. The Background First, a little backstory for those unfamiliar with ENTERPRISE. The show details the very first missions of the very first Starship Enterprise. Over the course of four seasons, ENTERPRISE follows the original crew as they work out all the details of being Earth’s very first warp-5 ship. They are the first to go boldly, and along the way, they boldly make a lot of mistakes — but they also accomplish great things, up to and including saving the galaxy from trans-dimensional beings. Left to right: Tucker, Archer, T’Pol. Enterprise’s captain is Jonathan Archer, an impetuous and sometimes impossibly stubborn human who holds significant grudges against Vulcans. This animosity makes his first officer even more surprising. Enterprise’s first officer is T’Pol, a Vulcan. T’Pol originally joins Enterprise as an observer. She’s there to ensure that the crew doesn’t do anything too stupid. T’Pol faces significant backlash from the human crew, especially Archer’s hot-headed best friend and chief engineer Trip Tucker. These three navigate a delicate path toward interspecies collaboration and trust. By the end of Season 2, T’Pol is no longer a reluctant crew member. What happened to bring about this change? The biggest change is in T’Pol herself. As she grows to understand her human companions, she explores a life beyond the strict confines of Vulcan society. Unfortunately, this understanding does not come without a price. T’Pol suffers enormously throughout the show. However, for the most part, the show treats her character arc with surprising delicacy. The catalyst for T’Pol’s development is one of the most sensitive subjects of all — sexual assault. Character Development In the early episodes of Season 1, T’Pol comes across as stiff, humorless, and uncompromising. She is also highly competent, however, and wins the respect of her crewmates, if not their affection. The road is rough. In one of the episodes, T’Pol is part of an away team exposed to hallucinogenic compounds. The human members of the team become convinced she is betraying them, and at one point Trip even attempts to kill her. However, little by little T’Pol can adapt to and help her fellow crewmates. Things are a little … tense at first. A major turning point occurs when T’Pol, Archer, and Trip discover that a sacred Vulcan monastery has been converted into a spy station. This event forces T’Pol to face the duplicity of the Vulcan government. This understandably shakes her worldview. Notably, she helps her people’s enemies — the Andorians — destroy the spy station. This action — helping the enemy, destroying a sacred site — shows that T’Pol is not going to be a typical Vulcan. In a later episode, Trip counsels T’Pol when she faces a difficult personal decision. He encourages her to follow her heart rather than bow to tradition. This is another step toward eschewing Vulcan restrictions. “Fusion” Now, that’s not to say that T’Pol is all kumbaya. She still comes across as rather stiff, and her Vulcan sense of superiority is clearly visible. Her interactions with the crew have improved, but nowhere near the level of human-human interactions. She is still a Vulcan — she has just seen the logic of adapting to her circumstances. However, everything she knows is suddenly thrown into question when the Enterprise encounters the V’Tosh Ka’Tur — “Vulcans without logic.” The V’Tosh Ka’Tur leave Vulcan society on a quest to balance emotions and logic. READ: STAR TREK has always had a wealth of alien species and cultures to explore. Read more about the “alien” archetype in STAR TREK! T’Pol’s disapproval of the V’Tosh Ka’Tur is evident. She states that their goal is impossible and that their quest to accomplish it is dangerous. However, Archer encourages her to spend time with her fellow Vulcans. One, in particular, Tolaris, seems to take a shine to T’Pol. The two spend time in close proximity when Archer asks T’Pol to complete some scans from the Vulcan ship. Tolaris probes at T’Pol’s psyche, asking her questions she doesn’t quite know how to answer. He encourages her to skip meditating, a practice necessary for her to keep her composure. He tells her that her dreams will be more interesting. Interesting doesn’t quite cover it, though. T’Pol remembers visiting a jazz club in San Francisco, a transgression against her Vulcan nature. The memory is fairly positive. However, interspersed with the memories are sexual images featuring Tolaris. He moves about her in a very predatory way, and the dream picks up tempo while free jazz plays in the background. Eventually, T’Pol dreams that a statue of Surak — the father of Vulcan logic — falls and breaks. She awakens feeling very distressed. She decides to resume her routine, stating that exploring her emotions comes with too many risks. Mind-Meld Unfortunately, Tolaris tests her resolve. He pushes her to go further. He coaxes her to let him perform a mind-meld on her. A mind-meld would allow them to share thoughts and memories. Tolaris tells her that the experience is “profoundly intimate.” Tolaris is initially unable to form a meld because T’Pol is resisting. He tells her to relax, and he can enter her mind. Tolaris invades T’Pol’s memory. They revisit the memory of the jazz club, where Tolaris tells her to describe her emotions. She is hesitant, so he tells her what she is feeling — excitement, apprehension, elation. As he proceeds, she becomes visibly more uncomfortable. When she tries to leave the memory, breaking the meld, Tolaris refuses to let her leave. She attempts to free herself, but his grip on her mind — and her body — is too strong for her to break. He forces her to continue melding, even as she begs him to stop. Tolaris is literally forcing his mind on her, taking what he described as a “profoundly intimate” encounter and tainting it with violence and force. She is eventually able to free herself only by forcibly pushing him away, breaking the contact. After Tolaris leaves, T’Pol collapses. She ends up in sick-bay, in pretty bad shape. Archer confronts Tolaris the next day. He accuses Tolaris of assaulting T’Pol, which he denies. Tolaris states that no one forced T’Pol to try the meld and that she was a willing participant. He attempts to see her again, eventually throwing Archer across the room to get his way. The V’Tosh Ka’Tur leave, but their visit will have long-lasting repercussions. Ramifications One major effect of the forced mind-meld is that T’Pol contracted Pa’Nar Syndrome. Pa’Nar is a degenerative neural disease that is, ultimately, fatal. It is an analogue for sexually transmitted infections, particularly AIDS. Pa’Nar is only contracted through mind-melding. At this time, mind-melding was considered a taboo practice; therefore Pa’Nar is highly stigmatized. In Season 2, Enterprise’s Dr. Phlox is treating T’Pol’s Pa’Nar, but he reveals that his treatment is no longer effective. Unfortunately, there is no information available on the treatment of Pa’Nar because the Vulcans consider it a mark of shame. Phlox attempts to gain more information on Pa’Nar from some Vulcan doctors, but they refuse to discuss such a taboo subject. Eventually, they realize that T’Pol is suffering from Pa’Nar. Rather than show her kindness, she is immediately stigmatized, up to the point of losing her commission. She is nearly forced to leave Enterprise until Archer stands up for her. In the end, the only reason she can retain her commission is because one of the Vulcan doctors reveals that T’Pol was forced into the mind-meld. A consensual mind-meld cure’s T’Pol’s Pa’Nar. Ultimately, T’Pol can cure her Pa’Nar, though it did serious damage first. The aftereffects of the assault — Pa’Nar among them — shook T’Pol’s emotional control. T’Pol was always considered a particularly emotional Vulcan, but after her assault, her emotions become even closer to the surface. Pa’Nar contributed to this by damaging her neural pathways. T’Pol also later becomes addicted to a compound that allows her to access more of her emotions. Unfortunately, this compound increases the damage that Pa’Nar has done, and T’Pol will never fully regain her emotional control. Fiction — Or Reality? “Fusion” is a painful episode to watch. Even before he assaults T’Pol, Tolaris is creepy. He is constantly looking at T’Pol in an overtly sexual way, and actively pursues her when she doesn’t want it. At one point, he follows her when she attempts to escape him. He refuses to let her return to work and presses her to talk about things she is uncomfortable discussing. Even Archer becomes concerned. He mentions that T’Pol had previously refused to have anything to do with the V’Tosh Ka’Tur, but now is inseparable from Tolaris. MORE: Not every series handles sexual assault well. Read more about the problem of rape in TV. The actual assault is disturbing. While Tolaris does not assault T’Pol physically — aside from holding her in place so she cannot break the meld — it is still a clearly sexual encounter. His description of intimacy shows that he considers the practice to be sexual. He also seems to gain strength as she resists, showing clear enjoyment. Later, when Archer confronts him, Tolaris states that he needs to be near T’Pol to facilitate her “awakening.” This language is disturbingly close to a description of “sexually awakening” a person. Even further, the aftermath of the assault is uncomfortably close to reality. Tolaris insists that he did not assault T’Pol because she initially agreed to the meld. This reflects rape apology, where rapists insist that their actions are not rape because the victim initially consented. This rejects the fact that consent can be revoked — which T’Pol clearly does. The stigma T’Pol faces for an STI she gained via force reflects the poor treatment that many rape survivors face. The stigma of surviving an assault can be nearly as painful as the assault itself. Final Thoughts T’Pol is one of my all-time favorite characters. Her development over the four seasons of ENTERPRISE is gratifying, but it doesn’t seem impossible. The fact that this development comes partly at the expense of assault, terminal illness, and drug addiction is unsettling. However, it is impressive that ENTERPRISE deals with these issues in a delicate manner. The Pa’Nar story is directly intended to reflect the stigma of AIDS and other STIs. The writers set out to address a difficult subject in a nuanced manner. However, the show also addresses the actual assault well. ENTERPRISE comes close to handling this story horribly. There are moments in “Fusion” where it seems like this experience is intended to be positive, as if T’Pol’s assault really was a form of “awakening.” Importantly, though, the writers show that this assault truly caused T’Pol pain and suffering. At the same time, “Fusion” allows ENTERPRISE to deal with such a difficult subject more easily. The assault is a clear sexual assault analogue. However, by making it not a physical assault, they can present the storyline in a manner that is less triggering. To be clear, “Fusion” is difficult to watch no matter what, and can still be triggering for survivors. However, the writers can discuss a traumatic experience in a way that somewhat lessens the trauma. She persisted. ENTERPRISE has its moments, both good and bad. Some episodes are downright cringe-worthy. But T’Pol’s storyline is captivating, and her story is so, so important. This is a representation of a woman who survives an assault, and many other terrible things, and still succeeds. T’Pol is an inspirational character. I, for one, am pleased that ENTERPRISE compellingly presents her story without succumbing to shock value.