Thursday, October 18, 2012

Enterprise 2x7 "The Seventh"


"The Seventh" is an episode I've grappled with since it originally aired back in 2002.  It seemed like such an anomaly at the time, and for many years later.

Yet what I now believe is that it keenly, and perhaps even singularly, captures the spirit of the entire second season of Enterprise, which in many ways has always been misunderstood and still remains the most neglected season of the most neglected Star Trek.

So what do I mean by all that?  For one thing, it's a spotlight episode on T'Pol.  The second season notably spent much of its time trying to get at the heart of the show's Big Three characters, Archer, Trip, and T'Pol.  T'Pol's most famous episode of the season is "Stigma," while the earlier "Carbon Creek" stands out in its own right.  "The Seventh" bridges both episodes in unique fashion, and may even help pave the way for her character arc in the third season.

It's also very similar to the Deep Space Nine episode "Necessary Evil," which was not only a highlight for the characters Odo and Kira, but for the series and franchise as a whole.  I suspect part of what made "The Seventh" such a problem for me was the unconscious connections I was making that stubbornly refused to surface.  Perhaps other fans didn't have such problems.  Perhaps they saw the episode as just another knockoff for a series that seemed to borrow at no creative inspiration much of what the franchise had already done.

Yet from the very first episode I appreciated the way Enterprise used its unique perspective to provide commentary on everything Star Trek had accomplished to that point.  It was a logical successor to a series (Voyager) that attempted to do something similar, following a crew that knew everything the fans did, but was cut off from everything familiar (mostly).  Enterprise, to rephrase the series, followed a crew that knew nothing but was surrounded by things the fans were familiar with (mostly).  How it used this familiarity seemed to become a contentious matter of debate.

The second season of the series, then, provides a lot of opportunities to figure out the true success rate of the approach.  The first season was about the crew figuring out if it could survive its mission.  The second was about how the crew reacts to the more regular rigors of the experience, now that they have a taste.  They think they know a thing or two.  In most cases they're proven wrong.

"The Seventh" explores this in interesting ways.  T'Pol's past, for instance, proves more interesting than we expected.  Her presence in the series, often scaled down to comments about physical attributes, was a unique one, and perhaps never more unique than this season.  In this particular episode, her attitude speaks volumes.  She's a Vulcan who represses her emotions in obvious ways.  She refrains from making the comments she's thinking, she holds back, she's discreet, she makes pithy remarks, she gives telling looks.  With Spock he was always direct, and let others feel the emotion of his presence.  With Tuvok he was always succinct to the point of being curt, believing he was always right.  T'Pol was demure.  She was the first long-term female Vulcan in franchise history.  Was she so different from her male counterparts?

During the second season she's continually confronted with the cost of deciding to remain with Archer's crew.  In "Carbon Creek" she demonstrates that she's making the transition well.  "The Seventh" is the first indication that it isn't as easy as it seems.  She's withdrawing into a shell, and only reluctantly admits that she needs Archer's help because she trusts him.  Why doesn't she have anyone else to trust?  Other episodes reveal such answers.  Here she simply seeks to cope with an intolerable decision, a prior posting that has come back to haunt her.

The title refers to a group of Vulcan agents who turned renegade, and the number of them T'Pol was assigned to bring back home.  Her failure with the final members of the group is explored, as well as its effects, which turn out to be at least as complicated as her attempt in the present to finish the job.

You can follow the episode for the storyline alone, but you'd be missing out on the subtle character work that elevates it beyond the material.  That's the strength of T'Pol herself, even if she may be at her most vulnerable.  Yes, she has some rough things happen to her at other points in the series, but this is a secret pain that she lives with for longer than any of them.  It's not hard to see how this may inform everything else about her.

Why does it initially seem like such a random and almost pointlessly generic episode?  Because you need to be paying attention.  You need to make these connections for yourself.  Much of the second season is like that.  You need to know why things are happening in order to appreciate it.  If you look at it from a cynical perspective, you'll end up with a series that ends after just two more season, which is exactly what happened.  If you look at "The Seventh" as the essential character piece that it is, the whole season opens up, and you see the greater strengths of the rest of the series.

So, watch this one, and watch T'Pol closely.  You'll be rewarded.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Bruce Davison

Memory Alpha summary.

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