Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Stigma”

“Stigma”
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Season 2, Episode 14
Production episode 040
Original air date: February 5, 2003
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Phlox gives T’Pol a medical exam and reveals that her Pa’nar Syndrome has worsened, and the treatments are no longer working. Conveniently, Enterprise is attending the Interspecies Medical Conference, so there’s a contingent of Vulcan doctors Phlox can talk to about the latest treatments.

The problem is that she got this from the enforced mind-meld she underwent in “Fusion.” Because you can only get Pa’nar from a mind-meld, and because melders are considered outcast from mainstream Vulcan society, research on Vulcan into the disease is minimal. Plus, if T’Pol admits to having it, she’ll be ostracized and recalled to Vulcan.

Phlox queries the Vulcan physicians at the conference, explaining that Pa’nar is similar to thymic sclerosis, a Denobulan syndrome that isn’t fatal, but for which they have yet to find a cure. He asks for the latest research on Pa’nar to pass on to a colleague on Denobula. Doctor Oratt says they will consider his request.

Meantime, Phlox also gets to welcome one of his wives on board, as Feezal is delivering a shiny new neutron microscope to Enterprise’s sickbay. She immediately starts flirting with Tucker on her arrival, and continues to do so while they’re installing the microscope.

Screenshot: CBS

Oratt and his colleagues, Yuris and Strom, board the Enterprise and meet with Phlox—they also ask T’Pol to be part of the meeting, though Phlox doesn’t understand why. They ask T’Pol plenty of pointed questions about melders, including at one point handing her a padd with a list of names.

Eventually, Oratt says they must refuse to share their research. They return to the surface, and immediately run a scan on T’Pol based on the transfer of genetic material made when she touched the padd. They confirm that T’Pol herself has Pa’nar. The fact that they just violated medical ethics like whoa goes completely unmentioned for the rest of the episode.

Tucker keeps deflecting Feezal’s advances. He goes to Reed for advice, and Reed tells him to absolutely not tell Phlox, proving that neither of them has paid even an ounce of attention whenever Phlox has mentioned Denobulan relationship patterns.

Oratt immediately goes to Archer, who is blindsided by the information that his first mate has a fatal disease. Phlox and T’Pol come clean, with Phlox saying (rightly) that he didn’t inform Archer because of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Phlox’s invite to the conference has been rescinded, and it’s likely that T’Pol will be recalled once Oratt reports to Vulcan High Command. Archer is pissed that his people withheld information from him, but he’s way more pissed at how the Vulcans have behaved. Archer points out that T’Pol isn’t part of this subculture, but Oratt retorts that the only way she could’ve gotten Pa’nar is if she melded.

T’Pol, however, refuses to testify that she was mind-raped, her logic being that it will only result in further ostracization of the subculture, as it will play into the stereotypes.

Yuris contacts T’Pol privately and provides the research she wanted. Yuris admits to being part of the subculture. T’Pol tells Yuris that she isn’t, and that she was assaulted. Yuris urges her to tell Oratt that before he contacts High Command.

Phlox examines the research, and while it’s not a cure, it’s a better treatment than what he’d been doing, and it will allow him to put off the symptoms of the syndrome for much longer. T’Pol still refuses to testify that she was assaulted. Archer, however, demands a hearing protesting Oratt recalling her, and with help from Sato, he has backing for that demand in Vulcan law. Oratt reluctantly acquiesces. If T’Pol won’t speak up on her behalf because the subculture will be even more discriminated against, she should, Archer argues, at least have a chance to speak for that subculture.

Screenshot: CBS

The hearing doesn’t go particularly well, especially since T’Pol won’t admit to her assault, but then Yuris goes ahead and breaks their confidence and says she was assaulted. This destroys Yuris’ own career, but it also saves T’Pol’s, as Yuris’ testimony is, ironically, enough to prove that T’Pol got Pa’nar against her will.

Tucker finally tells Phlox that his wife has been hitting on him, and Phlox’s only response is to ask if she’s given him a rose-petal bath. Appalled, Tucker says no, and Phlox is confused as to why Tucker is so put out by this. Doesn’t he want to experience new cultures? When Feezal departs the ship, reminding Phlox that his other wives wanna see him too, they also have a good laugh at Tucker’s ridiculousness.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? A neutron microscope is a high-powered microscope that looks exactly like a regular microscope, because apparently Enterprise has no prop budget. It’s also not clear how neutrons will help with imaging, but they probably just figured it was like an electron microscope only from a different part of a molecule. Mind you electrons are used for electron microscopes because they emit bright light to make it easier to see. Not sure what neutrons bring to the table there, but this paragraph has probably given more thought to the notion of a neutron microscope than the writers did, so I’ll stop now.

The gazelle speech. Archer is initially cranky about being kept out of the loop regarding T’Pol’s illness, but he also goes to the wall to fight for her, yet all along he respects her own wishes.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol refuses to contribute to the ostracization of the subculture of melders by admitting that one of them assaulted her, and is willing to endanger her own career and life, and continue to let Tolaris get away with what he did, to do so.

Florida Man. Florida Man Stupidly Applies His Own Morality To Alien Culture, Denies Self Nookie.

Screenshot: CBS

Optimism, Captain! Busy episode for Phlox, as he verbally tap-dances magnificently to try to at once help his patient and protect her privacy (his thymic sclerosis cover story is very well presented). He also gets to see one of his wives for the first time in ages.

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined… Apparently, people who mind-meld are considered heathens, and they also are subject to getting Pa’nar Syndrome, which is fatal.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Feezal hits all over Tucker from jump. Phlox is surprised and disappointed that Tucker didn’t reciprocate, to Tucker’s confusion.

I’ve got faith…

“You’re wasting your time.”

“It’s mine to waste.”

–Oratt trying to blow off Archer and Archer saying, “Bazinga!”

Welcome aboard. This episode marks the television acting debut of Melinda Page Hamilton, who is absolutely radiant as Feezal. In addition, the three Vulcans are played by folks who have or will be seen again on Trek productions: Yuris is the second of two roles played by Jeffrey Hayenga, who played Orta in TNG’s “Ensign Ro.” Strom is the first of two roles played by Bob Morrisey, who will play a Xindi captain in season three. And Oratt is the fourth of four roles played by Michael Ensign, one on each of the first four spinoffs, including Minister Krola in TNG’s “First Contact,” Ambassador Lojal in DS9’s “The Forsaken,” and a Takarian bard in Voyager’s “False Profits.”

Trivial matters: This episode serves as a sequel to “Fusion.” Where mind-melds were a barely known ancient thing hardly anybody does anymore in “Fusion,” that is retconned in this episode to something that (a) is only practiced by a socially ostracized minority and (b) not every Vulcan is even capable of. (B) will be further retconned in season four to not being so, merely propaganda, mostly to make it compatible with, y’know, every other Trek production, which has been clear that mind-melding is something pretty much every Vulcan is capable of, even the one who’s half-human.

Viacom, at the time the parent company of Paramount Pictures, which produces Trek, was doing an HIV awareness campaign in early 2003. This episode grew in part out of a presentation that all Paramount show-runners were invited to attend in order to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV.

T’Pol will continue to suffer from Pa’nar Syndrome through to the fourth season’s “Kir’Shara,” where it will be revealed that there was a cure all along, that the syndrome specifically is caused by improper melding, and it takes a mind-meld to cure it (which, naturally, mainstream Vulcan society wouldn’t have condoned at this stage).

Screenshot: CBS

It’s been a long road… “It’s been a while since I was embarrassed by a Vulcan dignitary.” I get what they were going for here, I really do, but the number of ways in which they botched their AIDS metaphor are legion, and that’s as nothing compared to how badly written this episode is.

For starters, the episode completely moves the goalposts with regard to the Vahklas crew from “Fusion.” The V’tosh ka’tur in that episode were outcasts, not because they engaged in mind-melds, but because they embraced emotion and eschewed logic. Indeed, that episode described melds as something that was ancient and forgotten.

Now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it’s all about the melding, which is now this horrible thing, and oh yeah, only a few people even have the capability of performing a meld (though any Vulcan—and, as we’ve seen, most other humanoid species as well—can receive one). It’s almost like the writers of this episode didn’t know the specifics of the prior one, an excuse that doesn’t really hold water given that a) the same two guys who wrote this episode also wrote the story for “Fusion” and b) the same two guys in question are the creators and show-runners of Enterprise.

So the entire storyline has been sledgehammered to a metaphor for HIV and AIDS and homosexuals, and like with any time you use a sledgehammer, it mostly just leaves debris and big dents.

Mind you, there are elements here that work. Phlox’s cover story to protect T’Pol’s privacy is brilliant, and John Billingsley sells it magnificently. Archer’s willingness to defend his first officer at most costs—not all costs, as he’s not willing to sacrifice T’Pol’s own wishes, a consideration Yuris doesn’t provide—is very heartening.

T’Pol’s decision not to report that she was assaulted by Tolaris is one I struggled with both while watching this episode and especially thinking about it afterward. T’Pol’s point is a good one—Tolaris’ act would just be used by people like Oratt as another club to use against the melders—but that also enables Tolaris to get away with what he did, which still, twenty-three episodes later, rankles. And ultimately I keep coming back to this: T’Pol is being punished for having been raped, and that’s reprehensible.

On top of that, there’s a major plot point here that is ignored: Oratt examined T’Pol and performed medical tests using her DNA without her consent, then shared those medical records with other people. That’s a massive ethical violation—in fact, it’s more than one ethical violation—and nobody even brings it up!

Hilariously, the B-plot—which is mostly filler, though Melinda Page Hamilton is an absolute delight as Feezal—actually undercuts the A-plot in a very specific way. One of the better moments in the A-plot is when Archer rants at Oratt. He tells Oratt about how every Vulcan he met on Earth told him that humans were narrow-minded and volatile and immature, and yet here are the Vulcans being incredibly narrow-minded. “We got rid of bigotry a century ago,” Archer boasts, “we’re not afraid of diversity.”

And then we cut to Tucker totally not understanding the polyamorous nature of Denobulans. All the way to the end of the episode, Tucker completely misunderstands what’s going on because of his prejudice toward monogamy, and his total inability to understand any kind of relationship that doesn’t fit the model he grew up with. So much for not being afraid of diversity…

This is as clumsy a social metaphor as Trek has ever done. Its heart is in the right place, certainly, but the execution falls completely over.

Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the Kickstarter for Double Trouble: An Anthology of Two-Fisted Team-Ups. Co-edited by Keith and New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, this anthology from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers will feature classic characters banding together: Captain Nemo with Frankenstein’s monster; Ace Harlem with the Conjure-Man; Marian of Sherwood with Annie Oakley; Prospero with Don Quixote; Lydia Bennet with Lord Ruthven; and tons more, including stories by Trek scribes Greg Cox, David Mack, Dayton Ward, Kevin J. Anderson, Rigel Ailur, and Derek Tyler Attico, and TNG screenwriter Diana Dru Botsford. Click here to support it.

citation

Back to the top of the page

35 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.