The Logical Loyalty of T’Pol

T'Pol in blue uniform standing alone

If there is one series in the entire Star Trek franchise that gets whispered in hushed tones, it’s Enterprise. And if there’s one character that gets pinned with the show’s “failings” more than any other, it’s T’Pol. Yes, we can criticize her costume all day if we want, but what if we remember that she first donned the traditional Vulcan attire and was stripped of that only when she was assigned to the Enterprise? It is my belief that many Trekkies have difficulty seeing beyond the uniform, seeing the virtues in T’Pol because she is so complex by nature. Her identity is multi-faceted, and centers around an extreme sense of loyalty.

T’Pol is marked as an Other from the moment she boards Enterprise – the only Vulcan on board. Consider the extreme distrustful and unaffectionate manner which nearly all humans display towards Vulcans. The only one who outranks her, who has the authority to protect her, is the one who quite possibly hates her the most: Captain Archer. He blames the Vulcans, especially Ambassador Soval and the Vulcan High Command, for holding humanity back from its potential. And he takes his hatred of Vulcans personally. Consider the pilot episode when he confronts T’Pol: “I’ve been listening to you Vulcans tell us what not to do all my entire life. I watched my father work his ass off while your scientists held back just enough information to keep him from succeeding. He deserved to see that launch. You may have life spans of two hundred years, we don’t” (“Broken Bow”).

Archer confronts T'Pol

But of course, by the end of the series premiere, they find a way to work together and come to a mutual understanding, and the rest is history. Or is it? Is this one episode all it takes to bring these two races together on Enterprise? After all the discomfort T’Pol has been subjected to, why is she so fast and so eager to make the official request to remain aboard after the mission?

The answer to that is the thread that connects all the complexities of her identity, and is the one trait that makes her more Vulcan than all her logic combined: loyalty. Vulcans are loyal to a fault, as we know from our very own Mr. Spock and his regard for Kirk and McCoy. This innate ability to sense those deserving of loyalty, and then pledge it unswervingly, is what makes Vulcans such astute character profilers. They sense dishonesty, and they recognize virtue. And to support virtue is, after all, a logical course of action. Ambassador Soval himself would not be in such close relation with Admiral Forest if he did not believe that the humans were worthy allies. Yes, they may be immature at times, reckless, and oh, so emotional, but they are unequivocally good. T’Pol sees this very goodness in Archer.

Where this becomes the most crucial element of her relationship with Enterprise, however, is when she defends Archer before the High Command concerning the destruction of the Vulcan sanctuary, P’Jem. In the season two premiere, she confronts them at Starfleet Headquarters (“Shockwave, Part II”):

Vulcans discovered how to suppress their volatile emotions only after centuries of savage conflict. You spoke of the destruction of the monastery. What about the Vulcan listening post that Captain Archer found there? I would hope that our people have learned from those events that using a sacred sanctuary to spy on others was a dishonorable practice, to say the least. I don’t wish to contradict Captain Archer, but learning from one’s mistakes is hardly exclusive to humans. Their mission should be allowed to continue.

T’Pol steps up to defend Enterprise against the Vulcan High Command, but at what cost?

She risks her position with the High Command, knowing that she will one day return to Vulcan and hope to regain her former career. By confronting them, the elders whom she respects and has listened to all her life, she jeopardizes her character with the ones who first helped her define it. Everything that she is comes from her years in the Vulcan Ministry of Security and the Vulcan High Command. To reject the elders is illogical. And dangerous. If this is not enough, T’Pol risks even more in the second season finale, where she makes the decision to go with Enterprise into the Delphic Expanse. This mission is reckless, and it is in revenge for a world that isn’t even her own. It is a mission from which she knows she may never return. Soval reminds her of this, and of her orders to return to the High Command. She can’t help Enterprise in the Expanse, whether she wants to or not.

Soval warns T’Pol: “This is not the matter of choice. Defying the High Command would mean immediate dismissal. You know that” (“The Expanse”).

T’Pol chooses to remain with Enterprise, sacrificing her career, her reputation, and her very life. It is in the Expanse where she comes into contact with Trelium-D, a substance deadly to Vulcans, a substance that cripples their ability to shield from emotions, to use their logic as the protection it is. It is in the Expanse where T’Pol becomes addicted to Trelium, using it to expose herself to emotions that she wishes to understand—emotions that Dr. Phlox tells her she will now never be immune, even after going through sobriety from the element. We need to stop seeing T’Pol as a weak figure who dragged down the series. She is far more than that. She is incredibly dynamic, and her interactions with the characters bolstered her sense of belonging on the ship. She is loyal to the crew because she has become part of their family. You stay loyal to your family. This means that we stay loyal to her, too.

 

  11 comments for “The Logical Loyalty of T’Pol

  1. Mark
    April 25, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Everyone will now disagree with me now, because I prefer T’Pol be with Archer, than Trip. It was not possible because of the rank issue, but I felt it was a better, more honest fit. Not just sticking her with “the hot guy.” In episode “Twilight,” its explored briefly. Ok, yell at me now…

    • April 25, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      No, there’s no yelling here! I actually see your point, Mark! The decision to hook T’Pol up with Trip is following the classic example of the girl getting with the “hot guy,” you’re right. There is actually a lot about Archer that would make her a good match for T’Pol, and there is a bit of time where they even consider it (unofficially) in the first season, I believe. Archer is attracted to her, for sure. I think Berman and Braga wanted to stray from the captain/first officer hook-up possibility that we see in every series except TNG. Putting Trip with her mixed things up. Plus, he’s more emotional (though Archer has his fair share of temper tantrums!), so it makes her identity more complex. The challenge to remain logical and focused is more difficult for her when she’s around Trip. And we love to see our characters face difficulty and challenges. But your observation about that is definitely valid!

      • Mark
        April 25, 2017 at 8:29 pm

        Thanks Bryana! Perhaps if Tucker hasn’t been paired off so many times before, I would have felt more positively. But you are quite correct in your Trip assessment. I met and spoke with Jolene and she really put a lot of thought into her portrayal. She didn’t always agree with some of her character arc, but she never short shrifted the character. Some of the subtle things she did were quite creative.

    • Janet
      April 25, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I disagree that they got Trip and T’Pol together just because he’s hot. They fit in with the trope of opposites attract. I can see Archer/T’Pol shippers’ point that he’s more emotionally stable and therefore a better match. But he’s a lot less observant of people than Trip. For example, he tells the Ferengi she has no sense of humor. But in Unexpected, he’s in the same room when T’Pol messes with Trip for getting pregnant. And in Bound, he’s surprised she’s capable of jokes. Also he tells Erika certain things I doubt he would tell anyone else. Then again, they wrote him so inconsistently I suppose anything is possible.

      • David Kinard
        September 21, 2017 at 5:57 am

        Archer never struck me as particularly emotional stable.

  2. Janet
    April 25, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    The bad execution of the Trellium story leaves a black mark on T’Pol(this bumps her down to my second favorite character from the show). However, it doesn’t change that her costume makes some people not take her or Jolene Blalock seriously (this happened to Jeri Ryan and Marina Sirtis too). As half-assed as her drug addiction was, it pales in comparison to the inconsistency of Archer. Some fans would make a case for pinning the show’s weaknesses on him.

    The other major criticism of T’Pol is that she’s too emotional and should be more like Spock. I say if Amanda he died when he was a child, he would have turned out a lot like T’Pol. The death of the parent you’re closest to would make anyone less able to control their emotions. This brings me to another point. As much as I love T’Pol’s loyalty, I doubt it sprang up that quickly in Broken Bow. She probably spent a lot of time hiding her emotional nature before Enterprise. She must have decided putting up with human prejudice was less exhausting.

    I can’t say enough good things about T’Pol’s decision to follow her friends into the Expanse. Aside from risking her life, she wasn’t thinking about whether Starfleet would give her a job. If I were the Sorting Hat, I would place her in Gryffindor just for that. Unfortunately there is a minority who brand her as selfish because of her initial arrogance and mistakes she made in her relationship with Trip.

    • April 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Yes, I’ve read some articles that pin Archer with a lot as well. I think that, like T’Pol, we can run the risk of being too harsh on the NX-01 crew. While Archer was definitely no Kirk or Picard, I like to think he was doing the best he could. Theirs was the first deep space mission. There was no example to go off of. He had no idea what to expect. So yes, he got emotional a lot and made some bad calls, but I think his frustration with the mission at various points is an important part of his character. He’s very human and very fallible, and this was a journey none of them had ever experienced.

      T’Pol is interestingly emotional, yes. The Trellium-D was a fascinating, if not crippling addition to the narrative. I don’t think she was any more emotional than Soval, for instance, though. Now after serving with the crew, yes, she picked up some of their expressions. But I distinctly remember Blalock talking in an interview about how it was hard for her to be so stoic because she is a naturally expressive person, but yet she found it so empowering to be able to convey emotions and thoughts just with T’Pol’s eyes or slight facial adjustments. But yes, I can definitely see how she is more reactionary than Spock, who is half-human. She’s very complicated, to be sure.

      I always think of her being sorted into Ravenclaw, but now that you mention it, yes. She exudes bravery and courage in ways that go beyond a logical reaction. She takes on a very human-like bravery that defies logic. So, yes. GRYFFINDOR!!!!!!

      • Janet
        April 25, 2017 at 9:01 pm

        Archer should be fallible but again, it’s a matter of execution. Yes, they should make mistakes as the first crew in space so no else has to. But that has nothing to do with consistency. His changing attitudes toward the Prime Directive annoy me to no end (cough, Cogenitor, cough). And what I didn’t like about the Trellium story is that they brought it out of the blue. They meant no time for development.

        Soval seems more well-adjusted than T’Pol even if he is just as emotional (it probably comes with age). I did like Jolene’s acting for what you had mentioned. In a Warp 5 episode, Phyllis Strong said that’s why she finds Vulcans so hard to write for. You can’t make them robots but you need subtle ways to express their emotions.

        T’Pol reminds me of Hermione when you mention Ravenclaw. Both have the smarts for Ravenclaw (and the Hat did consider Hermione for it) but are very loyal to their friends.

    • David Kinard
      September 21, 2017 at 6:07 am

      I was surprised to read in the article that fans pointed blame at T’Pol. For me, T’Pol was easily the best character on Enterprise. I’m one one of the few who actually likes enterprise and rates it above Voyager. The first two seasons were slow with a few standouts, but I thought it really got going season 3.

      I agree the drug addiction storyline was poorly executed. It felt like it could have been an interesting idea, but it was basically just a reason to have T’Pol be struggling with her emotional control. The idea of a vulcan who has to relearn their emotional control is interesting, but the explanation could have just as easily come from her initial exposure to the trellium. If they were going to go with an addiction story line, I think it needed more depth and we needed to understand what T’Pol’s motivations are.

      You could write it like this: Vulcan emotions are more intense then human’s which is why they initially wanted to control them. The “High” was thus more intense, and since the exposure already damaged t’pol suppression mechanisms, the urge to feel it again, which was the only intense emotion she had felt since she was a child, combined with her anxiety over loosing control made it irrestible. Like, it’e the equivalent of heroin for someone who has never felt any other emotions that immediately makes you loose control of your suppression mechanisms. A storyline going more into that could have been interesting, instead of “hey” remember how T’Pol’s been acting funny? Here’s the explanation, now let’s resolve it, so now we can write t’pol with emotions occasionally.

  3. Janet
    September 23, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I saw a few different theories for why the drug addiction happened in fanfiction. One was that she was trying to build immunity so she was taking Trellium like a vaccine. The other was to deal with the stress of war, which is a story I hear about some veterans.

  4. Michelle Johnston
    November 16, 2017 at 7:31 am

    I am perfectly comfortable with T’Pols overall journey in Enterprise including her exposure to T-D. Vulcan’s are very emotional indeed more primally emotional than mankind they have just mastered the art of control. That of course is where all the drama comes in. Its that juxtaposition of instinctive mankind and highly controlled Vulcans.

    I think Jolene’s performance is highly nuanced and stands up well to repeated examination. However there is another narrative at work. In order for her performance to work she needed emotionally tactile performers who could communicate that on screen, John and Connor were able to do that. When JB played opposite SB in twofer stories JB seemed lost to me and had to try to hard she was operating in a vacuum. With JB and CT she had something to play off.

    I also think Discovery has shown us a fresh way of doing Trek. The main character does not have to be the Captain. Archer was the man of destiny who had a nice challenging arc in Season 3. But the soul of this era belonged to Trip. They should have focused on his wide eyed wonder but narrow view of other species and grown him through the seven seasons. Connor was quite capable of carrying that leaving Scott to be the regular Captain. Part of that would be the inevitable coming together of this highly emotional but incredibly decent and loyal Trip with the extremely complex but highly loyal T’Pol. Its easy to get carried away with the issue of being hot but even their voices had a symbiosis. I know people write fan fiction but imagine T’Pol (and Trip) really exploring the Bond, Mind Melding and a mixed race marriage and mixed race offspring and a work place marriage out in space. All sorts of challenges lay in front of them including the potential for the sacrifice used in the latter book.

    Dismissing JB as eye candy when you consider episode after episode of highly nuanced offerings is unfair.

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