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”).
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.
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.
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.