Trip Tucker and the Sissy-Saint Complex

Trip Tucker holds a special place in the hearts of many ENT fans. To date, he is the only character killed in the show to be resurrected by the novels. Like other fans, I felt that his complexity made him a realistic everyman. It was also refreshing to see an openly emotional man on TV. For the first time, I didn’t see other characters make an issue of it, unless it was about his humanity. How beautiful it is to see such a future. Surely Trip was a progressive example of what a sensitive man looks like.

Or so I thought until I saw this review of “Horizon.” As a Trip/T’Pol shipper who watched this knowing they would get together, I was only thinking of how cool it was for them to go on a date, albeit platonic. Despite being an introvert, I somehow missed that Trip and Archer were pressuring T’Pol to go do a social activity. I wondered if anyone else saw a problem with what Archer and Trip did to her. Using keywords like “horizon” and “movie night,” I searched some Trek forums. It so was tough to find criticism, I had to combine my keywords in order to find one person who said T’Pol was bullied on TrekBBS. On one hand, I was relieved not to be the only one who didn’t notice such a thing. But if forums represent the population, that’s a very troubling trend.

The biggest reason I didn’t see Trip as problematic for all these years is because he’s not a macho stereotype. I still feel weird saying that a man who cries at movies more than me can be a bro. He is also not a typical ladies’ man because he rarely does the chasing (a woman always kisses him first). Although it is now more acceptable for a woman to ask a man out or propose, being pursued is still stereotypically feminine. And whose heart wouldn’t melt when Trip cries while mourning for his sister and daughter? Ideally, we would all think grief is grief no matter who is affected. But the uncomfortable truth is I wouldn’t feel the same if he was a woman. Since many studies show that people generally view crying more positively when done by men, I’m sure there are a lot of fans who feel the same way I do about Trip. Ironically, when some of the ones surveyed said that tears “humanized” men, it can sometimes lead us to idealize them enough to excuse them when they engage in bad behavior.

Fans however, give T’Pol no such pass, especially for her infamous morning-after talk in “Harbinger”. Some feel so strongly that they criticize Trip for being too easy on her. Let’s take a look at some comments.

“It wasn’t until he left for Columbia that he started acting like something resembling a man. Prior to that, he showed all the dignity, pride, and self-respect of an altered poodle.”

“Personally I’ve never known whether Trip should be praised for his really quite saintly patience with the on/off thing, or kicked in the bum to wake him up to the fact that he’s letting himself be used as a floor cloth. That ‘experiment’ line was really quite unforgivable (in my view at least); and to take him back to Vulcan and make him watch her get married to someone else when she KNOWS he cares about her – Heavens above, how callous do you get? I’m sure she had her reasons, most of which probably centred [sic] around her inability to cope with her own emotions, but surely she could have been just a bit more careful about his!”

“I have to admit that T’Pol seriously rubbed me the wrong way from “Broken Bow” on, and this on again/off again thing with Trip made it worse. Now, I like Trip, but I won’t give him a pass. I wish he had shown more self-respect and stood up to her, not run off to “Columbia” and certainly not that whole “dead man walking” thing from the reboot profic.”

“I’ve never met a guy that would put up with that much drama.”

A few words came up over and over again to describe Trip. Doormat. Lacking backbone. No man (emphasis mine) would ever put up with what T’Pol did to him. Unexpectedly, gender made little difference on how outraged a fan was over Trip’s “emasculation” and conversely, T’Pol’s behavior (though women are more likely to use coded words than men like the one who compared him to a poodle). But I shouldn’t be surprised when women get harsher punishments for workplace violations than men. This study and how fans react differently to these characters show that we still hold women to higher ethical standards. Despite quibbles that “no one says boys will be boys anymore” (a common criticism of a certain Gillette commercial), that phrase is very much on people’s minds whether they realize it or not. Yes, leaving your partner high and dry is worse than pressuring someone to go to a movie. But the criticism of T’Pol is still way out of proportion. The experiment line is so unforgivable she can never make up for it? And what was she supposed to do when she got married, not invite him?

Trip is both idealized and criticized for his emotional nature; an example of what I call the sissy-saint complex. The halo effect of crying causes many fans (including myself) to overlook when he may be problematic. But he also gets bashed for being too “soft” on T’Pol. While there were times when I wished he was more assertive with her, I don’t think he would have got nearly as much backlash for being a “doormat” if he was a woman. It’s ironic that fans reduce Trip to these extremes when he probably turned out more complex than the writers intended. That shows just how much power unconscious biases have to shape our perceptions of people. While managing them is difficult, a good first step would be remembering that personality is not as binary as we think. As Soval said about humans, “Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define.” We all have the potential to be “sensitive” or “bro” depending on the circumstances. Strange as it seems, both of these things coexist in Trip. It’s time that we stop using personality traits as boxes to pigeonhole people into.

  14 comments for “Trip Tucker and the Sissy-Saint Complex

  1. Trek romances have always been weird, this is not an exception… The thing i don’t like with any of them is that they are the real SF more than warp drives. Can you imagine RL situation where a man that loves a woman would support her wedding saying he is proud after it? You can’t imagine woman doing it such way either but ok, she is alien so it can be explained. However those who can understand such relationships actually never felt real love. It simply doesn’t work without far more sex and far less peace and understanding. People simply don’t hang arround each other for long, they end it and move on with their lives…
    Writers had opportunities to resolve it far better at least at the end with some form of happy ending but they decided exact opposite, which doesn’t surprise and is in line with the rest of failed romances in other trek series.
    Maybe it’s how they see relationships in 200+ years, so future is not so bright after all 🙂

  2. Horizon – I just had a look at that Episode in the context of Archer/Trip/T’Pol. What struck me is it felt like a rerun of Kirk/Bones/Spock where Bones and Kirk would gently gibe at Spock but because they were all ‘Men’ it always came across as good natured banter with no one really aiming for supremecy or to humiliate. With the new/before threesome what struck me is that Archer and Trip were gently trying to include her (no problem with that) but much more interesting was T’Pol’s reaction over dinner. She made Frankenstein the protagonist and likened his experiences to those of Vulcans when they first came to earth when mankind were fearfull of them, this also played into T’Pols experiences/feelings onboard. T’Pol began to offer subtext and nuance to the conversation and Archer but particularly Trip dismissed the analysis with Connor’s consummate physically nuanced response for his character. As a result both of the men looked clumsy in the wake of T’Pols thoughtful response to the film. In a sense T’Pol was giving a very nuanced example that this Vulcan’s intellectual veracity was superior to both of them. Trip looked like a Redneck in that interaction. For me as has been said before Trip was Everyman but Everyman can become self made man who with age matures into a much broader human being. The man that stood over T’Pol as she entered her Union with Koss was expressing his support for her and respect for her culture even in his devastation. He had really become much more nuanced and I felt post Elizabeth there was a considerable journey Trip could make having suffered Loss and Grieved and find some real wisdom and a broadening of his outlook. Equally T’Pol would if given the opportunity give shape and perspective to her experiences. As an aside when Archer talks about her having a date with him the sense of discomfort for the players and myself as audience was palpable. Returning just briefly to my original post to make my point a little more clearly. T’Pol was desperately fearful, Trip was confused by his instinctive love, on the one hand, and his humbleness (not soppyness) in the face of its more general significance of their Union on the other, which collided. These were to ordinary ‘people’ grappling with an enormous event a Union between the two races where the Bond had come out of nowhere, destiny calling. In Terra Prime we deal with the potential of an outcome from their Union but we never get to understand how profoundly affected they would be by the theft of their DNA and the symbolic failure and trashing by TP of their special and Unique Relationship. In that phase Trip and T’Pol whatever the outcome would have grown to a point where they could communicate their very different challenges that they faced and gave each other during S3 and S4.

    • Good point on how far Trip matured when he stood by T’Pol at her wedding to Koss. The podcast hosts are not fans of the relationship and don’t think he wants her to be herself. While they have yet to discuss this subplot of Home, they don’t give Trip enough credit for respecting her culture (and choice) in that situation.

      As for your first comment, the issues of stubbornness and fear are one and the same to me. You don’t want to be vulnerable if you’re afraid the other person will reject you. Aside from being scared of her own feelings for Trip, she’s probably thinking of stereotypes that humans are fickle about romantic relationships. Meanwhile, Trip is scared that T’Pol will act like a “typical” cold Vulcan if he says he loves her. Most people won’t be truthful in order not to show any “softness” when they have that kind of fear. While I expect Trip and T’Pol to struggle, there’s only so much writers can milk “will-they-or-won’t-they.” It frustrates me (and Jolene) to no end that they tried to drag it out.

      • Interesting I do not see any evidence post Harbinger of Trip being fickle, he left once he was rejected. I see him reacting all the time to be being held at bay by T’Pol. There are three elements. Trip who wanted to pursue the relationship. T’Pol who holds back and keeps him at bay after Koss has desolved the marriage. There is the Bond telling her that ‘she’ must be special and ‘they’ must be special for it to be ignited without any of the ritual or orthodoxy necessary in Vulcan doctrine. It didn’t begin with Koss there is a reason for that. T’Pol only drew Trip back in when the fear of losing him was greater than her fear of committing. Stubborness in the face of the facts is a consequence of lack of self confidence and or fear. It is the consequence of underlying feelings not the issue. For the writers it was easy for Lorien’s Mother to make the decision and clearly Trip said Yes, it had no downstream consequences. Whereas an in work relationship was seen as the end of drama something that Gates also felt the writers got wrong and missed an opportunity with her and Patrick. Indeed although I am no afficiando outside TOS/NG/E my sense is they were not very good at long arc relationships though I believe Paris and Torres is judged to ‘work.’ The legacy with E is once the Show Found its feet Conneer and Jolene blew the formula with their chemistry which is why even fifteen years later this is the one fans still write about. In the UK when Discovery was announced the first serious journalism said will they get to sort T & T. That’s not to deny that in the first two seasons the words used were most misleading or in the real world underdeveloped and vague whereas the body language, which is in the gift of the players told otherwise.

        • Indeed, we the audience know that Trip isn’t fickle but T’Pol doesn’t. In E2, he tells her he never said he wanted a relationship. Well, maybe he should and it’s passive-aggressive of him not to say it. While she never said any such thing on-screen, I’ve seen several fanfics where T’Pol isn’t sure Trip is in it for the long haul because of the stereotype that humans are sex fiends (to put it in an oversimplified/exaggerated way).

          It does say a lot that despite the missteps of the writers, the chemistry between Jolene and Connor was so great that the Trip/T’Pol romance still has a huge following.

          • I think the beautiful way Jolene offers her lines in that scene particularly. “I appreciate your concern …but I’m fine.” the last words she is trembling, makes it clear to the audience and Trip she is in turmoil, to press his needs at that point would not be caring so he backs off. it’s not time to tell her to get a grip and become assertive. He is trying to make light of it. After she has seen Lorien’s Mother, in the next few episodes there are moments when she realises her defensiveness and dismissiveness has gone to far and she reveals what she knows, she needs Trip. But Trip will never push her, he shows the ultimate respect for her through out, soaking up the disappointment and only buckling occasionally, finding away to cope until Elizabeth which I took the view was a moment of emotional exhaustion and burn out. Now its a complete mess and real action is required for them to recover from the devastating attack on their most private selves as well as their relationship being used as propaganda and thats after they have grieved a daughter who is and isn’t theirs. They are a mess singularly and collectively.

  3. In the real world one can argue that the degree of obfuscation the writers presented the two players with was because they wouldn’t. “Go There.” Jolene felt she wanted a resolution either way just give me a resolution. What the audience was dealing with is what was on the screen, not the words, the physical chemistry as they played it. Sim told T’Pol what we had seen and her dreams (in the shower) also told the audience what she was hiding not to mention Lorien’s Mother told T’Pol and the audience what to do. But as T’Pol said it was not guaranteed in her more traditional progression. For me she was frightened of the truth and Trip was the classic man give me the problem I will resolve it. The woman says no I am not sure, the man is confused and ‘goes for a beer’ and every time he did that she drew him back. What she could never face was loss and once the Bond emerged it was game over in the reality of the story what ever the writers did. The final scene of 21 gave us the truth. I have written a novel which plays out all of the story lines driven not at Geo Political Level but through character that make the politics of that time happen. Whenever I had T’Pol and Trip in front of each other I found so much of their communication was unsaid and even as it resolves T’Pol is much more about action and behaviour than words. She communicates with Trip through what she does not what she says and then its up to him. But as regards S 3 and S 4 did they love each other, want each other, need each other to fullfill their needs whatever was said Yes. The missteps are essentially T’Pols desperate fears about how to control what she had let lose which Trip having fallen in love was too blinded by his own feelings at that point to lead her through them. Personally I think if your going to make any sense of that very interesting narrative you have to lift the significance of their Union and make them realise that despite their nuts and bolts attraction to attain the ultimate required mcuh more than OK lets be honest with each other. Everything had to align. The writers made their relationship a very big deal at the last minute by introducing Elizabeth they just needed to carry on in that vain. So I see a much bigger movement than stubbornness or softness I see fear and incomprehension.

  4. I love T’pol and Tucker, I want to believe on the in-between they manage to connect and have their neuro-sessions. Tripp was perfect for T’pol for multiple reasons and the first that comes to mind is his ability to have T’pol admit her feelings for him.

    I read somewhere above there were books where Tucker lives, I may just have to find copies of the books and read them.

    BTW; Over this last 1-2 month I watched the full series on Amazon Prime. Quite frankly it was fabulous, even better the 2nd time (from the original)

  5. It’s very strange and interesting to see so many people essentially “take a side” whether it’s T’Pol’s or Trip’s. I never did. I always perceived the two of them to be behaving toward one another in the exact same ways. It’s tit-for-tat as they both struggle through the exact same kind of social awkwardness, and while it is uncomfortable to watch sometimes, it does basically make them closer to being equals. Archer could never show T’Pol the level of vulnerability that Trip can, and that’s one reason (obviously among many) why Trip is far better suited for T’Pol, both figuring things out for themselves. As the story is, I’m not sure Trip being more assertive would have won him over with T’Pol at all. She had already made up her mind about her “experiment”, realized that she was already too deep into her emotions, and had to reel it in for her own comfort and professional headspace. Trip realized this, realized there was nothing he could do except let her be and sort it out for herself. I found that quite admirable about him even if the situation and the words stung. She made a mistake and had some regrets, but he still respected her. Trip already knew the situation was far more complicated than just his simply being *used* for T’Pol’s benefit. He knew that, notwithstanding the offensiveness of the use of the word, the “experiment” line was contrived. He knew there was so much more to it than that, and that’s exactly why it stung so hard. So he knew that distance was the only way he could possibly help the situation (even if it didn’t!).

    • I didn’t take a side either. They’re both too stubborn and scared of rejection to say how they feel about each other. What they have in common is a far bigger obstacle to their relationship than cultural differences. But I find that when people take a side, the vast majority are on Team Trip. Those who blame them equally are still far more common than people who take T’Pol’s side (mostly the rare Trip haters). I believe most people on Team Trip can’t put themselves in alien shoes. There are some people who think T’Pol didn’t really love him so her feelings only came from drugs. A Vulcan isn’t going to express love the same way as a human. And drugs only bring out the feelings you already have.

      You’re so right that Trip shows more of himself in relationships than Archer. The only person Archer is vulnerable around is Hernandez (who I think is far better suited for him than T’Pol). And Trip has more interest in people than Archer, which is why he can break down the walls of closed-off people like Malcolm and T’Pol. As for what would have happened if he was more assertive, it could go either way. There was actually a debate on that very topic years ago.

  6. Very good analysis. I always liked the Tucker character & thought his emotionalism – both the soft & the hard, were refreshing & welcome. He was one of my favorite characters, in fact. However, I never thought him the right person for T’Pol & I also didn’t mind his death. Only Trip could’ve died for Archer. Only he could’ve sacrificed himself that way.

    • Thanks Mark. I don’t think anyone disputes Trip’s willingness to die for Archer. The issue is it’s not consistent for him to just blow himself up (at aliens of the week) when he got out of Paxton’s prison just fine. Even Connor Trineer, who didn’t mind Trip’s death, said he “got out of worse scrapes than this.” I find it interesting that you believe ENT and DIS are not on the prime timeline but take no issue with Trip being OOC. I know, it sounds weird when my essay argued personality isn’t binary but I’ll say this. All of us know on some level we act differently in different situations. But no one agrees on where to draw the line between nature and nuture. In other words, you can’t have a shy person be afraid of public speaking one episode and than be all gung ho about their speech the next.

  7. Relationships are usually complicated, in my experience. At least if they have any depth. A good friend sometimes asks a hard thing, in the belief that it is for the best. That isn’t bullying.

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