Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 2/27/2002
Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Rob Hedden
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Trip: "Do Vulcans dance?"
Kov: "Only when it's part of some tedious ceremony."
In brief: Intriguing isolated moments that float lost without the context of a coherent story. Perhaps that's the point?
Hmmm. I just don't know about "Fusion." There are some moments that are well directed and even have currents of convincing psychology buried in the writing and images. These are moments without the benefit of coherence. This episode is fragmented and lost. It intrigued me. It did not satisfy me. Maybe that's the point. Or maybe the writers were out to lunch. I can't say.
The Vulcans are complicated folks. That's a good thing. This episode muddles them beyond an ability to reach a satisfactory conclusion. That isn't a good thing. In Star Trek, the Vulcans have always been creatures of logic who attempt to suppress their emotions. "Fusion," however, takes the concept of emotional control to a level that apparently requires a psychology degree in order to grasp. I was left with a strange sense that the Vulcans, somewhere along the line, have either been made too complicated or too bound by the writers' increasing library of weird rules.
In "Fusion," emotions are like the forbidden fruit. The notion arises when the Enterprise comes in contact with a ship of unconventional Vulcans who do not fully suppress their emotions but instead try to integrate them into their lives, searching for the right balance. This is frowned upon by mainstream Vulcan society. T'Pol considers such outcasts' philosophies as too dangerous, with too high a failure rate. Vulcans suppress all their emotions as a matter of necessary discipline; the episode sees it as an all-or-nothing situation where those Vulcans who would try to find a middle ground are destined to become ticking time bombs who could completely lose control.
One of the Vulcans, Tolaris (Enrique Murciano), takes an interest in T'Pol and tries to convince her to experiment with their methodology. She initially resists but finds herself intrigued. Eventually she decides to trust him and opens herself to new experiences.
The concept is interesting, but the results are puzzling. For T'Pol, it seems she was profoundly moved by an experience back on Earth when she left the Vulcan consulate to explore San Francisco while disguised, eventually ending up at a jazz club. The music she heard intrigued and now haunts her. As she experiments with Tolaris' methods, freeing herself from her daily meditation routine, she finds her dreams taking her back to that night on Earth. I liked Rob Hedden's direction over T'Pol's dream sequence, which is confused and chaotic and atmospheric; cinema always provides a good medium for conveying dreams and nightmares. And as I said at the beginning, there seems to be a nervous psychology beneath these images that feels convincing.
But the episode can't make sense of them. T'Pol's encounter with jazz music in San Francisco was apparently a profound emotional experience, but we never find out how or why; the thread is more concept than content. This is reinforced by the mind-meld scene between T'Pol and Tolaris later in the episode, which takes us back to that moment in San Francisco and leaves us stranded there with no answers. Perhaps we, like T'Pol, have no answers to find. Perhaps she herself was stranded there, and is too disturbed to go back. Perhaps that's psychobabble giving the writers too much credit for sketchy ideas. (Why would music — even unfamiliar music — move her so profoundly? It's not like music is a foreign concept to Vulcans.)
About the mind-meld scene. T'Pol is not familiar with mind-melds, because the writers have decided they don't exist in mainstream Vulcan society at this point in time. Tolaris says they have been "abandoned." What does this mean, and why will it return within the next century? I have no idea. The historical record of the mind-meld is only superficially explored here.
As a matter of technique, the mind-meld scene works. It comes across as intensely emotional and intimate — and also potentially invasive and dangerous. The acting sells the scene. Indeed, Jolene Blalock's performance in "Fusion" might be her best to date. T'Pol ventures into dark areas where her mind would rather not go, where her disciplines generally forbid her to go. The episode's message, I think, if there is one, is that T'Pol faces a daily struggle of rigid discipline to keep her emotions in check. It's as if every Vulcan has inner demons that run so deep they must be contained and never uncorked. I'm not so sure this tracks with what we already know.
The main plot plays in contrast with a B-story where Trip is paired with another of the Vulcans, Kov (John Harrington Bland). Kov seems more stable, more human, without the inner demons Tolaris (or, for that matter, T'Pol) seems to have. Trip and Kov have an amicable experience over the course of the Vulcans' visit, including humorous moments where Trip corrects some Vulcan misconceptions about human behavior ("They're not trying to kill the quarterback"). Is Kov the exception, or is Tolaris?
There are flashes of insight here, and yet … it's all so strangely unsatisfying. The question of whether Tolaris is a dangerous man who took the mind-meld too far is a good one. Archer confronts Tolaris in a scene that doesn't make good sense: I don't understand why Archer would intentionally confront and provoke Tolaris the way he does (getting thrown across the room in the process). Does Archer really need to see first-hand how a Vulcan can lose control? This is dramatic fireworks for the sake of fireworks. It doesn't exist in the real world. And after Tolaris' violent outburst, there are apparently no repercussions or conclusions to be drawn. The whole idea just sort of goes away.
"Fusion" is not successful. It's too messy and inconclusive, its psychology too bizarre and inexplicable. But it has moments of success. It generates some interest. The question comes down to this: (A) Is the story half-baked, or (B) do its unanswered questions make it more interesting rather than less?
I'm going to have to go with (A).