STAR TREK REWIND: “Carbon Creek”

“They revel in violence. They devote what little technology they have to devising ways of killing each other.”

Three Vulcans walk into a bar! No, really. They did. They really did. I’d estimate it’s been about two months since Archer returned from the 31st century with a big can of whoop-ass he opened on Silik. That makes a full year on the job “boldly going yadda-yadda-yadda …” Archer figures it’s time for a little performance review. During a quiet dinner with T’Pol and Trip, he tells her he did some snooping on the shore leave she took on Earth, and noticed she paid a visit to Carbon Creek, a small mining town in Pennsylvania. T’Pol decides to drop the bomb and tell them the real story behind the first contact between Vulcans and Humans. Trip corrects her.

As we all know first contact occured in Bozeman, Montana featuring the Borg, James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, and the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. No dice, says T’Pol. It happened in Carbon Creek in the year 1957 during a Vulcan survey expedition after the launch of Sputnik. The Vulcans crash in the woods. With their captain dead, T’Pol’s great-great-grandmother, T’Mir (also played by Jolene Blalock), is left in command. She has no great plan to save them until her subordinate, Mestral, suggests they should go into town and get the lay of the land. She reluctantly follows.

They steal some clothes, cover their ears, and check out the local watering hole. Mestral fancies himself a pool player based on his observations of the game’s geometry. He hustles his way to two big bags of TV dinners from the supermarket, and a Fonzie-style apartment for himself and his two colleagues.

Mestral resigns himself to never being rescued, while T’Mir still requires a strict formality in protocol. She wants to avoid contact with the Humans, fearing their aggressive tendencies. The third Vulcan, Stron, is on the fence about rescue or possible contamination of this backward culture. They do manage to successfully assimilate, though T’Mir surmises the Humans will only treat them with kindness so long as they know these odd-looking people are not aliens. Mestral befriends the owner of the bar, Maggie (Anne Cusack, before she married Chuck on Better Call Saul), and her savant son, Jack, who is trying to get into college but is lacking in funds. All of these disparate elements have the makings of a show on the WB. The small-town homey feel, and the attractive neighbor, and the brilliant son, and the forbidden love. All we need is Paula Cole singing, “Faith of the Heart.”

One of the more unbelievable aspects of the episode has nothing to do with behavior of the Vulcans, but how ridiculously nice these Earthlings are; incredibly friendly and trusting to a fault, they make the Vulcans (who distrust them) look foolish. Mestral, because of his more intimate interaction with Maggie, understands the Humans, and while T’Mir obsesses over “cultural contamination,” she doesn’t put it together right away that it is the humans who have contaminated these Vulcans. God help her, she actually starts to care about Jack and his future.

When a Vulcan rescue ship contacts them, they make immediate preparations to leave. T’Mir races to her ship, finds a swatch of miracle fastening fabric velcro, she takes it to the city and sells the “patent.” She stuffs the wad of cash in Maggie’s tip jar, thus enabling Jack to got to college. This is nonsense on its face (velcro was patented two years before by one George de Mestral?! Oooh!), but it’s an incredibly sweet gesture on T’Mir’s part that shows us we don’t have to inhibit our emotions to display empathy and generosity. Mestral decides to stay on the planet so he can be with Maggie.

This seems uncharacteristically reckless for a Vulcan, but I suppose there have to be a few out there. We already know of the V’tosh ka’tur: “Vulcans without logic.” T’Mir tells the rescue team Mestral died along with the captain, and she and Stron depart. Trip is floored by T’Pol’s story until he comes to the conclusion she made it up. T’Pol neither confirms nor denies that she made it up. “Carbon Creek” is, in this writer’s opinion, the best episode of the second season; strangely an episode that does not involve the crew or the ship. The episode plays games with the show’s narrative much in the same way “The Inner Light” did for Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Far Beyond the Stars” for Deep Space Nine, and “11:59” for Voyager.

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