February 6, 2003

Stigma - REVIEW
By SpiderMonkee
Special thanks to Paul Pytlik for the screencaps.

We open in sickbay with Dr. Phlox addressing T'Pol. From the conversation, it’s obvious that she has been suffering from some affliction, her condition is deteriorating, and whatever treatment she had been receiving is no longer sufficient. Phlox wants to discuss T'Pol's disease with Vulcan doctors, some of the best of which are at a nearby conference. T'Pol balks at this, claiming it's too great a risk and that she would be removed from the Enterprise. Phlox assures her that he can be discreet enough to prevent the doctors from discovering her condition, but still she refuses. Phlox insists that he has no choice, as her disease could be fatal without further treatment.

The Enterprise enters orbit around Dekendi III, both to take part in an Interspecies Medical Exchange conference and to receive a new neutron microscope. Dr. Phlox's second wife, Feezal, comes aboard to help Commander Tucker install the new microscope. Even though Phlox and Feezal haven't seen each other for almost four years ("Denobulans are renowned for their patience."), Feezal is more interested in installing the microscope than an intimate reunion with Phlox, and Phlox seems perfectly fine with this. In fact, Feezal seems to take a certain interest in Cmdr. Tucker.

At the IME Conference, Phlox attempts to get the latest research on Pa'nar Syndrome from the Vulcan doctors Oratt, Strom and Yuris. In an attempt to protect T'Pol's privacy, he tells them that he needs to information for a colleague on Denobula. He claims that Pa'nar is very similar to a Denobulan disease, Thymic Sclerosis, that they've had little success in treating. The Vulcans are reluctant to even discuss Pa'nar Syndrome, since it only affects a small "subculture," one whose behavior is "neither tolerated nor sanctioned." Phlox continues to press for the research since Thymic Sclerosis affects all levels of Denobulan society, but the Vulcans only respond that they'll consider his request and get back to him.

In sickbay, Feezal is assisting Trip with the installation of the new microscope. As she does so, she does some overt flirting with him, constantly smiling at him (and not the infamous Denobulan "black hole" smile, either), complimenting him, and taking every opportunity to stand close to him and rub against him. While Tucker is obviously interested in Feezal, he's also just as obviously uncomfortable flirting with Phlox's wife.

Archer and T'Pol are sharing a meal when they are interrupted by the news that a contingent of Vulcans from the medical conference are en route. Archer, T'Pol and Phlox meet with the Vulcans, but it is really just the doctor and T'Pol that with which they wish to speak. They are curious why Phlox asked about a Vulcan disease without mentioning that he had a Vulcan crewmember. The meeting soon turns into an interrogation of T'Pol, with the doctors first asking her what she knows about Pa'nar and how it is contracted. Pa'nar is "an incurable degradation of the synaptic pathways" which also affects the immune and endocrine systems. The only way to contract Pa'nar is through a mind meld.

The doctors continue to ask T'Pol about whether she condones mind melds, a question she evades. Handing T'Pol a PADD with several names on it, they ask her if she is familiar with any of the individuals listed, but she replies that she is not. When asked whether she knows any "melders," she admits that she has met some, but does not know them well. When Dr. Phlox attempts to intervene in the interrogation, the Vulcans admit that the presence of T'Pol onboard has made them consider ulterior motives for his research request. Since the behavior of those that contract Pa'nar is not acceptable to Vulcan society, it's cure is not a priority to them. Whatever research exists, they refuse to share.

On returning to the Vulcan ship, the PADD T'Pol was given is examined by the Vulcan doctors, revealing to them that she does, in fact, have the syndrome.

Feezal continues to flirt with Tucker as she demonstrates how to use the new microscope. This despite the fact that Dr. Phlox is present in sickbay. Phlox and Feezal gossip about other Denobulan's they know, while Feezal hangs on Tucker's shoulder. Phlox seems oblivious to their flirting and just continues to gossip until summoned to Archer's ready room.

Phlox arrives at the ready room to find T'Pol already present. The Captain reveals that he's been contacted by the Vulcan physicians and has been told about Phlox's dishonesty and T'Pol's affliction. Archer dresses them down for lying to both the Vulcans and to him. When Archer asks why he was not informed, Phlox brings up doctor-patient confidentiality. T'Pol only replies that the disease is not contagious and there was nothing Archer could have done anyway. As for why lying to the Vulcans was necessary, T'Pol answers that Pa'nar caries a stigma on Vulcan and she would be lose her commission if the Vulcan High Command were to find out.

Archer can't believe that she'd be treated that way just for having a disease, but she insists that the issue isn't the disease itself, but the people that are capable of transmitting it. Only a small percentage of Vulcans can perform mind melds, the ship of Vulcans that were experimenting with emotions (from "Fusion") are a part of that minority. They left Vulcan to escape prejudice, as most Vulcans consider their behavior "unnatural." T'Pol is not a member of the minority that can initiate a mind meld, but any Vulcan can receive a meld. T'Pol then reveals that a meld was forced on her when she was attacked by a member of that outcast crew. She refuses to tell the Vulcan High Command about the attack even though it might save her career. Archer resolves to help Phlox get whatever research is available.

Archer arranges a meeting with the Vulcan doctors. He apologizes for Dr. Phlox's duplicity, but asks why the research is being withheld. Dr. Oratt responds that Pa'nar only affects an undesirable portion of their population. Because emotions, as well as thoughts and memories, are exchanged during a mind meld, this form of intimacy is seen as defying everything that Vulcan society stands for. "We take great pride in our ability to contain emotions. Sharing them is offensive." Archer doesn’t understand why that precludes the minority from medical care, or why it precludes T'Pol, since they know she isn’t a part of the minority that can initiate mind melds. Dr. Oratt simply replies that there's only one way to contract Pa'nar and excuses himself, giving no reassurances that he will not inform the Vulcan High Command about T'Pol's illness. As the doctors exit, Dr. Yuris lingers for just a second before joining his colleagues.

Back on the Enterprise, Archer apologizes for not being successful at persuading the Vulcans to change their minds, and informs T'Pol that they're not likely to keep her condition quiet. She reveals that she's received a message from Dr. Yuris, requesting that she come alone to meet him in a remote area of the city. Arriving at the rendezvous, Dr. Yuris gives T'Pol a package with the latest research on Pa'nar. When T'Pol asks why he would take such a risk to help someone he despises, he reveals that he is a part of the minority. He knows that she is not, but the very act of choosing to participate in a mind meld is enough to bring scorn. T'Pol admits to him that she did not so choose, and he advises her to tell the other physicians that she was coerced, before they can contact the Vulcan High Command. Before Yuris leaves, he tells her that he can not publicly condone her mind meld, as it would compromise his own position.

In the galley, Tucker tries to persuade Hoshi to stay onboard for movie night. Hoshi notes that the movies are horror movies and declines, deciding instead to go planetside. When Feezal enters, Tucker convinces Hoshi to at least put off leaving for her shuttle for a little desert. Feezal joins them and Hoshi gets an opportunity to show off her skills at speaking Denobulan. While Hoshi and Feezal talk, Feezal runs her foot up Tucker's leg. Hoshi finally excuses herself, leaving Tucker and Feezal alone. Tucker admits that he's flattered by the attention, but asks, "aren’t you a married woman?" Her reply is that she's a woman and that's all that's really important. At that, Trip quickly excuses himself and tries to dissuade Feezal from joining him for movie night. He goes to the recreation room and joins Lieutenant Reed on the exercise bikes, complaining that Feezal is "at it again." Reed finds this funny and says that he finds Feezal attractive. Tucker is worried about Phlox’s reaction and thinks he should talk to the doctor about the whole thing. Reed disagrees, saying Phlox isn't someone you'd want to make angry.

In sickbay, Phlox analyzes the research and is disappointed at how little progress has been made with Pa'nar. In fact he's sure that he can eventually do better himself. What Dr. Yuris has given them is definitely not a cure, but will still slow the progression of her disease. Archer asks why Yuris gave T'Pol the research, but she says she does not know. He gives her the news that Dr. Oratt has decided to recall her. As a ranking member of the Council of Physicians, he has the authority to do so, but he will wait until arriving at Vulcan to inform the Vulcan High Command. Archer and Phlox both ask her to tell the Vulcans about her attack, but again she refuses. To use the attack as an excuse would, in her opinion, condone their prejudices and indict every member of the minority.

Archer goes to see Dr. Oratt on the planet's surface and barges into his office. He argues with Oratt over removing T'Pol from the Enterprise. Archer rails against the idea of not bothering to help people simply because you don't approve of them, to which the doctor only replies that he's sorry Archer doesn't understand the "complexities" of Vulcan culture. He still plans to leave for Vulcan with T'Pol in thirty-six hours. Archer has one last card to play. He’s found a passage in the Protocols of the Council of Physicians that grants anyone accused of ethical misconduct a hearing in the province where the accusation was first made. Oratt grudgingly agrees to the trial, but refuses to postpone his departure.

Mayweather is in sickbay getting his ribs examined by Phlox. He's gotten injured playing a Dekendi sport that involves fargans (cow-like animals with humps), melons (which fargans love) and sticks with metal baskets on the end. Tucker interrupts and asks to see Phlox alone. He explains that Feezal has been coming on to him. Rather than get upset, Phlox seems happy for Tucker, advising him that, "any man would be a fool to ignore the romantic overtures of a healthy Denobulan woman." The fact that Feezal and Phlox are married is irrelevant to Phlox, and Tucker is too concerned with "human morality." Tucker is relieved that Phlox isn't angry, but still says he can't get past the idea of getting involved with another man's wife.

Archer tells T'Pol about his meeting with Oratt and the trial. At first, she refuses, saying she's not interested in challenging their decision, but Archer suggests that if she won't defend herself, she should at least stand up for the minority. T'Pol agrees to the trial, but again refuses to reveal the circumstances surrounding her mind meld. Archer accepts her terms, but refuses to give her up without a fight.

At trial, Archer and the physicians debate the reasons for T'Pol's recall. He argues that it has nothing to do with the disease, but with how she got infected, a single incident a year ago. Oratt responds that when it happened is irrelevant. Vulcans that participate in mind melds have elected to participate in shunned behavior. Archer argues that they haven't "elected" anything, as they are born with this ability. Dr. Strom retorts that they are genetic aberrations that prey on people willing to "experiment with abhorrent behavior." Archer gives the Vulcans a speech on how they have always maintained that humans are too narrow minded and irrational, but here the Vulcans are the ones being narrow minded. Humans put bigotry behind them long ago and now embrace the differences within their culture.

The doctors are unmoved by Archers words, replying that their culture is governed by rules which they will not ignore. T'Pol chimes in that there are no rules requiring the oppression of minorities. Her response prompts Dr. Oratt to state that this attitude -- that the minority should be allowed to spread their infection -- is why she is being recalled. T'Pol argues that she's being recalled because of fear of anything that doesn't conform to their idea of acceptable behavior. The reply is that she doesn't know what she's talking about and the inquiry is over, but Dr. Yuris then speaks up and says that T'Pol knows exactly what she's talking about and there is nothing wrong with the way "we" lead "our" lives. He states that mind melds are only a different form of intimacy and those that practice them should not be subject to persecution for it. His revelation does nothing to change the others' minds, and they will both now be brought before the High Command. At this, Yuris gives up T'Pol's secret, that she was forced, but she refuses to verify his claim.

In sickbay, Tucker and Phlox are discussing the new microscope when Feezal comes in to say her good-byes. She tells Phlox she hopes it's less than four years before their next visit and reminds him that his other wives would like to see him too. She takes one last chance to flirt with Tucker and it embarrasses him into excusing himself. Phlox and Feezal have a good laugh at the silly humans.

In her quarters, T'Pol is packing when Archer comes to see her. He reports that Dr. Yuris has been suspended and refused a trial. He's also going to lose his position with the Medical Exchange on return to Vulcan. On the bright side, the physicians believed Yuris when he said T'Pol had been forced, and she is no longer going to be recalled. T'Pol asks permission to contact the High Command on Yuris's behalf and Archer agrees. Both hope this incident will encourage others to speak out.

Analysis

"Stigma" marks the heralded return of allegory to the Star Trek universe. While I could just make a snarky remark about remembering the days when allegory was such a standard part of Trek that it didn't require a press release, I have to admit that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga did a solid job of it. We've seen social issues hinted at before on Enterprise, most notably in "Detained," but this is the first frontal assault on social injustice we've seen from Star Trek in quite some time. In addition to being socially relevant, it was a well written and well acted episode. If I have any complaints, they are with the b-story, or as I like to call it, the "let's give everyone else some screen time" thread. There was nothing wrong with our glimpse into Denobulan romance and free wheeling attitude toward sex, but the light hearted nature of the story line seemed out of place alongside the serious nature, both from a social and continuity standpoint, of the main story. It was an entertaining thread, but should have been reserved for another episode.

The good:

Allegory's triumphant return. Thanks for stopping by. Don't be a stranger.

Stigma makes good use of in-series continuity by showing that the events of previous episodes can have future ramifications. Not only is that good from a story telling standpoint, but it makes each individual episode more important to watch, as the episodes don't stand in a vacuum.

Jolene Blalock did a solid job with her portrayal of T'Pol. There have been hints in recent episodes suggesting that she is not well, and even in her scene dining with Archer, she looks a bit shaky, rocking slightly in her seat as they converse.

Scott Bakula delivers one of his stronger performances. Archer comes across as determined and capable, a welcome change from times when he's seemed more wishy-washy and whiny.

The pacing of the episode was well done. For a show with a good bit of dialogue and no action sequences, it still managed to keep my attention throughout.

So Denobulans greet each other, or at least loved ones, by sniffing each other? Interesting.

The bad:

While the b-story was well done and entertaining, I thought it was out of place.

More twisting of existing convention where the Vulcans are concerned. Now a mind meld is an intimate act that only a few can perform? The moody portrayal of the Vulcans is consistent with other Enterprise episodes, though.

How is it that Feezal can have such an alluring smile, but Phlox's attempts leave me with nightmares?

If you don't have anything for the lesser cast members to do, just leave them out of the script. Please.

The Grade: B+

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