“Carbon Creek” tells the story of three Vulcans, including T’Pol’s great-grandmother T’Mir (also played by Jolene Blalock), who apparently crash-landed and lived amongst humans in small-town Pennsylvania in 1953.
Drawing on a strategy used to great effect in the Voyager episode “11:59”, the events in “Carbon Creek” are described by T’Pol, after she is invited to tell a story to Archer and Tucker at a dinner celebrating her anniversary of arriving on Enterprise.
There is a noticeable difference in the dynamic at the dinner table. First, Trip and Archer seem to actually want to listen to T’Pol. And second, she’s starting to get digs in back at them, more like a Spock/McCoy kind of relationship.
Archer: I’ve been filling out your annual crew evaluation. Just a formality.
T’Pol: I understand. The High Command has requested my evaluation of you…Just a formality.
Archer asks her about a trip she took to Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania and when she says it was personal, in a stunning leap of maturity, Archer says she doesn’t have to talk about it.
But Trip insists, so she says she went to visit the real site of first contact, where her great-grandma was one of a group of Vulcans who crash-landed on Earth while observing humans in the 1950s.
As much as I was concerned about how much this screwed with existing canon, I was excited for this episode, especially when I saw T’Mir was going to be in charge of the mission after the captain died in the crash. It was going to be a great opportunity to learn more about T’Pol through T’Mir and see an awesome Vulcan woman in charge! Unfortunately, the “11:59” lightning did not strike twice.
T’Mir might have been in charge by rank, but one of her companions, Mestral, quickly becomes the de facto leader.
Mestral tells the starving Vulcans their only choices are to kill deer to feed themselves, or venture into the nearby town. T’Mir doesn’t want to contaminate the humans’ culture, so Mestral just walks off.
And then that happens again and again in this episode – T’Mir weakly making her arguments and everyone else ignoring what she’s saying because she’s the one that needs to change and loosen up.
In the town they go to the local pub and while the bartender, Maggie, is friendly, T’Mir comes across as cold and rude. Mestral wants to challenge a guy to billiards to get money. T’Mir repeatedly says no and he overrides her, even going so far as to use “socializing” time with her as a bargaining chip.
Billy: Wait a minute. We might be able to work something out. If you win, I’ll pay up. If I win, your business associate has a drink with me.
Mestral: We accept your terms.
T’Mir: We do not.
Mestral: The game is based on simple geometry. It wouldn’t challenge a Vulcan child.
Mestral: We need their currency.
T’Mir: What if you lose? I’ll have to socialise with him.
Mestral: Would you rather die of starvation?
At least go outside to argue about whether there are any other options (begging? harvesting native plants instead of killing deer? stealing food?) instead of putting her on the spot in front of the whole room. Like I said, she is so clearly not in charge anymore.
That only gets stated explicitly later, when she finds out Mestral’s lying to her and has started a relationship with Maggie. She sneaks out and follows him and then confronts him later:
T’Mir: You were engaging in intimate activity.
Mestral: I didn’t initiate it.
T’Mir: You’re to have no further contact with that woman.
Mestral: You can’t make that decision.
T’Mir: I’m still in command.
Mestral: Command of what? Our mission is over. It’s time to accept the fact that we may never leave this world.
Just like T’Pol (a lot of the time), T’Mir is portrayed as a cold killjoy stopping everyone else from having fun, instead of a woman who just does thing differently and might actually be right every so often.
The jobs they get reinforce this power dynamic. T’Mir sweeps floors at the bar while Mestral becomes a coal miner and Stron (the other Vulcan) becomes a plumber. Now granted, given the time period they’re visiting, she probably didn’t have a ton of entry-level career options, but even being a cashier at the general store or helping Maggie with tending bar could’ve given her more interesting interactions in the episode.
Or maybe she could’ve been a hairdresser and that could’ve explained how they all got their hair cut without any humans noticing their ears. Seriously, they were there for several months and their hair did not get longer.
She does connect a bit with Maggie’s son, Jack, who wins her over by being smarter and more interested in learning new things than others.
T’Mir I was about to meditate.
Jack: Really? Are you just trying to clear your mind, or reach a higher spiritual plane? I spend a lot of time at the library.
T’Mir: Studying meditation techniques?
Jack: Different things. Mostly about places I’d like to visit, like Tibet. The Buddhist monks there meditate every day. And in India, they’re got these mystics called fakirs. Supposedly they can almost stop their hearts just by using willpower.
But after that she does recommend they let a bunch of miners die rather than rescuing them because, “At best, these humans only live to be sixty or seventy. Is it worth the risk just to extend their lives a few more years?” I think that actually takes killjoy to a whole new level.
Several months later they get a transmission from Vulcan that a ship has arrived to rescue them. When T’Mir learns Jack has to give up on going to college because he couldn’t find the extra money, she goes to the city and sells the invention of velcro to a manufacturing company and then leaves the cash in the bar tip jar. I don’t feel particularly strongly about it, but this is a part that pisses off a lot of people because the invention of velcro isn’t a mystery. Clearly the writers knew that because they named Mestral after its inventor, Georges de Mestral.
But anyhow, T’Mir is clearly a bit more compassionate by this point and she actually covers for Mestral, who wants to remain on Earth, by telling the Vulcans he died in the crash. And they leave.
And T’Pol hints to Archer and Trip that maybe the whole story was just a fiction. And they could’ve just ended it there. But then she goes back to her quarters and takes out T’Mir’s handbag and we’re all like, “Argh, you messed with canon so badly! And First Contact was our favourite movie and now it’s meaningless!!!” Or maybe that was just me.
This episode could’ve been so great if it had helped us care more about the people in the town, if it had given T’Mir more to do, and if it had actually told us something about T’Pol other than that she has a sentimental connection to her great-grandma, who is not only her double in looks but also in personality.
It would’ve been so much more interesting if T’Mir was more markedly different from T’Pol, the way Shannon O’Donnell was from Janeway. She could’ve been more in Mestral’s position, being the one wanting more contact with the humans but at the end realizing that her home, career and family were on Vulcan.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. T’Mir asks Maggie about whether they can have free food.