The Enterprise’s first Vulcan crew member set foot on board years before Mr. Spock.
Introduced in the 2001-05 retcon series Star Trek: Enterprise, T’Pol came from an era when Vulcans looked down their oh-so-logical nose at humans, whom they didn’t consider worthy to explore space. When the Enterprise launched, the Vulcans sent T’Pol along as an observer to ensure we didn’t mess things up too badly.
Played by former model Jolene Blalock, T’Pol started out stiff-necked and disdainful of her human colleagues. Slowly, though, she began to bond with them. The proof of the bond came at the end of season 2: the Vulcan high command ordered T’Pol home, but she refused to leave.
Like Dax on Deep Space Nine, the long Vulcan lifespan (see #9) means T’Pol has more time to fit in untold adventures than most of her crew mates. The show filled in some of her backstory, though spinoff novels and other media have filled in more of the gaps, developing her life before and after her time on the ship. Drawing on Enterprise and its spinoffs, here are 15 things you didn’t know about Starfleet’s first Vulcan officer and the woman who played her.
15) Jolene Blalock’s first screen credit matched her with another female Vulcan
When Blalock got into acting in the late 1990s, her first appearance was on the TV series Veronica’s Closet. Thus, the future Vulcan Starfleet officer appeared in a sitcom built around a former Vulcan Starfleet officer — Kirstie Alley, who played Spock’s protege Saavik in Star Trek: Wrath of Khan.
Running from 1997 to 2000, Veronica’s Closet was a sitcom starring Alley as the owner of a Victoria’s Secret-style lingerie company. In the 1998 episode “Veronica’s Breast Efforts,” Veronica copes with a woman who claims the company’s sports bra made her boobs numb. Blalock is credited as “woman number three.”
14) T’Pol was originally going to be a younger version of TOS’ T’Pau
Written by sci-fi grandmaster Theodore Sturgeon, the TOS episode “Amok Time” took Spock back to Vulcan and introduced viewers to T’Pau. A Vulcan leader and philosopher, she was famous off-world as the only person to turn down a seat on the Federation High Council. In adding a Vulcan to the cast of Enterprise, it seemed logical to make her a younger T’Pau. The name was actually used in some of the casting calls, but it’s obviously not what we saw on screen.
Producer Brannon Braga later said that using T’Pau raised legal issues relating to Sturgeon’s rights in the character — and T’Pol simply looked easier to pronounce. For a while, the show’s creative team considered making T’Pau T’Pol’s sister, but rejected that option too. T’Pau did, however, turn up in a later episode as a extremist demanding the government return to the true teachings of the Vulcan philosopher Surak.
13) A producer equated her to a Vulcan La Femme Nikita
Producer Brannon Braga said in interview that they wanted to create an “eyebrow raising past” for T’Pol, in contrast to the down-to-earth humans around her. Part of which was to make her a kickass secret agent a la La Femme Nikita. In the episode “The Seventh,” T’Pol is assigned to hunt down a renegade Vulcan agent, the only one of six renegades to escape her on a previous mission. As it turns out, there had been seven agents. T’Pol killed one of them believing he was about to shoot her, but in hindsight, she wasn’t sure. That disturbed her deeply (see #5).
The Trek novel Kobashi Maru details one of T’Pol’s other missions, a battle against cannibalistic aliens in which half her team died. There are undoubtedly more exploits in her past if anyone wants to write them.
12) Along with espionage, T’Pol has been a scientist, a Starfleet captain and a diplomat
After her La Vulcan Nikita spy career wrapped up, T’Pol turned to science. Well before her time as the Enterprise’s science officer, she served as science officer on the Vulcan ship Seleya. At the time of the pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” she was working as science attache at Vulcan’s embassy on Earth. Prior to her assignment on the Enterprise, she’d been planning to head home to Vulcan for a post at the Science Academy.
T’Pol’s decision to remain on the Enterprise against Vulcan’s orders cost her her officer’s rank. Initially, she served as a civilian. Eventually, after the creation of the Federation in the last episode of the series (see #2), T’Pol became a Starfleet captain. Her ship, the Endeavor, served as Admiral Archer’s personal flagship. After a typical Starfleet captain’s CV — multiple adventures, plenty of heroism, several planets saved from doom — T’Pol settled down to a quiet life as a Federation diplomat.
11) Blalock almost turned down the role
Of all the Enterprise cast, the producers say T’Pol was hardest to cast. They looked at hundreds of actors to play the “austere, yet sensual” role but couldn’t find one who had both the looks and the screen presence they wanted. After narrowing options down to a group of three, they picked Blalock.
Who turned it down. She was a big fan of TOS (see #6), but the three spinoff series hadn’t grabbed her at all. After her agent badgered her into reading “Broken Bow,” however, she was hooked.
Blalock said later that the role was a challenge, as she’s expressive by nature. Playing someone who bottles it all up and conveys emotion mostly by glaring ran against her natural tendencies. Fans seem to unanimously agree that she pulled the role off.
10) T’Pol is disgusted by Vulcan mind melds
The telepathic mind meld was one of the Vulcan trademarks during TOS. T’Pol, however, distrusted it. To her generation of Vulcans, mind melds were disgustingly intimate and emotional, something that appealed solely to Vulcan kinksters. Only a minority of Vulcans could pull off a meld, and botched melds led to supposedly incurable neurological disorders (meant as an AIDS analogy).
The distaste for mindmelds reflects that the Vulcans of the Enterprise era are very different from their descendants in TOS. Spock’s generation of Vulcans are detached, rational, and deal with other worlds in a disinterested fashion. Enterprise Vulcans are logical, but they’re calculating, self-interested, and play power politics in a coldblooded fashion.
9) T’Pol is the oldest crew member
T’Pol was born in 2088, which puts her in her early sixties at the time she joined the Enterprise crew. For a Vulcan, that’s still a spring chicken, but it makes her older than any of her comrades in arms.
The ship’s physician, the Denobulan Doctor Phlox, might be an exception. His birth is only given as sometime late in the 21st century, so he could be older — but early notes and descriptions of T’Pol refer to her as the oldest crew member. Undoubtedly, that contributed to her skeptical attitude toward humans — illogical, emotional, and such babies!
Unlike T’Pol, Phlox was happily married with three wives, an unremarkable family by Denobulan standards. T’Pol had been contracted in childhood to the Vulcan Koss, but she was still single in “Broken Bow.” She and Koss later married, but it didn’t last.
8) Vulcans think she’s acquired a human accent
Serving on the Enterprise for a couple of years changed T’Pol in more ways than her perception of homo sapiens. When the Enterprise mediates a Vulcan/Andorian conflict, the Vulcan ambassador informs T’Pol she now speaks with a human accent. It captures the shift in T’Pol’s allegiances — while she was never anti-Vulcan, by that point, she was seeing and supporting the human side on many issues.
Even though T’Pol knew one of her ancestors had lived on twentieth-century Earth for several years, she started the series convinced of humanity’s inferiority. Gradually, she came to see things differently. Producer Brannon Braga described her relationship with Archer as representative of the slow thaw between Vulcan and Earth. Where Vulcans initially saw themselves as a kind of strict nanny, by TOS, they’ve come to accept and respect humans, for all our irrational ways.
7) T’Pol digs jazz, man
The characters on the various Trek sequel series have a remarkable fondness for twentieth century Earth culture: old movies, old fiction, old music, all seem to interest them more than anything in their own era. T’Pol is one of several characters who have a fascination with jazz.
While stationed at the Vulcan consulate prior to “Broken Bow,” T’Pol began exploring the streets of nearby San Francisco. One night she wandered into the Fusion jazz club, listened to the music and found that it moved her emotionally. The musicians’ unstructured, improvisational, “chaotic” stylings cut through her logical shell in a way nothing else had. It was an experience she never forgot.
6) Blalock’s favorite Trek character was Spock
Despite initially saying no to T’Pol, Blalock has nothing against Vulcans. In fact, she’s a big fan of both TOS and TV’s first Vulcan, Commander Spock.
“Spock was the sex symbol,” on TOS, Blalock has said. “A lot of people think it was Kirk but no, it was really Spock.”
In accepting the role, Blalock was very conscious of having a famous predecessor. She said that while she appreciated the producers giving the cast space to establish their characters, “my situation is a little bit different because Vulcans have already been established, and that’s been done brilliantly through Spock. So I can only hope to carry on that torch or put my little feet into those big shoes.”
5) T’Pol finds her belief in nonviolence conflicting with her duties
Vulcans aren’t fans of brute force, and T’Pol has a particular distaste for it. When she was five years old, an animal on Vulcan destroyed one of her father’s plants. T’Pol trapped the animal to release it the next day, but she didn’t leave enough food in the trap. The animal died that night, instilling T’Pol with a deep conviction that she should never harm another again.
A few years later, she wound up debating with her teacher whether violence, even in self-defense, can be justified.
In “The Seventh,” the possibility that she’d killed an unarmed adversary who wasn’t a threat left T’Pol deeply troubled. Eventually, she underwent a ritual to repress the memory of the incident and all related emotion and guilt. When the memory resurfaced, the episode’s bad guy used T’Pol’s guilt to play her like a fiddle.
4) She has two kids with Trip Tucker … or is it three?
T’Pol and Enterprise engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker weren’t terribly chummy until after the Xindi attack on Earth at the end of season 2. Tucker lost his sister in the attack, so T’Pol used Vulcan techniques to help him deal with his overwhelming grief. Eventually, they launched a relationship, though it was the unstable, on-and-off kind.
It was “off” as the series neared the finish, which made the revelation that they’d a baby quite a shock. The child, it turned out, was created by xenophobic Earth militants to dramatize the supposed threat of human/ET miscegenation. The baby died before the episode ended.
And then in the series finale (see #2), Trip died too. That pained T’Pol more than she admitted.
3) Blalock later appeared in the Star Trek parody Star Trok
10 Items Or Less was a TBS comedy set in the Greens and Grains store which protagonist Leslie inherited from his father. In the episode “Star Trok”, Leslie tries to bring in customers by holding a Con at the store. Paramount refuses to let him use the series name in promotion, so Leslie cheats: it’s a Con about Star Trok, a series where one of the alien races is the Blingons. When Jolene Blalock shows up to attend what she thinks is a normal Trek Con, she’s a little confused.
Writer/star John Lehr said the show’s reliance on improv knocks a lot of guest stars for a loop, but Blalock handled it well. He added that several of the cast and crew have been involved with the real Trek universe, so there was no malice to the parody.
2) T’Pol Had Some Odd Adventures In the Mirror Universe
Introduced in TOS’ “Mirror, Mirror,” episode, the alt. universe in which the Federation is a tyrannical Empire has taken on a life of its own. DS9 did several mirror-universe episodes, and Enterprise did a two-part mirror-universe story. What made the Enterprise story distinctive is that no characters from the “real” timeline showed up.
In “In a Mirror, Darkly,” Archer is a bullying, racist officer who seizes control of the Enterprise. T’Pol launches a counter-mutiny, but Archer spares her life because he needs her scientific skills. When they discover a 23rd-century ship from the main timeline, Archer believes its technology can make him supreme. Instead, his mistress Hoshi murders him and becomes the first Empress.
1) Like pretty much everyone, Blalock hated the final episode
The final episode was rough for T’Pol. Blalock disliked it for entirely different reasons — instead of an Enterprise episode, the finale was an episode of Next Generation.
Set several years after the rest of the series, the final episode has T’Pol, Archer, and Trip help a friend recover a kidnapped child. At the same time, Archer’s preparing for an interplanetary conference that will lead to the creation of the Federation. But in reality, the whole thing took place on the Next Generation holodeck during the Next Generation episode “The Pegasus.” Riker, who inserts himself into life on the holo-Enterprise, hopes watching Archer handle his problems will give Riker some guidance.
Blalock said she was disappointed by the finale, even though she understood the logic of using guests from a more successful Trek series. She’s not alone: Enterprise fans hated it, and Brannon Braga admits that it was a bad idea.
Any details about T’Pol you wish we’d mentioned? Bring ’em up in the comments.
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