Star Trek Enterprise Review: Carbon Creek

In my rewatch of Star Trek Enterprise Season 2, I came across an episode that to some extent embodied the Autistic social struggle of living in modern society. The episode is named ‘Carbon Creek’ and was first aired on the 25th September 2002.

In this episode T’Pol tells a story about her great-grandmother and two other Vulcans who crash landed near a small Pennsylvania town in the US in the year 1957. For those that don’t know Star Trek too well, Vulcans are the race with the pointy ears and embrace logic to supress their emotions. Spocks parents in the original Star Trek series were Human and Vulcan.

The Vulcans crashed their spaceship in a forest so the locals were not aware of their arrival. After running out of food they visit a local town to investigate their options. They considered Humans primitive, but they needed to be aware of our development in order not to intrude on its natural development. After stealing some clothes from a washing line, they enter a bar and restaurant. Having no money to pay for food they accept a bet based on a game of pool.

Both Vulcans on the left hiding their “pointy” ears

The Vulcan wins the bet as it’s a game of geometry and use their winnings to buy food. The Vulcans realise they can’t rely on gambling to sustain them indefinitely so take up employment to survive. In order to not arouse suspicion, the Vulcans have to be very careful to hide their true nature. T’Mir takes a job at the bar they initially visited, Stron is a plumber and Mestral a coal miner.

The challenges the Vulcans experience are adapting to Human culture in use of appropriate words and general social skills. Vulcans experience emotions differently to Humans. Vulcans supress their emotions as they experience emotions intensively and so can be very raw. T’Mir and Stron initially can’t wait to leave fearing Humanity is on course to self-annihilation. Stron complains of the trivial nonsense he is exposed to every day such as being compared to as one of the three stooges.

Mestral is very curious about humanity.  He seeks meaningful relationships and sees great potential in Humanity. He is excited to study an emerging species on the verge of countless social and technological advancements. Although Menstral can be “off-key” when socialising he does find acceptance and isn’t discouraged when he misinterprets social situations. T’Mir’s opinion changes when she talks to her boss’s son Jack. Jack likes to go to the library and shows interest in astronomy.

I perceive a lot in common between these Vulcans and Autistic people I have met.  Though I wouldn’t judge an entire alien race, or an autistic community based on three people. Many Autistics can feel like aliens from out of space when it comes to understanding social nuances but this isn’t always true among Autistics like when the Vulcan Characters are alone.

Vulcans look identical to Humans except that their ears are pointy and their blood is green. Our Vulcan characters had to hide their ears as it would reveal they are not from around here.  Autistic people have to mask their behaviours to fit in but somehow like the small difference of a pointy ear, certain social cues give them away to being treated inhumanely.

Vulcans use logic to supress their emotions. An emotional Vulcan can be aggressive and possibly violent which is why they embraced logic. Many Autistic people use logic to regulate their emotions and sometimes feel they need to suppress their emotions to cope in a neurotypical dominated world. Many Autistic people have meltdowns to overwhelming social situations, so logic and the setting of firm boundaries can be essential for our health.

The Vulcans had no choice but to participate in American capitalism of the 20th century as that’s where they landed.  They weren’t born to cope with such a society. They were able to obtain employment and rent a home under the radar. If they had landed in England in 2022, they may not had done so well.  They would have needed a National Insurance Number to work and proof of residency to rent a home. A bank account is needed to receive wages, benefits and provide evidenced statements.

To me it’s no wonder increasingly Autistic people are being identified in the 21st century. I don’t think it’s simply that its being diagnosed more. The world is more complex and bureaucratic in some cases. Intuitive social communication and interaction are essential skills especially if you are not dependant on others. The West has transitioned from a dominant manufacturing industry in the 19th and 20th Century to a services industry in the 21st Century.

Employment in the services industry represents a hurdle for Autistic people as it requires Affective Labour. Affective Labour is a concept where work is carried out that is intended to produce or modify emotional experiences in people such as in customer services. There is therefore a much larger opportunity for Autistic people to meltdown and be identified.

By the 22nd Century there maybe new paradigm shifts in Economics. Perhaps it will be because the services sector will be largely automated (some Autistic programmers will thrive) and the rest of us see social breakdown from mass unemployment. I hope for the sake of our species it will resemble Star Trek, where the people of Earth work to better themselves and humanity.

The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

To complete my commentary of the episode I can confirm two of the Vulcans went home to Vulcan. Menstral chose to remain on Earth. T’Mir and Stron pretended Menstral had died and was picked up by a Vulcan ship.

You can watch ‘Carbon Creek’ as the 2nd episode of Season 2 of Star Trek Enterprise. It is available on Netflix in the UK. As well as Paramount+ in the US and UK. It’s also available to buy on Amazon via Prime or on DVD and Blu-ray as part of a boxset.