Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Shadows of P'Jem"

**

Air date: 2/6/2002
Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"This is Sopek. Where's Commander Tucker?"
"He's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message?"

— Hoshi Sato, answering service

In brief: Mediocrity at its finest.

"Shadows of P'Jem" uses reasonable continuity and serviceable performances to play as a sequel to "The Andorian Incident," features some scenes that feel suspiciously padded, arrives at an ending that has little in terms of suspense or surprise, and has political situations that are left too ambiguous. If there's something to be said for the episode, it's that it doesn't do anything that feels particularly wrong. The problem, I think, is that it doesn't do enough that feels right, either.

I sometimes dread reviews like this. Good episodes feel worthwhile to review. Bad episodes are fun to rip apart. But reviews of middle-of-the-road endeavors like "P'Jem" can play like exercises in plot regurgitation. What can I say that I feel would be interesting to read? I've seen the episode a few times since it originally aired nearly seven months ago. After watching it most recently last week, I'm no more inspired to write about it than I was before. Maybe I'll exercise one of my favorite mantras — less is more — and write a review that is less, and therefore perhaps more.

T'Pol is busted. We learn that the Andorians destroyed the sacred grounds of P'Jem on the account that it was doubling as a spy post — information Archer made public at the end of "The Andorian Incident." The Vulcans need a scapegoat for the incident and have chosen T'Pol since she was there, and because they apparently can't really take any direct action against Archer. So Archer is informed that the Vulcans are transferring T'Pol off the Enterprise to another post. Probably a less favorable post, we intuit. Archer is disappointed to be losing his first officer. T'Pol is frankly unmoved: "My assignment to the Enterprise was only supposed to last eight days. It was unrealistic to expect it to continue indefinitely."

Archer decides to take T'Pol on a landing mission to Coridan, to get a chance to talk with her and urge her to stand up for herself. En route to the surface where they are to meet government officials, the shuttle is shot down by Coridan insurgents, a plot-by-numbers development that employs the Shuttle Crash [TM] and Hostage Situation [TM] devices, both which have long been standbys on Trek, particularly Voyager.

Archer and T'Pol spend much of the rest of the episode tied up together on the floor in a low-tech holding cell. This gives them plenty of time to talk in scenes that feel suspiciously as if they were paced to play out slowly enough to fill an hour that had limited content. There's one lengthy scene where Archer and T'Pol attempt to escape from their ropes by pushing back-to-back against each other to stand up, and then wriggling into positions where they are free enough to untie themselves. Any scene that manipulates two bodies and physical space in the way this scene does has got to be imposing buried sexual undertones. The actors/characters and the director, however, keep the whole scene strictly professional, without a trace of anything else (I was reminded of the decontamination scene in "Broken Bow").

This scene exists, I surmise, to give the actors something to do rather than just sitting there and talking in a dark room. They instead talk while moving around and struggling. I suppose it makes sense, but the sequence is likely of only marginal interest to most viewers; the conversations about T'Pol's place in Archer's crew is more or less routine.

Meanwhile, the hostage plotting is strictly off the shelf. First we have more tensions between the Enterprise crew and the Vulcans, who arrive on the scene under the command of Captain Sopek (Gregory Itzin). Trip and Reed go on a shuttle mission to rescue Archer. This eventually leads to the usual shootouts, explosions, etc., but we first have another run-in with Andorian Shran (Jeffrey Combs), who informs Trip that the Coridan government officials are corrupt and maintain ties with the Vulcans, and that the insurgents are those who would overthrow this illegitimate government. Nevertheless, Shran is here to help rescue Archer, because he is vexed by the fact he feels indebted to Archer for his role in uncovering the evidence of the spy post at P'Jem.

I sort of liked the idea that Shran's debt eats away at him ("I haven't slept well") — he doesn't like to owe anybody anything — but Shran doesn't really engage us the way Combs' previous Trek roles have, in part because, like in "The Andorian Incident," Shran always seems so embittered and angry. The sly undercurrent of humor is something Combs has always been good at, and it's what seems to be missing in Shran.

The plot tidies itself by having T'Pol jump into the line of fire to save Sopek's life in the course of the action. This gives Archer just enough ammunition to convince Sopek to cut T'Pol a break, but Archer's speech at the end had me a little confused: He tells Sopek that, yes, T'Pol screwed up, but that she deserves a second chance. I'd simply like to know exactly how it is Archer is willing to grant that T'Pol "screwed up" in her involvement at P'Jem when it was Archer who gave the Andorians the evidence. Archer once again avoids true culpability and is let off the hook too easily for his actions.

I dunno. It's just the sort of episode that doesn't leave much of an impact either way. With all the would-be political intrigue, you'd think this might be interesting, but it proves mostly inconclusive: Shran's undetected presence on Coridan strikes me as awfully convenient, and the nature of the Vulcans' role in this world's affairs is left completely unresolved. Is Shran's interpretation of a corrupt government accurate, or merely spin control in favor of the insurgents because he hates the Vulcans? By the end, the story makes little effort to deal with the question at all.

That leaves us with Archer and T'Pol and the writers' desire to bring them a little closer together in their relationship as captain and first officer. It's not a bad sentiment, but nor is it a fresh one. It's of some consolation that this series at least tries to put its emphasis on the characters, but this is not what I would call deep character work. It's character work that is enough to qualify as present — which is better than absent but miles short of fascinating.

Previous episode: Sleeping Dogs
Next episode: Shuttlepod One

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14 comments on this review

David - Wed, Jun 24, 2009 - 2:00am (USA Central)
I liked this one more than you did- as indeed I liked most Enterprise episodes more than you did. This episode had a nice mix of action, storytelling and character work, and every Shran appearance automatically elevates the episode.
Marco P. - Tue, Sep 14, 2010 - 5:57pm (USA Central)
I agree with everything you said Jammer. "Miles short of fascinating" could not only be used to qualify the character work, but this episode as a whole.

I will be more severe with your episode rating, because to me mediocrity is many paces away from awesome and a just a few steps short of awful. I'm far from expecting mind-blowing stuff from ST Enterprise at this venture, but I cannot and will not settle for just "something okay". Anything on that level will get 1/4 in my book, especially since this is a series supposed to "refresh the franchise".

From context to characterization, all the way through script flaws, there's just too many things that feel "off" in this episode. The absence of a political context for the Coridan situation is one thing you mentioned, and I also agree on the unnecessarily long let's-get-out-of-these-ropes scene featuring Archer & T'Pol. I can't even remember what was said during all their twitching and turning, so meaningless it was.

At this point, I really feel continuing to watch this series is only worthwhile so I can read the sfdebris review afterward.
( sfdebris.com/enterprise/e114.asp )
Chuck - Sat, Nov 13, 2010 - 8:20am (USA Central)
A new low for Enterprise in my opinion. This and "Dear Doctor" represent the Enterprise promise. Namely being a huge pile of crap. Our main characters are racist xenophobes with the vulcans in this episode and it's so full of cliches it makes your eyes water. It would get one star from me. And that's being generous. But then, I'm just a viewer with an opinion.
Jonathan - Sun, Mar 13, 2011 - 6:29pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode. I viewed it purely as a character building episode between the captain and T'pol and didn't expect anything more. What impacted me the most is when the doctor told T'pol that this is not the first time a vulcan had been put on a ship with humans, but this is the first time a vulcan is actually considered part of the crew. Consider it a milestone. A bridge connecting the two species. Sure, the episode premise, rescue mission, Cordon itself was a bit vague and unexplored, but I find the character building of T'pol to be very satisfying.
Cloudane - Sat, Apr 23, 2011 - 2:17pm (USA Central)
Re: "In brief: Mediocrity at its finest." - frankly that's my impression of the whole series so far. Apart from (very arguably) the highly controversial "Dear Doctor" I've not really seen this series dip more than a toe into anything deeper than mediocrity yet.

I don't get the impression that the series is *proud* to be mediocre like Voyager was, and at least it's trying for a bit of long term growth and storytelling, but nothing has really made me go "wow what a good episode"

Anyway, this one...

Let the A/T shipping begin. The "tied up" scene - blech. It was so obvious when they decided they needed to face each other while tied up so closely that we were going to see "a moment", that when we did I wanted to throw something at the screen. Blatant setup to intimate moment = bluuurgh

I'm also tiring of seeing the Vulcans portrayed as, well, complete a-holes. I could understand the overprotective parental aspects being shown at times, but these guys were just douches. Why do this to the previously friendly and honorable people. Oh well. At least we got a follow-up from that spying story.

Guess I'm on a bit of a rant, and I know it takes until season 3 or 4 before Enterprise gets properly interesting, it just kind of wears thin at this point IMO.
chris - Tue, Oct 11, 2011 - 3:53am (USA Central)
Another boring Enterprise episode :( I miss all the excitement I used to feel while watching for the 1st time most of the Voyager and TNG episodes.

I feel sad :(
Michael - Tue, Nov 1, 2011 - 7:38pm (USA Central)
Oh come on, guys, this was an O.K. show. It wasn't spectacular, but it had pretty much everything I like in this genre.

The captivity scenes were protracted and--as Cloudane remarked--at times pathetically engineered to contrive "special" "moments." But hey, what better way to portray T'Pol's heaving and curvaceous character and skin-tight personality, right? *wink wink - groan*

I remember back in the 80s I'd rush home from elementary school to catch the latest T.N.G. show. A few times I even skipped the last class (PhysEd). I was fascinated by the fictional technology and its clever use, rather than any character drama. (Oh, and I had a little crush on Martina Sirtis :D) Plus, there were some clever plots, like the time Picard's Enterprise went to "the edge of the Universe."

I guess the technology angle has been exhausted by now and there can only be so many spatial phenomena thought up, so there's not much they can come up with to keep me truly riveted anymore.

With that in mind, ST:Enterprise could be MUCH worse. I guess the idea has simply run its course.
Captain Jim - Sun, Jul 8, 2012 - 8:53pm (USA Central)
Jammer said, "Archer's speech at the end had me a little confused: He tells Sopek that, yes, T'Pol screwed up, but that she deserves a second chance. I'd simply like to know exactly how it is Archer is willing to grant that T'Pol 'screwed up' in her involvement at P'Jem when it was Archer who gave the Andorians the evidence."

I'm pretty sure he's just trying to start with their premise, since it would be unfruitful to argue that they were wrong. It was sort of "You think she screwed up; let's say she did. She still deserves another chance."

Personally, I'd give this at least 2 1/2 stars, if not 3. I thought it was a good episode.
duhknees - Thu, Aug 9, 2012 - 3:00pm (USA Central)
I agree with the Captain -- the story here is not the politics of the planet, but the growing closeness between the captain and his first officer. Her "instinct" to protect him by saying he was a cook was a good example. The tied up scene was just tossed in for us ladies, who had a secret wish to see the two get together, but watching it years later I understand that it was more just getting to know each other, having each other's back. Later when Archer defends her helps cement the respect they have for each other. Sure, there's not as much technobabble for the hardcore nerds, but the character arcs are right on target.
And how could you be disappointed in Shram / Combs? He's totally adorable. I didn't pay as much attention to actors back when this first aired, but I knew I loved this character. Now that I've seen all the second gen treks, I appreciate him in every guise.
Rosario - Tue, Nov 6, 2012 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
Can I even finish this episode? I just hit the 10:00 mark with, "It's the logical conclusion" (concerning her transfer) and well, no, it's not. I'm frankly beginning to get actually angry at this series' treatment of Vulcans. It's not logical, it's baseless and vengeful, small and petty. NOT Vulcan-like at all. I'm also getting annoyed with an ENTIRE crew of Neelix trying to get a reaction out of this crew's "Tuvok." Archer tells T'Pol she is to be transferred and is then incredulous that she has no reaction? Have humans been living under a rock beneath a mossy log since First Contact? The alien benefactors that brought a new age of enlightment to your planet, that you've been collaborating with for almost 100 years and yet you act like you expect a human reaction? If anything, the Vulcans in this series are 100% correct in their assessment of humanity's childishness and altogether state of unreadiness for space. The only maturity I've seen from Archer so far, is the controversial (to you!) decision in 'Dear Doctor.' Besides that he seems to be a jerk, that plays pranks on his subordinates and makes contrarian decisions based on... contrariness. He also pouts when he doesn't get his way. The way he treated that time-traveling crewman in "Cold Front" ... I could never see Picard yelling at a crewman that he was too busy (we'll ignore "Shut Up Wesley" for now) - even Janeway would have given him more than that! It's almost like the actual premise of the show is "humans are new to space and idiots, so is every one else! FUN!" except that no, they are not and even inexperienced us should have 90+ years of Vulcan assistance to draw upon and yet the show presents us with morons doing moronic things while saying moronic stuff and thinking moronic drivel. I know the show won't go this way but I almost wish that T'Pol WOULD leave. Which I hope would just lead to an end to the rampant Vulcan-bashing. Not that I don't think humans would bash the Vulcans in this instance - it's just the writer's insistence on having the Vulcan's act like they need a bashing. The show is just beginning to get interesting after Silent Enemy and Dear Doctor. Just need to stop tearing down my Vulcans!

Anyway... back to it...
Rosario - Tue, Nov 6, 2012 - 11:30pm (USA Central)
Okay what is it with Archer and the panting? Every episode he oversells every punch, lying around, holding onto scenery to keep his footing, clutching his side, gasping for air... he's panting in T'Pol's face after SHE did all the work of sliding herself around him and I bet his breath stinks! Stinks even worse than the horribly circular logic that seems to dominate the dialogue here. With T'Pol's logic, I can blame myself for anything I did do, or didn't do, or even something that someone else did!

T'Pol is obviously this Trek's "inhuman" ie. Data/Seven etc so we have to humanize her! Awesome, let's have a Trek show humanize a non-human, culturally distictive species. Not, say, an android that wants to be human or a Borg that was a human. Nope, we're gonna take a Vulcan and turn it into a human. To do that we're going to have to deconstruct Vulcans though! Vulcans have been shown time and time again to be nothing like this, that their logic can be cold but not stupid or irrational. These Vulcans in this series act stupid and irrational. As if I am to believe, after all the firmly established history of the Vulcan people in other shows, that they were as backwards in their emotional control as humanity was immature in this time period. I don't buy that for a second.

I don't include Spock simply because no one tried to change him. He was teased, yes, as friends will do with one another. But Kirk's crew respected his alien-ness and no one ever demanded that he come out of his shell and smile, or laugh or dance. It made his surprise and delight that much more a moving moment at the end of "Amok Time." That burst of emotion came from within and all his Vulcan training couldn't supress it. It wasn't cajoled and teased out of him by an annoying shipmate.

The episode just really, really struck a bad chord with me. Overall the show is pretty average with one or two highlights so far. I have a sinking feeling though, that this series will continue to take potshots and deconstruct the Vulcans into... well, into not-Vulcans. Should I just stop watching this now or will the pot-shots cease?
Chris NI - Fri, Apr 5, 2013 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
The scene where Archer and T'Pol wriggle around in different positions is utterly embarrassing. The moment when T'Pol fell chest-first onto Archer's face made me want to scream out loud. Just awful. Stuff like this and the decon chamber are bottom-of-the-barrel attempts at titillation. There's nothing wrong with a show that has sexual aspects - it's just that Enterprise does it with such a breath-taking lack of subtlety that it's completely childish and cringeworthy to watch.

I've been making my way through the Blu-ray boxset of season 1, after having only seen season 3 and most of season 4 in the past. I was hoping that I'd develop more affection for Enterprise, but I find myself becoming more and more disappointed. I don't know what this show is, but it's not Star Trek.

I don't mean that as someone who only wants to see complex morality plays or philosophical dramas. I love seeing stuff get blowed up real good as much as anyone. Star Trek to me is about intelligent stories and engaging characters - two things which Enterprise has sorely been lacking in it's first season so far. There are moments where we get interesting character insights and interactions, but more often that not the characters are painted with such broad strokes - irrational, impulsive and sometimes brain-dead. But not in a manner where we're truly seeing how the first warp-capable humans coped in space - it feels more like lazy writing aimed at necessitating instances of action, escape or other cliched plots.

What is the incentive to care about T'Pol's impending transfer? She is the least likable character in Trek history - she is so dispassionate that she is a dreadful bore to watch. Even when she calls for Archer to restrain his instincts in earlier episodes, and her arguments are perfectly valid, she is portrayed as someone who is in the wrong. Same goes for the Vulcans in general. They are one-dimensional villains in this show.

This episode was completely forgettable. The only saving grace, for 24 fans, was seeing President Charles Logan as a Vulcan.

NoPoet - Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 2:42am (USA Central)
Having read another review criticising Shran for being too serious, are you suggesting Coombs should simply play the same character over and over? Is Shran going to start cracking jokes and making sarcastic remarks when his people are on the verge of war? I've yet to meet a paranoid or deeply mistrustful person who makes nudge-nudge wink-wink comments. It seems like reviewers read way too much into this show.

That said, the review does highlight some valid points: as much as I want to like it, ENT season 1 is simply treading water, offering no progression, no depth, no insight. You can definitely tell Bermaga had run out of steam. How unprofessional, to allow your burnout to be displayed like some retarded badge of honour, rather than take a step back and hire someone else to do the creative stuff. Some criticism must also go to the writers for producing episodes that are bland or lacking depth; I realise they are sometimes given crap concepts to work with (the concept for this particular episode is NOT crap by the way), but come on, surely a good writer can find gold even among shale.

I suppose we must also blame the network given that they demanded ENT be yet another transient, inconsequential alien-of-the-week show, rather than something more important like DS9. I guess we should thank American viewers for apparently switching off every time something deep or intelligent comes on the telly.
NoPoet - Wed, Oct 29, 2014 - 7:41am (USA Central)
Additionally: I agree the Vulcans are almost insanely horrible in this series, but when have they ever come across as anything other than thorny, arrogant and aloof? Spock had plenty of good moments, but he was also on a ship populated entirely by humans who constantly sought to get a rise out of him and needed him to reveal his inner humanity. I guess that's all right though because LET'S ALL BASH ARCHER.

The reveal that the Vulcan people are actually being misguided by Romulan agents should have come in the first or second season, not halfway through the fourth.

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