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™ and Hostage Situation™ 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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30 comments on this post
Wed, Jun 24, 2009, 2:00am (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 14, 2010, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
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 )
Sat, Nov 13, 2010, 8:20am (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 13, 2011, 6:29pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 23, 2011, 2:17pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Oct 11, 2011, 3:53am (UTC -5)
I feel sad :(
Tue, Nov 1, 2011, 7:38pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Jul 8, 2012, 8:53pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Aug 9, 2012, 3:00pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Nov 6, 2012, 4:08pm (UTC -5)
Anyway... back to it...
Tue, Nov 6, 2012, 11:30pm (UTC -5)
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?
Fri, Apr 5, 2013, 5:09pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Dec 14, 2013, 2:42am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Oct 29, 2014, 7:41am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Jan 16, 2015, 4:04pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 13, 2015, 3:59pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 12:23pm (UTC -5)
The characterisation of the Vulcans continued to trouble me too, and as for T'Pol's chest in Archer's face - well, that's not the sort of thing you see on Trek every day and no mistake. 2 stars.
Fri, Jul 15, 2016, 12:50pm (UTC -5)
Well, T'Pol gave Shran the scanner and I think Archer states that she screwed up to give something to the Vulcan's rather than argue with them about it. I don't think he believes she screwed up at all. He's just trying to keep her onboard.
Didn't like the boobs-to-face dance? .... come one, folks REALLY need to lighten up a bit. Probably the same folks that whine about Alice Eve in STiD.
I liked this one.... AND we get Shran (bonus). I don't think it's purely convenient that Shran is there, he's spying on the Vulcan's and want to be even with Archer and see's an opportunity.
Pretty dramatic when she jumps in front of the phasor blast to save Sopek.
"T'POL: You should have consulted me first.
ARCHER: It's probably not too late if you want to catch up to him.
T'POL: That won't be possible. Leaving Sickbay would violate my doctor's orders. "
3 star episode for me. Not sure why you're so hard on this one Jammer.
Tue, Sep 27, 2016, 8:46pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Apr 5, 2017, 11:53pm (UTC -5)
in my review of 'The Andorian Incident' I wrote something like 'this is the first ENT Ep to set us up for some significant and interesting repercussions', but was dubious because I feared the reappearance of the Voyager reset button.
Well, what do you know - for a change significant actions have real consequences down the line! I admit, if Archer's provocative act at the end of the former ep had failed to elicit a response from the Vulcans, it would have rendered this series irredeemably shallow - but give them credit; they used it as a springboard for another episode, and reintroduced Shran, which can only be a good thing. He has the potential to be more memorable than most of the regular cast put together.
Ok, the episode itself was mediocre, and the moment where T'Pol's boobs end up in Archer's face possibly managed to outdo the decontamination scene from 'Broken Bow' in sheer puerility. It was like fan-service from a bad anime.
BTW, not that he's especially guilty of it in this particular ep, but I've been meaning to mention this for a while: does anyone else get irritated by Archer's habit of looking away from people when he's talking to them? Particularly when on viewscreen, he'll stroll around, look at the walls, the other characters, anything but the person he's addressing. I suppose it's just a mannerism, like the way Janeway waves her arms about and points at the ceiling, but I find it really annoying.
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 5:15am (UTC -5)
Also, even if Tucker is right and the Vulcan guy doesn’t give a crap if T’Pol and Archer get killed (I do wonder how come he’s a dick for trying an assault, when it’s later said Tucker’s plan would achieve nothing anyway and only got lucky Shran was there), what exactly is refusing to give them information supposed to achieve, except to make it even more likely Archer and T’Pol will die? It’s not like they wouldn’t go through their assault without it. Trip is just being a spiteful moron.
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 5:48am (UTC -5)
Yes, some Vulcans have been shown to be xenophobic, arrogant dicks. But they have repeatedly been shown to be pacifists. Now obviously, pacifism is not a racial trait and no matter how big a part of their culture and philosophy it is, individuals will have different ideas over how far they should go. I recall that one of the reasons Sarek resented Spock for joining Starfleet, was that it means he was sometimes forced to kill as a part of his duty, for instance. But here, direct assault is shown to be their standard procedure, while our human heroes are the ones offended they would not negotiate (right after they discussed negotiations won't work but whatever).
Fri, Oct 6, 2017, 3:27pm (UTC -5)
It's interesting that Shran has this guilt about owing Archer for uncovering the Vulcan spy station - he says he hopes to get a good night's sleep. I wonder if this is a common characteristic of Andorians that they feel they must repay their debts.
One of the biggest disappointments for me about ENT is how the Vulcans are portrayed -- basically as assholes -- surly, suspicious, deceitful would be the more PC ways of saying it.
The whole T'Pol getting reassigned, her willingness to accept blame for P'Jem and then Archer's plea bargain at the end didn't make enough sense. It was all very convenient. T'Pol as a character is still not very likeable but Trip/Hoshi dealing with Sopek was amusing.
2 stars for "Shadows of P'Jem" -- mostly mediocre. The "gunfights" and hostage taking aren't compelling here as the particular political situation is unclear so it comes across as a lot of huffing and puffing just for the sake of it. Many more ENT episodes will follow this pattern unfortunately.
Mon, May 28, 2018, 3:45pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 14, 2018, 5:36am (UTC -5)
The bad points are that some of the writing is still pretty lame. Lots of opportunity for humour were lost. The cringeworthy boobs-in-the-face scene could have been made much funnier. Also, the stubborn alien of the week format was beyond tired by now. There is a reason DS9 is usually voted the fan favourite series, as I don't seem to recall a single example of this tired cliche throughout seven seasons.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the bland, network-forced "bottle show" format was a mistake. How many species will the NX-01 encounter? Dozens? Hundreds? What about the other invisible, barely-mentioned Starfleet ships? How can the whole Alpha Quadrant not be explored by Picard's time? (And also, what's this about joint Starfleet-Vulcan missions? Why didn't we get to see any of those? By this point in the show we still haven't seen a single other Starfleet vessel and we won't until the end of season 2!) We simply didn't need a FOURTH series about a ship boldly going in a random direction on a lonely, isolated mission (fifth if you count the cartoon).
I respect that people are sick of constant DS9 references in reviews and comments. But they are brought up for a reason. Love it or hate it, DS9 was the only show that had real character growth, relationships, extended plotlines, a direction for the show to follow, etc. And when ENT finally started to go down the DS9 route, it perked up noticeably, turning into one of the most gripping and fan-servicing of the shows.
Wed, May 27, 2020, 2:13am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 5:41am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 5:48am (UTC -5)
Yes, I do agree that the series is sophomoric with how they use T'Pol's body. The tied up thing makes sense, but the way they filmed it was just to be crude and base. I didn't really think of that until I saw Jammer's comment, but he is 100% correct (a rarity that I fully agree with him, so hurrah!)
Also, I like how Shron the Andorian is coming along. I mean I can easily see how they become founding members of the Federation-it seems that he has honour (and not just the Klingon way, but true decency), and he almost begrudgingly is beginning to respect and perhaps even like humans (or pink-skins). I know it won't touch this as this is of course really made here with all that implies, but I wonder if he would have called humans brown skins or something if he met darker hues humans first. Which actually reminds me of something-I know there are Black Vulcans and Romulans, but I think that with a race like Andorians with a completely made up pigmentation, it would be neat to see other hues like green skinned (well, I guess that would be too close to Orions), or Red or another vibrant hue
Wed, Jul 27, 2022, 9:30am (UTC -5)
I do think this is a pretty good episode. Two seconds of sophomoric humor isn't going to ruin an Andorian episode for me. The acting chemistry between Blalock and Bakula continues to be one of the series' greatest strengths.
Sean J Hagins said: "I know there are Black Vulcans and Romulans, but I think that with a race like Andorians with a completely made up pigmentation, it would be neat to see other hues like green skinned (well, I guess that would be too close to Orions), or Red or another vibrant hue"
We get white Andorians in ENT's "The Aenar." We get a green Andorian hologram in the TNG episode "The Offspring."
That TNG Andorian design is atrocious. It looks like a Halloween costume your mom would make for you in 1982 because she "knows how much you like that Dr. Spock on the Star Wars."
Sat, Feb 11, 2023, 8:04pm (UTC -5)
They are supposed to be allies with Earth, then Archer gives classified information to one of their enemies, leading to the destruction of an ancient Vulcan spiritual shrine and a massive secret intelligence installation. And T’Pol just went along with it and actually assisted in it. Isn’t that treason?
Good action ep.
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