WARNING: The "Shadows of P'Jem" are not long enough to hide spoilers for said episode.�
In brief: A continuity-fest, but padded enough to disappoint those with high expectations.�
"Shadows of P'Jem" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 14 Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by Mike Vejar Brief summary: The destruction of the Vulcan sanctuary P'Jem leads T'Pol to question her presence on board Enterprise, while a mission to Coridan goes dangerously wrong.
I had pretty high expectations going into "Shadows of P'Jem." Not only was "The Andorian Incident," which first featured the Vulcan sanctuary P'Jem, one of the more entertaining episodes we've seen so far, but the very title of the episode suggested that we'd be seeing some of Archer's past actions impact on future events, which is always a good thing. I still think that paying attention to consequences is a plus; unfortunately, my sense of "Shadows of P'Jem" is that it spent a bit too much time on consequences we *knew* wouldn't play out rather than making us wonder further about the future.
The episode started off in strong fashion, certainly: although I've still got my doubts here and there about how well Gary Graham is pulling off the role of Ambassador Soval, we discovered very quickly that the Andorians have now destroyed P'Jem (after giving sufficient warning to prevent loss of life) and that the Vulcans consider Archer and the Enterprise responsible for the sanctuary's loss. Soval wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of sending Enterprise out back in "Broken Bow," and now we also hear that Archer was not the Vulcans' preference for the captain's chair. Soval suspends "joint fleet operations," and it soon becomes clear that he's also pulling T'Pol off the Enterprise: by helping expose the intelligence operation at P'Jem, she's considered partly responsible for its destruction.
The increase in Earth-Vulcan tensions is, if you'll pardon the phrase, a completely logical consequence of the P'Jem incident, and I'd have been awfully upset if there *weren't* consequences stemming from that incident popping up from time to time. What's more, yanking T'Pol off the ship is sensible as well: though leaving the ship without any Vulcan watchdog is perhaps a bit short-sighted, T'Pol summarized the reaction nicely when she said that part of her job was to represent the interest of the Vulcan people, and that clearly her superiors feel she hasn't done that.
The unfortunate side of the "T'Pol is being transferred off" part is that I had difficulty feeling that the outcome was even remotely in doubt. T'Pol's a regular character, and clearly the Resident Babe [TM] on board the ship as well -- given those two factors, I not only didn't think she was going to leave permanently, but would have put good money down against the chance of her even leaving for a week. (The latter is something the series could certainly do: if T'Pol's on Vulcan, we could simply follow her for part of one or more shows.) As a result, I spent much of that plot wondering not "how can they do this to T'Pol?", but rather "okay, and what heroic act is she going to perform to get the Vulcans off her back?"
(Frankly, I'm much more intrigued by Forrest urging Archer to be more careful, saying that Earth "can't afford to get involved in interspecies conflicts." That's an issue that can have a lot of long- term meat to it, and which could genuinely make us wonder about the outcome of various crises.)
Where the "Vulcans get annoyed" plot started strong and gradually petered out, however, I think the "mission to Coridan" plot followed the opposite path. Initially, the only real draw I saw in Coridan is that of the continuity-lover: Coridan was the planet whose fate was at the heart of TOS's "Journey to Babel," which had both a strong Vulcan and a strong Andorian presence -- so there's certainly the history buff's interest in seeing how Coridan wound up so central. Archer and T'Pol's kidnapping, however, felt like more of an excuse for us to see Archer and T'Pol tied up than anything else -- and when those scenes included some horrifically artificial dialogue about Houdini and Archer having a face-full of Vulcan breasts land on top of him after a fall, my main hope was that things would pick up in the near future.
Fortunately, they did. The arrival of Sopek, the Vulcan captain sent to pick up T'Pol, certainly gave Trip and Reed's interest in a rescue mission a greater sense of urgency, particularly when it becomes clear that the main issue, in his mind, is that of assaulting the compound in order to "discourage" terrorists from ever taking a Vulcan hostage again. If she and Archer die in the crossfire, them's the breaks. I have difficulty believing that he's truly that callous (among other things, it'd be a sure way to make sure Earth *never* works with Vulcans again, which doesn't seem to be the goal), but the presentation more or less worked for the episode. Of far more interest, however, was the return of our Andorian friend Shran, who seizes Trip and Reed before they approach the downed shuttle and are themselves killed.
Shran (Jeffrey Combs) is high on the list of interesting Enterprise guest stars, primarily because he's so morally ambiguous. His overall goals are clearly not those of Our Heroes, and his methods are certainly not those of generally peaceful humans, but if your goals and his happen to coincide it's clear he makes for an interesting ally. (One of the best lines of the episode is when he insists that he's only here "for one reason: I need a good night's sleep.") The last Trek character I can think of who's served both as villain and as reluctant ally is Gul Dukat from DS9 -- and until he was turned into the writers' embodiment of evil for the final season-plus, he was one of the best guest characters Trek ever saw. Shran's not there yet, but I think he's got the potential to be, and I'm extremely curious to see how he and Archer will relate the next time they meet.
Trip, Reed, and the Andorians come to an uneasy understanding, and agree that they need to rescue Archer and T'Pol posthaste. It didn't particularly come as a surprise that the Vulcan assault winds up making things more difficult rather than less (though I did think for a moment that Shran wanted to blow something up in the compound himself for some undisclosed reason), but the scene was chaotic enough to be exciting while being accessible enough that we could all follow it. No argument here.
T'Pol subsequently pushing Sopek out of the way of a plasma bolt and taking the hit herself had its moments, but also jumped me back to the "so which contrivance will let T'Pol avoid being transferred?" question, which as I've already mentioned didn't thrill me. Standard plot contrivances aside, however, both the attack and the follow-up were fairly well executed. T'Pol's decision not to pursue Sopek (since leaving sickbay would be "against my doctor's orders" was okay, but I preferred Phlox's noncommittal "I wish I could say [whether she'd live]" in response to Sopek's question, which translated clearly meant "I wish I were ALLOWED to say" rather than "I wish I knew."
Fundamentally, I guess "Shadows of P'Jem" was reasonably good for what it was: I just wanted it to be a fair bit more. We *still* haven't seen one of Archer's decisions really blow up in his face -- this one hasn't qualified yet, since all Forrest did was suggest he be careful. (It does, at least, mean that someone seems to be *noticing* how reckless he is, which is a big plus.) We spent far too much time on endless dimly lit "let's tie Archer and T'Pol together" scenes and not enough on what any of this actually *meant*. Not bad, but certainly not what it could have been.
Some other thoughts:
-- The closing shot (the wide view of sickbay with T'Pol lying at the heart of it) is vintage Mike Vejar, for anyone keeping track: he's used similar shots both on B5 and on DS9. Not that I'm complaining, mind you...
-- All the dimly lit scenes of the hostages certainly lent themselves to MSTing. "I don't suppose Vulcans are double-jointed?" led to an immediate "bucka-wow" in our neck of the woods, and many of the responses during the "Archer gets a faceful of T'Pol" sequence were even less printable. (Some of them weren't so much MSTings as open scoffing, though -- how much more blatant could that scene have BEEN?)
-- From a character standpoint, I did appreciate that T'Pol seemed actively uncomfortable having to eat the prison gruel with her hands.
-- I also got a big kick out of Archer's little joke on Trip -- telling him he can't come along, then musing about how incredible Coridan ships are from an engineering standpoint. That's just *cruel*.
-- So T'Pol's not the first Vulcan to serve on a human vessel. Interesting.
-- Given that T'Pol was about to return to Vulcan in disgrace, wouldn't it be interesting if she threw herself in front of that plasma bolt in the hopes of actually being killed in the line of duty? I don't think that's her true motivation (a Klingon, yes; a Vulcan, no), but one could certainly pursue that inquiry down interesting lines.
That should cover it. "Shadows of P'Jem," like "Sleeping Dogs" last week, isn't really bad, but it smacks more of lost opportunities than of real progress. I'm hoping that the next "Archer faces the consequences of his actions" involves more interesting ones.
Wrapping up, then:
Writing: Good early on and during the Andorian moments; heavily padded elsewhere, and titillation just shy of the pilot in terms of being exploitative. Directing: Mike Vejar did a great job in spots, but some scenes definitely dragged. Acting: Enterprise is still having difficulty finding convincing Vulcans; the regulars were basically fine, though, and Jeffrey Combs was marvelous as Shran.
OVERALL: 6.5, for now: we'll see how it ages.
Reed and Trip come face to face with disaster.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"I'm here for only one reason: I need a good night's sleep."
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.