Star Trek Enterprise: Shadows of P'Jem

Phlox: "You've been here for six months, and you haven't merely tolerated this crew, you've become a part of it. Isn't it logical to take pride in that accomplishment?"

By nature I love brevity: A fine concept with a bland and unoriginal execution. Not aggressively bad; not noticeably good. Hey look, Jeffrey Combs!

The Star Trek franchise had been airing new content for more than 25 years straight at the time this episode aired. It had been more like 30 years since TOS had started it all. And after all that time, audiences still wanted more. That's why Enterprise was created - to continue the legacy of Star Trek after Voyager rested its tired bones. But it was stale, and it was dry. More often than not, the episodes were like 'Shadows of P'Jem': full of unoriginal, boring, and formulaic storytelling. Perhaps, one might think, after 30 years of new and engaging stories that entertained millions, the well of Star Trek's creative potential had finally run dry?

The answer to this is, of course, a resounding 'no.' Of course there were new stories that could be told from the Star Trek universe - a creative writer can fashion a new and original story from anywhere, even the driest of proverbial creative wells. Star Trek: Discovery, more recently, is a great example of this. Regardless of how you feel about the show's quality or Trekkiness, the stories it has told so far have been new and original. You might consider them terrible, but the mere fact that they are new proves that Star Trek has new things to offer even now, two years past the 50th anniversary of TOS.

The problem wasn't Enterprise's concepts, either. The ideas behind the stories we've seen thus far have been interesting and held a lot of potential, for the most part. Even the bad ones. 'Unexpected' could have given us a new and interesting exploration of an alien culture, or used the 'Trip gets pregnant' plotline for more dramatic and interesting purposes. 'Terra Nova' could have been stretched out over two episodes to give the highly interesting story room to breathe and be what it wanted to be. Even 'Sleeping Dogs' might have been good had they settled on a direction to take it.

'Shadows of P'Jem' is something along the same lines. The ideas present carry with them a wealth of story possibilities. A serious exploration of the consequences of 'The Andorian Incident' is always welcome, and the Vulcans' decision to pull T'Pol from Enterprise makes sense and follows from what has previously happened. Of course Archer and the rest of the crew would react in the various manners that they did. This had some great potential - T'Pol might have struggled with her lack of reaction and the effects it was having on her crew and her friends. She might have come to the conclusion that Enterprise was her home, and that she didn't want to leave. The story might even have been an exploration of the crew's attitudes toward her changing. All of these approaches could have carried the episode and given it good emotional weight.

Instead, 'Shadows of P'Jem' opts for a kidnapping plot. Even this could have gone somewhere, if they'd used the time that Archer and T'Pol had alone to convince her of something she needed to decide. But this is, in the end, nothing but a straight kidnapping plot, putting the characters in peril and getting them out again. When the Vulcans show up and Trip tries to stall, it's the same lack of exploration of emotions or themes, as with the rescue mission and Shran's appearance.

Nothing in the episode carries with it any meaning other than the basic, plain facts of it. The characters' lines contain some emotion and meaning, but nothing more than is blatantly expressed and nothing even remotely approaching profound. Everywhere it could have given the characters something of a journey, or a growth, or even a change, it just doesn't.

Don't even get me started on the scenes where Archer and T'Pol are being held by the aliens and they try to escape. In addition to getting Archer captured and beaten up again, we are also treated to a very long sequence where Archer and T'Pol are tied together. First they're tied back-to-back, but then they 'have to' turn around in order to untie each others' hands. Then they fall down, and Archer's face is pushed into T'Pol's chest. It's really dumb, and there are dozens of other ways they could have had them try to escape given that they were in an old rickety barn with no guards in the immediate vicinity. But those in charge of Enterprise mandated that there be a sequence containing some sensuality, so here we are. I really wish Enterprise would stop with these sorts of scenes; they add absolutely nothing to the episodes they're in.

Strange New Worlds:

We visited the planet Coridan. Nothing much to say about it, though, since all we saw of it was that rebel camp in the nighttime.

New Life and New Civilizations:

There was the briefest hint of a theme in the motivations of the Coridan rebels, but it disappeared as soon as I got a glimpse of it. Nothing interesting about these aliens.

Pensees:

-I'm not sure what the point was of having Jeffrey Combs' Shran appear, other than that he's awesome and his performance elevates everything he's in. I guess they wanted to resolve his debt to Archer, but why not save it for something more epic later on? Especially since they clearly have plans for the character.

-Travis watch: precious little of him here, as per usual.

-I like the relationship that Phlox and T'Pol have built, observing human culture but to some extent outside of and apart from it.

-I don't know how I feel about deceiving the Vulcan Captain and making him think T'Pol isn't well enough to come with him. It makes T'Pol's actions to save him feel like they weren't enough, which lessens it. Even among other uses of this tired trope, it feels cheap.

-This is the second instance of Archer getting captured. I feel like I should start counting now.

-At least we got some consequences of the admittedly quite consequential 'The Andorian Incident.' Here's hoping there are more later, and that they're better than this.

Quotes:

Trip: "Warp 7?"
Archer: "Mhmm. You should lend Hoshi your camera. I'll be sure she takes lots of pictures."
Trip: "Ah, you had me going there for a minute!"
Archer: "You're just too easy a target."

Shran: "I'm here for only one reason. I need a good night's sleep."

1.5 out of 6 very not-dry creative wells.

---
CoramDeo can moo. Can you?

4 comments:

s franmaid said...

Jeffery Combs really does rock and its a shame he can't save this. So many things are dumb. The one that sticks in my mind is getting beaten up over and over as an escape plan. Why didn't he just dig a tunnel with his head?

Nice review btw. Im trying an Enterprise rewatch and its certainly getting me to sleep quickly if nothing else. I've actually never made it to the end of the series and ive seen everything else including the dreadful jj stuff (oh and the animated)

Skye

Billie Doux said...

Jeffrey Combs does indeed rock.

I looked at my notes for this episode back when it aired and I think I liked it more than you did. It made me start liking T'Pol. And Jeffrey Combs does indeed rock. He almost singlehandedly made the Andorians an interesting species.

Skye, CoramDeo will probably have a more informed opinion, but I thought Enterprise's best year was its fourth and last.

Billie Doux said...

I mentioned Combs rocking twice in my previous comment. Unintentional, but I'm okay with it.

CoramDeo said...

Skye, I do happen to agree with Billie about Enterprise Season Four. That's when the new showrunner, Manny Coto, decided to bring the show back to its basics. The specific Enterprise flavor I've praised in my reviews previously becomes the forefront of most of the episodes. Enterprise Season Three, the Xindi season, is a great season of high quality storytelling, but it's not terribly Trek-like, and it raises some difficult continuity questions. So it's a great season of television, but it's not a great season of Star Trek. I'd check out both if I were you.
As to Jeffrey Combs, all mentions of his awesomeness are deserved, even if they are redundant. I want DC to get him to play the Joker some time; I think he'd do a great job with the role.