Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong Make Good Television, But Poor Star Trek With “Shadows Of P’Jem”

The Good: Decent internal continuity, Generally good acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Huge franchise continuity issues, Make-up, Suspension of disbelief issues
The Basics: “Shadows Of P’Jem” continues to follow-up with Enterprise’s Vulcan conflict with the Andorians, recharacterizing the Vulcans in unfortunate ways.

“To deny the facts would be illogical” – Spock, “A Piece Of The Action” (reviewed here!)

I open my review of “Shadows Of P’Jem” with that quote because with this episode of Enterprise, Brannon Braga and Rick Berman – and their writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong – illustrate that while they are working on a prequel series, they have absolutely no respect for the work they are foreshadowing. As a de facto sequel to “The Andorian Incident” (reviewed here!), “Shadows Of P’Jem” continues to both recharacterize the Vulcans and spit in the face of the original Star Trek. That said, on its own, “Shadows Of P’Jem” is decent television . . . it is just super-sucky as Star Trek.

“Shadows Of P’Jem” – as an Enterprise episode – fits into the ongoing story of the Vulcans, StarFleet and Andorians and their very awkward early relations. Unfortunately, the episode goes out of its way to step on the toes of the original Star Trek: “Shadows Of P’Jem” has the Enterprise making a journey to Coridan, a planet referenced first in the Star Trek episode “Journey To Babel” (reviewed here!). The thing is, if you’re going to bother to make an allusion, it makes sense that you would understand the work to which you are alluding. Braga, Berman, Sussman, and Strong either do not understand “Journey To Babel” or they simply do not care at all about making their work gel up with what is already established.

But even more important, the episode opens with further issues between the established Vulcans and the Enterprise Vulcans. That quote at the top? That’s a huge issue in “Shadows Of P’Jem;” from the opening of the teaser, the Vulcans are denying the facts. In “The Andorian Incident,” they were caught with a spy post under their monastery at P’Jem. Denying or not taking responsibility for it now is uncharacteristic and illogical; that’s coming from both a human (me) and a half-Vulcan (Spock).

The Vulcan Ambassador visits Admiral Forrest to present the distressing news that the P’Jem Monastery has been destroyed by the Andorians and as a result, the Vulcans are withdrawing their ambassadors from Earth. Forrest hails Enterprise to let them know of the situation and let Archer know that T’Pol is being recalled to Vulcan. T’Pol is intended to be the scapegoat for the exposure of P’Jem and its subsequent destruction. While T’Pol takes the news with a stiff upper lip, Archer is distressed to be losing his science officer.

Archer’s solution is to take T’Pol on one last mission with him. Having been invited to the planet Coridan, Archer takes T’Pol and tries to show loyalty to her. However, their shuttlepod is intercepted by insurgents led by Traeg. Traeg is in conflict with the legitimate Coridan government and while Archer and T’Pol are held hostage, the Vulcans arrive to recover T’Pol. Captain Sopek wants to recover T’Pol and keep the Coridan government intact, so when Reed and Trip mount their own rescue attempt, they are surprised to discover other forces at work on Coridan. Aided by Shran and his Andorian lieutenant, Reed and Trip work to recover the StarFleet officers, which is complicated by the Vulcans and their efforts to accomplish the same.

“Shadows Of P’Jem” is very entertaining and it continues to flesh out well the supporting characters, like Forrest, Soval, and Shran (the Andorian leader). Shran is characterized with an almost Vulcan sense of duty and a Klingon sense of honor as he tries to repay his debt to Archer in the episode. Moreover, the way the series continues to allude to prior events makes it seem like it is going somewhere and it actually building upon itself in order to create a stronger narrative and sense of (internal) continuity.

Unfortunately, the character elements for the regular characters are not as impressively presented. Archer has had only about six months with T’Pol as his science officer, so his sense of loyalty to her is respectable. However, Phlox notes that T’Pol is not the first Vulcan to serve on a human vessel (though until this episode, it seems like her presence is a novelty and a truly new thing), only the most enduring. Either way, while Archer is honorable to take responsibility for the exposure of P’Jem, none of the characters adequately address that it was the fault of the lying Vulcans – not Archer and not T’Pol that the monastery was exposed.

Externally, it is a pretty big suspension of disbelief to the viewers to buy that T’Pol could plausibly leave the ship, especially in disgrace. As the resident sex symbol, it is entirely improbable that she would leave, especially this way. The episode lacks a bit of dramatic tension that should be essential to selling that concept. The only other real issue I had with “Shadows Of P’Jem” was that the make-up artists were not attentive enough with Gregory Itzen’s make-up; in Sickbay he has a very clear Vulcan face (yellow-green tint) and a very human (very pink) neck!

That said, “Shadows Of P’Jem” is a taut political drama with an interesting hostage situation plot thrown in. The performances are decent and credible, especially Scott Bakula, who does not seem at all stiff as Archer and Jolene Blalock manages to not smirk her way through being T’Pol. Augmented by decent performances (however brief) by Jeff Kober as the freedom fighter Traeg and Gregory Itzin as the Vulcan Captain Sopek (one of the best Vulcan portrayals so far!), “Shadows Of P’Jem” may not be good Star Trek in the larger context of the franchise, but it is pretty solid television!

The three biggest gaffes in “Shadows Of P’Jem:”
3. Vulcans lie left and right in this episode. Not only T’Pol, but the Vulcan Ambassador Soval, lie to StarFleet Command and the Coridan insurgents.
2. In “Journey To Babel,” the Vulcans and Andorians are on the same side about Coridan admission (against the Tellarites), yet in “Shadows Of P’Jem” they are adversaries,
1. In “Journey To Babel,” Sarek characterized Coridan as “underpopulated” to defend its interests and wealth. In “Shadows Of P’Jem,” Coridan has extensive shipyards and 3 billion people, hardly “underpopulated” or unable to defend itself.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!

For other works with Jeff Kober, please visit my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 6
“Repentance” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Ice” - The X-Files


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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