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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Shadows of P'Jem"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Mediocrity at its finest. Plot description: Archer
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 18, 2002
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Mediocrity at its finest.

      Plot description: Archer and T'Pol are held hostage by a rebel organization
      that wants to overthrow their planet's reigning government.

      Enterprise: "Shadows of P'Jem"

      Airdate: 2/6/2002 (USA)
      Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Mike Vejar

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "This is Sopek. Where's Commander Tucker?"
      "He's unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message?"
      -- Hoshi Sato, answering service

      "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.

      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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