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The Trek Nation - Shadows of P'Jem

Shadows of P'Jem

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 7, 2002 - 10:08 AM GMT

See Also: 'Shadows of P'Jem' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: On Earth, Vulcan Ambassador Soval tells Starfleet of the destruction of their sanctuary at P'Jem by Andorians. Admiral Forrest believes the Vulcans should have been more open with humans about their secret base, but Soval condemns Archer and his crew for meddling and announces that joint fleet operations have been suspended. Forrest makes contact with Archer, asking him to stay out of inter-species conflicts and passing along the news that the Vulcans intend to reassign T'Pol. When she accepts this news passively, the captain invites her to accompany him to Coridan, where the chancellor has promised the visitors a tour of their famous shipyards.

But the chancellor failed to tell Archer about a group of rebels fighting to overthrow Coridan's leaders. The insurgents -- who claim the Vulcans are keeping the government in power -- take Archer and T'Pol hostage and demand 40 phase pistols in exchange for their safe return. While Tucker mulls a rescue plan, since he doesn't trust the rebels and can't meet their demands anyway, the Vulcan ship scheduled to pick up T'Pol arrives. Captain Sopek learns of the abductions and insists that the humans should allow the more experienced Vulcans to demonstrate that they will not tolerate such terrorism.

Tucker, who believes he has located Archer's downed ship, refuses to wait for the Vulcans and takes a shuttlepod down to the surface with Reed. They too are abducted, but to their surprise, the kidnappers turn out to be Andorian -- and familiar. Shran explains that they monitor Vulcan transmissions since the incident at P'Jem, which the Andorians believe is a prelude to war. His own people thus share a common enemy with the factions on Coridan who want to overthrow the Vulcan-backed government. Yet Shran believes the insurgents will execute Archer and T'Pol whether or not their demands are met. In order to free himself of his debt to Archer for exposing the base at P'Jem, Shran wants to save the Starfleet officers.

Tucker insists that he and Reed participate in the plan. The group successfully penetrates the rebels' stronghold, but the Vulcans arrive in the midst of the rescue, resulting in a firefight. When T'Pol takes a plasma blast intended for Sopek, Archer insists on treating her aboard Enterprise. While she lies unconscious, her captain suggests that the Vulcan tell the High Command of her bravery. Sopek says he will consider it and agrees to leave T'Pol on the Starfleet ship under Phlox's care.


Analysis: A strange story with no clear-cut heroes or villains, 'Shadows of P'Jem' furthers T'Pol's identity crisis and demonstrates that if she learns nothing else from her life among humans, she should change the shoes she wears on duty -- the current heels show off her shapely legs but they're very impractical for escapes during crises. Sure, that's a cheap flip comment, but this episode has many cheap flip moments...most memorably T'Pol crushing Archer's face between her breasts.

Pity, because 'Shadows of P'Jem' packs in lots of timely themes and pulls together issues that have recurred since the pilot episode. We start with Vulcans once again insulting humans, not even bothering to cite logic this time. Then we learn that they may be meddling with another world's government the way they tried to shape Earth's space program to their own interests. Coridan, which has the finest fleet in the known galaxy, also has dilithium ore coveted by spacefaring species (and as we learned in Original Trek's 'Journey To Babel' and Next Gen's 'Sarek,' it won't join a United Federation of Planets until much later, when Spock's father champions the world's membership).

Again I'm trying to find something to like, admire, respect or even tolerate about the Vulcans and coming up blank. The Klingons, whom we always heard were enemies of humans in this era, have a lot more honor and a good deal more logic. I guess Spock's a complete anomaly, and everyone else from his planet thinks like his vicious, selfish fiancée, T'Pring. Well, everyone except T'Pol. But considering her angst about the prospect of leaving the ship a few months ago to honor her own betrothal, her passivity in the face of Vulcan condemnation really does seem odd.

Under different circumstances I might have found Archer's meddling in her affairs intrusive, but he's so obviously right that she's not taking the time to see what she might be giving up. I don't mean squirming in the dirt with Archer, female bonding with Hoshi and decontaminating with Trip and Malcolm. I mean the opportunity to learn more about her own people's need to practice the non-aggression and noninterference she keeps preaching at Archer. When T'Pol breaks the traditional Vulcan code of honesty by claiming that Archer is Enterprise's steward, it's amusing; when a Vulcan captain shows up with guns blazing, it's anything but. From a dramatic perspective, it's more interesting to see Sarek and Shras trading intellectual barbs over Coridan than Sopek and Shran trading weapons fire on its surface.

Shran is quite a character. When he first announces that he wants to save Archer because he can't sleep knowing that he's in the human's debt, it sounds like a silly line from a character who's about to get used as comic relief. But we know so little about Andorian honor, and Jeffrey Combs plays Shran with such conviction that by the time he returns the recording device he got at P'Jem, he's quite scary in his intensity. This is particularly interesting since the Andorians are working with the terrorists, who are made to seem more likeable than the Vulcans despite their treatment of Archer and T'Pol. The kidnappers have a desperate struggle against a government that apparently ignores the needs of its own citizens; Reed estimates that there are as many people living in shantytowns outside the capitol as there are within it.

The fascinating ones, as always, use logic as an excuse for protecting their own interests. If a subcommander like T'Pol doesn't know what's going on in their meddling on other planets, it's a good bet neither do most of the citizens of Vulcan, either. Is it just the High Command that's dangerous? I don't think we're supposed to empathize with the terrorists, yet Tucker goes out of his way to point out that the Vulcans break off communications with him just as readily. Sopek and Soval seem cut from the same cloth in more than name only. It does seem like a good idea for humans to butt out of the Coridan civil war, but with another space power already interfering -- a power that has not been supportive of human ventures, despite condescending words about how humans used to look to them for guidance -- butting out could be dangerous in the long run. Archer and Forrest don't know that Vulcan will eventually produce ambassadors like Sarek. They have to deal now with Soval and his ilk.

This is a strong episode for the supporting cast. Tucker's great when he's in command, standing up to the Vulcans more than Archer usually does and deciding to take the risk of sending down a rescue team (whether it's wise of him to lead that team is open for debate). Reed too comes across strongly, insisting from the start that they must liberate the hostages themselves, regardless of the wishes of the chancellor. Phlox is always interesting, because he can say things nearly as arrogantly as a Vulcan, yet he never seems to be contemptuous of people as T'Pol often does. Plus it's really hard to tell when he's being ironic because he sounds jovial all the time. (Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch make the observation in their Enterprise novel 'By the Book' that because Phlox's voice tends to rise on the last syllables of sentences, he always sounds as if he's in good spirits by our standards, though in his culture that vocal pattern might signify something else entirely.) I'm not sure whether Phlox is deliberately goading T'Pol over lunch or whether he's really being friendly, but the chemistry works wonderfully.

Speaking of T'Pol and chemistry, what exactly is the point of the physical bonding between Archer and his science officer? To illustrate his professional comfort level eating like a dog in front of her? To demonstrate that she really can keep her Vulcan cool around humans, even with her cute captain pressed against her body and panting in her face? I couldn't help giggling as they groaned and grunted their way to their feet only to fall back in the dirt, and my entire family howled when T'Pol wrapped her arms around Archer, ostensibly to put an end to their bondage games by untying him, all the while saying she fears that living among humans has caused her reason to become compromised, just before he bends over her rear end to untie her in turn. It's cute, but it's not character development, and it makes it harder to take the rest of the episode seriously.

The production values look good but seem a bit scaled back, shrouded in darkness after the nice shuttlepod sequence flying over the Coridan mountains. The backgrounds in P'Jem were lush and creepy; here Archer and T'Pol are kept in a room that, while spare and a little grungy, isn't particularly intimidating. Nor are the rebels, who fall down easily and are apparently too stupid to notice that Trip's not a native speaker of their language when he marches in to distract them with Andorian alcohol. Visually their fortress reminds me a bit of 'The High Ground,' the Next Gen episode where Beverly Crusher is abducted by a group of misunderstood rebels.

'Shadows of P'Jem' plays like a piece in an arc rather than an episode that can be evaluated solely on its own merits. It's not as striking as 'The Andorian Incident' now that we know what the Vulcans are up to, but T'Pol's rescue of Sopek isn't going to get her completely off the hook with the Vulcans any more than Forrest's admonitions are going to keep Archer from sticking his head into alien conflicts. His pleas for peace fall entirely on deaf ears when the Vulcans, Andorians and rebels square off, while the legitimate government of Coridan sits on its hands somewhere offscreen. The only thing certain is that T'Pol has changed since coming aboard Enterprise; it will be interesting to see whether she's as willing to take a plasma blast for Vulcan in the future.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.