Where Few Have Gone Before: “Shadows of P’Jem”
Watching another episode of Enterprise this weekend, one thing became worrying clear to me: This show may, oddly, work best when you think of it as a weird condemnation of all the other Star Treks. Suddenly, the show makes so much more sense when you start to think about the Vulcans as old-school Starfleet…
On the face of it, it feels as if there’s a lot I should’ve liked about “Shadows of P’Jem,” not least of which was the fact that it picks up on earlier plot threads and stops the show from becoming the weightless “EVERY WEEK, SOMETHING BIG HAPPENS THAT WE COMPLETELY IGNORE NEXT WEEK” show it occasionally threatens to become, but this was an episode that feels like someone came up with the idea and then forget about it before throwing things together at the last moment and hoping that no-one notices the joins. Or the low quality. Or the terrible, terrible slapstick/”sexy” comedy.
Because, oh God, after my saying, last week, that it seemed as if the decontamination scene from “Sleeping Dogs” was a sign that perhaps the gratuitous nature of a similar scene in the pilot was something of the past, “Shadows” ramps that fanboy service way the hell up and manages to get me frowning at the screen and secretly wishing that the show’s cancellation had come earlier. I was worried when T’Pol and Archer were tied together and left in the dungeon, but figured/hoped that we’d have more of a character moment between the two as a result – especially as the major character conflict of the episode was whether Archer could convince T’Pol to stay on the ship after the Vulcan High Command had demanded she come home. And then there was the botched escape attempt that leaves the two on the floor, with Archer’s head between T’Pol’s breasts, and… Well, there went that hope.
It was that moment of obviousness, and shamelessness, though, that got me on the mental track of thinking of Enterprise as Bizarro Comedy Star Trek, and that thought then got me thinking about the set-up of the episode, and the show itself. See, “Shadows” continues to portray the Vulcans as a space-faring race who are somewhat holier than thou, have political conflicts with other races but aren’t above breaking the rules when needs be (See “Setting up secret spying base inside a planet” and “Launching a rescue mission when T’Pol and Archer are kidnapped”)… and doesn’t that pretty much track to Starfleet in every Trek series after the original? Here, though, the Vulcans are… if not the bad guys, then the guys nobody likes and everyone wants to loosen up a little.
I’m not sure if this parallel is supposed to be there or not: Is it a commentary on the sterility of Next Generation-era Trek? Is it entirely accidental? But looking at the show through that lens, it becomes a different thing altogether – A show that suggests that, somewhere along the line, humanity lost track of the pioneering, emotional, humorous spirit it once had, and turned into that which it used to make fun of and get angry at. Enterprise as cautionary tale? It’s an idea that’s going to color my viewing of the rest of the series, and the only thing that could make “Shadows of P’Jem” worthwhile.
(In case you were worried, T’Pol ended up staying on the Enterprise because… oh, I don’t know. The actress had a contract? That makes about as much sense as anything.)