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.)

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Comments

  • Pack

    I’m sure there are as many people here who hate the JJ Abrams “Star Trek” as love it but I pretty much liked it with a few changes I would have liked to have seen. One of the big ones was the way it continued what I saw as the “Enterprise” interpretation of Vulcans. (Maybe other shows did the same thing but I thought it was most prominent with “Enterprise.”)
    It seemed to me that the “Star Trek” franchise really lost its way in this particular angle. I felt like Roddenberry’s original vision was that mankind would leave behind all of its emotional baggage and earn the right to spread out to the stars. Quite an optimistic view and quite a challenge to all of us. (Note that I think it would be difficult to say the characters on the original series had left behind emotion, just the emotional *baggage* which makes life more difficult for us than, say, a puppy.) But somewhere along the way, network execs and producers decided to adopt the modern American way: We’re dumb as rocks and antagonistically proud of it. Our motto is, “You think you’re better than me!?!?!?!!!?!?”
    So the Vulcans, who once used to be an advanced civilization to be admired, suddenly had to be feared. Screw those bastards who are smarter than us. There must be *something* wrong with them. Bunch of snobs! Intellectuals are the enemy! Intelligence is suspect! We’re the country that would elect George W. Bush … twice and pretend Sarah Palin is a legitimate candidate for the highest office in the country *because* she’s so proud of being so godawful stupid.
    I think the way the creators who had the keys to the franchise could have preserved the original vision is to think of Vulcans like an order of wise monks: They’re not some fearsome *other,* they’re just like us but they’ve worked hard and long to achieve a step most of us haven’t. But the fact that *they* have shows it’s attainable.
    Anyway, I feel the same way about “Enterprise.” I know it’s the “Batman and Robin” of Star Trek series’ but I think it would have been dumb fun if it hadn’t insisted that Vulcans must be bad because they’re smarter than the good ol’ boys who love dogs and beer.

  • Rubella

    are you still doing these? 

    If a stupid fanblogger types in the woods about a show no one cares for from years ago  does anyone still read the post? 

    i agree with others – lease replace this moron Spinoff

  • Abbasax

    You know Graeme, I may not alway agree with the stuff that you post in these Enterprise articles, but I thoroughly enjoy the hell outta them. Thanks for keeping it up. 

  • sandwich eater

    I think Enterprise is slightly unfairly condemned for portraying Vulcans as arrogant jerks.  There were hints of this superiority complex throughout all the Star Trek series.  Even in TNG Vulcans would often express disdain or judgment in response to human behavior and emotions.  There was also that episode of DS9 where Sisko and the crew played a baseball game against the Vulcans.  Sisko’s old Vulcan rival from Starfleet Academy was kind of a jerk who believed that Vulcans were superior to humans in every way.  Tuvok was always commenting on how humans were so irrational in Voyager.

    As for Enterprise’s gratuitous decontamination scenes and accidental groping, that was a big part of what turned me off from the show when it aired.  I stopped watching it when it aired, but I recently rewatched the entire thing, and it does get better in later seasons.

  • sean

    “So the Vulcans, who once used to be an advanced civilization to be admired, suddenly had to be feared.”

    Fearing Vulcans (and the Vulcans feeling superior to humans) goes back to the original show.  Humans were scared of Vulcans at least as far back as ‘Balance of Terror’; Spock’s father is an arrogant jerk who criticizes him for joining Starfleet; and I don’t think we’re meant to admire Spock’s girlfriend when she explains the logic of why she made Spock fight to the death with Kirk.

    I always thought the point of the Vulcans was “they have a good idea but they’ve gone way too far with it.”  If you devote yourself exclusively to logic, you miss out on something “human” (and I don’t think there’s ever been an episode of any Star Trek that puts anything above being human).

  • KirkW

    Really does anyone watch this –or even care about these reviews? what is the purpose of reviewing a show years old? Does anyone want to see this?

  • http://twitter.com/BigAl6ft6 Al D.

    I’ve been diggin it.  Blast from the past, but not too far in the past that I don’t know what episodes he’s talking aboot.

  • RatManBobin

    in the next hard hitting blog can you start tom review Buck Rodgers  episoder b y episode in a vain attempt to get NO one to respond? What is the point of this guy reviewing this series  other than his own ego?

  • Pack

    Just wondering if the part of the brain that makes a person too stupid to know that he or she doesn’t have to read any review that isn’t of personal interest is the same part that makes a person incapable of spelling simple words?
    Maybe it’s the part that makes someone think, “Hey, if *I* don’t want to read reviews of this show, it’s obvious that *no one* could want to read them what with me being the most important person in the world and all.”

  • Pack

    I think the fact that humans feared Vulcans in “Balance of Terror” was meant to be read as a condemnation of racial prejudice but I think I take your meaning.
    Responding to Sandwich Eater, I thought Tuvok was someone who failed to understand humans and why they couldn’t act more rationally but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

    Certainly I’m not trying to suggest that Vulcans were the greatest thing you could aspire to be in the Star Trek universe. Note that I compared them to wise monks. Based on the fact that I’m posting here, you can probably guess that *I’m* not a wise monk (If I was, I’d probably get thrown out for getting snarky with the troll a few comments down…) My point is that I think there’s something admirable about someone who has the dedication and discipline to be a wise monk but, hell, I ain’t gonna do it.
    Same thing with the Vulcans. I think in early Trek history, there were a lot of viewers who respected and admired Vulcans, even if they wouldn’t want to *be* them. But later on (and, yeah, I thought it reached its worst with “Enterprise,” even though I feel like overall I liked the series more than a lot of other fans) it seemed like the creators got infected by that inferiority complex so common in American society. Anyone who is smart or intellectual (meaning that someone can get away with being smart if they’re still drinking a beer and watching the game) is probably effeminate and evil. Going *way* big picture, I think that’s bad for society and more locally, I think it’s bad for Star Trek whose fans, I hope, get that it’s not a bad thing to read a book or resolve a dispute with reason instead of violence and threats.

  • sandwich eater

    I don’t think arrogance is a Vulcan racial characteristic.  They did treat humans badly in Enterprise, but from their perspective humans were a backwater species recovering from war when they made first contact.  From their perspective they were easing our transition into the wider galactic community.  Also, Vulcans live so long that humanity’s 100 years of progress when Enterprise took place all occurred in 1 Vulcan lifespan, so to them we still weren’t really ready.

    I think Vulcans see emotions as a vice so it’s only natural that they cast judgment on the species that embrace emotion.  I think that this Vulcan attitude is present throughout all the Star Trek series.  The pacifism, logic, and intellectual parts of the Vulcan philosophy are pretty admirable though.