WARNING: Every step of the "Desert Crossing" is fraught with danger, as this review is with spoilers. Tread carefully.�
In brief: Bring a pillow -- for some stretches you'll need it.�
"Desert Crossing" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 23 Teleplay by Andre Bormanis Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis Directed by David Straiton Brief summary: A mission of mercy leaves Trip and Archer caught in a crossfire, with the only way out through a vast expanse of desert.
If I had to use one word to sum up "Desert Crossing," that word might be "ponderous." It doesn't do anything offensively bad or that seems actively out of character, but from a dramatic standpoint it does something that's almost worse: it's dull. Extremely dull.
In part, I suspect that too great an attempt was made to make the episode seem relevant to current concerns. The idea of "we need to watch what we do, because innocent help could be seen as taking sides" is a perfectly good one, and one that has as much applicability now as it ever has. I'm all for relevance, but in general if you're going to do that you need to either make the points with a lot of subtlety and grace, or at least have good-to-magnificent storytelling backing it up. (I'm drawing a blank on particularly subtle examples right at the moment, but "sledgehammer points made via a fantastic story" would include things like TNG's "Chain of Command, Part II" and DS9's "Duet.")
Neither subtlety nor superb storytelling were at hand here, alas. The story itself was so thin that there wasn't much room for subtlety. Archer decides to render aid in response to a distress signal, and Zobral (the occupant of said ship) insists that he and Trip come down for a visit. It turns out that, impressed by tales of Archer's military prowess, Zobral wants their aid in the war against oppression he's currently waging with the planetary government.
Again, a perfectly adequate idea, but the above paragraph sums up almost every nuance of the show's entire first half -- which is not something that kept me glued to my chair by any stretch. Instead, every attempt was made to really bludgeon home the point that this story can apply to current situations on Earth. Consider:
-- Let's see ... the planet's mostly desert, so let's give Zobral and his men thick (and not entirely convincing) accents similar to those in the Middle East. Check.
-- Hmm ... hey, let's make it so that Zobral's people once had to wear clothing that set them apart from their fellows, similar to what Jews in Nazi Germany or women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan had to do.
-- Let's even have Hoshi note how similar their dilemma is to ones on Earth (though at least she cast in terms of where the Vulcans decided to visit).
-- While Archer refuses to help, let's make him voice feelings at the end that "I have the feeling his cause is worth fighting for," so that all the viewers who identify with Zobral's cause can feel as though aspersions haven't been cast on their own causes. (This may not be "relevant" per se, but I think it's a case of the episode trying desperately to cover its own ass. I wasn't impressed.)
Now, there are a couple of bright spots here and there. One of them was guest star Clancy Brown: while Zobral himself was more or less a walking stereotype and his speech pattern wasn't 100% convincing, Brown himself dove into the role headfirst -- Zobral did at least seem to have buckets of personal charisma, which is exactly what someone in his role would need to survive. (Of course, since longtime SF fans might recognize him as Rawhide from "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," I'll admit I kept wondering when a Lectroid was going to pop out from behind a dune and take Zobral down. :-) )
The other, more substantial bright spot was the reason Zobral had for picking Archer, namely that the events of "Detained" a few episodes back have given him a reputation. As with all reputations, the tale of the prison break has already been blown out of proportion, but the simple fact that word of Archer's actions has gotten out farther than Archer himself has is something that could be grist for any number of episodes. Would I expect every single encounter to have someone recognize Archer or the Enterprise? No, of course not -- but the idea that some have, and that some are more willing to listen and others less so as a result is one I applaud. (I'd note that this only works if the powers that be decide to stick with it, though: Voyager as a series spent part of its second season building up the ship's reputation as "a ship of death," and then all of that seemed to evaporate when the plot required it. If that happens here as well, I'll be annoyed.)
Mixed in with those bright spots, however, is an awful lot of tedium. After Zobral's appeal becomes open, the Terathans attack his encampment. Archer and Trip, tucked away in a bunker for their own safety, eventually realize that they're at just as much risk inside that bunker and leave. The shuttlepod isn't safe, so they decide to set out across the desert, hoping to find shelter in an abandoned encampment to the east.
What follows is basically "Archer and Trip teach us about desert survival," with Archer doing what he should and Trip showing what happens if you don't. Trip gets heat exhaustion. Trip feels freezing. Trip turns down water. Trip has hallucinations. In three words or less, "ho hum." If this was meant to put the characters in a new light, then anything illuminated by that light was lost on me, as I didn't get much insight into Trip and Archer here -- and pretty much every cliche in the book about desert travel was put to use here in the bargain. (Okay, so Trip didn't see a mirage of money and scantily clad women and go off hooting a la Daffy Duck. Pity -- that one could've been fun.) Unless this was meant to be educational ("see, kids! be sure YOU bring enough water if you're stranded in the desert!"), I'm left with the sense that it did nothing but take up time.
There's really not that much left to say. Of the regulars, only Archer and Trip got any truly significant time, though T'Pol got to point out that soon Archer will have to develop his own directives for dealing with planetary conflicts and to guilt-trip Zobral into assisting with the search using the "your enemy thinks we're on your side, therefore you're responsible for us" argument. Again, "ho-hum" was my primary response. (The bit about Archer having to develop his own directive was a horribly hamhanded way of alluding to the Prime Directive, incidentally: earlier episodes have done it better. Had T'Pol left off by noting that Vulcan has some and they've proven useful, that would've been plenty.) The story was pretty much paper- thin. Most of what we got here were equally strong doses of desert scenes and 21st-century moralizing, and neither proved gripping.
Some other notes:
-- The game ("geskana," I think) that Zobral's men played on the planet was all well and good, if in part an excuse to deliver topless shots of two of the male leads. In the middle of it, though, there was one oddity: after he's knocked down, one of the shots of Trip getting up appears to be on video when everything else is film. I wonder why that happened.
-- I was glad to see the temperature given as "41 degrees," with Celsius not only present, but simply assumed. Of course, given that science advisor Andre Bormanis wrote this, if *that* were off I'd really start to wonder. :-)
-- Maybe it's just me, but "What's your point?" does not sound like a phrase that the very Vulcan and proper T'Pol would use, even to Hoshi.
-- For those keeping track of the calendar, "Desert Crossing" seems to pick up only a few days after "Fallen Hero" ends. Given that they still haven't made it to Risa, that makes sense.
That pretty much covers it, I think. As the second hour of a two-hour "event," I suspect that "Desert Crossing" won't quite have the viewership that "Fallen Hero" did -- and given the relative quality of the two, I can only consider that a good thing.
So, to wrap up:
Writing: I agree with the moral and find Enterprise's growing reputation of interest, but there's an awful lot of nothing covering it all up. Directing: Sluggish -- some of that's the writing, I'm sure, but the directing didn't punch it up any. Acting: More or less neutral.
Overall: 4 -- one of the weakest of the season. Better luck next time!
Risa at last.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"I wouldn't be a very good host if I allowed you to get killed."
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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