Friday, May 10, 2013

The Manly Men Get Another Episode Of Enterprise With “Desert Crossing”

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of concept
The Bad: No character development, Dull plot
The Basics: Archer and Trip flee through a desert to avoid taking sides in an alien war in an episode that hints at a philosophical development, but gives about as much airtime to sports and survivalist theory.

A few years ago, the Star Trek Facebook page made what I thought was an absurd survey post on their Facebook page. On Superbowl Sunday, they asked which character from the Star Trek franchise would make the best quarterback. My admittedly pithy response was to post that this was an utterly ridiculous question to pose to this particular fan base. After all, I noted, I had never once been at a convention and heard a Star Trek fan say they couldn’t stick around to get autographs because they had to get home for the football game. It was a preposterous question and a ridiculous way to engage the fan base.

It was not until I started watching Star Trek: Enterprise that I began to see why the Star Trek page would even bother to pose such a question. In mortgaging the existing fan base of Star Trek, Enterprise sought to pick up a new fan base and, based on episodes like “Rogue Planet” (reviewed here!) – with hunters and blondes – and “Desert Crossing” (SPORTS!), it seems that the strategy the producers and UPN went with was to try to get manly young men – the frat boy audience – to tune in. They failed . . . and pissed off the loyal Trekkers in the process.

“Desert Crossing” is an episode that – for the fans – seems to have the purpose mostly to illustrate that the NX-01 Enterprise is flying around without directives like the Prime Directive. In this pre-Federation law time of exploration, the Enterprise gets into trouble, like getting associated with one warring faction on a planet based solely upon who they encounter first in space, in ways that many of the subsequent series’ in the franchise. But, “Desert Crossing” is a whole lot less cerebral than that; it’s an episode that has sporting events, survivalist struggles against a harsh environment and fairly pointless explosions for good measure.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a small ship commanded by Zobral, an alien who seems very grateful for the help. In assisting him, the crew is invited to return with him to his planet to partake in his hospitality, a feast in the Captain and Trip’s honor. The ship makes the diversion and, after a meaty meal, and during a lacrosse-like game with Zobral and his people, Trip and Archer find themselves on the run. T’Pol has been hailed by the planet’s ruling class and informed that Zobral is a terrorist.

Inspired by Archer’s rumored leadership in liberating Suliban nationals (in “Detained,” reviewed here!), Zobral appeals to Archer for help as his strategy as a freedom fighter is beginning to fail. Explaining that his caste has always been second class citizens – legally before and de facto now that the planet’s caste system has been abolished – he is fighting for the dignity of his people. Unwilling to get involved in his little war with the government, Archer and Trip flee into the desert (with minimal water) and struggle to survive long enough for T’Pol and Zobral to rescue them.

In addition to being a particularly manly adventure that hinges on more brawn than brains (fleeing into the desert is not the smartest thing and while they are running away, Zobral is running out with what appears to be a rocket launcher), “Desert Crossing” is particularly low on character. Trip and Archer reroute the Enterprise for a feast in their honor, but none of the rest of the crew (who is inconvenienced yet again on their way to Risa) are invited, which seems odd considering Zobral’s very generous nature (and his desire to have Archer and Trip compete in the native sporting event . . . for which there is no audience.

But the character who suffers the most in “Desert Crossing” is Trip. More than any other character in the Star Trek universe, Trip is characterized as something of a dumb redneck. In “Desert Crossing,” Trip starts whiny and long before he becomes weakened by the elements, he is portrayed as astonishingly stupid. He does not pick up on Archer’s hints that they need to leave after the Captain is hailed by T’Pol and his comments before he is exhausted in the desert make him seem less trained or professional than one might expect for a ship’s Chief Engineer.

It is guest star Clancy Brown who saves “Desert Crossing” from earning the lowest possible ratings. Brown is a favorite of mine from his previous work in things like Carnivale (reviewed here!) and for most of the episode, he proves his worth as an actor by no other means than he appears smiling (which is something so few of his characters seem to do). Brown makes Zobral seem good-natured and generous in all of the right ways and until the moment he exposes his cache of light munitions, he seems viable as a kind nomad (when his weapons are exposed he becomes something of an ugly stereotype of a Middle Easterner, but fortunately, Brown plays the role to diminish what could be – in the writing – a pretty racist character).

But even the oscillations between Clancy Brown’s good-natured exhortations and his bellowing about the injustices his people have faced is not enough to save “Desert Crossing” and make it worth watching. Instead, it is an unfortunately droll concept for an episode with an execution that does less than it ought to for a serious viewer.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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