Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: Not bad, but "Darmok" it certainly ain't.
Plot description: After a misunderstanding and a shuttle crash, Trip and an
alien pilot are marooned on a desolate moon where the two adversaries must
put aside their differences and overcome a language barrier so they can
Airdate: 1/8/2003 (USA)
Written by John Shiban
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **1/2
"Watch out, Travis. These modifications are working so well, pretty soon we
won't need pilots anymore." -- Trip, demonstrating how Mayweather's status
as resident cipher has already reached the point of a writer's inside joke
In my review of "The Catwalk," I mentioned that the biggest threat facing
this series was its inability to transcend average. "Dawn" plays like the
case-in-point confirmation of that theory. Here is an agreeable but
derivative outing that is reminiscent of TNG's "Darmok" ... except without
the truly interesting linguistic puzzles and the push for higher-minded
understanding that made that show a classic. "Dawn" is the simplified,
mainstreamed version of "Darmok" -- the junior-high edition rather than the
How far we have fallen. Or should I say, how far it has fallen: that of the
producers' respect for the intelligence of the average Star Trek audience
member. Are they wrong to underestimate us? Possibly not. Just look at the
ratings for "Joe Millionaire."
To be fair, "Dawn" is an okay show with some aspects to recommend. If the
creators' respect for their audience's intelligence has eroded over the
years, they at least still believe the audience is open to the idea of
looking for peaceful solutions to problems, even when the aliens seem
awfully quick on the trigger.
In "Dawn," Trip's shuttlepod is shot down without warning while orbiting one
of many moons of a gas giant. He crashes on the moon's surface, and realizes
that the enemy ship that shot him down -- from an enigmatic and not
particularly friendly race called the Arkonians, with whom the Vulcans have
not had great luck -- also crash-landed on the moon, also with a lone pilot
on board. So it's just Commander Tucker and the apparently hostile Arkonian
and their weapons and ingenuity, in a premise that at first looks like it's
going to be TOS's "Arena" before the two enemies meet face-to-face and the
show begins to more closely resemble a low-rent "Darmok."
Since both Trip and the Arkonian are conveniently (and inexplicably) without
a Universal Translator, they can't understand each other's languages, which
makes the show an hour about difficult and often failed communication. The
Arkonian's name is Zho'Kaan (Gregg Henry), and for the first half of the
show there's little trust to be found, as first Zho'Kaan holds a weapon on
Trip and forces him to make repairs to his shuttle, and then Trip gets the
upper hand and in turn holds the weapon on Zho'Kaan.
Meanwhile, the two try -- sometimes futilely -- to get their points across
to each other. The story's approach is to show two people faced with a
situation where neither trusts the other while communication must be
achieved with tone of voice and gestures. While the idea is appealing on
bare-boned Trekkian terms, I must again go back to "Darmok," which conveyed
a communication barrier with so much more originality.
It doesn't particularly help that Trip goes to such pains to talk loudly and
slowly, as if that will make his words more understandable. The episode
might've been better off had it focused on the way people communicate with
universal gestures. But "Dawn" isn't really serious about analyzing language
or communication the way "Darmok" tried to; it's simply the framing device
to set the story and action, which is more interested in explicit friction
(before, thankfully, turning a 180 and being about working together and
To prove my point: At the center of "Dawn" is a prolonged fight scene
between Trip and Zho'Kaan where the two hammer away at each other until
neither has the strength to stand. Part of me, I guess, can understand the
feelings being expressed here -- two frustrated guys who have reached the
limits of their patience for each another and need some sort of explosive
release. But, come on -- is this *really* necessary? Is Zho'Kaan
sufficiently motivated to attack Trip during what is Trip's biggest gesture
of trust? It's as if the scene is saying: Yeah, these two guys are going to
work together toward that cooperative Star Trek ideal, but not before they
beat the living crap out of each other for the audience's visceral delight!
(At the very least, I'm glad to say the violence here looks like it actually
hurts and takes a physical toll on the characters, whereas on some other
shows it would be depicted as an unbelievable cartoon sequence.)
Eventually, these two characters are no longer at the mercy of each other
but instead the extreme heat as the sun rises and the temperatures head
toward deadly levels. This week's Ticking Clock [TM] is that the Enterprise
and an Arkonian vessel must track down our marooned duo (searching dozens of
moons) before they perish in the hot sun. You'd think two people about to
die from heat exposure would search for shade, but apparently a cave or a
ledge casting a shadow wasn't in the episode's budget. (I also wonder, if
it's true as Trip suspects and Zho'Kaan cannot sweat, what would cause him
to become dehydrated. Perhaps a biology expert -- Arkonian or otherwise --
could educate me.)
The drawback to this material isn't that it's unworkable or misguided, but
that it simply pales in comparison to a concept like the 11-year-old
"Darmok," which made a considerable effort to break down words and syllables
and metaphors. The problems and solutions in "Dawn" are not without merit,
but they do not engage the mind or imagination in a way that gives one much
optimism that Star Trek has not already exhausted everything it can see and
It's probably worth noting that "Dawn" is a good fit for Commander Tucker
insofar that "Darmok" was a good fit for Captain Picard; the heroes perhaps
get the stories they are worthy of. Picard was diplomatic, patient, and
cerebral. Tucker is ordinary and pragmatic -- the perpetual everyman with
good intentions. And "Dawn" is in turn the everyman's "Darmok" -- simple,
decently presented, but without challenge or vision.
Trip helps save Zho'Kaan's life while barely reaching the understanding of
words like "food" and "bad." At one point, Trip notes how Hoshi would be
proud of him for learning some new alien words. Some of us in the audience
will simply think back on more subtle times, remembering how once upon a
more cerebral storytelling era, Picard reached that point where he
understood the significance that was "Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra."
Trip could take some lessons from Picard. For that matter, so, probably,
could Hoshi. And this series.
Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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