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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Desert Crossing"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Some well-established further momentum on tack for
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Some well-established further momentum on tack for the Prime
      Directive, but with too many disposable scenes.

      Plot description: Archer and Tucker are left stranded in an alien desert
      after a terrorist leader attempts recruiting the Enterprise to help fight on
      behalf of his cause.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Desert Crossing"

      Airdate: 5/8/2002 (USA)
      Teleplay by Andre Bormanis
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis
      Directed by David Straiton

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Nice tapestry." -- Archer; general uncomfortable-silence breaker
      -----

      A man named Zobral (Clancy Brown) invites Archer and Trip to his camp for
      what appears to be simple hospitality. While in orbit, the Enterprise is
      contacted by a government official who wants to know why the Enterprise sent
      a shuttle down to that region of the planet's surface, known lands of a
      terrorist organization. When false pretenses are revealed, Zobral says his
      people are forced to commit terrorist activities as their only avenue to
      wage a war against a nation with far superior military options. Hmmm, sound
      familiar?

      The episode's subjects are obviously supposed to be abstractions of Israelis
      and Palestinians. Meanwhile, the message is that we're more likely to
      sympathize with people when we're more familiar with them. This is,
      admittedly, not a stunning revelation. If Trip and Archer had been invited
      as guests by the other side of the conflict on this world, no doubt we
      would've seen suffering on their end that would've presented arguments
      justifying their military action.

      The rest of the show's message centers on another pre-Prime Directive issue,
      in what seems to be a major season theme that I'm intrigued by. Between
      "Dear Doctor," "Detained," and now "Desert Crossing," we're seeing exactly
      why the Prime Directive is going to become a necessity. I appreciated the
      direct reference to "Detained": Zobral sought out Archer specifically
      because he got an exaggerated account of how the Enterprise helped free the
      Suliban imprisoned there. It's very respectable use of a previous story
      thread to enhance this one.

      Unfortunately, where "Desert Crossing" goes wrong is in taking a misguided
      detour from this storyline in favor of a plot where Archer and Trip find
      themselves stranded in the desert. The episode gives us interminable scenes
      of desert-survival-movie cliches. Filmed on location in the desert regions
      of the U.S. Southwest, the episode seemingly falls into the trap of trying
      to justify the expense of having shot there. There's simply too much
      unnecessary desert footage. Scenes where Archer and Trip walk through the
      desert -- exhibiting the usual signs of exhaustion and dehydration, with
      Trip on the verge of collapse and Archer looking after him -- stop the story
      dead in its tracks. This has all been done before, and "Desert Crossing"
      finds no new angle for the material. Even the scenes of Trip's suffering
      fail to be engaging because they come across as generic instead of specific
      to the character. "Shuttlepod One," another survival story, was far better
      than this because the characters were allowed to interact with each other
      and had the benefit of useful dialog.

      Meanwhile, T'Pol and the Enterprise crew attempt to track down the captain,
      eventually coming in contact with Zobral to figure out what went wrong. I
      greatly appreciated that the writers let Zobral maintain his sincere
      personality rather than turning him into a single-minded villain. A lesser
      story might've used Zobral to set the plot in motion and then after that
      made him an unnecessary obstacle to our characters' progress. "Desert
      Crossing" plays fair by keeping his personality fairly consistent
      throughout. Clancy Brown delivers an effective performance with a faux
      accent, playing the character just broadly enough to give him the charisma
      he needs to lure us in before revealing his more serious side.

      The early scenes are fairly pleasant. I laughed at a dinner moment where
      Archer and Trip reluctantly eat something Zobral calls "the essence of the
      male," to which Archer can only respond with "Nice tapestry" after a long
      silence. The sport-playing sequence -- something that resembles sci-fi
      lacrosse -- struck me as appropriate but at the same time redundant,
      especially considering that the subsequent issues of social conflict don't
      seem to get as much attention as they deserve.

      What does get some good attention is Archer questioning himself in regard to
      interfering in the affairs of other worlds. Once again, he's faced with
      someone asking for his help. He is, in fact, faced with this latest request
      *because* he helped the Suliban a few weeks earlier.

      What I especially like about this aspect of the story is how it reveals the
      cumulative effect that these requests and their consequences are having on
      Archer as Starfleet's first captain in the wilderness. With good reason, he
      doesn't make the choice here that he made in "Detained." And with each case,
      Archer is realizing more and more that decisions like these are too big for
      captains to be making on the spot and on their own; guidelines will become
      necessary. It's good to know that when the Prime Directive eventually is
      drafted, we'll be able to see how we got there, via a road that includes
      episodes like this one.

      Ultimately, however, the problem with "Desert Crossing" is its level of
      unevenness. For as obvious as the story draws some of its subject matter
      from Israel/Palestine, it doesn't focus much on this world's internal
      conflicts or quandary-inducing political subtleties. That may be a good
      thing since it keeps the emphasis on the matter of the Enterprise's
      interference, but it seems to me that if you're going to make indirect
      references to the tensions in the Middle East, you owe it more than the lip
      service paid here. Then, of course, there's the whole matter of the
      desert-survival story, which seems like it belongs in an entirely different
      episode.

      I'm also uncertain about the ending, where Archer appropriately cites the
      importance of non-interference ... but then says, "The irony is that I get
      the sense their cause is worth fighting for." Well, perhaps it is -- from
      Zobral's people's point of view. But Archer's statement ignores the whole
      other side of the conflict, one Archer never got a chance to experience or
      even really hear from. The entire reason the Enterprise has no place taking
      sides here is because they are in fact a neutral party that doesn't even
      understand the conflict they've wandered into. Archer's final line of dialog
      is predictably sympathetic, but without more information about the workings
      of this world, it seems somewhat inappropriate to end the episode on such a
      note. I would've preferred something more neutral.

      I dunno -- in the real world is there such thing as a "neutral" party? The
      U.S. certainly isn't perceived as one when it comes to the Middle East
      situation, probably for good reason. It's perhaps worth noting that the
      spirit of the Prime Directive doesn't really work in a world you're a part
      of.

      --
      Next week: The crew finally gets to Risa. And it only took three tries.

      -----
      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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