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July 19 2024


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Desert Crossing

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 9, 2002 - 9:57 AM GMT

See Also: 'Desert Crossing' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: After rescuing a ship that sent out a distress call, Archer is invited by its captain, Zobral, to enjoy his hospitality on a desert planet. He invites Tucker along, even though the latter hates the climate. While the two are exploring strange new foods and learning local sports, T'Pol receives a hail from Trelit, the head of the region's government. He informs her that Zobral is a terrorist, accuses Enterprise of aiding the criminals, and warns that the crew will probably not see their captain alive again.

T'Pol quickly contacts Archer with this information, suggesting that he and Tucker leave at once. But Zobral refuses to let them go. He has heard from visiting Suliban that Archer liberated an enormous prison, and wants to enlist his help in his struggle against a government that continues to enforce an unfair and illegal caste system. To protect the legendary Jonathan Archer, Zobral hides him and Tucker underground when government ships begin bombing the encampment. Unable to contact Enterprise, Archer and Tucker sneak out, but more than 30 kilometers of desert lie between them and the ship in which they arrived.

Because Archer and Tucker have not left the surface, Trelit assumes Enterprise is in league with the enemy and threatens to attack any shuttlepod launched from Enterprise. The planet also has a shield that blocks sensors. As he and Archer stumble through the desert, Tucker, who overexerted himself playing sports the day before, becomes dehydrated and gets heatstroke. Archer hauls him to the abandoned ruins of a building where he attempts to purify what little water he can find. Meanwhile Zobral returns to Enterprise, where T'Pol and Reed tell him that Archer is not a legendary warrior and moreover that they hold him responsible for getting Archer and Tucker stranded on a planet whose government believes they are enemy agents.

Archer tries to keep Tucker from falling into a coma by quizzing him on warp reactors and playing Geography, but when the government bombing raids begin again, he realizes that he must drag his friend back out into the desert, though Tucker can barely stand. With Zobral's help, Reed pilots a shuttle through the planetary defenses, enabling T'Pol to pick up human life signs by scanning in the area being attacked. They rescue Archer and Tucker. Zobral says a cold farewell when Archer informs him that even if he was a great warrior, he could not have helped the alien's cause. Privately the captain admits to T'Pol that he believes it was a cause worth fighting for, but T'Pol says that such decisions should be left to governments, not starship captains.

Analysis: All the elements come together in 'Desert Crossing' -- solid plot, good acting, great continuity, a break from the monotony of the ship and some of the Big Themes for which Star Trek has long been appreciated. At the start, Enterprise is back on course for Risa, their destination in 'Fallen Hero' before being diverted by the Vulcans; this time they're diverted by a distress call, and it's pretty amusing when Archer admits that they'll pretty much stop for anyone. Unfortunately he doesn't know just how serious Zobral is when he says he won't take no for an answer to his offer of hospitality. After eating blood soup filled with chunks of the essence of the male, as Zobral explains, he learns an alien version of lacrosse. He also receives a gift of Suliban artwork, yet somehow this doesn't set off Archer's personal red alert.

And then we see him pay for his meddling in the Suliban prison camp -- a gutsy and unexpected twist, given the moral absolutes presented in 'Detained.' Unlike that episode, in which the imprisoned Suliban were unquestionably innocents while the government officials were clearly fascists, 'Desert Crossing' has a lot of gray areas. Zobral never denies being a terrorist, admits he wants Archer's arsenal, and although we're given no reason to doubt his account of caste oppression, we're given no reason to believe it either -- considering his manipulation of Archer and his gross distortion of the facts of the Suliban prison raid, he comes across as someone who shapes the truth to fit his own ends. Still, he comes across as magnanimous, with a booming British voice reminiscent of John Rhys-Davies in the Indiana Jones movies. Although Trelit is portrayed unsympathetically, a knee-jerk bureaucrat willing to sacrifice the innocent, we're not given reasons to doubt his fears. The only thing that's certain is the civil war.

Well, that and the fact that Suliban sympathetic to those who escaped the Tandarans have done business with Zobral. Here are the real consequences of Archer's meddling, and they are potentially much bigger than his own suffering. What if the freed Suliban become freedom fighters, idolizing a distorted image of Jonathan Archer, characterizing Earth as a place sympathetic to the displaced and humans as willing warriors for the oppressed? I'd love to have seen a scene in which Archer sheepishly explained to Admiral Forrest that there might be other aliens who expect him to become their savior.

T'Pol cites High Command protocols and suggests that Archer needs directives of his own, but really that's a separate issue -- as Sato points out, the Vulcans landing in the U.S. for first contact must have made other countries nervous. And now, she adds, humans are in the position of getting involved in wars just by accepting dinner invitations; it's a necessary risk on first contact missions, since warp technology developed on one continent doesn't necessarily indicate peace or prosperity on the others. In 'Fallen Hero,' V'Lar suggests that humans are relatively undeveloped as a species, but I'd expect it to be the rule rather than the exception to find a race in space that's a peaceful democracy. Nobody seems to have avoided relations with the Ferengi just because of centuries of systematically oppressing their females. It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened had a Ferengi female asked for Federation assistance in fighting off patriarchal oppression.

Politics aside, the visual pleasures of this episode abound -- and I don't mean Archer and Tucker with their shirts off, though they've both obviously been putting in some gym time when they're not working on their astrometrics. The lacrosse-type game with its glowing ball actually looks intriguing, unlike Tsunkatse, Velocity and most other sports manufactured for genre television. Zobral's home has an interesting mix of Native American and Middle Eastern-looking tapestries and dining implements. I wondered a bit whether anyone wore sunblock and whether Archer wouldn't have been better off bringing T'Pol down with him -- Vulcan, after all, is supposed to be hot as hell. Unlike previous Trek shows' uniforms, Enterprise desert wear really lets you see them sweat.

The hurt/comfort quotient of the Archer/Tucker scenes remind me of Voyager's 'The Chute,' particularly when Archer ends up embracing Tucker to keep him safe from overhead missiles. (Slash fans are going to have a lot of fun with 'Desert Crossing'; "'Tell me what you want,' pleads Archer, and Tucker replies..."). There's the usual Trek problem that we don't believe they're in any real danger -- we know the rescue mission is already underway. But it adds a stronger emotional element, because Archer is forced to see the consequences of his actions not just via his own suffering, but that of his best friend. In the end, the lack of moral consistency, the muddy politics and troublesome personal connections make this a much stronger episode than many of its predecessors.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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