Monday, August 8, 2022

Enterprise, Season 1: Desert Crossing

Enterprise, Season 1
Airdate: May 8, 2002
23 of 97 produced
23 of 97 aired

Archer and Trip accept an invitation from an alien leader that turns out to have unexpected strings attached.

Please enjoy this impromptu match of "Beefcake," a desert sportsball game in which men beefcake around shirtless.


Kevin: So this is a solid episode, and the core themes are good, but I think they get crowded out by the action plot, which was itself also fine, but not spectacular. Looking at the first plot, I think the proto-Prime Directive story basically works, and it's nice to see Archer get there first without a whole lecture from T'Pol. I also liked Hoshi wondering about how even sitting down to dinner could be viewed as an endorsement of the hosts. It's a nice, adult acknowledgment that they are wading into politics every time they act or don't act. I think where it falls down is that we don't get enough of the other side. Zobral definitely seems to have a case that the government is violently repressive, but we only get a few hand-wavy references to Zobral being a terrorist, and especially in early 2002 when this aired, we all know that's a famously porous definition. Zobral never broke character and suddenly started twirling his moustache and even the early twist felt in character, so it would have been fun to throw that against a more coherent, layered antagonist.
Matthew: It's hard for me to watch a "empathize with the terrorist" episode without comparing it to the Ur-terrorist Trek show, "The High Ground." That's an episode we gave a collective 4 way back in the early days of this blog, and it has increase din my estimation since, after being exposed to so much simplistic, ham-fisted BS in the Kurtzman Trek-era (e.g. ICE being mean to immigrants is BAD). Whatever the High Ground did wrong, what it did right is portray a leader who has resorted to terrorism as a means of effecting political change, and not immediately tarring and feathering him as congenitally violent or insane. This episode doesn't give us enough information - Zobral tells a story about the caste system, says that things have not gotten better, and indicates that they carry out attacks. But we don't have enough information to know whether the attacks are effective or proportional, which "High Ground" did a better job with.

Kevin: The action plot functions fine, but we've done it before and had it feel more effective. Captain and officer trapped and in danger, struggling to make it without their technology has been done multiple times, and while I can't really point to any errors here, I don't think it did that much. I think the desert crossing scenes rather than amping tension, served to slow it down. Maybe the problem is this is so similar to Detained, in that we get Archer plus officer in danger, while trying to help the apparently downtrodden people under a repressive regime and having a Prime Directive discussion, and Detained did it better. That said, the scenes of Archer trying to care for Trip were pretty effective, quiet and believable.
Matthew: I agree with the basic structural similarities to "Detained," but I actually really liked the desert survival aspect of things. It made Archer feel expert and heroic, as well as caring towards his friends. I do think, for the sake or narrative coherence, that their shuttle pod should have been destroyed in the bombardment. Why didn't they just get in and fly away?


Kevin: I don't think anyone was taxed to the extreme, but everyone in the main cast was pretty good. Bakula in particular was good at showing concern for Trip through the whole ordeal, and Trinneer did a good job portraying heatstroke without breaking into melodramatics.
Matthew: Bakula and Trinneer have great Bro Chemistry, and they have both clearly been working out a ton. Good on them. As someone who is approaching Bakula's age while filming this show, he is kind of becoming a fitness role model for me. Anyway, their survival scenes really worked for me.

Kevin: Clancy Brown's Zobral was pretty great. A voice that deep usually means you're the villain, but he did a great job shading it in, both before and after the reveal. I'm not saying a fuller story might not reveal him to be less noble than he appears, but he portrayed it to the hilt, and I really bought his over the top bombast and was never annoyed by it.
Matthew: I'm of two minds on Clancy Brown. Of course, he is Clancy Brown, and there's just a certain undeniable coolness inherent in that. He's big and booming and manly and charming. But what was going on with that accent? that, combined with the outfits, made him feel like a caricature of an Arab from something like The Ten Commandments or Lawrence of Arabia. It's the kind of choice that dragged me slightly out of the episode.

Production Values

Kevin: I think the desert scenes themselves killed some pacing, but I can't deny that the cinematographer watched Lawrence of Arabia and took notes on shooting deserts. I can't deny that they really went all out actually shooting in an actual desert. There was also some solid work on the ruined camps throughout. And I liked the level tchotchke detail in Zobral's camp, too. So this is definitely on the higher end of the season.
Matthew: the ruined camps were well done, indeed. I think Zobral's interiors, however, were disconnected to the notion of his flying a warp capable ship. It was a little too on the nose for me, similar to "a culture we all admire," if you take my meaning. The face tattoos were a novel species differentiator, anyway.

Kevin: The homage to the volleyball game from Top Gun was....something. The game appears to be a mix of Lacrosse and Quidditch. I don't think it quite cleared the line of looking like a real game that real people would play, but boy was it an opportunity to get everyone to take off their shirt. Given the number of times I've seen a green woman in a William Ware Theiss cocktail napkin, this was just fine with me. And both Trinner and Bakula deserve credit for hitting the gym that week. Handsome men, no two ways about it.
Matthew: Yup. Geskana was pretty lame. I felt like the characters should have had a snarky aside indicating that it's just Lacrosse with a light up target. This is not to mention that there were points during the match that it became pretty apparent that the ball did not exist on set.


Kevin: So this plot feels a little repetitive on the heels of Detained, and the wandering through the desert derailed rather than elevated stakes for me, but I can't deny that the basics of the episode work. The basic Trek moral story is there and each individual scene works well. Plus shirtless men. So that's a three from me.
Matthew: Tightening the moral message (by actually presenting Archer with a dilemma, for instance) or elaborating on Zobral's tactics and motives would have givin this a boost above average for me. But like you say, the episode basically works. It's got a charming guest actor and some effective survival scenes. I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.


  1. There's something subtle going in this one, and I don't know if it was intentional:

    First, a very manly guest character invites some of the manliest main characters down to his manly camp, where they eat manly things and play a manly game in a manly desert.

    Then it switches, and the story becomes about running away, nurturing a friend, and choosing caution over an action plot of overthrowing the evil dictatorial government.

    If this was intentional, it was a good decade ahead of its time.

    1. I agree that the scenes of Archer caring for Trip are surprisingly well done. They don't even really tip into melodrama. Not a "Stay with me, man!" in sight. Just quiet, focused care and concern. It doesn't even read as slashy, and believe me, I'm looking for that pretty aggressively most of the time. The gender politics of Enterprise can be a little...slipshod sometimes, but they definitely did a good job of showing their manliest characters being credibly vulnerable.