Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Dawn"

**1/2

Air date: 1/8/2003
Written by John Shiban
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"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 brief: Not bad, but "Darmok" it certainly ain't.

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 collegiate one.

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 having compassion).

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 do.

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.

Previous episode: The Catwalk
Next episode: Stigma

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19 comments on this review

indijo - Mon, Oct 22, 2007 - 12:06pm (USA Central)
Agreed, Darmok definitely takes the cake for one of the all-time best realistic alien first-contact episodes. IMO, I thought it was a brilliant and entirely more realistic take on the kind of problems that communication with aliens from the far corners of the galaxy would actually be like, far superior to any other episode of that kind.

One cannot always expect the universal translator to work as perfectly as it does in most episodes, and it is very realistic to explore and examine situations where it does not.
Brian O'Connell - Sun, Jan 20, 2008 - 6:45am (USA Central)
While it's understandable that a trek fan would compare this to Darmok the first thing that struck me was that this was a straight copy of Enemy Mine (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089092/) and the writers may have been deciding to rip stories from lesser known sci-fi movies. Surely I thought most sci-fi fans would spot this though. Perhaps they were right thought because neither Jammer or the commenter above spotted this similarity :)
Todd - Sun, Jan 27, 2008 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
yeah, after watching this episode, it screamed "Enemy Mine" ripoff to me.
Straha - Sun, Nov 16, 2008 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
"Darmok" has nothing to do with this. It's a most blatant "Enemy Mine" ripoff alright.
RockRedGenesis - Sun, Mar 7, 2010 - 9:09am (USA Central)
This episode is not bad, but as noted by a couple of commentators here, that this is a oh-so-blatant rip-off of Enemy Mine. I got this about 5-10 minutes in to the episode, then the Trip and Zho'Kaan are shooting/beating the crap out of each other.

My first time watching this, on its UK broadcast première, I thought, "If the alien turns out to be pregnant, i'm turning over" because of all the Enemy Mine references.
Marco P. - Thu, Jan 20, 2011 - 9:43pm (USA Central)
A ripoff from another movie? You mean this episode has been done before in some other format... only *better*?

I... I... cannot believe my eyes.
( www.firsttvdrama.com/enterprise/e39.php3
Enough said )

And "Darmok"? Sigh... how I miss TNG.
Dan L - Mon, May 9, 2011 - 8:15pm (USA Central)
What struck me about this episode was how.... grungy and poorly lit it was. Perhaps the visual ugliness was meant to obscure how thin the plot was...

Vrey little happens in this episode. It is formulaic and pedestrian..... and for some reason, it moves SOOOO slowly. That would not have been such a problem had there been a compelling storyline to be found, but since there was none to be found, the episode just plods...

I also never believed that Trip and the alient were REALLY able to communicate with each other. One or the other managed to pick up on a few "choice" words spoken by the other, but it was astoninshing that Trip kept speaking in English over and over and somehow hoped the more vociferous he became the more likely the alien was to hear it.

In Darmok, we believed that the characters gradually came to understand each other. The "understanding" in this episode is a pre-ordained plot contrivance.

That, plus the fact that most ofmthe episode was a thudding bore, makes this a 1 and 1/2 star entry in my book
Kate - Sat, Sep 17, 2011 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
It was also frustrating to me that they did not attempt to communicate using hand gestures. I mean, speaking loudly and slowly over and over just seems so stupid. Come on now. As for the dumbing down of Star Trek, most of the people who watch it are nerds, so I don't think that the fact that the fact other "mindless" tv shows are so popular justifies it. I think to reach to the Star Trek audience, the producers do need to make the cerebral geeks happy.
Cloudane - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 6:32am (USA Central)
Indeed, compared to Darmok this is not exactly great.

On its own though it's not bad, and it's nice to see what was originally looking like a Voyager style "hard headed alien" turn into a friend through gestures of trust. Could be far worse and well, in some of the episodes before it, it has been.

Also I liked the continued struggling with transporters and universal translators. It was looking towards the end of S1 like the UT had been forgotten about, and I appreciate the continued difficulties that reinforce this as not just another high tech Trek series.
Shane - Mon, Feb 27, 2012 - 10:24pm (USA Central)
Decent for an Enterprise episode (though that's not saying much) but still loaded with moments making me question the intelligence of the characters.

Yes, this episode "pays homage" to TNG's Darmok, and I feel it's got a bit of TNG's "The Enemy" in there too. I've not seen the film "Enemy Mine" yet but I know that much of the plot is similar.

This episode moves along well enough and avoids some of the cliches so often seen in Voyager and Enterprise. It's acted well enough and the makeup on the Arkonian looks good. Thankfully the Arkonians weren't just surly forehead aliens that refused to cooperate with the Enterprise even though they committed the ultimate sin of having a Vulcan onboard! I expected the Enterprise to find Tucker and his new friend only just at the very last moment, perhaps as the surface of the planet catches fire or something, thankfully they were able to make contact with plenty of time to spare.

Unfortunately where this episode of Enterprise avoided some common flaws it's still a stupid show. The transporter can beam up Tucker but he doesn't want to leave behind the Arkonian, how noble. Okay, so, why didn't the Enterprise beam down something like um...water? Maybe medical supplies to help the Arkonian? Maybe they could have gotten a supply of the Arkonian's liquid to him? Or how about transporting a shelter? I imagine by the 22nd century we'll have some high tech camping tents with built-in airconditioners!

At the bare minimum, why was Tucker dumb enough to sit out in the sun when the mountains were casting shadows which could have provided at least some protection from the light and heat? I was also annoyed that when there was a lack of understanding between him and the Arkonian, Tucker simply spoke slower and louder than before. I agree with previous posters that it would have been nice to have the show try and explore alternate methods of communication.

So, in closing, this isn't the worst of Enterprise by any stretch but it's definitely lacking compared to other sci-fi. It does make me long for the glory days of TNG.
Lanku - Sun, Jun 10, 2012 - 4:13pm (USA Central)
I seriously don't get why they didn't just beam down some water if the transporter would work?
Captain Jim - Sun, Aug 12, 2012 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
While I can certainly see the parallels to Darmok, quite honestly, that episode didn't come to my mind as I was watching this. What it *did* remind me of was the DS9 episode, "The Ascent." www.jammersreviews.com/st-ds9/s5/ascent.php

In both episodes, the characters had to carry the communication equipment to the top of a mountain, because something was blocking transmission on the surface level. In this episode, the temperature was ungodly hot; in the other it was ungodly cold. Quark and Odo didn't come to blows, but they at least claimed to loathe each other. And before the episode was done, they had to work together to meet their common goal. Yep, sounds pretty similar to me.

I guess the one thing everyone can agree to is that the episode was derivative. It certainly wasn't a bad episode, but it was nothing to get really excited about either.
CeeBee - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 5:30pm (USA Central)
Hello, I'm a developed species. I travel the stars. I can generate levels of energy that baffles the minds of stupid people from the past. I have replicators, anti-gravity and gravity simulators. I have transporters circumventing the laws of physics. I can build space ships in orbit.

I need an extended bar brawl if I bump into an alien.

That's what civilization is all about.
Charles - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 7:15pm (USA Central)
STUPIDITY ALERT: Why not beam down a shelter, medical supplies, water for Tucker, and the Arkonian's liquid? Kind of stupid to just leave those guys cooking in the Sun.

Also, must have been nice working on ST Enterprise. You get to lift a story from an 18-year-old movie and get paid for it. And did you see all those producer credits in the opening titles? Sweet kickbacks working on this show!

Even through the flaws in this ep I still find it enjoyable enough. I like the character of Trip and Connor Trinneer is a decent actor. Better than most things on TV.
Arachnea - Sun, Feb 10, 2013 - 9:47pm (USA Central)
I'm sorry, but this has nothing to do with Darmok. As many said, its story is for all intents and purposes "Enemy Mine".

Comparing it to Darmok is impossible:
- Picard is smart, educated and trained in the art of diplomacy. Trip is good in his field, but has never been depicted as the brightest of the team.
- Darmok never had hostile intentions towards Picard, Zo'Kann did - hence the fight.
- The UT worked in the case of Picard, what he had to understand was the metaphor behind the sentences (which is much more interesting for the viewer than trying to grasp words and grammar). Trip is faced with a totally alien language; in his situation, I don't believe Picard would have understood more words than Trip: you can't pick up vocabulary just snapping your fingers.

Darmok was brilliant and Dawn was average, I'll grant you that (but not one character has come close to the brilliance of Picard in all Trek), but you can't compare the two episodes, they are too dissimilar in theme. However, I can say that Enemy Mine was by far superior to this (but it was a very long movie).

I also would have liked Trip trying more to communicate with gestures. But then again, it's very much in character with who trip is. And I dare anyone here to think they could have grasped more than 10 words in less than a day with a hostile alien. For example, take a foreigner, he asks you to speak slowly, nine times out of ten, you will speak slowly and loudly, it's an unconscious reflex. In this episode, the louder comes mostly out of frustration.

Having said all that, I agree with the rating, but maybe not for the same reasons.
mark - Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - 8:27am (USA Central)
This episode was exactly as predictable as Precious Cargo: not a single plot point came as a surprise. As such I give it the same two stars.
Lt. Yarko - Tue, May 14, 2013 - 4:06am (USA Central)
I have never seen Enemy Mine, but I thought of the movie anyway as the episode played on. I thought the episode was so-so because I felt like Trip didn't respond to the situation as a mature person would. Why do the writers make the characters so stupid? When Trip finally communicates to the alien that he wants a drink, the alien gives him a canteen. As Trip raised it to his face, I was calling out to the TV, "Smell it first! Don't just drink it!!!" What does he do? He takes a big swig, reacts with violent disgust, and THROWS THE CANTEEN ON THE GROUND!!?!? Completely inane! How can writers write so outside of simple sensibility?

If the alien had died, Trip would be partly to blame for being such a goofball and spilling so much of the guy's sustenance.
T'Paul - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
While the weaknesses pointed out by Jammer and other commenters are valid, it is a step up for Enterprise.

Not everyone can be Picard and not every alien can be Darmok.

I think the admiration from T'Pol at the end was a good moment, and the chat between Trip and the alien.

Let's remember that we're not super-enlightened humans yet and some aliens are aggressive.
Rob Reed - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 7:28am (USA Central)
Since "Enemy Mine" was a rip-off of the WWII movie "Hell in the Pacific" where a G.I. and a Japanese soldier have to work together to survive, that makes this a twice reheated plot, and the show isn't better for the overcooking.

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