Star Trek: Enterprise

"Desert Crossing"

2.5 stars

Air date: 5/8/2002
Teleplay by Andre Bormanis
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis
Directed by David Straiton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

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

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

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 clichés. 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.

Previous episode: Fallen Hero
Next episode: Two Days and Two Nights

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30 comments on this post

Sun, Jun 5, 2011, 6:28pm (UTC -6)

My only comment really is that the terrorist guy sounds like he should be playing a Klingon. His voice wasn't made for anything else..
Captain Jim
Sat, Jul 21, 2012, 10:20pm (UTC -6)
I'd say Jammer's comments are about right. Not a bad episode, but it really did seem to drag.
Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 12:41pm (UTC -6)

My only comment really is that the terrorist guy sounds like he should be playing a Klingon. His voice wasn't made for anything else..

Except for the voice of Mr. Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants.
Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 2:33pm (UTC -6)
Of course the voice is awesome! That's Clancy Brown! The Kurgan from Highlander and Drill Sergeant Zim from Starship Troopers!

"The Desert Survival Scene[TM]"(s), could hardly be called that. They wouldn't have survived a day like that. Desert scenes should never be done in TV or movies since they are never done right. Trip who came across so optimistic in Shuttlecraft One was just revolting in this episode. Every thing he did just made me think, Knucklehead, Knucklehead, Dead Knucklehead.

I do like the continuity though. Shades of maybe, a story arc. As you say Jammer, the continued look at the prime directive's origins/reasons is, for me, one of the few things of genuine interest.

Also, Clancy Brown's wicked Kurgan-like smile when the shuttlecraft blew up the mortar was quite fun.

I didn't actually see the Isreal/Palestine comparison. Saw it more as when the british empire ended the caliphate and the desert tribes expected to be on equal footing with the ruling tribes but instead got left out in the desert. Then they got some guns! If it was Palestine then Zobral would have lots of neighbors that claimed solidarity with him but wouldn't let him take shelter so that they could use him as a grievance :P mmm cynical
Sat, May 25, 2013, 5:46am (UTC -6)
Ok, who gave Clancy the Pee-Wee trick gum? That has got to violate a first contact rule.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Apr 2, 2016, 2:44pm (UTC -6)
Pretty desperate stuff. By far the best thing about this episode was the demonstration of how by acting in one place (in this case during 'Detained') there can be unintended consequences somewhere else - the very essence of why the Prime Directive was needed.

Unfortunately this was not what we concentrated on, instead getting vast swathes of desert trudging that didn't even give us any character development given Trip was too far gone to be coherent. This killed the momentum stone dead and the episode never recovered. 1.5 stars.
Sat, May 28, 2016, 11:06am (UTC -6)
Seeing Trip in yet another bad spot makes me feel like he's the O'brien of Enterprise.

Other than that, it just seemed like a real drag to Archer and Trip, to drive home the necessity to formulate something like a Prime Directive.
Tue, Jun 7, 2016, 6:09am (UTC -6)
Clancy Brown (Zobral), the sadistic guard from Shawshank Redemption, was the only standout in this otherwise mediocre episode. Lawrence of Arabia it was not.
Wed, Jul 20, 2016, 1:22pm (UTC -6)
I kept wait for Zobral (Clancy Brown) to say "There can only be ONE!!" :-)

A skipper for me. I understand there are some prime directive implications here but I'll part with Jammer here with regard to this passage:

"T'POL: What you told him was correct. Decisions to get involved in the conflicts of other worlds should be left to governments, and not starship captains.
ARCHER: I know. The irony is, I have the feeling his cause is worth fighting for. on this one. Archer's little speech at the end was"

T'Pol is of course right. Archer's response is more of a man-crush WRT Zobral that any in-depth side choosing here I think.

I think I would watch this episode more if T'Pol and Hoshi where playing beach volleyball :-)

I always think of Afghanistan and Russia when I watch this one.

Blah... 2 stars from me.
Sun, Jul 31, 2016, 10:34pm (UTC -6)
My question is, why don't they take off in the shuttle when they are grabbing supplies?
Sat, Apr 8, 2017, 6:00pm (UTC -6)
As others have noted, it's nice to see that once again actions in one episode are remembered and have consequences in another. In this respect at least, ENT so far is doing far better than VOY.

But it doesn't prevent this being a terribly tedious episode. Archer gets kidnapped (again) with boring consequences.
Mon, Apr 10, 2017, 5:28pm (UTC -6)
Generally agree with Jammer's review - the desert scenes were overdone and a bore to watch. Yes, "Shuttlepod One" was a better example of a seemingly hopeless situation because of the chance for better dialogue.
Lots of fairly similar episodes thus far in Season 1 of ENT - but it is refreshing that they are (sort of) building on each other -- in this case the only worthy thing is the building toward the need for a Prime Directive.
Valid comparisons with "Detained" - once again from the standpoint of the side not in control.
Thanks to @dipads for pointing out the Zobral / Shawshank Redemption connection -- I couldn't place the actor.
Anyhow, a fairly predictable episode that dragged, although it wasn't totally pointless. I'd give it a strong 1.5/4 stars.
Sat, Jul 29, 2017, 8:18pm (UTC -6)
2 stars. A total bore. Nothing interesting occurs
Mon, Dec 18, 2017, 5:32pm (UTC -6)
Is it just me, or does Zobral sound like some weird combo of Grover, Cookie Monster, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?
Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 7:23am (UTC -6)
When I first say this episode I was horrified by how simplistic and boring I found it. I think this was when I almost gave up on the show (although I hung on, being a true Trek fan, right to the end, and was rewarded greatly from season 3 onward).

On watching it again, I realise this is a slow burning but well written episode. It's unusual for Trek in that you aren't sure which side to root for, although you are shown more of the terrorist point of view. It's kind of like if they made a TV show about aliens landing in Taliban territory: America and Britain, among others, are the terrorists as far as the Taliban are concerned, and that gives them licence (in their own minds) to wage a war against these powers, doing anything necessary to stop them. And there is no doubt that the Western colonial powers, of which America is certainly the leader - there is no doubt whatsoever that America controls many countries - have brought some of that war upon themselves. A complicated matter often overlooked by Western media. This aspect should have been played up in this episode rather than simply having the crew doing a runner.

Anyway, it's an interesting and entertaining episode. For once we have a good guest actor playing an intriguing character. He doesn't take the prisoners captuve and start making demands via comms. The awkward dinner where Archer and Trip have to eat animal bollocks was played very tastefully, pardon the pun, rather than being weak or grossout.

So yeah, this is one of the only episodes which touches on the "war on terror" which I understood season 1 of Enterprise was supposed to be dealing with. It could have been done much better but with the befuddled Rick Berman piloting the show into iceberg after iceberg, and Braga unable to contribute anything except for relentless time travel stories, I'll take what I can get this season.
Jeff Key
Wed, Jan 23, 2019, 12:41pm (UTC -6)
Enjoy watching Star trek episodes and then trying to guess what Jammer is going to review in terms of stars. I usually get pretty close. however I was dead wrong on this one as I gave it a three or three and a half. Perhaps it's the times that we live in in 2019 as opposed to 2012 or maybe there's no accounting for bad taste.
Sun, Aug 18, 2019, 3:46pm (UTC -6)
Imperial Dunes, California was also used in a few Star Wars films, too. We really do have a lot of interesting places here. ;)
Thu, Oct 31, 2019, 7:24pm (UTC -6)
Is it just me, or did I miss why Archer and Trip actually had to cross the desert? So they grab the survival gear from the shuttlepod, take off into the night… and never come back? Wouldn’t they return to see if the shuttlepod was destroyed by the bombardment, and if it was, wouldn’t some of Zobral’s people still be nearby to help them?

I was under the impression that all the events on the planet took place at a single camp; they had dinner, played lacrosse, then hid in a bunker, all in one place. So where are they trying to go? Did they get lost in the desert overnight and are trying to find the camp again? The survival scenario is so unclear, and so overemphasized, that it really sinks the whole thing. Decent Prime Directive stuff and Clancy Brown is a good guest actor, but I can’t get over a large part of the episode making no sense. I’d knock it down to **.
Sat, Jan 4, 2020, 12:10pm (UTC -6)
Hello Everyone!

Heya @Quibbles, Archer had a small line about a protocol (or training, that I've never heard before or since) that has you looking at the surroundings as you fly into a place. He'd spotted the building on the way in, only 30km away (!), if I recall correctly.

Along with some others, I wondered why they didn't just close the door to the shuttle and try to take off. And it seemed the only survival gear they grabbed was water. There must be a all-season hat in there as well, and later thought about how badly their necks were burning. Heck, as an actor, I'd just tell them I wanted Something made for my head to keep the sun off of it. But the sun and I don't get along too well. :)

Have a Great Day Everyone... RT
Sun, Aug 9, 2020, 10:30am (UTC -6)
I feel very much the same as this review on most of the episode, though I'd disagree on the need to "both sides" the conflict here. Archer's final line is fitting (though might have benefitted from less time spent on the pointless survival plot) for how it illustrates that while individual captains may feel a certain way, they still can't go interfering with outside conflicts. I did appreciate how this followed on from 'Detained', which itself had built off previous encounters with the Suliban. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but after just coming off Voyager, any kind of continuity between episodes feels miraculous.
Sun, Aug 9, 2020, 10:33am (UTC -6)
All that being said though, everything we see here is done far better on DS9 anyway.
Sean J Hagins
Wed, Nov 25, 2020, 5:22am (UTC -6)
I REALLY liked this episode. I like the fact that Zobral didn't turn out to be the baddie of the piece (like I expected)

This episode shows again that neutrality is best. Rather than taking sides, we try to show people the real solution to problems. I think for the show, they tried to take this road, and it worked reasonably well
Sun, Mar 14, 2021, 1:55am (UTC -6)
Made me think of Lawrence of Arabia. Zobral reminded me more than a little of Anthony Quinn's Auda abu-Tayi(even the color of the garment seemed similar). It was a little slow at parts. Agree the desert stuff was generic and tedious though the geography word game was fun.
Fri, Nov 26, 2021, 1:38pm (UTC -6)
For some reason I never made the Mr Krabbs connection until after I came here and read the comments. And apparently he's the baddy from Highlander too?!
Fri, Apr 8, 2022, 11:03pm (UTC -6)
I completely agree with Jammers review here. The parts of the episode that are about the conflict and the prime directive are really intriguing. Then, the episode gets lost in the desert, literally and figuratively. Prior to getting lost in the desert, it was on pace to being one of the best of the season, instead it became a mediocre affair.
Fri, Jul 15, 2022, 10:37am (UTC -6)
"Hmm...folks have been watching re-runs of people diving out of the Twin Towers for 6 months straight - now's the PERFECT time to remake Rambo 3!"

Brannon Braga - Super Genius
Fri, Feb 17, 2023, 1:09am (UTC -6)
Really enjoyed this ep.

The desert scenes were awesome, what a location, damn. I got thirsty just watching. Great performances by Bakula and Trinneer.

The Israel/Palestine conflict also occurred to me as potential allegory here, though I’m not sure that was strictly intentioned by the writers. (Zobral’s head scarf did remind me of a Palestinian keffiyeh.)

T’Pol was great here, she is an effective commanding officer, really strong.

Top marks!
Sat, Feb 18, 2023, 4:23am (UTC -6)
Also liked the episode. Dehydration is a real problem, one that I know about and doesn't bore me. Although I wondered where the baseball hats worn by Archer and Trip when arriving on the planet had gone to when they needed them most.

Not sure though that Israel/Palestine was aimed at here....possibly given that it's a Season 1 story, with the world focus at that time being Afghanistan, the group visited may have been based on the Tajiks. The focus on the kilims is telling and the brutal lacrosse match can be intetpreted as a scaled-down buzkashi. Their foe (briefly shown) reads to me as Soviet.
Sat, Oct 7, 2023, 8:12pm (UTC -6)
I don’t get leaving a perfectly good shuttle to walk across the desert with two tiny bags of water. I’d have taken off, keeping low to the ground or just hide in it with the ration packs. Or at least bring the ration packs with me.
Even at the end they never go back for it. Just odd all around (and boring).
Tue, Nov 28, 2023, 4:13am (UTC -6)
Even though this is basically a pre prime directive episode, it irks me that archer regrets freeing innocent people

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