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Star Trek Enterprise episode reviews – Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing

Summary: A contrast of two episodes as we go from a subtle political drama with some important character development for T’Pol; to a fairly crude and incoherent adventure story that features T’Pol getting Archer and Trip out of yet another jam while antagonizing still more aliens.

star trek enterprise fallen hero

Fallen Hero

The doubleheader of Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing intends to combat the poor performance of CBS’s leftover Wolf Lake episodes aired on UPN these past few weeks and instead provides a contrast that highlights many of Enterprise’s best and worst qualities. Fallen Hero, an episode featuring some seriously questionable decisions from Archer, nevertheless is far superior to Fusion in providing solid and significant character development from T’Pol, the best Vulcan guest star on Enterprise yet and a great performance from both actresses. Desert Crossing is another episode with a muddled plot, Trip and Archer playing damsels in distress for T’Pol, and an awful guest performance (Clancy Brown) complete with a cheesy ethnic accent that would not have been out of place in one of George Lucas’s CGI characters.

The key issue remains plot. Fallen Hero has a compact and well organized plot full of tension and suspense that develops T’Pol by showing us the decisions that got her where she is today and something of the character of Vulcan society through the interplay between her and her role model, Ambassador V’Lar. Enterprise and the crew are fully involved in action scenes, instead of ‘Pulling a Voyager’ and standing on the sidelines trying to technobabble their way through another planetary rescue. Desert Crossing on the other hand stumbles between two disorganized stories, neither of which manages to be integrated with the other. On the one hand we have a political story in which a terrorist tries to enlist Archer to join his cause, which is dropped halfway to have Archer and Trip stumble around the desert until being rescued. It’s half Detained and half Shuttlepod One and neither half works. We learn nothing of any depth about the society involved and at the same time the desert scenes contribute nothing to the episode and unlike Shuttlepod One do nothing to develop either of the characters, especially since we got a variation of the same material a week ago in Vox Sola.

star trek enterprise desert crossing

Desert Crossing

It’s also another demonstration that Enterprise’s strength appears to lie in space based shows, rather than ground based episodes. Ultimately, it is rather telling that Fallen Hero can produce a greater sense of wonder by having Enterprise break a warp barrier in the middle of a battle than Desert Crossing can summon by having Archer encounter a whole new civilization. In space, Enterprise seems to be able to break new ground, while on the ground it seems doomed to repeat the exact same episodes that Voyager might have done and often did do. Indeed, you could have placed Chakotay in the Archer role without skipping a beat. After all, we don’t need Enterprise to show us a faux Afghani culture, we can see the real thing if we want to. It’s the exploration of space and the encounter of genuinely alien lifeforms that offers some real possibilities.

But one of Enterprise’s weaknesses this season has been the scarcity of strong and well developed guest stars with only John Fleck’s Silik and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian Commander making any strong impression and both of these were recurring characters. TNG and DS9 on the other hand thrived on showcasing guest stars in strong performances such as The Defector or Duet. In Fallen Hero, Enterprise finally does something to remedy that as well as its weak portrayal of the Vulcans with the appearance of Ambassador V’lar, played with style and wit by Fionnula Flanagan (who has had at least two prior Star Trek guest appearances), who occasionally pushes the Vulcan boundaries a bit far, but never too much so. Though much of the Mazarian politics are left unclear, the real focus of Fallen Hero is on the interaction between V’Lar and T’Pol. For many recent Enterprise episodes, T’Pol has either been a convenient tool for rescuing Archer out of the latest mess he’d gotten himself into or an uptight Vulcan who needed to be humanized by learning to loosen up. In Fallen Hero for the first time we see her as a professional and a person facing a challenge to the values which caused her to choose her current path in life and that’s the kind of fascinating character development that Trip suffering from yet another round of hallucinations just can’t compete with.

Fallen Hero also managed to bring a certain equality to the Vulcan-Human relationship by showing that the lack of trust from both sides is a fairly natural consequence of the nature of their relationship, instead of blaming everything on Vulcan duplicity. Both Archer and V’Lar endanger each other, the relationship between Vulcans and Humans as well as their missions, simply because they distrust each other not personally but racially. V’Lar is simply able to be more brutally honest about the nature of that distrust while at the same time demonstrating how difficult it can be to overcome it. It’s a far more realistic portrayal of the situation than past Voyager and Enterprise episodes in which interspecies differences can be overcome in a few hours leaving the starship to fly away happily ever after.

At the end of Fallen Hero we are left with a deepened sense of who Vulcans are as well as the certainty that they are most certainly not just another human ethnicity dressed up in some cheap latex makeup, and that is Star Trek at it best: not obvious analogies ‘ripped from the headlines’ or another hostage situation from the latest Aliens of the Week. Instead, Fallen Hero is the closest Enterprise has ever come to TOS’s Journey to Babel, complete with a parent figure for T’Pol, a showdown with an alien ship and a hidden interspecies diplomatic agenda. This is precisely the type of nuts and bolts Birth of the Federation material that Enterprise has so often promised and so rarely delivered, along with some real development of a major Enterprise character, thus making it even more of a refreshing change.

Written and directed by Star Trek first timers, Fallen Hero is proof that new blood can produce great episodes. Desert Crossing seems to be proof of the exact opposite. Written by Andre Bormanis, who has produced some of Enterprise’s best episodes previously (Silent Enemy), Desert Crossing seems to have been the victim of some radical rewrites that left the script lacking any real focus. Early on, the script appears to have the germ of a political statement but this is supplanted in favor of churning out yet another ‘Trip and Archer’ get in trouble episode that devotes a good deal of time to having Trip and Archer stumble around the desert, but doesn’t manage to do anything interesting with the material.

Shuttlepod One succeeded precisely because it put two unlikely characters together and had them work at cross-purposes to survive. Desert Crossing does precisely the opposite by putting together two characters who are best friends and who have been trapped together in dire situations before, only last week as a matter of fact, and limits the interaction to having Archer play nursemaid to a semi-conscious Trip. This might be considered character development if it told us something new about Archer or Trip, but it doesn’t. Instead it repeats a formula that most viewers have long since gotten tried of. It also tosses aside what little in the way of a story Desert Crossing ever had. The result is that the episode consists of a political analogy that never gets developed and a desert survival story that doesn’t get the kind of single minded attention that might allow it to connect with the viewer. T’Pol is left once again trying to figure out how to rescue Archer and Trip from the mess they stumbled into because they didn’t bother to find out the political situation in their host’s country.

Unlike the transitions from Andorian Incident to Shadows of P’Jem to Fallen Hero, the attempt to provide continuity by linking the events in Desert Crossing to Detained is artificial and improbable and Zobral provides no credible explanation for why he would have believed that Archer would choose to help him and why he needed to trick Archer into coming down to meet him this way. It seems like the product of another script revision that attempted to bring some sort of larger meaning to the episode by linking it to the continuing evolution of the Prime Directive. Archer does finally make a right decision by choosing not to get involved in a battle that has nothing to do with him, and even more shockingly does it for the right reason. Joining the wars of other races that don’t involve the human race in any way is a decision that should be made by governments, not individual Starship Captains. A principle that Voyager’s Captain Janeway never managed to figure out. Nevertheless, Archer seems as much influenced by outrage at Zobral’s trick than at any understanding of what’s going on. Indeed by the end of the episode he suggests that Zobral was on the right side, even though he’d never talked to the other side and his only understanding of the origins of the conflict came from three sentences of recruitment propaganda from Zobral himself.

Worse yet, Desert Crossing, unlike Fallen Hero has no credible alien characters. Instead we get an Alien of the Week whose primary alien characteristic appears to be a funny beard complete with an ethnic accent almost caricatured enough to qualify as offensive in the Jar-Jar Binks category. The basic alien culture appears to be lifted from recent news stories on Afghan culture or perhaps the first half hour of Rambo III (considering Star Trek’s research department, the last is a disturbingly credible possibility.) A caste system in action might have made for some interesting cultural material, but instead we got slow motion shots of Archer and Trip with their shirts off. The lack of a focus on character and a fragmented plot which wants to be both an action show and a piece of political commentary inevitably results in a poor episode, as Enterprise’s writers must have realized by now after some of their more recent failures.

Thus Enterprise’s doubleheader provides us with a nice contrast that exposes some of the flaws of Enterprise episodes and demonstrates the elements that cause one episode to succeed and the other to fail.

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