Desert Crossing--not as high quality an outing as "Fallen Hero," but not poor by any means.
Plot—While on course for Risa, a pleasure planet that first officer T'Pol has earlier suggested as a place for Enterprise’s crew to "relieve tension," Archer answers a distress call from an alien ship. After Tucker the wonder engineer fixes yet another alien ship's engines, its commander, Zobral, invites Archer and Tucker down to a settlement on his desert world for dinner. Though it’s obvious that Tucker doesn't want to go planet side to attend the dinner, he is "persuaded" to attend during a scene which some fans find achingly homoerotic while others see only a man who is perhaps too eager to please his mentor and emotional “older brother.” While down in engineering Jonathan, almost like a petulant lover (or a naughty older brother depending on one’s personal smut meter) teases a reluctant Trip (who has endearingly explained that he doesn’t fare well in desert heat) that he’ll ask Malcolm to dinner instead. Flashing an endearingly perturbed expression a defeated Trip agrees to attend Zobral’s dinner. After being coerced by good manners into dining on testicle soup, Jon and Trip participate in a gratuitously important geskana match in which buff male alien visitors are required to go shirtless.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Tarothans, the planet's core civilization, contacts T'Pol on Enterprise and informs her that they consider Zobral's men to be terrorists; this leader is obviously ticked off because he suspects that Enterprise might be helping Zobral's group. T’Pol informs the captain of the situation; Jon tries to depart the planet gracefully but is told by Zobral that the Tarothans are the "bad guys." Zobral gives a sob story (which may be true) that his people tried every means possible to ameliorate the deteriorating situation with a Tarothan government who refused to honor a peace treaty once the planet's caste system had been abolished. Zobral says the Tarothans are the real terrorists and that is why he attacks them, because he has no choice. He wants Archer to help him fight the Tarothans with Enterprise's superior weaponry because he has heard stories that Archer is a great warrior who freed thousands of imprisoned Suliban on Tandar.
The Tarothans attack Zobral's settlement; Tucker and Archer are forced to hide under his compound because (according to Zobral) their shuttlepod’s thrusters would be detected by the Tarothans upon any takeoff attempt. While the compound is under bombardment, Tucker wisely points out that getting involved in another planet's war is different than helping a few innocent Suliban escape from prison while Archer (miracle! miracle!) notes that they wouldn't be in this situation if he hadn't freed the Suliban detainees in the first place. When the attack continues, Archer and Tucker (not knowing if they can trust Zobral) decide to try to find another settlement in the desert rather than face the continued aerial assault. After an unbearable walk through the searing desert, during which Jonathan offers what water he has left to the friend he obviously cherishes more than life (upon the latter man’s collapse from heat stroke), the two friends find a small abandoned settlement. Meanwhile, aboard Enterprise T'Pol convinces Zobral (who has surreptitiously traversed the Tarothan’sensor grid in his own shuttle) that Tucker and Archer damn well are his responsibility. Somewhat humbled, the likely terrorist ends up helping T’Pol—in a shuttle piloted by Malcolm--locate the lovely Trip and Archer in spite of the sensor distortion caused by the angry Tarothans. In a weird, somewhat anti-climactic and contrived ending Archer notes to T'Pol that, ironically, Zobral's cause might be worth fighting for though he cannot get involved in it. Quite frankly, I found that the unashamed affection Jonathan showed Trip and T’Pol’s rushing to give the dehydrated engineer water once he and Captain Archer boarded the rescue shuttle resonated far more than Archer’s belated realization that he shouldn’t interfere in the conflicts of other species.
My appraisal--an admirable effort that falls a little short due to some substandard pacing and the anti-climactic ending. The episode's intentions are good and quite clear.
"Desert Crossing" is a growth vehicle for Archer's character more than anything else, and that makes for some worthy moments. The scene in which Tucker asks point blank, "you're not thinking of helping these people, are you?" and Archer subsequently admits that helping the Suliban might not have been an entirely wise course of action was particularly praiseworthy. Also praiseworthy is ENT's attempt to parallel a tough, real world situation. Archer’s “sympathy” towards accused terrorists teetered on the edge and made me a bit uncomfortable, but it didn't go too far in sympathizing with terrorist causes because Archer realized he couldn't just get involved in another planet's war (one cannot help but notice that no mention was made of "suicide bombers"—or, albeit occupied territories after warfare--in an attempt to make Zobral a bit more sympathetic. I'm not certain if that's clever or chicken or if the writers simply didn't want to parallel the tragic back and forth Israel/Palestine conflict too closely). When all was said and done, what I took away from “Desert Crossing” was a realization of just how much Jonathan Archer loves Trip. Whether that love is of a sexual or a platonic nature is a matter of personal interpretation.
At any rate, it was gratifying to see Archer display the wisdom not to get involved and to admit his past mistakes. I understand what the writers were attempting to do by having Archer make the statement that it was ironic he couldn't get involved with Zobral's cause though it might be worth fighting for, but the scene came off as clunky, anticlimactic, and drug the episode down as a whole. Another line or two about Archer understanding his cause but being wary all the same of Zobral's methods (which were never specified) would have been welcome, but I do laud the writers/producer for evoking the real world parallel in spite of the poor ending.
However, while I was hoping to learn so much more about Jon and Trip's personal history I was impressed by their shared scenes after Tucker came down with heat stroke. Bakula and Trinneer proved once again why Tucker and Archer's friendship is Star Trek’s most endearing relationship since Kirk and Spock. The two actors' chemistry is incredible. No matter what "subtext" is or is not perceived by the viewer, it isstriking how effectively love can be portrayed without a character ever uttering the words, “I love you.” From Archer's threat to knock Tucker on his ass and force water down his throat to his shielding him from the collapsing roof, their friendship adds so much that is positive to ENT. Its importance shouldn't be downplayed. Final grade--a low B- that is kept above the "C" range by Archer's wise decision not to help Zobral and by Bakula and Trinneer’s chemistry.