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01/03/2003. Contributed by Timothy W. Lynch

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After Trip's shuttlepod is attacked, he finds himself stranded on a rapidly heating moon with an already inflammatory enemy. More Star Trek Enterprise deconstructionalism from the pen of Timothy W. Lynch.

"Dawn" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 13 Written by John Shiban Directed by Roxann Dawson.

I went into "Dawn" with some relatively high hopes. John Shiban's only previous ENT outing was "Minefield," and Roxann Dawson's last directing stint was "Dead Stop."

As those two episodes have been among the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster season so far, I was hoping that their combined efforts would prove fruitful.

In moments here and there, I was right -- certainly, "Dawn" succeeded a bit more than its rather shopworn premise might suggest.

For the most part, however, "Dawn" is far, far more run-of-the-mill than either of the two predecessors I mentioned.

For starters, if they were going to use the "enemies stranded and have to work together to survive" premise, the least they could do was ease into it in a less forced way. "Trip goes out to test-drive a new autopilot alone" is a really bad idea.

Space is big, space is dangerous, and you don't want to send people out alone, especially someone important like, oh, your chief engineer.

Even discounting the possibility that the shuttle could come under attack, suppose Trip falls ill, or trips (pardon the pun) and cracks his head on something? It makes much more sense to send two people out so that each can be a support structure for the other.

When it's a mission along the lines of "I have to do this and I have to go alone for various personal reasons," I can usually buy into it for some reason -- but in a case like this, there's absolutely no reason to do it other than to invoke the all- seeing deity of plot complications.

(It's not as though a second member of the ship would have messed things up too much, really. Have the second one be a random crewman, and have him/her/it killed in the impact. Done and done.)

After that, stranding Trip on the planet is fine, and having him be unable to lift off again is equally so. He's at least managed to get a message off to the Enterprise, so they come warping into the system as quickly as possible. Alas, the ship's sensors can't find him (or the attacking ship) given the various ores in all the moons of this gas giant.

To give us something more interesting to look at than frequent cuts back to Travis and Archer saying "nope, still haven't found him," we get to meet the race claiming authority over this system, the Arkonians. They're aggressive (obviously so, given the television credo that anyone with that many spines on his head can't be nice), but are grudgingly willing to work with Archer on finding both missing people.

They don't exactly end up as friends to Archer and company, but T'Pol notes in rather impressed fashion that Archer cemented better relations with them in a day than the Vulcans had done in a century. This was okay, especially in that it shows that T'Pol's occasionally willing to admit it when someone else finds a better solution.

It'd be nice if Archer did the same, but that's as may be for the moment. Their combined forces didn't really contribute significantly to the plot in any real way until the end, but I've certainly seen worse.

Meanwhile, our esteemed and much put-upon Mr. Tucker discovers he's not alone on this moon. The pilot who attacked him is down there as well, and his ship is just as wrecked as Trip's. He sets upon Trip, surprises him, and steals his communications transceiver in the hopes of getting a signal off to home.

At this point, as you might imagine, there's a series of power struggles and duels going on until the two find themselves forced to work together for mutual survival. Not exactly new territory, really, but I found most of this executed reasonably well.

Some of this is undoubtedly due to Gregg Henry, who played the pilot Zho'Kaan. It's not always easy to make your general message understood despite a language barrier, or to come up with mannerisms that evoke someone more alien than the usual genre norm, but at least to some extent Henry did so, particularly with the head-bob that symbolized "yes."

It's a little thing, but it helped get things away, at least briefly, from the "Trip faces big bruiser in latex" standard. (That head-bob reminded me a little bit of Jeff Bridges in "Starman," actually, and I've always felt Bridges did a nice job in that film.)

The language barrier is something else which tripped my implausibility alarms, though. From an internal standpoint, there's little to no reason for shuttles not to have universal translators onboard as standard equipment -- you'd think that every emergency field pack would have one.

From an external standpoint, it's incredibly convenient that Archer can talk to his opposite number on the Arkonian ship without a moment's delay, but Trip can't get anywhere. It seems that the UT works immediately or with time delays, depending on plot convenience. Here, at least, it smacked of artificiality. (I don't object to the barrier on the planet -- it's just that combining it with the "we can talk to Similar Guy without the slightest problem" strains credibility.)

Shiban added a few minor touches here and there that were much appreciated. When Trip's the one who's captive (after an abortive attempt to reclaim his transceiver), he discovers (along with us) that what the Arkonians use for hydration is something he finds completely unpalatable.

Given how many times different species seem to find the same stuff appetizing (or at least edible), I appreciated having that not play out here. Similarly, discovering that Zho'Kaan's saliva can magically heal Trip's wound was pretty neat -- convincingly alien, and it led to one of the best lines of the night, "I can't fix this -- it's a lost cause. Maybe if you vomit on it it'll fix itself."

Somewhere around here, the ticking clock begins to surface: T'Pol's scans have shown that the moons in this system change temperatures very dramatically over very short times -- by the heat of the day, temperatures reach 170 degrees Celsius. Time to find 'em by morning.

The "enemies must work together" bit had to come into play sometime, of course, and it does so when Trip finally gets a transmitter working, using parts of Zho'Kaan's communicator to power his own. Alas, the same ores in the planet that interfere with sensors also interfere with communications to some degree, so Trip decides that the only option is to go to higher ground. That requires both parties to have hands free to carry equipment, so he talks to Zho'Kaan and proposes they work together.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zho'Kaan then goes on the offensive briefly, and we get to watch the two of them brawl for a minute or two. That's probably a less cliched choice than having them actually agree to work together, and I'll admit that as fight scenes go this one seemed a bit more interestingly choreographed than usual ... but it's also a big game of Spot the Stuntman and not really all that much else. (It felt a lot like the old Marvel Comics tradition of "heroes meet and have to fight, then team up and go after the real menace" to some degree.)

Having Trip toss away his weapon a second time after the fight was over and give some impassioned speech about "we can keep fighting if you want, or we can get outta here" was telegraphed a mile away, though -- and does nothing to dissuade people from the opinion that Enterprise features departures from the Trek norm.

All that said, however, I was buying into the show a fair amount up to this point. Once they get higher up and actually hear from Hoshi, however, things deteriorated in rapid succession. First, thanks to various atmospheric problems it appears that both ships' shuttles all lose power, so Archer suggests they use the transporter.

No good, says Phlox -- given Arkonian physiology, it'll likely kill the pilot. Archer conveys this to Trip and prepares to beam him up ... and Trip then refuses, saying that he'll stay down until a way's found to get them both back, abruptly suggesting a way in which the Arkonians could modify their own shuttles to make it through the atmosphere.

This is about as artificial a way to create the typical "there's one more problem" suspense as I've ever seen. First, it's almost inconceivable that Phlox should have enough information to make that call -- it's not as though the Arkonians have been forthcoming with information up to this point, after all. Second, Trip's reaction is, however noble, intensely stupid.

He could potentially be of more help up on the ship when he's able to focus clearly. Third, Archer should have ignored him as potentially delirious and beamed him out anyway. Fourth, even if Archer's not willing to do that he could have, oh, beamed down a few gallons of water. (And a fan. And an emergency shelter. And the Road-Runner, who's just innately cool. But anyway...)

The disturbing part is that the same time crunch could have been created trivially by simply saying that the same atmospheric voodoo messing up the shuttles also interfered with the transporter. Trip and friend are still stuck on the planet, and Trip might be sufficiently convinced he's going to die that he can legitimately make a big speech musing over all of the wonderful things he's seen and done during his time on board.

If I can come up with slight plot adjustments in ten minutes that make a lot more sense, so can the creative powers that be on the show -- and I'm really quite concerned at how frequently that's not happening these days.

And about that speech ... eesh. I've heard it before, and heard it much better. For those not familiar with genre films, I'll just say that clearly the heat left Trip a little bit Batty and leave it at that. (I'll swipe from Tom Lehrer here and say, "the rest of you can look it up when you get home.")

Even if that weren't an issue, however, there's no reason for Trip to feel as he does. He knows he's not going to die -- Archer's flat-out told him that he's not going to let Trip stay down there for long. It's a silly speech, insufficiently motivated.

Naturally, however, the Arkonian shuttle shows up in the nick of time, everyone's fine, and Zho'Kaan winds up, if not friendly, then at least "grateful that [he] didn't destroy" Trip's shuttle. Chalk one up for the good guys.

Other observations and comments:

-- Not quite a nit, just an observation: giving a big gas giant 62 moons is reasonable enough (our own gas giants aren't that far up there so far as we know yet, but it seems fine) -- but saying there are 62 of them with atmospheres that could support Trip is stretching things. If memory serves, only 4 of Jupiter's moons are large enough to have atmospheres of any consequence whatsoever, and it's leading the pack in that regard.

-- Okay, this one's a nit: if this moon's got enough of an atmosphere to keep Trip and Zho'Kaan alive, it's not reasonable to have the temperature shoot up that much and that quickly. One of the reasons an atmosphere is nice is that it tends to flatten out temperature variation to some extent -- and even if the temperature could do what's claimed here, I imagine the pressure changes involved would wind up creating one hell of a breeze.

-- Trip: "I don't know what I've done to provoke him." Us: "Maybe he just saw 'Precious Cargo' and 'Unexpected' back to back? It's a wonder the whole quadrant's not after you."

-- On the healing power of Zho'Kaan: I could swear I remember hearing at some point about an animal whose saliva at least accelerated the healing process, but I'm not coming up with any evidence for it at the moment. Given that vampire bats' saliva contains an anticoagulant, though, I don't think it's that much of a science- fictional leap to postulate saliva that can do a heavy-duty version of just the opposite.

-- Did anyone else notice that Zho'Kaan's alien mannerisms disappeared as soon as the UT made it seem he was speaking English?

-- "That's why we chose this life -- to see things we've never seen before." Considering how little there's been of late on the show that we haven't seen before, the tang of irony here is a bit overpowering...

As the first new episode of 2003, then, "Dawn" is pretty neutral. It's got enough bright spots in the way of execution that it suggests things like "Precious Cargo" won't be the norm ... but a lot of the same weaknesses are still present, and there's cause for concern that they may well be the norm. With another rerun break rising over the horizon, let's hope "Dawn" is more of a remnant than a harbinger.

So, wrapping up:

Writing: Scattered moments of good alien sensibilities, but a lot of glaring plot inconsistencies and artificialities. Directing: Dawson did what she could to make a show that's almost entirely two guys on a Planet Hell landscape visually interesting. Acting: Trinneer and Henry mostly held up their end of the bargain.

OVERALL: 5.5. Pretty neutral.

Tim Lynch

Copyright 2003, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and express written consent of the author. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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