8/29/11

Star Trek: Asterisk "Dawn"

Vital Information
Series: Enterprise
Episode: S02E13
Air Date: January 8, 2003
Written by: John Shiban
Directed by: Roxann Dawson

Premise
Trip is forced to land on a moon with the alien that shot him down and FIGHT HIM TO THE DEATH learn his language and try to get along.

Review
Trip is in a shuttlepod in the middle of surveying a gas giant with... I dunno, let's say eleventy-one moons, when he's attacked without provocation by an unknown alien shuttle. Trip leads the alien into the atmosphere of a moon and then some selenium isotopes find their way into both ships' engines and break them, forcing an emergency landing. So now Trip is stuck on a moon with an enemy that tried to shoot him down. Could it get worse? Well, he doesn't know the alien's language and doesn't have a universal translator. Oh, and the moon gets over 170 degrees in the daytime.

After Enterprise comes back to search for Trip among the moons, another alien ship approaches them to warn them that this is their territory. T'Pol mentions that the Vulcans had had contact with this race before and that they were difficult to deal with. Well... difficult for Vulcans to deal with. When they contact Archer, Archer seems to have only slight difficulty working out an arrangement to find their missing crew members.

And it all goes downhill from there. Back on the moon, Trip is trying to make repairs when the alien that shot at him, attacks him once more in order to steal his transceiver. When Trip goes to take it back, he is captured and taken prisoner. It's obvious now that they both need each other's help to get off the moon, but they have a language barrier between them.
Can we talk for a minute...
About the "language barrier" story template? It's not a terrible template, let me be clear on that. But it's very easy to screw it up. In the The Next Generation episode "Darmok", Captain Picard attempted to learn the language of a race that spoke entirely in metaphor referring to their local mythology. This was very interesting because while the universal translators were working, the syntax didn't make any sense because most of the words were proper names and references. It was intriguing to learn a language that was entirely focused on imagery rather than objective phrasing. In the Stargate: SG-1 episode "The First Ones", Daniel Jackson attempted to learn the language of an Unas that had kidnapped him. This was intriguing not because of the language, but because of what he was learning about the Unas race itself: that it wasn't entirely animalistic and that they could reason with them and work together despite being closely tied to the Goa'uld. In this episode Jackson was adding layers onto an established mythology that had just begun to get interesting. (Incidentally, this Unas' name was Chaka while one of the phrases Picard learned in "Darmok" was "Chaka, when the walls fell" which meant failure... intentional reference?) In "Dawn", there is nothing interesting about the aliens, there is nothing interesting about the language... it's just frustrating that Trip can't get through to the alien.
Well, it's another Trip episode, so, of course, we have to strip him down to his underwear again, right? While he works on repairing the transceiver he comments on how hot it's getting despite still being night time and off comes the uniform. He spends most of the time in his blue Starfleet regulation undershirt, but it doesn't take too long for him to get completely topless.
Trip, Lord of the Underwear!
After fighting back and forth for a while, Trip eventually convinces his alien friend to help him bring the transceiver up to the top of a mountain where they can get better reception for the Enterprise to find them. When they get to the top of the mountain, the alien succumbs to dehydration just as the Enterprise receives their transmission. And here's the difference between Enterprise and The Original Series or The Next Generation: Roddenberry would have let the alien die. And then make some grand speech about how he was willing to give his life to save Trip. Berman lets Phlox revive the alien.
So... what if I just use a phase pistol on him? That'll work, right?
Don't get me wrong. I don't wish death on anyone. But when it comes to fictional characters in an an otherwise boring story, we could use something to shake it up and give some sort of meaning to their troubles. Letting the alien die would make him a sacrificial character, but now since he's alive he faces potential disciplinary actions from his captain after firing on Trip without provocation.

Overall Thoughts
Chaka, when the walls fell.