The Crossing

WARNING: Noncorporeal spoilers for ENT's "The Crossing" are coming up fast.

In brief: It starts off well, but ends up in a bit of a muddle. "The Crossing" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 18 Teleplay by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis Directed by David Livingston

Brief summary: The Enterprise meets a species of "wispy" noncorporeal life-forms and hear promises that may be too good to be true.

About this time last season, there was an episode entitled "Vox Sola." That episode, while suffering from horrible pacing early on, did a fairly good job creating a species our heroes would find convincingly alien, and gave the audience a taste of that sense of wonder near the end.

"The Crossing" is almost that episode in reverse. There's some nice sense-of-wonder alienness early on, but it then degenerates into formula "can we save the ship in time?" creepiness, sluggish pacing, and a far-too-sudden ending. All else being equal, I'd rather have had a second "Vox Sola," thanks all the same.

One thing _Enterprise_ has done more and more recently is to toss the viewer into the action as quickly as possible: "Canamar" did it when the first few seconds of the episode had us viewing an abandoned shuttle, "Future Tense" did it with the future-ship drifting into view, and "The Crossing" does it with the Enterprise already fleeing pursuit. No one on board knows anything of substance about the pursuing ship, and neither do we -- except that it's big, fast, and has opened its docking bay wide enough to swallow the Enterprise whole. Reed barely has time for a strangled "what the hell is that?" before the Enterprise is swallowed up and the teaser ends. It's one of the better teasers of the season.

Once inside, both engines and weapons stop working just like that, and Archer decides to do some exploring in a shuttlepod with Trip and Reed along for the ride. One could quibble that the two people who can *least* be spared from their posts at the moment are the chief engineer and the chief weapons officer, but it's not really a particularly big deal. Upon landing, they discover that the previously- hostile atmosphere has now changed to a nitrogen-oxygen mix at a palatable temperature: clearly someone wants them comfortable. And despite the fact that they've picked up no life signs, the smoky firefly- like wisps flitting about the top of the captor ship certainly seem to have signs of intelligence.

During all this investigating, one of those wisps zips right through Trip's helmet, and we see a differently-colored wisp exit. Trip begins looking around very strangely, almost as if in a daze ... until the two wisps switch places again, at which point Trip seems like himself again, only convinced he was simultaneously on the ceiling of the ship and back in Florida swimming with an old girlfriend.

At this point, any Trek fan who's been watching for any time previous to this series is thinking "okay, energy beings", and I imagine we were supposed to. As routine as it is to us, however, it's new to Archer and company, and that shows, at least to some extent. There's a bit of pedestrian dialogue as they figure all this out, but the characters' eyes are widening (metaphorically) fairly often here, and I think that's a good thing.

Trip can't stop talking about how remarkable his experience was, and everyone else, while understanding, is also a bit unnerved and concerned that Trip might be falling prey to a serious hallucination. On top of this, Enterprise is still dead in the water, and Archer and T'Pol have a polite disagreement about whether their captors are hostile or not.

Ere long, Trip is once again visited by a wisp, and proceeds to treat a subordinate like a superior officer, leave Engineering, and head to the mess hall. (The subordinate in question is Rostov, whom we've seen before, most notably in "Vox Sola," which only reinforced the parallels I was feeling with that episode.) Archer, T'Pol and Reed find Trip there, but quickly realize that the person claiming to be Charles Tucker III is anything but.

"Trip", or rather the being inhabiting him, gently tells Archer that Trip's experiencing existence at the moment as a noncorporeal being, able to experience things he'd never have the chance to otherwise. "He," in the meantime, gets to experience what it must have been like for his ancestors -- food, gender, and other facets of corporeal existence. He offers this same "crossing" to the rest of the crew, and when Archer insists on the return of his ship and his crewman, delivers both in short order. Enterprise is released (although engines and weapons are still down), and Trip is returned, enthusiastic about the whens and wheres he's experienced and eager to convince others to try.

Up until this point, I was buying into the episode quite handily. Yes, the idea of energy beings is awfully old hat for Trek, but the idea that it'd be this new for the crew is a new one and an intriguing one -- and I thought the various temptations for the crew had the potential to be very interesting as well. (I mean, let's face it, the let-me-inhabit-your- body gambit was done by Sargon et al. back in TOS, but there wasn't much appeal on the human side there -- you get to live life in a giant ping-pong ball. No thanks. :-)

Unfortunately, not long after this the episode chooses one of the less original and less entertaining ways to proceed. Phlox reports that one of the entities tried (and failed) to merge with him, and Reed has a run-in with one as well. In what's got to be one of the goofier chase sequences of all time, Reed flees from this wisp of smoke in terror, and is then taken over.

Yep, you guessed it -- it's full-on body-snatchers time from here on out. There's nothing wrong with that -- particularly given the state of the country and of the world right now, it should be easy to put together something to play off people's paranoia about the unknown. Trek's done some nice work with that motif in the past -- DS9's "Whispers" comes to mind as a near-perfect example (though it helped that it used O'Brien, the classic everyman).

Unfortunately, here that atmosphere was mostly blunted, for several reasons. First, the creatures' actions once they take someone over were just depressingly mundane. What does faux-Reed do, for instance? He leers over a woman in the turbolift, then goes to T'Pol's quarters and asks her to take off her clothes, reminding her that she's the most attractive woman on board. Apart from a quick "like hell she is -- both of the women you passed a scene ago were lots cuter," my main reaction here was "ah -- of course, it all comes down to sexual dominance. What else does this show *ever* do in times like these?" There were easy ways to set something like this up -- for example, since Reed's got a certain attraction to T'Pol himself, if we'd seen that the entities acted on their host's own nascent longings that'd make some sense. (It'd still be the usual "no, we want you to look at T'Pol, dammit" beating over the head, but at least it'd be better grounded.)

The second is that frankly, no one ever seems all *that* worried except on rare occasions. Yes, once Archer sends out security teams Travis does wonder how we know *they're* okay, and yes, Hoshi gets to be a bit concerned -- but there really weren't any "I don't know who to trust and am going nuts" moments that an approach like this really invites. Probably the closest one came when Archer talks to Hoshi, only to find that she's been turned -- but even then he just becomes his usual shake-people-around-to-show-anger self, not especially unnerved or panicked.

That said, Berman and Braga also went out of their way to have the characters react somewhat intelligently to the whole problem. Archer almost immediately puts Phlox and T'Pol to work finding a way to tell whether someone's been compromised or not, and the instant Travis accidentally discovers that the catwalk appears to be shielded from these entities, he orders command functions transferred there and evacuates the intact population to the catwalk. (Fortunately, the warp engines are still offline, so there's no danger there.)

After that, since the entities have little to no way of getting at them, the episode turns into a waiting game, where our heroes have to find a way of reclaiming their people and getting away safely. (Impulse engines are ready, so they can leave whenever, but Archer's not prepared to leave his people behind.) T'Pol, reasoning that they need to know the aliens' intentions, proposes to leave the catwalk and allow one to "attack" her. She argues to Archer that her own mental discipline should allow her to resist -- and insists that he trust her judgment. As much as I'd have liked it if she'd referenced the fact that in "Fusion" she *did* resist the mental intrusion of another, and thus has a little bit of evidence for her faith, this worked well enough. (Archer could also have thrown "yes, well, you didn't think they were hostile" in her face as a way of questioning that same judgment, but didn't.)

Sure enough, T'Pol's idea pans out, and she quickly finds that these entities are all about to die when their ship breaks up -- and that they're trying to save at least 82 of them by taking over this crew instead. Archer, suspecting that they couldn't survive in a dead host, decides to flood the ship with carbon dioxide and cause respiratory failure in the affected crew. More or less medically insane, but okay, fine.

That brings us to the last act of the show, which I think made two very grave mistakes, mostly by focusing too much on some things and not enough on others. Since Phlox, who's immune, is the only one who can walk through the main section of the ship freely, we get to spend at least half the act having Archer and T'Pol walk him through Starship Ventilation 101, where he has to open panels, pull levers, and turn valves under their direction. All very useful, I suppose, but it slowed the episode down to a crawl (and no, the "yank on the panel harder" bit was not overly successful comic relief). And, just to build in an issue that's time-critical, it turns out that Trip was taken over a second time sometime before he went into the catwalk with the others, and he escapes and assaults Phlox, trying to stop him from carrying out his mission. As such, we get a lengthy struggle about "gasp! will he turn the valve or won't he?", which was basically just silly rather than suspenseful. (It was only made sillier by the revelation that in the 22nd century, carbon dioxide isn't colorless and odorless, but thick and *misty*!)

Now, I'm perfectly willing to believe that Trip was taken over a second time as a failsafe, but I have a fair amount of difficulty believing no one noticed, especially since *anyone* with an ounce of brains in that situation is going to test everyone right after heading in as a safety check. There was a nice moment of menace or two, primarily the shot with Trip standing in the background listening as Archer talks to Phlox, but it felt like a substantial reach. (How much better if Trip were simply so affected by what he'd experienced that he were throwing his lot in with them *willingly*, or if they'd left some sort of posthypnotic command that let him be himself and yet follow their dictates.)

Much more of an issue, however, is that the focus on every last detail of their escape utterly ducks the ramifications of Archer's actions. We discover that the aliens are doing this as an act of self- preservation, and when Archer destroys the ship it's very possible that he's flat-out committing genocide at that moment. Is it possible to claim self-defense? Sure -- but the choice to end the episode about ten seconds after the ship's destroyed means there's no chance for soul-searching. We have no idea whether, for example, Archer feels remotely guilty about having to kill hundreds of sentient beings at a stroke, or whether T'Pol feels any attempt should have been made to repair the aliens' ship first. There's a decided moral callousness about this particular episode -- I don't think it's intentional, but it really doesn't sit well in light of the "don't be so quick to judge just because they're different" theme we got fifteen minutes in.

There are some individual moments that stand out as fairly successful -- faux-Hoshi's lure of Phlox into her quarters for an attack worked fairly well, for instance, and the quiet scene in the mess hall where Phlox and T'Pol surreptitiously pick out two compromised people. Overall, however, "The Crossing" shifts focus so many times that it winds up something of a mess.

Other thoughts:

-- The critters, by their own claims, "live in subspace." I thought we'd left ideas like that behind back with TNG and Voyager. (What with the "Schisms" aliens and other races as well, subspace is getting *crowded*!)

-- As goofy as Reed's "run away from the wisp" scene was, I definitely liked the fact that he initially spotted it in a reflection. I'm not sure why -- it just worked well visually.

-- I liked faux-Rostov's "I have no idea how to do that" when Trip asks him about priming the pumps. He just seemed so unconcerned. :-)

-- So did Trip just leave the catwalk permanently set up as a possible command location? I seem to recall that back in "The Catwalk," setting everything up took hours if not longer. Leaving it set up but inactive is a fairly good idea, so I'm perfectly happy to believe it was done -- but it would be nice for things like that to get mentioned once in a while.

-- How exactly do the real Reed, Hoshi, etc. know to return?

I think that about does it. I enjoyed "The Crossing" more than I did "Canamar," mostly because it at least had some ambitions early on, but I'm still waiting for a real winner. Here's hoping one comes along soon.

So, to sum up:

OVERALL: 5.5, based mostly on the first 15-20 minutes. Somewhat okay, but far from wonderful.

NEXT WEEK: Archer faces a Klingon tribunal.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) <*> "You claim to be an explorer, Captain -- open your mind to new possibilities." -- faux-Trip 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.


Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <>
Last modified: Mon Apr 28 23:08:15 2003 Stardate: [-29]0204.40