Some of you may know that I’ve been writing occasional comics reviews for Cinescape. I’ve also had the good fortune to be asked to write about the new Star Trek series for them from time to time. I reviewed the inaugural episode but they took a pass, so I imagine it will wind up here sooner or later. I have a super short one-pager in the current print edition, and also did a speculative piece about possible plot directions for the show.

The double-header that aired Wednesday night was striking because of the naked inspiration the stories took from current events. The story development phase for these episodes likely took place in December, running, possibly, into January.

The name of the pivotal planet in the first episode that aired was “Mazar”, undoubtely drawn from the site of several fierce battles during the war, and of course the site of John Walker Lindh’s capture; these events occurred in late November and may well have been fresh in the minds of the writers for the show. The plot? A distinguished Vulcan ambassador has been expelled from Mazar for conduct unbecoming, etc., and Enterprise must take her to a rendezvous point. But what’s this? Mazarians in fast ships chase Enterprise, battling her for the ambassador. Will our heroes make it? Why are the Mazarites upset? Well, you’ll just have to watch the episode, but rest assured, there are plot echoes of current events throughout.

The second episode finds our doughty crew helping a low-rent Lawrence of Arabia, a strapping charmer who invites the Cap’n and Tripp down to his desert camp for a lashing game of white-boy lacrosse. Then the planetary gummint hails T’Pol in orbit and beams the big clue in: our boy down there is a terrorist.

The Cap’n and Tripp get the word, and they make a run for it over 30 klicks of burning sand, fleeing a nighttime artillery bombardment depicted with great care by the FX team. Do they make it? Well, you know I don’t kiss and tell.

This episode was as close as I’ve ever seen Trek come to reflecting on current events in real time. It’s important to note that the issue of the dashing rogue’s terrorism is left deliberately vague – he’s got weapons, he’s leading a war against a superior military force, he claims oppression, and they say he takes out civilians. We never get much of either side, in fact.

Which is really as it should be, since Trek is about ideas and character. Braga and Berman era Trek has actually repeatedly returned to the theme of terror and revolution over and over, almost always unsuccessfully. The Bajorans resisting Cardassian occupation. The Maquis resisting Federation treaties ceding their planets to the Klingons. The problems with these depictions of the issue is uniformly their failure to avoid preaching and at the same time their inability to pick a side. It’s as though the ambitions of the writers and producers to create comitted, socially responsible fiction about the topic are always defeated by the requirements of the medium of commercial TV.

Of course, it could just be the topic. I don’t think you can discuss it and make everyone happy.

This episode did create a sympathetic character who was identified as a terrorist, and in light of recent events in the middle east, I am surprised they aired it. However, becasue the majority of the episode was associated with issues of character and science-fiction problem solving, the episode avoided the tiresome quality that the other episodes revolving about the theme have often had.

Naturally, your mileage may vary. I rather imagine that it probably nettled more people than it did not.

Oh ho! on the official Trek boards, we find this thread: “More than a little disturbed by ‘Desert Crossing'”, in which thread starter “mike01” (no relation, I assume) sez:

It all stank of a “hidden” pro-Palestinian, and more disturbingly, pro-terrorist (his cause is worth fighting for? he attacks civilian tartgets and Archer has no problem with this?) message.

I am more than a little disturbed. I don’t know what to think. It’s almost like a Palestinian terrorist made his way into the plot room at Enterprise headquarters and snuck in a propaganda script and no one noticed.

(God, the board UI SUCKS. You can’t just flip through the thread in chronological order.)