Monday, November 4, 2013

Distinctly Star Trek, Unfortunately Timed, “North Star” Still Succeeds!

The Good: Good morals, Decent acting
The Bad: Light on character development, Terrible in-season continuity
The Basics: “North Star” is a divergence from the Xindi plot as the Enterprise encounters a planet that is much like the American West.

Within heavily-serialized television stories, there are sometimes bottle episodes that make viewers sit up and say “What the hell were the producers thinking?!” In the case of Star Trek: Enterprise, the third season was heavily serialized but it included the episode “North Star,” which has no apparent purpose in the season-long arc of the show. In fact, the only reasonable expectation fans of Enterprise might have for the genesis of “North Star” is that the producers were hoping to capture some of the abandoned audience of Firefly (reviewed here!). For those who were pining for Firefly, Star Trek: Enterprise did a pointless Western in outer space with “North Star.”

“North Star” is not terrible, but it is a huge, pointless, divergence from the Xindi plotline. As such, it sticks out and could have been a fine episode in any other season, but in-context is somewhat problematic.

Following a human hanging a man he claims to be a “Skag,” Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker explore a planet in the Expanse where humans and aliens live near one another . . . in a Wild West setting. Observing the local dynamics (after Tucker secures a horse with T’Pol), Archer witnesses the prejudice the local humans have against the Skags, near-human aliens with minimal differentiating features in the ears and neck. Archer subtly rescues the Skag, Draysik, from the racist Deputy Bennings. He then tries to learn about the Skagaraans from the teacher, Bethany.

Bethany tells Archer the story of how the Skagaraans captured a shipload of humans from Earth two hundred-fifty years prior. Enslaved, the humans revolted on the planet where they then butchered the Skagaraan overlords. Archer debates human policy with the Sheriff while Bethany remains imprisoned for teaching the Skagaraan children (for which she faces a decade in jail). When Archer stages a jailbreak to liberate Bethany, she is wounded and upon bringing her back to the Enterprise to save her life, Phlox discovers she is one-quarter Skagaraan. Realizing that the humans need help, Archer reveals the truth to the Sheriff . . . with consequences Archer did not anticipate.

“North Star” has the feel of the away missions or holodeck adventures like “A Piece Of The Action” (reviewed here!) or “A Fistful Of Datas” (reviewed here!), though to its credit it actually has a very strong social message. Unlike the Holodeck adventures, “North Star” has a sense of consequence and it actually feels very Star Trek. Because the episode precedes the development of the Prime Directive, the episode’s later actions are entirely understandable.

The argument Archer makes about how humans have given up prejudice and hatred is countered with what is essentially an argument for reparations for slaves and that makes the bottle episode have some practical resonance. The themes for the episode are noble and writer David A. Goodman does not overly simplify the issues of slavery and freedom, which is refreshing. The Sheriff is not a monolithic character (though his Deputy is a pretty flatly-conceived racist) and his desire to accept what Earth might have become is tempered by the memory that his ancestors were captured as slaves.

Unfortunately, the episode degenerates into a shootout scene that lasts almost an entire act. The sensibility of the episode takes a back seat (predictably) to action sequences and that is disappointing for an episode that pushes philosophy for so long. The allegory works well, even if the action does not (though there is a cool shot where Archer burns the floor out from under a shooter).

On the acting front, “North Star” is good. Scott Bakula delivers a solid performance and Glenn Morshower (ever the excellent character actor) plays off him exceptionally well. The two dominate the episode and Emily Bergl gives a decent additional supporting performance.

The sense of hope in “North Star” is decent, but it is undermined by the serialized plot; the planet and its citizens will not be rescued as Archer works to stop the Xindi and collapse the Expanse. That makes it worth less in this season, but on its own it remains a fairly good episode.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the penultimate season here!

For other works with Glenn Morshower, please check out my reviews of:
After Earth
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
X-Men: First Class
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
All The King’s Men
The West Wing
“Resistance” - Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Generations
“Starship Mine” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Peak Performance” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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