In the ninth episode of the third season of Enterprise, this is a mess. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of slavery, racism, colonialism.
If you squint really, really hard at “North Star,” you can see the intent of this episode. You can probably guess where the ideas for this came from, both in the references to past Western-themed Star Trek scripts, as well as from actual history. It’s a bit of a thought experiment, too, a sort of “What if?” scenario about the evolution of humanity.
But it takes a complicated set of mental gymnastics to arrive there because this is one of the most egregious examples of metaphorical oppression that I’ve seen on Trek. There’s certainly a whole lot of it, even within Enterprise. Yet I’ll just go hard right at the start: this is absolutely one of the whitest episodes of Star Trek I’ve ever experienced. I mean that literally, too. Not one member of the guest cast is non-white, and for some unknown reason, Hoshi appears for like 15 seconds and Mayweather is just gone. For an episode about something that is intrinsically linked to race in America, it felt ridiculous that the only non-white main cast members disappeared.
That’s not to suggest that I needed the writers to give us an episode about race and focus on Hoshi and Mayweather. I’m not really certain their usage would have improved this story all that much because its construction is so deeply, deeply flawed. The premise itself isn’t even necessarily the problem; it’s what the writers decided to do once they decided they were going to make an episode about humans abducted for slavery. Basically: the show tries to have their cake and eat it, too. There’s the existence of slavery on this planet due to the Skagarans kidnapping a bunch of humans, only to then experience a reversal of fortunes when the humans overthrow their slavers and become… extremely bigoted assholes. So where does our sympathy lie? Should we feel terrible for the Skagarans, who are undeniably oppressed now in their own world, or should we feel for the humans, who were once enslaved by these people but now fear it happening again? This episode doesn’t seem to want to paint this a moral dilemma with no answer, however, and instead feels like its constantly preaching to the audience, especially once Archer starts talking about how humanity has “gotten beyond” things like prejudice and hatred. (Which they haven’t, and it’s mind-blowing to me that I’m now five shows into this canonical world and they’re still repeating this line.)
Look, one of the major issues I have is that this show invokes two actual struggles and phenomena within American history, but gives those oppression dynamics to white people. We’ve got the oppressed class on this planet who comprise the indigenous culture. It is impossible to divorce this metaphorical representation from the actual struggle between the colonizers of America and the indigenous nations and tribes who lived there. Indeed, by using a Western theme, it feels deliberate! Intentional! We’re supposed to think it’s a commentary on that, right? Even if we’re not, it’s simply too close to reality in terms of the laws and social terror that was wrought against Indigenous Americans. And who plays these characters?
Then there’s the undeniable link to chattel slavery and the way slavery shaped the formation and continuation of my country. Humans were stolen from their land and forced to work for another peoples. It just so happens that the Skagarans only kidnapped white humans, which… that is so terrible. Seriously, no one thought this through? Or did they make the erroneous assumption that the Wild West was exclusively white? Oh, honey, tons of cowboys weren’t white. Lots were brown! A significant portion were black! It’s only the American revisionist history that’s taught us that the Old West was white, and it’s been bolstered by the whitewashing of the Old West in Hollywood films. But that’s not historically accurate at all! Yet this episode wants me to believe that the only humans taken by the Skagarans were white Americans?
Actually, they also want me to believe that a bunch of white people going around and talking about lynching and slavery is a totally cool look. And there’s also Archer telling ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves to “get over it” because…. IT HAPPENED A LONG TIME AGO. That’s an actual line uttered twice by a white dude in this episode! TOO ANOTHER WHITE MAN!
So who do I root for? How am I supposed to condemn people who were kidnapped and enslaved and had to fight back for their freedom? How am I supposed to then sympathize with humans who apparently have not evolved in any way in nearly three hundred years? Are you telling me clothing never changed on that planet? Food? Shelter? The humans didn’t try to adapt any of the technology that the Skagarans had? Where did all of that go? Why aren’t the humans using it?
This episode cares about its setting purely for the aesthetics, and it’s frustrating. There is no work done to unpack the hateful, painful history of slavery and post-slavery terrorism. Instead, it’s like the writers borrowed these concepts just to seem a bit edgy, but there’s no follow-through. It’s sloppy.
Suffice to say that I did not really like this episode. MEH.
The video for “North Star” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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