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Recap / Star Trek Enterprise S 03 E 09 North Star

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Only Enterprise would take a breather from something as threatening as the Xindi to go play cowboy for a while.
We begin in what appears to be the Wild West, where several men on horseback lynch another man, who they call a "Skag". The Enterprise, while searching for the Xindi, discovers a planet that is inexplicably populated by humans and resembles the Old West. They go to the planet and find out that the people living there were descended from some Americans who were abducted around the 1860's by a species called the "Skagarans", who then enslaved them. Malcolm, who is still on the ship, informs the others that there is a town populated by aliens ten kilometers away, so Archer tells Trip and T'Pol to explore that town while he goes to a bar. Trip decides to rent a horse and the two ride off.

At the bar, Archer learns that a man named Cooper Smith liberated the humans from the Skagarans back in the day, and meets Bennings, the deputy sheriff, who starts harassing Draysik, a Skagaran waiter. Archer stops Bennings, and then the sheriff enters and asks what's going on. Bennings claims that Archer interrupted a "conversation" between him and Draysik. The sheriff, whose name is MacReady, asks why Archer is in town, and he lies that he's on his way to visit his brother. He leaves, and MacReady tells Bennings to "keep an eye" on Archer.

Archer visits a teacher who he'd met prior, and when she asks why he "barged into" her house, he replies that he wants data on the Skagarans. She says that everyone knows about them, so he claims that he lives in a northern town where none are around. He claims that he behaved that way in the bar because he believes they deserve equal treatment, and she asks if he wants to meet some more. He nods, so they head off to what's known as "Skag town" while several men, including Bennings, watch.


The teacher and Archer arrive, and she tells the Skagarans that Archer isn't dangerous. While walking through the remains of a ship, Archer spots T'Pol and Trip and introduces them to the teacher, whose name is Bethany. Bethany invites Archer to attend one of her lessons on the Skagaran language and he accepts, sending Trip and T'Pol back to the ship to get information.

At school, Bethany teaches six Skagaran children their times tables and them to describe their history to Archer. They explain that their ancestors abducted and enslaved the humans, but then Bennings and two other men named Nash and Franklin arrest Bethany. Archer tries to protest, but then he gets arrested too. In jail, Bethany explains that the humans, led by Cooper, revolted against the Skagaran oppressors, but that Cooper was "ruthless", killing civilians as well as the oppressors. She explains that he subsequently made unfair laws that, among other things, prevented Skagarans from being taught to read and write and getting married.


MacReady calls Archer to his office and claims that the laws are necessary to keep humans free. He gives Archer an hour to leave town but sentences Bethany to ten years in prison. Feeling responsible, Archer bails Bethany out of jail, subduing Bennings. They escape on horseback, but MacReady finds them and starts shooting at them. Bethany is shot, but survives, and Archer beams himself and her up to the ship.

While Phlox treats Bethany's injuries, T'Pol expresses concern over Archer using the transporter in front of the locals. Phlox also finds out that Bethany is one-quarter Skagaran. Archer calls a staff meeting, telling the other senior staff that the logs have been translated and confirm Bethany's story. He decides to make himself and his crew known, stating that the humans deserve to know that Earth has not abandoned them.

Back on the planet, Bennings tells MacReady that he believes Archer to be a "Skagaran sympathiser", since the Skagarans are rumoured to also be able to disappear into thin air. MacReady is unconvinced, but Bennings, fearing an uprising, wants to kill all the Skagarans. MacReady insists that they must uphold the law and not murder the innocent, so Bennings resigns.

Archer leads T'Pol and a security team to the planet, now in uniform, and when he leaves the shuttlepod, he explains to MacReady that he is from earth. He also tells MacReady that while he can't transport all of them back to Earth, he will send help, and that humans have outgrown bigotry, so the humans from the planet need to give it up if they want to live on Earth. Archer takes MacReady to the shuttlepod and introduces him to T'Pol. They prepare to take him to Enterprise, when Bennings shoots MacReady.

Archer tells Bennings that he is from Earth and asks to let him prove it, but another man provokes a shot from Malcolm, starting a firefight. T'Pol and Archer drag MacReady to safety, then Bennings shoots Archer, leading to a one-on-one fight in the stable. Archer wins despite his injured arm. T'Pol, meanwhile, is captured by one of Bennings's men, who threatens to kill her if Malcolm doesn't drop his weapons. However, Malcolm stuns T'Pol and then shoots her captor.

The shuttlepod returns to Enterprise, where Bethany laments on how barbaric her society is compared to Archer's, but he reassures her that they didn't progress overnight and that Bethany's society has time to change. Bethany returns to the surface and teaches her students, now joined by some human kids and MacReady, about the Wright brothers.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Bigot with a Badge:
    • Deputy Bennings is prejudiced against Skagarans, having no qualms about killing all of them, and (until he resigns) is a law enforcer.
    • Downplayed for Sheriff MacReady, who's suspicious of the Skagarans and believes that the oppressive laws against them are necessary so that humans can remain free, but he's nowhere near as prejudiced as Bennings and doens't believe in killing innocent ones.
  • Changed My Jumper: Averted, as Archer's team wear wild-west costumes their first time down. When they return in uniform, it's because Archer's decided to come clean about who they really are.
  • Cowboy Episode: Certainly a change of pace from the Xindi arc; this episode involves a planet with a Wild West-type aesthetic.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: Any Skagaran who kills a human is hanged, even if it was self-defense.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Other than Archer getting a bullet through the shoulder, gunpowder-propelled slugs vs. directed energy weapons is exactly as one-sided as it sounds.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The North Star humans still have 19th century attitudes on race and gender equality, unlike the 22nd century crew of Enterprise.
  • Due to the Dead: Bethany pays for the dead Skagaran's coffin.
  • Earth That Was: Most of the planet's inhabitants believe Earth is a myth. The appearance of the Enterprise crew proves them wrong.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: Justified. Due to everyone on the planet who's seen Earth being long dead, MacReady thought Earth was mythical.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The bartender may be the direct descendant of Cooper Smith, but even he is disgusted by Bennings. Similarly, Sheriff MacReady thinks that Bennings goes too far in his harassment of the "Skags".
  • Fantastic Racism: The humans hate and oppress the surviving Skagarans.
  • Fantastic Slur: The Skagarans are referred to as "Skags" by the humans.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: It's not visible, but Bethany's part Skagaran.
  • Hanging Around: The episode starts with a Skagaran being lynched.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: This is what happens when you get your keys mixed up.
    Bethany: What are you doing?
    Archer: Where I come from, it's called a "jailbreak".
    Bethany: It's called that here too.
    Archer: (struggling with the lock) Sometimes it's called that. Other times, it's called "playing with the lock".
    Bennings: [Unconscious on the floor] The silver key.
    Archer: What?
    Bennings: The silver key.
    Archer: Thank you.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Cooper Smith. In the official human history, he's a heroic liberator who defeated the evil Skagarans. The Skagarans, on the other hand, call him Rahk'tar (The Butcher).
  • Humans Are Warriors: The Skagarans learned this the hard way when the humans they kidnapped and enslaved rose up against them.
    Archer: They kidnapped the wrong people.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: MacReady says this of the humans and their ancestors, who didn't want to risk being enslaved again. Archer accepts this, but tells him that they need to move beyond that.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: When MacReady tells Bennings that he can't bully the Skagarans anymore, Bennings ditches his badge.
  • Kangaroo Court: Bethany claims that even if the Skagaran hadn't been lynched, he would've faced a trial with his killers on the jury. Either way, he was screwed.
  • La Résistance:
    • In the past, the humans revolted against the oppressive Skagarans, but they went too far, killing civilians and making unfair laws.
    • Discussed when Bennings wants to kill every Skagaran because he's afraid they'll form an uprising.
  • Medieval Stasis: The human/Skagaran colony is still stuck at an 1860s level of technology and culture. Justified, as the humans destroyed all the advanced technology in the slave revolt so the aliens couldn't use it against them, and their population is only 6,000 or so. After things are settled, it's possible that the database Archer left for them will help them along.
  • Nice Mean And In Between:
    • Nice: Bethany, who truly cares about the Skagarans.
    • Mean: Bennings, who goes out of his way to harass the "Skags."
    • In-between: MacReady, who maintains the status quo but draws the line at bullying the Skagarans.
  • Plot Detour: At this point in the show, the Enterprise is on a mission to save the human race where every second counts... but upon detecting a planet with humans on it, they apparently decided to stop and take a look around, even though realistically speaking their response should have been to make a note in the log and suggest that someone ought to go check it out some time when, you know, humanity's future isn't hanging in the balance. Archer even notes near the end that there isn't a lot they can do for the colony until they've dealt with the Xindi.
  • R-Rated Opening: The lynching in the teaser seems to be there to justify the TV-14 rating as the rest of the episode is fairly pedestrian with regard to violence.
  • This Is Reality: Enterprise obviously can't transport 6000+ people back to Earth, even if they weren't already on an important mission. Archer tells MacReady it'll be years before Starfleet can muster enough ships to bring them all home.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff MacReady. He doesn't approve of his deputy bullying the Skagarans, and he's fairly quick to cooperate with Archer once he explains the situation.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bennings vs MacReady.
    Bennings: You've always been too soft on 'em, Mac.
    MacReady: And you've always harassed them while I looked the other way, and that's gonna change right now.
  • Recycled Plot: Alien slavers abducted pre-spaceflight humans who eventually overthrew their overlords. Didn't Voyager already do this? Although in fairness this episode explores a different aspect of that premise (in the "The 37's", the alien slavers had long since departed) and the Voyager episode wasn't a Cowboy Episode.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Averted. The Enterprise away team and a few MACOs make short work of Bennings and his gang in a phaser vs. gun battle.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: Of course Trip can ride a horse! He's seen every John Ford Western!
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: MacReady lets Henry the bartender/barber keep an illegal bottle of Skagaran whiskey as a makeshift anesthetic.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Bethany teaches the Skagaran children at night, even though it's illegal. She ends up in jail for it.
  • Shoot the Hostage: During the shootout, one of the deputies takes T'Pol hostage. Malcolm stuns her, and then stuns the confused cowboy.
  • Shout-Out: Bennings and MacReady are both named after characters from The Thing (1982).
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Bethany admits that what the Skagarans did to their human captives was terrible, but doesn't believe in punishing the current generation for it.
  • So Much for Stealth: The Enterprise away team first tries to blend in with the population by dressing in western clothing and traveling on horseback. But they are soon forced to use their communicators and transporter to escape a gunfight, outing them as being 'not from around here.' After learning the true history of the human/Skagaran colony, Archer makes the decision to skip the disguises and return in a shuttlepod in full uniform.
  • Space Western: Of the 'advanced aliens encounter Western town' type, although in this case the aliens are human.
  • The Teetotaler: The Skagaran who was lynched during The Teaser. Bennings asks if a sober Skag would really have the nerve to shoot a man.
  • To Absent Friends: Deputy Bennings offers a very disrespectful one "to dead Skags."
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: The Skagarans kidnapped the first humans to use as slave labor, deeming them suited to helping colonize an arid world.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We're never told if Archer kept his word about sending ships to return the human settlers to Earth. Given Enterprise is Starfleet's biggest and fastest ship, Starfleet wouldn't be in a position to retrieve them any time soon without contracting out the work.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Bennings shoots Bethany. Justified, since he's a sheriff's deputy and it's his job to shoot whoever breaks the law and she was escaping from jail. Also justified with the guy who threatens to kill T'Pol, since he's also law enforcement.
  • Written by the Winners: Archer says that everyone seems to have their own version of what happened between the humans and the Skagarans, and that he's not likely to get the truth from most of the former.