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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Fortunate Son"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Fortunate Son. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: At last, an episode
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's
      "Fortunate Son." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: At last, an episode that plays to this series' storytelling
      strengths.

      Plot description: When the Enterprise answers the distress call of a human
      cargo vessel and arrives after it has been raided by interstellar pirates,
      Archer suspects there's more to the situation than meets the eye.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Fortunate Son"

      Airdate: 11/21/2001 (USA)
      Written by James Duff
      Directed by LeVar Burton

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***1/2

      "Under the circumstances, I defer to your experience."
      -- Phlox to Reed on being shot at
      -----

      "Fortunate Son" is the first episode of Enterprise that really seems to
      break free of the past decade of Trek and take us in a fresh-feeling
      direction. It takes full advantage of this show's central concept of
      fledgling space travel and gives us some crucial information about
      non-Starfleet cargo-runner humans in space. The result is an episode
      showcasing an intriguing set of perspectives on the human role in the
      interstellar community and how those perspectives are likely facing
      near-imminent change.

      The episode is also the first to get us in touch with Ensign Travis
      Mayweather, a guy who so far has received precious little to do, and even
      less opportunity to voice anything resembling an opinion. As the ship's
      resident "Boomer" -- born in space aboard a cargo ship traveling extremely
      long-lasting journeys for trade routes -- he's someone who has experience
      and should have something to say. Here, at last, he does.

      The Enterprise answers the distress call of the Fortunate, a human cargo
      vessel that was attacked in a raid by Nausicaan pirates. The Enterprise
      arrives on the scene to find the Nausicaans already gone and the Fortunate
      about to get under way. The captain was injured in the raid, and currently
      in command is the ship's first officer, Matthew Ryan (Lawrence Monoson), a
      young man who is not particularly forthcoming with Archer when he comes
      aboard to offer his help.

      Archer invites crew members from the Fortunate back to see the impressive
      starship Enterprise, which represents the wave of the future. It's a ship
      with some amazing amenities -- where you can get a juicy steak for dinner,
      which isn't easy to come by where these guys come from. The episode does a
      good job of showing exactly how groundbreaking the Enterprise really is. We
      have the Fortunate for effective juxtaposition.

      The Fortunate has a top speed of warp 1.8, and for interstellar cargo
      haulers, that makes for extremely long trips -- sometimes a year or even
      two. During these runs, they have a lot of time on their hands. Life isn't
      what's conducted in between the trips. Life *is* the trips.

      This supplies the setup for a story that is especially useful for supplying
      background information about a different group of space travelers -- those
      functioning in the commerce arena. I've complained that the nature of humans
      in space has up to now been left a little too vague and muddled for comfort,
      but "Fortunate Son" fills in a lot of blanks in very reasonable and
      believable ways.

      The tone is set in a good dinner-table scene between Ryan and Mayweather.
      Ryan, like Mayweather, is a Boomer, born on a cargo ship. Mayweather's
      parents still work on one. Unlike Mayweather, Ryan is likely a life member
      of the freighter team. Tensions flare a little when Ryan challenges
      Mayweather for "abandoning" his parents and fellow shipmates in favor of a
      Starfleet career. One almost can sense Ryan on the verge of using the term
      "sell-out." Mayweather casts an intense glare, something that up to now has
      gone unseen. It wasn't that simple, he responds. It was tough leaving --
      freighters are notorious for being understaffed and needing good people --
      but Starfleet was an excellent opportunity he had to take.

      Starfleet at this stage in the game is still a young operation. Many
      cargo-ship workers have more space experience than most captains in
      Starfleet. And what's even more interesting is how we begin to see that
      Starfleet must conduct itself as the most grown-up of human endeavors. Cargo
      crews are out there, alone and vulnerable, and in some ways they have the
      luxury of being more fallible and perhaps even a little wrong-headed. In a
      sense, they have no one to answer to. They conduct themselves as they see
      fit. They take care of their own. Yes, their actions have consequences, but
      the consequences are theirs to face and theirs alone. Enter a Starfleet
      vessel, with a broader scope in its mission and a wider reach. Such a ship
      no longer has the luxury of autonomy, because Starfleet -- specifically the
      Enterprise and the Enterprise alone -- represents Earth and all of humanity.
      Starfleet serves as an ambassador for an entire world. Cargo runners are
      citizens representing only themselves.

      And I think that's the primary message under the surface of "Fortunate Son."
      There's a scene where Mayweather talks with Archer about the unfolding
      situation aboard the Fortunate. Ryan has ignored Archer's advice and is
      taking matters into his own hands. (He wants vengeance on the Nausicaans for
      attacking the Fortunate and has tortured a Nausicaan prisoner for shield
      codes.) Mayweather suggests to Archer that maybe the Enterprise should just
      stay out of it and leave the Fortunate to its own devices. Retaliation might
      very well be justified, so let them retaliate. Part of me agreed with Travis
      as he gave the captain his opinion from the perspective of a cargo runner.
      When Archer got on the higher horse of exercising ideals over retaliatory
      action, I realized that his points indicated the wave of the future: If
      Starfleet is going to venture out, it must be prepared to grow up and react
      with logic rather than raw emotion.

      One interesting fact is that the Enterprise has no real authority over the
      Fortunate. The rules for these matters are probably still being drafted, if
      the governments on Earth have even gone that far. Ryan and his crew lash out
      at the Enterprise rather than submitting to their would-be authority, which
      leads to a rather interesting jeopardy premise where Archer and his team
      find themselves locked in a cargo hold with the atmosphere venting through a
      hole in the hull. Ryan then seals the hold and disconnect it from the
      Fortunate. Neat. This crisis, alas, is solved very casually, but I liked how
      the creators established the logical flow of the scene with clear visual
      details that slowly build the suspense.

      The ensuing action elements are familiar -- Nausicaans chasing after their
      abducted crew member aboard the Fortunate, space battles, the ship being
      boarded and the obligatory shootouts -- but I found the change in setting to
      be refreshing. The Fortunate is a believable design as a cargo ship --
      large, slow, and at extreme disadvantage in combat -- and the interiors are
      most definitely not Starfleet-esque. The production design lends a very
      different feel to the episode, and we can tell we've stepped outside the
      boundaries of Starfleet into something a little grittier. I also welcomed
      the complete lack of shields for both human vessels; the best defensive
      measure either the Enterprise or the Fortunate can muster is to "polarize
      the hull plating."

      It's a little unfortunate that Mayweather's Big Scene where he makes a
      Meaningful Speech over the communicator is only marginally effective;
      Anthony Montgomery doesn't have a flair for the histrionics, and his
      delivery of the grandstanding comes across as stilted, both in performance
      and in the writing. This is Montgomery's meatiest role to date, but my
      review for his performance is mixed. He's better at the quieter moments.

      Perhaps my favorite scene in the show is the last one. Played in a casual,
      natural tone between Scott Bakula and Charles Lucia, it shows two captains
      who have long experience and wisdom on the subject of human nature.
      Particularly apt is Captain Keene's (Lucia) comment that cargo runners
      aren't going to be happy about change, and Archer's exceptionally true
      statement that they'll have to get used to sharing space -- because faster
      warp engines mean that space is shrinking. I liked Keene's statement about
      Boomers feeling "that they have a special claim" to space since they've
      lived in it for so much of their lives. It's a detail like that which feels
      just right, and something that helps explain why Ryan was so reluctant to
      accept help from outsiders or admit that he was wrong.

      It's a great little scene that perfectly captures a feeling that should
      become one of this series' major themes -- the fact that the winds of change
      have arrived, and the role of humanity in the galaxy is in the process of
      taking giant, earth-shattering steps forward. It's almost like we can feel
      the universe shrinking before our eyes, in this one conversation between
      these two guys -- and for that, "Fortunate Son" deserves high praise.

      Here's an episode that knows what the Enterprise mission means to Earth, and
      hints at what's yet to come.

      --
      Next week: Starfleet's first encounter with time travel.

      -----
      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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