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Fallen Hero

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WARNING:  'Ware the spoilers for ENT's "Fallen Hero."�

In brief:  Occasional moments that are hard to buy into, but very solid overall.�


"Fallen Hero" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 22 Teleplay by Alan Cross Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Chris Black Directed by Patrick Norris Brief summary:  Enterprise is sent to pick up a Vulcan ambassador due to an undisclosed emergency, only to find that all is not as it seems.


"Fallen Hero" is one of the shows that reminds me why I think Enterprise has potential has a series.  It's a show that could conceivably have taken place in any era without too many changes (primarily you'd just have to change the Vulcans to some other race), but at the same time gives us a taste of this different era we're viewing while foreshadowing the changes that will eventually come.

It's also (almost certainly coincidentally) the first show in a few weeks that hasn't started us off in mid-action, instead letting us find out what's going on as the characters do.  While most of the crew is eagerly planning a trip to Risa (on T'Pol's recommendation), Archer gets a call from Admiral Forrest, with an assignment.  There's a Vulcan ambassador on Mazar who needs to get off-planet as quickly as possible, and the Enterprise is the closest ship that can do it.  Why does she need to leave so quickly?  "Well, this may come as a shock to you, Jon," notes Forrest, "but the Vulcans aren't talking."  It's a perfectly good scene taken on its own, but given that human-Vulcan tensions form part of the backdrop of the story, I'm very pleased in retrospect not to have seen the tension artificially increased. (For comparison, consider that Quark's more boorish side always seemed to be disproportionately dominant right at the start of any "hey, let's have fun with Ferengi culture" episode on DS9).

Ambassador V'Lar does in fact come aboard moments after Enterprise enters Mazar's orbit, and turns out to be not exactly what Archer and company have come to expect from a Vulcan:  she shakes hands, wants to meet Hoshi in order to *thank* her for the loan of her cabin, and generally seems one of the more personable Vulcans this side of the renegades from "Fusion."  She's still Vulcan in many ways -- for one thing, she's not entirely certain humans can be trusted -- but she's also a diplomat, and unlike Soval a good one.  As such ... when on a human ship, do as the humans do.  (It also made dramatic sense that she had to be far less Vulcan than T'Pol was preparing the crew for:  otherwise you just get something like "Breaking the Ice" over again, and I doubt there are many viewers out there in a hurry for a repeat of *that* dinner scene.)

Just before V'Lar arrives, however, Archer's also told (by the Mazarites) that V'Lar has been removed from her post for criminal misconduct.  When T'Pol asks about the charges, V'Lar is strangely circumspect -- and T'Pol takes her lack of defense as evidence of guilt, reacting somewhat harshly in the process.  Considering how rarely Vulcans are accused of criminal acts (the base in "The Andorian Incident" apparently notwithstanding), V'Lar is not entirely surprised by T'Pol's reaction, but Archer discovers there's a more personal reason as well:  T'Pol has met V'Lar before, and V'Lar was something of an inspiration when it came time for T'Pol to choose her own path.  Although she protests that Vulcans don't have heroes per se, it's clear that V'Lar has always been someone whose opinions mattered greatly to T'Pol, and that she's quite disappointed in the current state of events.

Some people said that the point of "Fusion" several episodes back was to flesh T'Pol out as a character.  I agree that that was the point, but I'd argue that "Fallen Hero" was a far more effective way to make some of the same points.  When T'Pol objects to V'Lar's sensing emotion from her, V'Lar points out that Vulcans have emotions as well:  "we just hide them better."  That gets across the same general meaning that "Fusion" did, but without casting it all in stark "Vulcans do not admit the presence of emotions and repress them to the point of idiocy" terms.  V'Lar is perhaps a more open character than we expected, but it didn't seem entirely strange -- just diplomatic.  (After all, as has been pointed out endlessly, Soval's statements have been somewhat less than unemotional during his time on Earth:  he just protests otherwise every other sentence.) V'Lar made it clear that there is another way than the one T'Pol espouses, but not by insisting on it -- simply by being it.  I much prefer that.

(Admittedly, some of this could be due to a slight bias on my part: both of Fionnula Flanagan's past Trek roles, as Enina Tandro on DS9's "Dax" and Juliana Soong on TNG's "Inheritance," impressed me to no end, so I was predisposed to like what she did here as well.)

What's more, V'Lar is just similar enough to the "Fusion" renegades that there's a bit of speculation to be had.  If T'Pol found V'Lar's influence on her own life substantial when younger, perhaps that's why she was subconsciously more willing to listen to said renegades than she perhaps wanted to be on a conscious level:  they reminded her of V'Lar.  An intriguing idea, particularly if intended and followed through.

That said, "Fallen Hero" is also one of the few episodes to date that combines a solid character core with a fair bit of sweeps-style action as well.  It turns out that the Mazarites have decided they'd rather V'lar *not* leave the planet quite yet, and send ships over to pick her up.  When Archer demurs, they open fire.  Enterprise escapes the initial assault, but has to drop to impulse in order to do it, because the recently-installed phase cannon doesn't yet work properly at warp.

There's more action to come, but on this point I'll just comment that I really enjoyed seeing that the jury-rigged phase cannon *isn't perfect yet*.  What's more, the reason it's not working at warp relates to the same flaws we saw Reed and Trip work so hard to overcome in order to get the cannon working in the first place.  It's a plausible flaw, and it's one that probably ought to be happening given the novelty factor.  Again, this is a moment that seems to fit the intended tone of the series quite well.

This initial action, however, is just a setup for the real character conflict, namely that between Archer and V'Lar (with T'Pol feeling justifiably torn).  Archer wants to know why his ship's being shot at, V'Lar refuses to divulge anything, and Archer decides to set a course back to Mazar to drop her off.  If she can't justify risking their lives, he says, he has no intention of actually doing so.  (A cute line in here has V'Lar saying that any extra information might only put Enterprise at greater risk.  Archer responds by asking "how much greater could it *get*?")

Is his decision something of an overreaction?  Maybe:  I'm not sure. But even if it is, there's enough sense to the decision that the rest can just be due to Archer's past -- again, it's a plausible conflict and plausibly shown.  T'Pol's the one who ends up in the real bind:  she doesn't want to believe V'Lar is actually a criminal and thus wants to believe all of this is happening for a good reason ... but she also feels Archer's concerns are justified, and wants to be loyal to her captain. One could argue that V'Lar caves a little bit too easily in the face of T'Pol's opposition (particularly after we find out that she *does* remember their previous meeting, decades ago though it was), but I'm not sure I agree:  she bends just enough to tell T'Pol *some* of what's going on.  She's basically still trying to keep humanity in the dark as much as possible, and giving T'Pol just enough information to let *her* convince Archer that the cause is worthwhile.

Archer, of course, doesn't buy it -- anyone surprised by that is still new to the genre, methinks.  T'Pol winds up making her first ever personal appeal to Archer as a first officer:  "I'm asking for this now. Don't return the ambassador to Mazar.  Please."  That "please," particularly given that it seems to have utter sincerity behind it (rather than being something T'Pol has learned how to do), makes for a powerful moment, both for Archer and for us.  He agrees.

Most of the rest of the episode turns into action and intrigue, which is too bad in a way -- but not very, as most of the suspense is legit. Three Mazarite ships pursue, which is too many for Archer to want to fight at impulse -- so instead, we get to see the engines pushed to their limit for the first time.  Enterprise reaches warp 4.8, the Mazarites hit 4.9, and Enterprise matches, with Trip hoping like hell they can maintain it.  Eventually the ante is upped even further, and the warp 5 engine has to actually live up to its name.  The question is now one of time:  can the ship keep its speed up long enough to either reach their rendezvous point with a Vulcan cruiser, or long enough to have the Mazarites' engines give out?  Given the comparatively low-tech era the series is set in, the answer should be substantially less clear than usual -- and for the most part, it is.

With the chase on, however, V'Lar decides to come clean, at least somewhat, and tells Archer what she's really up to.  Mazar's government is mired in corruption, it seems, and a band of criminals is basically running it from the inside, enriching themselves at the expense of the general populace.  A group of Mazarites had asked Vulcan to help ferret out the criminal element, and V'Lar is scheduled to testify in a few months -- her "disgrace" was a convenient alibi to get her off-planet and to safety until that time.

This had some of the few false notes of the episode for me.  One of them is why the Vulcans would get involved in what appears to be an internal dispute at all:  it flies in the face of everything T'Pol's been telling Archer all year, if nothing else.  One could interpret that by saying that there's more at stake than this one planet, and that V'Lar is simply keeping a lot back:  that wouldn't be shocking, but it strikes me as something that could be clearer.  I'm also a bit confused, however, about why V'Lar would even tell Archer as much as she did:  if all of this was a prelude to her offering to surrender herself to the Mazarites, why bother coming clean at all?  If it's just to get enough sympathy out of Archer to keep him fighting, that's a *really* manipulative tactic, and one Archer should catch on to and seriously resent down the line.  If it's just an attack of conscience ... perhaps, but it's a little forced.  Neither note rings so false as to really get in the way, but they're not quite sitting right when I stop and think about it.

The suspense continues, however, when it becomes clear that Enterprise's engines can't hold out for much longer.  V'Lar uses a secret Vulcan diplomatic frequency to send a message out to the Chiron (the cruiser waiting for Enterprise), but it's not clear whether it got through the Mazarites' jamming or not.  At that point, however, the engines fail, and Archer needs to either hand over V'Lar, go down fighting, or stall for time in the hopes that the Vulcan cavalry show up in the next ten minutes.

He, of course, chooses option three, and the boarding Mazarites are taken to sickbay and shown the regeneration pod where the ostensibly-wounded V'Lar is recuperating after an explosion.  When Phlox refuses to open the pod and the Mazarite sensors go down (thanks to a little of Malcolm's wizardry), the Mazarites simply draw their weapons and shoot the pod up pretty fiercely.  The Chiron arrives, too late, and while the Mazarites turn over their weapons and back down, their leader gloats that at least they did what they came to do.  Naturally, it's about then that a very alive V'Lar shows up in the hallway, looking forward to adding this event to her testimony.

This was one of the other few false notes -- again, they're minor. One is that it wasn't at all clear to me whether we as viewers were supposed to actually think V'Lar was dead or not.  If we were, it was a pretty unsuccessful ploy, particularly since Archer and company didn't seem all *that* distraught to have their work all go for nothing.  If not, and it was only meant to fool the Mazarites, then again I think their reactions were a little underplayed.  A second problem is that frankly, the Mazarites were too quick to give up. Granted, there's a Vulcan cruiser outside telling you to turn over your weapons ... but you also have the captain and first officer of the Enterprise in your weapons sights.  Are the Mazarites not willing to take hostages?  This one can be explained with a simple "no," though -- particularly since they'd believed they'd carried out their primary mission, there may not be much point in exacerbating the situation.

(Another minor concern I had is that John Rubinstein tended to be just a little too smug in terms of facial expressions, even after his defeat.  I'm not sure whether it's a smirk, a sneer, or some of each, but it looked a little forced to me.)

The last scene was again a mixture of true and false notes for me. V'Lar's observation that T'Pol and Archer appear to have developed a fair amount of mutual trust is both on target and a good sign for the decades to come, and I wish she'd left it there.  Instead, she also said that she saw evidence of friendship between them, and that to me seems like jumping the gun.  I felt as though I were being told, "Look, it's Kirk and Spock all over again!  Get it?  Get it?" -- and that's not something you can get across simply by saying it.  Just as T'Pol correctly pointed out that Vulcans need to earn humans' trust if they wish to keep a good relationship with them, you can't just tell me about a friendship and expect me to buy into it.

All told, however, "Fallen Hero" satisfies an awful lot more than it disappoints.  The Archer/T'Pol/V'Lar conflict is both realistic and sensibly resolved (insofar as it needs to be, anyway), and the suspense held together better than a lot of scenes of its type.  All in all, it was one of the more enjoyable episodes we've had in a while.

Other thoughts:

-- About that opening scene, with T'Pol wondering if Trip and Archer are suffering from a lack of sexual activity:  Okay, so it sets up the Risa episode down the line, which is good, but ... somehow I can't quite see T'Pol asking about that, particularly given Vulcan sexual mores.  (It also came off as *seriously* at odds with the rest of the episode in terms of tone.)  On the other hand, the reaction to Trip's Hawaiian shirt on the bridge was pretty good, particularly the response to Trip's "Cap'n, you need this as much as I do!"  "NO ONE needs this as much as you do."

-- V'Lar:  "They are members of an organization that's infiltrated all levels of the government, making themselves wealthy and powerful at the expense of many innocent victims."  Me:  "Ah.  So they're with Enron, then."  (Okay, cheap shot, but I can't have been the *only* one coming back with that line, can I?)

-- Enterprise has now been in space for about ten months, which seems to fit nicely with the usual "one season = one year" tradition.

-- Since I mentioned earlier that Fionnula Flanagan played Juliana Soong, Data's "mother," this is a good time for a plug:  the TNG novel _Immortal Coil_ came out a few months ago, and is one of the best Data-centered stories Trek has ever had, whether on film or in print.  If you check into the novels at all, this one's well worth a look.

-- "It's called a warp *five* engine."  "On *paper*!"  Heh.

-- V'Lar's "attempt at humor" at Trip's expense came off nicely.

That should do it (and good thing, too -- this is coming out longer than usual).  "Fallen Hero" has some minor moments here and there which don't quite ring true to me, but they're most assuredly minor. I expect this one'll be one of the half-dozen or so from the season that people tend to come back to and re-examine:  it certainly provides a lot of food for thought.

So, to wrap up:

Writing:  When both the suspense side and the character conflict hang         together well, it's a good sign -- and scripter Alan Cross's         dialogue didn't hurt, either. Directing:  Nothing jumped out as truly spectacular, but certainly no         complaints. Acting:  Rubinstein was slightly iffy in spots, but fine overall --         Flanagan was terrific, and both Bakula and Blalock did         standout work.

Overall:  Let's call this one a 9, at least for now.  Good work.


Desert Survival Training 101. Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)        <*>
"If there was ever a time to start trusting us, *this* would be it."
                -- Archer
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*.  Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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