WARNING: It ain't me ... it ain't me ... oh, wait, it *is* me -- and these are spoilers for ENT's "Fortunate Son."�
In brief: Very solid character work -- a keeper.�
"Fortunate Son" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 9 Written by James Duff Directed by LeVar Burton Brief summary: Mayweather is conflicted when the Enterprise finds itself caught in a private war involving space "boomers."
Okay, it's clearly time for those individuals making the ENT previews to get with the program, as this is the second week in a row that they've been seriously, and unpleasantly, misleading. With "Civilization" last week, it looked as though the focus was "Archer romances the alien babe of the week," when in fact that was a fairly peripheral part of the show. This time, "Fortunate Son" looked from advance publicity as though it was going to be one of those "cast member with divided heritage has to decide where his loyalties lie" episodes -- Odo had more than one, Kira had a few, Worf had about six million (including what I'd call the very first one of its type, TNG's "Heart of Glory"). Instead, we got an episode where Mayweather's conflicts were a lot more internal, and a lot more subtle.
"Fortunate Son" begins somewhat atypically, on two counts. First, the entire teaser has nothing whatsoever to do with the Enterprise itself -- we've seen that before, in "The Andorian Incident," but it's still rare. Second, this is the first time we've seen Archer actually receive *orders* on where to go rather than just going where the mood takes him: Admiral Forest calls and orders the Enterprise to assist the freighter Fortunate, which has sent out a distress call. (And yes, I realize Archer referred to "Terra Nova" as a mission, but it's a little different here.) As Mayweather was born on an ore freighter (the Horizon), Archer hopes his input will be valuable. (His expertise in the day-to-day experience becomes clear early on, when he points out that the established number of crewmembers won't include newborns; as he puts it, "at Warp 1.8, you've got a lot of time on your hands between ports. That's how my parents wound up with me.")
Eventually, the Enterprise finds the Fortunate and boards her after there's no response to hails. Once there, they (and we) find that the captain's been wounded, that first officer Matthew Ryan is acting captain, and that the Fortunate's crew is not in the habit of accepting help from outsiders. Phlox more or less insists that he at least offer medical assistance, and when it turns out the captain's injuries will require two or three days to treat, Ryan reluctantly accepts engineering assistance as well. Why "reluctantly?" Because, as we quickly discover, he's got a Nausicaan prisoner on board whom he's torturing for information that will help him put an end to their pirating activities.
At this point, the show basically tries to cover ground on two fronts. On one front, there's the question of whether Ryan's choice of waging a one-man war on the Nausicaans is justified. A quieter issue that gets raised several times, however, is that these freighter crews' entire way of life is going to change once the spaceways get crowded with starships, and how easy or hard that's going to be to accept. That's an issue we've never gotten to see among humans before (on Trek, anyway -- it's got lots of historical parallels), and I like it a *lot*. The immediate threat here was ended, but this is the sort of long-term issue that can simmer in more than a few situations -- I'd like to see more of it.
I'm of two minds about how quickly we discovered that Ryan's hiding something, though. On the one hand, the meat of the episode isn't about Ryan so much as it is about Mayweather, and by getting that plot point revealed early we got to cut to the chase. On the other hand, it's Mayweather's own experience as a boomer that really informs his reactions, and it's not as easy for us to understand that experience if the only freighter we get to see is commanded by Well- Intentioned Nutcase #47B.
That said, the episode does a good job gradually ramping up Mayweather's misgivings. Initially, he and Ryan are on fairly good terms: Mayweather gives Ryan a tour of some of the Enterprise's highlights, including the transporter (which Ryan has never seen), the warp 5 engine, and the well-stocked dining room. Mayweather is proud of everything he's surrounded by, and generally with good reason -- I particularly like his curiosity about the transporter. Ryan, however, is more concerned with why Mayweather chose to leave the Horizon in the first place -- if everyone goes off to join Starfleet, he fears, no one will be left on the freighter runs and his way of life will die off. Mayweather disagrees, but Ryan plays the guilt card extremely well: he makes Mayweather wonder if his family really supported his choice, or just said what Mayweather wanted to hear.
As much as I dismissed Ryan earlier, though, he and Travis are easily the strongest characters of the show. Ryan's gone over the edge, to be sure, but he's generally convincing about it -- and a lot of his arguments are at worst short-sighted. He's seen his ship damaged and his captain nearly killed by Nausicaan raiders, and is so convinced that "progress" is passing him by that he's obsessed with solving problems on his own without outside help. Is he seeing the likely consequences of his acts? No -- but in a lot of ways, neither does Mayweather initially. Is he thinking rationally? No -- but given everything he's been through, that's not surprising.
Even when he's found out and tries to rid himself of Archer and company, Ryan tries to be humane. He leads them into a trap that leads to a firefight, yes -- but that firefight looked much more like a delaying tactic to me than a deliberate attempt to kill anyone. Given how much control Ryan had over the situation once the Enterprise team was sealed in, if he'd wanted them dead they'd *be* dead. Instead, he simply cuts that part of his ship loose, with enough of a leak that the Enterprise can't chase him but not so much of one as to be instantly lethal.
One of the few false notes the episode struck came when Mayweather goes to talk to Archer. The core of the scene was absolutely fine, and a huge improvement over what we'd been led to expect from the trailer: rather than challenging Archer openly, Mayweather goes to him privately and respectfully expresses some misgivings. My real concern, I suppose, is that Archer's response and Mayweather's acceptance suggests that Archer is 100% in the right, with no gray areas to doubt at all. I'm not buying that. Mayweather's argument to Ryan later, that in going after the Nausicaans, Ryan is putting other freighters at greater risk rather than lesser, is a marvelous answer -- Archer's claim that all humans have codes of behavior regardless of origins or lifestyle comes off as entirely too glib in comparison. Given how young Mayweather is, I can see him accepting the argument at first -- but later on, I think Mayweather should've challenged it a bit, and I definitely think Keene (the Fortunate's captain) should have said a little something about how heavy-handed Archer's approach was. I don't object to Archer's ethics or his overall actions -- I just think he was too heavy-handed, and that the justification was too self-serving to stand unchallenged.
The remainder of the episode was a little predictable, and in some ways reminiscent of DS9's "Valiant." Ryan gets crucial information from his Nausicaan prisoner, shouts down his assistant's objections, and tries to wage his own personal war on the Nausicaans, walking into an ambush and nearly getting his crew killed in the process. By this time, Ryan's unfortunately become a little less three-dimensional than he was earlier, which had me feeling a little detached during much of this battle. Mayweather's argument to and with Ryan was superb, however.
Both on the writing and the directing end, the episode's as significant for what it *doesn't* show and tell as what it does. For example, Ryan makes reference to another freighter, the Northstar -- clearly something disastrous happened there which claimed a lot of lives, but we don't really know what. Given that Ryan and Mayweather both know extremely well what happened, though, there's no reason anyone should be giving us the exposition ... so we don't get it. I appreciate that. I also appreciate the fact that no one ever comes out and directly says that Ryan's entire hostage-taking resulted in nothing more than false information -- the results make that plain, but everyone's too busy to really say much about it. Lastly, we don't find out exactly why Mayweather left the Horizon -- and in this case, I suspect it's because Mayweather himself can't quite put his reasons into words. I'm expecting we'll find out more about this eventually (I assume we'll actually meet his parents at some point, for instance), but for now that ambiguity felt right.
On the other hand, one thing the episode *does* show and really needed was the tag scene at the end between Archer and Captain Keene. Without that scene, I think we'd be left with the sense that Ryan is a typical boomer, and that Mayweather's the aberration -- with it, it's clear that most boomers are independent, but also reasonable people. There's a real difference between these early explorers and the Enterprise crew, who do their exploring in relative comfort and can head home relatively easily if needed. This scene pointed that out without harping on it, which I also think is a plus.
Acting-wise, a lot of this show rested on Anthony Montgomery (Mayweather), and fortunately he was up to the task. A couple of his early lines, like "besides, the Horizon didn't have transporters to play with" and the whole bit about "mystery meals," felt forced the way he delivered them -- but his two really key scenes were the conversation with Archer and the final arguments to Ryan, and I think he nailed them both handily. Mayweather sounded passionate, but still somewhat young and green ... which is exactly how he should have sounded, I think. Kudos.
Lawrence Monoson (Ryan) also did a fairly good job -- certainly a much better one than when we saw him years ago on DS9's "The Storyteller." When Ryan tried to be menacing or openly passionate, such as some of his interrogation sequences, things felt a bit off to me -- but most of the time Ryan was just someone who's been through hell and tends to bottle a lot up. That worked.
-- In terms of "fun with words," it's interesting to see how the preview managed to mischaracterize the episode so completely. Mayweather's concern that "maybe this isn't any of our business" is quoted without the "maybe," and that one omission gives the entire line a very different flavor. Similarly, Archer's "are there any other orders of mine you'd like to question?" comes off very differently when you can see the smile Archer has while saying it.
-- In terms of "fun with numbers," however, I've got to question something. We're told that the Fortunate has a crew complement of 23, and the "24 bio-signs" T'Pol detects is supposed to be an obvious hint about the presence of the Nausicaan. We know there are kids on board, though, and I'm having difficulty believing they're considered *crew*. It's certainly easy enough to rationalize (mainly that T'Pol made a poor choice of words), but seems a bit odd.
-- Several of the visuals this time around are absolutely gorgeous: I quite liked the initial shot of the shuttlepod swooping around to dock on the Fortunate, for instance. (On the other hand, the low-G game of catch felt very contrived visually, though the idea of it was great.)
-- Porthos fans, take heart: he's back, albeit briefly.
-- So, the Nausicaans have been around for a while, it seems. We must have a good effect on them, though: later on they give up piracy and just stab future Starfleet captains during bar brawls. :-)
-- The Archer/Forest scene seemed to click pretty well -- it's obvious that Archer doesn't want to go back, but he's restrained about it. The reference to "subspace amplifiers" to keep communications open was also nice.
-- I like the fact that the distress call was an honest mistake. (And yes, there's only Ryan's word for that, but the explanation makes a lot of sense.)
That pretty much does it, I think. "Fortunate Son" has a few false notes, but mostly dealt with a clash of operating philosophies and did it honestly -- on a character level, I can't ask for too much more than that.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: The plot's a little predictable towards the end and Archer's justifications are questionable, but the general core of the show was marvelous. Directing: Lots of good visuals, and Burton generally kept things restrained without being too quiet. Acting: A few minor false notes, mostly early -- but fine overall.
OVERALL: 8.5; well worth keeping.
Remember that "temporal cold war" thing? Looks like it's heating up...
[And my review next week will undoubtedly be late, as I'm going out of
town; sorry for any inconvenience!]
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Don't kid yourself thinking you're doing this for some greater good.
This is about revenge, nothing else."
Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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