Star Trek Enterprise: Fortunate Son

Captain Keene: "Going it alone's all we've ever done. For some of us, that's the reason we're out here. A chance to prove ourselves."

By nature I love brevity: Oh look. The writers suddenly remembered that Travis exists. This episode went a long way to giving Travis interesting material. Unfortunately, it's not a great story, and it doesn't do enough for Travis.

The writers of Enterprise have a serious problem with the balance of their cast. Now, my favorite Trek series is DS9, and perhaps I am used to an ensemble cast such as that show has. But even shows I watch with clear leads, like the CW superhero shows or even Star Trek: Discovery, usually maintain a decent balance among their characters. Not in Enterprise. Archer is the unquestionable lead of the series. He takes center stage for a significant portion of every single episode. Even if it supposedly focuses on another member of the cast, such as Travis here, a large portion of the runtime will be spent on Archer dealing with the villains or making significant decisions. Trip and T'Pol get decent treatment, though nowhere near what Archer gets. And everyone else... probably has a line in every episode. It's unfortunate, especially since the show has some great characters. In particular I like Hoshi and Phlox.

But this episode does claim to focus on Travis, and to be fair it does feature him in a prominent role in the story. His relationship with the Fortunate's first officer is a key element throughout the episode and especially in the climax, and he does get some good scenes and weighty material. We got to learn a bit about Travis' backstory beyond the fact that he grew up on a cargo ship, and he was developed emotionally far more than we've ever seen. Anthony Montgomery does a fair job with the material he's given, although it's nothing too special.

The main issue of the episode revolves around the merchant ship the E.C.S. Fortunate, a Y-class cargo freighter similar to the one Travis' parents own. The ship is commanded by Captain Keene (Charles Lucia), who is injured early on in an attack by Nausi- wait, what? Nausicaans? Really? Did we really need Nausicaans in this time period? Well, okay, then. I suppose they are recognizable enough to Trek fans that they present a credible threat, but not important enough to break canon entirely by appearing. I'll give you this one, Enterprise showrunners.

The Nausicaan pirates, it turns out, raid Earth cargo ships somewhat often. Travis' home ship, the Horizon, had run-ins with them several times. This raid, however, has left the Fortunate significantly more damaged than most do. They send out a distress signal, which Enterprise picks up. But upon Enterprise's arrival, first officer Matthew Ryan (Lawrence Monoson) informs the crew that no assistance will be necessary. The distress signal must have been a mistake, and they no longer need anything from anyone else. After learning that Enterprise has an advanced medical facility, however, he begrudgingly agrees to allow the ship to stay so their captain can heal. And since they have to stay nearby anyway, Archer finally convinces him to let Enterprise's engineers help them fix the damage to their ship.

It soon becomes clear, though, that Ryan is hiding something. He's holding and interrogating a Nausicaan prisoner (D. Elliot Woods) in an attempt to get revenge. It doesn't take long for T'Pol to discover this, and Archer confronts Ryan about it. Only by threatening to remove all the repairs they've done does Archer succeed in convincing Ryan to let them see the prisoner.

There's a scene between Travis and Ryan here that I don't want to skip over, because it's important. Ryan, it turns out, lost his family in an incident on a cargo ship. Presumably it involved the Nausicaans, which would explain his vendetta. As the conversation turns, Travis tries to convince Ryan to join Starfleet. Ryan reacts defensively, and flat-out accuses Travis of abandoning his family to come aboard Enterprise.

Here's where the episode could've become interesting, at least for Travis' character. Maybe he should have been won over to Ryan's cause from this speech, and gone with them in their crusade against the Nausicaans. Then he would see that Ryan isn't thinking rationally and is using terrible methods, decide not to participate in the final battle, then watch as the crew fights the Nausicaans and all dies. Is it predictable, and a story we've seen before? Yes. But the reason we've seen stories like that before is because those stories tend to develop their main characters. They teach the character a lesson; the character changes and grows. That's what I wanted from this episode, and didn't get.

Once Ryan takes them to see the prisoner, the episode picks up. Of course he doesn't really let them talk to the Nausicaan; it's a trap and the Fortunate gets away. We discover that Ryan has been interrogating the Nausicaan in order to get the shield frequencies of the Nausicaan ships. He finally gets the information not long after they escape from Enterprise. He has a brief conversation with Crewman Shaw (Kieran Mulroney), who is having doubts about the methods they've been using. It's good that the episode is showing dissent among the Fortunate crew, as it adds depth to their situation.

The climax is fairly by the numbers. The Nausicaan gave them the wrong frequencies, of course, and they get themselves into some real trouble. Enterprise shows up and attempts to de-escalate the situation by convincing Ryan to hand over the Nausicaan prisoner. Travis gets back into the story here, as he is the one who gets Ryan to give in. His appeal on behalf of his family is very effective, especially to this man who lost his family to a similar situation. It's nice that none of the Fortunate crew died from this incident, though it does feel a tad too nicely wrapped.

The very end of the episode is slightly rough, too. The final scene is a conversation between Archer and Captain Keene, who has now woken up from his coma. The conversation is great, but the problem with it is that Archer is the one carrying the final scene, not Travis. Again, it shows the writers' tendency to use Archer to the exclusion of everyone else. It's lazy, and it underutilizes the show's greatest characters.

Strange New Worlds:

No new planets to visit this time around.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Nausicaans, while not new to the franchise, make their first Enterprise appearance and their first chronological appearance on Star Trek. The species has a long history, and has appeared on TNG, DS9, and even VOY. Notable appearances include TNG: "Tapestry."

Pensees:

-Travis grew up on the E.C.S. Horizon.

-I liked the football in space in the beginning. It really showed the crossover between the boomer culture and our current culture in today's world.

-Travis says there are three more NX-class ships on the drawing board.

-I really like the scene between Archer and Travis, where Travis expresses doubts about going after Ryan. That's how I wanted them to use Archer in this one, as a mentor figure for Travis.

-The Nausicaan ships looked pretty decent, though they could've looked a tad bit scarier.

Quotes:

T'Pol, covering for a kid playing hide-and-seek: "I'm sorry, I don't know which child is named Nadine."
Cute way to use the old trope of 'Vulcans can't lie,' even though this show has kind of thrown that out the window for good.

Archer: "Human beings have a code of behavior that applies whether they're Starfleet officers or space boomers. And it isn't driven by revenge. Just because someone isn't born on Earth doesn't make him any less human."

3.5 out of 6 poorly balanced casts. Better than average, but not great.

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CoramDeo loves being a rational person because it means he can rationalize anything he wants to do.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I thought this one was weak and formulaic. It's a shame that it didn't do much to spotlight Travis.

The most interesting thing about this episode was the glimpse we got of the multi-generational "boomer" subculture. Space travel during the Enterprise time period is something like sea travel hundreds of years ago on Earth, with danger and high stakes and pirates and all-powerful maverick-like captains with the power of life and death. It is strongly implied that this type of lifestyle is on the way out, and perhaps that isn't a good thing -- at least the boomers don't think it's a good thing. But things change and a new day is coming. A bunch of human mavericks waging war with the Nausicaans is not something that would fly with the not-yet-existent Federation.

This episode was directed by Levar Burton. Levar deserved better.

Another terrific review, CoramDeo.