Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Fortunate Son"


Air date: 11/21/2001
Written by James Duff
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

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

Note: This episode was rerated from 3.5 to 3 stars when the season recap was written.

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

"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.

Previous episode: Civilization
Next episode: Cold Front

Season Index

12 comments on this review

Cloudane - Thu, Apr 21, 2011 - 4:15pm (USA Central)
Commander Keen got a promotion? (Sorry, showing my age and computer game geekiness)

Way better than Voyager's episode with a similar title (Favorite Son), although that one was about their least interesting character (also an ensign) temporarily getting a story.. I hope Mayweather wasn't intended to go the same way. They'd shown here what CAN be done with the character.
Michael - Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - 5:23am (USA Central)
A really good and interesting show, as far as the "historical" perspective.

What really bunched my shorts though is the ludicrous political correctness being peddled left and right. The freighter crew was under unremitting assaults and kept taking heavy damage and casualties for months. They captured one of their foes and beat vital intelligence out of him. That though, in the brave new 22nd-century world, is an abomination, apparently. Reminds me of the story from a few months ago of the English navy handing out blankets and cups of hot tea to Somali pirates they captured off the Horn of Africa, before letting them go.

Archer is a sanctimonious prick. Sometimes you DO have to "blow your opponent out of the sky," as Travis said, even if it "doesn't sit well" with you. Travis's little speech toward the end was, frankly, embarrassing. And what of the supposed resolution: Are we to believe that the Nausicaans will henceforth foreswear piracy and go on the lecture circuit declaiming how they turned their lives around by embracing peace, tolerance and diversity?

I guess according to P.C. canon, use of force of any kind--even in self-defense--is all but verboten. The entire notion is premised on the latter-day college psychology view of a bully (and other types of criminal) as, really, a victim to be helped, rather than an adversary to be defeated. Pathetic.

Archer: "Perhaps we have an opportunity here to improve relations between your people and mine." *puke* Perhaps Start Trek should spend more time doing sci-fi and less time trying to inculcate pacifistic (not to be confused with pacifist) propaganda in their viewers. In any case, I hope the West doesn't have to fight a defensive war anytime soon because with attitudes like that, we're screwed.
Captain Jim - Tue, Jul 3, 2012 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
But this isn't about using force in self defense; that was never questioned. This is about torturing people and using force for nothing more than revenge, consequences be damned. I'll take Archer's approach, thank you.
CeeBee - Thu, Aug 30, 2012 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
What struck me most was the attitude of the boomers to change that could benefit them. They are offered upgrades to their engines, to their weapons and they all refuse it. It's like truckers turning down 18-wheelers because they like to stick to their horses and carriages. They rather make a buck every two years than make a buack every two months. That was way beyond believable.

I also wonder what the viability is of piracy in a galactic society that has the weapons to blast parts of planets in one single shot. One day you pick the wrong guy and you're toast. Look at the pirates someone mentioned here off the Somalian coast. They managed to draw the attention of an international fleet to their doorstep, which is quite detrimental to their business. Let's take one Klingon vessel at the wrong end of the equasion and the Nausicans are in for rock and roll.

I liked the conversation at the end between the two captains, though. I'd wishthere would be more interactions of this kind and quality in the show.

I also wondered where the Vulcans were. Weren't they constantly looking over the shoulders of Enterprise? Great moment not to be around.

And a last nitpick: I thought Enterprise was going out to discover new worlds and new civilizations, boldly going where no one had gone before. But one day they're discovering an installment of the game 1492 on a planet no one has seemingly discovered before, next week they're meeting with a boomer ship regularly flying through this vicinity. What flight pattern is Enterprise following? Why were they so negative about the Vulcans holding them back if humans already regularly fly out this far? Take a boomer ship with a pimped up warp three engine and head out for five years. No need to even ask the Vulcans for help or guidance.
Annie - Sat, Nov 3, 2012 - 7:50pm (USA Central)
Here I was thinking Mayweather has a backbone after all, and then the conversation in Archer's quarters takes us back to square one. Mayweather had a point about noninterference, but of course it only takes a 15-second, condescending speech from Archer to make him see how wrong he was. "Thank you, sir. Thank you." I was embarrassed for him.
MAd - Sun, Jan 6, 2013 - 1:56am (USA Central)
"But this isn't about using force in self defense; that was never questioned. This is about torturing people and using force for nothing more than revenge, consequences be damned. I'll take Archer's approach, thank you."

Bullcrap. Arhcer was against even taking a a prisoner. And what the hell is the alternative? Should they just sit on their asses and let these pirates kill them? Especially, since we know Starfleet doesn't give a crap about them and neither does Archer? What Ryan was doing IS self defence. Yes, he might do it badly, but atleast he's doing SOMETHING.

"It only takes a 15-second, condescending speech from Archer to make him see how wrong he was."

Except he was wasn't wrong. Archer was just being self-righteous asshole.
mark - Fri, Feb 8, 2013 - 9:56am (USA Central)
What would Kirk have done?

He would have immediately attacked the Nausicaan vessels that had surrounded the Fortunate, and after disabling them he would have taken the Nausicaan hostage from Ryan (and made a speech to Ryan about how Starfleet doesn't condone torture.) Then he would have given the hostage back to the Nausicaans with a warning that next time their ships won't be making it home from a fight with an NX vessel, and that piracy won't be tolerated.

What did Archer do? He essentially insured that the Nausciaans will continue to attack Earth freighters. Oh, and Kirk would have had a drink with the freighter captain. It's puzzling that Archer wasn't willing to.

Archer's a strange bird: on the one hand his optimism and willingness to bend over backward to avoid military solutions seems completely in character for one of the first Starfleet captains, who would be more akin to astronauts than military commanders. On the other hand the guy is just a little too optimistic and eager, and I would have liked to see some backbone in the first captain of an NX ship.

The lesson here: Kirk is always right.
happydude - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 2:22pm (USA Central)
"If Starfleet is going to venture out, it must be prepared to grow up and react with logic rather than raw emotion."
So, daring to defend yourself against pirates that attack you constantly = reacting with raw emotion.
And sitting back and letting them kill you while you twiddle your thumbs, shrug your shoulders and say, "ah, c'est la vie, I suppose!" = LOGIC
NCC-1701-Z - Mon, Jul 28, 2014 - 9:30pm (USA Central)
@mark: I completely agree with you as to what Archer should have done. The episode itself as a whole was all right to me, but the ending left a bad taste in my mouth. After the end credits, I said, "That's gonna come back to bite them later."

One could look at this in terms of 'Archer and humanity are inexperienced, they're slowly learning their way around the cosmos' but really though, it should just be common sense to anyone with an IQ above 50. After all, it's Starfleet's job to protect ships like the Fortunate. Shooting back at the Nausicaans would get that message across real fast. To quote a commander figure from another sci-fi franchise, "If you keep running from a schoolyard bully, he keeps on chasing you. But the moment you turn around and stop and you punch him really hard in a sensitive spot, he'll think twice about coming back again."

I think Archer learned this lesson by season 3, though (see "Anomaly") - too bad it took that long.
Yanks - Tue, Jul 29, 2014 - 8:19am (USA Central)
I liked this episode.

...and I don't think Archer or T'Pol were wrong.

There is nothing logical by dealing with this problem by taking a hostage. Especially when 99.9% of the time you are alone and most likely out gunned. Is it a perfect world? No, but throwing gas on the fire when you don't have a bucket of water is dangerous and borderline stupid. Letting the Nausicaans know that Star Fleet was “out here” was the right approach.

No problem with the Archer/Travis conversation in his cabin. Archer's point was valid, but I think he should have brought up future consequences to being the aggressor. Next time it might not be just the cargo they are looking for.

I didn't like this line though:

"ARCHER: Any other orders of mine you'd like to question?"

Pretty snotty there.

I think this episode brings out that not everyone is fit for command as well.

Good "Travis episode". I wish the series had more of these.

No question they should have taken some upgrades, I think the Fortunate Captain should have taken some when he was back on his feet.

I thought it was more of a jealousy/envy thing rather than "we are short people" whine. Ryan always talked about "who will be left" etc, but I thought there was something else in his conversations. "boomer life wasn't good enough"... etc.

I too enjoyed the conversations between Captains at the end.

Archer should have taken a shot of Drilaxian Whisky. Captains are on call 24/7. The "I'm on duty" cop out would get old. He's not asking him to get plastered.

3 stars for me.
Reflectioninternal - Sat, Sep 6, 2014 - 3:06am (USA Central)
I think that one thing that everyone is missing is that in the episode torturing the captive DIDN'T WORK. He gave them false shield frequencies hoping his captors would do exactly what they did, attack a superior force with bad intel, leading to his rescue. That's the problem with torture, it's really easy to lie to your torturers if the info isn't independently confirmable. The episode gets major brownie points from me for that alone.

Also, the Enterprise did fire back launching four torpedoes by my count, presumably doing enough damage to deter the Nausicaans until a diplomatic solution could be reached. Archer was aggressive with the Nausicaans hardly being a straight pacifist in the moment, then telling them that Starfleet was building a fleet of fast, well armed ships that would begin to protect all human trade vessels very soon, and maybe piracy isn't going to be the best line of work in the near future. However, Archer's job isn't to be a one ship anti-piracy task force, his job is to find the fastest, most expedient solution to the immediate problem at hand, *maybe* setting up some groundwork for further enforcement action in the future and then get on with his mission.

Maybe it's true that Kirk would have kept the firefight going even after the Nausicaans broke off their attack, having achieved their aims (rescuing their man), but I've always thought Kirk was too heavy handed in using force.
Jerry - Fri, Oct 17, 2014 - 1:45am (USA Central)
Here's the speech I would have liked to have heard from Archer to Travis:
I get the whole cargo ship is a family thing. I get the whole Starfleet doesn't have jurisdiction thing. I even get the revenge against the Nausicans thing. If Ryan wants to go after the pirates, fine. But he tried to kill four innocent people, me included. I have a big problem with people who try to kill me and my crew, I'm funny that way. Don't tell me he knew the Enterprise would rescue us in plenty of time; he fired on us! He fired on my ship! That is unacceptable. I'm going after him, I'm going to throw him in the brig, then I'm going to make sure he's tried for attempted murder.

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