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The Trek Nation - Fortunate Son

Fortunate Son

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 22, 2001 - 4:43 AM GMT

See Also: 'Fortunate Son' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Admiral Forrest asks Captain Archer to assist the cargo ship Fortunate, which is not responding to hails. Enterprise finds the vessel damaged from a space battle and under the command of First Officer Ryan, for Captain Keene has been injured in an attack by Nausicaan pirates. Though they initially refuse help with repairs, claiming they'd rather handle everything themselves, Archer insists on having Phlox treat their captain and offers Tucker's services to replicate engineering parts. Ryan tells his crew they must hide the fact that they have a Nausicaan prisoner on board.

Mayweather and Ryan strike up a friendship based on their common backgrounds, since both grew up on cargo ships and hate resequenced meatloaf. But Ryan scorns Mayweather's decision to join Starfleet, believing he betrayed his fellow 'Boomers' by leaving, depriving the crew of the freighter of his experience and skills. Meanwhile, as she works to repair the Fortunate, T'Pol finds a Nausicaan bio-sign. Ryan insists that since the aliens stole his cargo and attacked his people, he has a right to treat the prisoner as he sees fit; Archer insists that humans have to maintain a humane code of behavior whether or not they're in Starfleet, and threatens to take back all the parts Enterprise has given Fortunate. Reluctantly Ryan allows Archer and an away team back onto his ship, but instead of taking them to the Nausicaan, he locks them in a cargo hold and dumps the compartment in space.

Enterprise rescues the away team while Fortunate goes to warp to confront the Nausicaans. The Starfleet crew arrives in time to see three alien vessels surrounding the Fortunate, and to learn that three Nausicaans have boarded the freighter. Since Ryan won't listen to Archer, the captain lets Mayweather talk instead; he tells his fellow Boomer that a fight for revenge won't help protect other cargo ships and might put his own family at risk. Under fire from the aliens and pressure from his own crew, Ryan agrees to surrender his Nausicaan prisoner. When Captain Keene recovers, he laments the changes faster ships have wrought for old-style spacefarers.


Analysis: Despite being a bit didactic and predictable, 'Fortunate Son' improves on last week's 'Civilization' by tackling a subject that's never been adequately addressed on previous Trek shows -- the relationship between merchant ships and Starfleet. Plus we finally get to see Mayweather's mettle. I'm ambivalent about the depth of his loyalty to Starfleet, though perhaps that would be different under a different captain than Archer; the previews led us to believe that the two would have a confrontation, when in fact they share two scenes of mutual respect and understanding. The junior officer opens his mouth to interrupt a delicate negotiation, and instead of condemning him for it, Archer lets him convince Ryan to work for the best interests of them all.

Thus 'Fortunate Son' proves to be a strong Archer episode even though he reverses himself more than once on a course of action -- as in 'Breaking the Ice' and 'The Andorian Incident,' this doesn't make him look weak, it makes him look thoughtful. Neither he nor Tucker think twice when T'Pol recommends getting the hell out of the storage compartment before it decompresses, when just a few weeks ago either one of them might have double-checked her conclusions. And his convictions never waver -- he knows in his gut that it's wrong to let the cargo ship torture and possibly execute a prisoner, even though there's apparently no formal amnesty for pirates and no governing body for the private cargo freighters where captains apparently have unnervingly broad powers. As with Kirk, he expects his sense of proper human behavior to hold for everyone, but he's living in an era when there are fewer checks on him as well; like Janeway, he can't count on calls for help or advice from admirals.

Speaking of admirals, Forrest's request that Enterprise investigate Fortunate's silence is never completely explained, given Starfleet's apparent lack of jurisdiction where the freighters are concerned. Obviously it's not good for humans in space if alien attackers take out Earth freighters, but can Starfleet really afford to chase after every wandering ship staffed by humans? I expected a twist like the discovery that Ryan had been ordered to get the Nausicaan shield frequencies for Starfleet, but we never got any evidence of anything beneath the surface. Ryan's concern for his crew, like Captain Ransom's from Voyager's 'Equinox,' manifests itself in unfortunate decisions, but there's no hint of a conspiracy behind his choices.

Mayweather's choices are the emotional pivot for the episode. We get a tremendous amount of character background in a few tightly-written scenes -- now we know he was conceived during a boring cargo run, his parents are still together on the Horizon, his sister and her husband live there as well, and he suffers from guilt over his choice to leave them to join Starfleet despite his suggestion that he intends to return to them one day. We hear obliquely of the catastrophe that killed Ryan's family but if Mayweather has similar horror stories, he doesn't mention them.

Maybe this explains why he's not more agitated about the damage the Nausicaans have apparently wreaked on Horizon, or maybe it's because, as he says, his father never encountered a situation he couldn't handle. They took care of their own, and would have scoffed at some Starfleet vessel showing up to tell them what they could and couldn't do, he says -- so how come he's not more bothered by Archer's intervention? At first Mayweather's concern seems to be only with the issue of butting in; until Archer brings it up, he doesn't appear to have thought about what would happen to the Nausicaan prisoner or damaged Nausicaan ships, beyond that Ryan would probably 'blow them out of sky.'

Archer insists that whether one is a Starfleet officer born on Earth or a Boomer born in space, the same code of human behavior applies, and Mayweather agrees instantly. But it's not clear whether he believes all that from his upbringing or whether he is just easily persuaded by his affable, charismatic captain and friends on Enterprise. I'd like to know which, because it would tell us a lot more about Mayweather (who initially calls Ryan's behavior logical) and about Boomers in general. Keene suggests that Ryan needs discipline after failing his trust and that of the crew, but other than Shaw, we don't see any others among his crew objecting. Surely the rest have strong opinions one way or the other about how the Nausicaans should be dealt with. Are the parents willing to risk their children's lives on a mission of revenge? Or do they believe they're safeguarding their children's future? Keene says that those who grew up on the ship see that stretch of space as their own, and many stay aboard for the chance to prove themselves. In all likelihood, that won't always be compatible with the code of human behavior espoused by Archer.

Anthony Montgomery gives a solid, earnest performance as Mayweather, playing a sensitive soul rather than a conflicted young man, in keeping with his role as a Starfleet officer but not allowing for a lot of range. Unfortunately this allows the misguided but assertive Ryan to overshadow him until the end of the episode. The Nausicaan prisoner, too, remains powerfully enigmatic -- I'd like to see him again, though on Next Gen they seemed to be fairly one-dimensional big bad aliens so perhaps they don't evolve much. We don't see much of the other regulars though T'Pol has a nice moment assisting a girl in a game of hide-and-seek, haughtily evading a question by the pursuers.

Most of 'Fortunate Son's sense of fun comes out in the early scenes, with a tone set by Porthos' puppy-dog eyes (and a near-naked Archer answering a summons -- I still find the use of sexuality on this series largely gratuitous but at least there's equal-opportunity gratuitousness). After several Trek series testifying to the existence of baseball in future centuries, I am pleased to know that some Boomers prefer football, though personally I'd be more inclined to use low-gravity zones to try Quidditch. Ryan and Mayweather swap jokes about mystery meals and reconstituted birthday cake. Archer manages to be lighthearted asking his crewman whether he has any other issues with the captain's orders, but from that point forward the episode becomes deadly serious; the only levity comes when the Nausicaan captain suggests deadpan that the humans must have come to return their lost crewmember.

Though it's not as visually interesting as 'Civilization,' 'Fortunate Son' leaves a strong overall impression using minimal sets and a few nice effects -- I particularly like the butterfly-shaped Nausicaan ships, quite the opposite of what I was expecting from the fanged ones. And although there are fewer colorful characters, one leaves with the sense that this episode has a theme worth pondering, with greater moral ambiguity and more subtle performances. It's a fortunate choice for this sweeps month.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes and Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She has written for magazines and sites such as SFX, Cinescape and Another Universe. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.