Enterprise‘s “Fortunate Son” in Review
Ensign Travis Mayweather has regularly regaled the crew with what I like to call his “tales of a boomer”. These stories of growing up on a private freighter vessel are meant to relate to the events at hand, as he is the most experienced space traveler on board. In this episode, the crew get to take part in such a tale as Enterprise is ordered to assist a recently attacked freighter manned by its own crew of “boomers”. This finally provides a chance for the series to shine the spotlight on the oft-underused crewman. We also see the return of an alien race that, later in the Star Trek chronology, features into the destiny of a certain 24th century French Starfleet captain.
We open on a scene in a large cargo module. The freighter’s captain and first officer are tossing a football back and forth in the low-g environment. This paints a picture of life aboard such a vessel – that is, until they’re attacked by a band of Nausicaan pirates.
Admiral Forrest orders Enterprise to assist the attacked cargo vessel, the ECS Fortunate. When Enterprise arrives at the freighter’s location, the distressed ship doesn’t respond to hails and shows evidence of an attack. An away team use a shuttlepod to transport aboard. They encounter the first officer, Matthew Ryan (who is not an NFL quarterback, nor is he an actor who plays John Constantine), and some other officers of the Fortunate. Captain Keene was injured in the attack, leaving Ryan in charge. Archer says repair teams are standing by to inspect the Fortunate’s damage from the attack, but the freighter’s crew is acting suspiciously. Nonetheless, Phlox insists on examining their injured captain.
We soon learn the reason for the nervousness of Ryan and his fellow crew. They’re holding one of the Nausicaans prisoner, and they don’t wish for Captain Archer to interfere with their plans for the captive.
Ensign Mayweather empathizes with Ryan’s dilemma of protecting his ship from Nausicaan attacks. However, Mayweather is rebuffed, as the Fortunate’s first officer challenges his decision to leave his family’s business and join Starfleet. The writers jump on this opportunity to finally put the focus on our young ensign. This is a very welcome development.
After T’Pol discovers the existence of the Fortunate’s prisoner, Captain Archer confronts Ryan with this knowledge. Enterprise has no jurisdiction to force the prisoner’s return, but Archer decides to undo the repairs and improvements they’ve provided to the cargo ship. He, T’Pol, Lieutenant Reed, and Doctor Phlox are tricked into a cargo module on the false pretense of a meeting with the prisoner. With the ruse revealed, there’s a short firefight. The Enterprise crewmembers end up stranded, as their module is disconnected from the vessel and left behind. Ryan meanwhile interrogates the captive pirate to learn the shield frequencies of the attacking ship so it can be destroyed.
Having rescued the stranded crewmen, Enterprise begins a hunt for the Fortunate. There’s an excellent scene between Mayweather and Archer where the ensign questions the decision to try and stop the attack on the pirate ship. We’ve commented before, several times, that T’Pol has her loyalties tested, and we get a similar conflict for Mayweather here. They do a great job of balancing Archer’s duty to stop the Fortunate contrasted by his empathy and understanding of the ensign’s viewpoint. With the decision being made, Travis returns to man the helm.
The Fortunate tracks the pirate ship to an asteroid, which houses a heavily armed Nausicaan base. The freighter finds itself at a disadvantage, as the provided frequencies prove false and the ship is heavily outclassed by the force on the base.
Enterprise soon arrives and attempts to end the confrontation. The Earth ship outguns both the outpost and the pirate vessels. The Nausicaans agree to let everyone go if the prisoner is returned. Ryan resists this accord at first, but Mayweather convinces him that continuing the conflict threatens to escalate the hostilities between freighter crews and the Nausicaans in any future encounters. Captain Keene regains consciousness and promises to deal with his insubordinate first officer. I do like seeing negotiations prevail over violence, but it seems that little is done to prevent any pirate activity by the hostile aliens.
It’s enjoyable when we get an episode which shines a spotlight on the secondary regular characters, and this episode provides such an opportunity for Mayweather.
With the showrunners having a wealth of races to pull from in the franchise’s history, it’s also good to see the use of the Nausicaans here. The episode’s core drama rises from Ryan’s understandable desire to protect his ship from their attacks. I find it interesting that, in “Fight or Flight”, Mayweather makes it sound like violent encounters with other species are rare for independent freighter vehicles, remarking, “I hope you don’t expect everyone we run into out here to be hostile. In twenty-three years, I don’t think my folks ran into a problem more than a half-dozen times.” This contrasts greatly with Ryan’s experiences. Pirates were responsible for destroying the ship he was raised on and killing his family. One wonders just how common these attacks are, considering that at least one of Ryan’s co-conspirators seems uncomfortable with his plan to exact vengeance on the Nausicaan ship.
This episode provides drama, suspense, much-needed character development, a good philosophical debate, and a three-dimensional foe in Matthew Ryan. It’s a good episode overall.