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Star Trek: Enterprise – Fallen Hero (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Fallen Hero works quite well. While it isn’t sturdy or tight enough to stand with the very best of this first season, it is an engaging diplomatic thriller elevated by a fantastic guest performance, a nice focus on T’Pol and a surprisingly warm approach to the Vulcans. Easily the strongest episode between Shuttlepod One and Shockwave, Fallen Hero is a solid adventure that offers a glimpse of a more promising future.

I'll drink to that...

I’ll drink to that…

The plot of Fallen Hero is remarkably straightforward. It is a very familiar Star Trek plot, with the crew of the series accommodating an alien diplomat. Every Star Trek series has played with that basic template in one form or another, often multiple times in the same season. Fallen Hero is much more straightforward than most of those “ferrying diplomat” stories; often those episodes use the diplomats or aliens as an excuse to tell a particular type of story. With Fallen Hero, the story is pretty simple. Archer has been assigned to ferry a Vulcan diplomat from a planet to a Vulcan ship. Some aliens try to stop him.

It’s a very simple set-up. There are no real convolutions here, no unnecessary complexities. On the one hand, this is another story that we have seen done countless times before, but Fallen Hero finds a way to capitalise on its own simplicity. Set mostly on familiar sets with a tightly-knit cast, Fallen Hero is elevated by its decision to focus on the guest character. Recruiting veteran Irish actor Fionnula Flanagan to play the ambassador, Fallen Hero gives us one of the first season’s most memorable guest stars.

Trip really took "casual Friday" to heart...

Trip really took “casual Friday” to heart…

Fionnula Flanagan is one the franchise’s stronger recurring guest stars never to land a recurring a role, appearing on the show several years before a recurring role on Lost really brought her to mainstream attention. Interestingly, Flanagan never had to audition for her guest roles – she was offered them. Then again, this isn’t too much of a surprise. Flanagan’s performance as Vulcan Ambassador V’Lar is phenomenal – just as memorable as her appearance as Juliana Tainer on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

V’Lar is very much the heart-and-soul of Fallen Hero, a guest character around whom the entire episode revolves. That’s a lot of weight to put on a guest star, but Flanagan is more than up to the task. She crafts a fascinating one-shot character who ranks among the more interesting Vulcans the franchise has ever produced. V’Lar feels rather distinct from the rest of the Vulcan characters who have appeared on Enterprise to date.

Reach out and touch somebody...

Reach out and touch somebody…

According to writer Chris Black, this was a conscious choice. There was a very clear effort to distinguish V’Lar from the Vulcans who had appeared on the show beforehand:

Enterprise hasn’t painted all Vulcans with the same brush, according to Black, who cited Fallen Hero as an example of a different take on the race, as embodied in the character of V’Lar. “You see a character who’s noble, who is self-sacrificing, who — when confronted by Archer — tells him the truth because he deserves to know,” he said. 

Broken Bow clearly established why Archer has a bone to pick with the aliens, but Fallen Hero produced a change in the NX-01 commander. “He’s always been very wary of them, and felt that his father wasn’t allowed to see his dream realised because the Vulcans had been withholding information from him,” Black said. “And then to meet a character like V’Lar… now,he’s learning that T’Pol isn’t the exception — that there are many Vulcans who are honest and noble, loyal and helpful.”

It feels appropriate that V’Lar’s name sounds like a riff on “valour”, given her willingness to risk her own reputation to help the citizens of Mazar.

A familiar storytelling engine...

A familiar storytelling engine…

It is worth stressing that the oft-criticised portrayal of Vulcans on Enterprise was hardly out of character. Based on episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel, let alone Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the suggestion that Vulcans might be morally ambiguous has considerable basis in the Star Trek canon. Indeed, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine really just ran with that portrayal for shows like Shakaar, Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Field of Fire.

If anything, Spock was an outlier in terms of Vulcan characterisation, and even he could be a jerk on occasion, spending most of Where No Man Has Gone Before insisting that Kirk murder his best friend. It is strange how certain fan perspectives and assumptions get taken or granted, to the point where Enterprise finds itself struggling not only against the weight of Star Trek continuity, but the expectations of a fandom operating on a rather esoteric understanding of the mythology.

"Please! Take Phlox instead!"

“Please! Take Phlox instead!”

Still, regardless of whether it was entirely necessary to introduce a character like V’Lar, she makes a welcome appearance in Fallen Hero. It is good to know that unambiguously heroic Vulcans do exist, characters who genuinely work for the betterment of other cultures. Given the cynical exploitation of Coridan presented in Shadows of P’Jem, it is fascinating to have  Vulcan guest character who seems genuinely interested in the greater good.

More than that, though, Black doesn’t overplay his hand. V’Lar is friendly and charming. She engages with Archer and Trip on their own terms. She acknowledges that Hoshi has very kindly given up her quarters. She offers to shake hands, makes polite small talk, and even cracks a joke over dinner. We might expect from this that V’Lar would be an entirely sympathetic character; that she would be an ally for Archer, somebody on whom he could count for moral support in his disagreements with the High Command.

Shaking things up around here...

Shaking things up around here…

Instead, Fallen Hero reveals that V’Lar agrees with a lot of Vulcan’s policies towards Earth. “I was fascinated by humanity but worried as well,” she confesses, reflecting on first contact between humans and Vulcans. “You had just emerged from a global war. The idea that you deemed yourselves ready to join the interstellar community seemed premature.” She has a point. despite being presented as a level-headed and agreeable person, V’Lar is allowed to voice entirely reasonable concerns about mankind.

Much like the climax of Breaking the Ice, it adds a welcome nuance to the opening season of Enterprise. Perhaps the Vulcans aren’t entirely in the wrong. Maybe they are right to be a little wary of Earth, and maybe some of the diplomatic difficulties that exist between the two governments are grounded in human arrogance – in Starfleet’s sense of interstellar manifest destiny. There is an incredible arrogance in the way that Archer takes to the stars, presuming to spread the influence of mankind into the cosmos.

She's all ears...

She’s all ears…

This is a rather balanced view of the troubled relationship that exists between mankind and their Vulcan allies, and Fallen Hero marks the first point at which the show seems to accept that the Vulcan High Command may have a legitimate reason to be concerned. V’Lar is a very good diplomat, and a very reasonable person. Her concerns are not motivated by stubbornness or smug superiority; they are grounded in experience.

There is an endearing optimism to Fallen Hero, a demonstration that Enterprise has not been entirely consumed by post-9/11 cynicism and paranoia. Confronted with the accusation that V’Lar has abused the power and trust invested in her, T’Pol refuses to believe it. “I can’t accept that she’d sacrifice a lifetime of accomplishments with an act of criminal misconduct,” T’Pol states, matter-of-factly. Archer responds, sensitively, but cynically, “It happens all the time.”

... And his little dog, too...

… And his little dog, too…

It seems like Fallen Hero is building towards the revelation that V’Lar has done something horrible and unforgivable, that her pleasant demeanour hides a terrible secret. Her refusal to protest her innocence only increases the sense of doubt. However, instead of offering a cynical resolution, Fallen Hero confirms that V’Lar is actually a reasonable and trustworthy authority figure. She is risking her own life for the greater good of an alien society.

Indeed, Fallen Hero paints V’Lar as a surprisingly optimistic and hopeful Vulcan. She has committed herself to fighting the good fight against “an organization that’s infiltrated all levels of government, making themselves wealthy and powerful at the expense of many innocent victims. Their methods include eliminating anyone who stands in their way.” In short, V’Lar is the polar opposite of the Vulcans presented in Shadows of P’Jem, who enable a corrupt government for their own cynical ends.

"You talkin' to me?"

“You talkin’ to me?”

V’Lar is such a fascinating guest character – and Flanagan such a captivating guest star – that the episode’s biggest problem is the way that T’Pol feels almost short-changed by the focus on V’Lar. Watching the episode, there’s a sense that it might be interesting to a see a version of the episode where T’Pol is a bit more central to the plot and V’Lar is pushed a little bit towards the periphery of the episode.

Fallen Hero might play a bit better had it adopted the Michael Piller approach to Star Trek, grounding the story in the lead character treating the guest character as a way of exploring that. Certainly, T’Pol has not been particularly well-served this first season. Too many of the episodes focusing on T’Pol inevitably feature Archer rushing to her defence or to her rescue, so it’s fascinating to have an episode about T’Pol where she gets to convince Archer to trust her judgement.

I would totally welcome V'Lar becoming a bridge officer...

I would totally welcome V’Lar becoming a bridge officer…

It’s nice to get a bit more history and context on T’Pol as a character. As with Fusion, we are explicitly told by another Vulcan that T’Pol’s emotions are bubbling to the surface. “I sense your anger,” V’Lar admits as the two walk back to her quarters. There’s a sense that T’Pol does not have as a tight a rein on her emotions as she would like everybody else to think. It’s a nice way to distinguish T’Pol from Tuvok, and give Jolene Blalock somewhere to go with the character.

It’s also rather endearing to hear that Vulcans can have heroes and life-altering moments. T’Pol’s admission that V’Lar inspired her choice of future adds a nice layer to the character. Episodes like Breaking the Ice and Shadows of P’Jem have characterised T’Pol as a character who frequently finds herself caught between the demands of Vulcan society and her own wants and needs. It is nice to know that at least her career is grounded in her own choices and her own desires, rather than those imposed on her.

"I've got a space gun and I'm not afraid to use it!"

“I’ve got a space gun and I’m not afraid to use it!”

(It also underscores the fact that T’Pol – despite serving as Archer’s science officer – was actually a member of the Vulcan diplomatic corps, serving in the Vulcan consulate on Earth. It’s a nice character touch, one that the show frequently overlooks or ignores. While T’Pol is occasionally understanding or sympathetic towards the crew – as she was to Hoshi in Sleeping Dogs – the show is also quick to have T’Pol behave in an undiplomatic fashion – as with her passive-aggressive swiping at Trip in Unexpected.)

There are some other nice touches that round out Fallen Hero. The way that the bad guys claim to operate on behalf of the Mazaran government is a nice touch – it’s another example of how Enterprise seems to be moving away from the Star Trek stereotype of monolithic cultures. In that respect then, the episode fits comfortably beside Detained or Shadows of P’Jem, stories about how it is often incorrect to assume that all representatives of a given culture speak from a singular perspective. This is a recurring theme on Enterprise, touched on again in Desert Crossing, the very next episode.

The hand of logical friendship...

The hand of logical friendship…

Using the trip to Risa as a way to tie the next three episodes of Enterprise together is a bit light as continuity touches go. There are lots of episodes this season that have left dangling plot threads, and it would be more interesting to follow those up. What is life like for the Suliban in Tandaran space after Detained? How is T’Pol dealing with the events of Fusion? How are Vulcan and Andorian politics after The Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem?

Given all those dangling story threads that could provide fodder for interesting world-building or character-development, the idea of loosely threading Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing together as a prelude to Two Days and Two Nights feels rather unsatisfying. “Will the crew get laid?” is hardly the most engaging of questions bubbling over after the last twenty-odd episodes. (That said, it is nice that Fallen Hero seems to indirectly acknowledge that Trip has come out of a long-term relationship. Sort of continuity! Yay!)

Set velocity to cruisin'...

Set velocity to cruisin’…

Still, every little helps. It is nice to get a sense that some threads do carry over, and Enterprise has made an effort to reference these sorts of earlier events and dangling threads from episode to episode. It might not be as tight and as thorough as it should be, but there’s a greater sense of episode-to-episode continuity than there ever was on Star Trek: Voyager. That may not be the highest bar to pass, but it does at least demonstrate a desire to get better.

Fallen Hero may not be the strongest episode of this first season. However, it represents a welcome burst of focus and energy at a point when the first season seems to be limping towards the season finalé.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise:

4 Responses

  1. It’s so nice to see a show that acknowledges that ambassadors need to smooze with people and be friendly and ingratiating; I always wondered how Sarek had become such a respected figure, given that he didn’t seem to play well with others…

    • Yep. It’s also nice to have a good Vulcan.

      So, as you approach the end of the season, how are you finding Enterprise?

      • Very, very mixed. There are moments I really like, but there are SO many moments that make me roll my eyes.

        I was feeling pretty sick last night, so I didn’t watch any, and my husband said, “I haven’t heard you shriek ‘Archer, you freaking IDIOT’ once all night; you must be feeling bad.” (He isn’t watching with me — I’m watching on my computer with headphones — so the only things he hears are the things I’m moved to say aloud.) Evidently my second-most-frequent comment is, “Will you listen to T’Pol, already!” 🙂

        Most of the acting is reasonable. (Jolene Blalock can’t hold a candle to Leonard Nimoy, but then, few people can.) The special effects are lovely. The sets and costumes are fine. It’s the SCRIPTS that sometimes make me want to throw things.

        I know that the writers sometimes have to force a character to make a mistake in order to start an adventure, but in TOS, it was Joe Tormolen who stupidly took his glove off to start “The Naked Time,” not one of the leads, whereas if Enterprise had been doing that script, it would have been Archer who took his glove off.

        Is making the character stupid the only way the writers know how to make the guy relateable? Bakula is an engaging actor; I’d think that he could make us feel that Archer was a regular guy without making him a freaking idiot. And is having them make stupid mistakes the only way the writers can get across the idea that humans are beginners at space exploration? I’d love a lot more of the “Wow, that’s so cool” moments, and a lot fewer of the “I will do something that even my grandmother should know is dumb” moments.

        I’m watching Enterprise in order to learn what backstory it provides, since the new show that’s coming in May is supposed to be set between TOS and ENT. If I were watching solely for the joy of it, I’d have switched to a different series by now. And yet ENT does have promise. It’s not as bad as people told me it would be, and there were a few episodes I really liked. But the scripts regularly squander their most promising elements. I feel like saying, “Give ME the freaking script, I will edit it for you into something that doesn’t suck.”

        I tend to work at the level of character, rather than at the political level that’s so dear to your heart, which I suppose is to be expected from someone who’s a clinical psychologist by training and a writer by avocation. I want to know a lot more about Boomer culture and how that affects Travis. I want to know a lot more about T’Pol’s background and why she’s so different from regular Vulcans. I’d like to hear more about Phlox and about Denoobulan culture. Who is Trip, besides a Southern boy and Archer’s friend?

        I’m really appreciating the professionalism of Jim Kirk’s ship, and I’m really appreciating what the makers of TOS achieved in their first season, when they made 29 episodes on an inadequate budget, while making up the entire backstory of the Federation and Starfleet and basically the whole world. No wonder they all needed a rest cure! ENT isn’t as bad as I’d been told it was, but when I compare the first season of ENT to the first season of TOS, it makes the first season of TOS seem all the more remarkable, that they did so much with so little and at such a breakneck pace.

      • Yep. TOS has easily the best first season of any Star Trek show. Indeed, it could be argued that the first season of TOS is one of the best seasons in the Star Trek canon, if only because the quality seems to improve over the course of the season. (Give or take an Operation: Annihilate!) None of the others can match it, or even come close, in their first two seasons. Perhaps that season spoiled us. 🙂

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