The Best and Worst of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda: Season 1

For previous installments:

 

I had watched Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda right from the beginning. I thought it had potential and promise, but even some other of the most promising shows (Tru Calling, Noah’s Arc, Popular) don’t fulfill the promise, or just don’t resonate with viewers. It’s television though, so that happens. According to SciFiNow‘s Season 1 DVD Review:

If there’s one thing about Star Trek that sometimes grates, it’s that everyone’s too damn perfect.

So it must have been somewhat cathartic for Gene Roddenberry to conceive something of a Federation-smasher in Andromeda – a show which sets up its own perfect civilisation, the Commonwealth, only to destroy it in the first act.

The self-appointed last hope of this utopia is Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo), who emerges from a convenient plot point 300 years after its fall. Through charisma and well-conditioned hair alone, he wins over the rag-tag group of misfits and mercenaries who found him frozen in time and together they form the new crew of the good ship Andromeda Ascendant, who will restore light and order to the galaxy.

It’s a cliché but decent enough frame-work to build a story on but the problem is that Andromeda falls into Star Trek: Voyager territory by playing it safe and not doing enough to develop its characters.

The name above the door carries a lot of weight but it’s obvious that Andromeda is made from a hodge-podge of ideas which weren’t quite there in terms of polish. It comes across as a kind of soap opera sci-fi with a bright colour palette and rather sketchily-drawn characters. Throw in some heroic music cues, a smattering of dodgy alien make up and a sexualised computer AI (Lexa Doig) and you’ve pretty much got the idea.

Laudably the writers did at least try to build a mythology to this world and a long-term plot thread.

Bringing back the Commonwealth and uniting the mismatched crew is a central theme to the first season, but with mixed results. For example first officer Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) starts out rather badass as a captain in her own right, but a few episodes in and the make up softens and she seems rather content playing second fiddle. It’s all very well-meaning but naive, rather like its lead character.

The effects have not dated well, making the show seem an awful lot older than it is. That said if you can get past the cliché dialogue, constant heroic posing from Mr Sorbo and inconsistencies in character you can sometimes laugh with Andromeda, not at it.

Cynics Corner also goes over some of the more interesting points in “Andromeda: The First Season in Review“:

Anyone who read my Cynics Corner Preview of Andromeda about a year ago knows that I had pretty high expectations for this series coming in; perhaps that was a mistake. While this season did have a few winners, it also had some stinkers and a lot of shrug-inducing episodes. Nevertheless I still believe that the people behind this series have the talent and the attitude to make this series work, so I’m sticking it out for another year. As another data point, though, my wife (and sometime collaborator), who made it through to the end of Voyager and the seventh season of The X-Files, quit Andromeda about three-quarters of the way through the season.

Let’s highlight some good things first:

  • Continuity: Sure, there were glitches, but for the most part, Andromeda‘s writers kept the details straight. More importantly, in most cases, they didn’t let significant happenings slip into the continuity ashcan. Events such as Tyr’s theft of the mummy and the discovery Mad Perseid’s diary actually got appropriate follow-up. That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions (such as the destruction of the Magog solar system in “To Loose the Fateful Lightning,” something you’d expect to get some attention in the grand scheme of things), but I definitely appreciate the attentionAndromeda‘s staff paid to these issues.
  • Baby steps toward legitimate science: After years of watching Voyager vomit all over basic physics, it’s almost breath-taking to see communications restricted to the speed of light and visuals that are several light-minutes old. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of hoohah (such as slipstream requiring organic pilots because it’s “kinda alive,” or something), but, again, the effort is appreciated.
  • Improving production values: Someone who watched “Under the Night” and “Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last” back-to-back would be hard-pressed to believe they were made in the same season. The improvements in the visual effects, costumes, and make-up over the course of the year are nothing short of astonishing. There were really only a couple of serious weaknesses that remained by the end of the season: legacy visuals of the Andromeda itself that need to be retired and a propensity to use cheapo props.

But fortunately for me, there was plenty to complain about as well. Specific gripes about individual episodes can be found below and, of course, in the episode reviews themselves; here I want to focus on more general trends I see in the series:

  • Inconsistent characterization: Is Dylan Hunt a naive and inept fool or a master tactician? Is Beka a true believer in Hunt’s cause or is she still a pirate at heart? Hell if I know, and as the season progressed, I began to wonder whether the folks who created these characters know. Characters who grow and change are a good thing, of course, but what we seemed to have here were characters who see-sawed back and forth between extremes from week to week. One week, Hunt is having the crew behave like Moonies and distribute flowers on drifts, the next he’s manipulating three Nietzschean prides into making war with one another, the next he’s forgetting about his Secret High Guard Code for accessing some of Andromeda‘s systems. One week Beka is Hunt’s best friend and trusted second-in-command, the next she’s pilfering relief supplies, the next she’s telling Hunt what a great year it’s been (despite repeated threats against her life and the onset of Flash addiction – aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln really enjoyed the play). Another way of putting it is that character continuity doesn’t seem to be getting the same attention that event continuity is, and it really should.
  • Smearing the Commonwealth: The stated goal of this series is “Restoring the Commonwealth.” It sounds good, until the season airs so much of the Commonwealth’s dirty laundry that you have to wonder whether restoring it is a good thing. After learning that a Commonwealth AI murdered her captain and crew, another Commonwealth AI was behind a conspiracy to terrorize the shipping lanes, Commonwealth (Un)Intelligence botched an assassination, resulting in centuries of brutal oppression, and a Commonwealth officer plunged an entire sector into war, how could anyone think that bringing it back is a good idea? Unless the point of this series is to have Hunt ultimately fail or to become so disillusioned about the Commonwealth that he stops trying (either of which would be rather novel, but unlikely), maybe it’s time to lay off.
  • Societal Anomalies: While the Commonwealth may not be as good and noble as its billing, the post-Fall Known Worlds may not be doing as badly as Hunt likes to think. As the season progressed, we seemed to get more and more of an indication that the galaxies aren’t as lawless and chaotic as we were told in the beginning. Regulated commerce and organized sports are everywhere. A fairly solid communications and transportation infrastructure is in place. Knowledge remains, however improbably, at everyone’s fingertips thanks to Magical Mystery Databases, such as the one aboard the Eureka Maru. All in all, things don’t seem so bad, especially in light of the havoc the Commonwealth has wreaked, even in death. In short, the series is undermining its premise by often portraying a society that doesn’t seem to need the Commonwealth.
  • Technology Creep: Star Trek often suffered from knowledge creep, particularly regarding alien species. A species would appear, and no one would know anything about them; soon after, they would appear fully integrated with the rest of the galaxy, their secrets retroactively exposed to one and all. Think of the Ferengi, or the Trill. Andromeda has a similar problem with technology: The first time it appears, it’s novel, even astonishing, but later it’s portrayed as standard issue and ordinary. For instance, the FMS decoy device was supposedly just a theory when it was first built by Harper in “D Minus Zero”; later, in “The Honey Offering,” we find that the Nietzscheans apparently bought them in bulk at Home Depot.

But the one that drove me nuts all year was the portrayal of humanoid avatars. A lot of readers have written in to dispute my interpretation of what we have been shown of this over the past season, so let me lay out my case in one place and see how it plays:

  1. The Andromeda Ascendant, apparently an important vessel in the Commonwealth fleet, seemed to have no avatar prior to “To Loose the Fateful Lightning.” We never saw one, and in that episode Hunt expressed discomfort with Andromeda seeing him naked now that she had a real body. This indicates that Andromeda had never before manifested as a humanoid avatar, at least during Hunt’s command.
  2. Based on his reaction to discovering the blueprints aboard the guard station, techno-wiz Harper had apparently never seen an avatar or had any knowledge of them prior to “To Loose the Fateful Lightning.” This also shows that records documenting this technology were not available on the Andromeda.
  3. Avatars are later shown to be nearly everywhere; they are discussed as if they are standard issue. For instance, both the Pax Magellanic (“The Mathematics of Tears”) and the Balance of Justice (“Star-Crossed”) had one. The prison planet in “A Rose in the Ashes” didn’t seem to be all that advanced, but it did have an AI with a humanoid avatar.

Seems to me that there’s a problem with this sequence of events.

 

The Best:

Under the Night, An Affirming Flame, Angel Dark Demon Bright, The Banks of the Lethe, The Pearls That Were His Eyes, The Mathematics of Tears, Harper 2.0, Star-Crossed, It Makes a Lovely Light, and Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last

andromeda-2b

In brief bits:

  • Under the Night and An Affirming Flame feature the introduction to, well, everything about the series. Of course, some of the more pivotal points include the Systems Commonwealth being betrayed by the Nietzschean prides, the Andromeda stranded on the event horizon of a black hole, and the mercenary crew of the Eureka Maru pulling the Andromeda out 300 years later;
  • Angel Dark, Demon Bright sees the Andromeda accidentally travel 300 years back in time to the Battle of Witchhead, except there are three times more Nietzschean ships than stated in historical records;
  • The Banks of the Lethe sees Dylan use a black hole to contact his long-lost fiancee, Dr. Sarah Riley, and the ability to transport through time is a major thing in this episode (3 for 3 on time-travel stories in a row);
  • The Pearls That Were His Eyes deals with some elements of drug addiction in the story, which was surprising to me so early in a show. Beka’s “Uncle” Sid, and her father, Ignatius Valentine invented this drug similar to amphetamine or methyl-amphetamine;
  • The Mathematics of Tears sees the Andromeda discover her sister ship, the Pax Magellanic, with a skeleton crew that hasn’t aged a day in 300 years;
  • Harper 2.0 sees Harper become a genius though downloaded information by Perseids;
  • Star-Crossed, like The Mathematics of Tears, sees the Andromeda discover the avatar Gabriel of the Balance of Judgement, whose AI, too, has gone insane;
  • It Makes a Lovely Light sees Beka attempt to pilo the Andromeda to Tarn-Vedra, however, the prolonged slipstream navigation causes her to become stressed and exhausted, and she uses Flash (The Pearls That Were His Eyes) to cope; and,
  • Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last sees Harper accidentally re-activate a stored personality of the Andromeda, causing the ship to re-enact the secret mission that pre-dates Captain Dylan Hunt.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of Under the  Night:

Answering a distress call from a distant star system, Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo) of the Systems Commonwealth High Guard starship Andromeda Ascendant arrives to evacuate a colony threatened by a rogue black hole. The distress call turns out to be a trap set by the Nietzscheans, who have been planning a massive surprise war effort against the Commonwealth for years. Hunt’s ship is ambushed. Facing a grim situation, Hunt orders his ship’s evacuation and attempts to use the black hole’s gravity to aid in an escape. The risky maneuver combined with the gravity effects of the black hole leave him suspended in time for 300 years. What does one do when the world as he knew it has disappeared?

That sets the stage for the first half of the two-part premiere for Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, the latest TV show based on Roddenberry notes, developed by Deep Space Nine alum Robert Hewitt Wolfe. My general impression for “Under the Night” is that it’s good, not great, reveals that this series has potential, but that such potential must be exploited to find success. As it is only half a story, I find I don’t yet have a mission statement to evaluate; we won’t get that until part two. In the meantime, we get some decent action scenes and we’re effectively introduced to an assortment of characters. The story serves as a good backdrop for establishing the series’ initial elements, although the plot itself does not exactly provide great strides in originality.

The episode opens with a big battle and some nifty special effects. I’m particularly impressed with the bold, artistic design of the Andromedaitself, which has a fresh look that sets it apart from recent Star Trekstarship incarnations. The battle and subsequent war arises from the malcontent the Nietzschean society holds for the Commonwealth High Guard.

Aside from the good special effects during the battle, “Under the Night’s” opening setup scenes are probably its most uncertain. There’s not enough about them that seems fresh, and the introduction of theAndromeda in its first fly-by lacks the awe it deserves — especially given how cool this ship really looks. There are also some problems with a couple key characters in the early scenes. I for one found Hunt’s pilot — supposedly a sentient alien bug — to be painfully unconvincing; this type of alien costume design has been dated for the better part of two decades, maybe more.

The other, bigger problem here involves Hunt’s traitorous first officer, a Nietzchean named Gaheris Rhade (Steve Bacic). Bacic’s acting choices imply a cold dispassion apparently common for Nietzscheans, but the performance leaves much to be desired. There’s a key scene of exposition set on the Andromeda bridge that doesn’t work at all. It features lines of dialog sandwiched between firing weapons and finally a speech by Rhade that is so woodenly delivered that I was shaking my head in disappointment. (And sorry, but exposition in between flying bullets should be reserved solely for Riggs and Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon pictures.) Nietzscheans may be cold, self-proclaimed superior people who are genetically engineered, but Rhade is simply an unconvincing muddle of random tones. The ensuing hand-to-hand fight scene works better, mostly because it’s set eerily against the backdrop of time literally grinding to a halt. (The series’ weapon of choice, used here and elsewhere, is known as a “force-lance,” a retractable multi-purpose staff that can fire projectiles as well as perform the various duties of a Mag-Lite.)

What we learn from Rhade’s tirade is that the Nietzscheans have become fed up with the Commonwealth’s constant compromises with alien aggressors; the last straw for the Nietzscheans was the Commonwealth’s peaceful resolution with the Magog, an apparently nefarious race who “eat other sentient beings” and “reproduce by rape.”

Three hundred years after Rhade is killed in this struggle and Hunt is frozen in time, enter the starship Eureka Maru, which is engaged in a salvage operation to pull the Andromeda Ascendant from the clutches of the black hole’s gravity forces. It’s here where “Under the Night’s” sense for characters begins to take hold. The ship is captained by the competent and forceful Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), who has charge of a small crew-for-hire. They are all employed by scheming opportunist Gerentex (John Tench), a nasty guy from a race called the Nightsiders.

Valentine’s crew is a fairly interesting set of personalities, of which the story gives us a nice little sampling. The resident techie/pilot is Seamus Harper, played by Gordon Michael Woolvett with a convincing and sarcastic madcap exuberance. Harper gets some decent one-liners (including the obligatory Hercules in-joke) and plenty of contemporary riffs on lines including “Let’s kick some ass!”, “We rule!”, and “I am a god!” (It’s reassuring to see Generation X is still alive and kicking several millennia from now.) I like that the typical dialog rules imposed by Trekhave been relaxed.

There’s also Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), the purple girl with a tail. We don’t learn much about her, other than that she’s a bit naive and ditzy; at one point she has to be reminded to put her space helmet on before opening an airlock.

Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch so far is pithy Rev Bem (Brent Stait), a Magog with a social conscience. The fact that he’s a Magog gives the character a useful dose of guilty baggage; he wants to make amends for the suffering his people — himself included — have inflicted on others. Like the other characters, we don’t learn much about his past yet, but the door has been opened a crack and I think I can see something of substance behind it.

Despite the brief character insights, the story moves along at a pretty fast clip: The goal is this crew’s attempt to remove the Andromeda from the clutches of the black hole so Gerentex can sell it for a huge profit. Once the Andromeda is extricated, however, Hunt returns to normal time and realizes the severity of his situation.

The crew of the Eureka Maru boards Andromeda, but Hunt is not planning to let them simply take his ship, not even after Harper explains to him that the Commonwealth lost the war against the Nietzscheans and has been gone for 300 years. The fact that the Commonwealth has fallen is obviously a major point this series will be playing. It was huge (it “spanned three galaxies” and had “over a million member planets”), so even if much of it dissolved one would think there are still traces or even large segments of it to be found. (The question of how the Nietzscheans alone could bring down an organization with a million planets is a bit puzzling to me, but we’ll take it at face value for now.)

For the moment, Captain Hunt’s only ally is the ship herself. The story utilizes the concept of a ship with its own sentient intelligence. It’s aware, and it has its own personality. It speaks to Hunt in the form of a holographic image (Lexa Doig), which even comes preprogrammed with an outfit featuring a low neckline. (The only remaining question: IfAndromeda is sentient, does she have the choice of what to wear to work?) Hunt has a rapport with Andromeda that goes beyond the rapport any Star Trek captain would have with their ship. The ship here is an individual, which of course is a potentially compelling story point.

Since Hunt does not intend to give up his ship quietly, Gerentex brings out the Big Dudes With Big Guns [TM] — mercenaries he brought along just in case of such a confrontation. The head mercenary is a very big Nietzschean named Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb), whose sole action in “Under the Night” is to walk in looking very menacing while holding a large firearm so we can be sent into cliffhanger mode — nothing more, nothing less. For what it sets out to do, I suppose it’s effective.

Given the setup sans resolution, I don’t have much to say about “Under the Night” in terms of riveting themes. Not until part two, anyway. This first episode of Andromeda is primarily a plot-based adventure with a good glimpse at some personalities. As far as production goes, it looks like a good deal was done with less money. There are of course rough edges, and Andromeda doesn’t have quite the polish that larger-budget sci-fi shows like DS9 or Voyager had coming out of the gates. But the technique (some of the uneasy performances notwithstanding) is solid. I particularly liked the gritty, more claustrophobic production design on the Eureka Maru, and the pervasive use of hand-held cameras whenever we were there. All the characters here are closer to ground level than Trek characters, which is a nice change of pace. I especially appreciate that Valentine sees her crew members more as equals than as subordinates.

Is “Under the Night” a great launch for Andromeda? No. But it gets the job done, and in the end it gets its hooks in. It’s entertaining, and I’m interested. Not bad for a pilot.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of An Affirming Flame:

The argument can definitely be made that “Under the Night” and “An Affirming Flame” could easily have been a single two-hour premiere (and perhaps viewers might even have been better served that way, but no matter). Episode #2 for Andromeda clearly belongs more to Episode #1 than to itself.

Overall, I think “Flame” works a little better than “Night” because it comes packaged with the general series mission statement that without which no pilot episode is really complete. We also get a chance to become better familiarized with the characters’ behavior in the midst of the show’s action. But like “Night,” this is not a great hour of television but instead a reasonably entertaining, not-too-serious one. I’m interested in who these characters might become under the circumstances of the show’s newly established premise, but I also don’t yet see tons of originality.

The end of “Under the Night” left us hanging with Nietzschean mercenary Tyr Anasazi menacingly bringing in the Big Guns to clean house on board the Andromeda Ascendant. Within the first few seconds of “An Affirming Flame,” the guns come out blazing as Anasazi mows down Andromeda‘s security drones as he makes his way to the bridge. Of course, the nice thing about robotic opponents is that they can be involved in action scenes and indiscriminately destroyed, decapitated, etc., and since they’re robots that are not “killed” we thus have PG-level “action” without actual “violence.” (The Phantom Menace employed this insight at length.)

The fight scenes here resemble the stylized action of Hercules or Xena, especially when Captain Hunt, armed with his trusty force-lance, faces off against the bad guys. There are a couple scenes here that feature Force-Lance Fun [TM pending], and I enjoyed them on their level of stylized choreography. This sort of action is hard to take very seriously (which is obviously beside the point, since, just to show off, a female mercenary android does an amusingly gratuitous front walkover while moving toward Hunt to kick him around some more), but it’s fun. Based on these first two episodes, it appears choreographed fight scenes will be an Andromeda staple along the lines of Hercules — or, for that matter, Star Trek: TOS. (Although, I didn’t understand what Anasazi’s flying disc-blade things were suppose to accomplish during one fight scene with Hunt.)

Aside from the Die Hard-like cat-and-mouse games early in the episode, the plot of “Flame” serves to slightly flesh out some of the characters’ personalities and to separate Valentine and her crew from their slimy employer, Gerentex (John Tench). It’s not too long before Valentine begins to wonder if maybe they’re on the wrong side in this battle for control of the ship. Let’s face it: Gerentex is a first-class jerk. He doesn’t just want the ship; he also wants Hunt tracked down and killed. When Trance (our resident space cadet) vocally disagrees with Gerentex and says she quits, Gerentex shoots her dead. Nice guy.

Personalities begin to emerge after Trance is killed. Valentine reveals her captainly qualities in taking responsibility for those under her command, as well as maintaining the roles of leader and calm voice of reason as she solicits opinions for action from her crew.

Harper shows that he’s the young hothead ready for revenge against Gerentex (“I say we kill him!”), and seems quite willing to take everybody out (“I was thinking a really big bomb”) if given the opportunity.

Rev Bem still gets my vote for most complex character so far. He’s religious and philosophic, and when he speaks, there’s a definite air of wisdom and experience behind the voice. He offers Harper a word of caution on traveling down the road of violence, which is not a new theme, perhaps, but is still an honorable one.

Anasazi, the head mercenary, is a laconic, introspective man of mystery who projects most of his thoughts here through glances and calm stares. He clearly doesn’t respect Gerentex but is still going to do his job as best possible. His hope is to prove his value so he can be accepted in Nietzschean society. (The idea of a subset of humanity being Nietzschean — and apparently primarily anti-Commonwealth — is an intriguing one that screams of future development.)

When Gerentex realizes he’s not going to be able to steal theAndromeda from underneath Dylan Hunt, he decides to return with the reluctant Harper to the Eureka Maru and push the Andromeda into the black hole (“If I can’t have the Andromeda, no one will”). This is what forces the alliance between Hunt and Valentine’s crew aboard theAndromeda — and ultimately also Anasazi, who is also left stranded with everyone else when Gerentex flees. They must work together to figure out how to escape the black hole before they’re sucked into it.

Meanwhile, Gerentex has Harper try to hack into the Andromedacomputer, using a link Harper plugs directly into his skull, like the characters in Johnny Mnemonic. This leads to the show’s most ingenious special effects sequence, in which we see Harper trying (and failing) to poke around inside Andromeda‘s mind, which promptly kicks him out. (The sequence somehow reminded me of Tron.)

Like part one, “Affirming Flame” is pretty fast-paced. Crises are resolved quickly and simply. I’m no physics expert, but the solution to Hunt’s black-hole problem strains credulity (essentially coming down to “let’s blow it up with huge bombs!”), and before we know it, Dylan & Co. are off to the next crisis, tracking down Gerentex to retrieve Valentine’s stolen ship.

In the midst of these events, the episode does a few things for staking out some territory for Hunt’s character and actions. He’s a fair negotiator, but one with an edge; he agrees to help Valentine get her ship back, but only if she agrees to a condition that he refuses to name until later. Hunt also rejects the notion of helplessness, as when people die on his watch, even if not under his control. When Andromedareassuringly tells him that there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent bad results, he doesn’t accept it. Kevin Sorbo’s performance gets the job done, though it seems the story hasn’t yet put great demands on him.

But he does get to deliver the series’ mission statement. He intends for the fallen Commonwealth to live on through his ship — and he’d like to try to restore an ideology that apparently no longer exists. He intends to seek out others who might want to help change the world for the better. He starts with the crew of the Eureka Maru by inviting them onto his ship to serve as his crew. The idea is essentially one of finding something more meaningful and constructive in life rather than living from one uncertain score to the next. It’s about thinking big and grand and doing something difficult, because the hard tasks are usually the one worth doing. I tend to think that’s a pretty universal theme in our society, one we as individuals like to think we’ll live by before our lives are over (though not always to be followed through on), and it’s one I certainly can live with as a starting point for this series.

Of course, “An Affirming Flame” is far from perfect. I for one didn’t find much use in seeing Trance shot and killed only so she could be brought back to life under uncertain off-screen circumstances. (As Andromedaputs it, not able to explain it herself, Trance was dead, and then “she got better.”) This was intended to advance the story through the other characters’ responses to her death. Obviously it wasn’t intended as a dramatic surprise, since you don’t kill off one of your regular characters in Episode #2. But it’s still an odd chain of events that ends with Trance’s less-than-riveting reappearance. I’m not sure what it was supposed to mean, if anything.

The point seems to be to make Trance something of an unpredictable mystery. We know nothing more about her now than we did after “Under the Night,” and from the looks of things, that’s intentional. Unfortunately, that still makes her the least compelling character on the ensemble. Her ditzy personality so far is not capturing my attention.

I also really could’ve done without Gerentex’s overwrought villain antics. Tench plays the part so far over the top that Gerentex becomes an absurd cartoon character. Restraint would’ve been advisable here. Sure, Gerentex is a creep and a fountain of deceit, but that can be portrayed without resorting to the kinds of excess we end up with here. The way he was portrayed in “Under the Night” worked better than in this episode, where he careens out of control until he seems like the star of his own Saturday-morning cartoon show (Teenage Mutant Ninja Nightsiders).

By the end of “An Affirming Flame” we have an established premise and initial goals that are not too much unlike previous Star Trek-like premises, from both Gene Roddenberry’s and Rick Berman’s reigns. The idea of exploring the unknown, of course, parallels the original Trekconcept. The concept of several overlapping/clashing societies and a diverse set of characters is reminiscent of Deep Space Nine. And the notion of a ship stranded out of its element with characters of varying agendas is similar to the early stages of Voyager.

Given the mystery of the once-powerful and now-uncertain Commonwealth, an abundance of mysterious societies with different values, and a chaotic universe with no overriding sense of structure (apparently), the elements are here to make Andromeda a good exploration series with its own interesting, original mythos. The elements are also here for it to be a routine revisit to the very visitedStar Trek concept. Which will it be? Only time will tell.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of Angel Dark, Demon Bright:

Time travel is a reliable, oft-used standby for science fiction, so when I saw the trailers for “Angel Dark, Demon Bright,” I was a little hesitant; it didn’t exactly look like a particularly original hour of sci-fi.

My worries were grossly unfounded. “Angel Dark” is by far Andromeda‘s best episode yet. It’s another take on the time-travel episode, yes, but it accomplishes so much with its premise. In what it crams into an hour, almost without seeming to, it’s kind of groundbreaking.

There are so many interesting story themes here — history, destiny, faith, random fate, the high costs of war — that the episode is practically bursting at the seams. But not in a way that ever overwhelms the narrative, because the script is confident and thoughtful. The story brings together an array of character attitudes and important backstory to create something with a lot more substance than your run-of-the-mill time-travel adventure. There’s real weight here, compelling moments of tragedy and necessity. Characters are forced into agonizing over and ultimately making impossible — but required — choices.

The story: A freak occurrence during slipstream travel (with Trance at the wheel — hmmm, more on that later) somehow sends theAndromeda back in time nearly 300 years. The members of the crew find themselves on the eve and doorstep of a crucial battle, the Battle of the Witchhead Nebula — the last stand before the fall of the High Guard and thus the Systems Commonwealth. The battle was a turning point, but not in the way one might think, since the High Guard was more or less already beaten. The battle would instead have enormous consequences for the Nietzscheans, whose towering losses would make it impossible for them to survive their own internal fighting and thus make possible the subsequent invasion and widespread destruction of the Magog.

Now that they’ve found their way into the middle of a historic battle, can one ship named Andromeda make a difference in the course of history? More importantly, should they?

There are of course all the usual time-travel paradox issues that come cropping up when analyzing a story like “Angel Dark,” and I certainly had my share of questions. But what’s refreshing about this story is the way the paradoxes figure into arguments for (or against) key actions taken in the course of the episode.

At first the question is whether Hunt and his crew should help another High Guard ship, the Renewed Valor, commanded by Captain Yeshgar (Jo Bates), and join the battle against the Nietzscheans. This is quickly established as a moot issue and a futile would-be endeavor, since one additional High Guard vessel will not turn the tides in a battle where the Nietzscheans will vastly outnumber the High Guard forces — 500 ships to 100.

Dylan’s decision is to leave history alone and plot a reverse slipstream course back to the future. Other characters, however, have different opinions and intentions, which is where “Angel Dark, Demon Bright” really begins to turn interesting.

Harper, for example, secretly rigs a really big explosion in the nebula that he hopes will take out half the Nietzschean fleet when it arrives. There’s an exposition scene where he explains his master plan to a hand-held mini-cam. It’s an interesting mix of humor and chilling undertones, in which Harper is joking irreverently with the camera while talking about mass destruction and the deaths of tens of thousands. Somehow, the character’s persona justifies the mixed tone of the scene. Harper doesn’t play like he takes much of anything seriously, but deep down there’s repressed rage brewing. Here he feels his actions are justified: Having grown up on an Earth in ruins, his thinking is that any possible future is better than one where the Nietzscheans hold enough power to be oppressive.

Andromeda may not be the first one you would expect to have an opinion on the matter, but there’s a brief scene where Rommie reveals a certain pride in being ready for combat, and explains that by nature she doesn’t like to retreat (“I’m a warship, and I don’t like walking away from a fight”). Andromeda may do what she’s told, but I like the fact that she has a stance.

Tyr, naturally, has an opinion of his own every step of the way, which is particularly interesting to hear because there’s a well-argued voice of reason behind it. He calls Harper on his “useless, biased emotionalism” and uses logic to suggest that helping the Nietzscheans might save lives in the long term. A united Nietzschean empire might be brutal when they wield their power, but with Nietzscheans in control, fewer would be slain by the Magog.

But that itself would be only a mixed blessing; as Dylan observes, the Magog leave a lot of death behind, but “they came and went like locusts,” ultimately allowing the universe to get on with business. An oppressive Nietzschean empire might be much tougher to bring down, and longer lasting.

This all puts a huge strain on Dylan. Kevin Sorbo turns in his bestAndromeda performance to date — tortured but not overplayed — as a man with the weight of what might literally be the galaxy’s fate on his shoulders. It’s an intriguing dilemma, which prompts a good deal of soul searching and philosophical discussion. Which is the better (or worse) of two evils? The death and destruction brought by the Magog or the terror wrought by the Nietzscheans?

We get a couple dialog scenes between Dylan and Rev. Although I have to admit that the Meaningful Rev Bem Dialog Scene [TM] is beginning to play like a cliche (complete with overindulged musical underscore), I will also say that the scenes here are interesting. Between Dylan and Rev, we get the episode’s deepest discussions of destiny and fate … or perhaps a cosmic joke, as Dylan puts it. How can it be that impossibly arriving upon a situation of such huge significance is a random occurrence? Dylan doesn’t believe in fate; he believes in free will — making his own fate. Rev asks him how it possibly could be that arriving at this critical juncture is anything but divine will. It’s a credit to the story that both views are worth pondering.

This is particularly true once the show drops its real twist on us: It turns out that when the Nietzschean fleet arrives, there are actually 1,500 ships instead of 500, despite all historical records assuring that there should be 500 ships present. So what about those other 1,000? Could it be that they were destined to be wiped out before the High Guard fleet arrived to engage them? Could it be that Harper’s weapon of mass destruction was the instrument used to create history as it “should” — as it “must” — unfold?

Indeed, as Tyr ultimately reveals, the Nietzschean historical account of the battle includes a mysterious agent of death emerging from nowhere, with a weapon that wipes out two-thirds of the massive fleet that should have paved the way to Nietzschean victory. That surprise was engineered by Seamus Harper, born three centuries after the events had (maybe) already happened. Andromeda taking action might not contaminate the timeline … because not taking action might contaminate the timeline. But who’s even to say what is “right”? Here we have characters defined by what they think they know, but how can they know anything at all? The dilemma of the time paradox is made all the more tantalizing because of the story’s consideration of Rev’s belief in a cosmic divinity.

The story has other character vignettes, like when Tyr agonizes over his own choice — whether to flee Andromeda in the Maru to warn the Nietzscheans of their impending doom, or to stay put and survive, since fleeing would mean certain death. Self-survival is incredibly important to Nietzschean individuals (particularly those with no children). Like in “Double Helix,” the story reveals Tyr playing all his options, waiting for the last best moment to commit to a path.

And … then there’s Trance, who has the role — if it’s at all possible — of being a regular character that implicitly symbolizes that much-here-discussed unknown force in the universe that brings all these questions of destiny and random fate together. How does she play such a role? By simply continuing to provide the implicit part that has been provided for her so far — the constant Trance Is More Than She Seems act. To date, Trance’s character and Laura Bertram’s take on her shallow ditziness has not impressed me one bit, despite the implied strangeness under the surface. But here, it works wonders.

Here, Trance does come across as knowing much more than she lets on, with pauses and weird, subtle glances at key moments of plot revelation. If you watch her reactions closely, you almost get the impression she set the events of the story in motion deliberately. But the story doesn’t reveal all its cards (for which I’m grateful), and lets a little mystery go a very long way. For once, nearly everything about Trance clicked into place and had me wondering not simply what she was thinking, but what in the world she represents. It’s like she’s Cosmic Significance Personified and not even aware of it herself.

Strictly on the tangible plane, she has a standout scene with Tyr that uses her ditzy innocence very well, while revealing an underlying perceptive intelligence that talks Tyr out of one course of action and into another. Good work; I have new hope for the character, because this is intriguing.

By the time the episode’s conclusion comes around, Dylan has had to concede to destiny in an action that will kill 100,000 Nietzscheans. Harper’s explosion is powerfully depicted as a violent hellfire, ensuring that the impact of the death toll is not lost upon us.

In the course of this complex story we’ve seen characters with motives and opinions of wide variety, even as the way history “must” play out seems to dictate they take certain actions. In reality, the cosmic plan here is Robert Wolfe’s ambitious script, but because of the way the story is assembled, the story depicts a cosmic plan dictated by a universe whose authority cannot be appealed. The lesson here might be that you cannot escape destiny. What happens in this story might be argued as a job for God … which Rev is certainly prepared to suggest.

“Angel Dark, Demon Bright” is an excellent time-travel outing with a narrative heft that will leave you thinking. After it’s over, you realize that there’s more under the surface, and probably even more under that.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of The Banks of the Lethe:

There’s a funny scene in “The Banks of the Lethe” that had me laughing hard. It involves Harper performing for Dylan an experiment on some melons, testing a device that resembles a transporter on Star Trek. This experiment is not entirely successful. When the melons materialize, they explode in a loud BOOM as melon debris goes splattering everywhere. Harper looks on with the zeal of a 10-year-old who just detonated a firecracker inside a model airplane. There’s a certain self-aware goofiness in the way these melons are blown up for this scene, and, well, I just found it weirdly amusing. (Yes, I suppose it’s not difficult to amuse me.)

Unfortunately, these melons are like a lot of scenes in this episode — they’re on film and they make a big mess. It’s also perhaps a bad sign that the melon detonation scene is one of the show’s highlights. After making a time-travel episode as compelling as “Angel Dark, Demon Bright,” why in the world make another one to rehash the cliche that love conquers all? The odds of successful time travel are said here to be infinitesimal, but you could’ve fooled me; Dylan has crossed 300 years on three separate occasions now, and that doesn’t even count the return trips.

As for love conquering all, it also apparently conquers casting. Dylan’s fiancee, Dr. Sara Riley, who was left behind when Dylan was stuck in time for 300 years, is played here by Kevin Sorbo’s real-life wife, Sam Sorbo. Her dreadful performance, alas, is one of many things that goes wrong in this episode, which resembles the chaotic “To Loose the Fateful Lightning” in the way breakneck-paced action scenes interrupt story without the necessary cohesion.

Again I ask: Where’s the focus? This is an undisciplined story, which begs us to care about a surprisingly trite central love story in between salvos of enemy fire and interminable Trek-style space combat scenes where sparks fly through the sets while the camera shakes and people are knocked off their feet.

As the episode begins, Andromeda has returned to the site of the black hole where “Under the Night” took place, to meet with some alien delegates whose society, the Perseid, will by the end of the episode become the first world to agree to join the resurrected Commonwealth. You’d think that an episode about the first planet rejoining the Commonwealth would be material enough for a meaty story, but that’s not the story being told here.

Instead we’ve got elements from 300 years in the past, which to me is akin to early Voyager episodes doing stories about the Alpha Quadrant — that is to say, somewhat relevant to the central idea of the show but still something that can seem a lot like a crutch. Especially since this comes so close on the heels of “Angel Dark.” Somehow, Dylan is able to send a signal through the black hole, which his fiancee Sara miraculously receives. She’s able to do this because she’s in orbit around the black hole (in the past) on the starship Starry Wisdom, which is on a mission to try to pull loose the Andromeda from the black hole — which is apparently destined to fail because, well, Dylan is already 300 years in the future. With this knowledge, Dylan & Co. begin investigating the possibility of sending Dylan back through time.

That’s the premise, and the rest of the show is an odd mix of routine elements, chaotic pacing, questionable time-travel paradoxes, and unclear battle events. Under David Winning’s direction, Miller & Stentz’s script is sometimes a blurringly fast-paced action show marked with uncertainty, and other times an overwrought human drama.

And as I already said, Sam Sorbo is a liability here — a big one. There are scenes where I was amazed at how weakly portrayed Sara’s character was. It might be fun behind the scenes to have a real-life couple playing a fictional one, but the results here aren’t the better for it. It might’ve been advisable to cast a more dynamic actor for the part of Sara; Sam Sorbo’s rendition is far too frequently wooden and rings painfully false.

And, as you can imagine, when your central guest character doesn’t carry a show — especially with a role as crucial as this one — the show stands a good chance of sinking, which “Lethe” does.

Besides, do we really need the flashback scene where Dylan and Sara meet in the middle of a Magog attack? The Meet Cute is a cliche, one that’s not mitigated here with much in terms of wit. (Sara: “Admiral Stark warned me about you. She said if I ever met you, I’d end up either falling in love with you or killing you.” Yawn. How many iterations are possible in sci-fi on the Han Solo/Princess Leia type banter?)

There’s another guest character here, Captain Khalid (Elia Gabay), a mutual Nietzschean friend of Sara’s and Dylan’s, who provides a sensible example that not all Nietzscheans betrayed the Commonwealth when the war started. Unfortunately, Khalid is largely superfluous and the actor puts in an underwhelming performance; we don’t really get much of a dynamic between him and either Dylan or Sara.

Acting in a story like this is key, and when it’s not there, it guts the story. The platitudes on love that we get here are ages old, so unless the actors can bring a lot to the table we’ve got problems. I’ll freely admit to buying into a love story when it works as well as, say, DS9‘s “Chimera,” but a story like “Chimera” reveals stories like “Lethe” as all the more hackneyed.

Some events of the story had me scratching my head. The idea is that Dylan will be sent back through time using Harper’s grand experiment on new technology, something that resembles a transporter. (It’s about here where we get to the exploding melons.) Harper’s teleporter plays like a jibe at long-established Star Trek technology, but considering the plot then uses it as a serious part of the story, I feel more like the joke would be on me if I bought into it. Strange, how Harper is good at contriving technology on demand when it suits the given purpose, whether it’s Rommie’s body in “Lightning,” the humongous explosion in “Angel Dark,” or now a teleportation device that was apparently beamed directly in from a parallel Roddenberry universe.

Harper is finally able to get the thing to work. Go figure — the first successful use of the teleporter is with a melon that has the word “Trance” written across it. So even in an episode where Trance doesn’t make a single appearance, we still get our weekly dose of Trance Is More Than She Seems. As for Harper, I’d recommend a heavy sedative; Gordon Michael Woolvett goes way overboard with the hyperactivity this week, turning Harper into a self-parodying annoyance.

The plan is for Dylan to go back in time and bring Sara back with him. Anyone who thought this had a chance in succeeding probably needs a reality check. Obviously, Dylan does not explode on camera like those melons when he beams into the past (that would require the end of the series and also a TV-MA rating). But nor is he able to bring Sara to the future with him. Harper is clever, but apparently not quite clever enough. Dylan doesn’t stay in the past with Sara because restoring the Commonwealth “is more important than either of us.” I must ask: If he really believed that, would he have staked his life on 50-50 odds to go into the past in the first place?

To get us to the more or less inevitable conclusion (which, admittedly, benefits from an occasional nice note of melancholy) the story first turns into a free-for-all, with the Starry Wisdom coming under attack by the Nietzscheans, and then later the Andromeda in the future coming under attack as well. I didn’t understand the latter battle. Tyr explains where the enemy ship came from in a sentence that serves as one of the fastest utterances of plot explanation that still nonetheless leaves the whole situation inexplicable. This proves the point that action doesn’t work unless it grows organically from the story. As far as I can tell, there’s no purpose for this battle except to satisfy the action/explosion quota.

There are also vignettes here that surface quickly and have no follow-through. Like Dylan’s backup plan for Andromeda in case he doesn’t make it (“Tyr, you know what to do”). And Tyr and Beka pulling guns on each other. What’s this about? The story moves too fast to make real sense out of it.

This episode seems sincere in some of its love story details. Kevin Sorbo in particular seems to invest a lot into all aspects of his character’s arc, particularly that of his dedication to both his fiancee and the restoration of the Commonwealth. But the episode doesn’t execute well and suffers from too many cliches. The details of predestined timeline fate are undercut by the fact that characters seem to think they can still outsmart that fate — which, given the ship’s crucial actions in “Angel Dark,” begs the question of what happens to the galaxy if the Andromeda were pulled out of the black hole by Sara’s efforts and never traveled back in time in that previous episode.

Forget it. I’m out of my element here. My only consolation is that the creators apparently were too.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of The Pearls That Were His Eyes:

“Angel Dark, Demon Bright,” the last episode I can actually recommend, dates back nearly three months. The five episodes since then have been pedestrian at best (like last week’s “All Great Neptune’s Ocean”), and rank down to the depths of abysmal (“A Rose in the Ashes”). Now we have “The Pearls That Were His Eyes,” sort of an “issue episode” about drugs. No, wait — about the evils of economic exploitation. No, wait — about the pains of troubled families. No, wait — about severe thunderstorms in space and deceitful traders. No, wait…

I’m tired of waiting. Can we please go somewhere? With its premise,Andromeda has the potential to unleash all sorts of interesting material about societies. Instead of using it, we’ve been sitting through stories where our characters relive the same sci-fi/action conventions we’ve seen on TV forever.

This week, we get our latest entry to the mind of Beka Valentine, but it’s unfortunately only marginally better than “The Ties That Blind.” There’s some potential meat here, but it’s sabotaged by a plot that’s a cross between All Over the Place and Been There, Done That, with characters whose hidden agendas are way too transparent.

We’re introduced to “Uncle Sid,” played by familiar face John de Lancie. Sid was Beka’s late father’s business partner, and at the episode’s outset it appears he’s in trouble: Beka receives an urgent message from him asking for her help. Unfortunately, the message is three years old; any such help might very well be moot.

Nonetheless, Beka embarks on a mission in the Maru to track down Sid’s last known location. Trance tags along to occasionally provide the comic relief, for once proving that she does not always have to be Sixth Sense Trance, but still proving that the character has a ways to go to be compelling.

Beka tracks Sid to a world and learns that he has become “Sam Profit,” a self-made billionaire who amassed his fortune in ways that we quickly begin to suspect were shady, if not flat-out illegal. The situation of Sid being rich is in itself an irony to Beka; considering he used to be an independent businessman — one of “the little guys” — it seems odd that he now runs a segment of Big Corporation that makes its money at the expense of the average Joe trying to scrape by and make a living. Once upon a time, Beka’s father and Sid were the average Joe.

Unfortunately, “Pearls” takes this framework and turns it into a completely obvious and derivative story. We know almost instantly that Sid is hiding something, we question his sincerity toward Beka, and we know that when he asks her for some mysterious files of which her father once had possession — which might still be stashed aboard theMaru — those mysterious files are probably going to have sinister implications.

Beka remains headstrong in her defiance of Sid once his true motives become clear. He wants those files, but given her suspicions Beka isn’t going to be bribed to give them up. Heck, she doesn’t even know where the files are or what would be contained in them. This leads to a series of scenes where Beka is tied up, tortured, and terrorized for the information, all while Sid maintains a face with an intriguing balance of friendly familiarity and threatening determination to get what he wants. De Lancie’s composed performance in a transparently written role is probably the best thing about the episode.

The creative level put into the conception of the bad guys looks about as low-rent as these things can go. “Henchmen” is a word I typically reserve for comic books and silly B movies … and now for episodes ofAndromeda with bad guys so lacking in subtlety that they look like they belong in, well, a cross between a comic book and a silly B movie. They wear sunglasses and dull costumes, constantly toting their guns as if they automatically represented badass coolness.

This plot is set against a B-story in which Andromeda sits idle waiting for Beka to return to the ship. Meanwhile, a spatial storm draws closer, threatening the Andromeda. To make repairs to prepare for this threat, the crew deals with a nearby trader who sells them faulty parts, providing a reason for a largely unnecessary filler plot where Dylan captures the treacherous merchant to coerce him into making good on his sales. Despite the thematic connection of underhanded economic dealings, this B-plot is quite simply disposable and mostly just interrupts the flow of the A-story.

Back in the A-story, the lackluster action scenes finally culminate with Beka and Trance escaping their confinement via a plan that “works perfectly” as a trick set up by Sid. The narrative maneuvering here is a slipshod string of events that somehow gets Beka and Trance back aboard the Maru, which Sid has craftily locked on autopilot to divert straight into a nearby star. Beka finds the missing files in question, which all along had been stored inside nanobots in her hair. Yes.

Turns out Sid had killed people to cover up his drug trade way back when; Beka’s father had video-recorded the incident and used it to blackmail Sid. Sid wants that recording back so it’s no longer hanging over his head … especially with his corporation in the delicate process of a mega-merger. The way the uneasy ending resolves itself is handled with dialog that assumes Beka and Sid can actually believe what the other has said, even though trust by now should be the scarcest resource around.

It’s a shame that the plot of “Pearls” can’t sustain much genuine interest, because there are actually a lot of good lines, like an amusing exchange between Beka and Trance: “Trance, when did we leave theAndromeda?” “I’d say this makes five days, but sometimes I lose count when I’m unconscious.” Or the wonderful Tyr-like mention that it might not be worthwhile to crack open any epic novels, since a particular wait in question might not be so long. Such dialog tips us off that the writer, Ethlie Ann Vare, has a good enough idea that her plot is silly enough to poke fun at.

I also thought it was good to get into Beka’s head a bit more. The fact that her father was a drug addict in addition to a shady businessman gives Beka a little extra angst, and Sid forcing her into drug use is an appropriately nasty means for torture (although the scene where Beka flips out on drugs plays too much like a compromise between over-the-top and sincere). There’s also the palatable notion that Beka’s father, despite being an addict and drug runner, had many good qualities as a father that Beka fondly remembers — reminding us that the mistakes of a person’s life need not define it.

But the episode can’t cut it, because its messages are worn on its sleeve (the wealthy being almost automatically dismissed as universally evil) and the execution lacks the punch it needs.

The sooner I get some more involving sci-fi from Andromeda, the better.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of The Mathematics of Tears:

The hilarious above-mentioned deadpanned line of dialog comes at the end of an extended fight scene in “The Mathematics of Tears” — a scene that transcends the ordinary by being a weird sequence of choreographed action/chaos which is, yes, underscored by Wagner and takes on a life of its own.

After the string of mediocrity that preceded it, “Mathematics” is an acceptably entertaining episode that gets an A for effort and high marks for being bizarre. It’s not the tidiest package ever conceived (indeed, there are parts of it that are just plain messy), but it somehow comes together and works on its bottom line. Director T.J. Scott and the post-production people bring order to what initially looks like madness, and they have a reasonably good sci-fi premise to work with. It all ends with that big fight sequence, which manages to be chaotic, elaborate, pleasing, funny, and ludicrous all at once, in an entertaining way.

The story is one of those mysteries where the solution comes in the form of a sci-fi twist, but even then “Mathematics” still has two entire acts to go, with still more mysteries to solve and fights to be fought. It begins with the crew discovering another High Guard starship, the Pax Magellanic, which is in fact a sister ship of the Andromeda. Amazingly, several members of its crew are still alive, having mysteriously not aged in 300 years … for reasons that are at first uncertain and then later made clear. The senior officer is Lt. Jill Pearce (Monika Schnarre) and the ship and its survivors have been stranded all this time without the use of their slipstream drive. Apparently, their chief engineer, Dutch (Nathaniel Deveaux), spent a century working to fix it before giving up. Now that’s patience.

Rommie attempts to interface with the Pax‘s AI system to find answers, but discovers only memory gaps and scrambled computer confusion; the Pax AI apparently suffered extreme damage. One interesting aspect here is the way Rommie sees her sister ship as a literal sister; they’d known each other back in the Commonwealth days, and Rommie hopes to restore the ship’s AI to its previous state of awareness. Beka calls it a family affair.

The story’s primary twist is that Lt. Pearce is actually a walking, talking, lying version of the Pax‘s AI in android avatar form. She’s hiding something important about the fate of most of the ship’s crew, which she claims had died while on the surface of a nearby planet destroyed by a Nietzschean attack. Tyr doesn’t buy it; the Nietzscheans don’t destroy hospitable planets even to eradicate their enemies. He tells Dylan to draw his own conclusions rather than take Pearce’s word at face value. This advice seems particularly prudent once Pearce has been revealed as the Pax‘s AI. The ship’s crew are all androids she created to ease the pain of loneliness.

The main plot flow of “Mathematics” is actually fairly light. It exists as a key into the flashback narrative and later the climactic showdown between Our Heroes and the Pax‘s androids. The truth lies in Pax‘s traumatic, deeply buried secret, which Rommie finds only after extensively digging through memory files: The Pax was programmed to love, and she loved her captain. When the captain ordered her to self-destruct during a crisis, the Pax refused and instead used her confused love as a tragic logical instrument to destroy her captain and crew rather than herself. Hell hath no fury like a starship scorned.

This idea brings up a few interesting questions about the nature and dangers of AI emotionalism: The Pax‘s captain essentially had an affair with his starship, something not permitted by the rules of the High Guard (but don’t despair, Dylan/Rommie fanfic writers!), and for good reason — the cataclysmic events of the Pax‘s past provide a good demonstration. Certainly the captain must shoulder some of the blame for the confused actions of an AI with which he should not have become intimate (the sci-fi ideas here fall somewhere in between the intriguing and the absurd).

As the story’s secrets are uncovered, the Pax sends its androids to attack Dylan and his crew on the docked Maru — which brings us to that big fight scene. It’s intercut with cyberspace flashback images that resolve the secrets of the plot. Meanwhile we have chaotic scenes where Harper, Beka, and Tyr fight off an attack of androids. This attack involves a lot of shooting and stunt coordination that has the ebb and flow of a choreographed number. The whole thing is underscored by classical Wagner, a choice that seems so unexpected and droll (and yet is justified by the plot) that it elevates the sequence to some sort of madcap brilliance. And Tyr’s line about the fun inherent in fighting to the tune of Wagner is an instant classic in my book.

What doesn’t work in “Mathematics” is the way plot developments are sometimes conveyed with choppy, whiplash execution. There is, for example the matter of Harper deactivating all the androids with a single line of exposition that simultaneously drops the bombshell that they are in fact androids. It’s a questionably executed moment that feels more like the script grinding away than events actually unfolding.

There’s also the way Dylan offers reinforcement for having figured out the nature of Pax‘s android avatar by explaining that Jill Pearce is derived from translating and mutating Pax Magellanic from Latin — which is an entirely rushed, implausible, and unnecessary bit of exposition.

I also found it strange and unintentionally amusing the way the androids — initially so perfectly lifelike and human — move like jerky robots and make whirring noises after the plot reveals that they’re androids. Pretty hokey, if you ask me.

And lastly, there’s the deus ex Tyr that never accounts for how Tyr got from the Andromeda to the Maru to help save the day. (Useful reminder: There are no transporters on this series.)

On the other hand, I don’t care too much about these flaws. I liked many of the stylistic choices, like the use of gold for the Pax, the oddly disconnected look and feel of the flashback sequences, the strange AI figure that greets Rommie in Pax cyberspace, the sheer artistry of some of the photography in the final fight, and the framing of the shot where Rommie and Rev talk about the mathematics of tears.

“Mathematics” is far from great sci-fi or great television and is sometimes, well, silly. But it manages to elevate silliness to an art form that ends up looking pretty creative.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of Harper 2.0:

“Harper 2.0” is kind of like another “Mathematics of Tears,” finding a way to blend different tones and come up with something that works, albeit barely. There are elements of humor, dire consequences, and ominous foreboding. Meanwhile, Gordon Michael Woolvett puts in a hyperkinetic performance that goes over the top even for Harper — but one that nevertheless is funny, weirdly touching, and makes sense under the circumstances.

Did we need a plot that makes Harper go even more nuts than usual? I’m not so sure (I’m still waiting for the plot that gives Harper a sedative), but there’s a method to the madness here. Harper is zapped by a Perseid on the run. The Perseid uploads into Harper’s brain, through Harper’s I/O port, a massive library of information. The Perseid then dies.

Someone was chasing this Perseid, and they didn’t want him so much as they wanted the information he had. Any chance the bad guys will now want Harper’s head (literally) instead? Will the sun rise tomorrow?

But I jest. It’s what’s contained within the massive library of information that makes the implications of “Harper 2.0” interesting. The library is a historical record of all things Commonwealth. Most notably, the episode focuses on the history of war — wars that are now stashed in Harper’s brain, giving him nightmares. We see images of violent footage in quick cuts, one after the other, which conveys what’s happening to Harper: He’s experiencing too much too quickly. This information can’t all fit inside his head. Not only is the content disturbing for him, there’s way too much of it. He’s overwhelmed.

I’d better point out that I don’t find the overall presentation of “Harper 2.0” to be conveyed with much earnest seriousness, despite some of its serious overtones. It alternates between camp and real sci-fi, humor and horror, with good ideas (mysterious evil shape) and bad ones (mysterious evil shape’s lame henchman). It’s not a particularly original idea. I have little doubt the sci-fi literary archive is full of concepts very similar to this one, and if not then one needs only to go back to 1995’s awful Keanu Reeves-starring movie Johnny Mnemonic, based on the William Gibson story. If for no other reason, “Haper 2.0” improves on that story by excising anything resembling a brilliant bionic dolphin.

The guy who was chasing the Perseid is a large thug-looking dude named Jeger (Ralf Moeller). Jeger is your stock-issue intimidator claiming police-like authority: The Perseid is a wanted man, I want him, turn him over to me. Of course, the Perseid is dead, and what Jeger really wants is the data. But why? Ah, that’s where things get interesting.

Jeger works for an enigmatic shape who I will simply call the shadow-man. The shadow-man is the guy who wants this information. When Dylan & Co. begin to realize Harper is overloaded with data, they go combing through it and eventually find something suspicious: A document of the nefarious Magog massacre at Brandenburg Tor, where billions were slaughtered by the Magog. The massacre is a well-known, well-documented event, but what’s apparently not well known is that someone else was there, directing the Magog in their attacks. That someone is the same shadow-man who now has Jeger trying to obtain the data. We know this because the episode shows us; theAndromeda crew never learns who Jeger is working for.

There are, of course, the requisite fight scenes between Jeger and Tyr. Jeger has the ability to walk through walls and sink through floors, which elevates his thug to that of Thug With Skillz. As performances go, Ralf Moeller brings to the table what the transparent character deserves — no more, no less.

Trance begins investigating ways to extract the data from Harper’s head before it kills him. In the meantime, we have scenes of Harper driven more and more nuts with each successive scene. This is perfect material for Woolvett, who has a good reason to take Harper and ratchet him up even more than usual. It works, too, because we get all ends of the spectrum from intense fear to hyperactive blabbering, all justified by the story.

Harper has immediate access to as much knowledge as any one person probably ever has before. He can speak multiple languages on cue. His scientific prowess is greatly enhanced; he starts an audacious project, abandons it, and then starts up another one. In a scene that even takes Trance off-guard, he speaks to her in what is apparently her mysterious species’ own language. It’s done almost as a throwaway moment, but it’s a good one. For this one moment in time, Harper knows who and what Trance is. If only he’d written it down.

There’s also an important confrontation between Harper and Rev, where Harper turns his fear of Magog, exacerbated by these terrible nightmares of Brandenburg Tor, against Rev. Rev Bem, ever the Wayist, tries to remain calm and composed, but he’s incited to fight when Harper begins saying apparently unspeakable things in Magog shrieks (can human vocal cords even do that?). Obviously there are some things of interest here involving the Magog; the shadow-man plays into their history in a significant way, which we’ll learn more about down the road.

So, where to store this information after Jeger is repelled and Harper’s crisis is averted? Why, inside Trance’s tattoo, of course — at least that’s what the story suggests. I can’t say I find this to be a particularly satisfactory resolution, since once the information is removed from Harper’s head neither Dylan nor anyone else seems to have any interest in it anymore. In a universe where we’re still under the night of the fallen Commonwealth, you’d think information like this would be invaluable and something Dylan would insist be accessible. But the story just sort of throws it away, another plot crisis solved.

It’s perhaps significant to observe that of the recommendations I’ve made for episodes this season, many include a certain level of reluctance or caution. “Harper 2.0” is among those. It’s sometimes hard to know where to stand on material like this — that wants to be serious and absurd at the same time. But on its chosen level of hyperkinetic energy, with cross-genre story attitudes and its multitude of Big Picture setup information, it can squeak by with a thumbs-up.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of Star-Crossed:

“Star-Crossed” shoots for the moon and almost gets there, but its sometimes-intriguing story is upstaged by its own oversold — way oversold — melodrama. If less is more, then “Star-Crossed” proves the inverse that more is probably less.

And too bad, because the makings are here for a genuinely good story. Yes, there’s cliche and, yes, there’s sappy dialog, but there’s something inherently fascinating about the tragic quest of an artificial intelligence that can’t overcome its own preset directives, no matter how hard it might want to be something else.

That said, I should probably also say up front that I personally do not believe in love at first sight (not to be confused with attraction or lust at first sight, which I do understand), because love takes at least sometime to develop. Maybe that’s why I found here that Rommie’s love wasn’t particularly believable — because it was immediate. Sure, accelerated love happens for the sake of telling a story, but the acceleration factor here is beyond extreme: Rommie spends what seems like five minutes with the guy and she loses all objectivity.

The guy is actually an android named Gabriel (Michael Shanks), whom even the episode’s own trailers reveal is not trustworthy and probably wants to take over the ship. (Without such information there would be no action to reveal in the promos and therefore serious questions for cynical demographic bean-counters as to whether the show is marketable at all.) My main qualm here is that Gabriel is not a very interesting character (played by Shanks with a mostly wooden performance). What exactly does he do that makes Rommie fall head over heels, turned into “a lovesick schoolgirl” as even she herself admits? (Apparently cornball compliments work on android hotties.)

Well, Gabriel likes books — he is, in fact, a walking library — which is an indication that Rommie goes for the brainy types. But I still had a big question that I’m not sure was really answered by “Star-Crossed,” which is why the Commonwealth would give a warship a full range of AI emotions in the first place. The episode begins with its weekly quote, which poses this very question and answers it by saying that a starship capable of emotions is capable of loyalty, which is apparently an important thing. I’m not so sure I buy that, seeing as loyalty hasn’t stopped the ship from being hijacked several times already. Meanwhile, emotions mixed with AI warship functions seem to be dangerous, evidenced here and in “The Mathematics of Tears.” Would Andromedaas a series be more interesting if it didn’t have a sentient AI starship? I suppose it wouldn’t, but the logical questions still remain.

The Rommie-Gabriel love story is set against an intrigue plot involving the ongoing conflict between the FTA and the Resters, first loosely established in “The Ties That Blind,” and resumed here in an early, deadly battle that prompts Dylan to decide it’s time to assault the Resters’ base. The base turns out to be another Commonwealth warship, the Balance of Judgment, which isn’t simply a warship but a very heavily armed “starship killer” that should intimidate even theAndromeda.

Along with a little help from the FTA and some strategic trickery (including the sensible, continuity-capitalizing “footprint magnification” device from “D Minus Zero”), Dylan hopes to take out the Balance of Judgment and cripple the Resters. Meanwhile, Rommie and Gabriel draw closer, until they’re sharing intimacy in Andromeda cyberspace.

The question of Rommie’s distraction comes up, which it should — can a starship be in love and launch missiles at the same time? The answer is yes, since Andromeda is a true multitasker, and I enjoyed a scene where three versions of Andromeda — the android, the hologram, and the viewscreen — have a discussion among themselves in the corridor. This demonstrates how one can simultaneously play devil’s advocate while also not playing devil’s advocate, since each argument is taken on by its own persona.

It turns out that Andromeda can be distracted, but only because Gabriel taps into her systems and disables certain functions that leave the ship vulnerable to attack by the Balance of Judgment.

It’s about here where some intriguing plot twists start emerging. Not only is Gabriel double-crossing Rommie, but it turns out that Gabriel is the Balance‘s version of the starship avatar. And on top of that, theBalance isn’t being piloted by the Resters, because it has no crew and its AI is in complete control of the ship. And … the Balance wasn’t pulled into the Rester cause; it founded the Rester cause, based on twisted logic that grew out of an obsolete and paranoid need to protect the interests of the Commonwealth — now defunct — at all costs.

The idea of a rogue AI warship founding its own cause is frightening, though I’m wondering how it went about recruiting its followers. What’s even more psychologically frightening is Gabriel’s own inability to free himself from the will of the Balance. He’s connected to the Balance and yet also has a mind of his own. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know where the Balance ends and Gabriel begins — even he can’t be sure. And although Gabriel’s deceit is imposed upon him by the Balance, it’s still clear that he genuinely loves Rommie.

That’s the real tragedy of “Star-Crossed” — the fact that Gabriel is trapped by his own programming and must do what the Balanceinstructs him to do, despite his desires to do otherwise. Even once theBalance has been destroyed (by Dylan’s “cunning” use of physics, proving that what the Balance has in armament it lacks in street-smarts), Gabriel still cannot escape its will; the Balance uploads its core personality into Gabriel before it is dies.

This tragedy is more effective and implicit than the episode’s oversold surface tragedy, which is that Rommie must kill Gabriel to prevent theBalance from starting its destructive mission anew. I’m of the opinion that this final act nearly drowns in its own tears. Lexa Doig, generally good, takes the notion too far. (You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a starship weep.)

Tragedies work better when we believe the emotions they grow out of, but no amount of manufactured sentiment can make up for the fact that I never bought into Rommie’s routine, TV-contrived love for Gabriel. While I greatly appreciate dialog where Dylan explains that an AI starship’s crew is what guides it (which explains how the Balancewent astray), other dialog like lines about Rommie’s heart bursting play more like maudlin cliche.

In the end, “Star-Crossed” is ambitious, but it pushes itself on us too hard, using a lot of material that isn’t nearly as compelling as the underlying implications. The good news is that it does leave us with those interesting implications under the surface.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of It Makes a Lovely Light:

And here we have it — the classic television bottle show, an episode that features no guest stars, no new sets, no location shooting. It’s just our characters cooped up on board the Andromeda Ascendant, forced to interact. And interact they do, making “It Makes a Lovely Light” one of the better efforts this season.

This episode displays what I would like to see more of on this show: tougher personal problems, characters in conflict with each other, at least one character in conflict with herself. I’m certainly not sold onAndromeda as a series yet, but if the writers are willing to take their characters down roads this perilous, I’ll remain interested.

“It Makes a Lovely Light” is the third and best of what has been called staff writer Ethlie Ann Vare’s “Beka trilogy.” The other two were the convoluted “Ties That Blind” and the pedestrian “Pearls That Were His Eyes.” While I could not recommend either of those shows, the good news is that they at least painted aspects of Beka in a way that leads logically to this installment, which works precisely because it remains focused rather than throwing in unnecessary plot elements, characters, or action.

The Continuity Patrol must report that this show takes the mysterious Perseid diary that Harper and Trance acquired in “Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way” and actually uses it as a piece of the puzzle. That puzzle is the search for the lost Commonwealth homeworld Taran Vedra, which common knowledge has it was “cut off from slipstream” during the demise of the Commonwealth. All the known slipstream routes had been destroyed; the diary apparently documents the long and twisted slipstream path to Taran Vedra, although cryptic writing and dangerous navigation would make the journey a difficult one. Beka, being a headstrong and confident pilot, vows to find a way to get Dylan to Taran Vedra. (Dylan was born there, so his personal interest in the homeworld gives the episode some good emotional motivation.)

Just in terms of information, “Lovely Light” has some things to recommend. For one, it does a good job of showing the rigors of slipstream travel. It’s a physically exhausting experience for the pilot, and even the passengers. Beka makes jump after jump, and by having the camera follow her through several of them, we get a better feel of the duration. Even Dylan lets out a sigh after all the slipstream travel, and he was just standing on the bridge. Trance finds prolonged exposure to slipstream to be downright painful (for reasons I leave you to interpret, since they’re doubtlessly more than just incidental).

There’s also the whole notion of “routes”; slipstream apparently exists in the form of abstract tunnels in space; in order to get from A to B, you have to take the proper channel, or maze-like series of channels, and if you don’t you can’t get there. This makes the idea of being “cut off from slipstream” a little more clear. If the tunnels aren’t there or you can’t find them, you could essentially be isolated in a region of space. This appears to be what happened to Taran Vedra during the Commonwealth’s fall — although Rev proposes his own theory: “What if the Vedrans cut themselves off, and what if they don’t want to be found?”

As a Beka show, this is a good one, because it reveals some of her human faults and the abrasive side of her personality. She’s well-intended but sometimes takes things too far. Despite being completely worn out from slipstream travel, she covers up her fatigue and plans to press on, convinced that sheer determination puts her above the risk. She shows an earnest need to be respected by Dylan, to give him something personally valuable, and to some degree she lets that cloud her judgment.

So when she’s too tired to continue, she doesn’t quit and instead turns to flash, that addictive upper that apparently also helps turn pilots into supermen who can navigate the slipstream all day. We saw flash before in “The Pearls That Were His Eyes,” where we learned Beka’s father was a flash addict, and where Beka herself was forced into using it — although I must point out that the addictive consequences we see here were not shown through Beka in “Pearls,” for whatever reason.

The substance-abuse commentary is not subtle, but nor does Vare go for righteous moral preachiness. No one agrees with Beka’s choice to use flash. In fact, one of my favorite scenes has a surprised Harper calmly and earnestly trying to talk Beka away from a dangerous road of flash abuse. This scene is groundbreaking in that it shows Harper acting within the range of typical human behavior instead of wisecracking sitcom caricature; Gordon Michael Woolvett is more restrained than I’ve seen him all season. The results are good, and I frankly want to see more of this Harper and less of the one we usually get. (Further proof that less is more.)

When things aren’t going Beka’s way, she can turn into a real pain in the ass. I liked the conflict between her and Dylan once it became clear that Dylan was not prepared to throw caution to the wind and continue a risky journey just because Beka was determined to press on. The confrontation on the bridge is a workable mix of serious undercurrents and hostile surface humor. I enjoyed the snippets of dialog, like when Beka calls Tyr “Uber” or Tyr’s purely pragmatic stance on the issue of drug abuse. Eventually, Beka ends up thrown in a holding cell, which she escapes from after going so far as to shoot Rev.

Yes, there are scenes that don’t work, like early in the episode when Dylan walks in on Beka after she has just gotten out of the shower. Not the most comfortable situation of all time, sure, but from Dylan’s reaction you’d think he’d never seen a woman wearing a towel before, to say nothing of a naked woman. Are we in fifth grade here?

Also, from a plot standpoint I must wonder: If the ship can be piloted through the slipstream from a control panel in the engine room, what exactly is the purpose of that elaborate pilot’s chair on the bridge?

Such questions are not of utmost importance in order to admire this episode, which manages to use the characters nicely, if still not exactly groundbreakingly. Given the severity of Beka’s problem I probably could’ve done without the solution resolving itself with her overly familiar realization that “I’ve become my father!” and facing up to long, hard looks into a mirror. And given how addictive flash is supposed to be, her detox after the crisis ends seems awfully simplified (I personally hope Beka’s struggle with flash doesn’t so easily end here).

But in this series’ freshman season of wandering through space with a little too much emphasis on messy surface plots and unnecessary action, a perceptive look at how our core characters tick in more of a real-world situation is refreshing.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last:

“Its Hour Come ‘Round At Last” is nothing short of complete anarchy on the screen. Essentially, it’s 15 minutes of setup and the rest nonstop comic book violence. In the process, not enough is done to tell a coherent story. Because this is a cliffhanger season ender (boy, am I tired of obligatory cliffhangers), nothing makes any real sense yet; we have to wait until fall to find out what this all means. For now, it’s less a mystery than a muddle … and an overblown, pandering one at that.

The good news, I guess, is that this episode isn’t boring or lacking in energy. Or maybe that’s bad news, seeing as it’s a frenetic action-fest with a body count that probably lies somewhere between at least 50 and 100, although I won’t be wasting my time by going back to count. Of course, the body count consists of all Magog, who serve primarily as action props that should be labeled “fish in a barrel.”

Seriously, how many Magog can you watch get shot — hit by projectiles that cause them to fly through the air in defiance of the physical laws — before it gets old? “Its Hour…” often resembles a video game more than anything else, where the bad guys just keep on comin’ while the heroes keep on blastin’ away. The only time anyone runs out of ammo is when the plot suddenly demands it.

Part of me — a very silly part — somewhat enjoyed the scope of the action on a purely visceral, thoughtless level. Is it therefore worth a recommendation? I’m afraid not. The script was written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, whose sensibilities here seem about a million miles away from anything he wrote on Deep Space Nine or, for that matter, “Angel Dark, Demon Bright” earlier this season. I can’t say that’s good news since, frankly, most of “Its Hour” is shameless exploitation and pandering. If the target audience for Andromeda is one that’s supposed to be satisfied watching wave after wave of Magog getting blown away, then count me out.

The show takes little, if any, of its carnage seriously. It’s an overwrought cartoon that makes the Magog seem less threatening, not more. If five people can wipe out dozens upon dozens of invading Magog with only a few hand-held weapons, then why on Earth should we fear them as the terror of the galaxy?

The episode begins with an old backup version of Andromeda‘s personality file being unleashed and taking control of the ship. This version of Andromeda doesn’t recognize any of the crew and sees them all as intruders (leading to yet another silly use of the ship’s internal defense system, which is useless because it shoots at the good guys — always missing, by the way — and doesn’t even work when the actual bad guys are invading). Andromeda orders Trance into the slipstream pilot’s seat and plots a course for a classified mission that, apparently,Andromeda ran years before the fall of the Commonwealth and prior to Dylan becoming the ship’s captain. It’s gradually revealed that this classified mission involved the Magog, which loosely connects with what’s about to happen.

Just as it looks like the episode is going to be “the crew vs. Rommie-gone-awry” is about when the Magog suddenly show up. They have ships that latch onto the Andromeda and punch into the hull, and massive invasion forces swarm onto the decks of Dylan’s crippled vessel. As suspense, the initial boarding sequence does a nice job of capturing the impending doom of the invasion, as the Magog clang and chant in a creepy unison — and then suddenly go silent just before their massive assault.

… At which point the episode apparently wants to become an intergalactic version of Assault on Precinct 13.

In short: If you want to see Magog after Magog after Magog falling down, this is the episode for you. If you want much more, you are advised to look elsewhere.

I’d like to know how the Magog can even have space technology based on the average level of intelligence they show here. They don’t carry weapons and they have no apparent strategy for their attacks, aside from charging straight toward armed people and getting shot. There’s exactly one Magog here who has the status of a character with dialog, an overseer named Bloodmist (Gerard Plunkett) who seems to be in charge of the invasion. He alone exhibits sentience; the rest are anonymous monster-props and apparently expendable resources on a suicide mission.

There are, fortunately, some redeeming qualities that save “Its Hour” from its own overindulgence. The pairing of Harper and Tyr works reasonably, as Harper must come face to face with the dreaded race he feared growing up — though Gordon Michael Woolvett again seems to be on the edge of hyperventilating through his performance, and I wondered where the tough guy from “Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way” went. Similarly, the camaraderie between Dylan and Beka also works, including their brief discussion about rebuilding the Commonwealth, something Dylan admits may very well be impossible but must be attempted nonetheless. Lastly, Rev’s inner-struggle between his animal instincts and his faith is interesting, though arguably ham-handed.

Mystery backdrops also abound. First is the connection between the secret mission from 300-some years ago and the encounter here with “20 worlds joined in some kind of structure.” Said structure is an imaginatively depicted sci-fi sight, housing trillions of Magog. Also, the Continuity Patrol must report that the mysterious shadow-man from “Harper 2.0,” who apparently is a god to the Magog, also appears here. And these Magog, according to Bloodmist, are a different breed of Magog, supposedly with a higher purpose than the unenlightened Magog from which Rev descended. These mysteries could come together to reveal something potentially compelling in the largerAndromeda mythos.

And, admittedly, director Allan Eastman does a good job staging furiously paced scenes of mayhem in darkened areas of the ship. Obviously, some substantial work went into the pervasive stunt coordination. Heck, half the season’s budget was probably spent on this episode.

But if none of it is believable or has any impact, who cares? It’s decent execution of a very flawed idea — the idea that we’ll be scared by Magog just because there are a ton of them. I’ve said it before, even recently, and I’ll say it again: Less is more. More is often less … and in the case here, ridiculous. (Notions that don’t play fair with the audience: Tyr and Harper appear to be gnawed to death by Magog before a commercial break, but only insofar that they’re unconscious after the commercial break. Holes are blasted through the ship and the bridge explodes, but only knocking people unconscious for cliffhanger purposes. Come to think of it, everyone is unconscious by the time the “to be continued” sign appears, except Rev, who finds himself either on the Precipice of Villainy or Pushed Too Far by the Magog, you decide which.)

The intrigue and limited character work in “Its Hour” are little more than an isolated enclave buried under an avalanche of Wretched Excess. As it stands, the mystery I’m most interested in seeing solved is one of housekeeping: Once the problems set up here are resolved next season, who’s going to go traipsing through the decks of the Andromeda to clean up all those Magog corpses littering the floor?

 

The Worst:

To Loose the Fateful Lightning, The Ties That Blind, and A Rose in the Ashes

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In pieces:

  • To Loose the Fateful Lightning is quite the silly episode;
  • The Ties That Bind sees Beka’s brother board the Andromeda, however, there are political initiatives afoot; and,
  • A Rose in the Ashes has a somewhat silly premise akin to Doctor Who‘s “Time Heist” regarding fairness of punishment, as Dylan and the Andromeda are imprisoned on a penal colony in which no one gets out, even the inmate’s children.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of To Loose the Fateful Lightning:

“To Loose the Fateful Lighting” is a well-intended but heavy-handed episode that is pieced together into a narrative mess that makes very little sense. By the end, it borders on incoherence. It also doesn’t help that the guest performances — not to mention most of Kevin Sorbo’s speechmaking efforts — don’t work. This episode, airing third, was shot before both halves of the premiere. Perhaps that somewhat accounts for rougher edges, but it may simply be a matter of a derivative message being retold and botched.

My biggest problems with “Lightning” are that it lacks clear narrative focus and has jarring swings in momentum. What are the goals here? What is the story at its core? The mishmash of scenes are so haphazardly assembled that I’m not even sure. There are plenty of speeches and Roddenberry Themes running through this episode, but there’s no clear line of thought to connect them. It’s rambling and undisciplined.

The story brings the Andromeda to a space station populated completely by children who are descendants of the Commonwealth. They’ve been isolated on this station for generations, and these days a generation is not all that long (a toxic radiation leak cuts their lives short); the wise elder on the station is maybe 20 years old. Her name is Nassan (Amber Rothwell) and she is ill and frail. It would seem that life for these children comprises of constantly fending off the Magog and other enemies who attempt to invade the station. For how long or why the Magog have been trying to take over this station is never made clear. Maybe they were trying to get the armaments in the station’s storage bay, but after 300 years of trying and failing against a bunch of brats, you’d think they’d either stop trying or just blow the damn thing up.

The idea of generations of children on board a space station for three centuries — typically dying in their early 20s — strains credulity, to put it mildly. How have they survived? What do they eat? How can they bear and raise children if they’re constantly fending off enemy assaults and dying early in life? Does the station have unlimited power? The story glosses right over such questions. Personally, I’m of the opinion that these kids would’ve died out long ago. They’re ill-informed about the current state of the universe and they can’t even read. They simply don’t have the intellectual means for any kind of long-term survival in these conditions.

The situation isn’t supposed to be totally believable, I guess, but rather a means for conveying the sentiment of this week’s opening Commonwealth quote (“Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it; those who fail to learn history correctly — why, they are simply doomed”). These kids have learned through cryptic oral tales passed down over the years, and apparently some important lessons have been terribly misinterpreted. One thing these kids have effectively learned is how to fire weapons and maintain hatred toward their enemies. The aggressive second-in-command here is Hayek (Chris Lovick), and he’s pretty up-front about wanting to kill every Magog and Nietzschean in existence.

Dylan Hunt enters into this premise wanting to teach these kids about the peace and coexistence the Commonwealth once stood for. (Ironically, they are as frozen in time as Dylan was in “Under the Night,” except they were raised on warfare rather than peace.) The children have been long waiting for the prophesized return of the High Guard to lead them into a new era. And now here he is. But Dylan’s actions make him come off as disturbingly slow-witted. The mistakes he makes as forced upon him by the script are beyond all reason; the story either isn’t aware of them or thinks the contrivances can be justified as “not Dylan’s fault.” Wrong.

Consider: With his High Guard access code, Dylan helps the children gain access to a bay full of fighter spacecraft and dreaded nova bombs. Cut to commercial. When we come back, Dylan is aboard theAndromeda discussing these kids’ dangerous, combative attitudes. All the while he has left them alone with full access to fighters and nova bombs. Hello?

Consider: Hayek asks Dylan to “bless” two of his soldiers so that there may be peace. Dylan, unsure what this means, does it anyway, and they take this as a sign to arm two fighter craft with nova bombs and launch an assault on a Magog solar system — their logic being that after destroying all their enemies there will be peace. Does Dylan try to physically keep them from boarding the ships? No, because that would stop this story in its tracks. Before we even know what’s happeningAndromeda is chasing after the fighter ships and failing, and a solar system with billions of Magog is completely destroyed. Talk about your consequences of ignorance (Dylan will surely be careful before he “blesses” anyone again). The destruction of the solar system is supposed to be a powerful moment, but it comes off as manufactured solely by the script. My favorite line has to be when Dylan asks Andromeda if anyone possibly survived the star’s destruction. Uh-huh. (It’s a supernova — what do you think?)

Dylan’s actions here are sloppily scripted in order to force the story forward on its course in ways that would not have been possible if he were acting competently. But in this show, Dylan stands around looking confused a lot. Confused heroes in the right circumstances are fine, but not when going up against the intellects of grade-schoolers — and getting outsmarted by them. When not looking confused, Dylan delivers speeches preaching the ways of peace. Fine and good, but we’ve been through this sort of thing many times in the Roddenberry realm, and Sorbo’s take on it here is less than stellar, I must report.

The guest performances didn’t impress me either. Amber Rothwell’s character is sick, yes, but she plays the part as if in some weird sleepwalking morphine daze. Worse is Chris Lovick’s take on Hayek: Quite frankly, this is one of the most annoying teenage performances I’ve seen in some time. Hayek is an excessively arrogant, superior persona who yells and sneers and generally comes off as a jerk. A character like Hayek should not come off as a cocky bastard; he should seem driven to his actions by his difficult life. (After seeing Manu Intiraymi in Voyager‘s “Imperfection,” a lot can be said for restraint.)

Ultimately, Hayek and his small soldiers are attempting (of course) to take over Andromeda and launch the “Day of Lightning,” which apparently means “killing everybody we hate.” Shoehorned in here is a brief conflict of conscience when Dylan plays along with Nassan when she refers to him as the “messiah” — as he hopes to gain her trust in his ways. But what I wondered was at what point the High Guard became synonymous with godliness (literal or not); the notion is oddly conjured halfway through the story, apparently, just to manufacture this half-baked development.

The action at the end is inept. The events do not flow together into anything remotely organic, and the result, alas, is laughable. The depiction of Andromeda thwarting the children’s attempted takeover of the ship looked phony and bizarre. I realize this show has budget limitations, but having everybody fall to the floor and calling it a “gravity field” is not convincing.

Possibly the silliest aspect of the episode is the way the writers handle the question surrounding Harper’s “secret project.” This is one of those storytelling tricks that exists solely to “surprise” the audience, because it sure isn’t plausible on any other level (that is to say, there is no reason for it to be a secret, especially since Harper would be hard-pressed to justify his absence during a crisis). Said secret project is Harper buildingAndromeda an android body so she can take physical form. Why is this a secret? Answer: So it can be concealed from the audience andAndromeda can play deus ex machina at the end and save the day.

The one-line setup that hints of Harper taking on this project is so quick and subtle that you will probably miss it … which may be the point, but it throws the structure of the episode into unnecessary chaos. Besides, I’d like to know how he accomplished such an ambitious goal with such immaculate timing. (Does he have android parts lying around the ship?) And having Andromeda make a “memorable” entrance by walking onto the bridge naked is a cliche that strikes me as goofy far more than it does cool. In three episodes I’ve come to like Lexa Doig’s cool-headed portrayal of the ship’s AI, but this sort of camp is not doing her any favors.

If you ask me, the whole issue of giving Andromeda a body deserved its own story (perhaps a B-plot where it was not a secret); here it seems completely severed from the narrative at hand concerning the child soldiers. It’s an awkward distraction, and that’s a shame, because it should’ve been something special.

In the Things I Liked Dept., I did appreciate Rev and his speeches; he once again plays the moral center of the show, and has a respectable ability to forgive others, even after being hung upside down and beaten. There’s also an interesting exchange between Beka and Harper about Harper’s upbringing on Earth, a planet that apparently didn’t fare too well in the aftermath of the Commonwealth’s disintegration. Harper isn’t too broken up about the deaths of a few billion Magog, which is justified by his rather ghastly tale of how Magog used two of his cousins to spawn offspring in a procedure apparently not unlike the hatching in Alien. (Though I do wonder if there is inner conflict here; Harper is friends with Rev after all.)

At its heart, “To Loose the Fateful Lightning” has a point to make. But it’s poorly executed, with pithy lines scattered unconvincingly through the script. I’m all for themes that aim higher and dialog that tries to mean something, but they have to make sense in the context of a well-executed story, with performances we can respect and believe and action we can follow. “Lightning” is a failure on those counts.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of The Ties That Bind:

Here’s a story that’s in love with cons and audience deception, but it’s lacking the urgency and conviction that any of the parties involved really have much at stake. I guess it ultimately comes down to story execution. If we believe, for example, that Beka is going to blow up her own brother, and we care whether she does or doesn’t, then we might have something here. If we don’t, then we don’t.

One problem with “The Ties That Blind” is that it feels oddly disconnected, as if made up of a bunch of randomly invented parts that don’t really mean much of anything to anybody. There are a few groups that get new focus in this episode, but who are they and why should we care about them? The episode throws us a lot of agendas and people working for people, hoping that some of it will stick as interesting espionage/political storytelling. I dunno — we don’t really learn much about any of what’s going on. The plot doesn’t play like it actually matters (as with, say, political maneuvering on DS9); it plays more like a labyrinthine MacGuffin taking the back seat to a storyline about Beka’s estranged brother.

His name is Rafe Valentine (Cameron Daddo), renowned for his self-serving trickery and casual indifference to anything that doesn’t benefit him directly. He’s the type of guy who, when he says he has become a Wayist monk, prompts Beka to laugh in his face with incredulity.

Family friction is of course a backstory cliche. Families that get along aren’t very interesting as story subjects, so we get siblings who are simultaneously quasi-allies and quasi-competitors — with the underlying notion that Beka thinks Rafe needs to grow up and do something worthwhile with his life instead of living from one score to the next. It’s not bad, but it’s not original either. And it’s not all that interesting.

The real question posed here, I suppose, is who Rafe is working for. The plot involves the Wayists, the same religious group that Rev Bem subscribes to. It also involves the Resters — short for Restorians — an extremist group that is anti-space travel and believes the galaxy would best be served if worlds were isolated. Then there’s the Free Trade Alliance (FTA), a body more open to interplanetary commerce and interaction. The Resters would like nothing better than to undermine the FTA whenever possible. Rafe apparently is a recently converted Wayist. Is he working for the Resters, the FTA, both, or neither? It is typical of the story’s affinity for cons that it supposes Rafe in each of the four above possibilities at one point or another.

There’s another Wayist here named Vikram Singh Khalsa (Brian George), who is injured and may or may not be what he seems. Is Rafe initially in cahoots with him before being double-crossed, or is he playing the whole game by himself? It’s perhaps a telling sign that, after two viewings, I’m still not completely sure. For that matter, how are the Wayists (whom Rev secretly contacts at the show’s outset) directly connected into all of this? I’m not inspired to watch the show again to find out, seeing as the story places so little importance on these sort of connections anyway.

Sing Khalsa is really not what he seems; he’s not only a Rester saboteur but also a hollow shell full of nanobots, which exit his body through his mouth in a special effect reminiscent of The Green Mile. These nanobots infect the Andromeda‘s computer system and disable the ship, leaving it vulnerable to a Rester attack, and also causing the internal defense system to go haywire and start shooting at Our Heroes. Yawn.

This leads to a rather inept action premise where Tyr and Trance go running through the ship in slow-motion. It’s depressing how much the show makes of two characters outrunning exploding sparks — especially since we never believe for a moment they’re in any real danger. This “action” is meaningless; it doesn’t advance the story in any meaningful way and exists merely to fill screen time — and not entertainingly at that.

If there’s a core to the episode, it’s in Beka’s search to find her brother’s true motives. This is documented with plenty of sneaking around and dialog, but I should probably point out that I’m beginning to wonder whether making Beka a wisecracking smart-ass is a good idea. The character has shown that she’s smart and experienced, but Beka’s characterization evokes a loose-cannon tendency (replete with sub-par one-liners) that too often makes me forget I’m watching an experienced freighter captain and instead watching an over-scripted character trying to fit into some predetermined mold for the wannabe hip. Still, though some of this is needlessly forced, some of it is okay. I did like the idea of the Beka/Rafe rivalry put in the terms “Valentine Smart” and “Valentine Smarter.”

The big con in the episode is simultaneously on the bad guys (the Resters, that is) and the audience. Dylan and the Valentines con the Resters into taking missile launch codes that have been infected with a virus. So when the Resters launch missiles at the Andromeda, they turn around and blow up the Resters instead.

Unfortunately, the show is too labored an effort in getting here — heavy on exposition — and I never really cared about Rafe. And for those keeping count, this is already the fourth time that Captain Hunt has had control of his ship taken from him by outside forces. Not a great track record, that. The con games are the sort of thing that may have seemed clever on the page, but on the screen it plays too awkwardly. Indeed, what works best are the scenes that have little to do with the plot, like Tyr’s rant against Dylan’s trusting nature, or a tense confrontation between Rev and Tyr.

It would also seem the mystery of the ominous bad guys in “D Minus Zero” has been unveiled as the Resters. Unfortunately, it was more interesting when it was still a mystery (and besides, why would an extremist terrorist group value anonymity so much?). Here lies an episode that is a remarkably ho-hum experience.

According to Jammer’s Reviews of A Rose in the Ashes:

I wish I knew what “A Rose in the Ashes” was about. It betrays hints that it’s looking for some sort of message, but it never finds it. The message it comes close to finding is something as profound as “violent, oppressive prison systems are bad.” Whoa. Meanwhile, the whole episode gets bogged down in a lot of derivative, talky scenes with gobs of dialog but surprisingly little insight. And don’t even get me started on the chintz factor.

Yes, this show has budget limitations, but unlike other episodes on this series that have managed to overcome those limitations by employing decent storytelling and good use of that limited budget, “Rose” never transcends the look, feel, and attitude of a bad B movie. It’s the first episode of Andromeda to be filmed outdoors instead of on soundstages, but given this effort, I’ll take the soundstages. The “prison colony” here never looks like anything more than a few cheaply contrived locations.

Which, of course, would be irrelevant if the story being told were an interesting one. It’s not. Not even close. The whole episode plays like the recycling of B prison movies and routine conflicts. The episode is about Dylan and Rommie being railroaded into an alien prison colony (having been found guilty of sedition for inviting a planet into the Commonwealth), but it never once feels like these characters are inside anything but a series of disjointed situations cobbled together after having been bought at the nearest movie cliche store.

Of course the prison is a brutal place run by violent gangs of inmates. Of course the robotic warden (Bill Croft) is oppressive in his goals to keep the prisoners in line. Of course Dylan is instantly greeted with chants of “newbie” and immediately drawn into a yard fight. Of course he is victorious in his first fight, thereby earning the respect of a major character in the evil gang camp, a Tough Woman named Kae-Lee (Claudette Mink). Of course there’s dialog about attempting to live higher than the hostility that these prisons shape one to exhibit.

Cliches are one thing. Good stories, executed well, can transcend cliches. But a boring rehash of cliches is another matter. There’s nothing here to get us riled up about anything. This episode is particularly guilty in that it fails to rouse any genuine emotions. It’s like the black hole in “Under the Night” — the scenes get sucked into a dead zone of television and disappear into oblivion.

I don’t often use the word “boring” to describe a show, because I’m generally pretty patient. But “Rose” doesn’t go anywhere or do anything. It’s a boring episode that for its entire duration exhibits a desperate need to say something that’s powerful instead of obvious. It doesn’t. The point, if there is one, is lost amid an alarmingly arid experience.

Essentially, the story is about how prison systems perpetuate criminal behavior rather than serving as actual correctional facilities. Unfortunately, this is not a new point, and the show is not about this point in any interesting way. The characters are shallow, the conflicts superficial, and the solutions ultimately so simplistic that I’m not sure if they’re even really supposed to serve as solutions.

First we have to sit through the obligatory fight scenes, including one between Dylan and a creature named Xax (Ron Robinson), who looks like a large Muppet concept gone awry. This is the sort of fight scene that almost has us expecting Dylan to say, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” He does not, for which I’m infinitely grateful.

Then we have to sit through Dylan’s moral speeches as he tries to inspire peaceful, optimistic thoughts in everyone he encounters. While I credit Dylan for the effort, these speeches have the ring of naivete written all over them; does he really think he can drop into a prison and change everybody’s mind? Kae-Lee isn’t listening, that’s for sure. Her motto: “There are three types of people you can be in here — a wolf, a sheep, or a corpse.”

Later, Dylan meets a teenage girl named Jessa (Kimberley Warnat), who lives in the woods among the “outsiders” (outside of what?). The outsiders are apparently not accepted among the general prison population. Their most peculiar characteristic is that their inability to grow food in the woods (allegedly because the soil is too acidic) exists alongside their ability to construct electronic radio-controlled miniature helicopters with machine guns. Uh, right.

The plot revolves around the facts that (a) Rommie’s android body will die if her batteries are not soon recharged; (b) Dylan must expound his platitudes of how the system is wrong; and (c) the crew aboardAndromeda must launch a rescue operation to find the planet where Dylan and Rommie have been taken and then charge in to the rescue.

This plot aboard the Andromeda is also silly, revealing glib attitudes that are not the least bit productive. Tyr wants to blow everybody up, which is kind of funny when reduced to a one-liner by Keith Hamilton Cobb, but still not exactly a smart idea. Beka makes idle threats to the Evil Administration that she can’t possibly follow through on. Then there’s Trance, who gets her weekly exhibition of I’m More Than I Seem by mysteriously picking out by “pure chance” the planet where Dylan and Rommie have been taken. Trance had better find a purpose in a hurry, because her Knowledge On A Higher Plane is not interesting in and by itself; in fact, it’s becoming more like a hollow and convenient way to advance the plot from A to B.

Subsequently, Tyr and Beka’s bumpy flight to the surface in the Maruseems incredibly short-sighted on their part. Wouldn’t they scan for a defense system? Or did they just assume a prison colony would be completely open for any ship to glide in and take prisoners away?

There’s also the unabashed melodrama. There’s a scene where Jessa is being hauled off by the warden’s evil robots. One robot throws her over its shoulder as she kicks and screams and her glasses fall off. There’s actually a close-up of the glasses lying on the ground, and the boot of one of the bad guys lowers into the frame and crushes them. Yes.

We also have a scene where Jessa is tortured. Nothing like a little torture on a teenage girl to incite a reaction in the audience … except that it’s so weakly depicted that it inspires laughter instead of outrage.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Kae-Lee and Jessa are sisters, a point which is apparently supposed to challenge the assumption that criminal behavior is inherited — but a connection that is hazily established at best. It’s more likely that these two characters are related so we can get a “moving” deathbed scene after Kae-Lee gets her neck snapped by the warden as Jessa looks on in horror. Kae-Lee’s dialog as she dies is right off the shelf.

The ways in which the show’s crises are resolved are laughable, reducing what’s supposed to be a huge prison system to a single control room that can evidently operate the universe. Rommie is able to blow up the robot warden with these controls (apparently by turning the oven dial to “preheat to 450 degrees”), and then Dylan is able to disable the prison defense system by pressing a few buttons (talk about lethal suspense).

The ending is an oversimplistic non-ending that resolves nothing brought up in the course of the episode’s half-baked discussion. Are we supposed to believe for one second that with the robotic warden destroyed everything in the prison will be magically changed for the better? Jessa talks of turning the prison colony into a “re-education facility” that will actually live up to the euphemism that such prisons are given. How does she intend to do this? Are we to believe that all the other savages in the prison will go along? Or that the whole prison is run by this one warden, whose absence now that he’s dead will permit an era of peace? Please. If it’s this easy, the prisoners should’ve revolted decades or centuries ago.

As for the notion that Jessa’s going to turn down a chance to travel the stars on the Andromeda in order to stay in prison … well, I’m speechless.

Often when I award an episode a really low rating, I’m incited by feelings of annoyance, resulting in an angrier-sounding review. That’s not so much the case here. “A Rose in the Ashes” is bad — poorly thought-out and poorly executed — but in a much more vapid and empty way. It’s so mediocre as a loser episode that I’m not wishing I forgot it happened, because I basically already have.

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2 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda: Season 1

  1. Pingback: On A Bone to Pick | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda: Season 5 | The Progressive Democrat

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