Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
Air date: 2/19/2001
Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
Directed by George Meneluk
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Where'd you get all the candles?"
"I rendered them from the fat of my enemies."
— Beka and Tyr
In brief: Good intentions, but with excessively preachy exposition and a questionable resolution.
Like Star Trek, Andromeda loves to wear its messages on its sleeve. This is particularly true of "Forced Perspective," an okay episode that benefits from good intentions and some intriguing character backstory, but suffers in an overplayed final act of exposition with messages delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And the story's ending: Does it really resolve anything?
It begins with the kidnapping (read: stock-issue plot setup) of Captain Hunt from the Maru. He's taken to the planet Mobius, where he's demanded to confess his guilt in another one of those oppressive trial systems where the accused is automatically guilty upon capture, tortured and beaten with little or no explanation of his supposed crimes. Dylan's response: repeating his name, rank, and Commonwealth serial number.
Mobius is a world that does in fact have a beef with Dylan Hunt. Over 300 years ago, Dylan earned his starship command by accepting a mission that took him to this world. His orders were to remove the Mobius dictator, a man named Ferrin (Alex Green), from power. No, the High Guard did not order Dylan to kill Ferrin; indeed, the mission was simply to forcibly extradite him and turn power over to the people. But let's just say the High Guard took a pragmatic approach to the problem: They wanted this dictator removed to alleviate the conflict on this world, and if Ferrin were to somehow end up dead in the removal process ... well, the High Guard wasn't exactly going to complain.
This mission also was the first mission where Dylan met Gaheris Rhade (Steve Bacic, in another lackluster reprisal of his painfully wooden character), who would subsequently become Dylan's first officer when Dylan got his command of the Andromeda. This is all established through the use of flashback scenes (a device popular this season, it would seem), which are intercut with the present action. Dylan and Rhade had an inside contact on Mobius, an architect named Venetri (Mackenzie Gray) who would help them past the building's security and into Ferrin's office.
The mission went somewhat awry, depending on your goals and point of view, that is. Always-cold-blooded Rhade, who would have no problem simply shooting Ferrin on sight to solve the High Guard's problem, sees the mission as an exercise in ends versus means; Dylan has a more specific moral ideal and hopes to carry out the mission with a zero death toll. In the course of making their way to Ferrin's office, however, Rhade and Dylan are forced to kill two guards or risk the failure of the mission. Venetri is shocked and appalled; the High Guard promised him the mission would be non-violent.
Furthermore, Ferrin did not go along quietly with the extradition order. The second Dylan and Rhade stepped into his office, Ferrin opened fire. Dylan and Rhade returned fire, and Ferrin was killed. The dictator was removed from power, but at what cost to ethics and due process? Yes, Ferrin fired first (which in my mind more than justifies the violence of the mission, given Dylan's position), but should the Commonwealth have set foot in his office in the first place?
Fast-forward to the present, where Dylan now stands trial for the murder of the guards and Chancellor Ferrin. The one making the charges is none other than ... Venetri, who has kept himself alive by cloning body parts and surgically integrating them into his body over time. Venetri sees Dylan as a symbol of past Commonwealth corruption trying to rebuild a Commonwealth that might very well duplicate that corruption. Venetri wants to pound on Dylan until he breaks down and reveals his true colors: Did Dylan consider bloodshed an acceptable course of action to achieve larger goals?
There are some interesting questions worth pondering that "Forced Perspective" brings up. Among them is the issue of how to carry out military operations that can bring about positive changes to entire cultures, but at a cost. Essentially, the mission the High Guard sent Dylan to carry out was one that intended to improve Mobius, albeit at the expense of the minority who supported Ferrin (think Slobodan Milosevic). If killing Ferrin — assuming it had to come to that — would ease tensions and violence in Mobius, would that not be the greater good? And in covert military operations, let's face it — people get killed. So is Rhade's pragmatic observation about the two killed guards a matter of simply being practical? When looking at the bigger picture, probably. Of course there are consequences to death (one dead guard left behind a family of orphaned children), but can a large-scale military action really stop to concern itself with things like that?
The Old High Guard, from the evidence supplied here, seemed to be an efficient military organization that made decisions and then lived with them. If dictators died resisting their extradition — well, that's the way it went. That such an attitude seemed to be the standard operation of the Commonwealth is interesting, since Trek's Federation would presumably be "above" that mentality (except for, say, DS9's Section 31).
Unfortunately, I'm not completely sure what this adds up to. Is this version of the Roddenberry Universe striving to be more like or unlike Star Trek? A lot of the message in this episode seems to question whether the Old Commonwealth did the Right Thing by carrying out pragmatic military operations of this nature. At the same time it shows Dylan struggling with the goal of trying to make things better for the maximum number of people. I get the feeling that Dylan could've lived with Ferrin's death if it had brought about a better Mobius.
But it didn't. Mobius is run by Venetri now, who took power and expected that he'd have the support of the Commonwealth to oversee free elections. He didn't, because the Commonwealth fell and he had to contend with the anarchy on his own. In the process, he became every bit the dictator that Ferrin was.
The problem with all this is the way the story doesn't come to any truly acceptable terms with the issues it presents. I for one didn't understand the cause and effect of Venetri's turn to a dictator, or how the Commonwealth's presence could've solved the problem of civilian uprisings when Mobius' own attempts for democracy apparently had few positive effects of their own. The issues of government here are complex and simply beyond the scope of the story and its dialog. The ending tries to deal with past events that are vague at best, and offers up vague solutions that try to create hopefulness from a situation that, given the evidence, seems hopeless. Dylan naively suggests ambiguous governmental remedies that, during the past 300 years, Venetri would've been an idiot not to try. (For that matter, how plausible is it that a world full of chaos would accept a single dictator in power for 300 years without reform or an all-out overthrow?)
The final act drowns in (a) its inability to tackle these problems with real coherence, and (b) hammered-home moralizing and overwrought performances. Mackenzie Gray completely lost me with his overly tortured portrayal of Venetri's anguished exposition. A man this disturbed, you wonder why on Earth he's been keeping himself alive with cloned body parts. (How he was able to do this for 300 years is another matter I take some issue with — the immortality can of worms and all — but we'll forego discussion of that issue.)
Meanwhile, Trance's moral preaching comes across as a dogged attempt to deliver the "message" to the audience on a silver platter — an approach I tend to resist. I for one was glad to see that Dylan was not convinced solely by Trance's dose of saccharine ("Well how do we improve thing then, Trance, huh? How do we make things better?!"), but the story seems to side with her.
In my opinion, the point here is that you can't predict the future, but you have to do what you think will have the best end result. Trance's preaching adds the tricky issue of "individual intent." But what happens when individual intent and the big picture come into conflict? What if you need to do the "wrong" thing (in this case, killing Venetri, which Dylan thinks may be the only way of stopping his dictatorship and returning Mobius to any sort of stability) to get the "right" result? The argument here (maybe, I think) is that you shouldn't take actions that on their face are negative if you are uncertain of their consequences, even if those consequences could be positive. By extension that seems to mean the ends-versus-means approach to any situation is invalid.
I dunno. There's a lot that can be inferred from these discussions, but I don't see where the story makes real sense of them on its own, even though its seems to be trying. I like ambivalence in my stories, but the closing scenes here seem as if they're confidently taking a stance on an issue without really clarifying what that stance is, or, for that matter, the issue. The dialog is all over the map. The ending suggests uncertainty while at the same time offering vague upbeat notes that seem false.
I must also renew my objection to Trance's mysterious Knowledge on a Higher Plane (read: Handy Narrative Tool), as she's able to track Dylan right down to his holding cell, break him out with no resistance, then explain that she's good at "finding things." I understand that Trance is a riddle wrapped in an enigma with a tail in the middle, etc., but it holds no interest for me when her mysterious knowledge is used solely as a convenience of the plot. Meanwhile, her dialog exhibits an unrelenting sweet innocence with the ring of youthful optimism, even though we probably know her better than that. No, thanks.
On the other hand, I love Tyr, even when he's the subject of a pedestrian B-story like he is here, when Beka and Tyr strangely find themselves in the middle of a would-be romantic dinner. It turns out that Tyr's a gourmet chef, and has a tale to explain it that's laugh-out-loud, 100 percent Tyr Anasazi funny: "I took it up because a former employer of mine appreciated fine dining. When he refused to pay me for one of my jobs, I prepared him a tiramisu laced with strychnine. As I recall, he quite enjoyed it — for precisely ... 12 seconds."
It's also funny how the idea of a potential romance with Beka is pointless to him because she's not Nietzschean, and his genuine look of confusion when she tells him she's offended. Hey, he was just being honest. (Though I must now wonder about his intentions during a would-be romance with a human in "Music of a Distant Drum.")
Like many Andromeda episodes, "Forced Perspective" shows an interest in the Commonwealth's past, hoping to tie themes into its possible future. The writers continue to show a care and interest in the universe that they are piecing together out of episodes like this one, which have plenty of good intentions. But the story itself operates with too many action cliches and has ending arguments that can't pull it together. It's like seeing the forest for the trees but with too many trees infected with termites.
Next week: Andromeda assimilates the Borg.