Jammer's Review

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

"Harper 2.0"

***

Air date: 2/12/2001
Written by John Whelpley
Directed by Richard Flower

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"One head cannot contain all wisdom." — The Olduvai Cycle, Systems University Archive

In brief: Not too shabby.

"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; the Andromeda 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.

Next week: Dylan is put on trial for something he allegedly did three centuries earlier.

Previous episode: Music of a Distant Drum
Next episode: Forced Perspective

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