Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
"Music of a Distant Drum"
Air date: 2/5/2001
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I AM TYR ANASAZI OF KODIAK PRIDE! OUT OF VICTORIA BY BARBAROSSA! AND I ... WILL NEVER ... SURRENDER!" [breaks guy's spine, throws him down onto rocky floor]
In brief: A reasonable character-building episode but, unfortunately, with a horribly pedestrian main plot.
The moment when Tyr snaps the bad guy's neck after exclaiming, "I AM TYR ANASAZI!" is almost worth the price of admission. It's a gratifying release of tension — tension similar to that which built in my head as I waited for something interesting to actually happen in the plot. Up to that point the episode is a reasonable but overly traditional character episode with virtually no surprises whatsoever. Ah, nothing like a little in-your-face violence to get the juices flowing.
I'm torn here: I'm always asking for more character building and less pointless action. Now here I get it (although there are several sequences of action, to be sure), and yet I'm still not satisfied because I also get one of the safest, most nondescript plots in recent memory. A lot of it feels like it's on autopilot. The script employs ages-old devices like temporary character amnesia, a hero marooned in an unfamiliar setting, hostages and mouthy would-be killers, the hero befriending and almost romancing the local woman in distress, fistfights in rocky caves, the works. All of this is familiar to a fault and I wanted some of these scenes to move out of the way.
On the other hand, we have peripheral elements to the plot that make up an emotional core that comes very close to working. We have central focus on Tyr, whose depth is quickly turning him into this series' most compelling and entertaining character. We have evidence that the Nietzscheans are going to be an interestingly woven tapestry on this series with various sects and societal relationships. I'm heartened by those facts.
I guess "Music of a Distant Drum" is what might be called average fare for Andromeda — a palatable story executed in a fairly standard way with few risks or surprises. Tyr crashes the Maru on a planet after having been shot down by the Drago-Kazov Nietzschean pride — established in "Double Helix" as sworn enemies of Tyr and his Kodiak pride. The Drago-Kazov fleet was chasing him because he stole something from their homeworld. Tyr wakes up in mid-adventure unaware how he got into it; he can't remember much of anything about his identity or situation. He's on a planet that, incidentally, is occupied by the Drago-Kazov, who exploit the humans living there as slave labor.
Our entry point into this world are the characters of Yvaine (Linnea Sharples) and her stepson Breyon (Noel Fisher). Yvaine is a widow who has had a difficult life because of the Drago-Kazov's brutal ways and because of the local human brutes, whose ostensive purpose is to resist the Dragos but who have turned their aggression toward the innocents of their own world, that they may profit by it. Breyon is a young teenage hothead, bent on avenging his father's death at the hands of the Dragos. He does not like Nietzscheans, and his first inclination when he sees Tyr sleeping is to try to kill him. Gradually, Breyon comes to accept Tyr, since bits and pieces of Tyr's memory indicate that he might hate the Drago-Kazov every bit as much as Breyon and the other residents of this slave world.
The amnesiac angle is a bit of a mixed bag. For one, it's a storytelling cliche (so much so that I thought when Tyr first asked Yvain who he was, I thought he was testing her). I also wonder if it was really necessary to get to the heart of what this episode is about, which is Tyr's underlying humanity despite the fact he is a Nietzschean pragmatist. Although I think Tyr acted very much within the boundaries of his character in this story, the case can be made that because Tyr has no memory of his origins or motivations, he acts in ways he otherwise would not, which I think is contrary to the story's point.
On the other hand, I do think the reason for Tyr's memory loss is nicely explained: He was infected with a nanobot weapon to disrupt his body's systems, but his Nietzschean bio-engineering is able to gradually resist it, hence the only-temporary memory loss that gradually subsides through the course of the episode.
The plot is a device to get Tyr to choose sides between the Nietzschean oppressors and the human oppressed. Tyr, by nature, does not choose any side but his own, and nor does he here initially, simply telling Yvain that his own best chances for survival lie in working with her while avoiding the Dragos. Eventually, of course, Tyr is somewhat taken in by Yvain's plight.
There are a series of confrontations between Tyr and the Drago bad guys, particularly one soldier named Arjun (Nels Lennarson). It turns out the Dragos were chasing Tyr because he stole from their homeworld the sacred remains of the original Nietzschean progenitor — once safeguarded by the Kodiak pride before the Drago-Kazov betrayed and wiped them out. The mummified corpse is an interesting concept for a treasure, because it says a lot about Tyr's reverence for history and his serious pride in himself and the Kodiaks that have become all but extinct.
Honestly, from here, what actually happens in the course of the plot is of minimal interest. There are confrontations and dialog scenes between Tyr and others, chase scenes, rescue scenes, and a satisfying showdown where Tyr's memories come back and he announces exactly who he is while pounding on Arjun until he breaks.
None of this is important as a matter of what's happening so much as who these people are and what their histories are about. The Nietzscheans have a diverse but generally self-serving ideal set, as evidenced here by Tyr's condemnation of the Drago-Kazov's use of slave worlds — not because they're morally wrong, but because the Dragos are dependent upon them and weak without them.
"Music of a Distant Drum" represents an interesting duality that exists in Andromeda — one that shows a care for the series' larger picture, characters, and cultures but can't muster quite enough to tell a fresh and interesting story on its own terms. Ironically enough, except for the convenient and highly improbable timeliness of the other Andromeda crew members arriving on the planet, this is actually one of the better-paced and better-technically-executed episodes of Andromeda this season — except this time the actions of the story come across as hackneyed.
Can I recommend this episode? Almost, but not quite. It has a number of very respectable qualities, like getting into the head of its hero, developing a focus on cultural relationships and a contribution to the larger Andromeda lore. The guest performances are serviceable (which is a step up from weak but still not what I would call really engaging). Tyr's key interactions with Yvain are pleasant but not moving. The show ultimately can't sustain enough tension to transcend the mechanics of its ho-hum plot. Close, but no cigar.
Next week: Seamus Mnemonic.