Note: This episodes was rerated from 1 to 0.5 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: Bad. A cheap-looking episode with no direction — meandering, talky, melodramatic, and surprisingly boring.
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 aboard Andromeda 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 Maru seems 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.
Upcoming: Reruns for some time, starting with the series premiere, "Under the Night."