Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
Air date: 4/30/2001
Written by Ethlie Ann Vare
Directed by David Winning
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Permission to chop yourself into pieces is officially denied." — Dylan
Note: This episode was rerated from 2.5 to 2 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: There's a good story in here somewhere, but it's buried under maudlin excess.
"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 some time 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 Andromeda as 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 the Andromeda.
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, the Balance 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 Balance instructs him to do, despite his desires to do otherwise. Even once the Balance 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 the Balance 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 Balance went 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.
Next week: The search for Atlantis.