Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
"The Sum of Its Parts"
Air date: 2/26/2001
Teleplay by Steven Barnes
Story by Celeste Chan Wolfe
Directed by David Winning
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"In my experience, Devils very rarely wear horns and carry pitchforks." — Tyr
In brief: Andromeda to Star Trek: "Resistance is futile. Your storyline will adapt to service us."
I almost hate to say it, but sometimes it can be pretty hard to take Andromeda seriously. I suppose it's a good thing that "The Sum of Its Parts" has a science-fiction ring to it, but it's not at all good that just about everything contained in the story is glaringly derivative. Do the writers think they're telling a remotely original story? I hope not.
What might have been interesting in a parallel universe where I'd never seen Star Trek is what the Andromeda encounters here — a culture of machines calling itself the "Consensus of Parts." They look like scrap metal floating dead in space but exist as independently intelligent components; when they come together, they can form a powerful consciousness. As rip-offs go, this is about as blatantly close to the Borg you can get without actually inserting the line "resistance is futile" (though it nearly comes to that before it's over, with a collective-like voice stating its intentions).
Dylan and his crew first encounter the Consensus through an ambassador-like scout machine, which assembles itself on cue and is called HG (Matt Smith). As special-effects creatures go, HG is another in an unfortunately long line of Andromeda creations that seem oddly dated and clunky, looking too obviously like a guy in a suit rather than a convincing sci-fi presence. HG has an androgynous persona and an innocent voice, undoubtedly so the crew will not perceive him as a threat.
HG invites Dylan & Co. to the Consensus' domain of space, where it is hoped a mutual understanding between the Consensus and the would-be Commonwealth can be struck. Dylan, of course, dares to deal with the Consensus even though it is widely known that avoiding them is generally the best course of action. Dylan's quest to make friendly ties on behalf of a new Commonwealth resides on one side of the line separating "brave" and "stupid"; the jury's still out on which side of the line that is.
While interacting with the Andromeda crew, HG begins developing a fully sentient consciousness and expresses an interest in a continued existence. In short, HG has become alive and aware, and does not want to dismantle himself, something he begins to understand as death. Helping HG through this journey of existence is Trance, who plays cute and emotive to the hilt here, with sometimes annoying results.
I for one don't need every emotion cued for me; I'd rather think about an argument on its merits than be spoon-fed my predetermined emotional response. No such luck here, as we have sweet little Trance getting misty-eyed while HG talks about his forthcoming death. Matthew McCauley's score goes for the jugular — using excessive sappiness as the assault weapon.
HG is selfless, too. The reason he intends to dismantle himself rather than go on living is because the Consensus does not tolerate unified parts existing beyond their given function. To do so would apparently invite individuality and destructive chaos into the Borg collective — er, I mean Consensus — and the larger presence of the Consensus will not permit that. The Consensus would sooner destroy the Andromeda than allow HG to remain intact.
To complicate matters, we have another assembled Consensus entity, VX (Kevin Durand), who comes aboard the Andromeda to personify the Consensus threat and, thus, anti-individuality. He's the inverse-HG, with a growling voice and a threatening demeanor. As a side-note to up the ante of the plot, VX also requests that the Andromeda, as an intelligent machine herself, join the Consensus of Parts. No points for guessing VX won't take no for an answer.
Meanwhile, HG goes through on his intent to dismantle himself, in a goodbye scene where the entire Andromeda crew sees HG off as he gives them parts of himself to remember him by. (No tears allowed.) Strangely, it felt almost like the show was ending here, but then it starts up again when it turns out HG's independent parts don't take no for an answer and implant themselves throughout Andromeda's systems, effectively taking over (assimilating?) the ship.
Once HG merges with Andromeda, parts of the plot feel like a cheesy supernatural/possession thriller. Dylan communicates with HG by talking to Andromeda. Rommie talks back in a combined HG/Rommie voice. HG, by the way, still doesn't mean any harm; he just wants to find a way to exist, if he can.
Of course, we still have the Consensus to deal with, of which HG is officially no longer affiliated. In short, if the Consensus cannot have the Andromeda, no one will (bwahahaha). Meanwhile, this new HG-Andromeda amalgam could be a threat to Consensus interests. This leads to our requisite chase scene and weapons fire. The depiction of the Consensus space vessel is actually one of the episode's higher points, showing a massive ship — assembled seemingly out of millions of smaller chunks of metal — that dwarfs the Andromeda. Of course, the similarity to the Borg concept is still all too evident, and VX's machine-like mandates for surrender have that Borg-like ring of an authority that cannot be appealed.
The resolution is mildly interesting, as HG, eventually separated from the Andromeda, combines its consciousness with an outcast set of parts to form another super robot-vessel that attacks and destroys the Consensus' massive spaceship. HG no longer exists as an individual but as a part of a new collective that may choose not to employ the oppressive ways of the Consensus. That's actually covering a decent amount of ground in the last act; thematically, I find myself strongly reminded of the Voyager episode "Unity," where former Borg drones willingly reconnected themselves to one other.
Still, I'm left cold by the lack of originality. Once again, we too often have ourselves the argument stressing the wonders of individuality (HG/humanity) over the collective drone-like consciousness (Consensus/Borg). When was the last time this theme was new?
In my opinion, Andromeda hasn't yet paid its dues in using its own material to be going out and plundering the existing sci-fi archive.