Note: This episode was rerated from 3 to 2.5 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: Corny, reckless abandon, even for Andromeda ... and yet often surprisingly fun.
To my own amazement, I find myself giving my approval of "Belly of the Beast," which is by far the silliest, most lunatic Andromeda outing since "Dance of the Mayflies," and yet manages to be fun instead of grating.
Have no illusions: This is an episode with little in terms of seriousness or depth. It has scenes of jaw-dropping cheesiness. Why, then, do I give it a thumbs-up? Because it reveals full awareness of its silliness, it manages to use its characters more effectively than most Andromeda shows of late, it's admirably efficient as an action show — and, well, I confess that I'm really wanting to give a positive review of Andromeda right now. Call it guarded praise, but praise nonetheless.
And another thing: I like that this episode is actually a space adventure instead of a Hercules-style fight show with endless kung-fu and/or blazing guns. Instead of scores of mindless villains and endless shootouts, we have one mindless villain (a massive space creature), two spaceships, and plenty of stuff getting blown up real good. I will take a hardware tech show any day over endless action in a Canadian forest, gunfire, and/or lame kung-fu.
The premise is sublime simplicity: The space creature — a myth called the Cetus — is about to take a bite out of a nearby populated planet, and the Andromeda must stop it. Dylan and Trance are on the Maru planning to assure the threatened planet that they'll be okay. The rest of the crew is on the Andromeda when they unexpectedly run into the Cetus, which — gasp! — isn't just a myth after all! From here it's all about identifying problems and working through them. When things go wrong, the characters must try to make them better.
We never really find out the true nature of the Cetus (sentient? Malicious? The equivalent of a shark in space?), and it's just as well; this is the sort of threat that we need to identify and destroy and not think about beyond that. It's reminiscent of the original Trek's "The Immunity Syndrome," in which the Enterprise crew had to contend with a giant all-consuming amoeba in space. That show wasn't about much of anything either, but the characters really had a chance to shine.
In this episode, the characters have a chance perhaps not quite to shine, but to come pretty close. While the chemistry on Andromeda will never be in the same league as the original Star Trek cast, there are moments here where characters can detach from the frankly ridiculous events going on around them and simply exist as themselves, interact with their peers, and bounce around with crazy dialog.
The central crisis here is that the Andromeda is swallowed by the Cetus and the crew must figure out how to escape before they're digested (I hate it when that happens). Meanwhile, Dylan and Trance in the Maru realize the Andromeda has been swallowed and they must figure out a way to save the Andromeda and/or destroy the Cetus, in the grander mission of ultimately saving the defenseless planet.
As special-effects creatures on this series go, the Cetus is sometimes well above average (when it swallows the Andromeda, it looks pretty convincing), and other times pretty shoddy (scenes where the Cetus chases the Andromeda through the camera frame sometimes bear a humorous resemblance to chase scenes in Scooby Doo cartoons, with their static and 2-dimensional movements).
The story starts picking up momentum midway through, as the script develops a two-tiered structure that tackles the problem from both ends, with the crews in the Andromeda and the Maru both trying to anticipate what the other will do. It's like a guessing game of scenarios where the ultimate goal is having one's cake and eating it too (while thinking outside the box, etc.), but also recognizing that such a solution may not be a possible goal. Questions are posed: How to destroy the Cetus without destroying the Andromeda? How to release the Andromeda without destroying the Maru? How to destroy the Cetus at all costs, even if it means sacrificing the Andromeda and/or the Maru? Such scenarios are considered at various points, and not everyone is in agreement at all times.
Most interesting is the game of prediction various characters play in coming to make their decisions: Did Dylan die in a Maru kamikaze to attempt to release the Andromeda? Should Harper (therefore/not-therefore, I'm not sure which) eject the slipstream drive to give the Cetus an awful stomach ache? Who will do what, and how do we take a course of action based on these predictions? And so on.
In particular, Tyr gets a chance to be Tyr, with a few standout lines, including, "I trust Dylan to be Dylan" (a nice mirror image on Dylan's previous "I trust Tyr to be Tyr"), and also the most hilarious Tyr line in quite some time: "When the universe collapses and dies, there will be three survivors: Tyr Anasazi, the cockroaches, and Dylan Hunt trying to save the cockroaches." Where has this guy been? He and Beka get some good dialog scenes — interesting scenes that work while at the same time play goofy games on the levels of sexual tension that make you grin at the silliness factor.
Meanwhile we have Harper's motormouth fully engaged as he attempts to gain manual control over the ship's AI, which has become scrambled in a way not so severely as in "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last," but severely enough to cause plenty of problems. The show cuts back and forth between the two sides of the narrative (Andromeda, Maru), keeping the show inside the two spaceships, both of which take a pounding as sparks and bodies go flying and/or hurtling through the air. It's chaos done relatively well.
After the Cetus is destroyed (communicating and reasoning with a monster like this — let's face it — is for squares and Starfleet captains) and both ships saved, we get crew members dancing with each other on the Andromeda command deck. This has got to be one of the cheesiest happy endings not seen within the confines of a Saturday-morning cartoon. My eyes were in disbelief before I was rolling them uncontrollably.
Also, eye-roll-worthy are lines that qualify as Exposition For Dummies, like:
Beka: "Plot an intercept."
Beka: "Get in front of it."
Or overblown bouts of self importance:
Trance: "If the Cetus eats the Andromeda and gets filled, wouldn't that save the planet?"
Dylan: "That ... might ... save the planet — but we ... would lose the universe." (Sorbo has mastered the Shatner-like pauses between words; all he needs now is a passion that makes him sound anything but bored.)
Still, there's got to be some sort of medal for courage the writers deserve for this kind of reckless abandon. Creatures that eat starships. Dialog that exclaims: "The Cetus gets one hell of a Heimlich and spews us out like your autochef's three-day-old chopped liver, faster than you can say "uncle," or in this case, "anti[matter]." And "You could even say that we had our cake outside of the box and ate it too." The crew dancing with each other on a wrecked command deck. To 20th-century swing music. I think. (Rest assured you cannot envision this sight with as much cheese as actually seeing it played out here.)
I'm feeling generous — three stars. Is this good art? Hardly. But it's zany, ridiculous, and sometimes quite fun. Just know first what it is you're getting yourself into. And if you find at times that you're smacking yourself in the forehead, don't say I didn't warn you.
Next week: The inevitable Hercules guest star.