In brief: Some decent sentiments confined in a mostly lackluster hour.
I write this two-month-belated review for "Bunker Hill" after the first string of new shows for 2002 has finished airing. In hindsight, "Bunker Hill" is the best of those shows, which is unfortunate and perhaps telling considering I can't even recommend this episode.
Granted, I can recommend things about this episode, but overall "Bunker Hill" falls solidly into that Andromeda category that was well established in season one, known as Good Intentions But Not-So-Good Execution [TM]. Here's a story that actually tries its best to add up to something of Deep Significance, but it can't harness the persuasiveness to get there. I was sold on some moments, but I was not sold on the hour.
Still, it's worth noting that I'll gladly take episodes like "Bunker Hill," which at least try to add up to something with an evident meaning, over episodes like "Dance of the Mayflies," which insist that this series is nothing more than a vessel for exceptionally lame action. The question is whether the series that once was is now dead and buried, or if the cartoon attitude is a temporary phase.
As for "Bunker Hill" itself, one of its main problems, I think, is with its A/B plot structure, a common problem in season one. Plot A, involving Harper trying start an uprising on Earth to liberate it from the Drago-Kazov Nietzscheans who have held the planet enslaved for generations, is clearly the more important thread. Plot B, involving the Sabra-Jaguar preparing to go to war with the Drago-Kazov, occupies about as much screen time — but I don't know what it's really supposed to be about beyond a showdown and a daring escape.
One thing I liked about DS9 was that the major plots usually — though not always — seemed to build from somewhere and to somewhere. Take, for example, the Dominion War, which had a road paved to it so well that by the time the war started we had long known it was inevitable.
By contrast, Andromeda continuity has a tendency to think it's good enough simply to reference past storylines and build arbitrarily upon them. In this episode, Elsbett (Kimberly Huie, reprising her role from "The Honey Offering") returns to tell Dylan that the Sabra-Jaguar is ready to battle the Drago-Kazov, and they need the Andromeda to coordinate the fleets. Suddenly we're off — leading to the aforementioned showdown between fleets and the eventual daring escape — but what's lacking is context. This doesn't feel like an organic or logical outgrowth of a storyline but rather a random fact suddenly concocted. There's no context supplied to either the Drago-Kazov's or the Sabra-Jaguar's movements that you can stop and understand. I was left asking, how and why does the conflict come to a head here? And by the time we're through the episode, there's little insight as to where, if anywhere, this might go in the future. It could just as easily be dropped as revisited. In short, it doesn't seem to matter.
That doesn't make the plot a bad thing, but I don't think the long-term implications are nearly as solid or thought-out as they could be. The bigger problem is that the story thread itself plays more like a detour than drama. There's no genuine urgency, and I disliked the tone at which it was played — namely smarmy and annoying.
Everyone in this storyline comes across as a cutesy smart-ass, most particularly Elsbett, who struts around the ship with her haughty arrogance output set on maximum. That worked better in the early stages of "The Honey Offering" before we saw the cracks in her facade, but here it takes over the character and makes her more annoying than entertaining. The character is too busy posturing to transcend the limitations of a comic-book persona. By the same token, Kevin Sorbo's delivery of sarcasm and look-at-me-I'm-using-understatement-and-pauses-for-ironic-effect is really beginning to tire.
This plot ends with a neat maneuver showcasing Beka's piloting skills, but the plot itself never breaks free to really add up to anything more than an elaborate and sometimes confusing exercise.
Fortunately, we have a respectable, albeit not completely satisfying, main plot involving Harper's attempts to start an uprising on Earth. It's always nice to see Harper's serious side emerge, as it does here where Earth is concerned. Being the Andromeda's resident Earth native, he cares about the planet when no one else does (and for good reason, since it's mostly strategically meaningless). But liberating Earth is something that might tie in with Elsbett's campaign against the Drago-Kazov: If Harper can time the uprising on Earth to coincide with the Andromeda and its reinforcements arriving at the world, maybe they can make an uprising actually pay off. This is something that deserves screen time and gets it. Harper's emotional stake is represented through a character named Brendan (Mark Hildreth), Harper's cousin.
The episode botches some key scenes, however. The scene where Harper tries to rouse a crowd into action with a Heartfelt Meaningful Speech — and a tribute to Boston, no less — fell pretty flat for me, as the "spontaneous" cries of "Freedom!" edged their way into corny self-parody. Indeed, as Brendan later says, these people have heard it all before; what exactly is it that moves them into such spirited hopefulness here?
Perhaps they're simply looking for an excuse to have hope. Indeed, the story's message is that enslaved populations need hope, and are willing to die not simply for freedom, but for the slightest glimmer of hope for change. It's a poignant if familiar theme, and I liked some of Harper and Rommie's discussions on the matter, as well as a nicely understated scene where Tyr explains to Harper the unfortunate reality of the situation.
But I'm not sure what to make of the episode's big dramatic turning point, which is unfortunately not the best scene. I'm talking about the scene where Harper pulls a gun on Brendan and orders him to halt the rebellion since the strategic arrival of the Andromeda has been delayed. This is an excellent example of a scene that was written with something big and dramatic in mind, but has muddy dialog and a muddled message. Several argument threads crop up in this scene, they don't entirely add up, and the issue of what this uprising is truly about is lost. Harper has buried guilt about his parents sacrificing themselves to save him, but that doesn't seem to get to the heart of the issue, nor does much of what Brendan says in response.
Is the resistance actually about using this opportunity to free Earth, or is it simply about standing up and facing oppressors because the people just don't want to take it anymore? It seems to be the latter, which makes the whole point of Harper's visit strangely ironic — but ultimately hopeful as the ending would indicate, since news of the rebellion on Earth prompts uprisings on other slave worlds.
Production values are shaky. For as much talk as there is about Earth, we barely get the sense we're on the planet, since most scenes are confined to a few typical underground tunnels. Of course, that's partially the point since Earth is a dim and broken slave world where we suspect the organization for an uprising would be smartest to stay in underground tunnels during the planning stages. But emotionally it feels vacant, because we don't feel the scope of the despair; the approach to the production is more routine than a visit to Earth should seem.
"Bunker Hill" is a nice try. A near-miss, a near-hit — whatever. I like some of the ideas here. But the writers fumble the ball on key plays and sometimes seem lucky to recover it. As entertainment, it isn't all that dramatic. The two plots, despite being intertwined, don't mesh very well. Earth feels like a soundstage, not a world. The dialog reaches out but doesn't always connect.
But, sure, I'll take it over the likes of Action Hour Andromeda any day.