In brief: Some very good character and continuity work held back by several unconvincing turns of plot and science. A recommendation overall, albeit barely.
Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but moments of "Exit Strategies" send your Credulity-O-Meter to skyrocketing levels. The crew's exit strategy here is to have the script solve the problems with several magical waves of the contrivance wand. Sure, the plot supplies reasons for everything that happens here, but I don't think I buy them.
Nevertheless, after bouncing back and forth several times in the process of writing this review, I'm going to let "Exit Strategies" slide by with a thumbs-up. It features good characterization, good continuity/follow-up material, and good pacing. It's just enough for me to overlook the problems to some degree. But make no mistake: While the character work is highly admirable, the plot has distracting moments where it resembles Swiss cheese.
Out acquiring parts for the crippled Andromeda, the Maru crashes on a desolate ice world, in an exceptionally fast-moving and well-done teaser sequence. "Desolate ice world" is, naturally, another term for "snowy Canadian forest location." I appreciate that there are action scenes staged outside in the snow (visually, it looks quite good), but all these supposed "forest planets" are beginning to tire. I guess the creators must make do with the locations and resources at hand, but surely there must be a location somewhere in Canada without pine trees.
A Nietzschean attack forces the Maru to dump all her fuel and make the emergency planetary landing. The Nietzscheans are chasing the Maru for reasons inexplicable to everyone except, of course, one Tyr Anasazi, who has a good idea what's going on but isn't initially forthcoming.
While Beka, Tyr, and Rev make repairs, Dylan goes out into the snow to search for options. The reasoning: Where there's snow, there's water; where there's water, there are settlements; and where there are settlements, there's fuel. Not sure I'm quite so encouraged by the train of thought there, but Dylan has always been more optimistic than I have.
While out in the snow, Dylan runs into the Nietzscheans, now on foot. They open fire, which leads to the usual type of action Andromeda likes to offer up, in which our hero runs while bullets conveniently hit everything near him but not our hero himself. I can't say I found this action to be particularly fresh or inventive, but I did like the environment: Better, I guess, to have bullets hitting the snowy landscape than the corridor walls of the Andromeda. One transition, however, qualifies as a Moment of Questionable Execution [TM by Season One], in which Tyr has a scene of dialog with Beka in the Maru, and then what seems to be almost immediately afterward he's helping Dylan escape the Nietzscheans. Just how did Tyr arrive on the scene so quickly?
For that matter, how can the Maru fall 75 meters through a sinkhole into a mine and not be reduced to a pile of junk and/or kill everyone inside?
Never mind. What "Exit Strategies" is about is follow-up material and characters, and on those levels it's effective. For one, we have Tyr's mysterious involvement in this entire mess, involving the Nietzschean Mandau pride. Beka supposes it might have something to do with his mysterious three-week mission away from the Andromeda, when he borrowed the Maru. She's right about that, but only we know what that was about — the theft of the corpse of the original Nietzschean progenitor, Drago Museveni (see "Music of a Distant Drum"). It would seem that the Mandau here were part of a team that had helped Tyr steal the corpse. When he disappeared as a result of "Distant Drum," they assumed he betrayed them. Of course, they may very well be right about that regardless.
Those who follow this series' bigger picture might take note that the corpse of Museveni is more than a personal symbol for Tyr, but also, according to dialog here, a symbol that could unite the fragmented Nietzschean empire. How or why, I'm not sure, but it would seem Tyr has a powerful card up his sleeve by maintaining possession of Museveni's corpse. The Mandau are too shortsighted to care about the bigger picture, and never saw the corpse as anything more than a salable item to the highest bidder. Now they just want revenge on Tyr, which is a tad unfortunate since they come across as cardboard as a result. (If Nietzscheans are supposed to be so superior, why are most of them so dumb?) Their leader, Kiyama (Ian Marsh), apparently thinks he'll come across as intimidating by putting on a forced gruff voice. (Let's just say I'm not impressed, but also not particularly appalled, by the performance.)
While Tyr engages in these "extra-curricular activities" in trying to negotiate with the Mandau, we also have a character-based storyline involving Rev nearly starving to death. Since he has been fasting to atone for killing Magog during the world-ship assault, he finds himself close to starvation here — not a good thing considering the ship is stranded in a snowy landscape with no food. Rev is self-tortured here in more ways than one. First, in trying to live with the fact that he killed Magog against the mandates of his own beliefs. Second, in realizing that he liked killing — and indeed still has a blood lust, as evidenced by the moment where he sniffs fresh blood from the floor of the ship. And third, in that he's starving to death, and not in an ordinary way since we learn here that Magog begin to digest their own insides if they begin to starve. Brent Stait brings a good performance out from under layers of makeup and his Magog-gruff voice. His scenes with Beka earn our sympathy.
Y'know, we'd better eventually find out that the Magog were engineered monsters by design. Here the episode introduces yet another element of nefariousness: The fact that killing live prey is necessary "to begin the digestion process" (on the Andromeda, Rev kills his supply of live salmon, something he doesn't have here). I think I do believe Rev when he says he was created by the Spirit of the Abyss; could a species so awful evolve that way by Darwinism?
As a character/continuity episode, "Exit Strategies" has a lot to recommend. It's a direct follow-up to last week's "Widening Gyre," as it deals with damage to the Andromeda, the effects of the approaching world-ship on Tyr's selfish priorities, the aforementioned issues with Rev, Harper's dilemma of being infested with Magog larvae, and even a nod in the direction of disposing of all those Magog corpses from "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last."
Harper's dilemma is particularly interesting, because it shows that his arc will have consequences on the character — or at least I hope. There's a scene where he contemplates suicide while drunk, which manages to be funny and sincere at the same time. Harper is still Harper, which may be a mixed blessing, but his motormouthing seems to be headed in a new direction of complaining and lament. I'm not sure if that will work in the long run, but it works okay here. I could've, however, done without the silly and contrived "countdown to the Andromeda blowing up" concept that is supposed to make this B-story more "urgent." It's urgent on its own; why do we need the hollow threat of something blowing up to care? (Grrrr...)
Back in the main storyline, the Maru's escape from the planet had my Severe Doubt-O-Meter pushed about as high as it could go. Andromeda prides itself on the fact that it's sci-fi based in real science, and the magnetic accelerator here is without a doubt based in real science. But as presented it's certainly not based in any kind of plausibility.
1. The magnetic accelerator, it's said, was designed to launch ore into orbit. Was it really designed to launch ore the size of a freighter ship into orbit?
2. The powerless magnetic accelerator in this case is being powered by the Maru's own energy cells. Just how much energy is the Maru's own cells providing? Enough, in one form or another, to launch itself into orbit. Why, then, does the Maru even need fuel? Just use the energy cells to power the thrusters.
3. Can someone explain how Dylan and Beka were able to build additional coils for the accelerator so quickly? From the one scene of construction we get, it looks like a pretty involved job. This is pretty close to MacGyver-like resourcefulness and ease. It's a good thing the Maru didn't happen to land in the mine a mile away from the mouth of the accelerator.
4. How fortunate that the dangerous mining creatures were attracted to the Maru and the accelerator but seemed instead to conveniently zero in on the Nietzschean soldiers and eat them as a service to our heroes. Funny how the mining creatures suddenly choose to ignore all the metal around them that supposedly attracted them.
5. The way the accelerator works, there's an initial boost at ground level, and after that, momentum is the only thing that carries the Maru from the ground into outer space. The FX shot itself shows the Maru lifting into the sky at a speed (perhaps 1,000 mph?) that I submit could not be maintained for much more than several seconds before gravity pulled the ship back down to a thundering crash. Just what velocity would be required to launch a spaceship off a planet without subsequently sustained thrust? I'm sure a simple physics calculation could determine the answer, and I'm sure it's waaaaaaaaay more than the velocity here. [*]
6. There's Beka's line that the Maru can use this inertia to reach the planet's sun, where they can "scrape up" some fuel. Okay, I'll buy the scrape up fuel bit with no problem. But just how long does it take an object to reach a star at a constant speed of, say, 1,000 mph? The Earth is 93 million miles from the sun. You do the math.
Is this nitpicking? I dunno; I think it's pretty significant. Andromeda loves to offer up tiny snippets of simple dialog that are based in real science ("Objects in motion tend to stay in motion"), but sometimes, like here, they twist them to fit a reality that is highly doubt-worthy.
Now that I'm done ripping apart the escape sequence, I'll conclude by saying that despite my incredulity of certain aspects of this episode, I still enjoyed the bulk of "Exit Strategies." It does enough with its characters and situations to keep us interested, and it's mostly well executed as to keep us entertained through the action (despite overused super-slo-mo). It also ends on good notes, with the Rev/Harper scene — where we see two troubled people who will be working through their own respective issues, possibly calling on each other for strength — and the Dylan/Tyr scene, which has prudent dialog and ends with a game of go that reminds us of how Dylan once played the same game with Rhade, another Nietzschean with hidden agendas.
"Exit Strategies" has obvious flaws, but also obvious strengths.
* Gary Farber of New York writes: "Escape velocity is ~7 miles per second, or 25,000 miles per hour, aka 11.2 kilometers per second. ... That's for a planet with 1 G of gravity, of course, which also, of course, is the only sort of planet anyone on TV 'sf' ever lands on."
Next week: Beka rips off a museum, and maybe her clothes.