In brief: Some welcome bigger-plot implications, but still on pretty shaky ground in and of itself.
It's at this point I let out a deep sigh and seriously wonder what, if anything, will reinvigorate my interest in Andromeda. For weeks and weeks on end, this series just hasn't been much, if any, fun for me. Even an episode like "The Fair Unknown," which makes some renewed efforts, mostly inspires me to shrug. With as much as I've been trashing this show lately, nothing would make me happier than to say I really enjoyed an episode. I must report that I can't say that about "The Fair Unknown." It's just too mediocre. What I can say, however, is that it tried, and it at least didn't suck.
Granted, parts of it sucked. The whole second act is a boring excuse for television, in which Kalderans exchange endless gunfire with Our Heroes. It's lame and pointless and it goes on and on and on and on and on. It makes me seriously wonder how deluded Tribune is to think any of their "action" is the least bit exciting. Can anyone there honestly step back from the screen and believe that they're watching entertainment? It's approximately as much fun as watching two people sitting and playing a stalemate game of checkers (yes, checkers, not chess). It's downright depressing to think that these days this is what the makers of Andromeda deem worthy of screen time.
But I will now allow myself to turn toward the positives of the overall ho-hum "Fair Unknown." First and foremost is the issue of the long-term plot. It gets resurrected this week. Remember Tarn Vedra, the mysterious and wondrous world that has presumably been cut off from slipstream for generations? The planet where Dylan was born and hopes to see again someday? The writers bring back the story thread, which is reassuring.
The Vedrans are a mysterious bunch. They've been elevated to the status of the legendary and/or renowned and/or feared in the years since the fall, and for Dylan they represent a source of awe. Just the possibility of a Vedran here puts a bit of a spell over him.
Imagine my disappointment, then, to find out that's what a Vedran looks like. As I let out another sigh, I must again remind myself that this is a modestly budgeted series ... and yet I can't help but think, a year of build-up to these mythic Vedrans and this is what we get in terms of a visual payoff? She's friggin' painted blue for cripes sakes. ("Excessively blue," to quote Frank Pembleton's verdict on the new squad room, in a larger effort to remind myself what truly good television was.) She has a helmet or armor or something that looks like it came from the toy department at Wal-Mart.
Positives, Jammer, positives. Let your cynicism relent...
The Vedran is named Uxulta (Sonya Saloma) and she's in the middle of an important secret mission, one that she's loath to disclose to Dylan Hunt. This eventually leads to the episode's central dilemma, in which Uxulta asserts her authority as a Vedran admiral, demands a nova bomb with no explanation, and informs Dylan that he and his ship are at her disposal and that he must follow her orders or she'll throw him in the brig and take command. This is an overstated case that seems completely forced in light of how the situation ultimately plays out. Uxulta and the Vedrans know who Dylan Hunt is; for her to offer him no information and instead resort to this sort of strong-arm tactic is, given the situation, downright unnecessary. Perhaps we needed a threat of the Andromeda being taken over yet again for the purposes of the trailers. (Roll eyes here.)
Positives, Jammer. Positives, damn you—
What I did like was the way the story put Dylan through a process of balancing caution and his feelings. His feelings involve an affection for Tarn Vedra and his desire to rediscover it. Restoring the Commonwealth is an issue that goes directly to Dylan's personal quest of reshaping the universe into something he can recognize; Tarn Vedra, if it is indeed intact, would certainly be something he'd recognize. The issue of caution, however, comes in the form of a question: Does Tarn Vedra represent what it did 300 years ago? A lot has changed in three centuries, and for all Dylan knows, Tarn Vedra could today represent the antithesis of what he hopes to accomplish. I was glad to see Dylan address the fact that following Uxulta blindly would be foolish. (I was not, however, quite so glad to see Rommie arguing in favor of unconditional obedience. As a tactical strategist, she should know better than to accept a Vedran simply because the Vedran has a 300-year-old valid security clearance — particularly when she's asking for a nova bomb).
There's a significant moment for Dylan that proves nice: Uxulta tells him that she and Tarn Vedra are aware of Dylan's mission to rebuild the Commonwealth — and more, that they agree with his intentions. (The cynic center in my brain, however, forces me to type "corny" in response to the exchange of salutes and the Meaningfully Swelling Music in this scene.)
The episode also poses additional questions that may be explored down the line. Uxulta's important mission is one that vanishes an entire planet and its solar system in a way, we're led to suspect, that's similar to the way Tarn Vedra itself was shrouded from the universe. Was the solar system moved via slipstream? The slipstream routes destroyed? Are the Vedrans going to play a more prominent role in the series now that Dylan has found them and realizes their goals are similar to his?
Such questions might eventually prove interesting if they're ever followed up. I only wish I was more enthusiastic about this episode itself, which raises more questions than it answers. "The Fair Unknown" is not an engaging episode in its own right. The idiotic action involving the Kalderans is the usual embarrassment and takes up far too much screen time. A character named Maia (Meredith McGeachie) is largely superfluous and written all over the map (first she tries to kill Dylan, then she's an ally, and then she kisses him in the final scene for no reason I can really discern). Uxulta's brief bout of strong-arming rings false in a way that took me right out of the show. There's also sledgehammered exposition near the beginning of the show that borders on self-parody, as if people actually walk around discussing things for the benefit of no one actually there, since everyone actually there already knows everything being expounded on.
Do I think "The Fair Unknown" is a good episode? Not particularly. The details still feel like slipshod television assembly. But it does represent a step that could take Andromeda in the direction of being better television, and a step in the right direction is certainly something I'll take over the recent alternative.
Next week: Spit or swallow?