Jammer's Review

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

"The Widening Gyre"

***

Air date: 10/1/2001
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Allan Eastman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"A renewed Commonwealth: Before, it was a dream. Now it's a necessity." — Dylan

In brief: Several grossly unfortunate reset-button tricks early on, but ultimately very entertaining; a slam-bang start to the season.

As most know, I wasn't too fond of "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last," the needlessly excessive cliffhanger that set up "The Widening Gyre," and I'm still not. Aside from all its boring Magog violence, most of the problems with "Widening Gyre" are traceable directly back to "Hour's" over-the-top cliffhanger elements, which are required to be undone in the opening minutes of "Gyre." There are things about this episode that prove it deserves to be mentioned alongside Andromeda's best hours, but there's also plenty of early narrative cheating that doesn't sit well.

For the most part, "Widening Gyre" is a terrific hour of action/adventure storytelling. It succeeds where "Hour" failed, and it works on many levels, from action to production to pacing to acting to editing to characters to larger consequences — except for that albatross of Phony Desperation left over from part one. If you could somehow excise the last few minutes of "Hour" and the first few minutes of "Gyre" and replace them with something believable, you'd have a season premiere that works pretty much from beginning to end. As it is, we have the first 10 minutes that cheat followed by 50 minutes that work.

Basically, the problem here is that part one left everyone either unconscious or dying, while Rommie was impaled with a metal pole, the ship's AI was in chaos, and there were massive holes in the ship and a wrecked bridge. But now ... none of that seems to matter in "Gyre." We know that no one is going to die, that they'll all make it to the medical bay. Rommie becomes conscious on "backup power" and the gaping hole through her stomach is mysteriously gone (or at the very least irrelevant) two scenes later. The holes in the ship have little bearing on its functionality and a few scenes later also might as well be completely gone. And the AI magically recovers, not only from the damage to the ship, but from its backup overtaking its current version in the first part of the story. This is nothing short of a ridiculous Voyager-izing of the situation — a ship heavily damaged is for all purposes immediately repairable with no resources.

The funny thing is, once we're through the opening 10 minutes of utter BS, "Gyre" turns into an engaging, fast-paced, ever-moving, multi-tiered, helluva-ride action show. Aside from the way-implausible manner Andromeda and her crew so easily pull themselves together to get back on their feet, I have very few complaints about what comes out of all this once the story is set back into motion. The plot is basically a rescue mission (Tyr and Harper have been taken into one of the worlds in the massive world-ship, along with Rev who is trying to find them) combined with a this-enemy-must-be-destroyed-at-all-costs mission.

Dylan and Rommie take the Maru to the world-ship where they begin their search. But first, Dylan tells Beka about the nova bomb (from all the way back in "To Loose the Fateful Lightning," the Continuity Patrol notes) that is on board Andromeda, ordering her to wait three hours and then fire the bomb and destroy the world-ship, no matter what.

"Gyre" turns into four simultaneous, related mini-plots in which (1) Dylan and Rommie go searching for the missing crewmen, (2) Tyr and Harper are pinned to a wall and held captive by the Magog, who have implanted them with Magog eggs, (3) Beka defends the Andromeda from the world-ship and its attacking Magog ships, and (4) Bloodmist's attempts to lure Rev Bem (whose given Magog name is actually Red Plague) into the evil Magog fold.

In the past, this series has had trouble when it comes to assembling multiple storylines, particularly when they aren't related. "Gyre" has no such problem (the stories here are related), carefully assembling these multiple plots and getting the maximum mileage out of each of them.

My favorite is the Tyr/Harper plot, which serves as an extension of their banter in "Hour" — Harper is resigned to the fact they're going to die, whereas Tyr is about survival until the very, very, very end. This is the sort of plot that can get old very fast, but it doesn't here because of entertaining dialog and solid performances. Tyr has a way of telling someone to shut up that is both convincing and funny, and he has a couple speeches about survival that are memorable: One involves a humorously unlikely tale of survival (though undoubtedly true) from when he was 16 years old; another demonstrates that you should never, ever, bet on the odds of your own conception. The show's final scene has Tyr mocking Harper in a way that's absolutely hilarious, and yet full of real impact at the same time. In Tyr always being a colorful character we trust.

Rev's story with Bloodmist (Gerard Plunkett) isn't as effective, maybe because Magog characters have a tendency to snarl so often that it's hard to make much of the actors' performances. Bloodmist tries to turn Rev by giving him an enlightening moment with the powerful Magog god (often called "Enigma" by many, called simply the "shadow-man" by me), which now has an official name: the Spirit of the Abyss. I leave you to conclude what, if any, power the Spirit of the Abyss has over Rev, since Rev first seems to be truly humbled by it and then later turns on Bloodmist. (Was it all Rev's ruse, or just some of it?) This element of the story, where Rev helps save the day just when we think he's going to serve the enemy, is a bit predictable, though the look on the other characters' faces when Rev turns to some rather un-Rev-like violence is noteworthy.

On board Andromeda, Beka's commanding skills are further tested when she must deploy the nova bomb and kill her own fellow crewmen — except that the world-ship is able to survive the destruction of its star core, because Enigma/shadow-man/Spirit of the Abyss is able to somehow absorb the blast. (Beka: "Tell me that's impossible!" Trance: "It's not impossible, it's just really unfair!") Who is this super-powerful Spirit of the Abyss and why does he need the Magog?

The Dylan/Rommie plot is mostly run-and-jump action — much more tolerable than the action of "Hour" because there's a goal and urgency behind it instead of mind-numbing repetition (though I could've done without the cliche of the week from Rommie: "Dylan, if we don't make it, I want you to know—"). I'm still not, however, convinced about the usefulness of the Magog as enemies. Yeah, there's a crapload of them, but that doesn't make them interesting. I still have no useful estimation of their intelligence; they seem like brainless savages who can yet somehow pilot ships, which I just don't get. In action scenes they can be cheesy and indistinct; at one point you can clearly see the zipper on the back of the furry costume.

No matter. This is fast-paced action/adventure done effectively on four different fronts, ending with plenty of sound and fury. I'm a sucker for action storylines that play out simultaneously in multiple crosscut threads, provided they're done well. These are. It doesn't come across as a jumbled mess (which it could have) but rather a coherent and logical sequence of exciting events. High marks should be awarded to everyone here.

Incredibly, several of my complaints as mentioned in my First Season Recap have already been at least partially tackled here. Either the writers read my mind before I even saw all of season one, or I read their minds before writing my review of it.

I'm reassured by:

1. Much better use of Trance, who is more up-front to Beka about her limited abilities to foresee future events and isn't used as a magical omniscient device but instead as an adviser who has a talent for prediction.

2. The story effectively tackles my complaint about a lack of urgency in Dylan's mission to rebuild the Commonwealth. How? By ending on foreboding notes. Yes, all our characters live and the world-ship is crippled by the nova bomb. But Andromeda is forced to flee. The world-ship is still out there, under repair, and it will someday again be on its way. While its apparent mission to "Destroy Everything and Everyone!" is trite, Dylan's mission to restore the Commonwealth can now be seen as a necessary measure to defend all societies from this forthcoming threat. I'd definitely call that urgency.

3. Harper is infested with Magog eggs and diagnosed with an uncertain fate. I wouldn't mind seeing a darker, more sobered Harper emerge from these consequences (since Season One Harper began to tire).

With these effects, Andromeda has some new elements of excitement, even if these elements aren't particularly complex at the moment.

It's just too bad I can't call the episode's opening moments anything other than a crock that shows the writers blatantly cheating the audience. "The Widening Gyre" is otherwise one of the most purely entertaining episodes of Andromeda to date — certainly more fun and lively than Enterprise's first two episodes. It gives Andromeda a nice boost in the arm, and it's a nice way to kick off a season.

Note: The new season sports a new title sequence. My thoughts: Give me back the old title sequence. The voice-over narration worked much better when it was Dylan who was saying it. I also preferred the old opening theme. The High Guard Theme may be this show's identity, but it's not nearly as cool and has frankly been driven into the ground over the past year.

Next week: Crew marooned on ice planet.

Previous episode: Its Hour Come 'Round At Last
Next episode: Exit Strategies

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