In brief: An effective episode, although the parallelism angle is a little on the nose.
There's something manufactured at the center of "Home Fires" that makes even the most spectacularly unlikely Dylan-action/escape sequence look plausible by comparison. I'm referring to the notion that a character in this story, Telemachus Rhade, is a genetically identical descendant ("genetic reincarnation," the story calls it) of Gaheris Rhade, the guy who betrayed Dylan in the opening minutes of this series' first episode, "Under the Night."
The chances of something like that happening are "trillions to one," according to dialog in this episode, and I concur, assuming it's possible at all. And yet, here we have Telemachus Rhade (Steve Bacic) a virtual identical twin to Gaheris separated by 300 years of lineage, with no explanation for how this actually happened. I guess, simply, that he is the "one" from the trillions-to-one odds.
Having Telemachus Rhade look exactly like Gaheris Rhade is a narrative device that makes the episode an exercise in trust/distrust and extreme parallelism. Was it necessary to the story? Not sure. It's crucial the way it plays out, but the writers could've probably removed this element and proceeded without it. The story could've been carried by the also-present topic of what the world encountered here means to Dylan's Commonwealth. But then it probably wouldn't have been nearly as dynamic or interesting, so I'm in no position to complain about a duplicate Rhade.
As the show begins, the Andromeda is contacted by Lt. Jamahl (wink, wink) Rodrigues Hernandez-Brown (Zahf Paroo), a High Guard pilot who delivers a message to Dylan that is personally stunning for more than one reason. One the one hand, it's a 300-year-old recording from his fiancee Sara, who was left behind (see "Banks of the Lethe"), and now tells him that she had eventually moved on with her life and gotten married, and at the time of this recording had a child on the way. It's also a message that explains Lt. Brown being a High Guard pilot; he's from a world of Commonwealth survivors that Sara helped build — a lone planet still standing after the war that erased the Commonwealth.
And what a world it is. It's called Tarazed, and it's a thriving democracy that knows about Dylan's mission, since he told Sara about it in the past. We know right off that it's a paradise of a planet; government leader Rekel Ben-Tzion (Francoise Yip), wears a sexy outfit, the likes of which could only be worn on a paradise-like world (or, okay, a TV action show aimed at the 18-49 male demographic). Tarazed has been waiting for Dylan to arrive, and the general feeling is that their society — replete with starships, weapons, and soldiers — will become the new driving force in helping him rebuild the Commonwealth.
But hold on. Just because it's a democracy doesn't mean everyone agrees that rebuilding the Commonwealth is a good thing. It is, in fact, a difficult, challenging, and — let's face it — unlikely scenario. The less optimistic would say the dream of a restored Commonwealth is probably very likely to fail and destroy Tarazed in the process. And they have a strong voice here that's opposed to Dylan's quest and in favor of isolationism. They're already living the dream, so why risk losing it? As a democracy, Tarazed is going to have a worldwide vote on the issue.
The voice of the isolationists is represented in the story by Admiral Telemachus Rhade. Once again, Dylan finds himself on the other side of a Rhade, with history possibly hanging in the balance. Based on Gaheris' betrayal of the Commonwealth, Dylan suspects Telemachus of underhanded trickery. Is he another crafty Nietzschean trying to manipulate the situation to suit his agenda? Has he perhaps used his influences to rig the election?
One thing I like here is how the episode sees Gaheris in an ambiguous light. In "Under the Night" he was seen as a traitor, albeit a traitor with motives. But in some additional flashback scenes here, we can see Gaheris' humanity, and it's not merely an act. Gaheris did consider Dylan a friend; he just happened to have bigger causes at stake than his friendship. Steve Bacic has improved since his frankly awful turn in "Under the Night." Although still a little on the wooden side, Gaheris is much better portrayed.
There's an intriguing scene here where Telemachus asks Dylan what really happened to his ancestor Gaheris. Commonwealth history says he died a hero, while the Nietzscheans tell the story of how Gaheris was a spy who helped the Nietzscheans carry out their treacherous assault that started the war. Dylan was the only survivor who was there and knows the truth. "He tried to warn me," Dylan reluctantly replies. And in a way, it's true; Gaheris' dying words, indeed, were, "I tried to warn you." He dropped some very subtle hints before that, but he couldn't put his cards on the table.
The crucial turning point comes when a group of Magog swarm ships enters the solar system. The Tarazed fleet engages them with a squadron of High Guard slipfighters. The Magog ships begin to retreat. The High Guard fighters stand down · except for Lt. Brown, who plays hothead rogue and wants to at least take out one of the Magog vessels. He does, but is killed when his ship flies into the debris and is destroyed. (Any scene where a character named Jamahl screams "AAAARRGHHH!" as his ship blows up is one worth smiling at in my book. Later, he even gets a Sad Funeral Scene.) Subsequent investigation determines that the Magog ships were fake drones built on Tarazed.
What was the intent of a fake attack? The waters are muddied here because it can be explained in several ways, and I'm not so sure the script allows the characters to arrive at the truth without some form of scripted omniscience. One explanation is that the attack is an ostensive excuse for remaining isolated and protecting the planet from outsiders. Another (which the script doesn't even really suggest) is that it can be used to justify joining Dylan's alliance since the attack would imply that the Magog are aware of Tarazed's presence. But since the fakery was intended to be discovered as a frame-up, one has to wonder exactly what the would-be motive of the person being framed is supposed to be. I'm not so sure the facts are straight here.
Telemachus mobilizes the military, which casts suspicion on himself, but what are they mobilized for? Attacking the Andromeda? Declaring martial law? If he's innocent, why would he have "soldiers in the streets"? The script implies Telemachus suspects Dylan of faking the attack, but that strikes me as pretty implausible considering Tarazed sought him out, and not vice-versa. The most likely reason for all this is to create a smokescreen for the audience and contrive a conflict between Dylan and Telemachus. The actual truth is that Rekel manufactured the attack to implicate Telemachus.
Both Telemachus and Dylan suspect Rekel, but that doesn't stop them from engaging in a one-on-one fight to the almost-death on the Andromeda command deck, which is choreographed to parallel the one-on-one fight between Dylan and Gaheris from "Under the Night" (to which this show frequently crosscuts). Clever. Or, as the saying goes, too clever. I appreciate the parallelism here, but the script has to go to great lengths to make it both literal and figurative, and it doesn't necessarily come together logically. (Why would Telemachus, established as thoughtful and rational, instantly come out firing instead of talking? Because we need an elaborate fight scene filled with parallels, that's why.)
Nevertheless, Dylan and Rhade get a chance to make things right, figure things out, and ultimately fight for a common goal — the truth. Rekel's plan was to frame Rhade and shift support back toward her own movement to ally Tarazed with Dylan. Interestingly, the choice is still Dylan's, because he has the option and ability here to see Rekel's frame-up of Rhade through to the end and gain Tarazed's support — and all the military equipment, soldiers, and political muscle that comes with it.
Is it worth one innocent man going to prison if it could mean adding a major piece to Dylan's Commonwealth plan? Not if we're about keeping our principles, Dylan says. I'm reminded of DS9's "In the Pale Moonlight," where a different choice was made. Granted, Dylan's circumstances are different, and we might always have the possibility of returning to Tarazed.
In any case, "Home Fires" is a solid, thoughtful effort that showcases Andromeda's strengths — continuity, building toward a goal, and characters who have agendas that are not always compatible. The parallelism is intriguing even if a little over the top. And doing Rhade Redux offers up a certain element of the sublime. Now, more than ever, we realize that Gaheris was more complicated than his key betrayal might have implied.
Next week: Harper 3.0.