Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
"All Too Human"
Air date: 11/5/2001
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by T.J. Scott
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I have a security clearance so high, I have to kill myself if I remember that I have it. And I'm still not allowed past the front gate." — Mr. Kim on the likelihood of entrance
In brief: Stylish entertainment that plays like a nod to the genres that inspired it.
"All Too Human" is an episode that looks like it was conceived at the John Woo School of Cinema. The characters wear black trench coats that flap in the wind, efficient ass-kicking is considered an especially worthy character trait, and the overall emphasis on coolness is what's of the utmost importance here.
And it works. This is an effective hour of entertainment. The storyline works too, although there's nothing here to get excited about.
This is essentially The Rommie Showcase, starring the appealing and effective Lexa Doig. We see what Rommie is capable of while she provides our entryway into the world of crisscrossing genres. Like genre favorite The Matrix, this episode has its stylistic roots in the Hong Kong action & martial arts genre, superhero comic books, and Japanese Anime. The writers and director T.J. Scott apply nifty stylistics atop a storyline that is well within the boundaries of conventional sci-fi — the issue of AIs and their capacity, or non-capacity, to feel beyond logic.
Rommie is undercover on the planet Machen Alpha. Machen Alpha is threatening to attack Mobius, a recent addition to the Commonwealth (and the subject of last season's "Forced Perspective"). The Andromeda has cruised in for the military aspect of protection. Rommie has a contact on Machen Alpha named Mr. Kim (Bruce Harwood, best known as one of the Lone Gunmen on The X-Files) who has crucial information about sinister plotting by the Machen Alpha government.
The story wastes no time in cutting to the chase: The police break down the door to Kim's apartment, and we're off to Hong Kong land. There are visual cues that are familiar, like furniture being hit by bullets, throwing masses of feathers into the air. For once, the use of super-slo-mo on this series is justified in the name of the genre.
Off the coast near the city, the Maru waits underwater while Rommie executes her mission. Tyr, Harper, and Rev keep tabs. But since when is the Maru a submarine? Since now, I guess. These guys have their own worries when they're shot at and disabled by Machen Alpha armed forces and the Maru starts sinking to the bottom of the sea. Uh-oh.
Meanwhile, Andromeda must go up against a powerful Machen Alpha battleship that has point-singularity weapons capable of destroying an entire planet. This ship is headed for Mobius, which they intend to wipe off the map.
The juggling of the three stories is acceptable, but by cramming so much into the hour, the episode's shortcuts become evident. Consider, for example, Dylan and Beka trying to stop the destruction of an entire planet — a planet that was recently added to their Commonwealth, no less. This is handled almost like an afterthought, but think how important it could've been. It easily could've sustained an entire episode. Here it becomes the subject of a few short scenes.
The scene where Andromeda actually saves the planet from destruction is almost laughably short; you could miss the resolution if you blink. Dylan and Beka open a slipstream portal to route a point-singularity blast away from the planet. This saves the planet from destruction, but opening a slipstream portal is its own catastrophic event that causes "permanent environmental damage" on the world, including major power disruptions and spontaneous volcanic eruptions. This is the sort of thing that deserves dramatic flair, but the characters here rush through it like they're reacting to a glass of spilled water. They're at the mercy of their own story's time constraints; the unseen chaos on Mobius is the center of discussion for less screen time than it took you to read this synopsis of it here.
More effective is the plot on the Maru, in which the only way to save the ship and people on board is to flood the cabin with water in an effort to propel it to the surface. I'm not exactly clear on how that's supposed to work, but it's not the point of the story. The point is that Harper has overdosed on his anti-Magog-larvae medication (good continuity) and gone into a coma, leaving Tyr and Rev in a situation with only one operational EVA suit, and sinking with no way to fix the ship. (About that suit — I laughed out loud at the explanation for why there was only one working suit, and Tyr's deadpan reading of the message: "Note to Harper: Remember to repair the rest of the EVA suits before our next mission. — Harper.")
Rev can hold his breath for nearly an hour, but Harper and Tyr will likely drown. This leads to a crisis of choice for Tyr, who must either let Harper die, or sacrifice himself, which is not a very Nietzschean thing to do. Let's just say that the solution here allows Tyr to stay within the boundaries of his character while showing a tiny bit of altruism at the same time. (Miller & Stentz undoubtedly took cues from James Cameron's The Abyss in coming up with their solution. But I wonder, can one really totally flood the Maru and expect all the electronics to function afterward?)
But let's put that aside. The true focus of "All Too Human" is Rommie and how she figures into the topic of prejudices against AIs, as well as the topic of kicking people's asses. When Kim discovers Rommie is an android, the first thing he says is, "Please, don't kill me." His fears are based on Machen Alpha's unpleasant history with AIs, in which their cold logic harshly ran their world. The Machen Alpha people responded by destroying the AIs' neighboring world. Kim is surprised to find an AI with the attitudes and feelings of a human being. Such discussions lend the episode its moral depth but without reaching the realm of anything truly compelling.
On the trail of Rommie and Kim is a determined investigator named Carter (Roger R. Cross) and his armed team. They catch Rommie and Kim in a tunnel. Kim is killed and Rommie then cleans up Carter's men in an action scene that showcases Rommie's talent for ass-kicking, as well as her ability to do goofy, gratuitous back-flips — at which point I asked myself, have I suddenly been transported into Xena: Warrior Princess?
Before Kim's death comes his revelation of the Big Secret: He discovered that Machen Alpha made a deal with the Magog in exchange for advanced technology: one of their swarm ships and the point-singularity weapons — hence their planet-destroying threats toward Mobius. This storyline hints at further development and makes decent use of continuity elements, particularly since by the end of the show Rommie has stolen the Magog swarm ship and returned it to the Andromeda, reminding me of the Jem'Hadar warship acquired in DS9's "The Ship."
But such developments aren't the focus here so much as the cat-and-mouse game between Rommie and Carter, which extends into a session of cyberspace and shows how ruthless Rommie can be in attaining her goals. It all leads up to a climactic martial arts fight in which it's revealed that Carter also is an android. The sequence is not dissimilar in attitude to the fighting in The Matrix. Since both Carter and Rommie are androids, the story has an excuse for them to fly through the air. And granted, T.J. Scott and the Andromeda stunt coordinators are obviously nowhere near the level of a Wo Ping Yuen or a John Woo, but this is pretty good stuff for low-budget episodic television.
All of this is kind of fun, but it's not as deep as it could've been. One thing that felt a little underdeveloped was Carter's role, particularly the revelation he's an android, which I must say I predicted a mile away, even though I'm not sure why. Carter has a strong presence when on screen and his character screams for more scenes and meaty dialog, but he doesn't really get them. His part in the story is adequate when it could've been significant and thoughtful, and could've given Rommie more to think about. By holding the revelation he's an android until the last minute, there's barely any time to ponder the significance of the idea, which seems to be saying something without being sure what that something is. The story's irony is that Carter works with a society that declared war on AIs like him — because he agrees that the AIs were in the wrong. It's an intriguing idea, not fleshed out to satisfaction.
The best shot in the episode is one of pure and simplistic coolness, after Rommie blows up Carter with a force-lance grenade. The "wind" from the explosion blows her hair in slow-motion as Rommie turns her head toward the camera and glares menacingly. (You know the shot I'm talking about; it's shown during the opening titles.) This shot is probably an entire course at the John Woo School of Cinema. I liked it a lot.
"All Too Human" is good entertainment, but I think it had the potential to be more. The attitude in the Rommie plot is edgy and fun, but the storytelling itself never transcends adequacy. There are some good lines, and some good ass-kicking; it's that kind of show. It makes you want to go out and buy a black leather trench coat, so you too can be cool.
Next week: Tyr's trustworthiness is once again called into question.