Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
"Lava and Rockets"
Air date: 2/4/2002
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by Michael Rohl
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"You know, there was a time when I thought you were the smartest person I had ever met, but listening to you now, if that is the way you think, then I am as wrong about you as you are about me." — Trance to Harper
In brief: Shrug.
"Lava and Rockets" represents what I hope Andromeda does not become in the wake of Robert Hewitt Wolfe's departure. It's a stand-alone action-adventure outing heavy on simplistic formula storytelling and light on anything resembling depth or meaning. There are character moments to keep us slightly entertained, but the plot is an exercise in utter banality. Is this watchable? Yeah, I guess. Interesting? Not in the slightest.
The other thing that's disturbing is how the episode plays almost like a template for what Tribune has been reported (via Kevin Sorbo) as wanting more of from the series: simpleminded action, sex, and low-or-no-consequence-oriented storytelling — a plot for the attentively challenged. Dylan here is your Simple Action Hero type. He gets to kiss the girl, blow stuff up, and generally be a bland and unsophisticated Good Guy. It's the type of comic-book Dylan that makes me yearn for the Dylan of, say, "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," where he was under real pressures and agonized through them. I'm wondering if we'll ever get to see that Dylan again, since agonizing and soul-searching are not very sexy traits and thus not on the same plane of entertainment as what Tribune apparently envisions.
Dylan hijacks a docked tour ship while running from this week's bad guys, the Ogami, mercenaries hired by who-knows-whom. The pilot of the tour ship is a Blonde Babe named Molly Noguchi (Kristin Lehman), and the story's key goal is to develop a Han Solo/Princess Leia style of banter between Dylan and Molly that, inevitably, leads to a superficial romance.
The romance is so painfully obvious and in the tradition of ancient cinema cliches that I'm not entirely sure whether the writers meant it seriously or as quasi-satire. I'm guessing it's not satire because, well, it's not all that funny or subversive. But then, of course, you'd be a fool to take anything in the Dylan/Molly storyline of "Lava and Rockets" remotely seriously. It is what it is — an action plot with no trace of apology. It makes no excuses and carries no pretensions whatsoever about what it intends to be.
The character of Molly also comes with no apologies or pretensions. She's a chick with spunky attitude (watch her glee as she jerks the ship's controls and sends Dylan crashing into walls) and she comes with a few basic sketches of personality and desires, but is basically little more than a construction of the plot. She dreams of being a military pilot but is stuck piloting this tour vessel, a (usually) safe but boring job. "I don't want safe," she says, which is a good thing, since hanging out with Dylan Hunt, the man whom everyone seems to want dead, is probably one of the least safest places to be in the tri-galaxy area.
Dylan initially takes Molly hostage, but they quickly become allies. This, however, is (ostensibly) not before she attempts to turn him in to some cops at a security checkpoint, who turn out to be crooked cops, forcing her to be rescued by the very person she just tried to turn in. This prompts the first of two action/stunt sequences which exist more for the sake of themselves than for anything that truly needs to happen in the story. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that the action is executed like a cartoon (super slo-mo, stylized violence, bodies flipping through the air, etc.). Noteworthy is the fact that Dylan extends his force-lance to full staff mode, something we haven't recently seen. I'm not sure why that's noteworthy, but I'll mention it anyway (feel free to apply whatever Freudian theory you see fit). Molly trying to turn in Dylan is quite puzzling given her behavior prior to this point. And, whether they're crooked or not, I'm wondering what happens when Dylan kills cops on alien worlds. Apparently he's above the law since he's the show's hero.
What's particularly frustrating about this story is that the villains are arbitrary and the chase is meaningless. Why are the Ogami even chasing Dylan? Because they're the bad guys, that's why. No, make that Bad Guys. No concrete reason is supplied beyond that. The Ogami are a good example of the MacGuffin; they exist to create the story's chase as a matter of plot function, and the story doesn't really see them as subjects at all.
Writers Miller & Stentz have done much better. "Into the Labyrinth" had action and sexual material, but at least there was a plot and some genuine urgency to go along with it. At least the enemies there mattered to the story's participants rather than being random pieces. That's not the case here.
What helps salvage "Lava and Rockets" are a B-story and a C-story, which are given less obvious emphasis but work better in terms of solid characterization. In story B, Tyr and blue-haired "action figure" Rommie (the new costume is excessively over-the-top) go looking for Dylan, whom Tyr had to abandon when the Ogami started chasing them. In story C, Harper must try to accept the fact that Trance has changed into someone he no longer knows or understands (and doesn't really want to).
The Tyr/Rommie storyline benefits from some good character tension and, later, mutual understanding. Rommie doesn't trust Tyr (and why should she?) and makes it clear that Tyr won't live if she finds out he was involved in offing Dylan. Tyr responds with an appeal to Rommie's logic that I appreciated, noting that getting rid of Dylan doesn't automatically help him — which is an apt point. Cobb and Doig work well together because they're similar in disposition in the way they're both as serious as a heart attack. It's a pairing that I don't believe we've seen on this series to such an extent, and the results here are often good.
Tyr and Rommie's investigation leads them back to Ferahr (Dave Ward), one of Tyr's old contacts who may or may not have betrayed them to the Ogami and who might now have information about Dylan's recent movements (Ferahr gave Dylan and Molly parts to repair her ship not long before Tyr and Rommie show up on his doorstep). Rommie demonstrates her propensity for strong-armed tactics by literally twisting Ferahr's arm for information.
No matter — the Ogami come storming in for Major Action Scene #2, which features Rommie running up walls, a la Trinity in The Matrix, and Tyr bashing heads. This scene is depressing in its by-the-numbers approach to action. The moment the Ogami showed up, I knew (1) that there'd be plenty of gunfire, (2) that Ferahr would be shot and killed in the mayhem (final words: "Tyr! ... I ... ehrughefegh ... " [dies]), and (3) that all the Ogami would be faceless, growling, cartoon thugs in Halloween costumes, reduced to prop status specifically to make it okay to go over the top with bloodless violence. I am sick and damn tired of it — dumb villain-props whose presence caters solely to the segment of the audience waiting for shoot-em-ups, supposed villains having absolutely no dialog as characters. This aspect of Andromeda must be stopped. I propose an immediate seizure of all spark-squibs bound for Vancouver.
Story C is good but might've been better if expanded through more scenes. Harper's issue is that he doesn't particularly want to get to know the new Trance because he's a little frightened by what she represents (past, future, life, death, etc.). It's nice to see the issue of Trance's transformation is addressed here from the standpoint of other characters. Trance herself seems more grown-up in attitude, with that innocent facade significantly stripped away; Laura Bertram aptly portrays the character with less mystery and more directness. When Harper runs his mouth off with his Trance conspiracy theory, Trance doesn't sit back and take it, and her response is among the more sincere things the character has said. Additionally, I liked the scene where Beka calmly lays down the law.
Unfortunately, "Lava" is less about the supporting characters and more about Dylan and Molly and their trite chase storyline. A notion that strikes me as somewhat silly is the way Dylan jury-rigs this tour ship to take such a pummeling from Ogami fighters, which are destroyed as they fly over erupting volcanoes — and yet the tour ship can crash-land in molten lava without melting or being significantly damaged.
As for the romance angle, I felt the need to roll my eyes at several points, particularly the predictable moment where Molly is lying (presumably) unconscious on the floor and Dylan gives her mouth-to-mouth to revive her. Ugh — I called that one about a mile away. I also called that she'd wake up halfway through (assuming she wasn't faking the whole time) and start kissing him.
I must confess to somewhat liking how the chase culminates, with the Maru charging in to the rescue as Molly's tour ship continues to take a pounding from Ogami fighters until it blows up — and then the Maru's fairly well-executed rescue of the out-of-control escape pod. (Though I could've done without Rommie's Exposition For Dummies line: "Dylan's ship — it's gone." Duh!) These events are paced just about right, and I found myself caught up in the flow even though I knew that none of it really mattered on a plot level. Director Michael Rohl deserves some credit. Unfortunately, it can't make up for the story's overall lack of a point, or the fact that the Ogami end up meaning absolutely nothing to everyone, most of all the audience.
As bubble gum for the brain, this episode gets the job done to a certain degree. It works better for those who will be watching passively than for the geeks out here writing reviews. The dialog and one-liners chew their way through the hour effectively enough to make scenes watchable, though I can't say many of them are memorable. "Lava and Rockets" represents completely safe, prefab, cartoon-adventure storytelling — nothing more, nothing less.
The story ends with a bedroom scene that exists for little reason other than, apparently, a need to get Dylan laid on-screen. There's no emotional or character significance; it's simply the taking of a formula to its logical and/or mandatory and/or gratuitous conclusion. If you want to see Dylan in bed with a woman for the sake of itself, great. If you're looking for any sort of meaning, you're hoping for too much.
"Lava and Rockets" is an episode that might work for those who like sanitized TV action and sex. It won't work for those looking for any surprises or depth. It certainly didn't do much for me other than make me shrug. I certainly didn't hate this episode, but if it were to vanish from the face of the Earth, I probably wouldn't really notice, either.
Next week: A Borg-like something from Beka's past.