Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
"Dance of the Mayflies"
Air date: 2/18/2002
Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Story by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by J. Miles Dale
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"You gotta be kidding me!" — Captain Dylan Hunt, echoing what I had just moments earlier said aloud about what I was witnessing on the screen
In brief: Garbage. Chintz and camp taken to new Andromeda highs (or lows — whatever).
Robert Hewitt Wolfe wrote this script? Did he conceive it as a joke, a parting gift penned with an evil grin? (I can almost hear the "MWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!" as he slides the script across the desk to his Tribune bosses, or former bosses — whichever.) This should've aired on April Fools Day, for crying out loud. If meant sincerely, the episode's biggest mystery is why the credits don't say "written and directed by Alan Smithee." I'm thinking there's a reason Gene Coon used his pseudonym when "Spock's Brain" aired.
"Dance of the Mayflies" is laughable television tripe. It's useful evidence for those people who say, "There's nothing but crap on TV" — a statement I generally disagree with but might be tempted to lend credence to via this particular hour. On the Andromeda scale, "Mayflies" deserves to go down in flames with last year's "Rose in the Ashes"; it might very well be the worst episode of Andromeda ever made. This is a brainless B action/horror movie with a little bit of sci-fi sprinkled on top. I have little doubt that Miller, Stentz, and Wolfe conceived it the other way around, before the episode was then "Tribunized" (to use an increasingly popular term) in the interests of making it "fun" and "action-packed" and "more accessible." The finished product deserves to be viewed only in the sort of atmosphere where drinking games are being played ... and hopefully already several hours under way. If this is representative of the "new Andromeda" (and I completely and sincerely hope not), then count me out.
Right now I feel more cynical about this series than I did about Voyager when I finished watching "Favorite Son" during the awful stretch in that show's third season. 2002 has so far not been kind to Andromeda (or perhaps I should say Andromeda has not been kind to 2002), with mediocre-to-bad action-hour zaniness in the likes of "Ouroboros," "Lava and Rockets," and "Be All My Sins Remembered," but this latest episode makes those other shows look like relative masterpieces. If the point of "Mayflies" was to make me laugh at all the wrong times, then it's a success. If not, then not.
The teaser and the first couple acts are, admittedly, not bad. The story thrusts us into the middle of an urgent crisis and an ensuing pursuit that's effective and seems to be taking us somewhere, fast and furiously. Then the episode suddenly becomes a take-off on Night of the Living Dead and any and every other horror flick about Zombie Undead Ghoul Guys That Cannot Be Killed. Homage? Perhaps. I'm not a big follower of the horror genre, but that certainly doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good homage or satire. That is, however, not what "Mayflies" plays like. Scene after scene flops and dies, buried under the usual cartoon-action excesses of this continually moronized series.
The endless action scenes are, as usual, pointless and laughable, and edited more poorly than usual. (Just look at the cheesiness where Trance and Rommie are going at it, or when Dylan goes on an ass-kicking spree down the corridor. It's unabashed, unadulterated camp.) The plot serves this end perfectly: Now we have body-bag target practice for people who are already dead and then get back up again. There's got to be some sort of poetry to the notion that the violence here is victimless because the victims have already been killed. Absolutely brilliant. (Logic suggests that Our Heroes should start lopping off limbs and heads to functionally incapacitate the Zombie Guys, but never mind — we've got to keep this TV-PG, right?)
The sci-fi angle initially sees this as a disease. The victims of the spores — or whatever — become Zombie Guys only after they die and the spores — or whomever — take control of the hollow corpses and start walking around trying to kill other people so the spores — or whichever — can "re-establish our rightful dominion here in our new home." Say it aloud with me: MWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!
Trance is taken over by the spore thingamabobs, which makes a Possessed Trance that now starts talking in a Low and Creepy Possessed Voice, which is quite possibly the oldest (and lamest) cliche in the body-possession genre's arsenal.
The pacing and logic of the action is, yet again, a mess. There's a scene, for example, where Trance is being attacked by a Zombie Guy and calls to the command deck for help. Dylan and Tyr barely react to the fact that TRANCE IS BEING ATTACKED and start engaging in expositional dialog. Finally we cut back to a struggle that must've been on pause mode during the Dylan/Tyr dialog.
Meanwhile, there's a whole thread involving the Than chasing after the Andromeda because they know about the Super-Evil Zombie Guys and need to destroy them at all costs. Do they tell Dylan what's going on when Dylan tries to communicate with them? Nope, because that would require five seconds of actual reasonableness by the Than, something this plot would be unable to endure.
There are too many crises. There's (1) Attack of the Random Zombie Guys, (2) Attack of the Unreasonable Than, (3) Attack of the Evil Possessed Trance Warrior Princess, (4) Attack of the Deadly Virus (Beka is infected and has mere hours to live before she will succumb to Zombie-ism), and (5) Countdown to Auto-Destruct Armageddon. Sure, these threads come together in one way or another, but that's beside the point. The point is that this is an overplotted mess where one crisis is constantly stumbling over another. (Here's where I once again invoke my mantra-of-late: Less Is More.)
What's a total shame is how there are moments of character continuity that are actually halfway reassuring (and what merit the half of a star awarded above). There's nice continuity regarding Harper's weak immune system and his desire to prove himself. There's an effective nod to Beka's past drug addiction and her desire to never again use a stimulant, even in this desperate situation with her life on the line. There's the Rommie avatar taking a bigger interest in human emotions (particularly her trouble in facing the fact that Dylan will someday die) that's apparently deviating from the rest of the ship's personality, although the idea is piled on pretty thick and feels forced.
I'm also unconvinced about Tyr here, whose soft side often gets the better of him in ways I think are a bit too imposed by the writers rather than the character. It seems more potentially detrimental to what I like about Tyr, anyway. And his dramatic scenes are botched in ways that are difficult to describe. This is not one of Keith Hamilton Cobb's better performances. It's often too broad and other times features reactions that are just plain weird — I thought his stammering at Beka's looming death was way off-kilter in execution.
Never mind, because it's all irrelevant anyway. The characters totally drown in an ocean of hilarious dreck. The plot's stunning revelation is that the Zombie Guys can be permanently killed if they're shocked with — yes — "10,000 volts." Whoa! And, yes, there's even a shot where we see a couple Zombie Guys shocked with 10,000 volts in Super-Slow-Mo.
The one-liners are atrocious. At the very least they're indicative of this series' non-pretentious tone (okay, non-pretentious except for the episode titles; a better title for this show might've been "ACTION-PACKED ATTACK OF THE ZOMBIE GUYS!"). But even so, the one-liners here are groan-worthy and have no conviction, featuring gems like:
- "I'm wearing protection." (Harper)
- "And stay dead!" (Beka)
- "Stopped you dead in your tracks!" (Harper)
- "The ungrateful dead." (Dylan)
- "He's fallen and he can't get up!" (Harper)
- "Wink this out!" [thwack] (Rommie)
- "Sorry, guys, but you're not my type." (Dylan)
- "For the record, I hate zombies." (Beka)
- "[25, 20, 15, etc.] minutes until self-destruct." (Andromeda)
And so on.
Then, of course, there's:
"Trance, are you dead or alive?"
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. That Mysterious Trance is so cagey and crafty! (Cue canned laughter.)
One could call Trance's reply clever, once again acknowledging the Big Trance Mystery without really dealing with it. One could also call it a lame cop-out that once again reduces Trance to a plot device (she can be possessed, manipulated as an action prop, and then killed, and then at the end she's All Better and back to normal; sorry, doesn't interest me anymore). And the scene gets worse, as the characters squirm with bemused reactions that come across exactly like hammy acting. How does a scene misfire so badly? I'm guessing the director, J. Miles Dale, is to blame.
The final scene plays like one of those moral lessons they used to tack on to the end of cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, wrapped with a pretty bow on top. Lexa Doig's performance in this scene I can only describe as inexplicably odd, and not in a good way. And in the context of the scene, Dylan's platitudes on Love's Eternal Role in the Universe are, quite frankly, pathetic. I'd have been cringing, but I was too busy laughing. Am I supposed to be moved by this?
You know, there's absolutely nothing wrong with action and nothing wrong with having fun. The problem is, I expect at least a trace of quality with my action and would-be fun. "Dance of the Mayflies" is the sort of show that I was quite simply embarrassed to admit I was watching.
Next week: An episode that looks like Hercules even in its production design.