Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
Air date: 1/28/2002
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Jorge Montesi
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Trance, you will never guess who I just met!"
"A scary, futuristic version of yourself? She went that way."
— Beka and Trance
In brief: Uh ... no.
Let the arguments begin.
Okay, so the arguments — among the hard-core fan base anyway — have already been going on for what seems like months now. Arguments over the Big Changes that have been rumored and discussed and debated in genre magazines and on Internet bulletin boards. Fan uproar over the firing of series developer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, whose last executive producer duties come with this episode. So now I'll do my part and throw a hand grenade into the ring.
I'm not opposed to change — not at all. In fact, I was actually looking forward to "Ouroboros," because Big Change can be exciting and lead to new, interesting things.
Unfortunately, exciting and interesting is not at all how I'd describe "Ouroboros" itself. More like random and incoherent. The events here are pretty underwhelming when you really stop and think about them. The storyline makes use of an arbitrary "rip in space-time" plot to create what is a colossal mess of an hour, punctuated by the usual Andromeda sound and fury, stupid violence lacking any semblance of context, and a "meeting of past, present, and future" that allows anything and everything to happen, often for no dramatic reason whatsoever, so long as it's weird or (preferably) can support a lame action payoff.
I'd better stress that, yes, there are some intriguing moments and points worth mulling over. But they're drowned out by a great many more moments of contrived, isolated weirdness. And I'm unsold on the ending, which almost redeems some of the madcap lunacy with some actual perspective, until you stop and realize that the closing dialog has a painful omission.
I'm not sure if Wolfe was painted into a corner when writing this episode — faced with changes that were dictated from the bosses above — but regardless, the results aren't pretty. "Ouroboros" plays like bull-in-china-shop cinema (all too typical on this series, alas) to the point that many scenes don't even really seem necessary. Documenting weirdness is not enough unless it somehow adds up to a logic of its own. There is little logic here, even on the show's own sci-fi terms. We're supposed to go with the flow and accept it at face value, but the only thing present here is the flow. It's more like rapids, with rocks everywhere. The rules change with every scene, assuming there even are any rules.
There's an old episode of Voyager called "Twisted." It's among the worst episodes of Star Trek ever made, and I was reminded of it here, as characters roamed around the ship trying to get somewhere while the rips in space-time kept moving them to the wrong place. To be sure, "Ouroboros" is infinitely faster-paced and less boring than "Twisted," but it's also far loonier and at times equally tedious. This has got to be one of the most breakneck-paced, senseless, shapeless, unbelievable time-travel stories in a long time. And yet, it has its brief moments.
Before I get into the mechanics of the plot, I want to make one quick comment on a purely superficial level in regards to Rommie's new bowl-cut, dark-blue hairstyle. In a syllable: GAG, with a capital everything. Who in the world thought this would look good? Lexa Doig has beautiful brown hair that has been perfectly acceptable for the past year and a half. Now we have to look at her with this tawdry wig that makes her look like a comic-book character. Why? There isn't even a throwaway line mentioning Rommie's decision to change hairstyles, perhaps because the writers are aware there's no good reason for it beyond executive edict. (For the record, and for our aesthetic relief, the hologram version of Rommie still has the brown hair, for now at least.)
Turning to more serious matters, this is the story that, significantly, wraps up Harper's arc involving the Magog larvae in his stomach. His medicine no longer works and the prognosis is grim — he has a week at best before he becomes John Hurt in Alien. This prompts him to enlist Technical Director Hohne (Alex Diakun) and Höhne's assistant, Rekeeb (Rik Kiviaho), in an attempt to modify the tesseract technology Harper acquired in "Into the Labyrinth." The two Perseids jump at the opportunity because it involves groundbreaking scientific experimentation, to be performed on a subject who has nothing to lose in being a lab rat.
Well, of course, Something Goes Wrong, and the tesseract technology causes a "watershed event in space and time," as Trance later claims. But hold on a second, Harper says. The tesseract generator isn't even operational yet, so it can't be causing the problem. But maybe, says Hohne, the distortions are emanating from the future — a future where the generator has been completed and activated — and is affecting our past and present.
My only question: Isn't it convenient that the space-time distortions don't become apparent until the tesseract device is already being built, thereby providing the clue that they have something to do with the tesseract generator? Imagine if the distortions would've started a day or a week before Harper started building the generator. No one would have a clue how to fix the problem and would be up the proverbial creek, wouldn't they? Even more convenient (and bordering on absurd) is the notion that Höhne had set up automated robots to complete the work on the generator before being sucked out of the machine shop (by the vacuum of space, no less) where the work was being performed — to which, now, we can't get back into because the distortions send everyone running around a ship where they're constantly beamed here and there and everywhere through space-time. This conveniently answers the question of "Why not stop building the generator now?" Because we can't, because the plot has made it so we can't. Sorry, but that's a little too contrived for my tastes. It plays exactly like the scripted situation it is and not much like an actual time-travel story grounded in drama.
But that at least pits our heroes against a dilemma they must solve, which is way better than some of the other things encountered here. Like I said, there's a lot of roaming around the ship, and Dylan's attempts to get to the command deck are thwarted by the Space-Time Gods (a.k.a. Robert Wolfe & Co.), who are doing everything in their power to keep him from reaching his target. At one point, Dylan cries out, "Oh, come on!" at the appalling situation of trying to get somewhere and constantly ending up in the wrong place or timeline on the ship (Sorbo is particularly hammy at these moments). The problem with such scenes are that they grow repetitive and eventually have almost no story value. It's Twilight Zone weirdness in a dramatic dead zone.
For that matter, what's the point of Dylan running into crew member Kylie (Kristina Copeland), who served on the ship 300 years ago? Kylie's purpose in the story doesn't have an impact; she's just an extra body to show up on demand to hurl into an action sequence. If you stop and ask what she means for the arc of the story at hand, you'll be hard-pressed to come up with anything substantive.
Eventually, Rommie deduces that the harder and faster they try to reach their goals, the more space-time resistance they face in reaching them. She suggests moving "at right angles toward our goal," and Dylan responds, "and let the tesseracts carry us in the right direction," to which I can only respond, "Huh?" This strikes me as pseudo-science fantasy, and the way the dialog steamrollers through it with ping-pong exposition makes me extremely doubtful that Dylan and Rommie could've actually figured this out, but that they simply concluded the plot was ready for them to move forward and they needed an excuse to believe they could. Bah.
The plot has other moments that are arbitrary and make no sense, and don't pretend they need to. Much is made of the need to move the Andromeda away from the planet it's orbiting so the distortions don't damage the world. And yet, what does it mean when a door on the Maru opens up a distortion to another world that is who-knows-how-many light-years away? Or the fact that the ship's distortions open gateways to the Andromeda as located untold light-years away in the past, something that Dylan even acknowledges in dialog? Distance is apparently irrelevant, yet a big piece of the plot hinges on the fact that it's not.
Meanwhile we have the Kalderans showing up on the decks of the Maru and then later the Andromeda, which proves them every bit as useless and incompetent as in the lamentable "Last Call At the Broken Hammer." By the end, even the Magog are showing up, proving that a rip in space-time is a good way to justify repeating every possible pointless past action scene one can dream of. Why is this necessary? Take it all away and you still have the same basic story, except with maybe less nonsensical narrative clutter.
Lots of people pull guns in this episode. Lots of bullets are fired. Lots of sparks and bodies go flying. Everything but the kitchen sink is here. And characters love to interrupt each other in mid-sentence (or be interrupted by gunfire). Most of the time Harper even interrupts himself by doubling-over in pain and clutching his stomach. This technique tries to hide the fact that the episode spends no time having conversations beyond the absolute bare minimum required for exposition before then changing directions and heading off to tag the story's next base. I repeat: Less is more, more is less, and lots more is gratuitous and little else. The results are kind of mind-numbing.
In between the mayhem the episode tries its best to develop a story of sorts, though some scenes play more like teasers than drama. Beka runs into a future version of herself, a Bionic Beka, who is then called by an unseen child's voice. It's sort of an interesting moment, but only a 30-second moment not built upon. Does this indicate anything we can expect to see in the future? Perhaps, but I tend to doubt it, since time stories are by nature non-binding.
What is significant is Trance running into a future version of herself, who explains that things in the future are very bad, not how she had hoped they would turn out. This prompts Trance to switch places with her future self so she can use knowledge from the future to change the past. The future Trance ("I grew up") looks quite a bit different, more gold-colored than purple, and has notable ass-kicking abilities: When we first see her, she's doing back-flips and knocking Kalderans around like she's Xena. I'm not sure what I think about this; it's hardly as if we need a new version of Trance who can provide still more action scenes on this series. Nonetheless, the change in Trance could be interesting if handled properly. Her knowledge from the future (or one possible future) could be the source of subsequent stories.
Meanwhile, we have Harper's dilemma, a part of the story that is actually followable and benefits from the always lively Woolvett. In the process of trying to get back to the tesseract generator, a distortion suddenly sends him and his team to the engine room, where Hohne falls to his death. This sets up the decision at the end, possibly the only humanistic theme in the episode, where Harper must choose whether to activate the tesseract generator to save himself, or destroy the generator to restore the timelines and bring back Höhne, an important and brilliant man. As everyone is debating, Trance makes the decision and flips the switch to extract the larvae, setting the day's events in stone. I'm glad all this actually came down to someone making a real decision, one that fills Harper and the other characters with unease.
Rommie tells Harper what's done is done and, "All you can do now is earn it." This potentially poignant, briefly established theme would've worked better if given more time (and also if it didn't feel like Rommie's line was lifted straight out of Saving Private Ryan), providing a strong argument for excising about 10 minutes of action scenes in favor of better-developed drama scenes.
Trance tells Dylan that she did what she did to save a friend over a stranger. What I think is an obvious oversight in this scene, however, is that she doesn't mention that activating the generator also permitted the rip in space-time to occur in the first place, permitting her to move back in time and perhaps change history for the better. If Trance tells herself, "You know what we have to do," then it seems only to make sense that she must flip the switch to stay in this timeline. But the story seems to forget about this angle and instead emphasizes her compassion for Harper. Maybe it was an intentional omission, but I think it hurts Trance's implied motivation by not having this angle even acknowledged.
I dunno. It's safe to say I had serious, serious problems with "Ouroboros." I'm not concerned so much that the plot is full of paradoxes and doesn't make sense (no time travel story does, after all) nearly as much as I hated the way most of the action events were completely arbitrary or, worse, meaningless. What's odd about stories like this is that you can almost sense the ambition behind them. There are times I could see where Wolfe was coming from on "Ouroboros." Unfortunately, the results mostly lead nowhere. The construction can more or less be followed, but it's so hyperactive and lacking in any sort of coherent flow that it's virtually impossible to be absorbed by the story. I never once felt like I was watching anything but a massive concoction of disjointed scenes and gratuitous action.
If the goal of Andromeda is to absolutely not be boring, they no doubt have succeeded with efforts like "Ouroboros." If the goal of Andromeda is more than that, however — to tell real stories with real drama that don't rely on arbitrary, mechanical plot developments that play like bad sci-fi — I submit that this is absolutely not the way to do it.
Footnote: Rev Bem is written out of the series in the opening 60 seconds of the episode through a transmission he sends explaining that his soul has been suffering since his sins of "The Widening Gyre," and that he can no longer serve aboard the Andromeda. I realize Rev's presence on the show was completely out of the writers' hands (Brent Stait developed extreme discomfort and allergic reactions to the extensive makeup; he couldn't even return for the brief scene here and only supplied the voice while Shanyne Litwiller stood in for Rev's body), but even knowing that can't help remove the bitter taste of a character being wiped clean away with very little explanation. I suppose it was the best effort possible given a difficult situation.
Next week: Dylan and some chick pilot a ship against all odds for another apparently entertaining, action-packed hour.