In brief: Complex and competent, but familiar, and with not enough at stake for the audience.
"The Prince" is a reasonable hour of television but probably a bit too familiar in the Andromeda universe. In some ways, it plays like "Double Helix" from last season, in which we have various sides with their agendas, and most notably Tyr in the middle playing the wait-and-see-what-tactics-work-best game. It's also reminiscent of "Forced Perspective," where a world teeters on the edge of social chaos and a complex solution must be found for a complex problem.
But the nagging sense I kept getting from the episode is that it's a chess game where we care more about the pieces than the game. The result of the game is not particularly worth caring about, and the way we get to that result employs a lot of ideological debate, dialog, and maneuvering, but with little actually powerful drama. Everything about the conflict is a little vague, because we don't know who these people are or what their history is about. Obviously we don't need to be experts, but the question is whether we care. I found I had little invested in them. It's exactly like walking into the middle of a civil war we know nothing about and then taking sides, having been suddenly given the power to affect the outcome.
That power comes in the form of the titular Prince Erik (Steve Grayhm), whom Dylan and Tyr rescue from a ship under siege at the story's outset. The ship is carrying the entire royal family of the Ne'Holland world, and rebels have tried to wipe out the family in a grand assassination effort. All but Erik and one of the royal advisers, Yanos (Allan Gray), have been killed in the attack. Erik is suddenly the teenage heir to the throne of his world. But it wasn't supposed to happen this way, he notes; his two brothers were trained since birth to be prepared to take the throne. He wasn't, and now they're both dead.
As Erik's rescuers, Dylan and Tyr suddenly find themselves with the option to become Erik's co-regents, where they each get an official vote in Erik's decision-making process. Now there's an interesting combat-of-ideologies situation for you: Tyr and Dylan as co-regents for a world that could certainly be used to serve either of their agendas. (It's said that this world is on the slipstream route where the Magog world-ship will eventually emerge, which is the story's way of making the planet "relevant.") Poor young Erik is in the middle. Erik is performed by Steve Grayhm in an earnest but perhaps over-demanding performance that requires him to be clueless about politics and filled with rage directed at his family's killers. Grayhm pushes a little too hard at times, and we're often aware of the performance instead of the character.
Ne'Holland is a world of political strife. The king, according to some, was ruthless and brutal, and the story suggests that maybe the ruling family got exactly what they had coming. Even Yanos turns out to be a traitor in the midst, who betrayed the royal family because the king was a dictator interested in little beyond reinforcing his own power. Erik gets his first taste of blood when assaulted by Yanos, whom he kills in the struggle.
The chess game begins when the Andromeda comes in contact with Archduke Constantine (Timothy Webber), who led the rebellion of the Ne'Holland nobles and called for the assassinations of the royalty. What's disappointing, however, is that the story plays it safe by turning Constantine into a stock villain type rather than trying to empathize with his situation. If the king was a dictator who deserved the revolt he got, it might be nice if we could see Constantine as something other than an evil-grinning scumbag. The show forces us to see him and the rebellion as the bad guys.
I did, however, enjoy Tyr's typically manipulative games, talking into one of Erik's ears while Dylan talked into the other. Tyr contacts Constantine and offers Erik's head on a platter. Then Tyr tells Erik about his offer to Constantine and how he intends to use the rebels' new trust in him against them. But should Erik trust Tyr? Well, of course not, because that's the whole point. Tyr tells Erik very frankly that he should trust no one and should devise his own plans. He's a king-to-be who must make his own decisions and not rely on co-regents who have their own agendas.
One thing left a little hazy is exactly how much interwoven manipulation and predicting there is between Dylan and Tyr. Both are scheming apart from one another, and yet we get the feeling that they know damn well that such scheming is taking place and, further, that they are counting on it.
Dylan wants to give power back "to the people," where he says it belongs. The problem with this approach is that, dramatically, we don't have a clue who the "people" are or what they want or represent. Of course the people should have power, because Dylan is pro-democracy and pro-freedom. But the story doesn't convey how it is the people would have any more "power" after Erik is crowned king as compared to before.
The double-crossing and manipulation leads up to the climax, where Constantine, with Tyr's "help" (quote marks denoting imminent double-cross) intends to have Erik assassinated at the crowning ceremony. Dylan has his own tricks up his sleeve, which includes the use of Andromeda's Super Battle Bots, which land on the planet and come in blasting at Constantine's forces like two rampant ED-209s. This makes for our requisite Andromeda Big Action Sequence, featuring lots of sound and fury, lots of bullets and sparks and bodies flying through the air, and, of course, no blood. I appreciated a low-angle shot of bullet shells falling to the ground by the dozen — reminded me of The Matrix. But isn't this a bit heavy-handed? Wouldn't someone be a little concerned about Erik's co-regents wiping out a rebellion with 50-foot killer robots? If Dylan is trying to win the sympathy of the people he sure has an odd way of going about it. Maybe he's going for the Fear of God route.
The chants of "Long live the king!" at the end are a prime example of my qualms with this episode. It's supposed to be, I think, an emotional payoff. But it's not, because we have no stake in these people, and, worse, we don't even understand why they're cheering a leader whose crowning seems more or less unimportant in the scheme of this troubled world's political landscape. The sentiment is half-hearted at best.
Indeed, Tyr gives Erik a month or two at best before he expects that the very people cheering for him will likely be instrumental in overthrowing him. That's some kind of weird irony.
"The Prince" is sort of an odd mix. Obviously, it was written with larger-minded historical and literary contexts in mind. The topics of ruthless monarchies, governments facing revolt, and Machiavellian politicking are a cut above the average topics of consideration on a TV action hour. Tyr and Dylan discussing Erik's fate is a nice touch that demonstrates how Erik is truthfully, I think, little more than a cog in a wheel. I praise the ambitions under the surface. Unfortunately, the story itself is hard to invest in. Who are these people? Why should I care?
I don't know, because the story isn't really interested in them beyond their scope as chess pieces in a game we arrived at way too late. And as Andromeda plots go, the specifics are new, but this story and all its convoluted scheming seems awfully familiar.
Next week: Harper tries to jump-start the battle for Earth.