In brief: After the first half of the season, which was reasonably entertaining, the series descended rapidly into the gutter. In my book, it's nothing short of a disaster.
So here we are — another season, another recap article. Welcome to my all-around review of Andromeda's sophomore season. My recaps have previously been known by the self-appointed cliche, "the most comprehensive review I'll write this year," but this one might also be "the most negative review I'll write this year." If it comes across that way, then please interpret the sentiments of jest, of which there are plenty. Part one consists of the capsule reviews; part two is the commentary on the season as a whole. Feel free to agree, disagree, or punch your computer screen. Let's get on with it.
Part 1: Capsule Reviews
The Widening Gyre — Air date: 10/1/2001. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Allan Eastman.
The entertaining if implausible follow-up to over-the-top "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last" features — gasp! — the crew not dying after all! They get better, thanks to the first 10 minutes, which work about the same way as the Undo feature in Photoshop. Tyr and Harper (a.k.a. "We've been slimed!") are trapped on a wall and are ultimately saved from slaughter by Rev "Remember Me?" Bem, who goes Hannibal Lecter on the evil teddy-bear army drones, who, by the way, have visible zippers on their backs. Spirit of the Abyss (a.k.a. Mr. Flaming Lava Lamp) looks on menacingly. It ends with a Real Big Explosion, which makes for a poetic season bookend, since by finale time we come full circle and end with ... another Real Big Explosion.
Exit Strategies — Air date: 10/8/2001. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by T.J. Scott.
The first episode featuring Action Hour in the snow (but not the first episode featuring Canadian forest locations), which makes for a visually refreshing change of pace. The episode proves that Tyr is the only Nietzschean who was DNA-enhanced with actual competence; the rest were enhanced with the much-coveted Disposable Evil Henchman and Can't Hit the Broad Side of a Barn genes. Meaty character moments center on the much-tortured Rev, perhaps being played method-acting style by the much-tortured Brent Stait. Fun, but don't look too closely or you're asking for trouble. Convincingly explain to me how a ship launched a few hundred miles an hour out of a magnetic accelerator can attain escape velocity and I'll send you an e-mail with absolutely no viruses in it.
A Heart for Falsehood Framed — Air date: 10/15/2001. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare. Directed by David Winning.
A derivative plot, with derivative themes, not nearly enough emotional relevance, and too many of those damned heart artifacts. There are two of them, I think, but the way the plot employs them in the caper is clumsily handled. More clumsily handled is the (non)emotional arc for Beka as she supposedly comes close to falling in love with cocky-but-bland Leydon. Leydon is double-crossing swine anyway; why didn't I see that coming? (Oh, wait; I did.) The heart artifact contains a map that was or perhaps was not used to find the Engine of Creation in "In Heaven Now Are Three," but I can't be sure. Tyr gets in a fight for no reason but to have some guys get beaten up and/or added to the Weekly Gratuitous Body Count. Beka gets laid; Harper does not.
Pitiless as the Sun — Air date: 10/22/2001. Written by Emily Skopov. Directed by Richard Flower.
Hit-and-miss drama sees Trance interrogated by the Cigarette-Smoking Man and, in an interesting irony, she turns the tables in scenes that show how she, not he, is the one in control of this interview. But even Trance can't get him to reveal those missing keys to the X-Files. Dang. Much of this plot's implications are rendered either obsolete or less urgent in light of other developments stemming from the infamous "Trance-formation" in "Ouroboros." Regardless, even in the pre-"Ouroboros" Andromeda this episode can't hold its own as drama, playing more like a series of teasing Trance-hints. The Pyrians (a.k.a. Squids in Space) show up and talk in Creepy Alien Monotone [TM], to little interest or avail.
Last Call at the Broken Hammer — Air date: 10/29/2001. Teleplay by John Lloyd Parry. Story by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by David Winning.
To my knowledge, it's the only episode of Andromeda thus far to employ a saloon with batwing doors. This is fitting, since this is a Western trapped in an Andromeda episode. Much mayhem ensues, all over some woman named Ortiz, whom Dylan believes could be converted to one of his faithful denizens. Much to my dismay, the supposedly important Ortiz becomes utterly irrelevant after this episode, despite the fact she's supposed to be a major asset. Where did she go? Never mind, because we've got ACTION! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Kalderans (a.k.a. this week's fish in a barrel) prove to be the most incompetent assault force since the Magog. In a scene that is all too prevalent on the New Andromeda, the body count outpaces common sense 10 to one.
All Too Human — Air date: 11/5/2001. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by T.J. Scott.
Rommie goes into kick-ass mode and shows who's boss. Inspired by the anime genre and the John Woo school of cinema, this is an episode that gets major points for its coolness factor. The plot involving AIs is reasonably intelligent. Rommie's adversary is interesting, if underutilized. The comic-book action is some of the more entertaining Andromeda action on record. For once, the obligatory ass-kicking actually kicks some ass. It could've been more substantive, but what this show does it does well.
Una Salus Victus — Air date: 11/12/2001. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
Two words: Allan Kroeker. Like "All Too Human," this is an example of how to make an action episode move along swiftly. Deft handling of the A/B/C-plot structure is surprisingly effective. Tyr and Dylan get some excellent interaction and prove consistently watchable, even in the most hopelessly implausible of action sequences. Dylan pulls out Crazy Mofo Dylan and it works. Beka and Harper get appropriate subplots. All of it is assembled with great skill. If Action Hour Andromeda could always be this much fun there wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, reality is a different beast...
Home Fires — Air date: 11/19/2001. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare. Directed by Michael Robison.
Rhade Redux — but a different Rhade who is an exact genetic duplicate of Gaheris. Plausible? No. Decent drama? Yes. I enjoyed the parallelism involving Rhade and how this figures into Dylan's past even if the odds of how it all plays out are probably googolplex to one. The frame-up plot is entertaining, although it has its share of holes. Lt. Brown should've had DEAD MEAT tattooed on his forehead (he apparently wrote one too many negative reviews). Favorite line: "Jamahl! Pull up!" Second favorite line: "AAAARRRGH!" [KABOOM] (Thanks, Ethlie.)
Into the Labyrinth — Air date: 11/26/2001. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by Brad Turner.
Long-term plotting and good continuity show signs of making Andromeda more interesting as Harper's ongoing struggle with the Magog larvae figures significantly into a story that follows up "Harper 2.0" and "The Honey Offering." The dialog between Tyr and Charlemagne Bolivar is truly inspired; we need more characters written with this kind of wit and performed up to this level. Alas, the assassins (a.k.a. dumb, bright-colored action figures in the flesh) are laughable. This series needs far LESS of this sort of mindless cartoon violence, which detracts even from good episodes like this one. Harper comes slightly closer to getting laid here (he's straddled), but doesn't.
The Prince — Air date: 1/14/2002. Written by Erik Oleson. Directed by Allan Eastman.
The Machiavellian plotting quietly carried out by Dylan and Tyr makes this episode somewhat interesting and proves that a measure of thought was going on below the episode's surface. Unfortunately, the production and acting aren't as convincing and the storyline is derivative. The Bad Guys are arbitrarily pre-assigned and painted with Anti-Subtlety, which undermines any possible gray areas. Andromeda's Super Battle Bots supply the routine, goofy, bloodless violence in a sequence that seems inspired by the ending of RoboCop 2 (minus the bloodshed, natch). That Dylan can get away with such a blunt show of force during the crowning of the prince he's backing is amazing.
Bunker Hill — Air date: 1/21/2002. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by Richard Flower.
In which we see Earth's landscape as a single (bad) CG shot followed by lots of dim, dank tunnels — appropriate for an underground mission, but dissatisfying nonetheless. Harper is well employed as a would-be freedom fighter (even though he doesn't get laid) and the story's intentions are admirable. Execution, however, is too bland, right down to the stock, half-hearted chants of "Freedom!" and the overly confined perceived scope of the uprising. In subplotting news, Elsbett returns so she can strut around and be annoyingly haughty, even having the nerve this time not to sleep with Dylan. Then there's the on-again, off-again "war" (a.k.a. conveniently stoke-able subplot) between the Sabra-Jaguar and the Drago-Kazov, which is used as a plot point here but impossible to make sense of in the larger scheme of things, if one exists.
Ouroboros — Air date: 1/28/2002. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Jorge Montesi.
A messy, senseless time-travel outing with no emotional or logical arc, even for a time-travel show. Disjoined, chaotic, and largely meaningless, a rip in space-time here becomes story justification to pointlessly rehash every Action-Hour concept in the Andromeda bag-o-tricks. Magog. Kalderans. Shootouts. Explosions. The past, present, future, etc. — it's all here. I find, however, that I personally would rather be elsewhere. Rommie gets blue hair and Trance turns gold and can do karate and back-flips. Transition complete. (Oh yeah; Rev Bem is vaguely and unceremoniously written out of the show. Almost forgot about him.)
Lava and Rockets — Air date: 2/4/2002. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by Michael Rohl.
Hunt the Hero and Molly the Blonde engage in much low-rent repartee that seems to think these two are Han Solo and Princess Leia. Watchable enough to chew through an hour, but move along, nothing to see here. The Action-Hour action is played out in the usually glib, predictable fashion, where characters are thrust into situations of contrived violence that emerge practically from nowhere and follow a logic only of their own (and not the story's). The Ogami — "fearsome mercenaries" — resemble yet another failed Halloween-mask concept who are about as scary and easily dispatched as an imp on Level 1 of Doom II (except they don't breathe fireballs). Dylan gets laid; Harper doesn't.
Be All My Sins Remembered — Air date: 2/11/2002. Teleplay by Ethlie Ann Vare. Story by Jill Sherwin. Directed by Allan Eastman.
Another stage of Andromeda's continued campaign in the War Against Subtlety, in which Bobby, Beka's ex-lover, appears as a half-man, half-RoboCop villain whose story could've been told any number of ways that might've made him a character worthy of development instead of a boring and shallow megalomaniac. His garter-strapped girlfriend is one of the worst-conceived characters in the history of television (that I've seen), while alien-guy Lem carries a BFG that is unintentionally hilarious. Some of Beka's backstory is interesting (minus Bobby's ludicrous Rambo number), but her statement that this guy was "the love of her life" is utter nonsense based on what we see on the screen. Beka gets laid (via flashback); Harper doesn't (not even via flashback). And it ends with more lame kung-fu.
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.
I could rehash the reasons why I think this laughable hour of camp-laden tripe is cinematic detritus and a general insult to the human intellect, but what would be the point? The good news: It made me laugh. The bad news: In all the wrong places.
In Heaven Now Are Three — Air date: 2/25/2002. Teleplay by Emily Skopov. Story by Celeste Chan Wolfe. Directed by David Warry-Smith.
A vapid and cliche-ridden Indiana Jones rip-off using the budget and visual design of an Andromeda episode. You do the math.
The Things We Cannot Change — Air date: 4/8/2002. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare. Directed by Jorge Montesi.
A clip show whose clips often seem like they were picked with the help of a random-number generator. The framing device, meanwhile, lacks genuine interest. The actor playing Dylan's wife is bad, and the son is even worse. Simpleminded Hero Dylan's closing statements of What This All Means reveal him to have the emotional and psychological depth of your average Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger. Dylan gets laid (in a dream); Harper doesn't (except maybe in an off-screen dream).
The Fair Unknown — Air date: 4/15/2002. Written by John Lloyd Parry. Directed by Michael Rohl.
A reasonable step back toward something relevant, but the show supplies more questions than answers, and the plot is saddled with boring action scenes (including a second act whose action is both boring and interminable), and a Vedran guest character who falls into conflict with Dylan for no real good reason. The implication that the Vedrans (a.k.a. Blue Man Group) cut themselves off from slipstream raises a host of issues that will require eventual follow-up. Will we get it? Don't know, but until then, I'm less than thrilled with this episode, which is too mediocre as entertainment.
Belly of the Beast — Air date: 4/22/2002. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by Allan Harmon.
A prolonged lack of impetus to give Andromeda a positive review prompted me to give this episode a thumbs-up on my initial encounter. While not bad, I don't think this hour of unabashed cheese and reckless goofiness is quite enough to transcend "average." The plot ("planet-eating monster!") is the thinnest of thin and inconsequence, but the characterization is fairly effective in the way it shows Beka and Dylan (et al) trying to anticipate what the other will do. The happy ending walks a fine line between lightweight amusement and all-out embarrassment.
The Knight, Death, and the Devil — Air date: 4/29/2002. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by Richard Flower.
A genuinely good episode after nearly a half-season of dreck, in which High Guard starships are seen by Dylan as prisoners of war because of their AI cores — an intriguing concept. Michael Hurst goes down as one of this series' best guest stars to date, as an AI who turns out to be a rather complex character. Good storytelling, some nice arguments, and action that makes sense within the confines of the plot. A throwback of sorts to the Andromeda that used to be worth watching.
Immaculate Perception — Air date: 5/6/2002. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by J. Miles Dale.
The second of back-to-back winners, in which Tyr is studied as a character in a storyline that plays as grand melodrama. His son is the Nietzschean messiah? Whoa. Self-serving to the end, but not in a simpleminded way, Tyr's ruthlessness allows an entire colony to be slaughtered in order to save himself and his son. Freya's death, on the other hand, is relentlessly by-the-numbers. Tyr's speech to Dylan at the end is so passionate that it takes on a sort of epic, cosmic-comedy quality when we realize that it's all a super-calculated lie, performed to Nietzschean perfection. Also, Tyr gets laid; Harper doesn't.
Tunnel at the End of the Light — Air date: 5/13/2002. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by Allan Eastman.
The Commonwealth charter is to be signed (where did all these new members come from, and when, and how, and why, and...?) when the Andromeda is attacked by Phase-Shifting Invisible Bad Guys From Another Universe. Yes. It's further proof that the higher-ups at Andromeda mistake quantity for quality, and think what we want to see is LOTS AND LOTS of ships streaming out of a spatial rift and attacking Our Heroes. Guess what: It's NOT what I want to see. The solution to this week's problem (a variation on perhaps most weeks' problems) is to blow 'em all to hell with the largest imaginable explosion. And — YEAH! — we do. If incoherent space battles and an ending with Stuff Getting Blowed Up Real Good is what you want to see, then this is the Andromeda for you. I personally like a trace of wit/drama/imagination in my entertainment, not simply the notion — without context — that Something Big Is Happening on a ridiculously large scale.
Part 2: Season Analysis
As noted at the outset, 2002 charted this series' rapid descent into nothing that interests me. It had its isolated moments of inspiration and respectable efforts, but in terms of the big picture and lasting impressions, my feelings reside somewhere between bitter cynicism and total apathy. Near the season's end, week after week I was trying to feel some sort of enthusiasm, but every week I found myself more disenchanted.
The season started out well enough. Despite some missteps and mediocre early outings like "Last Call at the Broken Hammer" and "A Heart for Falsehood Framed," the run beginning with season premiere "The Widening Gyre" through to December was admirable, featuring a number of entertaining shows like "Una Salus Victus," "All Too Human," and "Into the Labyrinth." Indeed, by winter hiatus after "Labyrinth" aired, I wrote: "Andromeda is really shaping up, and has had a respectable second season so far. The overall gain in momentum and narrative clarity ... is apparent." But then, beginning in January, came a near-total collapse. What went wrong?
The easiest answer would be to attribute Andromeda's mid- and late-season woes to the staff turmoil and the eventual departure of head writer/developer Robert Hewitt Wolfe. That would be the simplest thing — to point and say, "That's why this season was a failure." Does that represent reality? I'm not sure. Television is a strange beast where cause and effect can be very difficult to accurately line up together. What's covered in the press and what's said online by the writers is undoubtedly only part of the story; we will never know the rest. For that matter, we will never know how much of the writers' original vision for the show was allowed to make it to the screen, or how much was changed by the Tribune Powers That Be. (It's remarkable to think that Deep Space Nine, in its day, had the freedom from Paramount to mostly do what it wanted on its own terms; it seems that's a rarity anymore.) But really, that's all irrelevant when it comes down to it. What's relevant is what we have in front of us on our TV screens. So, back in December when the news of Wolfe's firing broke, I was perfectly fine to watch the show and not speculate on what the future of Andromeda would be like without him.
But then we got the middle and end stages of the season, reportedly the post-Wolfe Andromeda.
Coincidence or not, attributable to Wolfe's departure or not, the episodes after "Into the Labyrinth" represented a free-fall to the bottom of the barrel, with only the occasional reprieve into reasonable storytelling via episodes like "The Knight, Death, and the Devil" and "Immaculate Perception." How the series went wrong is not at all difficult to examine, seeing as when it comes to broad strokes of anything, including its own trends, Andromeda isn't exactly subtle. Its faults are completely apparent, front-and-center. Let's take a look at them.
Fundamental Problem #1: Action-Hour mentality
It very well may be that by definition this series is not something that agrees with me, because I simply don't subscribe to the TV "Action Hour" mentality. I want to be totally clear on this: When done well, I like action. I enjoy action movies on a regular basis, and I'm probably even more likely to spend money on a summer action blockbuster than on many, if not most, other genres. (My favorite action movies include Die Hard, The Matrix, Terminator 2, the Lethal Weapon series, and many others.) So I don't want to hear that I'm against action.
What I'm against is LAME mind-numbing action that exists without context or aesthetic value. Unfortunately, that's what nearly all of Andromeda's "action" is. So much of Andromeda's ridiculous action this season has been the kind that I honestly believe can't be enjoyed by anyone but the least discriminating. Interminable shootouts where the good guys always hit their targets and the bad guys are always stupid and/or faceless and/or can't hit the broad side of a barn. Prolonged kung-fu scenes that are so poorly staged/choreographed as to be laughable. Body counts that are absurdly high (yet bloodless, unnecessary, and with no dramatic impact), making episodes look exactly like cartoons or video games.
I've seen the press quotes that go on about how Andromeda is a low-budget series where every penny is milked for as much as humanly possible, and that the pyrotechnic people go the extra mile to make the show look great. While they may deserve the kudos for their hard work and effort, I've got news for you: The action doesn't usually look great; it looks cheap. I don't like the style. That in itself would be okay if it weren't for the fact that far, far, FAR too often the show puts its cheap-looking action sequences ahead of the storyline. If you can't do action right, then for crying out loud, don't do it at all. But don't give us a cheesy, endless firefight and think it's entertaining just because there are a lot of spark-squibs captured on film.
That brings up another thing — quantity over quality, which has always been a problem in the way this series employs action. Rather than giving us one image that looks good, the creators would rather inundate us with an interminable sequence of contrived action that stretches out to unwatchable length and does little for the story but stop it dead in its tracks. Enough with the action. I don't give a damn about it, and it's not doing its job of keeping me entertained on even a superficial level. Give me some actual drama instead.
I feel like I've beaten this argument like a dead horse. Unfortunately, that's only because Andromeda has beaten the Action Hour horse with equal relentlessness.
Fundamental Problem #2: The camp factor
The marketing bills Andromeda as the "#1 Action Hour." They also might want to start calling it the "#1 Camp Hour." Alas, I did not come to Andromeda because I wanted to watch camp. But this season the show has gone from what was a lighter-played space opera with dark undertones to a virtual week-in, week-out hour of camp. Even the best of the hours like "Una Salus Victus" suffer from bouts of silliness. The worst end up like "Dance of the Mayflies," "Be All My Sins Remembered," "In Heaven Now Are Three," or "Ouroboros," where bad-movie cliches lurk in every corner and make you wonder if you're laughing because you don't want to admit that you're watching wretched television.
Camp is hard to attribute to any one thing, but it's a combination of over-stylized production values mixed with a general attitude of melodramatic flair and storyline goofiness. There's a lot more of that these days than there was last season. Just look at the season finale, about an alien invasion of 10,000 ships (or "Mayflies," where zombies are zapped with 10,000 volts); there's no attempt for the least bit of restraint. Whenever the creators can go over the top with unapologetic zaniness, they do.
The camp factor of course goes hand-in-hand with the Action Hour issue, in which violence is cartoonish and therefore impossible to take even the slightest bit seriously. Personally, I like my violence to pack some punch, not provide a circus sideshow.
Fundamental Problem #3: The War Against Subtlety
Whenever I read a Kevin Sorbo interview, I just want to cringe. Particularly lately, when Sorbo goes on at length about how the series needs to be "more fun" and how people want to see "the good guy winning over the bad guy." And the next time I hear "what viewers want" in any way tied back to the tragedy of Sept. 11, asses will be kicked.
Anyway. One could argue that this show was never really Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. It was probably more Robert Hewitt Wolfe's Andromeda than anything else. Unfortunately, these days it looks more and more like it's becoming Kevin Sorbo's Andromeda. Yes, I know he's the star, etc., etc., but if the press is any indication, Sorbo is a big reason why the show has changed so much, just as Patrick Stewart reportedly changed the tone of Star Trek: Insurrection a few years ago. I don't doubt that Sorbo thinks he's doing the right thing, but I certainly don't agree with his quotes in the press and what has been manifesting itself on the screen since Wolfe's departure.
We have Trance and Rommie, both visually redesigned in a cartoon-like manner. Rommie's blue hair is awful; Trance's gold makeup is just as bad (not that I was ever a huge fan of the purple, but never mind). Costuming in general (particularly for the women) has gone garishly over the top. But those are superficial changes. More disturbing are the trends I've seen in some of the dialog, characters, and plots. They have a tendency to hit us with a sledgehammer instead of taking more subtle approaches. Much of the humor has also degenerated into the annoyingly obvious, like with Dylan's excessive Action Hero One-Liners. This was a problem last year, but it's become an even bigger problem this year.
This season was not a particularly good one for developing our main characters. Indeed, some of the characters have regressed. The most depressing trend is the anchor, Captain Dylan Hunt, who has gone from a somewhat multifaceted character to a bland Action Hero who gets to bag the chicks and beat the bad guys. He's a nice guy with a crew he likes, but as a character he's become a bastion of the simpleminded, which is downright infuriating. His big moment at the end of "The Things We Cannot Change," for example, is to recite a stock-issue mantra about being a starship captain when he should be pondering a troubling and emotional revelation. I'm also increasingly unimpressed with Sorbo's lackluster performances.
Meanwhile, the most flat-out annoying character these days is Beka Valentine, who very often has the thankless role of providing Smart-Alecky Exposition. It seems like Beka is always the one who gets the dialog that is too-obviously solely for the audience's benefit, like in "The Fair Unknown" when she explains the history of Tarn-Vedra in a scene that plays like a viewer refresher course. I'm not a fan of the way Lisa Ryder delivers these lines, in that chipper, rapid-fire, smart-ass tone, as if to say she's aware that the expositional dialog is ridiculous and that it must therefore be delivered as a flippant joke. (At least when Harper is annoying, it's funny. With Beka, it's not.) While some stories attempted to give Beka some depth, both her headliners ("A Heart for Falsehood Framed" and "Be All My Sins Remembered") were dismal failures.
Harper, by contrast, has become less annoying as sort of an acquired taste. He still hasn't gotten laid, but he's a character who usually invites a smile with his quick-witted asides. And every once in a while he gets a chance to chew on a meaty storyline (e.g. "Bunker Hill"). He had the whole Magog-larvae story arc in the early part of the season, which mostly worked.
Trance and Rommie I'm mostly neutral on. Trance is, thankfully, far less of a winking magic wand than in season one (though it's still an occasional annoyance), and her swap in "Ouroboros" at least has the possibility of giving glimpses into the future. Rommie is the cool-headed but occasionally ruthless AI who is convincing as a warship/warrior. I'm more uncertain about her whole "human question" bit, a been-there-done-that with virtually all sci-fi involving AI.
Tyr went through some weird stages this season that seemed to be toning the character down (probably not a good thing, in my view), but "Immaculate Perception" threw him (and us) a curveball that revealed him to be as true to Tyr as ever.
Then there's Rev Bem, whose absence leaves a true and difficult void. Rev was this series' moral compass and the best avenue for philosophizing. He was perhaps prone to dramatic overstatement from time to time, but at least he represented some higher thought and insight. With Rev gone, also gone is much of the series' depth. Dylan no longer has a spiritual/emotional confidant, which only further permits the Simple Hero Dylan to assert itself. Rev was an important piece to this series, and I think his absence has revealed that. The way he left the show was horribly dissatisfying. I understand it was a tough call for the writers — not knowing whether Brent Stait would be able to return — but the manner of Rev's exit is about as close to a worst-case scenario as you can get.
When it comes to the Commonwealth, I want to scratch my head in confusion. The Commonwealth storyline is something with inherent depth — the original mission of the series — but it was shuttled through this season off-screen and on autopilot. "The Widening Gyre" suggested that the Commonwealth was imperative purely on the basis of defense, but this season took the Commonwealth absolutely no further in terms of actual analysis. Who would want to join it and why? What kind of political issues would present themselves? What kind of values would member worlds need to adopt in order to join? And, for that matter, why would a world want to join in the first place, especially if it's going to put them on the front line of intergalactic war?
Intriguing questions, all of which went virtually unanswered and unasked. Suddenly, come end of the season, we've got the new charter about to be signed. We're supplied no sense for how we got from A to B; we're just informed that we've got our 50 worlds and that today is the New Commonwealth's day. Remember Ortiz from "Last Call at the Broken Hammer"? We never heard from her again, and apparently, in a mere six months, the universe (or 50 worlds anyway — what about the rest of the universe?) pulled a 180 from its stance of being invested in a status quo that wanted nothing to do with a new Commonwealth.
I have absolutely no problem with wrapping up the Commonwealth storyline and moving on to new things. In fact, two seasons is an adequate amount of television time to devote to a major background story arc — more than enough time, in fact. Unfortunately, so little of this time was actually spent on establishing the Commonwealth beyond the most superficial of meetings and negotiations. We have a Commonwealth, but I don't know what it, or any of its members, stands for or why. And we're supposed to believe that based on such a flimsy alliance, the new "Commonwealth fleet" is ready to engage the Evil Threat From Another Universe ("Tunnel at the End of the Light"). I'm sorry, but I don't buy it.
Dylan's Commonwealth — as it stands right now — is a sham and a dramatic cop-out.
Last season my biggest complaint was with execution. The show had a good underlying philosophy, which was one based on continuity, a goal-oriented premise, and the building of characters and societal relationships. It wasn't successful, but the problems were more with acting, production, and story flow. This season, by contrast, has done more to destroy what the show once stood for in favor of a general dumbing-down of the series. While the use of episode-to-episode continuity hasn't been abandoned, little of it makes sense under scrutiny or has any persuasive direction. Meanwhile, the overall storytelling technique makes Voyager look subtle and sophisticated. While I'm mildly curious to know what new head writer Robert Engels can bring to the table, I can't honestly say that I care to watch the show to find out.
So it's at this juncture where I say that I'm finished reviewing Andromeda. There's simply no reason for me to continue, because I don't enjoy it anymore and I feel like I'm just bitching in a vacuum. Besides, the amount of e-mail I receive in regard to my Andromeda reviews has significantly dropped off this season. Every once in a while I'll get a stray e-mail, but it's rarely to debate the shows any further but instead to tell me how the viewer had given up watching the show months ago. The message this sends me is that (A) interest in my reviews has diminished, (B) interest in the show has diminished among my readers, (C) both, or (D) the people who still like the show don't want to read unrelenting negative reviews about it, for which I can hardly blame them. So it serves no one any purpose for me to continue — particularly myself, since it's an ongoing and increasingly unrewarding drain on my time, which would be better spent on other ventures. (I'm looking forward to reviewing just Enterprise next fall, and not being behind on reviews all the time. If you're wondering if I'll be reviewing Farscape or Stargate SG1 or another show in Andromeda's stead, the answer is no.)
Back when Andromeda first started, Ashley Miller told me the writers actually read my reviews and considered what I had to say. That was nice to know. I have no idea if that's still the case, but it really doesn't matter, because TV writers are not able to make changes to a show based on a few vocal critical opinions; it's just not practical. And it's become increasingly clear to me that what I'd like to see in Andromeda is a very different thing than what Tribune wants to produce. Such is life. I think it's admirable that the writing staff still listens to its online fans; I just don't believe that it actually matters in a real-world entertainment-industry environment that believes the lowest common denominator is the target audience.
Best of luck to Ash & Zack (hopefully you know I'm still rooting for you guys) and the rest of the Andromeda staff in improving the show into something more frequently watchable, even to those of us who aren't interested merely in seeing an action hour where the good guys win.
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