Note: This episode was rerated from 2 to 1.5 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: A potentially decent story sabotaged by the typical dose of Andromeda anti-subtlety.
To me, at the center of "Be All My Sins Remembered" is the issue of why the villain — who is a stab at an actual character instead of the Andromeda duck-in-a-shooting-gallery type of bad guy that has become so popular of late — is no longer a human but instead a half-man, half-machine, killer super-robot. So many potential layers of subtlety are completely lost in favor of a bad guy who is ultimately all too obviously a Bad Guy.
That bad guy is Bobby Jensen (Costas Mandylor), who back in the day was Beka's lover and partner in crime/profit, and who now has been allegedly killed in an explosion fighting for a rebel cause. Beka launches the Maru to pay her respects, but it turns out Bobby isn't really dead; his life has been saved with the help of cybernetic implants (hence the half-man, half-RoboCop), and he has used the news of his death as bait to take Beka and the Maru hostage. He wants to forcibly draw the Andromeda crew into joining his cause. Or not — he actually just wants the ship and its arsenal.
Okay, so a good chunk of this episode was probably learned in Hollywood Hostage Plotting 101, but before we get to that point we get some backstory that hints at an attempt for character analysis for Beka. Well, good, I say. I was glad to see some of this. It probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise that this episode is Beka-oriented considering the writer is resident Beka expert Ethlie Ann Vare (from a story by Jill Sherwin).
Keeping in tune with the notion that we must get the regular characters laid on-screen, Beka gets some on-screen sex with Bobby via a flashback scene, though I'm wondering if, since she's telling this story to Dylan and Harper, Beka is including as much detail as the flashback scenes themselves are. I'm also wondering when Harper will get his turn in the sack ... or if there's an unwritten rule that says tech geeks aren't allowed to have sex on TV.
Anyway, the story. The early passages are the best. We get some reasonable character info, including flashbacks that show Beka's relationship with Bobby — who always tried to encourage her to pick a cause worth fighting for — and details of how Beka recruited Harper to serve on the Maru. Harper and Bobby didn't get along so well, and I liked the way Harper constantly tried to insert his two cents during Beka's story. (Also included among the flashbacks is one of this week's Andromeda Cartoon Action Sequences™, which I won't bother griping about but will point out that Bobby comes off looking like Rambo. Beka apparently goes for brawn over brains.)
Beka eventually dumped Bobby because he lied to her — stealing missiles from the Nietzscheans when he claimed they were computers ("They have computers in them!"), and planning to deliver them to the Muganis, the persecuted people he adopted as his cause to fight for. Beka's motto at the time: I don't do causes. Of course, by the time Dylan recruited her, Beka's attitudes had changed.
Back in the present, the hostage plot is routine as these things go: kidnapper surprises crew, takes hostages, makes demands, threatens main characters. Tyr and Rommie are aboard the Andromeda to address the hostage crisis; a separate interrupted crisis involving a planetary evacuation is so oblique and woefully underdeveloped that it should've been thrown out completely.
Bobby's partners in the hostage plot include Margot (Heather Hanson), an Eeeeevil Beeyatch who is perhaps the ultimate statement of this series' War Against Subtlety — awful, awful, awful. She wears a gaudy dominatrix-style leather outfit with garters and way too much makeup, and projects Obnoxious Evil in every scene, sometimes uttering racial epithets about the Muganis. Please. Is she a freedom fighter or a hollow vessel of slime on hand to add equally hollow conflict? You make the call.
Faring better is Lem (Berend McKenzie), who is a Mugani, the object of Bobby's cause, one of a race of aboriginal people who have been subjugated and persecuted on their own world by an off-world colonial population, against whom Bobby wants to wage a larger war. Lem is oddly performed and carries a hilariously massive gun, but the story at least tries to give him a little bit of depth. He is, of course, the avenue through which Dylan maneuvers his eventual escape, gradually turning Lem against Bobby and Margot. I can't say I really liked or disliked Lem; he's not as cardboard as Margot (but then, how could he be?), but he still only goes so far before being a rather obvious page in the Hollywood Hostage Plot 101 syllabus.
Then there's Bobby, who is, unfortunately, what the episode's Serious Intentions ride on. The fundamental problem here, which I see as an obvious one, is that having Bobby strut around as a robot is truly unnecessary and, worse, represents the destruction of what the story could've been — subtle and compelling.
Consider this alternative: Bobby is still the human he always was and found a way to lure Beka into this trap to convince — not necessarily force — her to join his cause. Rather than immediately pointing a gun at people, he tries to persuade them with compelling evidence, and we realize that, gee, maybe he's right and his cause is worth fighting for. Suddenly Beka could find herself in a spot where she must make an actual, tough decision in whether or not to join him. She could ponder whether Bobby was perhaps right all along and whether his cause always had realistic merit. She could realize how much she's grown since she dumped him and perhaps persuade Dylan to take up the Muganis' plight. And she'd maybe find that old passions are being rekindled.
That'd be a different story and, in my view, a far better one. But in this story's reality we don't have arguments or introspection; we have strong-arm tactics and unyielding threats and a standard countdown to violence. We also have Bobby as the robotic villain, whose complexities aren't allowed to adequately surface. There's a buried message that Bobby's humanity has been compromised by being made half-machine — but, then again, maybe not; Dylan's Final Judgment at the end decrees otherwise, and the point is lost.
As for our own characters being conflicted, specifically Beka, consider this exchange:
Beka: "You leave them be, and I'll stay. Just you and me, together, just like before."
Bobby: "Just like before?"
Beka: [no answer]
Bobby: "No, I didn't think so."
The issues under the surface here obviously include trust and intimacy. It's clear that this new Bobby is something Beka can't accept. But if Bobby were still human, we'd at least know that it was about him and not about his transformation. His new robotic form adds a complication to the proceedings that the story itself never sufficiently deals with.
Apart from that, if Bobby didn't instantly take Dylan & Co. hostage (which in turn forces Dylan to play his hand against Bobby, and rightfully so) the drama wouldn't be forced in its obvious and predictable direction, which is one of "Bobby's dilemma must be rejected out of hand." In the end, Bobby's apparent change from freedom fighter to ego-driven terrorist is left largely undefined and unresolved. It might very well be that Bobby was this way all along, but Beka and the story really don't seem to know. What makes this guy tick? I'm not sure, and in a way I don't really care, because he's not nearly interesting enough to make me want to care.
So why did the writers make Bobby a robot terrorist in the first place? The answer is probably (a) to simplify the drama, nixing as many shades of gray as possible, making it easy for the Action Hour Audience (AHA!) to hate him more, and (b) to warrant a lame kung-fu action payoff at the end where it's our characters going up against a super-tough robot-man. By taking the low action road, the moral dilemmas are reduced to simplistic questions with obvious answers: Of course Bobby must be stopped, because his methods are clearly wrong and our heroes' lives are in jeopardy. (Sigh.)
Bobby's cause is ultimately irrelevant, because the story isn't really about his cause, or even about Bobby; it's about the simplistic conflict on the surface — the hostages against their captors.
And that's the problem of where I see Andromeda going right now. Even stories that are potentially reasonable (or even good) are sabotaged by the fact they are reformatted along the lines of a superficial action template that destroys most higher-minded thinking. This is a story that demands to be complex, but it ends with the villain being a bland target rather than a subject with whom we can debate or sympathize with.
It's a shame, because the early unforced dialog and some of the backstory — particularly the way Harper was brought into Beka's fold — is moderately entertaining. There should've been more of it (and indeed there may have been had the show not gone through a series of unplanned rewrites due to unforeseen circumstances). But why go to the trouble of creating what Beka at the outset says was "the love of my life" (a statement not at all supported by the evidence on the screen) if you're going to turn him into an unyielding villain with whom Dylan hammers it out in the finale?
I dunno. Before jettisoning any hope for a thoughtful or meaningful ending, the episode has flashes of insight and quiet moments where Bobby briefly looks like a victim of his own obsession. At the very least, Beka — instead of Dylan — is the one who ultimately kills Bobby, giving the episode its tragic undercurrents. But couldn't something a little less melodramatic and obvious have happened? Something that would've shown that Beka is the one who has changed?
Indeed, Beka has changed, but the story barely sees that as its gold. We get too much focus on the logistics of the hostage premise and not enough on Beka as a well-observed subject. Instead of getting an interesting story, we get a typical pedestrian one. This could've been good but is executed with too much emphasis on dumbing things down until potentially complex issues are seen in black and white.
Next week: Trance is possessed in what is most certainly not a sci-fi/fantasy cliche, we hope.