In brief: An aimless, inconclusive hour that begs the question: "What was the point of that?"
What's a reviewer to do in the face of a clip show, seeing as probably a third of the material on the screen is lifted straight from old shows? The only sensible answer is to look at the clips chosen, the framing device that sets them in motion, and figure out how it all relates to each other.
In that case, which is the case I'm going with, "The Things We Cannot Change" is a dismal failure, a show that has an anemic framing device with many clips that feel like they were chosen at random, and the rest weakly-at-best connected to the storyline. I feel like a churl writing my eighth consecutive negative review for Andromeda, but there's absolutely nothing in this episode that's genuinely involving. On the other hand, there's a lot of material that's shapeless and senseless and adds up to a big question mark.
I should admit up front that I don't much care for clip shows. I'm of the opinion that if you're going to do one, just package it without a story framing device and sell it exclusively as a sampling of the series, like Farscape does. At least then I wouldn't have to bother with a review. A clip show packaged like this one is particularly vulnerable to cliche (it's a dream sequence that seems inspired by a soap opera), and when we have no idea what the clips are supposed to mean in the context of the hour, then it comes off looking suspiciously like the episode was written with perfunctory regard for the clips ultimately included within it.
This episode bears a resemblance to the second-season TNG finale "Shades of Gray," an episode regarded by many of that series' fans as one of its all-time worst installments. To be fair, "The Things We Cannot Change" boasts a superior underlying concept — it at least tries to make an effort to set up an internal conflict — but the net result is all too similar: a series of unrelated flashbacks that don't have the slightest bit of dramatic coherence. It might possibly inspire newcomers to seek out reruns (though probably not), but I can't imagine it will do much for the faithful who have already seen these episodes.
The clothesline of a plot finds Our Hero Dylan sucked into space near a black hole — the third time an Andromeda episode has been set around a black hole. He floats unconscious in an EVA suit with a limited air supply. While the crew attempts to rescue him, Dylan dreams of a parallel existence (Future? Past? Neither? The episode is murky on just when/where this is supposed to take place, which, admittedly, might be the point), where he is happily married with a son. In the morning, he and his pretty wife, Liandra, make love in the bedroom of an idyllic house on the riverfront. The son storms into the bedroom with joyous laughs of "Daddy! Daddy!" To create tones of the heavenly simplistic and surreal, the house is completely white, utterly clean, with nothing on the walls. That's right: It's a dreamy cliche.
But hold on a second. Something's not right. Dylan has waking flashbacks — maybe it's post-traumatic stress disorder. He envisions — well, things that happened in old episodes. In his dream he lives out the flashbacks while awake and talking to his wife; at one point, he pulls out his force-lance and envisions his definitive struggle with Rhade — and nearly shoots his wife in the process of a crazed hallucination.
The connections between the dream setting and the flashbacks are most strongly connected through some visual cues. Dylan sees a stove-top fire and envisions the evil, fiery Spirit of the Abyss, accusing his wife of being part of an alien conspiracy. He sees his son's soccer ball and envisions the Magog world-ship flying across the galaxy. Fine and good; the visual transitions are sometimes workable in a fire-equals-fire, sphere-equals-sphere literal sense, but as the show progresses, little of this has much to do with the would-be point of the exercise — that of Dylan coming to terms with the struggle of who he is, a soldier in the High Guard or a husband and a father. In this dream his military career and stress has worn on his marriage — though the episode makes alarmingly swift changes in momentum, with blissful lovemaking not-so-gradually shifting toward Liandra threatening to take their son and leave Dylan if he doesn't quit the High Guard.
A situation like this is especially dependent on solid performances. Alas, we don't have them. Kevin Sorbo's limited range is especially evident here; he lacks the ability demanded of him by this story to credibly turn from relaxed to confused to crazy to tortured. When, for example, he shouts out in frustration, "What the hell is going on here?!" it's very important that we believe him, otherwise the scene lies in ruins. Unfortunately, I didn't at all believe him, and the scene lay in ruins.
Similarly, Cynthia Preston as Liandra is less than stellar, and Ryan Drescher as son Ethan is awful in an ultra-annoying fingernails-on-chalkboard performance that makes the kid who played Anakin Skywalker in Episode I look tolerable by comparison.
Through a cycle of flashback, discussion, flashback, discussion, the show turns downright tedious and it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain exactly what, if anything, writer Ethlie Ann Vare is trying to say here. Even when the dialog between Dylan and his wife occasionally lines up with what actually happens in the flashbacks, it doesn't have much of a point. It sits idly as a neutral fragment, perfunctory rather than essential.
I understand that dreams aren't supposed to make sense. They're erratic, incomplete, chaotic, and they leave one pondering the meaning after waking. But "The Things We Cannot Change" does not evoke the senseless, confused atmosphere of a real dream nor the coherence of reasonable drama. It's a constant unintended compromise between the two, an hour of disjoined clips shoehorned between pieces of a repetitive discussion. (Not to mention we have to sit through clips like, for example, the closing maudlin excess of "Star-Crossed," not good the first time around, let alone now.)
All of which might've been tolerable if there was any sort of point to it by the end. The underlying theme is that of Dylan choosing between his family and his career. But the episode leaves no room for reflection. After being rescued by the Andromeda crew, Dylan's speech at the end is yet another example of wrapping things in a pretty package with a pretty bow, never mind that such dialog represents the simplest of simpleminded, shoving aside all longing and doubt that the dream would suggest Dylan has. Or doesn't have. You tell me.
For that matter, also tell me what we're supposed to make of the whole Liandara-is-an-alien-or-maybe-not and then the whole Trance-maybe-knows-what-was-going-on-but-pretends-not-to. The story goes to great lengths to hint at but not draw any conclusions about the uncertainties of this plot, or whether said "plot" even exists. Are we being set up for something down the road, like, heaven forbid, the image of Liandra really turning out to be Spirit of the Abyss or some other black-hole-dwelling lifeform (who here tells him, "You're killing my people")? I don't know, but more to the point, I don't care; this episode doesn't even come close to working on its chosen level for me to worry about the possibilities of murky, buried, supposedly-all-meaning-but-truthfully-meaningless subplots (the reason why I quit watching The X-Files).
This is an hour that demands its central character to pause, reflect, and question himself. Instead we have simpleton Dylan saying, "I'm Captain Dylan Hunt of the starship Andromeda Ascendant." Yawn. To put it another way, if even Dylan isn't moved by this experience, why in the world should we be?
Maybe I'm the one who's dreaming. Wake me up when the series has shown evident depth beyond that of a muddied wading pool.
Next week: Hard to tell by the trailer, but more to the point, make sure you buy the trading cards!