Jammer's Review

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

"Una Salus Victus"

***1/2

Air date: 11/12/2001
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Well, we might let God sort them out, but someone told me he was dead."
"That Nietzsche — what a comedian."

— Tyr and Dylan

In brief: Probably the best example of Andromeda Action Hour to date, and with some good characterization.

Lots of stuff gets blowed up real good in "Una Salus Victus," which is perhaps the best pure action/pyrotechnic episode yet for Andromeda. And not only does stuff get blowed up (real good) — there's also a solid core to the proceedings, which puts characters in extreme action situations and gives them what in general drama terms might best be called "motivation."

Motivation, surely enough, not to get blowed up real good.

The story is a good continuity episode in addition to being a multi-tiered plot that has three distinct but related threads, all of which are thoroughly involving. In Story A, Dylan and Tyr try to break into a highly armed, Nietzschean-controlled former-High Guard base on a planet to make sure they don't launch any anti-spacecraft batteries upon the subjects of Story B, the Andromeda, which is providing convoy for a fleet of Wayists to deliver relief supplies to combat the outbreak of a deadly plague on a peaceful planet. To reach the peaceful planet, the convoy must pass through the Nietzschean-occupied territories where the planet of Story A is located. In Story C, Beka must double back in the Maru after a Wayist ship that got separated from the convoy, upon which she finds herself in a combat situation with a Nietzschean fighter.

What's a little amazing about this episode is that it takes all three stories and rolls them together such that each one is solid in its own right, well-paced, and well-balanced among the rest of the show. Make no mistake — this is another action-heavy episode in a season that seems to be cementing Andromeda's reputation as a nonstop action-fest. But this episode never loses sight of its characters or their personalities. The result is a true action show rather than an overly gratuitous one like, say, "Last Call at the Broken Hammer." Yes, there are scenes where Our Heroes are outnumbered and outgunned, and probably escape situations in ways that are highly improbable. But the episode sells the action well enough that we actually want to buy it.

And besides, Dylan and Tyr work very well together, which is what the core of "Una Salus Victus" comes down to. Continuing from the issues of Tyr's "extra-curricular activities" highlighted in "Exit Strategies" (itself a follow-up to "Music of a Distant Drum"), we have Dylan finding out some of the reasons why Tyr has become a liability for Andromeda. Again, it's the Drago-Kazov chasing Tyr and Dylan around, led by Fleet Marshal Cuchulain Nez Perce (Adrian Hughes, reprising his role from last season's "Honey Offering").

This time Tyr is forced to come clean to Dylan — he has stashed aboard the Andromeda the corpse of Nietzschean progenitor Drago Museveni, which we knew but Dylan didn't. What we learn here is how this corpse can bring its holder power: Museveni is prophesized to someday be reincarnated, and matching the new Museveni's DNA to that of the corpse is the only way to validate the fulfillment of the prophecy. Whoever has the corpse holds that power. (One is tempted to ask why Museveni's DNA records aren't on file elsewhere, independent of actually needing the body, but I won't be a churl.)

Such information — along with some well-played tension between Dylan and Tyr, including a scene where Dylan shoots a bullet right past Tyr's right ear — is sandwiched between scenes of Dylan and Tyr sneaking around the Nietzschean base, on the run after they find out It's Really A Trap, dodging bullets, shooting bad guys, and leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. This is more stylized Ultra-Action, and one wonders how these two guys can never get hit by bullets while managing to drop at least a dozen Nietzscheans. I suppose it's because they're Good Guys.

But it's a heck of a lot better than the Kalderan assault of "Broken Hammer" or the Magog orgy in "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last." The choreography and cinematography are more interesting and the action is confined to shorter bursts rather than long, absurd slogs. Not to mention the fact we have gattling guns that sound like actual bullets are being fired from them, as opposed to those wussy-sounding force-lances. And there's at least one trick orchestrated by Tyr and Dylan that excitingly demonstrates escape via the element of surprise. (I was reminded of Maximus' cleverly violent escape from execution near the beginning of Gladiator.)

Action is meaningless without context, but here we have Dylan and Tyr in the middle of a mission to protect a convoy, and heaped on top of that is the interesting continued friction between these two characters. What motivates these two? "The Magog are coming," Dylan notes. Tyr calls that a convenient excuse. And to some degree it is; what would Dylan's answer have been before "The Widening Gyre"? After you answer that question, ask yourself if Dylan's reasoning grew from self-importance, self-righteousness, naive idealism, or any or all of the above. After all, nobody asked Dylan to restore the Commonwealth, and it would seem few people even want it. When Tyr says Dylan wants to impose his own personal will on the universe, he's quite right.

One needs to look no further than Harper to see the flip side of the coin. When Beka leaves in the Maru, "Captain Harper" must oversee the safe passage of the fleet through the Nietzschean territories. Is Harper particularly happy about risking his neck to escort a bunch of Wayists to save a planet he has no vested interest in? No, not really. He's more about self-preservation. But later, when the heat gets turned up and death becomes a foregone conclusion, Harper adjusts his goal to killing as many "Drago-jerkoffs" as possible. Harper is driven more by his desire to seek vengeance on "those Nietzschean bastards" than to save lives, which is compelling evidence that our attitudes are shaped by the worlds we grew up in. Dylan's was one of idealism; Harper's was one of cynicism.

Somewhere midway between these two attitudes is Beka Valentine, who strikes me as someone who just wants to get the job done. It's a good cause, and she's going to lend her helping hand. And in Dylan she trusts. Her plot revolves around the fact that she gets in a dogfight with a Nietzschean fighter, both ships are disabled, and it's a race to see who can repair their ship first. The pilot of the Nietzschean fighter is a woman named Quechua (Kendall Cross), who has the usual ultra-low neckline and probably too much makeup, but never mind, because the story gives her a certain depth and sympathy. In the Drago-Kazov, women who can't give birth can regain honor for their families on the battlefield. A bit Klingon-esque, perhaps, but, hey, why not?

I liked the way this concept of race-to-repair unfolded; there's an adversarial camaraderie that develops over the course of the show, even though it's clear that the last one to finish their repairs will be the one who gets blowed up real good. Putting faces behind explosions makes action stories like this worthwhile.

There were some scenes I had a little trouble with. Beka's narration while she rescues the Wayist ship is too obviously scripted. I can believe Beka talking to herself. But I don't think I can believe just how much she talks to herself for what is too obviously exposition for the audience's benefit. I'm also finding less amusement from Beka's smart-alecky asides. A little Beka can go a long way. Honestly, I'd like to see this character presented a little more straight, because she still comes across to me as the wannabe hip.

On the other hand, I'd like to see more Crazy Mofo Dylan, which we get near the end here. Dylan gains control of the orbital battery weapons and begins firing them on the mountain that houses the base where he, Tyr, and the Nietzscheans are. He tells Cuchulain to back off and to let the convoy pass through the blockade, threatening to bombard the mountain until the base and everyone inside is destroyed. Cuchulain thinks Dylan is bluffing. He's not.

I'm still unsure whether the writers want Dylan to be Pragmatic Humanitarian Dylan or Crazy Mofo Dylan or both, but on the grounds of entertainment it's tough to argue against a Dylan whose back is against the wall and who must resort to extreme tactics. "Una Salus Victus" is part of an old High Guard special ops motto that goes, "The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety," and Dylan's suicidal tactic here reflects this idea marvelously. And I liked his line, "That's what the universe needs more of — people caring for each other!" The context is what makes it so much fun. But one question: Why didn't Cuchulain simply shoot Dylan? Dylan can't push buttons to fire missiles if he's dead.

I don't care. All of this comes together in an entertaining package that director Allan Kroeker skillfully executes. The editing is right on target, and the script by Miller & Stentz flows with great efficiency. And the impact on characters is adequate, as shown by the final face-off between Dylan and Tyr, when Dylan tells Tyr he's essentially putting Museveni's corpse under his own lock and key: my ship, my cargo. Tyr still teeters on the edge of untrustworthiness, and finds this situation not to his liking; it's nice to see that he's not entirely predictable.

The early online spoiler tidbits reported "Una Salus Victus" as being about "love and blowing things up." I have no idea about the love part. But blowing things up, yes. And it's an especially good example. This isn't one of the most groundbreaking episodes this series has had, but it's one of the most skillful, and one of the most fun.

Next week: Rhade Redux ... and a character named Jamahl very likely gets blowed up.

Previous episode: All Too Human
Next episode: Home Fires

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