In brief: No, thanks. Despite some bits of useful backstory here and there, it's a contrived mess with weak performances.
"To Loose the Fateful Lighting" is a well-intended but heavy-handed episode that is pieced together into a narrative mess that makes very little sense. By the end, it borders on incoherence. It also doesn't help that the guest performances — not to mention most of Kevin Sorbo's speechmaking efforts — don't work. This episode, airing third, was shot before both halves of the premiere. Perhaps that somewhat accounts for rougher edges, but it may simply be a matter of a derivative message being retold and botched.
My biggest problems with "Lightning" are that it lacks clear narrative focus and has jarring swings in momentum. What are the goals here? What is the story at its core? The mishmash of scenes are so haphazardly assembled that I'm not even sure. There are plenty of speeches and Roddenberry Themes running through this episode, but there's no clear line of thought to connect them. It's rambling and undisciplined.
The story brings the Andromeda to a space station populated completely by children who are descendants of the Commonwealth. They've been isolated on this station for generations, and these days a generation is not all that long (a toxic radiation leak cuts their lives short); the wise elder on the station is maybe 20 years old. Her name is Nassan (Amber Rothwell) and she is ill and frail. It would seem that life for these children comprises of constantly fending off the Magog and other enemies who attempt to invade the station. For how long or why the Magog have been trying to take over this station is never made clear. Maybe they were trying to get the armaments in the station's storage bay, but after 300 years of trying and failing against a bunch of brats, you'd think they'd either stop trying or just blow the damn thing up.
The idea of generations of children on board a space station for three centuries — typically dying in their early 20s — strains credulity, to put it mildly. How have they survived? What do they eat? How can they bear and raise children if they're constantly fending off enemy assaults and dying early in life? Does the station have unlimited power? The story glosses right over such questions. Personally, I'm of the opinion that these kids would've died out long ago. They're ill-informed about the current state of the universe and they can't even read. They simply don't have the intellectual means for any kind of long-term survival in these conditions.
The situation isn't supposed to be totally believable, I guess, but rather a means for conveying the sentiment of this week's opening Commonwealth quote ("Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it; those who fail to learn history correctly — why, they are simply doomed"). These kids have learned through cryptic oral tales passed down over the years, and apparently some important lessons have been terribly misinterpreted. One thing these kids have effectively learned is how to fire weapons and maintain hatred toward their enemies. The aggressive second-in-command here is Hayek (Chris Lovick), and he's pretty up-front about wanting to kill every Magog and Nietzschean in existence.
Dylan Hunt enters into this premise wanting to teach these kids about the peace and coexistence the Commonwealth once stood for. (Ironically, they are as frozen in time as Dylan was in "Under the Night," except they were raised on warfare rather than peace.) The children have been long waiting for the prophesized return of the High Guard to lead them into a new era. And now here he is. But Dylan's actions make him come off as disturbingly slow-witted. The mistakes he makes as forced upon him by the script are beyond all reason; the story either isn't aware of them or thinks the contrivances can be justified as "not Dylan's fault." Wrong.
Consider: With his High Guard access code, Dylan helps the children gain access to a bay full of fighter spacecraft and dreaded nova bombs. Cut to commercial. When we come back, Dylan is aboard the Andromeda discussing these kids' dangerous, combative attitudes. All the while he has left them alone with full access to fighters and nova bombs. Hello?
Consider: Hayek asks Dylan to "bless" two of his soldiers so that there may be peace. Dylan, unsure what this means, does it anyway, and they take this as a sign to arm two fighter craft with nova bombs and launch an assault on a Magog solar system — their logic being that after destroying all their enemies there will be peace. Does Dylan try to physically keep them from boarding the ships? No, because that would stop this story in its tracks. Before we even know what's happening Andromeda is chasing after the fighter ships and failing, and a solar system with billions of Magog is completely destroyed. Talk about your consequences of ignorance (Dylan will surely be careful before he "blesses" anyone again). The destruction of the solar system is supposed to be a powerful moment, but it comes off as manufactured solely by the script. My favorite line has to be when Dylan asks Andromeda if anyone possibly survived the star's destruction. Uh-huh. (It's a supernova — what do you think?)
Dylan's actions here are sloppily scripted in order to force the story forward on its course in ways that would not have been possible if he were acting competently. But in this show, Dylan stands around looking confused a lot. Confused heroes in the right circumstances are fine, but not when going up against the intellects of grade-schoolers — and getting outsmarted by them. When not looking confused, Dylan delivers speeches preaching the ways of peace. Fine and good, but we've been through this sort of thing many times in the Roddenberry realm, and Sorbo's take on it here is less than stellar, I must report.
The guest performances didn't impress me either. Amber Rothwell's character is sick, yes, but she plays the part as if in some weird sleepwalking morphine daze. Worse is Chris Lovick's take on Hayek: Quite frankly, this is one of the most annoying teenage performances I've seen in some time. Hayek is an excessively arrogant, superior persona who yells and sneers and generally comes off as a jerk. A character like Hayek should not come off as a cocky bastard; he should seem driven to his actions by his difficult life. (After seeing Manu Intiraymi in Voyager's "Imperfection," a lot can be said for restraint.)
Ultimately, Hayek and his small soldiers are attempting (of course) to take over Andromeda and launch the "Day of Lightning," which apparently means "killing everybody we hate." Shoehorned in here is a brief conflict of conscience when Dylan plays along with Nassan when she refers to him as the "messiah" — as he hopes to gain her trust in his ways. But what I wondered was at what point the High Guard became synonymous with godliness (literal or not); the notion is oddly conjured halfway through the story, apparently, just to manufacture this half-baked development.
The action at the end is inept. The events do not flow together into anything remotely organic, and the result, alas, is laughable. The depiction of Andromeda thwarting the children's attempted takeover of the ship looked phony and bizarre. I realize this show has budget limitations, but having everybody fall to the floor and calling it a "gravity field" is not convincing.
Possibly the silliest aspect of the episode is the way the writers handle the question surrounding Harper's "secret project." This is one of those storytelling tricks that exists solely to "surprise" the audience, because it sure isn't plausible on any other level (that is to say, there is no reason for it to be a secret, especially since Harper would be hard-pressed to justify his absence during a crisis). Said secret project is Harper building Andromeda an android body so she can take physical form. Why is this a secret? Answer: So it can be concealed from the audience and Andromeda can play deus ex machina at the end and save the day.
The one-line setup that hints of Harper taking on this project is so quick and subtle that you will probably miss it ... which may be the point, but it throws the structure of the episode into unnecessary chaos. Besides, I'd like to know how he accomplished such an ambitious goal with such immaculate timing. (Does he have android parts lying around the ship?) And having Andromeda make a "memorable" entrance by walking onto the bridge naked is a cliché that strikes me as goofy far more than it does cool. In three episodes I've come to like Lexa Doig's cool-headed portrayal of the ship's AI, but this sort of camp is not doing her any favors.
If you ask me, the whole issue of giving Andromeda a body deserved its own story (perhaps a B-plot where it was not a secret); here it seems completely severed from the narrative at hand concerning the child soldiers. It's an awkward distraction, and that's a shame, because it should've been something special.
In the Things I Liked Dept., I did appreciate Rev and his speeches; he once again plays the moral center of the show, and has a respectable ability to forgive others, even after being hung upside down and beaten. There's also an interesting exchange between Beka and Harper about Harper's upbringing on Earth, a planet that apparently didn't fare too well in the aftermath of the Commonwealth's disintegration. Harper isn't too broken up about the deaths of a few billion Magog, which is justified by his rather ghastly tale of how Magog used two of his cousins to spawn offspring in a procedure apparently not unlike the hatching in Alien. (Though I do wonder if there is inner conflict here; Harper is friends with Rev after all.)
At its heart, "To Loose the Fateful Lightning" has a point to make. But it's poorly executed, with pithy lines scattered unconvincingly through the script. I'm all for themes that aim higher and dialog that tries to mean something, but they have to make sense in the context of a well-executed story, with performances we can respect and believe and action we can follow. "Lightning" is a failure on those counts.
Next week: The crew faces off with an unknown enemy ... and also each other.
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