In brief: The characters should either shoot each other and be done with it ... or shoot me and put me out of my misery.
"Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way" is a tiring overdose in testosterone. The plot is a flimsy mess and the characters are only marginally represented. Basically, we've got an hour of people pulling guns on other people. Eventually we end up with Trance, of all people, pulling guns on people so they'll stop pulling guns on people. At least someone inside the story finally got fed up enough to pull some guns to force an end to all the gun-pulling; any longer and I'd have been pulling a gun on my TV set. And by the way, I just love the way Andromeda guns make that "charging" sound — like a super-powerful camera flash — whenever someone points a gun at someone else's head. You'd think the guns would already be charged/armed considering one is pulled about every 30 seconds, but whatever.
Is this supposed to be funny? While some of it is passable, I'll apply the same litmus test here as I did with Voyager's "Q2" (which aired the same week), and sum up my judgment by saying this episode certainly isn't funny enough to overcome a plot that offers so little of interest.
Making a return guest appearance is our friend Gerentex (John Tench), the scheming Nightsider opportunist from Andromeda's first two episodes. He's got a new plan and happens upon Harper and Trance, whom he intends to either use or kill. Harper is no happier to see Gerentex than vice-versa; he still wants the $84,000 Gerentex owes him. Gerentex doesn't have it. Indeed, he doesn't have anything. After his failed attempt to steal the Andromeda, he owns nothing but debt, and his creditors aren't very nice guys — they've hired bounty hunters who are prepared to shoot him on sight.
The plot forces Harper and Gerentex together to cooperate (well, not so much) after Gerentex boards the Maru and takes Harper and Trance hostage. The bounty hunters are then hot on the trail of all of the above. Gerentex can't kill Harper or Trance for reasons revealed in dialog as Gerentex menacingly points his gun at them about half a dozen times. To shoot or not to shoot, that is the question. Gerentex, if summarized as a character, would be "the guy who constantly points his gun like an empty threat."
Much of the episode is Trance-Harper-Gerentex dialog, some of it reasonable, but a lot of it hurling itself over the precipice of self-parody. The writers employ the tactic of using cartoon lines and then immediately making fun of them. Example: After Gerentex utters a cornball villain threat, Harper asks, "Do you practice those lines in a mirror?" It's hard to laugh at something like that when you're still reeling over the astonishing cartoonishness of the preceding line. There are also a few too many long-winded soliloquies; when dialog sounds written instead of said, I find myself taken out of the moment.
Gerentex's brilliant plan is to acquire information to track down a mysterious Perseid diary that supposedly documents the slipstream route to the lost capital of the Commonwealth, where great wealth or universal rulership apparently awaits whomever finds it. (My question is why the people who have this information haven't tracked the diary down themselves.) Basically it's an avenue for a poor man's Indiana Jones adventure. But before we get that, we get a lot of two arch-enemies gabbing / arguing / threatening / beating / sneering / blathering / double-crossing / gun-pointing. It goes on too long. Truth in journalism compels me to say that I did appreciate seeing one thing reinforced about Harper — the fact that he can hold his own and isn't always such a nice guy. He might be small and a tech geek, but he's certainly not afraid of Gerentex and is quite prepared to kill him if he can ever get untied. Harper's speech about growing up on brutal planet Earth shows the tough guy in him, although, again, the soliloquy method makes itself too evident.
It would seem Gerentex sees himself as cursed being a Nightsider — a species much disliked through the galaxy — and he wants to compensate for his low social standing by escaping into wealth, which he does not have but hopes to acquire once he makes some big scores and settles his debts. Too bad any sympathy we might have for him is eroded when he repeatedly electroshocks Harper and Trance for the sheer fun of it. It's hard to care about someone who moans about being oppressed while walking all over others and laughing about it.
No matter, since the real threat here are the alien bounty hunters. The plot takes us through a series of events ranging from a space battle to a shootout in a casino (featuring the actually neat visual of a space-casino station, complete with huge neon external displays), and Harper getting the upper hand and then Gerentex getting the upper hand, until we ultimately end up in the caves of the aforementioned Indiana Jones premise, complete with booby traps.
As a TV production, "Loathing" is lacking, to put it mildly. The visual effects during the space battle are, quite frankly, pathetic (this series has done much better) and the editing during this dogfight borders on incompetent. Ships move here and there and spin around with no sense of style or timing; it looks hastily assembled, and as action it's a dismal failure.
The pursuit through the caves fares worse, until all artifice fails and we realize we're regarding actors who look like they're simply running aimlessly through cramped sets. The bounty hunters are stiff, laconic, monster-like humanoids who look like they were ported in directly from a 1950s serial. They also carry guns, because everyone in this episode carries a gun, which often serves as a substitute for personality.
"Loathing" also has a forgettable B-story that at times, particularly near the end, feels like it was inserted into the episode randomly between scenes — or sometimes during scenes. It involves the Perseids, one of Dylan's newly joined Commonwealth worlds, now threatening to withdraw. This is handled almost like an afterthought. Beka resolves the crisis by insulting the Perseids, which is a potentially amusing twist, but hits the ground with a "who cares" thud because so little is invested in both the setup and resolution. This all should've been more essential, or left out entirely.
I did get at least one good laugh out of this episode, and that involved Trance saying she could get away with murder because — and I quote — "I'm cute." I found quite funny her self-impression of how, after killing Harper and Gerentex, she would report to Dylan how they killed each other; turning on the fake tears is a particularly nice touch. Trance knows that her cute naivete can be willfully abused, which is a refreshing acknowledgment. Trance is, of course, the character whose main quality is that she's not as naive as she makes herself out to be. Here she gets Harper and Gerentex to consider civility long enough to escape danger, and maybe even long enough to stop hating each other. She does this with her typical innocent facade that she obviously uses as a tactical dupe. Unfortunately, this doesn't make her simplistic peace-and-love dialog sound any more sophisticated.
By the end, it would seem the point is that Gerentex isn't completely a bad guy and Harper isn't completely a good guy. They're simply two self-serving people who don't get along. I suppose for Gerentex that can be seen as some sort of character development, albeit painfully hammered home with Trance's speechmaking. As for the diary, it's all too easily reduced to a non-issue. Gerentex just lets Trance and Harper keep it. What happened to his motivation? Trance must really be a miracle worker.
I just have one more miracle to ask of Trance — that she sweetly convince John Tench not to devour the scenery in every scene where he appears as Gerentex. One more of his cartoon growls and I'll be the one hiring the bounty hunters.
Next week: A Dylan-and-Rev mission, so substantive dialog shall undoubtedly abound.
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