In brief: Some welcome character conflict of both the external and internal varieties.
And here we have it — the classic television bottle show, an episode that features no guest stars, no new sets, no location shooting. It's just our characters cooped up on board the Andromeda Ascendant, forced to interact. And interact they do, making "It Makes a Lovely Light" one of the better efforts this season.
This episode displays what I would like to see more of on this show: tougher personal problems, characters in conflict with each other, at least one character in conflict with herself. I'm certainly not sold on Andromeda as a series yet, but if the writers are willing to take their characters down roads this perilous, I'll remain interested.
"It Makes a Lovely Light" is the third and best of what has been called staff writer Ethlie Ann Vare's "Beka trilogy." The other two were the convoluted "Ties That Blind" and the pedestrian "Pearls That Were His Eyes." While I could not recommend either of those shows, the good news is that they at least painted aspects of Beka in a way that leads logically to this installment, which works precisely because it remains focused rather than throwing in unnecessary plot elements, characters, or action.
The Continuity Patrol must report that this show takes the mysterious Perseid diary that Harper and Trance acquired in "Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way" and actually uses it as a piece of the puzzle. That puzzle is the search for the lost Commonwealth homeworld Taran Vedra, which common knowledge has it was "cut off from slipstream" during the demise of the Commonwealth. All the known slipstream routes had been destroyed; the diary apparently documents the long and twisted slipstream path to Taran Vedra, although cryptic writing and dangerous navigation would make the journey a difficult one. Beka, being a headstrong and confident pilot, vows to find a way to get Dylan to Taran Vedra. (Dylan was born there, so his personal interest in the homeworld gives the episode some good emotional motivation.)
Just in terms of information, "Lovely Light" has some things to recommend. For one, it does a good job of showing the rigors of slipstream travel. It's a physically exhausting experience for the pilot, and even the passengers. Beka makes jump after jump, and by having the camera follow her through several of them, we get a better feel of the duration. Even Dylan lets out a sigh after all the slipstream travel, and he was just standing on the bridge. Trance finds prolonged exposure to slipstream to be downright painful (for reasons I leave you to interpret, since they're doubtlessly more than just incidental).
There's also the whole notion of "routes"; slipstream apparently exists in the form of abstract tunnels in space; in order to get from A to B, you have to take the proper channel, or maze-like series of channels, and if you don't you can't get there. This makes the idea of being "cut off from slipstream" a little more clear. If the tunnels aren't there or you can't find them, you could essentially be isolated in a region of space. This appears to be what happened to Taran Vedra during the Commonwealth's fall — although Rev proposes his own theory: "What if the Vedrans cut themselves off, and what if they don't want to be found?"
As a Beka show, this is a good one, because it reveals some of her human faults and the abrasive side of her personality. She's well-intended but sometimes takes things too far. Despite being completely worn out from slipstream travel, she covers up her fatigue and plans to press on, convinced that sheer determination puts her above the risk. She shows an earnest need to be respected by Dylan, to give him something personally valuable, and to some degree she lets that cloud her judgment.
So when she's too tired to continue, she doesn't quit and instead turns to flash, that addictive upper that apparently also helps turn pilots into supermen who can navigate the slipstream all day. We saw flash before in "The Pearls That Were His Eyes," where we learned Beka's father was a flash addict, and where Beka herself was forced into using it — although I must point out that the addictive consequences we see here were not shown through Beka in "Pearls," for whatever reason.
The substance-abuse commentary is not subtle, but nor does Vare go for righteous moral preachiness. No one agrees with Beka's choice to use flash. In fact, one of my favorite scenes has a surprised Harper calmly and earnestly trying to talk Beka away from a dangerous road of flash abuse. This scene is groundbreaking in that it shows Harper acting within the range of typical human behavior instead of wisecracking sitcom caricature; Gordon Michael Woolvett is more restrained than I've seen him all season. The results are good, and I frankly want to see more of this Harper and less of the one we usually get. (Further proof that less is more.)
When things aren't going Beka's way, she can turn into a real pain in the ass. I liked the conflict between her and Dylan once it became clear that Dylan was not prepared to throw caution to the wind and continue a risky journey just because Beka was determined to press on. The confrontation on the bridge is a workable mix of serious undercurrents and hostile surface humor. I enjoyed the snippets of dialog, like when Beka calls Tyr "Uber" or Tyr's purely pragmatic stance on the issue of drug abuse. Eventually, Beka ends up thrown in a holding cell, which she escapes from after going so far as to shoot Rev.
Yes, there are scenes that don't work, like early in the episode when Dylan walks in on Beka after she has just gotten out of the shower. Not the most comfortable situation of all time, sure, but from Dylan's reaction you'd think he'd never seen a woman wearing a towel before, to say nothing of a naked woman. Are we in fifth grade here?
Also, from a plot standpoint I must wonder: If the ship can be piloted through the slipstream from a control panel in the engine room, what exactly is the purpose of that elaborate pilot's chair on the bridge?
Such questions are not of utmost importance in order to admire this episode, which manages to use the characters nicely, if still not exactly groundbreakingly. Given the severity of Beka's problem I probably could've done without the solution resolving itself with her overly familiar realization that "I've become my father!" and facing up to long, hard looks into a mirror. And given how addictive flash is supposed to be, her detox after the crisis ends seems awfully simplified (I personally hope Beka's struggle with flash doesn't so easily end here).
But in this series' freshman season of wandering through space with a little too much emphasis on messy surface plots and unnecessary action, a perceptive look at how our core characters tick in more of a real-world situation is refreshing.
Next week: "How will anyone survive?!"