In brief: Different-feeling and intriguing, although sometimes a bit rough and cartoonish. An acceptable balance of several strange parts.
The hilarious above-mentioned deadpanned line of dialog comes at the end of an extended fight scene in "The Mathematics of Tears" — a scene that transcends the ordinary by being a weird sequence of choreographed action/chaos which is, yes, underscored by Wagner and takes on a life of its own.
After the string of mediocrity that preceded it, "Mathematics" is an acceptably entertaining episode that gets an A for effort and high marks for being bizarre. It's not the tidiest package ever conceived (indeed, there are parts of it that are just plain messy), but it somehow comes together and works on its bottom line. Director T.J. Scott and the post-production people bring order to what initially looks like madness, and they have a reasonably good sci-fi premise to work with. It all ends with that big fight sequence, which manages to be chaotic, elaborate, pleasing, funny, and ludicrous all at once, in an entertaining way.
The story is one of those mysteries where the solution comes in the form of a sci-fi twist, but even then "Mathematics" still has two entire acts to go, with still more mysteries to solve and fights to be fought. It begins with the crew discovering another High Guard starship, the Pax Magellanic, which is in fact a sister ship of the Andromeda. Amazingly, several members of its crew are still alive, having mysteriously not aged in 300 years ... for reasons that are at first uncertain and then later made clear. The senior officer is Lt. Jill Pearce (Monika Schnarre) and the ship and its survivors have been stranded all this time without the use of their slipstream drive. Apparently, their chief engineer, Dutch (Nathaniel Deveaux), spent a century working to fix it before giving up. Now that's patience.
Rommie attempts to interface with the Pax's AI system to find answers, but discovers only memory gaps and scrambled computer confusion; the Pax AI apparently suffered extreme damage. One interesting aspect here is the way Rommie sees her sister ship as a literal sister; they'd known each other back in the Commonwealth days, and Rommie hopes to restore the ship's AI to its previous state of awareness. Beka calls it a family affair.
The story's primary twist is that Lt. Pearce is actually a walking, talking, lying version of the Pax's AI in android avatar form. She's hiding something important about the fate of most of the ship's crew, which she claims had died while on the surface of a nearby planet destroyed by a Nietzschean attack. Tyr doesn't buy it; the Nietzscheans don't destroy hospitable planets even to eradicate their enemies. He tells Dylan to draw his own conclusions rather than take Pearce's word at face value. This advice seems particularly prudent once Pearce has been revealed as the Pax's AI. The ship's crew are all androids she created to ease the pain of loneliness.
The main plot flow of "Mathematics" is actually fairly light. It exists as a key into the flashback narrative and later the climactic showdown between Our Heroes and the Pax's androids. The truth lies in Pax's traumatic, deeply buried secret, which Rommie finds only after extensively digging through memory files: The Pax was programmed to love, and she loved her captain. When the captain ordered her to self-destruct during a crisis, the Pax refused and instead used her confused love as a tragic logical instrument to destroy her captain and crew rather than herself. Hell hath no fury like a starship scorned.
This idea brings up a few interesting questions about the nature and dangers of AI emotionalism: The Pax's captain essentially had an affair with his starship, something not permitted by the rules of the High Guard (but don't despair, Dylan/Rommie fanfic writers!), and for good reason — the cataclysmic events of the Pax's past provide a good demonstration. Certainly the captain must shoulder some of the blame for the confused actions of an AI with which he should not have become intimate (the sci-fi ideas here fall somewhere in between the intriguing and the absurd).
As the story's secrets are uncovered, the Pax sends its androids to attack Dylan and his crew on the docked Maru — which brings us to that big fight scene. It's intercut with cyberspace flashback images that resolve the secrets of the plot. Meanwhile we have chaotic scenes where Harper, Beka, and Tyr fight off an attack of androids. This attack involves a lot of shooting and stunt coordination that has the ebb and flow of a choreographed number. The whole thing is underscored by classical Wagner, a choice that seems so unexpected and droll (and yet is justified by the plot) that it elevates the sequence to some sort of madcap brilliance. And Tyr's line about the fun inherent in fighting to the tune of Wagner is an instant classic in my book.
What doesn't work in "Mathematics" is the way plot developments are sometimes conveyed with choppy, whiplash execution. There is, for example the matter of Harper deactivating all the androids with a single line of exposition that simultaneously drops the bombshell that they are in fact androids. It's a questionably executed moment that feels more like the script grinding away than events actually unfolding.
There's also the way Dylan offers reinforcement for having figured out the nature of Pax's android avatar by explaining that Jill Pearce is derived from translating and mutating Pax Magellanic from Latin — which is an entirely rushed, implausible, and unnecessary bit of exposition.
I also found it strange and unintentionally amusing the way the androids — initially so perfectly lifelike and human — move like jerky robots and make whirring noises after the plot reveals that they're androids. Pretty hokey, if you ask me.
And lastly, there's the deus ex Tyr that never accounts for how Tyr got from the Andromeda to the Maru to help save the day. (Useful reminder: There are no transporters on this series.)
On the other hand, I don't care too much about these flaws. I liked many of the stylistic choices, like the use of gold for the Pax, the oddly disconnected look and feel of the flashback sequences, the strange AI figure that greets Rommie in Pax cyberspace, the sheer artistry of some of the photography in the final fight, and the framing of the shot where Rommie and Rev talk about the mathematics of tears.
"Mathematics" is far from great sci-fi or great television and is sometimes, well, silly. But it manages to elevate silliness to an art form that ends up looking pretty creative.
Next week: Tyr goes bananas.
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