In brief: Sigh. It's just too mediocre — even though, darn it, everyone has such good intentions.
There are good stories and there are bad stories. Then there are those which are remarkably pedestrian. "All Great Neptune's Ocean" is one of those. It's got some decent ideas, taking the murder mystery standby and putting it at the heart of an Andromeda-style social turmoil premise, but like a number of recent Andromeda offerings, it lacks energy and conviction. Ultimately, the murder investigation proceedings become a liability.
I can argue in favor of the story's underlying messages, which at every turn feature characters who are somehow acting in the interests of Good Intentions and Larger Ideals. Heck, even the killer turns out to be well intended, if in a convoluted sort of way.
What I cannot argue for is the story's execution, which at best is only kinda-sorta and at worst thuds flat. There are several unremarkable performances and then some that are even weaker. The drama is in need of a ratcheting to a higher level of urgency. And once all the mysteries are uncovered, the plot is a bit tough to swallow.
As it is, the core of this episode serves as an illustration that actions have consequences and escaping fragile societal problems is not easy. The creators were clearly onto something, but they end up a ways shy of a good episode.
Dylan's mission is yet another example of trying to bring a society into the Commonwealth fold, which at the very least is becoming something this season that we can latch onto as a consistent element — though it often seems to service plots more than it services an understanding of the series' bigger universe. (We wander from planet to planet, but how and what will we achieve that's something larger?) The people this week are called the Castalians. They're comprised of two primary peoples — those who breathe air and live on land, and those who have gills and live underwater. When on land, the "fish people" (as Harper likes to call them) carry backpacks of water on their backs that are connected to their gills and which they use to breathe. I'd like to see an underwater society (like the one envisioned in Voyager's "Thirty Days" perhaps), but this is not the show on which you will see it.
The Castalian president, Lee (Allan Morgan) fully intends to sign the charter to join Dylan's Commonwealth. But Tyr bursts into a diplomatic meeting to make a disturbing accusation — that Lee's post-war initiatives killed tens of thousands of Nietzscheans who had surrendered to the Castalians. There was this orbiting facility, you see, populated by Nietzscheans and other Castalian slave laborers, which was incinerated in a huge explosion, allegedly under Lee's orders. Lee denies this accusation and provides historical records as "proof" (hint: such proof is suspect), then asks Dylan have Tyr make a formal apology.
The apology takes place in a room that Lee request be cleared for a moment of privacy. Once behind closed doors, shots are fired and Lee ends up dead. Tyr is unconscious. We have a murder mystery leaving the question of what exactly happened. Did Tyr do it? I wouldn't bet on it, but the Castalians sure would. (This setup is the first of several plot issues that seems a bit convenient by the time the story plays all its cards; how did the killer know Tyr and Lee would end up in a room by themselves at Lee's request?)
Most of the rest of the episode is standard whodunit material, as we follow clues and suspects through the exercises of dialog. The investigation runs through several scenarios, and includes such complexities as the technical functions of Tyr's force-lance, which was the murder weapon used to shoot Lee — possibly activated remotely. (Tyr's defense is probably the most entertaining of the episode's forensic processes, where he claims that he'd be incapable of such a sloppy assassination, and then lists off four or five methods he could've employed where he would've gotten away with it.) Meanwhile, the Castalians want Tyr turned over at once, leading to the possibility of an armed conflict with Andromeda. This is all par for course and nothing more.
The most important guest character is Colonel Yau (Mikela J. Mikael), who is anxious to pin the murder on Tyr. She loved Lee "like a father" and wants justice. Unfortunately, Mikael is another in the long line of sub-par Andromeda guest actors, taking an important emotional role and botching it with an unconvincing performance that constantly reminds us that she's "acting" precisely when we shouldn't be thinking of such things. I hate to persistently gripe about this, but the performances need to carry formula shows like this if we're to buy into them. Yau is painted by the directing choices to look suspicious in the early scenes; could she possibly have wanted revenge on Lee for having allegedly killed all those slaves — her parents included — in that explosion all those years ago?
The plot keeps thickening as we uncover more details, computer reconstructions of the crime, computer viruses embedded in musical recordings, and the revelation that Andromeda herself sent the signal that activated the force-lance that killed Lee (the question then becomes who wrote the virus that prompted Andromeda's actions).
Meanwhile, everyone wants to martyr themselves for the greater good. Tyr ponders Dylan's refusal to suggest he take the fall in the interests of the Commonwealth ("For a man determined to cook history's greatest omelet, you're awfully squeamish about cracking your eggs"); Harper offers up a bogus "confession" to shift blame away from Rommie; Trance is nowhere to be seen this week, which is perhaps for the greater good of the audience.
Even the real killer harbors good intentions. It turns out Lee had killed all those slaves and Nietzscheans way back when, but had planned to go public with a confession after signing the Commonwealth charter. The Castalian second-ranking official, Chancellor Chandos (Malcolm Stewart), believed that would've led to tension and eventual civil war over the killed Castalian slaves. Rather than risk a new societal schism, Chandos killed Lee to prevent his confession.
Surprisingly, despite all this plot, it's not hard to follow the story and it mostly makes sense — even though some motives aren't rock-solid and some details are silly. But what's disappointing about "All Great Neptune's Ocean" (and indeed Andromeda in general of late) is that the episode's underlying elements show a more sophisticated edge than the story itself. Here we have an episode involving a fragile society undergoing a difficult healing process. We have people torn between trying to do the right thing and succumbing to old habits and cycles of violence. We have extreme fear of Nietzscheans used as a justification for genocide. We have characters who aren't simple villains but instead products of societal ills. And yet what the story most often dwells upon is a mundane murder investigation that hinges upon goofy details like whether the presidential theme song is played.
Really, the murder investigation plot has been done to death. Rather than using tired story procedures with potentially interesting underlying elements, why not make a story about those underlying elements and trash the formula?
Next week: More family disagreements for Beka.
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