In brief: Yet another lackluster show that has me thirsting for something new.
Andromeda is in a rut. It needs to get out soon.
"Angel Dark, Demon Bright," the last episode I can actually recommend, dates back nearly three months. The five episodes since then have been pedestrian at best (like last week's "All Great Neptune's Ocean"), and rank down to the depths of abysmal ("A Rose in the Ashes"). Now we have "The Pearls That Were His Eyes," sort of an "issue episode" about drugs. No, wait — about the evils of economic exploitation. No, wait — about the pains of troubled families. No, wait — about severe thunderstorms in space and deceitful traders. No, wait...
I'm tired of waiting. Can we please go somewhere? With its premise, Andromeda has the potential to unleash all sorts of interesting material about societies. Instead of using it, we've been sitting through stories where our characters relive the same sci-fi/action conventions we've seen on TV forever.
This week, we get our latest entry to the mind of Beka Valentine, but it's unfortunately only marginally better than "The Ties That Blind." There's some potential meat here, but it's sabotaged by a plot that's a cross between All Over the Place and Been There, Done That, with characters whose hidden agendas are way too transparent.
We're introduced to "Uncle Sid," played by familiar face John de Lancie. Sid was Beka's late father's business partner, and at the episode's outset it appears he's in trouble: Beka receives an urgent message from him asking for her help. Unfortunately, the message is three years old; any such help might very well be moot.
Nonetheless, Beka embarks on a mission in the Maru to track down Sid's last known location. Trance tags along to occasionally provide the comic relief, for once proving that she does not always have to be Sixth Sense Trance, but still proving that the character has a ways to go to be compelling.
Beka tracks Sid to a world and learns that he has become "Sam Profit," a self-made billionaire who amassed his fortune in ways that we quickly begin to suspect were shady, if not flat-out illegal. The situation of Sid being rich is in itself an irony to Beka; considering he used to be an independent businessman — one of "the little guys" — it seems odd that he now runs a segment of Big Corporation that makes its money at the expense of the average Joe trying to scrape by and make a living. Once upon a time, Beka's father and Sid were the average Joe.
Unfortunately, "Pearls" takes this framework and turns it into a completely obvious and derivative story. We know almost instantly that Sid is hiding something, we question his sincerity toward Beka, and we know that when he asks her for some mysterious files of which her father once had possession — which might still be stashed aboard the Maru — those mysterious files are probably going to have sinister implications.
Beka remains headstrong in her defiance of Sid once his true motives become clear. He wants those files, but given her suspicions Beka isn't going to be bribed to give them up. Heck, she doesn't even know where the files are or what would be contained in them. This leads to a series of scenes where Beka is tied up, tortured, and terrorized for the information, all while Sid maintains a face with an intriguing balance of friendly familiarity and threatening determination to get what he wants. De Lancie's composed performance in a transparently written role is probably the best thing about the episode.
The creative level put into the conception of the bad guys looks about as low-rent as these things can go. "Henchmen" is a word I typically reserve for comic books and silly B movies ... and now for episodes of Andromeda with bad guys so lacking in subtlety that they look like they belong in, well, a cross between a comic book and a silly B movie. They wear sunglasses and dull costumes, constantly toting their guns as if they automatically represented badass coolness.
This plot is set against a B-story in which Andromeda sits idle waiting for Beka to return to the ship. Meanwhile, a spatial storm draws closer, threatening the Andromeda. To make repairs to prepare for this threat, the crew deals with a nearby trader who sells them faulty parts, providing a reason for a largely unnecessary filler plot where Dylan captures the treacherous merchant to coerce him into making good on his sales. Despite the thematic connection of underhanded economic dealings, this B-plot is quite simply disposable and mostly just interrupts the flow of the A-story.
Back in the A-story, the lackluster action scenes finally culminate with Beka and Trance escaping their confinement via a plan that "works perfectly" as a trick set up by Sid. The narrative maneuvering here is a slipshod string of events that somehow gets Beka and Trance back aboard the Maru, which Sid has craftily locked on autopilot to divert straight into a nearby star. Beka finds the missing files in question, which all along had been stored inside nanobots in her hair. Yes.
Turns out Sid had killed people to cover up his drug trade way back when; Beka's father had video-recorded the incident and used it to blackmail Sid. Sid wants that recording back so it's no longer hanging over his head ... especially with his corporation in the delicate process of a mega-merger. The way the uneasy ending resolves itself is handled with dialog that assumes Beka and Sid can actually believe what the other has said, even though trust by now should be the scarcest resource around.
It's a shame that the plot of "Pearls" can't sustain much genuine interest, because there are actually a lot of good lines, like an amusing exchange between Beka and Trance: "Trance, when did we leave the Andromeda?" "I'd say this makes five days, but sometimes I lose count when I'm unconscious." Or the wonderful Tyr-like mention that it might not be worthwhile to crack open any epic novels, since a particular wait in question might not be so long. Such dialog tips us off that the writer, Ethlie Ann Vare, has a good enough idea that her plot is silly enough to poke fun at.
I also thought it was good to get into Beka's head a bit more. The fact that her father was a drug addict in addition to a shady businessman gives Beka a little extra angst, and Sid forcing her into drug use is an appropriately nasty means for torture (although the scene where Beka flips out on drugs plays too much like a compromise between over-the-top and sincere). There's also the palatable notion that Beka's father, despite being an addict and drug runner, had many good qualities as a father that Beka fondly remembers — reminding us that the mistakes of a person's life need not define it.
But the episode can't cut it, because its messages are worn on its sleeve (the wealthy being almost automatically dismissed as universally evil) and the execution lacks the punch it needs.
The sooner I get some more involving sci-fi from Andromeda, the better.
Next week: Another Commonwealth ship is discovered, this one with a mysterious secret.
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