In brief: Unremarkable, with lots of standard-issue twists and turns but not much genuine involvement.
Here's a story that's in love with cons and audience deception, but it's lacking the urgency and conviction that any of the parties involved really have much at stake. I guess it ultimately comes down to story execution. If we believe, for example, that Beka is going to blow up her own brother, and we care whether she does or doesn't, then we might have something here. If we don't, then we don't.
One problem with "The Ties That Blind" is that it feels oddly disconnected, as if made up of a bunch of randomly invented parts that don't really mean much of anything to anybody. There are a few groups that get new focus in this episode, but who are they and why should we care about them? The episode throws us a lot of agendas and people working for people, hoping that some of it will stick as interesting espionage/political storytelling. I dunno — we don't really learn much about any of what's going on. The plot doesn't play like it actually matters (as with, say, political maneuvering on DS9); it plays more like a labyrinthine MacGuffin taking the back seat to a storyline about Beka's estranged brother.
His name is Rafe Valentine (Cameron Daddo), renowned for his self-serving trickery and casual indifference to anything that doesn't benefit him directly. He's the type of guy who, when he says he has become a Wayist monk, prompts Beka to laugh in his face with incredulity.
Family friction is of course a backstory cliché. Families that get along aren't very interesting as story subjects, so we get siblings who are simultaneously quasi-allies and quasi-competitors — with the underlying notion that Beka thinks Rafe needs to grow up and do something worthwhile with his life instead of living from one score to the next. It's not bad, but it's not original either. And it's not all that interesting.
The real question posed here, I suppose, is who Rafe is working for. The plot involves the Wayists, the same religious group that Rev Bem subscribes to. It also involves the Resters — short for Restorians — an extremist group that is anti-space travel and believes the galaxy would best be served if worlds were isolated. Then there's the Free Trade Alliance (FTA), a body more open to interplanetary commerce and interaction. The Resters would like nothing better than to undermine the FTA whenever possible. Rafe apparently is a recently converted Wayist. Is he working for the Resters, the FTA, both, or neither? It is typical of the story's affinity for cons that it supposes Rafe in each of the four above possibilities at one point or another.
There's another Wayist here named Vikram Singh Khalsa (Brian George), who is injured and may or may not be what he seems. Is Rafe initially in cahoots with him before being double-crossed, or is he playing the whole game by himself? It's perhaps a telling sign that, after two viewings, I'm still not completely sure. For that matter, how are the Wayists (whom Rev secretly contacts at the show's outset) directly connected into all of this? I'm not inspired to watch the show again to find out, seeing as the story places so little importance on these sort of connections anyway.
Sing Khalsa is really not what he seems; he's not only a Rester saboteur but also a hollow shell full of nanobots, which exit his body through his mouth in a special effect reminiscent of The Green Mile. These nanobots infect the Andromeda's computer system and disable the ship, leaving it vulnerable to a Rester attack, and also causing the internal defense system to go haywire and start shooting at Our Heroes. Yawn.
This leads to a rather inept action premise where Tyr and Trance go running through the ship in slow-motion. It's depressing how much the show makes of two characters outrunning exploding sparks — especially since we never believe for a moment they're in any real danger. This "action" is meaningless; it doesn't advance the story in any meaningful way and exists merely to fill screen time — and not entertainingly at that.
If there's a core to the episode, it's in Beka's search to find her brother's true motives. This is documented with plenty of sneaking around and dialog, but I should probably point out that I'm beginning to wonder whether making Beka a wisecracking smart-ass is a good idea. The character has shown that she's smart and experienced, but Beka's characterization evokes a loose-cannon tendency (replete with sub-par one-liners) that too often makes me forget I'm watching an experienced freighter captain and instead watching an over-scripted character trying to fit into some predetermined mold for the wannabe hip. Still, though some of this is needlessly forced, some of it is okay. I did like the idea of the Beka/Rafe rivalry put in the terms "Valentine Smart" and "Valentine Smarter."
The big con in the episode is simultaneously on the bad guys (the Resters, that is) and the audience. Dylan and the Valentines con the Resters into taking missile launch codes that have been infected with a virus. So when the Resters launch missiles at the Andromeda, they turn around and blow up the Resters instead.
Unfortunately, the show is too labored an effort in getting here — heavy on exposition — and I never really cared about Rafe. And for those keeping count, this is already the fourth time that Captain Hunt has had control of his ship taken from him by outside forces. Not a great track record, that. The con games are the sort of thing that may have seemed clever on the page, but on the screen it plays too awkwardly. Indeed, what works best are the scenes that have little to do with the plot, like Tyr's rant against Dylan's trusting nature, or a tense confrontation between Rev and Tyr.
It would also seem the mystery of the ominous bad guys in "D Minus Zero" has been unveiled as the Resters. Unfortunately, it was more interesting when it was still a mystery (and besides, why would an extremist terrorist group value anonymity so much?). Here lies an episode that is a remarkably ho-hum experience.
Next week: It's time for time travel ... again?
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