In brief: Mindless "adventure" sans any trace of inspiration, chewing through an hour but mostly having the impact of a test pattern.
Here's an episode so bereft of anything resembling interesting content that I'm not sure exactly how to usefully review it. I suppose I should review it on its own "terms," which is simply that of a bland adventure outing.
This episode is so lacking in ambition that it barely registers as a blip on the radar screen. It didn't inflame me with dislike the way "Ouroboros" and "Dance of the Mayflies" did, but in a way that's almost worse, because I have almost NO emotional reaction to this story whatsoever. It did make me wonder what I could talk about in reviewing it. A bland episode likely prompts an equally bland review, so fasten your seat belts.
Mainstream press critics jeered at Andromeda when the show first premiered, calling it Hercules in Space. At the time, that was an obvious, cheap shot. But with an episode like "In Heaven Now Are Three," such a label seems downright accurate. This to me looks like no form of what Andromeda once was.
More than anything, this is an episode that wants to be an Indiana Jones adventure. I honestly believe it wants to be fun. I also honestly can't say I was anything but bored. The thing about the Indiana Jones movies was that they were superbly constructed, exciting, funny, and they really ratcheted up the tension and suspense. Heck, even the more recent Mummy films were nice to look at. Of course, it's hard to do Indiana Jones on a shoestring budget, so if you're doing it on Andromeda you'd better make the story pretty clever.
No such luck here.
There's nothing remotely clever in "In Heaven Now Are Three," except possibly the twist at the end involving Trance, but even that feels like the usual All-Knowing Trance Vagueness. For the most part, this is exactly the type of episode that needs to be watched and absolutely not thought about or discussed afterward. The hardest part is in determining whether it's fair to call this a failure because it simply didn't try to do anything beyond fill an hour of screen time with scenes of pervasive mediocrity.
One fairly recent successful Indiana Jones type adventure in Trek that comes to mind is DS9's "The Sword of Kahless." That episode benefited greatly from the fact that it was mired in the well-established Klingon mythos, allowing riddles and swords to become larger than life. Here we have an artifact that is either a meaningless MacGuffin or too big to even contemplate — you decide which, since the evidence on the screen here leaves it hopelessly up in the air. It's the "Engine of Creation," the universal Holy Grail. Apparently it can alter space and time and create life and grant wishes and stuff. What happens if it falls into the wrong hands? For that matter, what happens if it falls into the right hands? Not much, it would seem.
At the beginning of the show, Beka is looking at a computerized map of where the engine is hidden. Is this the map she extracted from the Hegemon's Heart in "A Heart For Falsehood Framed"? To be completely honest, I'm not sure, but I also don't feel like going back to watch this exceptionally pedestrian hour to try to clarify that minor detail.
The "three" referred to in the title are Beka, Dylan, and Trance. Tyr is relegated to the sidelines when Trance foretells his death. Nice contrivance. Legend says it takes three to unlock the mystery of the lost Engine. This comes in handy when our trio encounters another (i.e., bad) trio on the planet searching for the prize. There's a Mexican standoff where logic successfully argues that any killings would leave either party short of the necessary number of members required to unlock the secret. The bad treasure-seeking trio is made up of Fletcher (Dean Wray), Duran (Ingrid Torrance), and Flux (Brendan Beiser), who represent counterparts to Dylan, Beka, and Trance, respectively. That is to say, eventually they will go mano a mano, where guy fights guy, girl fights girl, and Trance schemes with Flux, who is apparently one of Trance's people, although he doesn't look like her. Did Flux also evolve from a previous state of being a Purple Pixie?
As Indiana Jones type booby traps go, this episode's traps feel almost humorously low-rent. Consider the key that unlocks the panel where our adventurers think the Engine is hidden. Beka pulls the key from the bottom of a bowl filled with granules, leaving a hole in the bottom of the bowl. The bowl is suspended from the ceiling over a basin of water. The granules therefore begin falling into the water and dissolving, filling the room with cyanide gas, prompting our adventurers to desperately escape their sealed death chamber. I guess this is the kind of booby trap you get when your budget makes it prohibitive to have huge spherical boulders or collapsing temples, but the design of this particular booby trap could only thwart total boobs. The secret of the trap is in plain view, for crying out loud. On cyanide gas: "That stuff's not good for you," Dylan offers helpfully. You sure can't argue with the logic of Dylan one-liners.
It's about here that the Primitive Natives — obligatory in any Indiana Jones-style adventure — show up. One of them speaks in a Low Synthesized Voice, and she talks of an arduous trial that our good trio must engage in against the bad trio. This means a fight to the death with swords, shields, and spears, making this episode look more like a take on Sorbo's previous series, Hercules, than any Andromeda has to date. I can praise the hand-to-hand combat, I suppose, for being scaled down to the realm of the simply uninspired, instead of scaled up to the excessively over-the-top. I guess that's progress.
When our heroes succeed in getting the upper hand during the hand-to-hand combat, they refuse to kill the bad guys. This proves our heroes' Worthiness to have the treasure. My question is why the Primitive Natives are giving away this valuable, supposedly ultra-powerful artifact in the first place, or what their role in bearing it even is. Do they have a purpose or logic beyond showing up to provide a campy adventure-movie cliché and forcing the hand-to-hand combat? It would seem not.
There are a couple of character issues that are possibly worth discussion. One stems from Beka commanding this mission and her interaction with Dylan. She talks of not wanting to lose people on her watch, and it's nice to see Beka in a leadership role again. And yet the episode constantly gives Dylan the Heroic Spotlight by having him "unconsciously" revert to leadership mode at every possible opportunity, taking actions that supersede Beka's decisions. There's a discussion where Beka calls Dylan on this tendency of his — a scene that seems to say "this is Beka's show" — but it feels like an argument trapped in a vacuum, because the action speaks louder than the words; the episode says one thing and then does another. Sorry, but you can't have it both ways.
Also annoying is how the episode pretends the Dylan/Beka bonding here is a breakthrough. The actors make the most of the sentiment, but it's redundant and I don't buy it, because such a "breakthrough" was the whole point of their interaction in last year's "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last," among other hints in previous shows. Are we stuck in a time loop here?
The other character issue maybe worth talking about is Trance apparently knowing how this adventure would turn out from the beginning and how she works with Flux as a partner in rigging the game. Flux asks her when she's going to return to her fellow brethren. Does this make any sense in the context of Trance's character? I guess so, but then, of course, the whole context of her character is that there is no knowable context, and that she can know or do anything the story needs her to. I'm left feeling completely neutral on this matter.
Maybe the whole business with this mysterious Engine — or possible fragment of the Engine as it turns out to be — will lead somewhere. Then again, maybe not. I'm certainly not prompted to care one way or the other on the basis of what we have here.
Watching "In Heaven Now Are Three" is a stultifying experience that invites passivity. The biggest problem is that it's, well, boring. I felt like I was watching a 60-minute nod (rip-off?) to a genre that has been done so many times, and every time so much better than this. There's nothing wrong with doing an Indiana Jones adventure. It's just better if your Indiana Jones adventure is actually imaginative, interesting, fun, or entertaining. This episode is nothing more than just "there." It nods, and then we nod in response, because there's absolutely nothing else to do.
Next week: A rerun of "Una Salus Victus," a genuinely good episode of Andromeda, lest you think I have nothing positive to say about this series.