In brief: Solid continuity is starting to get things on a nice roll here...
Andromeda is really shaping up, and has had a respectable second season so far. The overall gain in momentum and narrative clarity (not to mention improved production design, location work, and guest acting) is apparent as we head into "Into the Labyrinth," which takes stories from season one and follows them up in ways that, in retrospect, improve upon them. Pieces are starting to come together nicely here, and the Andromeda universe is beginning to capture my interest. Now, if only we could get rid of the B-movie cartoon-action hokiness — which is genuinely distracting and detracting — we'd be in good shape.
This episode is an effective follow-up to "Harper 2.0" and "The Honey Offering," with tidbits thrown in from other episodes as well. It improves on "Harper 2.0" by answering a question that I had long since been wondering about: What exactly happened to that mysterious archive that Harper had stored and then removed from his brain, and that no one else has talked about since?
Here, we find out. We also find out, somewhat, what became of the mess involving the Sabra-Jaguar and the Drago-Kazov Nietzschean prides. We have here the presence of Charlemagne Bolivar (James Marsters), a key figure in the Sabra-Jaguar pride to whom Dylan delivered Elsbett (see "The Honey Offering") for marriage. It's a neat little connection, and it works here because we see that he comes with an offer for Dylan (joining his Commonwealth) that could be a significant tactical asset. It would appear the favor Dylan carried out in "Honey Offering" paid its dividends.
Charlemagne — I love this guy. As Nietzscheans go, he's less interested in brute force and more interested in outwitting his opponents with cunning trickery. His dialog is written with the intelligent comic wit you'd expect from Tyr, and indeed there's an amusing scene where the two of them meet in the corridor and trade some exceptionally well-written lines that in my opinion go down among this series' best dialog. This is how Nietzscheans should be written — not like the ones in "Exit Strategies," who, as Tyr put it, were "so uncompromisingly inferior." More Nietzscheans need to be smart, literate, and sarcastic the way Tyr is and less like action props. Charlemagne is a step in a very right direction — probably the best direction possible. The Tyr/Charlemagne scene here is brilliant in its way, because it's character-driven, smart, funny, and still has underlying significance to storylines on hold — I appreciated the brief bit regarding the corpse of Drago Museveni.
But, nevertheless, Charlemagne isn't the focus here. This episode much more closely follows Harper and the sequel-to-"Harper 2.0" concept, so much that one could nickname the episode "Harper 3.0." Harper is confronted here with an offer from a femme fatale named Satrina (Judy Tylor), who struts around with a sexed-up ultra-confidence and sports a grin that is wickedly mischievous. Her offer: If Harper can get her the All Systems Library, she will use her phase-shifting technology (a "tesseract generator") to remove all 14 of the Magog larvae from his insides. The only problem: Harper can't remember where he put the archive.
Trance isn't of much help. "Can't help, or won't help?" Harper demands. Take your pick, she replies. Trance argues that possession of the archive is too dangerous anyway, because bad people would kill to have it or cover up information inside it.
Satrina, of course, works for red-glowing-eye guy Spirit of the Abyss, who commands the approaching Magog invasion. My question: What does Abyss-dude even want/need with the archive? (I suppose he has his reasons.) Interestingly, Abyss-dude isn't the only one with a stake in the information in the archive; it's made pretty clear that Trance fears what might be in the archive about her own people, or even herself. She has her own agendas and skeletons in the closet that she'd rather Harper and everyone else not know about. Harper is aware of Trance hiding something at some level (he remembers some details of a Purple Person being worshiped on some world, something that possibly connects to Trance) and the matter is revisited here in a way that shows it's still vague but not necessarily closed. I'm just glad to see that certain mysteries hinted at in "Harper 2.0" have been resurrected here.
I also liked the way Harper tracked down the archive. He begins by searching through his own data files for information about where he put the archive, and he finds a file he recorded himself — but also denied himself access to. (The recording shows Harper at his highest level of hyperactivity, and I liked a line where Harper said to himself, "Now I see why people hate me.") And, if you'll remember, there was a hint involving Trance's tattoo. This plays into Harper's search for the archive here, too, and it turns out to be a clue that leads him to take the Maru to a sun where he actually hid the data stream. (How he did this is reduced to a couple quick throwaway lines that I didn't quite understand.)
I liked pretty much all of the plot involving Harper's search for the hidden archive, and I liked his plan for giving Satrina a copy of it encoded with a computer virus. Harper shows here, as he has on occasion before, that he can be smart and play some pretty vindictive hardball given the right circumstances, and his double-crosses of Satrina prove that he's most certainly not the chump being played in this situation. It's a credit to the writers that Harper is allowed to be smart and horny at the same time, rather than merely going down the more predictable path of handing over the archive against Trance's warnings and being double-crossed himself. In the meantime, the episode benefits from a lot of funny, irreverent Harper one-liners that work (calling Abyss-guy the "living lava lamp," etc.), delivered by the always-snappy Woolvett.
Harper gets a hold of Satrina's phase-shifting technology, which he thinks will give him the power to remove the Magog larvae himself, but it's not quite so simple — and the phase technology has an unexpected side effect: It gives him a link straight into the mind of Spirit of the Abyss, which has a sort of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" effect on Harper. It's perhaps one theme too many for the episode (will Harper be tempted into evil by the possibility of extreme power?) but I did get kind of a kick out of how some of this was visualized, wretched excess or not.
Unfortunately, what doesn't work at all is the whole concept of Satrina's Evil Minions — which goes so far into jaw-dropping laughability that it comes close to sabotaging an otherwise standout Andromeda episode. I'm not sure exactly what the creative staff was thinking when they dreamed up these four creatures, but they look like they came straight out of a bad weekday-afternoon cartoon show. They even come with bright individual colors — blue, red, white, and black — as if dipped in their respective vats of dye before being packaged at the action figure factory (Harper calls them the "four Technicolor yahoos," which is about right).
This leads to Yet Another Hopelessly Goofy Andromeda Action Sequence™ where we have the Action Figure Guys attacking the visitors on the Andromeda while Harper struggles with his dilemma of trying to manipulate the tesseract generator. Frankly, it's almost amazing how Andromeda can shift from solid entertainment to tawdry cheese in the blink of an eye. I just plain don't get it. Also pointless is a brief scene between Charlemagne and Beka featuring some frankly confusing sexual innuendo, which comes out of and leads nowhere.
Oh well. The net result is an episode that I found entertaining, particularly in its successful use of continuity and Harper motormouthing his way through scenes of goofy but amusing dialog. By the end, Dylan has a new ally in Charlemagne, the archive is "safely" in the hands of Trance, and Harper has avoided being tempted by evil but at the price of still not being able to remove all of the Magog larvae.
As a follow-up to one of season one's intriguing but puzzling episodes, "Into the Labyrinth" sheds some light on the matter. Continuity is an ally that could make this series add up to something bigger and more rewarding.
Footnote: The announcement of Tribune's firing of head writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe happened around the time "Into the Labyrinth" originally aired. Ironically, it's an episode that succeeds largely because of its focus on continuity elements, something Tribune reportedly wants to see less of. Also disappointing is Wolfe's departure itself; Wolfe was one of the big reasons I started watching this show. Judgment, as always, will be reserved, and we'll see how things go.