In brief: I'm sitting on the fence for this one.
It has been widely speculated that Trance could very well be the most powerful and potentially dangerous character on Andromeda, and based on the hints in this episode, that's certainly a possibility. I have no doubt that this series' writers really know what Trance is all about, and may someday tell us ... but that day is not today. Trance is still a secret, and the writers — you can be certain — will bide their time in revealing this mystery.
"Pitiless as the Sun" was at one point called "The Interview," a title discarded because it "wasn't nearly pretentious enough to be an Andromeda episode title," joked staff writer Zack Stentz. An "interview" of Trance Gemini ("interrogation" would be a better word) is an intriguing story idea. Part of me knew that any interrogation of Trance would be fruitless, and that secrets would remain secrets. But part of me also hoped we'd get some major revelations here about Trance's people. When you have a mystery in front of you, you want to see it solved.
But patience is a virtue.
I really can't say I liked or disliked this episode. It didn't do enough to fully engage me, and it also didn't do anything particularly wrong-headed. As a Trance episode, it's respectable because it at least acknowledges the mystery exists and attempts (in its futile way) to confront it straightforwardly — as opposed to the method of many other previous Trance stories, which is with an annoying wink and a nudge from the writers, as if to say: "That silly Trance! She's sure hiding a lot more than it looks like!" Yes, thank you, I know.
But at the same time I find myself asking: Did we really learn anything here that we didn't already know? There are bits and pieces of minor new information, but the overriding sense I get from this episode is that it's confirming — bringing into open dialog — that Trance is indeed a mystery. But we already knew that, because the never-so-subtle hints have been there from day one.
Trance's interrogation takes place on the planet of the Inari, a somewhat xenophobic world recovering from a terribly costly civil war. Trance arrives on the planet to play diplomat, to figure out what the Inari are like, to see if they can be useful or trustworthy in Dylan's Commonwealth. Her contact is Professor Logitch, played by none other than William B. Davis, who was the Cigarette-Smoking Man on The X-Files. Davis seems almost incomplete without his cigarette prop in hand; I kept wanting him to light up. I guess that's what they call typecasting.
If Trance is always covering up her true motives, then it's worth noting that so here is Logitch, who begins the story as harmless and pleasant — supposedly on Trance's side in her diplomatic effort — before drugging her and hooking her up to a restraining chair and scanning devices. Even then he never quite comes across as menacing or brutal. Serious, yes, but Logitch is not needlessly cruel or a man who takes pleasure in giving torture. He has a job to do — to learn as much about Trance's people as possible — and he intends to do it. In the process he becomes an almost surprisingly sympathetic figure.
The reason for the interview: One of the Trance-like Purple People visited the Inari's world a number of years ago and was responsible for inciting the civil war that devastated their society. This Purple Person was also a mystery, with a childlike innocence about him similar to Trance's. The story leaves it completely vague how exactly this Purple Person "incited" a civil war. Was it through mental manipulation of others? Elaborate trickery, double-crosses, or setups? I'm not so sure to leave it so vague is fair. Obviously the Inari know how the war was started. For the dialog to omit that information is to purposely leave the audience in the dark.
And if one Purple Person was able to damage this society so badly, is it really a good idea for them to go to such lengths to lure the Andromeda to their planet and kidnap another one of them? (For that matter, how could they have come up with this plan and known for sure that Trance would decide to come down for a visit?)
Logitch wants to know who Trance's people are. Where they come from. What they want. Why they do what they do. His government wants to be able to defend itself in the event of a full-scale Purple People invasion. The flaw in his reasoning, as he should already know, and which Trance tells him: Given such apparent abilities, it would hardly take a full-scale invasion for the Purple People to destroy the Inari.
"Pitiless" for the most part is just more supposition. Supposition can be interesting, but when it comes to supposition, it's the audience, and not the story, doing the bulk of the work. So in addition to supposition, the story needs to work on its own merits too. To that end, the effectiveness of "Pitiless" relies primarily on the strength of the interrogation scenes and the mind games. Trance plays with Logitch and is most definitely in the driver's seat here, even though she's the one strapped to a chair.
Some of this works, as Trance slowly wears Logitch down by defying his expectations and resisting every form of interrogation he employs, while supplying information that serves mostly to create more fear. Trance also has a knack for using Logitch's own personal vulnerabilities and human decency against him. Call it effective psychology.
Some of this doesn't work, like, for example, a key payoff moment after Trance concocts the story of her people's "true purpose" — as "sex slaves designed to bring pleasure to the universe." The way the camera spins around a laughing Trance, and the poorly envisioned way Logitch throws a hand-held device to the floor in anger, go a long way to destroying the impact of this scene. Moments like this need precise execution to work.
I found it interesting how Logitch started the interrogation while standing over Trance, who was strapped to a chair, and ended the interrogation sitting in the chair himself, with more terror on his face than Trance ever showed at any point through the entire process. Trance knows how to turn the tables.
BUT ... as dramatic, chewable meatiness goes, something about all this is ... underwhelming. If you compare this to the likes of interrogation scenes such as Picard's torture at the hands of Gul Madred in TNG's "Chain of Command, Part II" or the multifaceted Garak/Odo interrogation scenes in DS9's "The Die Is Cast," you begin to realize that, dramatically, "Pitiless" doesn't hold a candle to those far superior examples. Because everyone's motives here are so intentionally shrouded, we're left with scenes that are interesting and elusive, but tempered, tame, and anticlimactic. (And for that matter, since there's so much lying, it's hard to even say what's meant as true and what's meant as a lie.)
Could it have worked better? I'm not sure, given how elusive Trance obviously will remain. I do find interesting that her people apparently thrive off chaos and can do awful things when "bored." But I doubt Trance will ever command a scene the way, say, Garak could; she's a mystery, which is not the same thing as a mysterious character.
There's another plot line to "Pitiless," which occupies about equal screen time but is worth considerably less discussion. It involves two Inari, Whendar (Ann Marie Lodar) and Gadell (Antonio Cupo), using deceptive motives to draw Dylan and the Andromeda into an illegal drug transaction with a dangerous species called the Pyrians.
There are pieces of this plot that don't come together very well, like Gadell turning out to be a DEA-like informant, something that's telegraphed in an earlier scene but nevertheless remains mostly confused and unnecessary, to say nothing of how Dylan so easily figured out Gadell was an informant. For that matter, if someone could plausibly explain how Gadell figured out Dylan and Harper were making nova bombs, I will be grateful. (Of interest is how most of the rest of Dylan's crew doesn't even know he's making the bombs; perhaps issues of trust have not been completely hurdled.)
Whendar is a drug trader who lies to Dylan's face through much of the episode. Dylan fortunately shows skepticism from the outset and maintains a close eye, and I appreciated the nod to the Dylan/Beka optimist/skeptic role reversal at the beginning. Harper seems to be back to his sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying hyperactive self. Rev is AWOL for the second episode in a row.
I appreciated that this plot tied in with the whole issue of Inari society being devastated by their civil war, but it seems like drug trafficking is becoming a strangely oft-used "evil" on this series. As routine confrontation plots go, all of this is so-so, with too much uncertain execution to be successful.
As for the Pyrians ... I'm on the fence there too. I can't say I'm much impressed with them here; they're more concept than content at this point. Their ships are adequately unique. As creatures, they're a weird CGI design, although we don't get a very good look at them. As Disembodied Voices™ they're a disappointment; I've always found the "distorted, overlaid male/female voices in pseudo-monotone" to be a corny space opera cliché, and that's certainly the way it comes across here. As yet another entry into this series' vast expanse of cultures, I have to wonder — how many people are we going to invite to this party? These guys are obviously intended as Major Players. At this rate, Andromeda is going to end up with a universe full of chess pieces on its intergalactic chess board ... but how can all of these pieces possibly play in a game without it becoming a colossal mess? I guess we'll find out.
As for Trance, I guess I can take some comfort in the fact that everyone knows she's hiding things and that they choose to willingly turn a blind eye. Now they need to find a way to develop Trance beyond her sweet innocent facade. Right now the facade is her character. I'm asking for more.
Next week: From the trailer, I have no idea, except to say, "It's action hour!"
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