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107[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Forced Perspective"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Oct 3, 2001
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "Forced
      Perspective." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Good intentions, but with excessively preachy exposition and a
      questionable resolution.

      Plot description: Dylan is held captive on a world whose leader wants to
      hold him accountable for the societal results of a Commonwealth mission he
      carried out 300 years earlier.

      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Forced Perspective"

      Airdate: 2/19/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
      Directed by George Mendeluk

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Where'd you get all the candles?"
      "I rendered them from the fat of my enemies."
      -- Beka and Tyr

      Like Star Trek, Andromeda loves to wear its messages on its sleeve. This is
      particularly true of "Forced Perspective," an okay episode that benefits
      from good intentions and some intriguing character backstory, but suffers in
      an overplayed final act of exposition with messages delivered with the
      subtlety of a sledgehammer. And the story's ending: Does it really resolve

      It begins with the kidnapping (read: stock-issue plot setup) of Captain Hunt
      from the Maru. He's taken to the planet Mobius, where he's demanded to
      confess his guilt in another one of those oppressive trial systems where the
      accused is automatically guilty upon capture, tortured and beaten with
      little or no explanation of his supposed crimes. Dylan's response: repeating
      his name, rank, and Commonwealth serial number.

      Mobius is a world that does in fact have a beef with Dylan Hunt. Over 300
      years ago, Dylan earned his starship command by accepting a mission that
      took him to this world. His orders were to remove the Mobius dictator, a man
      named Ferrin (Alex Green), from power. No, the High Guard did not order
      Dylan to kill Ferrin; indeed, the mission was simply to forcibly extradite
      him and turn power over to the people. But let's just say the High Guard
      took a pragmatic approach to the problem: They wanted this dictator removed
      to alleviate the conflict on this world, and if Ferrin were to somehow end
      up dead in the removal process ... well, the High Guard wasn't exactly going
      to complain.

      This mission also was the first mission where Dylan met Gaheris Rhade (Steve
      Bacic, in another lackluster reprisal of his painfully wooden character),
      who would subsequently become Dylan's first officer when Dylan got his
      command of the Andromeda. This is all established through the use of
      flashback scenes (a device popular this season, it would seem), which are
      intercut with the present action. Dylan and Rhade had an inside contact on
      Mobius, an architect named Venetri (Mackenzie Gray) who would help them past
      the building's security and into Ferrin's office.

      The mission went somewhat awry, depending on your goals and point of view,
      that is. Always-cold-blooded Rhade, who would have no problem simply
      shooting Ferrin on sight to solve the High Guard's problem, sees the mission
      as an exercise in ends versus means; Dylan has a more specific moral ideal
      and hopes to carry out the mission with a zero death toll. In the course of
      making their way to Ferrin's office, however, Rhade and Dylan are forced to
      kill two guards or risk the failure of the mission. Venetri is shocked and
      appalled; the High Guard promised him the mission would be non-violent.

      Furthermore, Ferrin did not go along quietly with the extradition order. The
      second Dylan and Rhade stepped into his office, Ferrin opened fire. Dylan
      and Rhade returned fire, and Ferrin was killed. The dictator was removed
      from power, but at what cost to ethics and due process? Yes, Ferrin fired
      first (which in my mind more than justifies the violence of the mission,
      given Dylan's position), but should the Commonwealth have set foot in his
      office in the first place?

      Fast-forward to the present, where Dylan now stands trial for the murder of
      the guards and Chancellor Ferrin. The one making the charges is none other
      than ... Venetri, who has kept himself alive by cloning body parts and
      surgically integrating them into his body over time. Venetri sees Dylan as a
      symbol of past Commonwealth corruption trying to rebuild a Commonwealth that
      might very well duplicate that corruption. Venetri wants to pound on Dylan
      until he breaks down and reveals his true colors: Did Dylan consider
      bloodshed an acceptable course of action to achieve larger goals?

      There are some interesting questions worth pondering that "Forced
      Perspective" brings up. Among them is the issue of how to carry out military
      operations that can bring about positive changes to entire cultures, but at
      a cost. Essentially, the mission the High Guard sent Dylan to carry out was
      one that intended to improve Mobius, albeit at the expense of the minority
      who supported Ferrin (think Slobodan Milosevic). If killing Ferrin --
      assuming it had to come to that -- would ease tensions and violence in
      Mobius, would that not be the greater good? And in covert military
      operations, let's face it -- people get killed. So is Rhade's pragmatic
      observation about the two killed guards a matter of simply being practical?
      When looking at the bigger picture, probably. Of course there are
      consequences to death (one dead guard left behind a family of orphaned
      children), but can a large-scale military action really stop to concern
      itself with things like that?

      The Old High Guard, from the evidence supplied here, seemed to be an
      efficient military organization that made decisions and then lived with
      them. If dictators died resisting their extradition -- well, that's the way
      it went. That such an attitude seemed to be the standard operation of the
      Commonwealth is interesting, since Trek's Federation would presumably be
      "above" that mentality (except for, say, DS9's Section 31).

      Unfortunately, I'm not completely sure what this adds up to. Is this version
      of the Roddenberry Universe striving to be more like or unlike Star Trek? A
      lot of the message in this episode seems to question whether the Old
      Commonwealth did the Right Thing by carrying out pragmatic military
      operations of this nature. At the same time it shows Dylan struggling with
      the goal of trying to make things better for the maximum number of people. I
      get the feeling that Dylan could've lived with Ferrin's death if it had
      brought about a better Mobius.

      But it didn't. Mobius is run by Venetri now, who took power and expected
      that he'd have the support of the Commonwealth to oversee free elections. He
      didn't, because the Commonwealth fell and he had to contend with the anarchy
      on his own. In the process, he became every bit the dictator that Ferrin

      The problem with all this is the way the story doesn't come to any truly
      acceptable terms with the issues it presents. I for one didn't understand
      the cause and effect of Venetri's turn to a dictator, or how the
      Commonwealth's presence could've solved the problem of civilian uprisings
      when Mobius' own attempts for democracy apparently had few positive effects
      of their own. The issues of government here are complex and simply beyond
      the scope of the story and its dialog. The ending tries to deal with past
      events that are vague at best, and offers up vague solutions that try to
      create hopefulness from a situation that, given the evidence, seems
      hopeless. Dylan naively suggests ambiguous governmental remedies that,
      during the past 300 years, Venetri would've been an idiot not to try. (For
      that matter, how plausible is it that a world full of chaos would accept a
      single dictator in power for 300 years without reform or an all-out

      The final act drowns in (a) its inability to tackle these problems with real
      coherence, and (b) hammered-home moralizing and overwrought performances.
      Mackenzie Gray completely lost me with his overly tortured portrayal of
      Venetri's anguished exposition. A man this disturbed, you wonder why on
      Earth he's been keeping himself alive with cloned body parts. (How he was
      able to do this for 300 years is another matter I take some issue with --
      the immortality can of worms and all -- but we'll forego discussion of that

      Meanwhile, Trance's moral preaching comes across as a dogged attempt to
      deliver the "message" to the audience on a silver platter -- an approach I
      tend to resist. I for one was glad to see that Dylan was not convinced
      solely by Trance's dose of saccharine ("Well how do we improve thing then,
      Trance, huh? How do we *make things better*?!"), but the story seems to side
      with her.

      In my opinion, the point here is that you can't predict the future, but you
      have to do what you think will have the best end result. Trance's preaching
      adds the tricky issue of "individual intent." But what happens when
      individual intent and the big picture come into conflict? What if you need
      to do the "wrong" thing (in this case, killing Venetri, which Dylan thinks
      may be the only way of stopping his dictatorship and returning Mobius to any
      sort of stability) to get the "right" result? The argument here (maybe, I
      think) is that you shouldn't take actions that on their face are negative if
      you are uncertain of their consequences, even if those consequences could be
      positive. By extension that seems to mean the ends-versus-means approach to
      any situation is invalid.

      I dunno. There's a lot that can be inferred from these discussions, but I
      don't see where the story makes real sense of them on its own, even though
      its seems to be trying. I like ambivalence in my stories, but the closing
      scenes here seem as if they're confidently taking a stance on an issue
      without really clarifying what that stance is, or, for that matter, the
      issue. The dialog is all over the map. The ending suggests uncertainty while
      at the same time offering vague upbeat notes that seem false.

      I must also renew my objection to Trance's mysterious Knowledge on a Higher
      Plane (read: Handy Narrative Tool), as she's able to track Dylan right down
      to his holding cell, break him out with no resistance, then explain that
      she's good at "finding things." I understand that Trance is a riddle wrapped
      in an enigma with a tail in the middle, etc., but it holds no interest for
      me when her mysterious knowledge is used solely as a convenience of the
      plot. Meanwhile, her dialog exhibits an unrelenting sweet innocence with the
      ring of youthful optimism, even though we probably know her better than
      that. No, thanks.

      On the other hand, I love Tyr, even when he's the subject of a pedestrian
      B-story like he is here, when Beka and Tyr strangely find themselves in the
      middle of a would-be romantic dinner. It turns out that Tyr's a gourmet
      chef, and has a tale to explain it that's laugh-out-loud, 100 percent Tyr
      Anasazi funny: "I took it up because a former employer of mine appreciated
      fine dining. When he refused to pay me for one of my jobs, I prepared him a
      tiramisu laced with strychnine. As I recall, he quite enjoyed it -- for
      precisely ... 12 seconds."

      It's also funny how the idea of a potential romance with Beka is pointless
      to him because she's not Nietzschean, and his genuine look of confusion when
      she tells him she's offended. Hey, he was just being honest. (Though I must
      now wonder about his intentions during a would-be romance with a human in
      "Music of a Distant Drum.")

      Like many Andromeda episodes, "Forced Perspective" shows an interest in the
      Commonwealth's past, hoping to tie themes into its possible future. The
      writers continue to show a care and interest in the universe that they are
      piecing together out of episodes like this one, which have plenty of good
      intentions. But the story itself operates with too many action cliches and
      has ending arguments that can't pull it together. It's like seeing the
      forest for the trees but with too many trees infected with termites.

      Next week: Andromeda assimilates the Borg.

      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...