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123[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "All Too Human"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Nov 28, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "All Too
      Human." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Stylish entertainment that plays like a nod to the genres that
      inspired it.

      Plot description: Rommie finds herself facing a society's prejudices toward
      artificial lifeforms when she goes undercover to investigate a devious
      operation on their world.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "All Too Human"

      Airdate: 11/5/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
      Directed by T.J. Scott

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "I have a security clearance so high, I have to kill myself if I remember
      that I have it. And I'm still not allowed past the front gate."
      -- Mr. Kim on the likelihood of entrance
      -----

      "All Too Human" is an episode that looks like it was conceived at the John
      Woo School of Cinema. The characters wear black trench coats that flap in
      the wind, efficient ass-kicking is considered an especially worthy character
      trait, and the overall emphasis on coolness is what's of the utmost
      importance here.

      And it works. This is an effective hour of entertainment. The storyline
      works too, although there's nothing here to get excited about.

      This is essentially The Rommie Showcase, starring the appealing and
      effective Lexa Doig. We see what Rommie is capable of while she provides our
      entryway into the world of crisscrossing genres. Like genre favorite "The
      Matrix," this episode has its stylistic roots in the Hong Kong action &
      martial arts genre, superhero comic books, and Japanese Anime. The writers
      and director T.J. Scott apply nifty stylistics atop a storyline that is well
      within the boundaries of conventional sci-fi -- the issue of AIs and their
      capacity, or non-capacity, to feel beyond logic.

      Rommie is undercover on the planet Machen Alpha. Machen Alpha is threatening
      to attack Mobius, a recent addition to the Commonwealth (and the subject of
      last season's "Forced Perspective"). The Andromeda has cruised in for the
      military aspect of protection. Rommie has a contact on Machen Alpha named
      Mr. Kim (Bruce Harwood, best known as one of the Lone Gunmen on "The
      X-Files") who has crucial information about sinister plotting by the Machen
      Alpha government.

      The story wastes no time in cutting to the chase: The police break down the
      door to Kim's apartment, and we're off to Hong Kong land. There are visual
      cues that are familiar, like furniture being hit by bullets, throwing masses
      of feathers into the air. For once, the use of super-slo-mo on this series
      is justified in the name of the genre.

      Off the coast near the city, the Maru waits underwater while Rommie executes
      her mission. Tyr, Harper, and Rev keep tabs. But since when is the Maru a
      submarine? Since now, I guess. These guys have their own worries when
      they're shot at and disabled by Machen Alpha armed forces and the Maru
      starts sinking to the bottom of the sea. Uh-oh.

      Meanwhile, Andromeda must go up against a powerful Machen Alpha battleship
      that has point-singularity weapons capable of destroying an entire planet.
      This ship is headed for Mobius, which they intend to wipe off the map.

      The juggling of the three stories is acceptable, but by cramming so much
      into the hour, the episode's shortcuts become evident. Consider, for
      example, Dylan and Beka trying to stop the destruction of an entire
      planet -- a planet that was recently added to their Commonwealth, no less.
      This is handled almost like an afterthought, but think how important it
      could've been. It easily could've sustained an entire episode. Here it
      becomes the subject of a few short scenes.

      The scene where Andromeda actually saves the planet from destruction is
      almost laughably short; you could miss the resolution if you blink. Dylan
      and Beka open a slipstream portal to route a point-singularity blast away
      from the planet. This saves the planet from destruction, but opening a
      slipstream portal is its own catastrophic event that causes "permanent
      environmental damage" on the world, including major power disruptions and
      spontaneous volcanic eruptions. This is the sort of thing that deserves
      dramatic flair, but the characters here rush through it like they're
      reacting to a glass of spilled water. They're at the mercy of their own
      story's time constraints; the unseen chaos on Mobius is the center of
      discussion for less screen time than it took you to read this synopsis of it
      here.

      More effective is the plot on the Maru, in which the only way to save the
      ship and people on board is to flood the cabin with water in an effort to
      propel it to the surface. I'm not exactly clear on how that's supposed to
      work, but it's not the point of the story. The point is that Harper has
      overdosed on his anti-Magog-larvae medication (good continuity) and gone
      into a coma, leaving Tyr and Rev in a situation with only one operational
      EVA suit, and sinking with no way to fix the ship. (About that suit -- I
      laughed out loud at the explanation for why there was only one working suit,
      and Tyr's deadpan reading of the message: "Note to Harper: Remember to
      repair the rest of the EVA suits before our next mission. -- Harper.")

      Rev can hold his breath for nearly an hour, but Harper and Tyr will likely
      drown. This leads to a crisis of choice for Tyr, who must either let Harper
      die, or sacrifice himself, which is not a very Nietzschean thing to do.
      Let's just say that the solution here allows Tyr to stay within the
      boundaries of his character while showing a tiny bit of altruism at the same
      time. (Miller & Stentz undoubtedly took cues from James Cameron's "The
      Abyss" in coming up with their solution. But I wonder, can one really
      totally flood the Maru and expect all the electronics to function
      afterward?)

      But let's put that aside. The true focus of "All Too Human" is Rommie and
      how she figures into the topic of prejudices against AIs, as well as the
      topic of kicking people's asses. When Kim discovers Rommie is an android,
      the first thing he says is, "Please, don't kill me." His fears are based on
      Machen Alpha's unpleasant history with AIs, in which their cold logic
      harshly ran their world. The Machen Alpha people responded by destroying the
      AIs' neighboring world. Kim is surprised to find an AI with the attitudes
      and feelings of a human being. Such discussions lend the episode its moral
      depth but without reaching the realm of anything truly compelling.

      On the trail of Rommie and Kim is a determined investigator named Carter
      (Roger R. Cross) and his armed team. They catch Rommie and Kim in a tunnel.
      Kim is killed and Rommie then cleans up Carter's men in an action scene that
      showcases Rommie's talent for ass-kicking, as well as her ability to do
      goofy, gratuitous back-flips -- at which point I asked myself, have I
      suddenly been transported into "Xena: Warrior Princess"?

      Before Kim's death comes his revelation of the Big Secret: He discovered
      that Machen Alpha made a deal with the Magog in exchange for advanced
      technology: one of their swarm ships and the point-singularity weapons --
      hence their planet-destroying threats toward Mobius. This storyline hints at
      further development and makes decent use of continuity elements,
      particularly since by the end of the show Rommie has stolen the Magog swarm
      ship and returned it to the Andromeda, reminding me of the Jem'Hadar warship
      acquired in DS9's "The Ship."

      But such developments aren't the focus here so much as the cat-and-mouse
      game between Rommie and Carter, which extends into a session of cyberspace
      and shows how ruthless Rommie can be in attaining her goals. It all leads up
      to a climactic martial arts fight in which it's revealed that Carter also is
      an android. The sequence is not dissimilar in attitude to the fighting in
      "The Matrix". Since both Carter and Rommie are androids, the story has an
      excuse for them to fly through the air. And granted, T.J. Scott and the
      Andromeda stunt coordinators are obviously nowhere near the level of a Wo
      Ping Yuen or a John Woo, but this is pretty good stuff for low-budget
      episodic television.

      All of this is kind of fun, but it's not as deep as it could've been. One
      thing that felt a little underdeveloped was Carter's role, particularly the
      revelation he's an android, which I must say I predicted a mile away, even
      though I'm not sure why. Carter has a strong presence when on screen and his
      character screams for more scenes and meaty dialog, but he doesn't really
      get them. His part in the story is adequate when it could've been
      significant and thoughtful, and could've given Rommie more to think about.
      By holding the revelation he's an android until the last minute, there's
      barely any time to ponder the significance of the idea, which seems to be
      saying something without being sure what that something is. The story's
      irony is that Carter works with a society that declared war on AIs like
      him -- because he agrees that the AIs were in the wrong. It's an intriguing
      idea, not fleshed out to satisfaction.

      The best shot in the episode is one of pure and simplistic coolness, after
      Rommie blows up Carter with a force-lance grenade. The "wind" from the
      explosion blows her hair in slow-motion as Rommie turns her head toward the
      camera and glares menacingly. (You know the shot I'm talking about; it's
      shown during the opening titles.) This shot is probably an entire course at
      the John Woo School of Cinema. I liked it a lot.

      "All Too Human" is good entertainment, but I think it had the potential to
      be more. The attitude in the Rommie plot is edgy and fun, but the
      storytelling itself never transcends adequacy. There are some good lines,
      and some good ass-kicking; it's that kind of show. It makes you want to go
      out and buy a black leather trench coat, so you too can be cool.

      --
      Next week: Tyr's trustworthiness is once again called into question.

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

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...