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145[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Things We Cannot Change"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Apr 18, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: An aimless, inconclusive hour that begs the question: "What was
      the point of that?"

      Plot description: Unconscious and floating in space, Dylan dreams of an
      alternate life where he is married with a son.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "The Things We Cannot Change"

      Airdate: 4/8/2002 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ethlie Ann Vare
      Directed by Jorge Montesi

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

      Beka: "Why is it that the most beautiful things are always the most
      dangerous?"
      Tyr: "They do it on purpose."
      -----

      What's a reviewer to do in the face of a clip show, seeing as probably a
      third of the material on the screen is lifted straight from old shows? The
      only sensible answer is to look at the clips chosen, the framing device that
      sets them in motion, and figure out how it all relates to each other.

      In that case, which is the case I'm going with, "The Things We Cannot
      Change" is a dismal failure, a show that has an anemic framing device with
      many clips that feel like they were chosen at random, and the rest
      weakly-at-best connected to the storyline. I feel like a churl writing my
      eighth consecutive negative review for Andromeda, but there's absolutely
      nothing in this episode that's genuinely involving. On the other hand,
      there's a lot of material that's shapeless and senseless and adds up to a
      big question mark.

      I should admit up front that I don't much care for clip shows. I'm of the
      opinion that if you're going to do one, just package it without a story
      framing device and sell it exclusively as a sampling of the series, like
      "Farscape" does. At least then I wouldn't have to bother with a review. A
      clip show packaged like this one is particularly vulnerable to cliche (it's
      a dream sequence that seems inspired by a soap opera), and when we have no
      idea what the clips are supposed to mean in the context of the hour, then it
      comes off looking suspiciously like the episode was written with perfunctory
      regard for the clips ultimately included within it.

      This episode bears a resemblance to the second-season TNG finale "Shades of
      Gray," an episode regarded by many of that series' fans as one of its
      all-time worst installments. To be fair, "The Things We Cannot Change"
      boasts a superior underlying concept -- it at least tries to make an effort
      to set up an internal conflict -- but the net result is all too similar: a
      series of unrelated flashbacks that don't have the slightest bit of dramatic
      coherence. It might possibly inspire newcomers to seek out reruns (though
      probably not), but I can't imagine it will do much for the faithful who have
      already seen these episodes.

      The clothesline of a plot finds Our Hero Dylan sucked into space near a
      black hole -- the third time an Andromeda episode has been set around a
      black hole. He floats unconscious in an EVA suit with a limited air supply.
      While the crew attempts to rescue him, Dylan dreams of a parallel existence
      (Future? Past? Neither? The episode is murky on just when/where this is
      supposed to take place, which, admittedly, might be the point), where he is
      happily married with a son. In the morning, he and his pretty wife, Liandra,
      make love in the bedroom of an idyllic house on the riverfront. The son
      storms into the bedroom with joyous laughs of "Daddy! Daddy!" To create
      tones of the heavenly simplistic and surreal, the house is completely white,
      utterly clean, with nothing on the walls. That's right: It's a dreamy
      cliche.

      But hold on a second. Something's not right. Dylan has waking flashbacks --
      maybe it's post-traumatic stress disorder. He envisions ... well, things
      that happened in old episodes. In his dream he lives out the flashbacks
      while awake and talking to his wife; at one point, he pulls out his
      force-lance and envisions his definitive struggle with Rhade ... and nearly
      shoots his wife in the process of a crazed hallucination.

      The connections between the dream setting and the flashbacks are most
      strongly connected through some visual cues. Dylan sees a stove-top fire and
      envisions the evil, fiery Spirit of the Abyss, accusing his wife of being
      part of an alien conspiracy. He sees his son's soccer ball and envisions the
      Magog world-ship flying across the galaxy. Fine and good; the visual
      transitions are sometimes workable in a fire-equals-fire,
      sphere-equals-sphere literal sense, but as the show progresses, little of
      this has much to do with the would-be point of the exercise -- that of Dylan
      coming to terms with the struggle of who he is, a soldier in the High Guard
      or a husband and a father. In this dream his military career and stress has
      worn on his marriage -- though the episode makes alarmingly swift changes in
      momentum, with blissful lovemaking not-so-gradually shifting toward Liandra
      threatening to take their son and leave Dylan if he doesn't quit the High
      Guard.

      A situation like this is especially dependent on solid performances. Alas,
      we don't have them. Kevin Sorbo's limited range is especially evident here;
      he lacks the ability demanded of him by this story to credibly turn from
      relaxed to confused to crazy to tortured. When, for example, he shouts out
      in frustration, "What the hell is going on here?!" it's very important that
      we believe him, otherwise the scene lies in ruins. Unfortunately, I didn't
      at all believe him, and the scene lay in ruins.

      Similarly, Cynthia Preston as Liandra is less than stellar, and Ryan
      Drescher as son Ethan is awful in an ultra-annoying
      fingernails-on-chalkboard performance that makes the kid who played Anakin
      Skywalker in "Episode I" look tolerable by comparison.

      Through a cycle of flashback, discussion, flashback, discussion, the show
      turns downright tedious and it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain
      exactly what, if anything, writer Ethlie Ann Vare is trying to say here.
      Even when the dialog between Dylan and his wife occasionally lines up with
      what actually happens in the flashbacks, it doesn't have much of a point. It
      sits idly as a neutral fragment, perfunctory rather than essential.

      I understand that dreams aren't supposed to make sense. They're erratic,
      incomplete, chaotic, and they leave one pondering the meaning after waking.
      But "The Things We Cannot Change" does not evoke the senseless, confused
      atmosphere of a real dream nor the coherence of reasonable drama. It's a
      constant unintended compromise between the two, an hour of disjoined clips
      shoehorned between pieces of a repetitive discussion. (Not to mention we
      have to sit through clips like, for example, the closing maudlin excess of
      "Star-Crossed," not good the first time around, let alone now.)

      All of which might've been tolerable if there was any sort of point to it by
      the end. The underlying theme is that of Dylan choosing between his family
      and his career. But the episode leaves no room for reflection. After being
      rescued by the Andromeda crew, Dylan's speech at the end is yet another
      example of wrapping things in a pretty package with a pretty bow, never mind
      that such dialog represents the simplest of simpleminded, shoving aside all
      longing and doubt that the dream would suggest Dylan has. Or doesn't have.
      You tell me.

      For that matter, also tell me what we're supposed to make of the whole
      Liandara-is-an-alien-or-maybe-not and then the whole
      Trance-maybe-knows-what-was-going-on-but-pretends-not-to. The story goes to
      great lengths to hint at but not draw any conclusions about the
      uncertainties of this plot, or whether said "plot" even exists. Are we being
      set up for something down the road, like, heaven forbid, the image of
      Liandra really turning out to be Spirit of the Abyss or some other
      black-hole-dwelling lifeform (who here tells him, "You're killing my
      people")? I don't know, but more to the point, I don't care; this episode
      doesn't even come close to working on its chosen level for me to worry about
      the possibilities of murky, buried,
      supposedly-all-meaning-but-truthfully-meaningless subplots (the reason why I
      quit watching "The X-Files").

      This is an hour that demands its central character to pause, reflect, and
      question himself. Instead we have simpleton Dylan saying, "I'm Captain Dylan
      Hunt of the starship Andromeda Ascendant." Yawn. To put it another way, if
      even Dylan isn't moved by this experience, why in the world should we be?

      Maybe I'm the one who's dreaming. Wake me up when the series has shown
      evident depth beyond that of a muddied wading pool.

      --
      Next week: Hard to tell by the trailer, but more to the point, make sure you
      buy the trading cards!

      -----
      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...