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67[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "To Loose the Fateful Lightning"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Oct 19, 2000
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "To Loose
      the Fateful Lightning." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: No, thanks. Despite some bits of useful backstory here and there,
      it's a contrived mess with weak performances.

      Plot description: The Andromeda crew discovers a colony of children
      descended from a Commonwealth military unit, who know nothing but fear and
      hate and hope to unleash a long-contained wrath upon their enemies.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda:
      "To Loose the Fateful Lightning"

      Airdate: 10/16/2000 (USA week-of)
      Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
      Directed by Brenton Spencer

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

      "These children desperately need spiritual guidance." -- Rev
      -----

      "To Loose the Fateful Lighting" is a well-intended but heavy-handed episode
      that is pieced together into a narrative mess that makes very little sense.
      By the end, it borders on incoherence. It also doesn't help that the guest
      performances -- not to mention most of Kevin Sorbo's speechmaking efforts --
      don't work. This episode, airing third, was shot before both halves of the
      premiere. Perhaps that somewhat accounts for rougher edges, but it may
      simply be a matter of a derivative message being retold and botched.

      My biggest problems with "Lightning" are that it lacks clear narrative focus
      and has jarring swings in momentum. What are the goals here? What is the
      story at its core? The mishmash of scenes are so haphazardly assembled that
      I'm not even sure. There are plenty of speeches and Roddenberry Themes
      running through this episode, but there's no clear line of thought to
      connect them. It's rambling and undisciplined.

      The story brings the Andromeda to a space station populated completely by
      children who are descendants of the Commonwealth. They've been isolated on
      this station for generations, and these days a generation is not all that
      long (a toxic radiation leak cuts their lives short); the wise elder on the
      station is maybe 20 years old. Her name is Nassan (Amber Rothwell) and she
      is ill and frail. It would seem that life for these children comprises of
      constantly fending off the Magog and other enemies who attempt to invade the
      station. For how long or why the Magog have been trying to take over this
      station is never made clear. Maybe they were trying to get the armaments in
      the station's storage bay, but after 300 years of trying and failing against
      a bunch of brats, you'd think they'd either stop trying or just blow the
      damn thing up.

      The idea of generations of children on board a space station for three
      centuries -- typically dying in their early 20s -- strains credulity, to put
      it mildly. How have they survived? What do they eat? How can they bear and
      raise children if they're constantly fending off enemy assaults and dying
      early in life? Does the station have unlimited power? The story glosses
      right over such questions. Personally, I'm of the opinion that these kids
      would've died out long ago. They're ill-informed about the current state of
      the universe and they can't even read. They simply don't have the
      intellectual means for any kind of long-term survival in these conditions.

      The situation isn't supposed to be totally believable, I guess, but rather a
      means for conveying the sentiment of this week's opening Commonwealth quote
      ("Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it; those who fail to
      learn history *correctly* -- why, they are simply doomed"). These kids have
      learned through cryptic oral tales passed down over the years, and
      apparently some important lessons have been terribly misinterpreted. One
      thing these kids *have* effectively learned is how to fire weapons and
      maintain hatred toward their enemies. The aggressive second-in-command here
      is Hayek (Chris Lovick), and he's pretty up-front about wanting to kill
      every Magog and Nietzschean in existence.

      Dylan Hunt enters into this premise wanting to teach these kids about the
      peace and coexistence the Commonwealth once stood for. (Ironically, they are
      as frozen in time as Dylan was in "Under the Night," except they were raised
      on warfare rather than peace.) The children have been long waiting for the
      prophesized return of the High Guard to lead them into a new era. And now
      here he is. But Dylan's actions make him come off as disturbingly
      slow-witted. The mistakes he makes as forced upon him by the script are
      beyond all reason; the story either isn't aware of them or thinks the
      contrivances can be justified as "not Dylan's fault." Wrong.

      Consider: With his High Guard access code, Dylan helps the children gain
      access to a bay full of fighter spacecraft and dreaded nova bombs. Cut to
      commercial. When we come back, Dylan is aboard the Andromeda discussing
      these kids' dangerous, combative attitudes. All the while he has left them
      alone with full access to fighters and nova bombs. Hello?

      Consider: Hayek asks Dylan to "bless" two of his soldiers so that there may
      be peace. Dylan, unsure what this means, does it anyway, and they take this
      as a sign to arm two fighter craft with nova bombs and launch an assault on
      a Magog solar system -- their logic being that after destroying all their
      enemies there will be peace. Does Dylan try to physically keep them from
      boarding the ships? No, because that would stop this story in its tracks.
      Before we even know what's happening Andromeda is chasing after the fighter
      ships and failing, and a solar system with billions of Magog is completely
      destroyed. Talk about your consequences of ignorance (Dylan will surely be
      careful before he "blesses" anyone again). The destruction of the solar
      system is supposed to be a powerful moment, but it comes off as manufactured
      solely by the script. My favorite line has to be when Dylan asks Andromeda
      if anyone possibly survived the star's destruction. Uh-huh. (It's a
      *supernova* -- what do you think?)

      Dylan's actions here are sloppily scripted in order to force the story
      forward on its course in ways that would not have been possible if he were
      acting competently. But in this show, Dylan stands around looking confused a
      lot. Confused heroes in the right circumstances are fine, but not when going
      up against the intellects of grade-schoolers -- and getting outsmarted by
      them. When not looking confused, Dylan delivers speeches preaching the ways
      of peace. Fine and good, but we've been through this sort of thing many
      times in the Roddenberry realm, and Sorbo's take on it here is less than
      stellar, I must report.

      The guest performances didn't impress me either. Amber Rothwell's character
      is sick, yes, but she plays the part as if in some weird sleepwalking
      morphine daze. Worse is Chris Lovick's take on Hayek: Quite frankly, this is
      one of the most annoying teenage performances I've seen in some time. Hayek
      is an excessively arrogant, superior persona who yells and sneers and
      generally comes off as a jerk. A character like Hayek should not come off as
      a cocky bastard; he should seem driven to his actions by his difficult life.
      (After seeing Manu Intiraymi in Voyager's "Imperfection," a lot can be said
      for restraint.)

      Ultimately, Hayek and his small soldiers are attempting (of course) to take
      over Andromeda and launch the "Day of Lightning," which apparently means
      "killing everybody we hate." Shoehorned in here is a brief conflict of
      conscience when Dylan plays along with Nassan when she refers to him as the
      "messiah" -- as he hopes to gain her trust in his ways. But what I wondered
      was at what point the High Guard became synonymous with godliness (literal
      or not); the notion is oddly conjured halfway through the story, apparently,
      just to manufacture this half-baked development.

      The action at the end is inept. The events do not flow together into
      anything remotely organic, and the result, alas, is laughable. The depiction
      of Andromeda thwarting the children's attempted takeover of the ship looked
      phony and bizarre. I realize this show has budget limitations, but having
      everybody fall to the floor and calling it a "gravity field" is not
      convincing.

      Possibly the silliest aspect of the episode is the way the writers handle
      the question surrounding Harper's "secret project." This is one of those
      storytelling tricks that exists solely to "surprise" the audience, because
      it sure isn't plausible on any other level (that is to say, there *is no*
      reason for it to be a secret, especially since Harper would be hard-pressed
      to justify his absence during a crisis). Said secret project is Harper
      building Andromeda an android body so she can take physical form. Why is
      this a secret? Answer: So it can be concealed from the audience and
      Andromeda can play deus ex machina at the end and save the day.

      The one-line setup that hints of Harper taking on this project is so quick
      and subtle that you will probably miss it ... which may be the point, but it
      throws the structure of the episode into unnecessary chaos. Besides, I'd
      like to know how he accomplished such an ambitious goal with such immaculate
      timing. (Does he have android parts lying around the ship?) And having
      Andromeda make a "memorable" entrance by walking onto the bridge naked is a
      cliche that strikes me as goofy far more than it does cool. In three
      episodes I've come to like Lexa Doig's cool-headed portrayal of the ship's
      AI, but this sort of camp is not doing her any favors.

      If you ask me, the whole issue of giving Andromeda a body deserved its own
      story (perhaps a B-plot where it was *not* a secret); here it seems
      completely severed from the narrative at hand concerning the child soldiers.
      It's an awkward distraction, and that's a shame, because it should've been
      something special.

      In the Things I Liked Dept., I did appreciate Rev and his speeches; he once
      again plays the moral center of the show, and has a respectable ability to
      forgive others, even after being hung upside down and beaten. There's also
      an interesting exchange between Beka and Harper about Harper's upbringing on
      Earth, a planet that apparently didn't fare too well in the aftermath of the
      Commonwealth's disintegration. Harper isn't too broken up about the deaths
      of a few billion Magog, which is justified by his rather ghastly tale of how
      Magog used two of his cousins to spawn offspring in a procedure apparently
      not unlike the hatching in "Alien." (Though I do wonder if there is inner
      conflict here; Harper is friends with Rev after all.)

      At its heart, "To Loose the Fateful Lightning" has a point to make. But it's
      poorly executed, with pithy lines scattered unconvincingly through the
      script. I'm all for themes that aim higher and dialog that tries to mean
      something, but they have to make sense in the context of a well-executed
      story, with performances we can respect and believe and action we can
      follow. "Lightning" is a failure on those counts.

      --
      Next week: The crew faces off with an unknown enemy ... and also each other.

      -----
      Copyright 2000 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...