Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Devil Take the Hindmost"

Expand Messages
  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s The Devil Take the Hindmost. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: In
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2001
    • 0 Attachment
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "The
      Devil Take the Hindmost." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: In brief: A number of intriguing ideas, but not nearly enough
      coherence, as clunky acting and narrative transition sabotage the
      proceedings.

      Plot description: Dylan and Rev find themselves caught in a struggle of
      ideologies when they are asked to help protect a pacifist Wayist colony from
      a group of profiteers trying to enslave them.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "The Devil Take the Hindmost"

      Airdate: 4/16/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
      Directed by Allan Eastman

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

      "We've got two emergencies, two ships, and two captains. The math works out
      perfectly." -- Dylan
      -----

      What we have in "The Devil Take the Hindmost" are some good ideas that
      probably played very well on the page but end up only having about half the
      punch they deserve by the time they make it to the screen. Since I'm
      analyzing a television episode and not just a script, I can't call this
      episode anything resembling a success.

      Which is a shame considering its ambitions.

      I hate to belabor the point, but it comes down to performances, pacing, and
      narrative coherence. And in "Devil" it's just not here. There's a reason I
      repeat myself, and that's because these things are important. Andromeda has
      exhibited this problem, known as the vague and hard-to-specify concept of
      "story execution," for most of its first season.

      What exactly is "story execution," anyway, since it's a term I seem to use
      so much? In short, it's the way an episode "feels" in its movement from
      point to point, beat to beat, in telling its story. Execution is that
      invisible combination of elements that brings it all together such that
      writing, acting, directing, and editing meld together into an hour of
      television where we're experiencing the story instead of experiencing its
      distractions. When the spell is broken with poor execution, it's hard to be
      swept away.

      The story itself, a parable that pits pacifist faith against active
      self-defense before offering up a brave plot twist, brings Dylan and Rev to
      a world where Rev's mentor, Brother Thaddeus Blake (Mark Holden), teaches
      the ways of peace to the resident Hajira. The Hajira have maintained an
      existence of blissful innocence, even though they have "genetic memory,"
      which means memories are passed from parents to their children and knowledge
      is retained.

      The Hajira are now threatened by a group of approaching off-worlders who
      intend to capture and sell them into slavery. Dylan intends to teach the
      Hajira how to fight so they'll be able to fend off the slaver assault. The
      slavers are led by a man named Ursari (David Palffy), who serves as a
      relatively bland villain/adversary for Dylan once the action begins.

      Blake is opposed to Dylan's efforts to train the Hajira how to fight. His
      reasoning: Since the Hajira have genetic memory, teaching them self-defense
      will start a cycle of violent tendencies that may be endlessly passed on
      through their generations. They will, in a sense, lose their innocence
      forever.

      Will they? I must admit a bit of confusion about this "genetic memory"
      concept, which strikes me as particularly vulnerable to logic. How are these
      memories processed by a new individual with an infant mind? And if so many
      memories are retained, do the Hajira need to learn basic concepts as
      children? How far back do these memories go, and where did the Hajira come
      from? There's a lot of talk about innocence, but I must admit wondering if
      the Hajira *ever* had any sort of violence in their history, and I think it
      near impossible that they could've been completely free of conflict if they
      managed to survive galactic events as far-reaching as the fall of the
      Commonwealth.

      But perhaps that's over-thinking the matter; the genetic memory is really
      meant as a fictional tool to tell the story at hand -- albeit a sometimes
      uneven one. At one point the story breaks down into an issue of faith versus
      action. Blake destroys all the weapons Dylan brought with him, announcing
      that faith will see them through their crisis, not violence. Dylan asks why
      Blake bothered calling for help if faith was the answer to the problem. It's
      actually a pretty damn good question, but the episode glosses over it
      without ever offering an answer. More depth is necessary.

      I'd better hasten to add that there *are* interesting pieces of information
      that are worthy of the series' larger mythos. For one, there's the idea of
      the Anointed, the founder of Wayism. The Anointed was a Magog, a being like
      Rev whose base instinct was to eat other sentient beings or use them as
      doomed vessels to host his progeny. The Way is one possible path to
      absolution for the Magog, which in the story's larger theme of "innocence"
      are beings who by nature are born without any.

      It's interesting how Rev regards himself, as forever atoning for the sin of
      his very existence. When born, he hatched (for lack of a better term) from a
      humanoid whose fate was doomed by his birth. It's a nice detail that he
      keeps her picture with him, melancholy as he refers to her as his mother.
      For once we can see Rev not simply as Andromeda's Conscience At Large, but
      as a person whose moral desires and sense of self-responsibility are
      constantly suppressing his deep-rooted instincts as a predator. He found his
      way through the Way.

      Unfortunately, as a production, "Devil" suffers, once again, from
      Andromeda's woefully lacking array of guest actors. If these guest stars
      were any more wooden, they'd have termites. Particularly bad is Mark Holden
      as Blake, whose role demands the conviction of religious righteousness but
      whose performance is one of torturously non-dynamic utterances of terse
      dialog. Tajira residents Tiama (Maya O'Connell) and her brother Arun (Darrin
      Klimek) don't fare much better; there are too many lines in this episode
      that feel hollowly recited rather than said with any emotion.

      Where the story starts to turn truly interesting is when Tiama decides to
      take matters into her own hands by implanting herself with Rev's "genetic
      material" (the show is loath to be more specific about how a Magog
      impregnates another humanoid). She wants to bare a small army of fearsome
      Magog capable of fending off the slaver attacks. (It's a lucky thing Magog
      can gestate and grow to full size in the course of, apparently, a few days.)

      Ordinary Magog would hatch and kill everyone in sight, but Rev suggests that
      these might be different Magog because Tiama might pass her genetic memories
      along to them. They could be, in short, "Magog born innocent" rather than
      born as instinctive murderers. Rev turns out to be right. This won't,
      however, spare Tiama, whose screams and death throes are of admirable
      potency.

      Further, after seeing the Magog fend off the slaver attack, and realizing
      that they do indeed retain Tiama's memories, Arun and the other Tajira
      decide the way to protect their home is by bringing Magog into their entire
      gene pool, sacrificing themselves to create a settlement of Magog-Tajira
      hybrids that retain the Tajira memories.

      This is a fascinating concept that elevates the episode to something more
      original than the uninspired battle of ideologies that seemed to form near
      the story's beginning. (Never mind that these people would have to be insane
      to willingly allow Magog to grow and eat through their entrails, an issue
      the story casually blows by.) If only the episode had spent more time on
      this aspect of the story and drawn it out into a more plausible time frame
      rather than rushing through these developments in the final two acts,
      colliding into the ticking-clock plot involving the slavers. Frankly, most
      of the plot before this, involving battles with the slavers and so forth, is
      not very interesting.

      Also, and alas, like many other episodes this season, "Devil" features an
      unrelated B-story that serves little purpose except to give (some of) the
      rest of the regular actors something to do and make use of the standing
      Andromeda sets. This plot is a particularly guilty example of telling rather
      than showing -- it's almost entirely conveyed through dialog between Beka
      and Tyr in the ship's corridors. Between scenes they (apparently) save an
      entire settlement from starving, but its barely clear how they do this.
      Confused subplots like this one are rarely a service to an episode because
      they only distract us from the main plot.

      "The Devil Take the Hindmost" is a disappointment especially because it
      contains good ideas but can't overcome the problems in conveying them. It
      could've -- and should've -- been one of the season's best shows. But
      instead it's riddled with uncertainty.

      The episode's last line is from Rev, who says, "We saved paradise by
      introducing the serpent." A thoughtful line, indeed. Then the show ends with
      an odd note of whimsy, with Tyr giving Rev a bemused stare that almost plays
      like humor. What's that about? It doesn't seem to fit given the darker
      implications that came just before. It's like the writers wrote the scene
      with one tone in mind, and the production staff filmed it with another. And
      here I am, not sure what to make of it. There's serious stuff in here, but
      sometimes it's played the wrong way. The end result is intriguing but too
      inconsistent.

      --
      Next week: A mysterious woman is not what she seems, which means people are
      gonna get beat up!

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

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.