[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Devil Take the Hindmost"
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...