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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Pitiless as the Sun"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s Pitiless as the Sun. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: I m sitting on
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "Pitiless
      as the Sun." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: I'm sitting on the fence for this one.

      Plot description: Representatives from a war-devastated world plea with
      Dylan to help them stop an unknown enemy from attacking their cargo ships.
      Meanwhile, Trance is interrogated by an alien government that wants insights
      into her people's true nature.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Pitiless as the Sun"

      Airdate: 10/22/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Emily Skopov
      Directed by Richard Flower

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

      "So those Pyrians are interdictionists and we are the criminals."
      "And in about 30 seconds they're going to interdict us to death."
      -- Dylan and Beka
      -----

      It has been widely speculated that Trance could very well be the most
      powerful and potentially dangerous character on Andromeda, and based on the
      hints in this episode, that's certainly a possibility. I have no doubt that
      this series' writers really know what Trance is all about, and may someday
      tell us ... but that day is not today. Trance is still a secret, and the
      writers -- you can be certain -- will bide their time in revealing this
      mystery.

      "Pitiless as the Sun" was at one point called "The Interview," a title
      discarded because it "wasn't nearly pretentious enough to be an Andromeda
      episode title," joked staff writer Zack Stentz. An "interview" of Trance
      Gemini ("interrogation" would be a better word) is an intriguing story idea.
      Part of me knew that any interrogation of Trance would be fruitless, and
      that secrets would remain secrets. But part of me also hoped we'd get some
      major revelations here about Trance's people. When you have a mystery in
      front of you, you want to see it solved.

      But patience is a virtue.

      I really can't say I liked *or* disliked this episode. It didn't do enough
      to fully engage me, and it also didn't do anything particularly
      wrong-headed. As a Trance episode, it's respectable because it at least
      acknowledges the mystery exists and attempts (in its futile way) to confront
      it straightforwardly -- as opposed to the method of many other previous
      Trance stories, which is with an annoying wink and a nudge from the writers,
      as if to say: "That silly Trance! She's sure hiding a lot more than it looks
      like!" Yes, thank you, I know.

      But at the same time I find myself asking: Did we really learn anything here
      that we didn't already know? There are bits and pieces of minor new
      information, but the overriding sense I get from this episode is that it's
      confirming -- bringing into open dialog -- that Trance is indeed a mystery.
      But we already knew that, because the never-so-subtle hints have been there
      from day one.

      Trance's interrogation takes place on the planet of the Inari, a somewhat
      xenophobic world recovering from a terribly costly civil war. Trance arrives
      on the planet to play diplomat, to figure out what the Inari are like, to
      see if they can be useful or trustworthy in Dylan's Commonwealth. Her
      contact is Professor Logitch, played by none other than William B. Davis,
      who was the Cigarette-Smoking Man on "The X-Files." Davis seems almost
      incomplete without his cigarette prop in hand; I kept wanting him to light
      up. I guess that's what they call typecasting.

      If Trance is always covering up her true motives, then it's worth noting
      that so here is Logitch, who begins the story as harmless and pleasant --
      supposedly on Trance's side in her diplomatic effort -- before drugging her
      and hooking her up to a restraining chair and scanning devices. Even then he
      never quite comes across as menacing or brutal. Serious, yes, but Logitch is
      not needlessly cruel or a man who takes pleasure in giving torture. He has a
      job to do -- to learn as much about Trance's people as possible -- and he
      intends to do it. In the process he becomes an almost surprisingly
      sympathetic figure.

      The reason for the interview: One of the Trance-like Purple People visited
      the Inari's world a number of years ago and was responsible for inciting the
      civil war that devastated their society. This Purple Person was also a
      mystery, with a childlike innocence about him similar to Trance's. The story
      leaves it completely vague how exactly this Purple Person "incited" a civil
      war. Was it through mental manipulation of others? Elaborate trickery,
      double-crosses, or setups? I'm not so sure to leave it so vague is fair.
      Obviously the *Inari* know how the war was started. For the dialog to omit
      that information is to purposely leave the audience in the dark.

      And if one Purple Person was able to damage this society so badly, is it
      really a good idea for them to go to such lengths to lure the Andromeda to
      their planet and kidnap another one of them? (For that matter, how could
      they have come up with this plan and known for sure that Trance would decide
      to come down for a visit?)

      Logitch wants to know who Trance's people are. Where they come from. What
      they want. Why they do what they do. His government wants to be able to
      defend itself in the event of a full-scale Purple People invasion. The flaw
      in his reasoning, as he should already know, and which Trance tells him:
      Given such apparent abilities, it would hardly take a full-scale invasion
      for the Purple People to destroy the Inari.

      "Pitiless" for the most part is just more supposition. Supposition can be
      interesting, but when it comes to supposition, it's the audience, and not
      the story, doing the bulk of the work. So in addition to supposition, the
      story needs to work on its own merits too. To that end, the effectiveness of
      "Pitiless" relies primarily on the strength of the interrogation scenes and
      the mind games. Trance plays with Logitch and is most definitely in the
      driver's seat here, even though she's the one strapped to a chair.

      Some of this works, as Trance slowly wears Logitch down by defying his
      expectations and resisting every form of interrogation he employs, while
      supplying information that serves mostly to create more fear. Trance also
      has a knack for using Logitch's own personal vulnerabilities and human
      decency against him. Call it effective psychology.

      Some of this doesn't work, like, for example, a key payoff moment after
      Trance concocts the story of her people's "true purpose" -- as "sex slaves
      designed to bring pleasure to the universe." The way the camera spins around
      a laughing Trance, and the poorly envisioned way Logitch throws a hand-held
      device to the floor in anger, go a long way to destroying the impact of this
      scene. Moments like this need precise execution to work.

      I found it interesting how Logitch started the interrogation while standing
      over Trance, who was strapped to a chair, and ended the interrogation
      sitting in the chair himself, with more terror on his face than Trance ever
      showed at any point through the entire process. Trance knows how to turn the
      tables.

      BUT ... as dramatic, chewable meatiness goes, something about all this is
      ... underwhelming. If you compare this to the likes of interrogation scenes
      such as Picard's torture at the hands of Gul Madred in TNG's "Chain of
      Command, Part II" or the multifaceted Garak/Odo interrogation scenes in
      DS9's "The Die Is Cast," you begin to realize that, dramatically, "Pitiless"
      doesn't hold a candle to those far superior examples. Because everyone's
      motives here are so intentionally shrouded, we're left with scenes that are
      interesting and elusive, but tempered, tame, and anticlimactic. (And for
      that matter, since there's so much lying, it's hard to even say what's meant
      as true and what's meant as a lie.)

      Could it have worked better? I'm not sure, given how elusive Trance
      obviously will remain. I do find interesting that her people apparently
      thrive off chaos and can do awful things when "bored." But I doubt Trance
      will ever command a scene the way, say, Garak could; she's a mystery, which
      is not the same thing as a mysterious *character*.

      There's another plot line to "Pitiless," which occupies about equal screen
      time but is worth considerably less discussion. It involves two Inari,
      Whendar (Ann Marie Lodar) and Gadell (Antonio Cupo), using deceptive motives
      to draw Dylan and the Andromeda into an illegal drug transaction with a
      dangerous species called the Pyrians.

      There are pieces of this plot that don't come together very well, like
      Gadell turning out to be a DEA-like informant, something that's telegraphed
      in an earlier scene but nevertheless remains mostly confused and
      unnecessary, to say nothing of how Dylan so easily figured out Gadell was an
      informant. For that matter, if someone could plausibly explain how Gadell
      figured out Dylan and Harper were making nova bombs, I will be grateful. (Of
      interest is how most of the rest of Dylan's crew doesn't even know he's
      making the bombs; perhaps issues of trust have not been completely hurdled.)

      Whendar is a drug trader who lies to Dylan's face through much of the
      episode. Dylan fortunately shows skepticism from the outset and maintains a
      close eye, and I appreciated the nod to the Dylan/Beka optimist/skeptic role
      reversal at the beginning. Harper seems to be back to his sometimes amusing,
      sometimes annoying hyperactive self. Rev is AWOL for the second episode in a
      row.

      I appreciated that this plot tied in with the whole issue of Inari society
      being devastated by their civil war, but it seems like drug trafficking is
      becoming a strangely oft-used "evil" on this series. As routine
      confrontation plots go, all of this is so-so, with too much uncertain
      execution to be successful.

      As for the Pyrians ... I'm on the fence there too. I can't say I'm much
      impressed with them here; they're more concept than content at this point.
      Their ships are adequately unique. As creatures, they're a weird CGI design,
      although we don't get a very good look at them. As Disembodied Voices [TM]
      they're a disappointment; I've always found the "distorted, overlaid
      male/female voices in pseudo-monotone" to be a corny space opera cliche, and
      that's certainly the way it comes across here. As yet another entry into
      this series' vast expanse of cultures, I have to wonder -- how many people
      are we going to invite to this party? These guys are obviously intended as
      Major Players. At this rate, Andromeda is going to end up with a universe
      full of chess pieces on its intergalactic chess board ... but how can all of
      these pieces possibly play in a game without it becoming a colossal mess? I
      guess we'll find out.

      As for Trance, I guess I can take some comfort in the fact that everyone
      knows she's hiding things and that they choose to willingly turn a blind
      eye. Now they need to find a way to develop Trance beyond her sweet innocent
      facade. Right now the facade *is* her character. I'm asking for more.

      --
      Next week: From the trailer, I have no idea, except to say, "It's action
      hour!"

      -----
      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@...
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