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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Una Salus Victus"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s Una Salus Victus. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Probably the best
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 28, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "Una
      Salus Victus." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Probably the best example of Andromeda Action Hour to date, and
      with some good characterization.

      Plot description: The Andromeda crew engages the Nietzschean Drago-Kazov
      pride on a multi-tiered mission to safely escort a medical convoy to a
      planet besieged by a deadly plague.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Una Salus Victus"

      Airdate: 11/12/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

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

      "Well, we might let God sort them out, but someone told me he was dead."
      "That Nietzsche -- what a comedian."
      -- Tyr and Dylan
      -----

      Lots of stuff gets blowed up real good in "Una Salus Victus," which is
      perhaps the best pure action/pyrotechnic episode yet for Andromeda. And not
      only does stuff get blowed up (real good) -- there's also a solid core to
      the proceedings, which puts characters in extreme action situations and
      gives them what in general drama terms might best be called "motivation."

      Motivation, surely enough, not to get blowed up real good.

      The story is a good continuity episode in addition to being a multi-tiered
      plot that has three distinct but related threads, all of which are
      thoroughly involving. In Story A, Dylan and Tyr try to break into a highly
      armed, Nietzschean-controlled former-High Guard base on a planet to make
      sure they don't launch any anti-spacecraft batteries upon the subjects of
      Story B, the Andromeda, which is providing convoy for a fleet of Wayists to
      deliver relief supplies to combat the outbreak of a deadly plague on a
      peaceful planet. To reach the peaceful planet, the convoy must pass through
      the Nietzschean-occupied territories where the planet of Story A is located.
      In Story C, Beka must double back in the Maru after a Wayist ship that got
      separated from the convoy, upon which she finds herself in a combat
      situation with a Nietzschean fighter.

      What's a little amazing about this episode is that it takes all three
      stories and rolls them together such that each one is solid in its own
      right, well-paced, and well-balanced among the rest of the show. Make no
      mistake -- this is another action-heavy episode in a season that seems to be
      cementing Andromeda's reputation as a nonstop action-fest. But this episode
      never loses sight of its characters or their personalities. The result is a
      true action show rather than an overly gratuitous one like, say, "Last Call
      at the Broken Hammer." Yes, there are scenes where Our Heroes are
      outnumbered and outgunned, and probably escape situations in ways that are
      highly improbable. But the episode sells the action well enough that we
      actually want to buy it.

      And besides, Dylan and Tyr work very well together, which is what the core
      of "Una Salus Victus" comes down to. Continuing from the issues of Tyr's
      "extra-curricular activities" highlighted in "Exit Strategies" (itself a
      follow-up to "Music of a Distant Drum"), we have Dylan finding out some of
      the reasons why Tyr has become a liability for Andromeda. Again, it's the
      Drago-Kazov chasing Tyr and Dylan around, led by Fleet Marshal Cuchulain Nez
      Perce (Adrian Hughes, reprising his role from last season's "Honey
      Offering").

      This time Tyr is forced to come clean to Dylan -- he has stashed aboard the
      Andromeda the corpse of Nietzschean progenitor Drago Museveni, which we knew
      but Dylan didn't. What we learn here is *how* this corpse can bring its
      holder power: Museveni is prophesized to someday be reincarnated, and
      matching the new Museveni's DNA to that of the corpse is the only way to
      validate the fulfillment of the prophecy. Whoever has the corpse holds that
      power. (One is tempted to ask why Museveni's DNA records aren't on file
      elsewhere, independent of actually needing the body, but I won't be a
      churl.)

      Such information -- along with some well-played tension between Dylan and
      Tyr, including a scene where Dylan shoots a bullet right past Tyr's right
      ear -- is sandwiched between scenes of Dylan and Tyr sneaking around the
      Nietzschean base, on the run after they find out It's Really A Trap, dodging
      bullets, shooting bad guys, and leaving a trail of corpses in their wake.
      This is more stylized Ultra-Action, and one wonders how these two guys can
      never get hit by bullets while managing to drop at least a dozen
      Nietzscheans. I suppose it's because they're Good Guys.

      But it's a heck of a lot better than the Kalderan assault of "Broken Hammer"
      or the Magog orgy in "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last." The choreography and
      cinematography are more interesting and the action is confined to shorter
      bursts rather than long, absurd slogs. Not to mention the fact we have
      gattling guns that sound like actual bullets are being fired from them, as
      opposed to those wussy-sounding force-lances. And there's at least one trick
      orchestrated by Tyr and Dylan that excitingly demonstrates escape via the
      element of surprise. (I was reminded of Maximus' cleverly violent escape
      from execution near the beginning of "Gladiator.")

      Action is meaningless without context, but here we have Dylan and Tyr in the
      middle of a mission to protect a convoy, and heaped on top of that is the
      interesting continued friction between these two characters. What motivates
      these two? "The Magog are coming," Dylan notes. Tyr calls that a convenient
      excuse. And to some degree it is; what would Dylan's answer have been before
      "The Widening Gyre"? After you answer that question, ask yourself if Dylan's
      reasoning grew from self-importance, self-righteousness, naive idealism, or
      any or all of the above. After all, nobody *asked* Dylan to restore the
      Commonwealth, and it would seem few people even *want* it. When Tyr says
      Dylan wants to impose his own personal will on the universe, he's quite
      right.

      One needs to look no further than Harper to see the flip side of the coin.
      When Beka leaves in the Maru, "Captain Harper" must oversee the safe passage
      of the fleet through the Nietzschean territories. Is Harper particularly
      happy about risking his neck to escort a bunch of Wayists to save a planet
      he has no vested interest in? No, not really. He's more about
      self-preservation. But later, when the heat gets turned up and death becomes
      a foregone conclusion, Harper adjusts his goal to killing as many
      "Drago-jerkoffs" as possible. Harper is driven more by his desire to seek
      vengeance on "those Nietzschean bastards" than to save lives, which is
      compelling evidence that our attitudes are shaped by the worlds we grew up
      in. Dylan's was one of idealism; Harper's was one of cynicism.

      Somewhere midway between these two attitudes is Beka Valentine, who strikes
      me as someone who just wants to get the job done. It's a good cause, and
      she's going to lend her helping hand. And in Dylan she trusts. Her plot
      revolves around the fact that she gets in a dogfight with a Nietzschean
      fighter, both ships are disabled, and it's a race to see who can repair
      their ship first. The pilot of the Nietzschean fighter is a woman named
      Quechua (Kendall Cross), who has the usual ultra-low neckline and probably
      too much makeup, but never mind, because the story gives her a certain depth
      and sympathy. In the Drago-Kazov, women who can't give birth can regain
      honor for their families on the battlefield. A bit Klingon-esque, perhaps,
      but, hey, why not?

      I liked the way this concept of race-to-repair unfolded; there's an
      adversarial camaraderie that develops over the course of the show, even
      though it's clear that the last one to finish their repairs will be the one
      who gets blowed up real good. Putting faces behind explosions makes action
      stories like this worthwhile.

      There were some scenes I had a little trouble with. Beka's narration while
      she rescues the Wayist ship is too obviously scripted. I can believe Beka
      talking to herself. But I don't think I can believe just how much she talks
      to herself for what is too obviously exposition for the audience's benefit.
      I'm also finding less amusement from Beka's smart-alecky asides. A little
      Beka can go a long way. Honestly, I'd like to see this character presented a
      little more straight, because she still comes across to me as the wannabe
      hip.

      On the other hand, I'd like to see more Crazy Mofo Dylan, which we get near
      the end here. Dylan gains control of the orbital battery weapons and begins
      firing them on the mountain that houses the base where he, Tyr, and the
      Nietzscheans are. He tells Cuchulain to back off and to let the convoy pass
      through the blockade, threatening to bombard the mountain until the base and
      everyone inside is destroyed. Cuchulain thinks Dylan is bluffing. He's not.

      I'm still unsure whether the writers want Dylan to be Pragmatic Humanitarian
      Dylan or Crazy Mofo Dylan or both, but on the grounds of entertainment it's
      tough to argue against a Dylan whose back is against the wall and who must
      resort to extreme tactics. "Una Salus Victus" is part of an old High Guard
      special ops motto that goes, "The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for
      safety," and Dylan's suicidal tactic here reflects this idea marvelously.
      And I liked his line, "That's what the universe needs more of -- people
      *caring* for each other!" The context is what makes it so much fun. But one
      question: Why didn't Cuchulain simply shoot Dylan? Dylan can't push buttons
      to fire missiles if he's dead.

      I don't care. All of this comes together in an entertaining package that
      director Allan Kroeker skillfully executes. The editing is right on target,
      and the script by Miller & Stentz flows with great efficiency. And the
      impact on characters is adequate, as shown by the final face-off between
      Dylan and Tyr, when Dylan tells Tyr he's essentially putting Museveni's
      corpse under his own lock and key: my ship, my cargo. Tyr still teeters on
      the edge of untrustworthiness, and finds this situation not to his liking;
      it's nice to see that he's not entirely predictable.

      The early online spoiler tidbits reported "Una Salus Victus" as being about
      "love and blowing things up." I have no idea about the love part. But
      blowing things up, yes. And it's an especially good example. This isn't one
      of the most groundbreaking episodes this series has had, but it's one of the
      most skillful, and one of the most fun.

      --
      Next week: Rhade Redux ... and a character named Jamahl very likely gets
      blowed 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@...
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