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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Ouroboros"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s Ouroboros. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Uh ... no. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2002
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's
      "Ouroboros." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Uh ... no.

      Plot description: In a desperate attempt to remove the Magog larvae from
      his body with experimental technology, Harper inadvertently rips space
      and time in a way that causes the past, present, and future to collide.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Ouroboros"

      Airdate: 1/28/2002 (USA week-of)
      Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
      Directed by Jorge Montesi

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

      "Trance, you will never guess who I just met!"
      "A scary, futuristic version of yourself? She went that way."
      -- Beka and Trance
      -----

      Let the arguments begin.

      Okay, so the arguments -- among the hard-core fan base anyway -- have
      already been going on for what seems like months now. Arguments over the
      Big Changes that have been rumored and discussed and debated in genre
      magazines and on Internet bulletin boards. Fan uproar over the firing of
      series developer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, whose last executive producer
      duties come with this episode. So now I'll do my part and throw a hand
      grenade into the ring.

      I'm not opposed to change -- not at all. In fact, I was actually looking
      forward to "Ouroboros," because Big Change can be exciting and lead to
      new, interesting things.

      Unfortunately, exciting and interesting is not at all how I'd describe
      "Ouroboros" itself. More like random and incoherent. The events here are
      pretty underwhelming when you really stop and think about them. The
      storyline makes use of an arbitrary "rip in space-time" plot to create
      what is a colossal mess of an hour, punctuated by the usual Andromeda
      sound and fury, stupid violence lacking any semblance of context, and a
      "meeting of past, present, and future" that allows anything and
      everything to happen, often for no dramatic reason whatsoever, so long as
      it's weird or (preferably) can support a lame action payoff.

      I'd better stress that, yes, there are some intriguing moments and points
      worth mulling over. But they're drowned out by a great many more moments
      of contrived, isolated weirdness. And I'm unsold on the ending, which
      almost redeems some of the madcap lunacy with some actual perspective,
      until you stop and realize that the closing dialog has a painful
      omission.

      I'm not sure if Wolfe was painted into a corner when writing this episode
      -- faced with changes that were dictated from the bosses above -- but
      regardless, the results aren't pretty. "Ouroboros" plays like
      bull-in-china-shop cinema (all too typical on this series, alas) to the
      point that many scenes don't even really seem necessary. Documenting
      weirdness is not enough unless it somehow adds up to a logic of its own.
      There is little logic here, even on the show's own sci-fi terms. We're
      supposed to go with the flow and accept it at face value, but the only
      thing present here *is* the flow. It's more like rapids, with rocks
      everywhere. The rules change with every scene, assuming there even are
      any rules.

      There's an old episode of Voyager called "Twisted." It's among the worst
      episodes of Star Trek ever made, and I was reminded of it here, as
      characters roamed around the ship trying to get somewhere while the rips
      in space-time kept moving them to the wrong place. To be sure,
      "Ouroboros" is infinitely faster-paced and less boring than "Twisted,"
      but it's also far loonier and at times equally tedious. This has got to
      be one of the most breakneck-paced, senseless, shapeless, unbelievable
      time-travel stories in a long time. And yet, it has its brief moments.

      Before I get into the mechanics of the plot, I want to make one quick
      comment on a purely superficial level in regards to Rommie's new
      bowl-cut, dark-blue hairstyle. In a syllable: GAG, with a capital
      everything. Who in the world thought this would look good? Lexa Doig has
      beautiful brown hair that has been perfectly acceptable for the past year
      and a half. Now we have to look at her with this tawdry wig that makes
      her look like a comic-book character. Why? There isn't even a throwaway
      line mentioning Rommie's decision to change hairstyles, perhaps because
      the writers are aware there's *no good reason for it* beyond executive
      edict. (For the record, and for our aesthetic relief, the hologram
      version of Rommie still has the brown hair, for now at least.)

      Turning to more serious matters, this is the story that, significantly,
      wraps up Harper's arc involving the Magog larvae in his stomach. His
      medicine no longer works and the prognosis is grim -- he has a week at
      best before he becomes John Hurt in "Alien." This prompts him to enlist
      Technical Director Höhne (Alex Diakun) and Höhne's assistant, Rekeeb (Rik
      Kiviaho), in an attempt to modify the tesseract technology Harper
      acquired in "Into the Labyrinth." The two Perseids jump at the
      opportunity because it involves groundbreaking scientific
      experimentation, to be performed on a subject who has nothing to lose in
      being a lab rat.

      Well, of course, Something Goes Wrong, and the tesseract technology
      causes a "watershed event in space and time," as Trance later claims. But
      hold on a second, Harper says. The tesseract generator isn't even
      operational yet, so it can't be causing the problem. But maybe, says
      Höhne, the distortions are emanating from the future -- a future where
      the generator has been completed and activated -- and is affecting our
      past and present.

      My only question: Isn't it convenient that the space-time distortions
      don't become apparent until the tesseract device is already being built,
      thereby providing the clue that they have something to do with the
      tesseract generator? Imagine if the distortions would've started a day or
      a week before Harper started building the generator. No one would have a
      clue how to fix the problem and would be up the proverbial creek,
      wouldn't they? Even more convenient (and bordering on absurd) is the
      notion that Höhne had set up automated robots to complete the work on the
      generator before being sucked out of the machine shop (by the vacuum of
      space, no less) where the work was being performed ... to which, now, we
      can't get back into because the distortions send everyone running around
      a ship where they're constantly beamed here and there and everywhere
      through space-time. This conveniently answers the question of "Why not
      stop building the generator now?" Because we can't, because the plot has
      made it so we can't. Sorry, but that's a little too contrived for my
      tastes. It plays exactly like the scripted situation it is and not much
      like an actual time-travel story grounded in drama.

      But that at least pits our heroes against a dilemma they must solve,
      which is way better than some of the other things encountered here. Like
      I said, there's a lot of roaming around the ship, and Dylan's attempts to
      get to the command deck are thwarted by the Space-Time Gods (a.k.a.
      Robert Wolfe & Co.), who are doing everything in their power to keep him
      from reaching his target. At one point, Dylan cries out, "Oh, come on!"
      at the appalling situation of trying to get somewhere and constantly
      ending up in the wrong place or timeline on the ship (Sorbo is
      particularly hammy at these moments). The problem with such scenes are
      that they grow repetitive and eventually have almost no story value. It's
      "Twilight Zone" weirdness in a dramatic dead zone.

      For that matter, what's the point of Dylan running into crew member Kylie
      (Kristina Copeland), who served on the ship 300 years ago? Kylie's
      purpose in the story doesn't have an impact; she's just an extra body to
      show up on demand to hurl into an action sequence. If you stop and ask
      what she means for the arc of the story at hand, you'll be hard-pressed
      to come up with anything substantive.

      Eventually, Rommie deduces that the harder and faster they try to reach
      their goals, the more space-time resistance they face in reaching them.
      She suggests moving "at right angles toward our goal," and Dylan
      responds, "and let the tesseracts carry us in the right direction," to
      which I can only respond, "Huh?" This strikes me as pseudo-science
      fantasy, and the way the dialog steamrollers through it with ping-pong
      exposition makes me extremely doubtful that Dylan and Rommie could've
      actually figured this out, but that they simply concluded the plot was
      ready for them to move forward and they needed an excuse to believe they
      could. Bah.

      The plot has other moments that are arbitrary and make no sense, and
      don't pretend they need to. Much is made of the need to move the
      Andromeda away from the planet it's orbiting so the distortions don't
      damage the world. And yet, what does it mean when a door on the Maru
      opens up a distortion to another world that is who-knows-how-many
      light-years away? Or the fact that the ship's distortions open gateways
      to the Andromeda as located untold light-years away in the past,
      something that Dylan even acknowledges in dialog? Distance is apparently
      irrelevant, yet a big piece of the plot hinges on the fact that it's not.

      Meanwhile we have the Kalderans showing up on the decks of the Maru and
      then later the Andromeda, which proves them every bit as useless and
      incompetent as in the lamentable "Last Call At the Broken Hammer." By the
      end, even the Magog are showing up, proving that a rip in space-time is a
      good way to justify repeating every possible pointless past action scene
      one can dream of. *Why is this necessary?* Take it all away and you still
      have the same basic story, except with maybe less nonsensical narrative
      clutter.

      Lots of people pull guns in this episode. Lots of bullets are fired. Lots
      of sparks and bodies go flying. Everything but the kitchen sink is here.
      And characters love to interrupt each other in mid-sentence (or be
      interrupted by gunfire). Most of the time Harper even interrupts himself
      by doubling-over in pain and clutching his stomach. This technique tries
      to hide the fact that the episode spends no time having conversations
      beyond the absolute bare minimum required for exposition before then
      changing directions and heading off to tag the story's next base. I
      repeat: Less is more, more is less, and lots more is gratuitous and
      little else. The results are kind of mind-numbing.

      In between the mayhem the episode tries its best to develop a story of
      sorts, though some scenes play more like teasers than drama. Beka runs
      into a future version of herself, a Bionic Beka, who is then called by an
      unseen child's voice. It's sort of an interesting moment, but only a
      30-second moment not built upon. Does this indicate anything we can
      expect to see in the future? Perhaps, but I tend to doubt it, since time
      stories are by nature non-binding.

      What *is* significant is Trance running into a future version of herself,
      who explains that things in the future are very bad, not how she had
      hoped they would turn out. This prompts Trance to switch places with her
      future self so she can use knowledge from the future to change the past.
      The future Trance ("I grew up") looks quite a bit different, more
      gold-colored than purple, and has notable ass-kicking abilities: When we
      first see her, she's doing back-flips and knocking Kalderans around like
      she's Xena. I'm not sure what I think about this; it's hardly as if we
      need a new version of Trance who can provide still *more* action scenes
      on this series. Nonetheless, the change in Trance could be interesting if
      handled properly. Her knowledge from the future (or one possible future)
      could be the source of subsequent stories.

      Meanwhile, we have Harper's dilemma, a part of the story that is actually
      followable and benefits from the always lively Woolvett. In the process
      of trying to get back to the tesseract generator, a distortion suddenly
      sends him and his team to the engine room, where Höhne falls to his
      death. This sets up the decision at the end, possibly the only humanistic
      theme in the episode, where Harper must choose whether to activate the
      tesseract generator to save himself, or destroy the generator to restore
      the timelines and bring back Höhne, an important and brilliant man. As
      everyone is debating, Trance makes the decision and flips the switch to
      extract the larvae, setting the day's events in stone. I'm glad all this
      actually came down to someone making a real decision, one that fills
      Harper and the other characters with unease.

      Rommie tells Harper what's done is done and, "All you can do now is earn
      it." This potentially poignant, briefly established theme would've worked
      better if given more time (and also if it didn't feel like Rommie's line
      was lifted straight out of "Saving Private Ryan"), providing a strong
      argument for excising about 10 minutes of action scenes in favor of
      better-developed drama scenes.

      Trance tells Dylan that she did what she did to save a friend over a
      stranger. What I think is an obvious oversight in this scene, however, is
      that she doesn't mention that activating the generator also permitted the
      rip in space-time to occur in the first place, permitting her to move
      back in time and perhaps change history for the better. If Trance tells
      herself, "You know what we have to do," then it seems only to make sense
      that she *must* flip the switch to stay in this timeline. But the story
      seems to forget about this angle and instead emphasizes her compassion
      for Harper. Maybe it was an intentional omission, but I think it hurts
      Trance's implied motivation by not having this angle even acknowledged.

      I dunno. It's safe to say I had serious, serious problems with
      "Ouroboros." I'm not concerned so much that the plot is full of paradoxes
      and doesn't make sense (no time travel story does, after all) nearly as
      much as I hated the way most of the action events were completely
      arbitrary or, worse, meaningless. What's odd about stories like this is
      that you can almost sense the ambition behind them. There are times I
      could see where Wolfe was coming from on "Ouroboros." Unfortunately, the
      results mostly lead nowhere. The construction can more or less be
      followed, but it's so hyperactive and lacking in any sort of coherent
      flow that it's virtually impossible to be absorbed by the story. I never
      once felt like I was watching anything but a massive concoction of
      disjointed scenes and gratuitous action.

      If the goal of Andromeda is to absolutely not be boring, they no doubt
      have succeeded with efforts like "Ouroboros." If the goal of Andromeda is
      more than that, however -- to tell real stories with real drama that
      don't rely on arbitrary, mechanical plot developments that play like bad
      sci-fi -- I submit that this is absolutely not the way to do it.

      --
      Footnote: Rev Bem is written out of the series in the opening 60 seconds
      of the episode through a transmission he sends explaining that his soul
      has been suffering since his sins of "The Widening Gyre," and that he can
      no longer serve aboard the Andromeda. I realize Rev's presence on the
      show was completely out of the writers' hands (Brent Stait developed
      extreme discomfort and allergic reactions to the extensive makeup; he
      couldn't even return for the brief scene here and only supplied the voice
      while Shanyne Litwiller stood in for Rev's body), but even knowing that
      can't help remove the bitter taste of a character being wiped clean away
      with very little explanation. I suppose it was the best effort possible
      given a difficult situation.

      Next week: Dylan and some chick pilot a ship against all odds for another
      apparently entertaining, action-packed hour.

      -----
      Copyright 2002 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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