[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Lava and Rockets"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "Lava and
Rockets." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: Shrug.
Plot description: Dylan hijacks a tour ship to escape mercenaries trying to
kill him, and finds himself allied with a feisty female pilot.
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Lava and Rockets"
Airdate: 2/4/2002 (USA week-of)
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by Michael Rohl
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **
"You know, there was a time when I thought you were the smartest person I
had ever met, but listening to you now, if that is the way you think, then I
am as wrong about you as you are about me." -- Trance to Harper
"Lava and Rockets" represents what I hope Andromeda does not become in the
wake of Robert Hewitt Wolfe's departure. It's a stand-alone action-adventure
outing heavy on simplistic formula storytelling and light on anything
resembling depth or meaning. There are character moments to keep us slightly
entertained, but the plot is an exercise in utter banality. Is this
watchable? Yeah, I guess. Interesting? Not in the slightest.
The other thing that's disturbing is how the episode plays almost like a
template for what Tribune has been reported (via Kevin Sorbo) as wanting
more of from the series: simpleminded action, sex, and
low-or-no-consequence-oriented storytelling -- a plot for the attentively
challenged. Dylan here is your Simple Action Hero type. He gets to kiss the
girl, blow stuff up, and generally be a bland and unsophisticated Good Guy.
It's the type of comic-book Dylan that makes me yearn for the Dylan of, say,
"Angel Dark, Demon Bright," where he was under real pressures and agonized
through them. I'm wondering if we'll ever get to see that Dylan again, since
agonizing and soul-searching are not very sexy traits and thus not on the
same plane of entertainment as what Tribune apparently envisions.
Dylan hijacks a docked tour ship while running from this week's bad guys,
the Ogami, mercenaries hired by who-knows-whom. The pilot of the tour ship
is a Blonde Babe named Molly Noguchi (Kristin Lehman), and the story's key
goal is to develop a Han Solo/Princess Leia style of banter between Dylan
and Molly that, inevitably, leads to a superficial romance.
The romance is so painfully obvious and in the tradition of ancient cinema
cliches that I'm not entirely sure whether the writers meant it seriously or
as quasi-satire. I'm guessing it's not satire because, well, it's not all
that funny or subversive. But then, of course, you'd be a fool to take
anything in the Dylan/Molly storyline of "Lava and Rockets" remotely
seriously. It is what it is -- an action plot with no trace of apology. It
makes no excuses and carries no pretensions whatsoever about what it intends
The character of Molly also comes with no apologies or pretensions. She's a
chick with spunky attitude (watch her glee as she jerks the ship's controls
and sends Dylan crashing into walls) and she comes with a few basic sketches
of personality and desires, but is basically little more than a construction
of the plot. She dreams of being a military pilot but is stuck piloting this
tour vessel, a (usually) safe but boring job. "I don't want safe," she says,
which is a good thing, since hanging out with Dylan Hunt, the man whom
everyone seems to want dead, is probably one of the least safest places to
be in the tri-galaxy area.
Dylan initially takes Molly hostage, but they quickly become allies. This,
however, is (ostensibly) not before she attempts to turn him in to some cops
at a security checkpoint, who turn out to be crooked cops, forcing her to be
rescued by the very person she just tried to turn in. This prompts the first
of two action/stunt sequences which exist more for the sake of themselves
than for anything that truly needs to happen in the story. I'm sure it will
come as no surprise that the action is executed like a cartoon (super
slo-mo, stylized violence, bodies flipping through the air, etc.).
Noteworthy is the fact that Dylan extends his force-lance to full staff
mode, something we haven't recently seen. I'm not sure why that's
noteworthy, but I'll mention it anyway (feel free to apply whatever Freudian
theory you see fit). Molly trying to turn in Dylan is quite puzzling given
her behavior prior to this point. And, whether they're crooked or not, I'm
wondering what happens when Dylan kills cops on alien worlds. Apparently
he's above the law since he's the show's hero.
What's particularly frustrating about this story is that the villains are
arbitrary and the chase is meaningless. Why are the Ogami even chasing
Dylan? Because they're the bad guys, that's why. No, make that Bad Guys. No
concrete reason is supplied beyond that. The Ogami are a good example of the
MacGuffin; they exist to create the story's chase as a matter of plot
function, and the story doesn't really see them as subjects at all.
Writers Miller & Stentz have done much better. "Into the Labyrinth" had
action and sexual material, but at least there was a plot and some genuine
urgency to go along with it. At least the enemies there mattered to the
story's participants rather than being random pieces. That's not the case
What helps salvage "Lava and Rockets" are a B-story and a C-story, which are
given less obvious emphasis but work better in terms of solid
characterization. In story B, Tyr and blue-haired "action figure" Rommie
(the new costume is excessively over-the-top) go looking for Dylan, whom Tyr
had to abandon when the Ogami started chasing them. In story C, Harper must
try to accept the fact that Trance has changed into someone he no longer
knows or understands (and doesn't really want to).
The Tyr/Rommie storyline benefits from some good character tension and,
later, mutual understanding. Rommie doesn't trust Tyr (and why should she?)
and makes it clear that Tyr won't live if she finds out he was involved in
offing Dylan. Tyr responds with an appeal to Rommie's logic that I
appreciated, noting that getting rid of Dylan doesn't automatically help
him -- which is an apt point. Cobb and Doig work well together because
they're similar in disposition in the way they're both as serious as a heart
attack. It's a pairing that I don't believe we've seen on this series to
such an extent, and the results here are often good.
Tyr and Rommie's investigation leads them back to Ferahr (Dave Ward), one of
Tyr's old contacts who may or may not have betrayed them to the Ogami and
who might now have information about Dylan's recent movements (Ferahr gave
Dylan and Molly parts to repair her ship not long before Tyr and Rommie show
up on his doorstep). Rommie demonstrates her propensity for strong-armed
tactics by literally twisting Ferahr's arm for information.
No matter -- the Ogami come storming in for Major Action Scene #2, which
features Rommie running up walls, a la Trinity in "The Matrix," and Tyr
bashing heads. This scene is depressing in its by-the-numbers approach to
action. The moment the Ogami showed up, I knew (1) that there'd be plenty of
gunfire, (2) that Ferahr would be shot and killed in the mayhem (final
words: "Tyr! ... I ... ehrughefegh ... " [dies]), and (3) that all the Ogami
would be faceless, growling, cartoon thugs in Halloween costumes, reduced to
prop status specifically to make it okay to go over the top with bloodless
violence. I am sick and damn tired of it -- dumb villain-props whose
presence caters solely to the segment of the audience waiting for
shoot-em-ups, supposed villains having absolutely no dialog as characters.
This aspect of Andromeda must be stopped. I propose an immediate seizure of
all spark-squibs bound for Vancouver.
Story C is good but might've been better if expanded through more scenes.
Harper's issue is that he doesn't particularly want to get to know the new
Trance because he's a little frightened by what she represents (past,
future, life, death, etc.). It's nice to see the issue of Trance's
transformation is addressed here from the standpoint of other characters.
Trance herself seems more grown-up in attitude, with that innocent facade
significantly stripped away; Laura Bertram aptly portrays the character with
less mystery and more directness. When Harper runs his mouth off with his
Trance conspiracy theory, Trance doesn't sit back and take it, and her
response is among the more sincere things the character has said.
Additionally, I liked the scene where Beka calmly lays down the law.
Unfortunately, "Lava" is less about the supporting characters and more about
Dylan and Molly and their trite chase storyline. A notion that strikes me as
somewhat silly is the way Dylan jury-rigs this tour ship to take such a
pummeling from Ogami fighters, which are destroyed as they fly over erupting
volcanoes -- and yet the tour ship can crash-land in molten lava without
melting or being significantly damaged.
As for the romance angle, I felt the need to roll my eyes at several points,
particularly the predictable moment where Molly is lying (presumably)
unconscious on the floor and Dylan gives her mouth-to-mouth to revive her.
Ugh -- I called that one about a mile away. I also called that she'd wake up
halfway through (assuming she wasn't faking the whole time) and start
I must confess to somewhat liking how the chase culminates, with the Maru
charging in to the rescue as Molly's tour ship continues to take a pounding
from Ogami fighters until it blows up -- and then the Maru's fairly
well-executed rescue of the out-of-control escape pod. (Though I could've
done without Rommie's Exposition For Dummies line: "Dylan's ship -- it's
gone." Duh!) These events are paced just about right, and I found myself
caught up in the flow even though I knew that none of it really mattered on
a plot level. Director Michael Rohl deserves some credit. Unfortunately, it
can't make up for the story's overall lack of a point, or the fact that the
Ogami end up meaning absolutely nothing to everyone, most of all the
As bubble gum for the brain, this episode gets the job done to a certain
degree. It works better for those who will be watching passively than for
the geeks out here writing reviews. The dialog and one-liners chew their way
through the hour effectively enough to make scenes watchable, though I can't
say many of them are memorable. "Lava and Rockets" represents completely
safe, prefab, cartoon-adventure storytelling -- nothing more, nothing less.
The story ends with a bedroom scene that exists for little reason other
than, apparently, a need to get Dylan laid on-screen. There's no emotional
or character significance; it's simply the taking of a formula to its
logical and/or mandatory and/or gratuitous conclusion. If you want to see
Dylan in bed with a woman for the sake of itself, great. If you're looking
for any sort of meaning, you're hoping for too much.
"Lava and Rockets" is an episode that might work for those who like
sanitized TV action and sex. It won't work for those looking for any
surprises or depth. It certainly didn't do much for me other than make me
shrug. I certainly didn't hate this episode, but if it were to vanish from
the face of the Earth, I probably wouldn't really notice, either.
Next week: A Borg-like something from Beka's past.
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...