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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Lava and Rockets"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 12, 2002
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      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
      to be.

      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
      here.

      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
      kissing him.

      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
      audience.

      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.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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