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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Knight, Death, and the Devil"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: The best episode of Andromeda in months. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25 6:30 PM
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.


      In brief: The best episode of Andromeda in months.

      Plot description: The crew attempts the rescue of a fleet of High Guard
      starships and AIs from a prisoner of war camp.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda:
      "The Knight, Death, and the Devil"

      Airdate: 4/29/2002 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
      Directed by Richard Flower

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "The choice is yours. Hunt out." -- Beka pretending to be Dylan, and later
      Dylan for real
      -----

      Finally, here's an episode that resembles what Andromeda once upon a time
      resembled. If last week's "Belly of the Beast" was Lightweight Cheesy Good,
      then this week is Genuine Substantive Good.

      One of the interesting overall aspects about "The Knight, Death, and the
      Devil" is its militaristic theme. It presents Captain Hunt as a military
      man, and a fleet of High Guard starship AIs as soldiers. The theme runs
      through the hour, and on several occasions the discussion turns to that of
      one's duty. The military theme has always been an understated element on
      Andromeda, and here it becomes the focus of an intelligent story with some
      good, meaty dialog.

      The plot's central idea is an intriguing one with great promise: A shipyard
      is seen as a POW camp because the ships are run by sentient AIs with no
      crews. Their crews were killed or captured during the High Guard's battles
      with the Nietzscheans three centuries ago, and once the war was over, the
      Nietzscheans confined the starships to a barren solar system (aptly
      code-named "Tartarus"). There they've sat while the Drago-Kazov have tried
      to come up with ways of erasing the AIs from the ships' systems without
      destroying the ships. If the Drago-Kazov erase the AIs, the fleet will be
      theirs to harness as a powerful weapon.

      Naturally, I have some doubts from the standpoint of logic. For one, I
      continue to believe that this series overestimates the power of High Guard
      starships. Yes, the Andromeda is a powerful ship. But at the end of the day
      it's still only a ship. By the same token, the fleet of High Guard warships
      seen here are ships that could potentially fall into the hands of the
      Drago-Kazov. Yes, that'd be bad news for Dylan's new Commonwealth, but I
      still object to the Dylan Hunt Hyperbole [TM] that this spells no less than
      the conquering of the universe. Secondly, I have my doubts that the
      Nietzscheans have been trying to erase these AIs from the ships for 300
      years (yes, 300 years!). In 300 years couldn't the Nietzscheans *build* a
      fleet of warships or at the very least hire better computer hackers? (And
      given that they've now finally found a way to crack the AIs, Dylan's timing
      on arriving at this situation is nothing short of immaculate.)

      Our entry point to the story is an AI avatar named Ryan, who once embodied
      the Clarion's Call. After the fall of the High Guard, he escaped the POW
      camp with a mission to recruit an enemy Nietzschean pride of the
      Drago-Kazov. He never returned, an action now seen by the other High Guard
      AIs as an act of betrayal. In a way, it was, but Ryan had his reasons for
      not following through with the original plan -- among them the fact that the
      universe had changed so much and seeking out a new conflict seemed rather
      pointless. Ryan is played by Michael Hurst, who turns out to be one of
      Andromeda's better guest actors on record. It also helps that the writers
      give Hurst's character a fair amount of depth, regret, good dialog, and
      ultimately redemption. As a thinking machine, Ryan is a far more solid and
      interesting guest character than most supposedly flesh-and-blood guest
      characters. Doubted and unproven at the beginning, Ryan by the end achieves
      the status of reluctant hero, caught up in military necessity. I appreciated
      nearly all his scenes.

      At the shipyard we meet some other AIs that build additionally on the
      material. The Wrath of Achilles (Christopher Judge) is a powerful battleship
      with a thoughtful and reasonable AI willing to negotiate with Dylan. There's
      also Mila, another warship who serves as the microcosm for the immediate
      problem -- that most of the AIs are not particularly keen on joining Dylan's
      cause, because they aren't interested in "swapping Nietzschean masters for
      humans." It's an intriguing point. Also very good, albeit brief, is Tyr's
      devil's-advocate discussion with Rommie on the matter, where he first calls
      the AIs machines that should either obey or be dismantled, and then reverses
      his argument and says perhaps the Commonwealth *was* treating the AIs as
      slaves if they've always been perceived as sentient beings.

      Between this and "All Too Human," writers Miller & Stentz appear to be the
      series' experts on AIs, and based on the strength of the two shows I'd be
      content if they continued to serve that role. Dylan here plays diplomat to
      machines that he needs to be on his side, and I liked the story's point that
      it's *because* he gives them choices that they ultimately join him. Mila
      even sacrifices herself to allow the rest of the starships to escape with
      the Maru, further driving home the story's theme of military duty.

      The show contains the requisite, now-Andromeda-trademark, bloodless
      shoot-'em-up B-movie action and stock-footage CGI space battles, but it's
      refreshing that they emerge from the story's logic rather than being
      superfluous detours.

      There's also a B-story here, which I'm not quite so enthused about. It
      involves Beka trying, in Dylan's absence, to sign up World No. 50 of the
      Commonwealth. Her contact is Secretary Falin (Matthew Walker), who insists
      on speaking with Dylan before committing to join.

      Oh, I liked the idea here, the fact that the series is actually focusing on
      a storyline involving the Commonwealth, much hinted at but almost never
      truly dealt with. And I was interested in the fact that this is the landmark
      50th world. But this story comes out of left field. Six months ago the
      sentiment was that no one wanted a Commonwealth (remember Saphia's speech in
      "Last Call at the Broken Hammer"?). Now, suddenly, we have 50 worlds (an
      arbitrary goal at that), but no hint at how or why or when all these worlds
      went from skeptics to members.

      Granted, Falin here is a skeptic. But I couldn't for the life of me figure
      out why he *had* to talk to Dylan or, for that matter, why Beka couldn't
      just level with him and explain that Dylan was off on a crucial mission.
      This leads to her impersonating Dylan with a device Harper rigs up that is
      the ultimate in digital puppetry (Harper's initial demonstration of this
      device is one of the funniest Andromeda moments in ages, and could've
      inspired a comedy episode). Beka makes an impassioned speech while
      pretending to be Dylan (a speech which, in a very nice touch, ends exactly
      the way a speech Dylan later makes to the AIs). Too bad she's exposed as a
      fraud because Falin punches star-69. Duh. Later, she makes a pretty good
      speech to Falin -- with many valid points -- on her own.

      I wish I were more confident in the Commonwealth plot as a whole. By the end
      of the hour we have a new Commonwealth and, conveniently, a powerful
      military fleet for them. Both elements are all but conjured from thin air.
      Given *that* thought, it's nearly a miracle that "Knight" ever had the
      potential to be as good an episode as it ends up being. For that the writers
      deserve some credit.

      --
      Next week: Tyr's wife returns in a sequel to "Double Helix."

      -----
      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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