[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Knight, Death, and the Devil"
- 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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...