[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "D Minus Zero"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "D Minus
Zero." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: A well-paced and well-executed combat episode that features some
interesting crew tension and interaction.
Plot description: When the Andromeda is attacked by unknown hostile forces,
Dylan finds himself in conflict with Beka and Tyr, who believe his battle
engagement strategies are dangerously obsolete.
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "D Minus Zero"
Airdate: 10/23/2000 (USA week-of)
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by Allan Eastman
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"Blind and crippled. If Andromeda were my child, I'd drown it." -- Tyr
If for no other reason, "D Minus Zero" is a triumph because it moves
effortlessly forward thanks to its underlying simplicity. After last week's
extremely disappointing "To Loose the Fateful Lightning," which tried to
build a complex moral play out of messy, implausible parts that didn't hold
any water, "D Minus Zero" plays like an opposite -- the narrative is clean,
confident, and exciting in a way that doesn't try so hard to be "cerebral."
There's plenty going on under the surface, but what's proven here, I think,
is that what goes on *at* the surface is every bit as important for making a
good hour of television.
About underlying simplicity: We've got Our Heroes, and we've got the Bad
Guys. The bad guys come out and open fire within the show's first three
minutes. Who are the bad guys? It's to the story's credit that we don't find
out (and I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of them). They're a
faceless enemy shrouded in mystery. The point here is that they're
aggressive and not at all willing to communicate. In the High Guard, this
day would've been known as "D Minus Zero" -- the first day of hostilities.
And as Dylan points out, the top priority on D Minus Zero is to learn as
much as you can about your enemy. The problem in this case: How do you learn
about an enemy when the (silent) horse's mouth is your only source of
"D Minus Zero" uses this basic premise as the backdrop to establish some of
the series' ground rules for space combat and, most importantly, further
flesh out attitudes held by the characters. There's tension and personality
here, which grows organically out of the characters as we've seen so far.
The tone is set in the first act, when the shooting starts and Beka attempts
to overrule Dylan's decision to return fire rather than retreating. He's not
happy about being countermanded in the middle of battle where timing is
everything. She doesn't like that he's tempting fate while putting her crew
at risk. Both have a point. Dylan's case is supported by the fact that,
well, it's *his* ship and command can't work if his authority is
undermined -- and he's been through real battles before. Beka's case is a
good one too: Most of the crew are her own people -- her friends -- and she
feels a great deal of responsibility for them and intends to look out for
Still, for this arrangement to function, Beka's going to have to put some
faith in Dylan's abilities as a commander. (Beka: "I'm not big on trust."
Dylan: "Then it's time to learn.")
What's also good is that Dylan realizes he's part of the problem. Being 300
years out of your element can't be easy, and there's a discussion here where
he confides in Andromeda about the possibility he is the weak link in this
uneasy new group. Andromeda, nicknamed here "Rommie" (which for simplicity's
sake I will use henceforth to refer to the ship's personality), provides him
with moral support. I like their rapport, and there's a poignant little
moment where a miniature Rommie hologram reaches up toward a photograph of
Dylan as if to stroke it affectionately. The idea of a sexual tension
between Dylan and Rommie was established in the closing moments of
"Lightning," and this seems to continue that sense in an appealing,
unobtrusive way. We realize that if it weren't for Rommie, Dylan would truly
have been alone in this time frame.
In addition to the core aspect of the Dylan/Beka conflict, there's also a
strong Dylan/Tyr aspect to the episode. Keith Hamilton Cobb gets a chance to
carry some important character scenes, which he does with a laconic riff
that's perhaps familiar (Trek's Worf was equally laconic, albeit with a
different style and less sarcasm), but which suits the character quite well.
He has a ruthlessly funny line after the ship takes heavy damage: "Blind and
crippled. If Andromeda were my child, I'd drown it." (Although it remains to
be seen, perhaps with some luck I'll get my weekly dose of laconic, cynical
one-liners from Cobb now that Steven Hill is no longer on "Law & Order.")
Tyr has an impetuous battle ethic and opinions he's not afraid to voice.
When Harper can't adequately pilot a remote fighter to fend off an assault,
Tyr takes his own fighter out of position to compensate for Harper's
"incompetence" -- a strategically unwise move that leaves Tyr's own zones
vulnerable. When Dylan confronts Tyr for his tactical disobedience, Tyr
points out one of Dylan's own problems, which is pretty well stated: "You
haven't the first idea how unforgiving this universe has become, and I will
not allow you to forget at my expense." It's good that Dylan realizes he's
dated, but it's also good that the other characters call him on it.
Whereas this is mostly a Dylan/Beka/Tyr episode, in supporting character
mode are Harper and Rev. Harper has a laid-back theory on fate and death
("The universe hates you; deal with it") that is akin to a bug hitting a
windshield. He's pragmatic, and wants to do his part to help Dylan even if
Dylan *is* crazy for taking on a mission of such ambition.
Rev shows up as the voice of keen observation: After a rough battle where
the ship takes a pummeling, he approaches Dylan to convey the concern of
generally overwhelming circumstances. The way he conveys this concern is
what's interesting: no explicit suggestions, no griping or complaints, but
simply a quick rundown of his observations.
I'm glad I can discuss "D Minus Zero" in terms of characterization even
though the story's real action revolves around a series of space combat
sequences and tactical maneuvers. Particularly noteworthy is that the
weapons in this universe all seem to be missiles or other projectile-based
explosives rather than phaser-like energy beams. At one point Andromeda runs
as a slew of missiles chases the ship through space. And the idea of remote
fighters controlled from the Andromeda command deck is plausible.
There's a familiar sequence where the Andromeda hides out in the corona of a
star to evade the enemy, who lurk in high orbit waiting for the inevitable
moment when the Andromeda must flee the heat. Most of this is pretty well
executed, and there's the sense that the enemy is a formidable foe. At one
point Dylan asks out loud, "Who *are* these guys?" (Were Miller & Stentz
thinking of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? Because I was.) The pacing
and effects are right on target.
The primary tactical revelation comes when Dylan has Harper build a device
that can be installed on the Eureka Maru that will make it look like the
Andromeda. The plan is that the Maru will be flown out as bait, at which
point the Andromeda will swing around and blow away the bad guys. This
weaves reasonably into the story of the tension on board the Andromeda,
right up to a turning point where Beka and Tyr announce that they plan to
take their chances rather than wait for Dylan to act. The hurt on Beka's
face when Trance and Rev say they will not be bailing on Dylan with her is a
good moment sold by Lisa Ryder.
"D Minus Zero" is not perfect. There's an underlying contrivance in that I
didn't understand the need for Dylan to keep his brilliant plan (using the
Maru as a decoy) unannounced to most of his crew until some of them have
grown so impatient as to nearly walk out on him. This is hardly a time to be
testing the limits of your crew's patience -- when they're looking for a
sign of your competence. It's more of a writer's conceit to permit us the
dramatic twist where Dylan reveals he intends to "light up the Maru like a
Christmas tree" (which, by the way, is a neat moment, even if manufactured
by the plot).
I'll also have to admit I was somewhat annoyed by the bombardment of Beka's
quips toward the end ("See ya, wouldn't want to be ya," etc.). I don't have
a problem with non-serious anachronistic dialog, but I'd prefer a bit less
of it considering here it seems to exist for the sake of itself.
Last, I must repeat that I don't yet understand Trance's purpose on this
series. While "D Minus Zero" gave good moments to all the other characters,
Trance fell by the wayside again. Yes, she's young, she's mysterious, she's
apparently being routed into the series' medic role, but she's still not
striking me as remotely interesting or necessary. (In "An Affirming Flame"
Trance took Dylan's side as she does here, but there was more conviction in
that case, whereas here it's more arbitrary.)
Overall, the episode works simultaneously as a combat episode and a show
that highlights emerging dynamics between members of the crew. Perhaps some
of the key strengths of "D Minus Zero" can be summarized in terms of the
moment when the bad guys explode. Interestingly, they blow up by their own
hand -- an apparent self-destruct after having been outwitted and forced
into a position of surrender. Tyr was just about to swing around with a
remote fighter and blow them out of the stars anyway -- against Dylan's
orders -- but he never got the chance. Tyr notes how Andromeda has been
cheated out of victory. Dylan notes how the aggressors destroying themselves
prevents him from obtaining the type of knowledge he'd hoped to gain on D
Both are interesting points from very different philosophies, with some
conflict running through it all. It reveals how this universe -- nothing
like the Commonwealth of 300 years ago -- stands in a mysterious, ominous
chaos. It's especially mysterious, I think, to Dylan.
Next week: Tyr's treachery. ("I did it all for the nookie, the nookie...")
Clever critic's temptation of the week: Any negative reviews of "D Minus
Zero" might require great efforts of self-control to avoid drawing obvious
pun-like connections between the title and the grade.
Copyright 2000 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...