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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Angel Dark, Demon Bright"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s Angel Dark, Demon Bright. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: A
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 26, 2000
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "Angel
      Dark, Demon Bright." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: A powerful, well-conceived storyline, featuring tough choices,
      strong characterization, and thoughtful discussion.

      Plot description: Andromeda is thrown back in time nearly 300 years, where
      the crew finds itself in a position to change the outcome of a battle
      between the Commonwealth High Guard and the Nietzscheans, and thus alter the
      course of history.

      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Angel Dark, Demon Bright"

      Airdate: 11/6/2000 (USA week-of)
      Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
      Directed by Allan Eastman

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

      "Come on, open your eyes, people. We know how the next 300 years are going
      to turn out."
      -- Harper and Rev

      Time travel is a reliable, oft-used standby for science fiction, so when I
      saw the trailers for "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," I was a little hesitant; it
      didn't exactly look like a particularly original hour of sci-fi.

      My worries were grossly unfounded. "Angel Dark" is by far Andromeda's best
      episode yet. It's another take on the time-travel episode, yes, but it
      accomplishes so much with its premise. In what it crams into an hour, almost
      without seeming to, it's kind of groundbreaking.

      There are so many interesting story themes here -- history, destiny, faith,
      random fate, the high costs of war -- that the episode is practically
      bursting at the seams. But not in a way that ever overwhelms the narrative,
      because the script is confident and thoughtful. The story brings together an
      array of character attitudes and important backstory to create something
      with a lot more substance than your run-of-the-mill time-travel adventure.
      There's real weight here, compelling moments of tragedy and necessity.
      Characters are forced into agonizing over and ultimately making
      impossible -- but required -- choices.

      The story: A freak occurrence during slipstream travel (with Trance at the
      wheel -- hmmm, more on that later) somehow sends the Andromeda back in time
      nearly 300 years. The members of the crew find themselves on the eve and
      doorstep of a crucial battle, the Battle of the Witchhead Nebula -- the last
      stand before the fall of the High Guard and thus the Systems Commonwealth.
      The battle was a turning point, but not in the way one might think, since
      the High Guard was more or less already beaten. The battle would instead
      have enormous consequences for the Nietzscheans, whose towering losses would
      make it impossible for them to survive their own internal fighting and thus
      make possible the subsequent invasion and widespread destruction of the

      Now that they've found their way into the middle of a historic battle, can
      one ship named Andromeda make a difference in the course of history? More
      importantly, should they?

      There are of course all the usual time-travel paradox issues that come
      cropping up when analyzing a story like "Angel Dark," and I certainly had my
      share of questions. But what's refreshing about this story is the way the
      paradoxes figure into arguments for (or against) key actions taken in the
      course of the episode.

      At first the question is whether Hunt and his crew should help another High
      Guard ship, the Renewed Valor, commanded by Captain Yeshgar (Jo Bates), and
      join the battle against the Nietzscheans. This is quickly established as a
      moot issue and a futile would-be endeavor, since one additional High Guard
      vessel will not turn the tides in a battle where the Nietzscheans will
      vastly outnumber the High Guard forces -- 500 ships to 100.

      Dylan's decision is to leave history alone and plot a reverse slipstream
      course back to the future. Other characters, however, have different
      opinions and intentions, which is where "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" really
      begins to turn interesting.

      Harper, for example, secretly rigs a really big explosion in the nebula that
      he hopes will take out half the Nietzschean fleet when it arrives. There's
      an exposition scene where he explains his master plan to a hand-held
      mini-cam. It's an interesting mix of humor and chilling undertones, in which
      Harper is joking irreverently with the camera while talking about mass
      destruction and the deaths of tens of thousands. Somehow, the character's
      persona justifies the mixed tone of the scene. Harper doesn't play like he
      takes much of anything seriously, but deep down there's repressed rage
      brewing. Here he feels his actions are justified: Having grown up on an
      Earth in ruins, his thinking is that any possible future is better than one
      where the Nietzscheans hold enough power to be oppressive.

      Andromeda may not be the first one you would expect to have an opinion on
      the matter, but there's a brief scene where Rommie reveals a certain pride
      in being ready for combat, and explains that by nature she doesn't like to
      retreat ("I'm a warship, and I don't like walking away from a fight").
      Andromeda may do what she's told, but I like the fact that she has a stance.

      Tyr, naturally, has an opinion of his own every step of the way, which is
      particularly interesting to hear because there's a well-argued voice of
      reason behind it. He calls Harper on his "useless, biased emotionalism" and
      uses logic to suggest that helping the Nietzscheans might save lives in the
      long term. A united Nietzschean empire might be brutal when they wield their
      power, but with Nietzscheans in control, fewer would be slain by the Magog.

      But that itself would be only a mixed blessing; as Dylan observes, the Magog
      leave a lot of death behind, but "they came and went like locusts,"
      ultimately allowing the universe to get on with business. An oppressive
      Nietzschean empire might be much tougher to bring down, and longer lasting.

      This all puts a huge strain on Dylan. Kevin Sorbo turns in his best
      Andromeda performance to date -- tortured but not overplayed -- as a man
      with the weight of what might literally be the galaxy's fate on his
      shoulders. It's an intriguing dilemma, which prompts a good deal of soul
      searching and philosophical discussion. Which is the better (or worse) of
      two evils? The death and destruction brought by the Magog or the terror
      wrought by the Nietzscheans?

      We get a couple dialog scenes between Dylan and Rev. Although I have to
      admit that the Meaningful Rev Bem Dialog Scene [TM] is beginning to play
      like a cliche (complete with overindulged musical underscore), I will also
      say that the scenes here are interesting. Between Dylan and Rev, we get the
      episode's deepest discussions of destiny and fate ... or perhaps a cosmic
      joke, as Dylan puts it. How can it be that impossibly arriving upon a
      situation of such huge significance is a random occurrence? Dylan doesn't
      believe in fate; he believes in free will -- making his own fate. Rev asks
      him how it possibly could be that arriving at this critical juncture is
      anything *but* divine will. It's a credit to the story that both views are
      worth pondering.

      This is particularly true once the show drops its real twist on us: It turns
      out that when the Nietzschean fleet arrives, there are actually 1,500 ships
      instead of 500, despite all historical records assuring that there should be
      500 ships present. So what about those other 1,000? Could it be that they
      were destined to be wiped out before the High Guard fleet arrived to engage
      them? Could it be that Harper's weapon of mass destruction was the
      instrument used to create history as it "should" -- as it "must" -- unfold?

      Indeed, as Tyr ultimately reveals, the Nietzschean historical account of the
      battle includes a mysterious agent of death emerging from nowhere, with a
      weapon that wipes out two-thirds of the massive fleet that should have paved
      the way to Nietzschean victory. That surprise was engineered by Seamus
      Harper, born three centuries after the events had (maybe) already happened.
      Andromeda taking action might not contaminate the timeline ... because *not*
      taking action might contaminate the timeline. But who's even to say what is
      "right"? Here we have characters defined by what they think they know, but
      how can they know anything at all? The dilemma of the time paradox is made
      all the more tantalizing because of the story's consideration of Rev's
      belief in a cosmic divinity.

      The story has other character vignettes, like when Tyr agonizes over his own
      choice -- whether to flee Andromeda in the Maru to warn the Nietzscheans of
      their impending doom, or to stay put and survive, since fleeing would mean
      certain death. Self-survival is incredibly important to Nietzschean
      individuals (particularly those with no children). Like in "Double Helix,"
      the story reveals Tyr playing all his options, waiting for the last best
      moment to commit to a path.

      And ... then there's Trance, who has the role -- if it's at all possible --
      of being a regular character that implicitly symbolizes that
      much-here-discussed unknown force in the universe that brings all these
      questions of destiny and random fate together. How does she play such a
      role? By simply continuing to provide the implicit part that has been
      provided for her so far -- the constant Trance Is More Than She Seems act.
      To date, Trance's character and Laura Bertram's take on her shallow
      ditziness has not impressed me one bit, despite the implied strangeness
      under the surface. But here, it works wonders.

      Here, Trance *does* come across as knowing much more than she lets on, with
      pauses and weird, subtle glances at key moments of plot revelation. If you
      watch her reactions closely, you almost get the impression she set the
      events of the story in motion deliberately. But the story doesn't reveal all
      its cards (for which I'm grateful), and lets a little mystery go a very long
      way. For once, nearly everything about Trance clicked into place and had me
      wondering not simply what she was thinking, but what in the world she
      represents. It's like she's Cosmic Significance Personified and not even
      aware of it herself.

      Strictly on the tangible plane, she has a standout scene with Tyr that uses
      her ditzy innocence very well, while revealing an underlying perceptive
      intelligence that talks Tyr out of one course of action and into another.
      Good work; I have new hope for the character, because this is intriguing.

      By the time the episode's conclusion comes around, Dylan has had to concede
      to destiny in an action that will kill 100,000 Nietzscheans. Harper's
      explosion is powerfully depicted as a violent hellfire, ensuring that the
      impact of the death toll is not lost upon us.

      In the course of this complex story we've seen characters with motives and
      opinions of wide variety, even as the way history "must" play out seems to
      dictate they take certain actions. In reality, the cosmic plan here is
      Robert Wolfe's ambitious script, but because of the way the story is
      assembled, the story depicts a cosmic plan dictated by a universe whose
      authority cannot be appealed. The lesson here might be that you cannot
      escape destiny. What happens in this story might be argued as a job for God
      ... which Rev is certainly prepared to suggest.

      "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" is an excellent time-travel outing with a
      narrative heft that will leave you thinking. After it's over, you realize
      that there's more under the surface, and probably even more under that.

      Next week: Beka is reunited with her troublesome brother.

      Copyright 2000 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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