[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Angel Dark, Demon Bright"
- 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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...