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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "The Banks of the Lethe"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    (Note: I have temporarily skipped over the review for The Ties That Blind. I will post that review later in the week.) Warning: This review contains
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2000
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      (Note: I have temporarily skipped over the review for "The Ties That Blind."
      I will post that review later in the week.)

      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's "The
      Banks of the Lethe." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: A messy action/love story heavy on sap and explosions, and lacking
      in performances.

      Plot description: Dylan receives a transmission through time from his
      fiancee 300 years in the past, leading to him to attempt traveling through
      time in the name of love.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "The Banks of the Lethe"

      Airdate: 11/20/2000 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
      Directed by David Winning

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "Are you here to give me advice, Rev?"
      (Chuckles) "It's what I do."
      -- Dylan and Rev
      -----

      There's a funny scene in "The Banks of the Lethe" that had me laughing hard.
      It involves Harper performing for Dylan an experiment on some melons,
      testing a device that resembles a transporter on Star Trek. This experiment
      is not entirely successful. When the melons materialize, they explode in a
      loud BOOM as melon debris goes splattering everywhere. Harper looks on with
      the zeal of a 10-year-old who just detonated a firecracker inside a model
      airplane. There's a certain self-aware goofiness in the way these melons are
      blown up for this scene, and, well, I just found it weirdly amusing. (Yes, I
      suppose it's not difficult to amuse me.)

      Unfortunately, these melons are like a lot of scenes in this episode --
      they're on film and they make a big mess. It's also perhaps a bad sign that
      the melon detonation scene is one of the show's highlights. After making a
      time-travel episode as compelling as "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," why in the
      world make another one to rehash the cliche that love conquers all? The odds
      of successful time travel are said here to be infinitesimal, but you
      could've fooled me; Dylan has crossed 300 years on three separate occasions
      now, and that doesn't even count the return trips.

      As for love conquering all, it also apparently conquers casting. Dylan's
      fiancee, Dr. Sara Riley, who was left behind when Dylan was stuck in time
      for 300 years, is played here by Kevin Sorbo's real-life wife, Sam Sorbo.
      Her dreadful performance, alas, is one of many things that goes wrong in
      this episode, which resembles the chaotic "To Loose the Fateful Lightning"
      in the way breakneck-paced action scenes interrupt story without the
      necessary cohesion.

      Again I ask: Where's the focus? This is an undisciplined story, which begs
      us to care about a surprisingly trite central love story in between salvos
      of enemy fire and interminable Trek-style space combat scenes where sparks
      fly through the sets while the camera shakes and people are knocked off
      their feet.

      As the episode begins, Andromeda has returned to the site of the black hole
      where "Under the Night" took place, to meet with some alien delegates whose
      society, the Perseid, will by the end of the episode become the first world
      to agree to join the resurrected Commonwealth. You'd think that an episode
      about the first planet rejoining the Commonwealth would be material enough
      for a meaty story, but that's not the story being told here.

      Instead we've got elements from 300 years in the past, which to me is akin
      to early Voyager episodes doing stories about the Alpha Quadrant -- that is
      to say, somewhat relevant to the central idea of the show but still
      something that can seem a lot like a crutch. *Especially* since this comes
      so close on the heels of "Angel Dark." Somehow, Dylan is able to send a
      signal through the black hole, which his fiancee Sara miraculously receives.
      She's able to do this because she's in orbit around the black hole (in the
      past) on the starship Starry Wisdom, which is on a mission to try to pull
      loose the Andromeda from the black hole -- which is apparently destined to
      fail because, well, Dylan is already 300 years in the future. With this
      knowledge, Dylan & Co. begin investigating the possibility of sending Dylan
      back through time.

      That's the premise, and the rest of the show is an odd mix of routine
      elements, chaotic pacing, questionable time-travel paradoxes, and unclear
      battle events. Under David Winning's direction, Miller & Stentz's script is
      sometimes a blurringly fast-paced action show marked with uncertainty, and
      other times an overwrought human drama.

      And as I already said, Sam Sorbo is a liability here -- a big one. There are
      scenes where I was amazed at how weakly portrayed Sara's character was. It
      might be fun behind the scenes to have a real-life couple playing a
      fictional one, but the results here aren't the better for it. It might've
      been advisable to cast a more dynamic actor for the part of Sara; Sam
      Sorbo's rendition is far too frequently wooden and rings painfully false.

      And, as you can imagine, when your central guest character doesn't carry a
      show -- especially with a role as crucial as this one -- the show stands a
      good chance of sinking, which "Lethe" does.

      Besides, do we really need the flashback scene where Dylan and Sara meet in
      the middle of a Magog attack? The Meet Cute is a cliche, one that's not
      mitigated here with much in terms of wit. (Sara: "Admiral Stark warned me
      about you. She said if I ever met you, I'd end up either falling in love
      with you or killing you." Yawn. How many iterations are possible in sci-fi
      on the Han Solo/Princess Leia type banter?)

      There's another guest character here, Captain Khalid (Elia Gabay), a mutual
      Nietzschean friend of Sara's and Dylan's, who provides a sensible example
      that not all Nietzscheans betrayed the Commonwealth when the war started.
      Unfortunately, Khalid is largely superfluous and the actor puts in an
      underwhelming performance; we don't really get much of a dynamic between him
      and either Dylan or Sara.

      Acting in a story like this is key, and when it's not there, it guts the
      story. The platitudes on love that we get here are ages old, so unless the
      actors can bring a lot to the table we've got problems. I'll freely admit to
      buying into a love story when it works as well as, say, DS9's "Chimera," but
      a story like "Chimera" reveals stories like "Lethe" as all the more
      hackneyed.

      Some events of the story had me scratching my head. The idea is that Dylan
      will be sent back through time using Harper's grand experiment on new
      technology, something that resembles a transporter. (It's about here where
      we get to the exploding melons.) Harper's teleporter plays like a jibe at
      long-established Star Trek technology, but considering the plot then uses it
      as a serious part of the story, I feel more like the joke would be on me if
      I bought into it. Strange, how Harper is good at contriving technology on
      demand when it suits the given purpose, whether it's Rommie's body in
      "Lightning," the humongous explosion in "Angel Dark," or now a teleportation
      device that was apparently beamed directly in from a parallel Roddenberry
      universe.

      Harper is finally able to get the thing to work. Go figure -- the first
      successful use of the teleporter is with a melon that has the word "Trance"
      written across it. So even in an episode where Trance doesn't make a single
      appearance, we still get our weekly dose of Trance Is More Than She Seems.
      As for Harper, I'd recommend a heavy sedative; Gordon Michael Woolvett goes
      way overboard with the hyperactivity this week, turning Harper into a
      self-parodying annoyance.

      The plan is for Dylan to go back in time and bring Sara back with him.
      Anyone who thought this had a chance in succeeding probably needs a reality
      check. Obviously, Dylan does not explode on camera like those melons when he
      beams into the past (that would require the end of the series and also a
      TV-MA rating). But nor is he able to bring Sara to the future with him.
      Harper is clever, but apparently not quite clever enough. Dylan doesn't stay
      in the past with Sara because restoring the Commonwealth "is more important
      than either of us." I must ask: If he really believed that, would he have
      staked his life on 50-50 odds to go into the past in the first place?

      To get us to the more or less inevitable conclusion (which, admittedly,
      benefits from an occasional nice note of melancholy) the story first turns
      into a free-for-all, with the Starry Wisdom coming under attack by the
      Nietzscheans, and then later the Andromeda in the future coming under attack
      as well. I didn't understand the latter battle. Tyr explains where the enemy
      ship came from in a sentence that serves as one of the fastest utterances of
      plot explanation that still nonetheless leaves the whole situation
      inexplicable. This proves the point that action doesn't work unless it grows
      organically from the story. As far as I can tell, there's no purpose for
      this battle except to satisfy the action/explosion quota.

      There are also vignettes here that surface quickly and have no
      follow-through. Like Dylan's backup plan for Andromeda in case he doesn't
      make it ("Tyr, you know what to do"). And Tyr and Beka pulling guns on each
      other. What's this about? The story moves too fast to make real sense out of
      it.

      This episode seems sincere in some of its love story details. Kevin Sorbo in
      particular seems to invest a lot into all aspects of his character's arc,
      particularly that of his dedication to both his fiancee and the restoration
      of the Commonwealth. But the episode doesn't execute well and suffers from
      too many cliches. The details of predestined timeline fate are undercut by
      the fact that characters seem to think they can still outsmart that fate --
      which, given the ship's crucial actions in "Angel Dark," begs the question
      of what happens to the galaxy if the Andromeda were pulled out of the black
      hole by Sara's efforts and never traveled back in time in that previous
      episode.

      Forget it. I'm out of my element here. My only consolation is that the
      creators apparently were too.

      --
      Next week: Yep, this must be a Roddenberry show, because our captain stands
      on trial.

      -----
      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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