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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Star-Crossed"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda s Star-Crossed. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: There s a good story
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Andromeda's
      "Star-Crossed." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      In brief: There's a good story in here somewhere, but it's buried under
      maudlin excess.

      Plot description: Andromeda finds herself falling in love with an android
      whose intentions are unclear and thus might not be trustworthy.

      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Star-Crossed"

      Airdate: 4/30/2001 (USA week-of)
      Written by Ethlie Ann Vare
      Directed by David Warry-Smith

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Permission to chop yourself into pieces is officially denied." -- Dylan

      "Star-Crossed" shoots for the moon and almost gets there, but its
      sometimes-intriguing story is upstaged by its own oversold -- way
      oversold -- melodrama. If less is more, then "Star-Crossed" proves the
      inverse that more is probably less.

      And too bad, because the makings are here for a genuinely good story. Yes,
      there's cliche and, yes, there's sappy dialog, but there's something
      inherently fascinating about the tragic quest of an artificial
      intelligence that can't overcome its own preset directives, no matter how
      hard it might want to be something else.

      That said, I should probably also say up front that I personally do not
      believe in love at first sight (not to be confused with attraction or lust
      at first sight, which I do understand), because love takes at least *some*
      time to develop. Maybe that's why I found here that Rommie's love wasn't
      particularly believable -- because it was immediate. Sure, accelerated
      love happens for the sake of telling a story, but the acceleration factor
      here is beyond extreme: Rommie spends what seems like five minutes with
      the guy and she loses all objectivity.

      The guy is actually an android named Gabriel (Michael Shanks), whom even
      the episode's own trailers reveal is not trustworthy and probably wants to
      take over the ship. (Without such information there would be no action to
      reveal in the promos and therefore serious questions for cynical
      demographic bean-counters as to whether the show is marketable at all.) My
      main qualm here is that Gabriel is not a very interesting character
      (played by Shanks with a mostly wooden performance). What exactly does he
      do that makes Rommie fall head over heels, turned into "a lovesick
      schoolgirl" as even she herself admits? (Apparently cornball compliments
      work on android hotties.)

      Well, Gabriel likes books -- he is, in fact, a walking library -- which is
      an indication that Rommie goes for the brainy types. But I still had a big
      question that I'm not sure was really answered by "Star-Crossed," which is
      why the Commonwealth would give a warship a full range of AI emotions in
      the first place. The episode begins with its weekly quote, which poses
      this very question and answers it by saying that a starship capable of
      emotions is capable of loyalty, which is apparently an important thing.
      I'm not so sure I buy that, seeing as loyalty hasn't stopped the ship from
      being hijacked several times already. Meanwhile, emotions mixed with AI
      warship functions seem to be dangerous, evidenced here and in "The
      Mathematics of Tears." Would Andromeda as a series be more interesting if
      it didn't have a sentient AI starship? I suppose it wouldn't, but the
      logical questions still remain.

      The Rommie-Gabriel love story is set against an intrigue plot involving
      the ongoing conflict between the FTA and the Resters, first loosely
      established in "The Ties That Blind," and resumed here in an early, deadly
      battle that prompts Dylan to decide it's time to assault the Resters'
      base. The base turns out to be another Commonwealth warship, the Balance
      of Judgment, which isn't simply a warship but a very heavily armed
      "starship killer" that should intimidate even the Andromeda.

      Along with a little help from the FTA and some strategic trickery
      (including the sensible, continuity-capitalizing "footprint magnification"
      device from "D Minus Zero"), Dylan hopes to take out the Balance of
      Judgment and cripple the Resters. Meanwhile, Rommie and Gabriel draw
      closer, until they're sharing intimacy in Andromeda cyberspace.

      The question of Rommie's distraction comes up, which it should -- can a
      starship be in love and launch missiles at the same time? The answer is
      yes, since Andromeda is a true multitasker, and I enjoyed a scene where
      three versions of Andromeda -- the android, the hologram, and the
      viewscreen -- have a discussion among themselves in the corridor. This
      demonstrates how one can simultaneously play devil's advocate while also
      not playing devil's advocate, since each argument is taken on by its own

      It turns out that Andromeda *can* be distracted, but only because Gabriel
      taps into her systems and disables certain functions that leave the ship
      vulnerable to attack by the Balance of Judgment.

      It's about here where some intriguing plot twists start emerging. Not only
      is Gabriel double-crossing Rommie, but it turns out that Gabriel is the
      Balance's version of the starship avatar. And on top of that, the Balance
      isn't being piloted by the Resters, because it has no crew and its AI is
      in complete control of the ship. *And* ... the Balance wasn't pulled into
      the Rester cause; it *founded* the Rester cause, based on twisted logic
      that grew out of an obsolete and paranoid need to protect the interests of
      the Commonwealth -- now defunct -- at all costs.

      The idea of a rogue AI warship founding its own cause is frightening,
      though I'm wondering how it went about recruiting its followers. What's
      even more psychologically frightening is Gabriel's own inability to free
      himself from the will of the Balance. He's connected to the Balance and
      yet also has a mind of his own. Unfortunately, it's hard to know where the
      Balance ends and Gabriel begins -- even he can't be sure. And although
      Gabriel's deceit is imposed upon him by the Balance, it's still clear that
      he genuinely loves Rommie.

      That's the real tragedy of "Star-Crossed" -- the fact that Gabriel is
      trapped by his own programming and must do what the Balance instructs him
      to do, despite his desires to do otherwise. Even once the Balance has been
      destroyed (by Dylan's "cunning" use of physics, proving that what the
      Balance has in armament it lacks in street-smarts), Gabriel still cannot
      escape its will; the Balance uploads its core personality into Gabriel
      before it is dies.

      This tragedy is more effective and implicit than the episode's oversold
      surface tragedy, which is that Rommie must kill Gabriel to prevent the
      Balance from starting its destructive mission anew. I'm of the opinion
      that this final act nearly drowns in its own tears. Lexa Doig, generally
      good, takes the notion too far. (You haven't seen anything until you've
      seen a starship weep.)

      Tragedies work better when we believe the emotions they grow out of, but
      no amount of manufactured sentiment can make up for the fact that I never
      bought into Rommie's routine, TV-contrived love for Gabriel. While I
      greatly appreciate dialog where Dylan explains that an AI starship's crew
      is what guides it (which explains how the Balance went astray), other
      dialog like lines about Rommie's heart bursting play more like maudlin

      In the end, "Star-Crossed" is ambitious, but it pushes itself on us too
      hard, using a lot of material that isn't nearly as compelling as the
      underlying implications. The good news is that it *does* leave us with
      those interesting implications under the surface.

      Next week: The search for Atlantis.

      Copyright 2001 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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