Back To the Future, Again
"The Banks of the Lethe" Plot Summary:
In the hope of gaining their support for the Commonwealth, Hunt has allowed Perseid scientists to take Andromeda back to the black hole from which the Eureka Maru rescued it. They have tapped into the ship's computer to try to map potential slipstream waves, but the work is distracting Andromeda from other ship's functions. Valentine has trouble understanding how Hunt puts up with the annoying Perseids, but Hunt is more distressed at being so close to the singularity that stole his life and love from him. He gazes a photo of himself with Sara.
300 years previously -- a year after the battle that stranded Hunt in the black hole -- Sara gazes at the same photo. She and a High Guard officer named Khalid have brought the vessel Starry Wisdom to try to tow the Andromeda Ascendant out of the black hole. Sara recalls that when she met Hunt, he rescued her from a research station besieged by the Magog, though he had to destroy her work to make her leave. In his present Rev Bem convinces Hunt to record a farewell message for Sara. When Hunt broadcasts it into the ether, he is shocked to get a response from Sara, who explains that she has spent more than six months assembling a rescue team to tow Hunt's ship free from the singularity.
Valentine does not believe Sara's plan can possibly work, or they wouldn't be on the Andromeda Ascendant now -- Hunt would have been saved in the past. But Harper thinks he can help. The engineer has adapted a Perseid teleportation device, which successfully transports matter but has the unfortunate side effect of blowing objects up as they rematerialize. Harper manages to make a melon explode before he teleports it in the first place, proving to Hunt that time travel is possible, if potentially deadly.
Hunt warns Sara that her plan can't work or he wouldn't be stuck 300 years in the future, but she insists that if he's alive to be saved, it means she may be able to alter the timeline or jump to a divergent reality. The captain agrees to help in holographic form on the Starry Wisdom. Sara successfully deploys the pods she intends to use to tow his ship, but an unexpected Nietzschean attack forces her to use the pods to drive the enemy vessels into the black hole, leaving the Andromeda Ascendant hovering in a new orbit inside the event horizon. A Nietzschean destroyer is on the way, set to arrive before the Starry Wisdom can make another attempt to rescue Hunt's ship.
Hunt tells Khalid that the Than homeworld will survive the war, so if anything goes wrong, he wants his old friend to take Sara there. Then he tries to convince Sara that she has no hope of changing history, but she refuses to grow old without him. Reluctantly Hunt tells her about Harper's device, then asks Anasazi to stay and support Beka and the others if he dies while attempting time-travel. Rommie is furious that the captain would risk his life -- and the future Commonwealth -- for love, but Dylan replies, "Sarah is my Commonwealth." He promises Valentine to make it back just before Harper disassembles him.
Hunt arrives intact on Sara's ship, only to learn that in his own time, the Andromeda Ascendant is under attack by Nietzscheans who knew from 300 year old records that the ship would appear at precisely that time and place. Anasazi fights them off, refusing to abandon Hunt in the past, especially after Valentine pulls a gun on him to make sure he doesn't. Sara makes one last, unsuccessful attempt to nudge the Andromeda Ascendant free from the singularity, then tells Hunt she'll disappear with him into his future. But Harper can't get them both; the teleportation device can't handle so much data. Hunt tells Sara he must go to the future to try to restore the Commonwealth, which will fall in his own era with or without him. She says that if he wanted to stay in the past for love alone, he wouldn't be man she fell in love with. "You saved me, you always do," she adds.
After Harper has returned Hunt to what is now his own era, Rommie tells the captain that the Perseids have agreed to become the first member of the restored Commonwealth. Hunt cannot celebrate himself, but says Harper should throw a party for the crew to reward their hard work. Rommie has something else to tell him: the final nudge Sara gave the Andromeda Ascendant may not have freed it, but it placed it in a high enough orbit for the Eureka Maru to pull the ship out 300 years later. Belatedly, her rescue attempt saved him after all. "Isn't that what people who love each other do?" Hunt muses.
"The universe is bound together by love," suggests the quote at the start of "The Banks of the Lethe," which attempts to prove this thesis by demonstrating how a timeless romance saved both lovers, albeit 300 years apart. Like Original Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever," it demands that the captain sacrifice love to save the universe, though Andromeda's approach to time travel is much more fluid than Trek's. There's no Temporal Prime Directive because nobody is sure about the consequences of tampering with the timeline. Valentine believes it's a given that Sara's attempts to alter it will fail because Hunt was not rescued 300 years earlier, but Sara believes there may be diverging time streams or alternate futures, and Hunt is willing to risk the past by bringing her into the future. Is this a sign of his cynicism in the wake of the Nietzschean massacre in "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," or just a sign of his uncertainty?
Harper, who makes Wesley Crusher look like a slow learner, takes a Perseid experiment and builds not just a transporter, but a time machine. The potential consequences are staggering. Who gets to keep the device? Can the Perseids, Hunt's first recruit into the new Commonwealth, be trusted with the power to change history? Is the device still on the Andromeda Ascendant...and if so, can we trust Anasazi not to try to build a Nietzchean power base in the past, or Harper not to try to fix Earth's history, or Rev Bem not to try to mass-convert ancient Magog to The Way, or Hunt not to rebuild the Commonwealth by trying to stop the war before it starts? Trance Gemini, who's absent from this episode except in spirit, seems to have her own connection to the past, while practical Beka Valentine is more concerned with living well in the moment, but just about anyone would in theory be tempted by the possibility of traveling before some terrible event to try to stop it, no matter the consequences.
The impact of "The Banks of the Lethe" is diminished because it aired after "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," a very strange choice on the part of the producers. We have already heard Hunt declare himself a man of the future, and watched him make a decision that establishes his acceptance of destiny no matter the cost. It's touching to watch him struggle with his feelings for Sara (played by Kevin Sorbo's wife Sam, whose acting complements his in that they're equally over the top when they get weepy). But his ultimate choice is a foregone conclusion. I hope the possibility of getting back to the past doesn't become for this series what getting back to the Alpha Quadrant has become on Voyager, a carrot held out to taunt a captain who slowly destabilizes as the mission increasingly focuses on that single, dubious goal. It was a relief when Hunt announced two weeks ago that he couldn't go home again. It will weaken the series if we start believing that he wants to.
For all their annoying mannerisms, the Perseids are a rather interesting, technologically advanced race -- and now they've joined the Commonwealth! We don't know how or why Hunt picked them, nor how many other races he's made contact with, and we have no idea what he has promised other than occasional permission to do experiments using Rommie as an interface. What, exactly, will the new Commonwealth be? Can we see the charter the Perseids signed, please? This episode is a strong installment in the series in terms of performance and character consistency, two things I am always delighted to see, but I'm starting to miss the larger picture -- the purpose of the mission as described in the opening voice-over. We need a few good episodes about the crew meeting and dealing with aliens other than nasty Nietzscheans and meditative Magog. Let's drop the fatalism and get out there.