Devils in the Dark
"Exit Strategies" Plot Summary:
A group of Nietzschean slavers pursues the Maru -- carrying Dylan, Beka, Rev Bem and Tyr -- through the slipstream to an icy planet. When the ship crashes, Dylan goes out to look for fuel and food for Rev Bem whose ritual purification fast has put his life in danger. A crisis quickly looms as Dylan discovers that the planet is riddled with sinkholes, then learns that the Nietzscheans know Tyr by name and want to kill him. Before he can warn Beka of the danger, the Maru crashes through the unstable surface of the planet to the bottom of an old mining tunnel, carved by worm-like beings that digest ore.
Rev Bem admits that if he does not eat soon, he will die, but he refuses to pursue prey -- even the Nietzscheans that are hunting the Andromeda crew. Beka reminds him that letting himself die would be a sin against the Divine. Outside, she and Dylan discover a magnetic accelerator in a tunnel and try to modify it to blast the Maru free. Unfortunately, the magnetic coils attract hungry ore-eating creatures.
While they work, Tyr empties the weapons locker so he can use the supplies to negotiate with the Nietzscheans. He expects the attackers to demand the location of the mummified corpse of the first Nietzschean, which Tyr took from the Drago-Kazov Pride, but they admit they only came after Tyr to collect the ransom on his head. The captain helps Tyr escape and gets him back to the Maru in time to use the accelerator to escape. Later Dylan asks Tyr why he shouldn't collect the ransom on his head. Tyr says that because he is the crew's only trained soldier, they need him, and now that he knows about the Magog uprising, he needs them too.
Meanwhile on Andromeda, Trance and Rommie have nearly finished cleaning up Magog corpses. But Harper cannot stand to go near engineering or anyplace else he can smell the stench of the beings that infested him. He gets drunk while studying the dormant larva inside him through a medical scanner, turning a weapon on his belly before Rommie stops him. Harper refuses to work even when Andromeda's systems go critical due to a leak. She reminds him that she has demons inside her body as well -- a backup copy of her program that tried to kill the crew, for instance -- and begs him to help fix her. He does, and when Rev Bem returns to the ship they both feel somewhat better about their situations.
While Harper struggles with a Ripley complex, Dylan discovers Horta under the surface of the planet Voyager crashed on in 'Timeless.' Despite these derivative elements, however, 'Exit Strategies' is an excellent episode, for the reasons most Andromeda episodes achieve excellence: good character development, memorable dialogue and strong episodic continuity. The storylines on the ship and on the planet create interesting parallels. While Harper and Rev Bem struggle with the desire to end their suffering, Tyr, Beka, Dylan and Rommie do everything in their power to survive.
The engineer and the Wayist have nearly opposite problems, but stemming from the same source. Rev Bem's hungry Magog body is digesting itself from the inside out; Harper's human body eventually will be digested by the Magog larvae inside it, a reality he can't forget no matter what he ingests. Though he's in great physical pain, Rev admits to Beka the real source of his suicidal despair: he now believes he is a creation of the Spirit of the Abyss, not a part of Divine creation. The comfort he previously got from prayer no longer gives him the strength to resist his hunger. Moreover, now that he has killed to save his friends, he knows he enjoys killing. She reminds him of their long shared history, her absolute trust in him. It's not clear whether Beka successfully convinces Rev that he may yet serve the Divine, or only of the value that she personally places on his life, but it convinces him to hold on a little longer.
Harper, too, wants to die, but can't make himself pull the trigger even when he holds the weapon because Rommie makes a similar appeal. She emphasizes the connections between his infestation and her deadly repressed memories, even though he threw her inner demons in her face when she previously encouraged him to move past his. Her pleas temporarily convince him to repair the damage to the ship, but one suspects her glowing insistence that from now on they'll take care of each other will have to be reaffirmed again and again. I hope so; it's hard to believe that one crisis could get Harper past the horror of having dormant Magog inside his body. Rev's earnest promise to pray for Harper and the fervent gratitude with which Harper thanks his friend suggest not that they have resolved their torments, but that the struggle remains constant.
There's another parallel involving Rev Bem, on the issue of trust. Beka insists that she feels safer around the hungry Magog than a mysterious Nietzschean, with good reason -- as she says, the folk pursuing them seem to recognize her ship from Tyr's previous adventures with it, and her skepticism proves to be justified. Tyr doesn't help matters any when he proposes blowing up her ship, then steals all its weapons to go make a deal with their enemies. Tyr also doesn't help matters any because he never explains himself to Beka, though I'm sure Dylan will fill her in...then again, maybe Dylan won't think it's a great idea to emphasize the enormous ransom on Tyr's head. I had thought Beka and Tyr were making progress in coming to trust one another, so it's interesting to realize the depth of suspicion she still holds against him -- and with reason.
Dylan has more reason than Beka to feel personally betrayed by Tyr, yet he seems unsurprised and unfazed by the Nietzschean's actions -- maybe because of his own experiences with Rhade, the best friend who betrayed him, or maybe because he has known all along that Tyr needs him more than he's ever let on before the end of "Exit Strategies." When the enemy pride calls Tyr by name, the captain calmly asks if Tyr has anything to tell him, like a parent questioning a guilty child. He's willing to postpone the discussion even when it becomes obvious that Tyr's previous actions are directly responsible for their current predicament and might give him leverage to negotiate.
The two take turns saving one another's lives, even after Tyr apparently betrays the Maru. When they finally sit down to discuss whether Tyr's value as a soldier offsets the risk he poses, Tyr candidly states that he signed on with Dylan in the hope of taking over his ship, and says, 'If you would like me to leave, sir, you have only to ask.' But Tyr finally admits, 'Whether I like it or not, I need you, sir, and I should be so bold as to say you need me,' and challenges him to a game, which Dylan readily accepts. The slash implications are staggering, particularly after the earlier dialogue where Tyr complains about Dylan putting himself in too many dangerous situations, and Dylan mocks, 'I didn't know you cared' -- a word-for-word replay of Space: 1999's pilot episode, in which the commander said the same thing to the crewmember who would later become his lover. Even taken at face value, the final Dylan/Tyr scene is a very powerful moment of bonding, backed up by the potent chemistry of these two very strong individuals who evidently like and respect each other despite their ongoing reasons to distrust and resent one another.
Beka has many superb lines of dialogue this episode. 'Talk about misplaced trust!' she barks at Tyr when he suggests she rethink her faith in Rev Bem. 'It's okay, baby,' she croons to her ship, sounding like Han Solo with the Millennium Falcon, and defending the Maru with similar passion. She tells Dylan that she doesn't think Tyr took their guns for show-and-tell. Yet her self-depracating recollection of the despair from which Rev Bem saved her years earlier seems a bit contrived -- it's hard to believe that Beka Valentine considered ending it all over some bad business and being dumped by a lover. Perhaps she's making the event into more than it was to bolster Rev's ego. It's odd that she doesn't bring up the most obvious parallel -- her own craving for flash. Does she believe it would trivialize the Magog's genetically-programmed hunger to compare it to an addiction she can fight? Though no one could doubt Beka's loyalty to Rev Bem after this episode, there are still many layers of their relationship left unexplored.
The spare dialogue in 'Exit Strategies' provides most of its humor, particularly Dylan and Tyr's deadpan exchanges during violent action sequences: "Hello." "How you doing?" before the climactic rescue, and the ongoing gag, "You still owe me that conversation." Tyr blows off his Nietzschean adversaries with the ultimate insult, calling them inferior, then using a piece of metal dung as a chakram while he escapes. But the line of the episode belongs to Harper. Though the performances are uniformly strong, from Lexa Doig's brief, anguished cri de coeur over Andromeda's repressed memories to Brent Stait's agonized grunting as Rev Bem's body devours itself, Gordon Woolvett delivers a stunner as he winds up Harper's drunken suicide speech with, 'I have an irrevocable appointment with a painful, violent death, and no one can fix me.' Somehow he manages to be both funny and painfully sympathetic. In addition, the tying-up scene at the end with Rev Bem would probably feel contrived were it not for Woolvett's performance, which indicates that things aren't nearly as peachy as Harper alleges.
There are a number of technical nitpicks that others will probably explore in more detail than myself. Sure, I'm getting a little tired of the slow-motion shots of bodies falling. Yes, I think bio-engineered geniuses with super reflexes should be better with guns than all the stupid Nietzscheans. Probably the worms have too much in common with their equivalents in Dune. Please don't ask me to explain the technobabble by which Dylan and Beka extend the coils on the accelerator, nor the leak Harper has to fix because for some reason Rommie can't. Clever science isn't one of Andromeda's strong points; Dylan gets honors for the clunkiest line of the episode for, 'An object in motion tends to stay in motion.' Plus I remain a little fuzzy on exactly what Tyr hoped to accomplish by giving weapons to the Nietzscheans, and I have no idea what Dylan was shooting at when he first discovered the sinkholes -- was he trying to attract attention to himself?
But I don't really care. I got to see some superb exploration of the characters of Tyr Anasazi, Rev Bem and Seamus Harper, I got to hear Beka Valentine dish some real dirt, I got to watch Dylan Hunt try to figure out the best way to crack Tyr's shell. When an episode offers decent visuals and entertaining action sequences surrounding ongoing character stories that manage to incorporate humor and pathos, I don't worry much about the technical details. 'Exit Strategies' leaves a very strong impression.