Horror Movie Staples Reveal a Ghost In the Machine
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" Plot Summary:
While Dylan, Beka and Harper are evacuating people from Virgil Nine, the Maru picks up a slug-like parasite that eats through metal. Fortunately, Andromeda is close enough to send drones to bring the ship into the hangar bay. Unfortunately, none of the safeguards ordered by Dylan can keep the slugs from infesting Andromeda after Harper inadvertently brings one of the parasites off the Maru. When the lights start flickering, the engineer thinks at first that he's just spooked from the horror story Beka convinced him to read, but he soon realizes that several systems on the ship aren't working properly. When he tries to make repairs, he sees what appears to be the head of a phantom in an isolated section of the ship.
Nobody believes that Harper saw a ghost, so Dylan takes Tyr and Beka to examine the area. They find slime from one of the slugs and realize that it has reproduced, with offspring all over the ship. Dylan sets Harper to work creating traps for the creatures. The 'ghost' appears, advising Trance to get off the ship and warning Beka that she'll be dealt with unless she leaves. Trance and Harper both spot the apparition on the command deck as well, but Rommie can neither see nor hear it. She can, however, track its transmissions from an area of the ship that according to her specs should not exist.
Dylan goes down to the restricted area and finds himself in a lab, where he finds the decayed body of a crewmember in a High Guard uniform. The man apparently survived the black hole but died before he could send a message to Dylan for help. Rommie identifies him as Eddie Aldrich and explains that he had separated his computer from the main network, so there was no way Dylan could have found him. Eddie's file indicates that he may have been emotionally unstable, but Dylan still feels terrible that he died isolated below-decks.
Eddie's "ghost" -- actually an A.I. avatar -- appears to Dylan, accusing the captain of betraying the Commonwealth along with the Nietzscheans. Because he can't turn Dylan in for this crime, he activates the ship's auto-destruct. Andromeda can't stop the sequence, so Dylan orders Beka to evacuate the rest of the crew to the Maru. Then he finds Eddie and warns the avatar that if he blows up the ship, he'll just be finishing the work of the parasitic slugs.
When Eddie asks whether he and Dylan would have been friends if he had survived, Dylan assures him that they are friends. Eddie asks what he can do to help and electrifies the entire ship, killing all the parasites, though the charge destroys the avatar as well. Andromeda shuts down the auto-destruct countdown. Just as things seem to be returning to normal, slime begins to ooze out of Beka's box of horror novels, and Dylan shouts that they are never going back to Virgil Nine.
Last week Andromeda tried the film noir formula quite effectively; this week it tries the horror formula with less success, partly because it tries to do too much in too little time, partly because the story seems reminiscent of too many other sci-fi shows. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is kind of like that Next Generation episode with the nanites eating through the ship, with parasites that look sort of like those creatures in Chekov's ear in The Wrath of Khan, crossed over with the Space: 1999 episode where the commander has visions of crewmembers he left to die, which is the sort of thing that also happens to Buffy...not boring exactly, but a bit familiar and comfortable for a horror story. This isn't Aliens, and it isn't Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween; if it were, it might seem even more derivative, but it also might be genuinely scary or funny instead of stuck someplace in between.
The monster movie plot never really goes anywhere, for while the slugs do considerable damage to the ship, they're not given any dramatic weight as a menace. They're somewhat gross and clinically dangerous, yet the crew doesn't react with real hatred or horror toward them even as the beasties corrode vital systems. It's a given for the audience that Andromeda isn't going to be destroyed, so it's important to see real emotional tension from the crew which isn't supposed to take that for granted. Yet Harper's calm enough to make jokes about Magog picnics; he's far more creeped out by Beka's fictional spooks and the image of a specter than the real threat gnawing its way through the ship. The 'eww' factor is much stronger than the 'we're gonna die' factor (and did anyone else look at the critters, think of Paris and Janeway's salamander babies from Voyager's "Threshold," and start laughing?).
The ghost story has considerably more emotional impact, but starts so late in the episode that it ends up being rushed. The rapid dialogue makes the explanations for Eddie's existence rather confusing; I'm still not clear whether the deluded crewmember thought Dylan was a bad guy from before Andromeda fell into the event horizon of the black hole, or whether he concluded that after the fact when Dylan failed to save him. I'm also not clear on how and when Eddie created an artificial avatar without Rommie noticing any absence or drain on her systems even if Eddie's computer had been unhooked from the ship's core.
These are minor problems, but they're distracting while Dylan is having a rare and terrific emotional moment with a crewmember he blames himself for having allowed to fall through the cracks. Sorbo gives one of his best performances showing Dylan beating himself up with guilt over Eddie's demise, and I'd rather not be distracted in the middle of it trying to figure out whether Eddie resents Dylan because of the revolt or from before it when he couldn't figure out how to be the captain's friend. The mix of hero worship and bitterness seems very real, and it's touching to see Dylan's sense of responsibility to the guy even before he has to exaggerate his feelings for the good of the ship.
The link between the two main plots is tenuous. I assume that the destruction caused by the parasites somehow triggers Eddie's programming but that's never made explicit. It's nice to have an A plot and B plot converge in a dramatic ending that resolves both, but thematically it seems like there should be some sort of link as well. Are we supposed to see Eddie and other needy minor crewmembers as parasites? What to make of the 'new crewmembers' we hear about but don't see, which makes them seem pretty useless -- not to mention a bigger mystery than either the slugs or the ghost? The continuity seems shaky and I'm wondering if we'll ever see any evidence of the major damage done by the slugs before their electrocution. At least there's almost no violence against people in this episode.
And there are a lot of cute bits which make "For Whom The Bell Tolls" pass quickly, including Beka's Slinky and terrible literary taste, Harper's bad loud music, and the most gratuitous use of a gorgeous supporting cast member since Jolene Blalock last entered the decontamination chamber on Enterprise (I was sort of anticipating getting to see Dylan, Beka and Harper in something similar when they got back from Virgil, but Harper lost his hatching slug too quickly for it to be relevant). It's too bad Tyr doesn't get more to do in the story, but if all Tyr does is work out and play knight in shining armor to Beka and Harper in any given episode, it's still pretty entertaining.
Once again we see how much the crewmembers enjoy teasing and having fun with each other -- Beka and Harper trying to scare each other, Dylan warning Rommie that she might be the creatures' dessert. It's the strongest aspect of this show, even when the science gets goofy and the plots seem overly familiar. For all the unnerving changes in Andromeda since last season, this is one aspect that keeps getting stronger, and it's really fun to watch.