Hercules and Iolaus Take on the Nietzscheans
"The Knight, Death and the Devil" Plot Summary:
Though the fiftieth member world is on the verge of joining the new Commonwealth, Beka must conduct the negotiations, for Dylan, Rommie and Tyr have gone to try to rescue a group of captured High Guard ships from the Drago-Kazov, who want to erase their AIs and use them to dominate known space. Their first stop is the Clarion's Call -- a former transport that Nightsiders have converted into a casino. The Clarion's Call AI, Ryan, works as an entertainer on the tourist ship and to Dylan's surprise, he doesn't want to leave. Dylan abducts him anyway and demands to know where the Nietzscheans have been holding the seized High Guard ships; reluctantly Ryan says that they must go to Tartarus.
Tartarus is a system with a brown dwarf star that makes it nearly impossible to reach via slipstream; the Nietzscheans knew that the ships could not escape from there, nor would others be likely to find them. Ryan claims to have jumped out on the tail of a patrol ship, only to find that there was no Commonwealth to help him rescue his friends. But when they arrive in Tartarus, they learn from the powerful attack vessel Wrath of Achilles and Andromeda's sister ship The Million Voices that Ryan betrayed them -- when he escaped with the help of the other trapped ships, he was supposed to seek out the enemies of the Drago-Kazov to help free the others. But Ryan had seen enough destruction and refused to get involved in a Nietzschean civil war, fleeing his responsibilities.
Achilles and Mila refuse to follow the orders of a captain from a self-declared new Commonwealth. They demand to be treated as equals, not slaves. But when the Nietzscheans return unexpectedly with their device to erase AIs, Achilles is infected before Ryan can save him. Still, the dying avatar points out that Ryan risked his life for him, and encourages the others to stand together. Dylan adds that he has come to bring them home out of duty, but it will be their choice whether to follow him once they're free of Tartarus. Rommie offers to become the replacement avatar for the Wrath of Achilles, then discovers that Ryan has already undertaken that dangerous task. Together the ships prepare to make the jump to slipstream, with Mila and several others sacrificing themselves so that the Maru and the Achilles can get away.
Meanwhile, the Kasimir Politburo demands to speak to none other than Captain Hunt, forcing Beka to improvise with a program Harper has created so that Beka's words will appear to be coming out of Dylan's mouth on a viewscreen. The program works, but afterwards the Kasimir leader overhears Beka and Harper congratulating one another and becomes furious. Beka offers her own testimony about the value of the Commonwealth, and ultimately convinces Kasimir to join; the rest of the crew arrives home just in time for the celebration. After the Wrath of Achilles is repaired, Dylan makes Ryan its captain, citing his hundreds of years of High Guard experience; though Dylan plans to rename the ship the Clarion's Call after Ryan's old vessel, Ryan says that is the name of a casino, whereas 'Wrath of Achilles' reflects his own career as a soldier.
When a series offers stunt casting during sweeps month, viewers often find themselves distracted from continuing characters and storylines. In this case, with Kevin Sorbo's long-time Hercules co-star Michael Hurst playing Ryan, it's impossible for anyone who's seen the show not to draw comparisons with Herc and Iolaus. Fortunately, in this case, that doesn't take anything away from the story, and it's easy to see why the producers thought of Hurst for the role of Ryan -- a character with similarities to the Jester Iolaus from Hercules' dark alternate universe, who had to recover from shame about not being all that he could be when he met the 'real' Hercules.
Since Sorbo seems increasingly to be playing Hercules on Andromeda, Hurst's Ryan is a nice fit. There's even a witty reference to the earlier show when Ryan tells Dylan that he must go to Tartarus (the nadir of the Greek underworld) and Dylan gets déjà vu. These actors have always had wonderful chemistry together, both comic and adversarial, so it's delightful to see how it both remains and changes on another show with different characters. What fun to see Tyr break a standoff between Dylan and Ryan by citing the AI's strength of will! Just imagine for a moment the Nietzschean on the earlier series -- the Norse deity Tyr is associated with war, justice, and world order, like Hercules' father Zeus, so the struggle truly might have been Olympian.
For Andromeda fans, though, the better news is that 'The Knight, Death and The Devil' furthers several ongoing storylines: the Drago-Kazov plan to take over the known universe, the fate of High Guard ships that survived the old Commonwealth, the 50th world joining the new Commonwealth, Beka's development as Dylan's most articulate spokesperson for what has become their common goal. The latter plot is particularly interesting because, as Harper says, Beka does Dylan better than Dylan. Though we're supposed to believe we're seeing a program of Harper's that makes Beka's words come out of Dylan's mouth, we're aware as viewers that we're seeing Sorbo playing Ryder playing Beka playing Dylan -- the facial expressions, the head tosses, the vocal inflections are all wonderfully paired. The degree to which Beka's beliefs and Dylan's have merged is almost scary, so there's fun in her recollection that not long ago she thought a restored Commonwealth was a stupid idea.
We know why Beka has become such a passionate follower of Dylan Hunt. Even though I miss the old Tyr, we've seen enough reasons to explain why he, too, sticks around. Andromeda, however, is another story...and unfortunately, even though 'The Knight, Death and the Devil' should be her story, she gets the short shrift. Finally an episode which takes the concept of independent AIs to their logical evolution -- the ability to decide not to follow the orders of their Commonwealth masters! But infuriatingly, we see the events from the perspectives of Dylan and Ryan rather than Rommie. Her major contributions are to tell Tyr she's better with dirty limericks than poetry and to tell Mila that they can argue about their rights after they escape from the Nietzscheans -- ignoring the point that to Mila, there's little difference between being commanded by a Drago-Kazov and being commanded by a High Guard officer.
Rommie is right that an impending Nietzschean assault isn't the best time for a debate about their independence, but her failure to assert any opinion on the subject -- and her later suggestion that she learned all she knows about being a soldier from Dylan -- really grates. At one time we got intimations that she follows Dylan because she's constructed to do so; then we got intimations that she also acts out of personal loyalty, even love. How much of this is built into the basic AI programming? As Mila asks, what were the programmers thinking, creating a warship that's supposed to follow orders yet think for itself? Are they all doomed sooner or later to suffer the fate of either the Pax Magellanic, which went insane in the absence of a captain, or the Million Voices, which grew too resentful of authority to accept commands from anyone other than herself?
Dylan grants Ryan complete autonomy in the end, which is strange for several reasons. I thought that High Guard AIs couldn't navigate the slipstream but required an organic pilot, though perhaps that was only theorized in the show's Bible -- I can't remember if or when it was said onscreen. I also thought that the AIs were designed to need a captain to lean on, the way Dylan assured Rommie he'd always be there for her in 'Star-Crossed.' If Ryan managed to outgrow his programming in a few short hours of taking responsibility, surely Rommie has already demonstrated that she, too, is entitled to a degree of independence and self-determination she's never asked for and Dylan has never offered.
I don't mind that these issues aren't all addressed in this episode, which has great pacing, snappy dialogue and relatively little violence on top of a great guest cast and an intriguing storyline. What bothers me is the superficial manner in which they're addressed at all when the series bothers to pay attention to something other than Dylan Hunt's image of the universe, which he's managed to imprint on so many others without often acknowledging how much he's learned from them as well. I'm looking forward to the return of the Vedrans as much because they can give Dylan orders and make him feel insignificant as anything; I want to see what Dylan will be like when he's not the leader of the free universe, but a soldier among many, living with the frustration of having to trust leaders who aren't always right.