"Lava and Rockets"
Week of February 3, 2002
by Michelle Erica Green

A Valentine for Dylan Fans

"Lava and Rockets" Plot Summary:

Chased by mercenary Ogami who want to kill him, Dylan hijacks the tourist ship Hildie. Pilot Molly Noguchi has an implant that allows her to control the ship, so he forces her to accompany him. Molly proves to be surprisingly good-humored about being kidnapped and Dylan is impressed by her novice skills. When Tyr returns to Andromeda without the captain, a furious Rommie suggests that the Nietzschean left Dylan to die. Explaining that his old friend Ferahr sent them into an ambush instead of an arms deal, Tyr leaves again on the Maru with Rommie to attempt a rescue.

A battle with the Ogami damages the Hildie. Molly finds that she cannot enter the slipstream. She and Dylan return to the drift where he and Tyr started out, looking for an exotic matter lens for the Hildie's drive. Although Molly accuses Dylan of being insane, particularly when she realizes that he's the infamous zealot trying to recreate the Commonwealth, she also admits that she enjoys all the excitement. When she begs the local police for help escaping her captor, they prove to be so corrupt that she ends up helping Dylan fight his way free.

Meanwhile, Tyr learns from Ferahr that the Ogami are pursuing Dylan -- but not all of the Ogami have left the drift, and Ferahr dies in the ensuing fight. Having discovered that Dylan came looking for an exotic matter lens, Tyr and Rommie conclude that their captain cannot have left the area. Molly flies her ship in between eruptions on the surface of a gas giant, which destroy most of the Ogami ships. But she is injured and Dylan has to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to get her breathing. After he saves both Molly and her ship's drive, they enter slipstream, which enables Rommie to detect their departure.

The Maru follows the Hildie to a nearby planet, where the Ogami destroy most of the Hildie's critical systems. Dylan and Molly escape the ship before it explodes but the brake thrusters fail on their escape craft. Rommie uses the Maru to drag them out of the planet's atmosphere and bring them back to the Andromeda, where Harper is trying to get used to Trance's radical alterations. Dylan makes love with Molly and gives her a letter of recommendation to a military academy, but he never learns who hired the Ogami to kill him.


A valentine for Kevin Sorbo fans, 'Lava and Rockets' gets Captain Hunt laid, establishes that Rommie and Tyr both adore the man and proves that the High Guard handyman can turn any ship into a fighting machine. All right, I'm exaggerating, but not by much -- with the exception of a few tiny Trance scenes, everything comes up Dylan. There's a lot to like about 'Lava and Rockets' -- like clever dialogue, a likeable love interest, and wonderful acting by Keith Hamilton Cobb and Lexa Doig -- but because we never learn who's behind the Ogami pursuit of Dylan, it all feels contrived in the end. Pleased as I am to get some payoff in the romantic department, it's very frustrating to watch a show for an hour, only to be told that we won't learn who's responsible for all the violence until some date to be determined later.

Molly, who comes across as a younger, perkier version of Beka, has a lot to recommend her. She thinks Dylan is crazy at the start, yet she's so enamored of the possibility of a grand adventure that she goes along for the ride with good humor and no fear. It's a little puzzling that she has such skill piloting an unknown ship, but I'm willing to accept that she's just a natural like Beka who can pilot any vessel through exploding volcanoes or whatever else she encounters. Despite her cracks about his probable mental instability, Molly seems genuinely to like Dylan, so it comes as a real surprise when she asks incompetent local police to save her from him. We know before the fight starts how it surely has to end, so the stupid slo-mo smackdown seems entirely unnecessary and very nearly derails Molly's respectability.

Fortunately the scene doesn't last long, and by the time they're cruising through volcanoes together, Dylan's obviously smitten with her. I'm not sure whether Molly fakes needing CPR to get Dylan to kiss her again or whether she's genuinely in mortal danger until Prince Charming's lips bring about a near-instantaneous recovery, but the wit and the actors' chemistry makes it irrelevant. Like Elsbett, Molly's worthy of Dylan even if he's being presented as the superhero pilot, engineer, navigator, foot soldier and ship's steward all at once. No wonder his own ship has a crush on him.

It's not news that Rommie has such feelings for her captain, so one wonders why Tyr goads her about it. If he really wants to find Dylan, as he avows, distracting her seems like a bad idea. All that changes, though, when Rommie concludes that Tyr doesn't really want Dylan dead -- in retrospect, she's probably suspected that all along, because she hits him hard with the knowledge. Suddenly it looks like Tyr wants to keep her distracted from his own investment in finding their captain because he cares too much. Tyr hardly seems disturbed when Rommie accuses him of attempted murder...but when she accuses him of liking Dylan, thinking of him as a friend and fearing his loss, the Nietzschean smolders.

Of course she's right, though the closest Tyr will come to admitting it is when he says Dylan will never be his enemy. The scene gains power from a certain amount of sexual tension between Rommie and Tyr, but there's also an undercurrent of competition for Dylan's attention. Tyr's not afraid of losing Rommie to Dylan, but he's envious of what she might represent to him. Yet in the end it's obvious Dylan thinks of Rommie as nothing more than -- well, his ship. He's oblivious to her inflections when she tells him that his 'friend' is waiting in his quarters, and to the roll of her eyes as she hands him the invitation to military school he requested for Molly.

How human is Rommie? I loved her as a walking lie detector, but if she can read Ferahr, whom she has only just met, why can't she read Tyr when he first claims he didn't abandon Dylan? Why has she never performed polygraph readings on the numerous aliens who have lied to Dylan in her presence -- why has she never read Dylan himself, when he's been plotting something he wasn't ready to share? Beka's right that Rommie needs a hobby, but she also needs a friend who's not dependent on her memory core. She spends too much time fretting over her systems and her crew.

For all the messy, intriguing detail we see in the scenes with Rommie and Tyr, the character development in 'Lava and Rockets' feels unbalanced. Despite his skills, Dylan remains one-dimensional. He treats Molly pretty much the way he treats planets thinking about joining the Commonwealth; he flirts, he helps out, he shows off his strengths, he tries to serve as protector and gets a bit condescending. Probably he thinks he's being conciliatory when he tries to disconnect Molly's dataport without her permission, but it really irks me that he would take such a step, after abducting her and likely wrecking her career, so that she has to beg him just to let her stick with the job she's been doing well so far. Dylan tries to be self-deprecating, but the father-knows-best attitude with which he often addresses his crew comes through with Molly as well.

Since Molly is really his first Babe of the Week, I won't worry yet about whether Dylan will start to act too much like James T. Kirk on the newly Sorbo-centered Andromeda, but I've been worried for awhile that Dylan has the same paternalistic attitude towards developing worlds and individuals that Kirk often displayed. Molly gushes over his skills, seeming oblivious to her own impressive talents as a pilot and the courage and smarts she displays against the Ogami. She doesn't need to go to school, she's practically ready for her own ship. I must admit that I like Dylan best at moments like the one in 'Ouroboros' when he helplessly tries to order the universe to do his bidding. He never seems to consider the possibility that sometimes he sounds like the wild-eyed zealot Molly expects him to be, and sometimes his earnest condescension really grates.

If Tyr and Beka haven't managed to put Dylan in his place so far, maybe Trance will -- for starters, she seems less likely to fall in love with him, and she's unlikely to need him to protect a progenitor or keep her off drugs. In fact Trance seems invulnerable except as far as her friends are concerned, which must make Harper feel pretty special no matter how little he trusts her right now. He copes for most of the episode by hiding from her, so much that Andromeda calls him rude and Beka orders him to start cooperating (this despite the fact that Beka practically shrinks away from Trance when the latter shows up on the bridge). Once Trance was worshipped as a goddess, then she went to work for Beka for reasons that aren't clear, and now she has knowledge of a future that she wants to prevent from happening...could she get any more complicated? This week her scenes seem specifically designed to put the audience in Harper's place, asking us as well as him to give her a chance, but after her Warrior Princess display last week, I don't expect her to keep serving cola for long.

And now some notes on superficial matters. In one of the first scenes of 'Lava and Rockets,' Rommie and Beka pick on each other's clothes. This exchange is absolutely hilarious because their costumes and hairdos of late have been hideous, though it's hard to tell whether the show's writers are taking intentional digs at the costumers. Blue hair may work in anime but it's all wrong for Rommie, and I don't mean in a cosmetic sense; I mean that it's silly for a ship's human-looking avatar to sport such obvious artifice unless there's a specific reason she wants to look like artificial, and that would limit her ability to replay The Matrix against unsuspecting enemies. By contrast, Trance looks strong, ferocious and wonderful, and Laura Bertram does amazing job playing the tough, tight-lipped new persona while still letting bits of the pixie peek through.

Strangely enough, I miss Trance's treacly-sweet voice. Twice I've received complaints for crediting lines to Beka that were actually spoken by Rommie, and this week I realized why: it's because Lisa Ryder and Lexa Doig sound uncannily alike at times. If I glance away from the screen to write down a note while the two of them are both in a scene, I have to rewind later to find out who was speaking when. In addition to the timbre of their voices, Rommie and Beka often have similar sarcastic senses of humor and the same bark of aggravation. Now, it seems, Trance will sound more similar to them than not in terms of her tone and assertiveness, so I hope her vocal quirks develop in a completely different direction.

I've said this before, I'll say it again: the gratuitous violence on this series has got to go. I have no objections to my young son watching Dylan or anyone else make love, but I'm really unhappy with the constant, pointless butchery and I won't let my kids keep watching if it keeps up. Great action sequences require dramatic tension and high emotional stakes, not oversized force-lances and special-effects explosions. This episode has strong dialogue and characterization. It would have been a lot better with a couple more solid Trance-and-Harper moments or even Dylan with his shirt off rather than flying Ogami bodies, and it would have been vastly improved had we gotten to know Tyr's old friend instead of watching him die.

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