Twisted, Shattered, Visionary Endgame Parallels
"Ouroboros" Plot Summary:
Just after Rev Bem disappears, leaving behind a recording to explain that his path has taken him from Andromeda, Harper's Magog larvae begin to mature. When Dylan takes the ship to seek help from the Perseids, scientists Höhne and Rekeeb become excited at the prospect of removing the larvae by folding space around them. But before they complete the tesseract device Harper has begun to construct, using technology he confiscated from Satrina, sudden shifts in reality plague the ship. Corridors turn into portholes, creating new openings into space and hiding the command deck from the captain. Worse, time distortions send some crewmembers into the past, others into the future.
As Dylan tries to cope with seeing his old crew relive the Hephaistus conflict, Beka and Trance get trapped on the Maru fighting Kalderans. There they both encounter future versions of themselves -- Beka with cybernetic implants and a small child calling for her help, Trance with phenomenal fighting skills and a tough, assertive demeanor. The Trance from the future tells her past self that she made a lot of mistakes; the two agree to switch eras so they can avoid making the same mistakes twice.
Meanwhile, Harper and the Perseids nearly fall into the vacuum of space when an interior doorway unexpectedly opens outside the ship. Tyr rescues them by sealing the door. But Hohne dies soon after a warped access junction dumps him over the pit in the engine room, despite a valiant rescue effort by Harper. Although they haven't yet finished the tesseract device, its use in the future is affecting their past, turning the ship inside out.
While most of the crew try to return to the machine shop to destroy the device, Rommie and Dylan realize that the distortions are affecting the planet as well, and head to the command deck to move the ship to a safe distance. Finally they realize that they must move at right angles to their goal instead of heading toward it directly. After a brief battle with invading Magog, they all reach the tesseract device. When Trance explains that the distortions will cancel each other out if the device is destroyed, restoring the ship and saving Hohne's life, Harper elects to die so that the past can be set right. But Trance turns on the device without orders, removing the larvae and preserving the current timeline.
The tesseract distortions cease, but Dylan is left with the task of explaining Hohne's death to the Perseid council. "What's done is done," Beka tells Harper, who retorts that he's not so sure anymore. Rommie says that since he can't bring Hohne back to life, all Harper can do is to try to live a life worthy of him. Alone with the transformed Trance, Dylan says he doesn't trust her and can't think of a reason to keep her on the ship, but relents when she admits that she saved Harper's life because she needs a friend. That, at least, sounds honest.
'Ouroboros,' an ancient Greek term, refers to a great mythological serpent with its tail in its mouth. (Remember Scully's tattoo on X-Files? That's the image.) In legend, the serpent devours its own body because that's the only available sustenance. Traditionally the ouroboros represents the concept that birth leads to death, but death leads to rebirth -- the circle of life, the interconnection of creation and destruction. It's an icon of recycling.
How appropriate that symbol seems for this episode, because 'Ouroboros' borrows from so many Star Trek episodes that I'm not sure I'll remember them all. I don't mean this purely as criticism, because the episode unfolds with wit, style and some visual images that seem calculated to poke fun at this fact -- particularly a future Beka Valentine looking like an unassimilated Seven of Nine, complete with eyepiece and black gloves. The plot unfolds as a sort of 'Twisted' meets 'Shattered.' The former is a Voyager episode in which the ship's corridors don't lead where they're supposed to, and the distortions cause anguish of the sort the Perseids suffer on Andromeda; the latter is a time-distortion story where one Voyager crewman keeps finding himself in different eras on the ship, under assault from various past and future enemies.
There are also parallels with 'Parallels' -- the Next Generation episode where universes shift around Worf, who remains the same while he encounters radically different futures for his friends. Trance switches places with a future version of herself, which is what happens to Miles O'Brien in Deep Space Nine's 'Visionary.' And one could read the conclusion of 'Ouroboros' as criticism of 'Endgame,' the Voyager finale, in which Captain Janeway decides to wipe out a happy future for hundreds of people in order to negate the deaths of her two best friends. Here Trance makes a similar decision to save Harper, but she doesn't try to pretend her goals are noble or necessary to set the timeline straight. And afterwards, everyone reacts as though she has betrayed them, even the man she saves.
In short, 'Ouroboros' feels more like a Star Trek story than any previous Andromeda episode, which has some merits but also a couple of drawbacks. Clever dialogue and unexpected visual shifts enhance the thrilling pace of the story. On the other hand, the ending seems far too abrupt -- we never learn why the tesseract distortions cease following the activation of the device, nor why Vance vanishes, presumably to her own era, while once-and-future-Trance is able to stay. More importantly, we don't learn the fate of the technology itself -- will all tesseract experiments cease, or might we find Harper or even Dylan obsessed with setting the past straight now that they know it's possible, like Captain Annorax from Voyager's 'Year of Hell'?
All three of the women on this series have recently adopted rather kinky visual styles -- Beka in her tie-me-up top and Borgesque leather, Rommie looking like Cher playing Cleopatra, and New Trance in something reminiscent of Tina Turner's garb from Beyond Thunderdome with dreadlocks to compete with Tyr's. Our favorite Nietzschean, too, gets to show off his magnificent physique after a gratuitous but fortuitous space warp takes him out of his quarters half-dressed. They'd all look at home as dancers in Madonna's latest tour. Harper seems more like the sit-at-the-keyboard type, but take off his shirt and Dylan too could join the pyrotechnics. With Rev Bem and the purple prehensile pixie both lost to the past, the crew looks unfortunately human-centric, no matter how funky.
Rev Bem's 'Dear Dylan' letter also seems like a copout -- it reminds me of Tasha Yar's quick, senseless death on Next Gen, like the writers wanted to make sure we'd have little nostalgia for the character. In fact, it seems so unlike Rev Bem to take off that I hope the writers plan to revisit the scenario at a later date. The discovery of another document, an anti-Wayist plot or some dreadful Magog secret like Rev's sudden inability to resist his urge to devour his friends would make his departure more believable. Brent Stait dropped the role because the makeup was causing him great physical discomfort, but one hopes he might put it back on for a short guest appearance -- and since this is science fiction, he could always come back transformed by the Spirit of the Abyss or something like that, with fewer prosthetics and Trance-like garb.
Harper rightly protests that the Rev Bem he knew wouldn't leave him in the lurch, to turn in desperation to untested tesseract technology. He gets the first inkling that there might be a problem when he sees a vision of his future self trying to save the Perseid Hohne, but apparently he believes the hallucination stems from his Magog infestation and doesn't worry about the phenomenon as such. Strangely, Harper seems less terrified of bloody death than he has in previous episodes. His complaints of abdominal pain are played for laughs, with groans of 'Ow' instead of shuddering screams, even when Dylan and Tyr promise to put him out of his misery before the beasts can hatch. Maybe it's a relief to have the situation come to a head, not to have to live with it anymore. Or maybe Harper is still recovering from having left his cousin to die on Earth, though the man who believes he can make the laws of temporal mechanics bend to his will hardly seems depressed. Harper's a different person now than he was when he became infested; it will be interesting to see who he'll become now that Trance has sacrificed the life of an admired alien to save him.
Obviously this is the most important Trance episode we've seen yet, yet like all things Trance, everything about her transformation remains shrouded in mystery. I'll buy that her personality has altered drastically in a future so horrible she's afraid to describe it. I'm less clear on why she would have altered her cosmetic appearance just as drastically, especially since she seems awfully busy fighting Kalderans. She has a cryptic conversation with herself in which the girl from the future tells the one from the past that she made a lot of mistakes and she knows what they have to do. She has not seen the perfect possible future in which they both believe. So a reluctant purple pixie tells Beka that she has to go, and with even less of a goodbye than Rev Bem's, she vanishes into a distortion, leaving behind evil twin Trance. No wonder her last name is 'Gemini.'
Laura Bertram plays both characters superbly, particularly in their interactions with one another -- I get the distinct impression that young Trance dislikes grownup Trance, and that can't be easy to play in subtext against one's own image. Trance #2 is very difficult to warm up to, yet she's still Trance, so it's easy for the audience to relate to Dylan's feelings towards her at the end of the episode. Obviously we need to see a lot more of how Beka and Harper will respond, since they knew the pleasant purple pixie for years. And it will be great fun to watch Tyr butt heads with someone who looks like she might be his equal, intellectually and physically.
So Dylan considers Tyr family -- of all the unexpected revelations! One wonders what the Nietzschean would say to that, because however much he may have grown to like and respect his captain, Tyr certainly does not consider him a member of his pride. 'In Dylan we trust,' says Vance with a smile when Dylan gives her orders to let Tyr pursue his own assignment. For all their virtues, touchingly explicated by Rommie when she realizes she's closer to Harper than she ever was to any High Guard engineer, the former Maru crew aren't quite so quick to offer that kind of faith, and Tyr's in a class of his own when it comes to not trusting anyone. Trance and Rev Bem have historically been the mediators, the folk who ease tensions between crewmembers; with both of them gone, things may become a lot tenser aboard Andromeda despite Dylan's talk about familial bonds. I love the scene where Captain Hunt announces to his twisted ship that he wants to be on the command deck, trying to get there by force of will, but he has about as much success bending the universe to his specifications as he often does when he tries to order Beka or Tyr around.
In a couple of ways Andromeda still differs markedly from the Trek franchise. For one thing, the continuity is superb -- many plot elements from last season and the first half of this season are addressed or resolved. There's also a refreshing lack of technobabble. The Perseid scientists make jokes about string theory, but we're given no clue about how Harper's tesseract device works in practice -- nor does it detract from the story that we don't know, so long as we buy that its effects could cause time and space to warp. On a less pleasant note, we're still seeing a lot of gratuitous violence; it may be necessary to establish New Trance's fighting skills, but do we really need lingering shots of the heads she slices off as they roll across the Maru floor? The Magog look good -- directors seem to have caught on to the idea that the less we see, the scarier they seem -- but the Kalderan prosthetics still look pretty cheesy. Effects-wise, the warp distortions work best when we see them as such; in a couple of instances there's just a flash, and bam, the ship has changed, which isn't as interesting visually or dramatically.
I hope we get a serious Rommie episode soon (as opposed to 'Rommie Does The Matrix') because increasingly I have questions about how her avatars work, particularly the android. At one point we see the ship's interface apparently warping across several timelines -- a witty sequence reminding us of how often her visual appearance has changed since the series began. Yet her holographic interface appears to be unaffected by the distortions affecting the main computer, and the android Rommie actually works to reprogram herself. I was under the impression that the android's functions were much more closely tied into the core personality -- and I wondered last week as well how she could go on a long mission to Earth without some degradation of signal or whatever it is that keeps her connected to the ship's memory. Does she download portions of Andromeda's central programming when she's off the ship? Has her portable power supply been greatly improved in the past year? Does Andromeda the ship have the same emotional attachment to the crew as Andromeda the android, who walks among them and touches them?
I want something like Next Gen's superb 'is Data human' episodes for Rommie, and hopefully we'll get it. In the Great Bird's universes, as in the ouroboros, what goes around comes around and nothing gets wasted. In fact Andromeda itself is comprised of elements recycled from several unfinished pilots by Gene Roddenberry, combined and synthesized by a writing staff led by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. How fitting that this is his final episode as head writer, and how fitting that it recalls his previous triumph, Deep Space Nine.