Cancer Man Faces Terrifying Alien X-Files
"Pitiless As The Sun" Plot Summary:
Major Whendar and Lieutenant Gadell from Inari ask Dylan and the crew for help tracking down unknown attackers destroying their cargo ships. Though Dylan is hesitant about getting involved, both to protect Andromeda's resources and because he doesn't completely trust the Inari, he agrees to investigate. Meanwhile Trance accepts an invitation to visit Inari on a diplomatic mission to expose their xenophobic culture to ideas from other worlds. When she arrives, however, she is taken into custody by a zealous scientist who uses increasingly invasive methods of interrogation to learn about her species.
While Dylan studies the Inari, who in turn snoop around his ship, Beka uses the Maru to lure the enemies of the Inari out of hiding. They turn out to be Pyrians -- beings that live on Venus-type planets and only come into contact with Commonwealth-type worlds when there's a struggle over natural resources. Reluctantly Gadell admits that his planet's major export, ammonium phosphate, is an addictive drug to the Pyrians sold on their black market. Realizing he has been supporting criminals, Dylan arrests Whendar and reveals his suspicions that Gaddell works as an informant for the Pyrians. They both blame their planet's woes on a purple being like Trance that caused a devastating civil war.
On Inari, Trance tries to distract Professor Logitch with increasingly bizarre tales about her origin, first claiming that her parents abused her, then suggesting her entire species was created to serve as sex slaves. Logitch puts her in restraints, drugs her food and probes her to learn why she apparently has no life signs. He warns that he met her predecessor, who triggered a war that killed half the population, including Logitch's son. Trance stares into the scientist's eyes, showing him a vision of the universe. She tells him that he will never understand what she is but he should know that he tortured an innocent person. Back on Andromeda, Dylan expresses relief that Trance is all right, but he also says he can't make alliances until he knows who hes dealing with -- or at least that he can trust them.
"Pitiless as the Sun" (someone on the Andromeda staff must really love Yeats' 'The Second Coming') may be hard to evaluate until later in the season. As a stand-alone, it's a bit stiff, but I'm hoping we're going to learn more about the Inari and the Pyrians, not to mention the Flyin' Purple People Eaters. A wonderful performance by Laura Bertram can't quite make up for the annoying fact that we don't know much more about Trance and her species than we did going in. Are they like Star Trek's Q, with a few irresponsible souls giving their entire Continuum a bad name? Or are they all gypsies, tramps and thieves with super-powers that leave wanton destruction behind, like the Spirit of the Abyss?
The writers don't deign to tell us, refusing even to reveal the manner in which Trance's fellow Purple People Eater caused a civil war on Inari. Surely Dylan would have asked them, or asked Trance. Nor is it clear whether Trance knows who the other purple devil might be. It's impossible to tell from her expression, when she learns that one of her kind came to Inari a decade before, whether she's merely stunned to learn of the visit or afraid she knows exactly what he was up to. As I've said before, a bit of mystery is to be commended, but at this point I have the same suspicions of the Andromeda writers as I have had (with reason) about the X-Files and Voyager writers, namely: they're not telling us things because they don't really know where they're going with them.
Bertram pulls off her scenes in part because of a great assist from William B. Davis, who plays a character with an awful lot of similarities to his well-known Cancer Man. But unlike the possibly-late X-Files villain, Prof. Logitch ends up revealing his personal mysteries and showing his dread of the alien menace threatening his world. This has particular impact for viewers familiar with Cancer Man -- it's a clever means of empowering Trance, to show her trouncing Mulder and Scully's nemesis. Davis doesn't get to have nearly as much fun as Bertram does, for she gets to cackle madly after claiming to be a sex slave, while he only gets to throw a tantrum. But he plays a wonderful straight man to her mania, and she demonstrates wider range than Andromeda has permitted her thus far. Trance's wicked side could be a lot of fun if we got to see more of it.
The drama isn't helped any by the lack of a sense of real menace. Trance never really seems afraid -- heck, we already know she can come back from the dead, how scared can she be of puny biological weapons -- and the interrogation never seems to be hitting any buttons. Even powerful aliens like Q and Trelane have sore points they don't like to discuss. Trance may well have those but Logitch doesn't have a clue what they are. Nor does he know how to cause her significant pain...or if he does, she hides the fact from him so well that the audience can't tell, either. And it's not completely clear that we should be rooting for Trance. Usually in an interrogation scene, the audience is supposed to be identifying with the victim and the scene gets emotional impact from that. Compare 'Pitiless as the Sun' with this week's Enterprise, 'The Andorian Incident,' for instance. There, we seethe at Andorian bully Shran even though the situation turns out to be more complicated than it looks. Here, we don't seethe.
The Pyrians and the Inari -- whose names give me a mental image of Space: 1999 babe Catherine Schell finding mindless bliss in fried tofu sushi -- re-enact some of the events of Next Gen's 'Symbiosis,' in which seemingly-friendly aliens turn out to be dealing drugs to the scarier aliens. I must admit I laughed when I saw what the Pyrians looked like -- their ships are interesting but the beasties themselves have jellyfish-type tentacles, which might make perfect sense for Venus-like atmospheres yet remind me overmuch of really cheesy '50s horror movie aliens. The synthesized voice-boxes don't help any, though again, I'm sure something of the sort would be necessary for creatures that live in a Venus-type atmosphere -- I just wish it were something that seemed somewhat more original.
Rev's AWOL, and Tyr doesn't get much to do. Yet Harper turns over another new leaf, building coveted nova bombs and revealing a redesign of Andromeda's command center with a lot more light and space -- not to mention a cool slipstream station that elevates the pilot to apparent godhood. (He or she will need it to avoid being thrown to the floor when the ship starts shaking around.) We get hints of the new, darker Dylan Hunt -- acting suspicious, thinking about blowing off a potential ally, building bombs behind Beka and Tyr's backs! "We are not the masks we wear, but if we don them, do we not become them?" asks the quote at the opening, which seems to apply to Trance but could just as easily refer to post-Magog Dylan.
On the other hand, donning the mask of first officer has suited Beka extremely well -- she's back to her usual tough self, going on two potential suicide missions while keeping her sense of humor. Harper has a superb line about it feeling like Freaky Friday with Beka and Dylan swapping personalities. An episode that raises far more questions than it answers, "Pitiless as the Sun" demands several sequels, so we can see how many of these changes are permanent and what that will mean for the Magog-infested universe.