"Slipfighter the Dogs of War"
Week of November 3, 2002
by Michelle Erica Green

Mission: Impossible in Dylan's Middle East

"Slipfighter the Dogs of War" Plot Summary:

When a shockwave rocks the ship, Rommie detects a nearby supernova that has released high levels of voltarium, which is not a natural element. Dylan realizes that the explosion must have been caused by a nova bomb. It came from Marduk -- a planet that was admitted to the Commonwealth under a previous leader, but was then taken over by a man who has created a police state. Trance insists that Dylan has to stop Marduk from creating any more nova bombs, but Tyr says that an assault on the planet would be madness, for Marduk has a powerful orbital defense system that would destroy them before they got close. The Commonwealth insists on trying for a diplomatic resolution, but its ministers agree to pretend that Dylan never contacted them about the situation should he decide to strike out on his own.

Dylan shows a hangar bay full of slipfighters to a nervous Trance, who insists that they must find a way to prevent Marduk from destroying any more stars. Tyr practices maneuvers with Dylan and Beka but admits that he's preoccupied because he believes this mission cannot succeed. Trance insists on flying with Dylan as he, Beka and Tyr head to Marduk, though Rommie has not been able to determine the exact location of the voltarium reactor. The three slipfighters successfully penetrate the orbital defense system, but ground weapons and fighters attack them as they approach the surface. Tyr's slipfighter is hit and he is forced to eject; then Dylan's goes down as well. He and Trance search on foot for the reactor, which she can sense because voltarium makes her ill. They are attacked by enemy troops, but Tyr finds them and fires at the soldiers.

Beka warns Dylan to hurry, for she is running out of fuel. He says that he will use a laser to indicate the target building. She is afraid that he and the others will be too close to the blast, but Dylan assures her that he has her 'lucky charm' with him. After he marks the building, Beka releases the bomb, destroying it. Dylan congratulates her and tells her that they'll all meet her at the pickup site. Back on the ship, they realize that little has changed for the people of Marduk, who continue to suffer, but Trance says that having taken away the ability to destroy a sun is the most important thing. Beka warns that there will always be someone else to build another reactor, but Dylan promises that they'll be there to destroy that one, too -- it's their job.


'Slipfighter The Dogs Of War' makes the very silly error of trying to draw parallels between a staple plot of science fiction and a real political crisis that's currently unfolding. It's hard to watch this episode without thinking about Iraq, but I think a little perspective is in order before concluding that the writers of Andromeda espouse a George Bush-like policy for the Commonwealth. For one thing, Dylan isn't the Commonwealth anymore, which he's said all along is a good thing and now we can really see why. The Commonwealth has an elected Triumvir and ministers who argue their need to seek diplomatic solutions. Whether or not one agrees with this approach, it's nice to know that Commonwealth leaders won't rush into war based on the say-so of one person. Dylan's not George Bush; he's more Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible, going on a mission that the official government can't sanction and won't acknowledge.

Moreover, Dylan reacts in exactly the manner I would expect of the hero of a science fiction franchise. In Star Wars, the Emperor has at his disposal a Death Star that can only destroy one measly planet at a time, yet that becomes the trigger-point for the Rebel Alliance -- not the decades the Empire spent repressing people before inventing their technological terror. In Star Trek: Generations, Soran wants to destroy a single star for deeply personal reasons, and he's considered a horribly evil villain who needs to be stopped at all costs -- even the life of the sainted Captain Kirk. By the standards of space opera, Marduk's Renoir should and must be besieged by the Forces Of Good. On most other series, I would expect to see his violent overthrow, not merely the destruction of his ability to make nova bombs.

I don't think there is anything inherently offensive in a genre story about a rogue mission to stop a villain who demonstrates his intention to use weapons of mass destruction to expand his empire after turning his own world into an impoverished police state. The villain must be stopped whether it's a Cold War-era thriller in which an agent has to prevent Cuba from nuking Miami or a modern adventure in which weapons-grade plutonium has fallen into the hands of rogue I.R.A. terrorists. I've seen the delectable Sean Bean in two such movies of the latter sort in the past week, so I know they're still being made. They use real political situations, but they're not really about politics; they're about Robert DeNiro and Harrison Ford showing off their cleverness by defeating the bad, bad killers. One can argue that there's arrogance and jingoism just beneath the surface, but that's a failing of the entire genre. 'Slipfighter The Dogs Of War' isn't more offensive than most real-world spy movies.

But 'Slipfighter The Dogs Of War' isn't deep or self-aware. The place-names come from the ancient Middle East, particularly Sumeria and Babylonia overlapping modern Iraq. The people we see on Marduk mostly have dark hair and skin; they keep their heads covered; the landscape suggests desert. We're not really meant to care about them, though, for we learn nothing about their culture before the fall. So there's no reason to expect that the Andromeda crew will stick around to try to help them rebuild their society after blowing up the bomb factory. And there's certainly no reason to expect subtlety when their dictator gets compared with the foreign leader whom a certain North American president calls "evil and lawless." The portrayal of Marduk is unsophisticated and condescending, but so is Harper's referring to a pair of female Commonwealth ministers as 'P-h-double-Ds' so I don't know why I should hope for better.

Dylan, who has been building and storing his own nova bombs, comes across as the most pompous, cloying hypocrite I've seen on television since...well, I will speak no further criticism of the aforementioned president. But in spite of my antipathy for Dylan in this episode, he's not the character who annoys me most. That role falls to New Trance, who -- in an apparent ripoff of the favorite novel of my childhood, A Wrinkle In Time -- seems to be a star. Not the celebrity kind, the Twinkle Twinkle kind, with her newly glittered face and her violent allergy to the star-destroying element voltarium, not to mention her anthropomorphizing of suns and her over-the-top hysteria at the possibility that someone might unleash a nova bomb on some innocent blue giant. As hard as it is to swallow Dylan playing the James Bond role, it's much harder to sit and watch Little Miss Annoying whimper over snuff scenarios involving hydrogen fusion engines.

Ugh. We start with Trance holding a memorial service for Mesmer, which I thought at first was one of her plants, which was annoying enough. While Rommie babbles about dust to dust and the recycling of matter in the universe, Tyr looks utterly mystified about what he's doing there -- Tyr's strongest moment all episode. Snuffing a candle in her mouth to represent the snuffed flame of her friend, Trance claims that Mesmer gave life to everyone to he touched and she'll always carry a bit of him with her. Then the leader of a society named after the bullish Babylonian sun god Marduk gets his hands on a weapon that can destroy other stars, and Trance gets a little hysterical...much more hysterical than she got when faced with the Magog world ship which had the capacity to do nearly as much damage to the inhabitants of various systems. No, she's freaking out about the stars themselves, because they're just like people.

Apparently Dylan knows he's going to need her inner voltarium-detector, so he lets Trance be his backseat driver. If the mission had failed the way all of Rommie's sims said it should have, his ship would have had no one left to run it but an engineer and an android. This would have been a great loss in the case of Beka, though right now I'm not sure I'd miss Dylan and I wouldn't miss Trance. As for Tyr, I just don't know what to make of him. It's all too easy to see reasons he wouldn't want to go on this fool's mission; unfortunately, he doesn't articulate any of those. Instead he talks about how idiotic it would be to go up against such ridiculous odds, as if he's never done it before. But he still had his bone spurs then. I'm sorry to say that despite his excuses, he comes across as timid and whiny. If he truly believes this mission to be idiotic, he should refuse to go; the idiocy is that he gives in without a single good reason to do so. His only really entertaining moment all episode comes from blasting Wagner, which is funny enough, but as Dylan asks, how much sense does it make?

It's ironic that my favorite sequence all episode is also the one that I'd suspect was an advertising sequence for the Andromeda video game, if I knew of an Andromeda video game in development. The pod-racing sequence -- I mean slipfighter-practice sequence -- goes on way too long and involves maneuvers that have nothing to do with any tactics the crew uses to get through the Marduk orbital defense system. Still, it's exciting in the way that watching people play Playstation can be exciting if you care about the outcome, and Beka does really well and gets in some funny lines about headaches. This episode needed more of her and Rommie, and less of almost everything else.

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