Dylan Finds The Inner Light, Andromeda Survives Shades of Gray
"The Things We Cannot Change" Plot Summary:
Approaching a dangerous singularity, the Maru suffers a hull breach. Dylan, the only crewmember on board, is sucked out into space; fortunately he is wearing an EVA suit, but has little oxygen in reserve. As the crew mounts a desperate rescue mission, complicated by the radiation and the proximity of the black hole, Dylan hallucinates that he is in a beautiful home with his wife Liandra and son Ethan. Things seem peaceful and idyllic except for one thing: Liandra wants Dylan to turn in his resignation from the High Guard. Whenever he thinks about giving up his career, Dylan has increasingly violent flashbacks that make him believe the universe still needs him.
Tyr and Beka put on EVA suits and board the badly damaged Maru. Once they discover that Dylan is not on board, they begin to search for his unconscious body, which is being pulled toward the singularity. Meanwhile Dylan lives an alternate future disrupted by memories of his recent past. Though Liandra claims the war with the Nietzscheans has ended and there are no Magog, Dylan has vivid recollections of fighting Rhade and the Spirit of the Abyss. His wife says that these are symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and begs him to get medical help. Dylan tries to consider what it would mean if Liandra's version of reality were true, but cannot accept that his High Guard career must end. He concludes that this existence must have been constructed to trap him -- perhaps by aliens who want to destroy the Commonwealth, or perhaps just to turn him into a zoo specimen.
Liandra tells Dylan that he had no oxygen for two minutes while he was trapped in a black hole; he was briefly dead, and hasn't been the same since. Moreover, she claims, Andromeda and the crew were destroyed trying to rescue him. But he won't believe Liandra, and imagines her turning into Trance, who always claimed that there could be more than one possible future depending on people's choices. Though Liandra begs him to accept retirement with full military honors before he's dismissed, Dylan insists that it's his choice -- and he chooses to remain a High Guard officer. Then he asks why she's trying to manipulate him into quitting. She says it's because he's killing people. Her words make Dylan remember giving the order to launch Nova bombs. He jolts to consciousness just as Tyr unclips his line and reaches out to pull him in.
Back on Andromeda, Rommie says the nightmare is consistent with the symptoms of hypoxia. Trance adds that even if the experience was a dream, Dylan might have learned something from it. 'I am Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant,' he agrees, returning to command.
Though no one will ever accuse this episode of innovation, 'Things We Cannot Change' turns its lack of originality into a delightful virtue. It's a clip show that manages to poke fun of clip shows without betraying its serious, timeless theme -- the tendency of people to relive traumatic events in their heads, play might-have-been, and wonder what it means when we have a dream that seems so real, for a few moments we're not sure what's fact and what's fantasy. Though it's very funny when Dylan decides he's living out the plot of Original Trek's 'Menagerie,' ranting that aliens must be using holographic mind-control to taunt him in their zoo, it also has a ring of plausibility...precisely because we've seen similar storylines so often on science fiction series.
If 'Things We Cannot Change' doesn't have the emotional depth of Star Trek's 'The Inner Light,' in which Picard spent an entire lifetime in an alternate reality, or 'Far Beyond the Stars,' in which Sisko hallucinated that he was an oppressed science fiction writer, neither does it sink to the depths of Trek's 'Shades of Gray' or Xena's 'Punch Lines.' The clips are well-chosen and the memory-triggers for Dylan make sense. It's haunting to see him look at his son's soccer ball and envision a Magog massacre. Despite some annoying demographic-driven choices like Dylan's wife sleeping in the nude, which leaves her awfully exposed when he turns a force lance on her, the gold-light world that appears to have been painted by Thomas Kinkade makes an effective contrast with the looming darkness of Dylan's true universe.
There remain some unanswered questions. Was Liandra someone Dylan knew (or fantasized) before the accident on the Maru? She's a very complete hallucination, despite the inconsistencies in her personality as Dylan begins to suspect her of deceiving him. She's never a fantasy of a passive wife -- right from the start, she sets the agenda for their life together, even in bed -- and though we never learn how she intends to support them once Dylan retires, we get the impression that she's got her own plans for the future. When her face morphs into Trance's while the latter exhorts Dylan to hang on, it's hard to know whether Trance may have been influencing the vision all along, trying to remind Dylan of his goals and purpose, or if it's his own psychology suggesting how he feels about Trance and her secret agendas. At the very end, when Liandra levels her deadly accusation, we get no hint about whether she's a manifestation of Dylan's own guilt, a reflection of his terror as he's being asphyxiated or a dark force exerting influence on him from outside.
And the child? He's a bit ideal of course; no fights about homework, no tantrums over what's for breakfast, but strangely enough no 'I want to be a High Guard officer like you,' either. He seems far more unnatural than Liandra, and Dylan never truly seems to bond with him despite going through all the motions of being a good father. Maybe it's a subconscious acknowledgement of what he seems to realize with his crew -- that he can't afford to get too close, because he could lose one of them at any moment. Or maybe the boy represents the most insidious form of manipulation of Dylan Hunt, the potential for the ideal future of which Trance often speaks.
While Dylan's twisted could-be progeny plot plays out, Tyr and Beka resume their flirtation as the Nietzschean admits he takes big risks to impress potential future mates and the Maru captain admits that, well, she's impressed. She even kisses him, albeit through his EVA suit faceplate, and unlike in the past, Tyr doesn't insist that only a Nietzschean girl could ever catch his fancy. What goes unsaid in the midst of all this is Dylan's centrality to their bonding. They're out in space together -- again -- risking their lives to try to rescue him. In Dylan's recollections, Beka represents partnership but Tyr represents potential betrayal, someone who can't be a team player. Does Tyr tell Beka his studly agenda to express interest, or to cover up his commitment to Dylan, which he believes is a vulnerability?
In his hallucination, Dylan envisions commitment to his ship and crew as commitment to Rommie, the embodied form of his ship's personality. When his wife tells him that his crew died trying to rescue him, Dylan recalls his promise to Andromeda always to be there for her, as her captain. Kirk had the same sort of passion for the Enterprise, but the Enterprise didn't have a personality that walked around the corridors, and when he had to choose between his ship and Spock, the captain didn't hesitate to sacrifice the lady he pledged to serve. Dylan and his ship have a much more intimate relationship. If he has trouble putting aside an imaginary son, one really wonders what will happen if he is called upon to sacrifice a ship that is his friend as well as the vehicle by which he defines himself and his role.
Technically this is a simple but strong episode -- it's great to see Rev Bem and Purple Trance again, and the heavenly light of fantasyland creates an effective excuse for the unnaturally simple, uncluttered, immaculately clean home Dylan shares with a wife and son. His chemistry with Liandra improves as they come into conflict -- it's too perfect before that, too pretty. As always with a clip show, there are a few awkward transitions, yet they never block out the relevance of the plot. And as always the actors give their all, even in what's obviously a budget episode where only Hunt's character gets any real development.