The Space That Launched Ten Thousand Ships
"The Tunnel at the End of the Light" Plot Summary:
As dignitaries from all fifty member worlds gather on Andromeda to ratify the Commonwealth Charter and elect a triumvir, an explosion destroys the machine shop. Rommie pulls Dylan aside, advises him to smile and tells him that her AI core has been sabotaged. While Beka and Tyr begin to search the delegates' belongings, Trance searches their profiles and discovers that a human named James Severin was born Nietzschean, then had his bone blades removed. Severin fights off Beka and Tyr by using Andromeda's internal defenses against them, but when Dylan tracks him down and accuses him of being a Drago-Kazov agent, a translucent alien appears out of thin air and pulls Severin right through the ship's bulkhead.
Andromeda discovers that the attacker is redirecting energy onto the observation deck to irradiate the delegates. As the room heats up, Harper tries to keep the members calm, but another attack resulting in an alien being pulled through a wall unnerves everyone. Tyr burns through the locked doors to free the delegates just before the observation deck explodes, but the Sabra Pride's Admiral Zhukov Pashtun is outraged when he learns that Dylan intends to keep them all safe by putting them in slipstream control. The creature reappears and kills several more delegates. Dylan decides to let them call their fleets to escape, saying they can ratify the Commonwealth Charter at a later date. But Trance warns him that he made the same decision in the terrible future from which she came; she convinces him to keep the delegates on Andromeda, though even Rommie can't figure out how their adversaries get enough energy for their type of interdimensional shifting.
Dylan concludes that these aren't Nietzschean or Magog saboteurs, but beings that don't care about his Commonwealth. Huge ships begin to materialize, fire on Andromeda, and disappear again before Tyr can return fire. Because she has experience against this enemy, Dylan puts Trance in charge of fire control. Meanwhile, Zhukov announces his intention to depart for his fleet, abandoning Andromeda. Harper stands up to him and convinces him that the battle can be won. With the power of the combined fleet, the battle seems to be going in the Commonwealth's favor until dozens, then hundreds more alien ships begin to appear. Rommie discovers a nearby gravity well which she believes is an interdimensional tunnel from another universe. Realizing that destroying the tunnel is their first priority, Dylan asks Harper to prepare the bomb he'd been building in anticipation of an encounter with a Magog world ship.
Beka plans to fly the Maru to deliver the payload, but Trance stops her, saying that she and Beka went together in her future and were the only survivors when Beka released the weapon early to avoid an ambush. Now that she knows which mistake to avoid, Beka promises that she can get it right this time. Tyr volunteers to go with her in case of another alien ambush. As the Maru heads toward the tunnel, 10,000 ships emerge. An alien appears and battles Tyr as Beka counts down, then releases the bomb. Andromeda escapes the enormous explosion that follows, but the Maru is caught in the firestorm. Cheers when the enemy ships dimension-shift out of the universe turn to panic when Rommie reveals that the Maru is returning on autopilot. Dylan rushes to the hangar, boards the ship and stands at the entrance to what used to be the cockpit with a look of horror on his face.
I saw 'The Tunnel at the End of the Light' on the same day as I saw Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and The X-Files series finale. I must say that it compares favorably with both, particularly where characterization is concerned; though this episode is very much an action hour, all the major characters had defining moments and managed to intersperse quite a bit of humor into the violent proceedings. Unlike X-Files, Andromeda's writers show no signs of burning out on their own mythology, and they're obviously not finished adding villains to their mythology. Nor are they overly dependent on special effects; in this case, less is definitely more, for the dimension-shifting aliens are much scarier when we can't quite see them than when they take shape. Whether there are ten ships involved or ten thousand, a space battle is a space battle; speeders chasing each other around can't further a story dramatically.
Dylan nearly gets his Commonwealth and loses it in the same hour. Trance finally gives up some of her secrets to ensure that that won't happen, but the trade-off seems to be that this time the crew of the Maru will be the casualties rather than the survivors. (I found the final shot very confusing; I couldn't tell whether we were supposed to perceive from the angle of the shot that the cockpit had been blown wide open to space, or if Dylan was merely standing in the only open space not covered with debris.) It's a pretty sure bet that Tyr and Beka will be back next season, so in that regard it's not much of a cliffhanger; the more interesting dilemma is whether there's a price to be paid for Trance violating the timeline and changing their future, which in most mythologies leads to great disasters. When Kirk brought Spock back from the dead, the karmic price was his son and his ship; when Peggy Sue went back to her high school prom, her fate was to relive history exactly the way it happened the first time around. If the only penalty for Trance's time-swapping is a little personal discomfort for her and her crewmates, it makes Andromeda's universe seem much more benevolent and benign than we've previously observed.
Trance's own motives remain shrouded in mystery; under any circumstances, a takeover by evil aliens from another universe would seem to be a bad thing, so I'm still not sure I buy that saving her friends is her major reason for this level of involvement. By contrast, Tyr's motives finally make total sense. He's got Drago's remains on the ship and his son safely hidden on a planet someplace; he needs to bide his time, to survive, and a peaceful universe dominated by a Commonwealth rather than either evil aliens or the Drago-Kazov represents his best chance for success. Oh yeah, and he really likes hanging around Beka, even when it might interfere with his own survival. In this episode, it's impossible to say whether that has to do with Beka herself, or with their joint goal of defending Dylan and his vision of the universe. Either way -- whether one is a romantic or an idealist -- it works dramatically.
Though she's involved in much of the action, Beka seems least affected by all the goings-on. Her most dramatic dialogue is about her desire to fix the universe this time around by dropping the bomb at the right moment, yet we've seen her risk her life for lesser causes. Harper uses his bumbling to such effect that it becomes impossible to tell when he's really clueless versus when he's playing clueless to stall for time; he's more charming as a failed magician than he would be executing flawless tricks, and the different delegates' responses to him are very telling -- a lot of minor characters get very little screen time, yet the show does an admirable job giving us a sense of many of them, from the cheerleader to the womanizer to the stern three-eyed alien whose species name I didn't catch.
Andromeda too gets a lot of action in this episode -- not just Rommie, who gets quite a bit of 'action' in the back-flip sense, but we also see the viewscreen interface quite a bit and hear her admit rare befuddlement. She doesn't understand how the aliens could be dimensionally shifting so much, so fast, for it would take a galaxy to generate enough energy. I'm still not clear in theory on how what these aliens are doing differs from what the Vedrans do, but the Vedrans never had 10,000 ships to pour through a portal or the history of our galaxy might have gone very differently. These aliens are like Voyager's Species 8472, coming in from a different dimension and wreaking total havoc for no explainable reason. They shouldn't have a reason to be interested in the Commonwealth, yet the timing does seem incredibly coincidental -- incredibly in the 'I don't believe it' sense. Could Trance's time-shifting have caused ripples across thousands of dimensions, in other universes? Andromeda must have some theories we didn't get to hear.
Which leaves Dylan, who doesn't want to be Triumvir (which both astonishes Tyr and doesn't surprise him in the least). It's the right choice not to build a commonwealth on the charisma of one individual, which we've seen too often, though I'd lost track: did Dylan personally recruit all 50 worlds, or did some of these planets recruit others without a visit from someone from Andromeda? Once the Commonwealth elects a leader, Dylan presumably will have to cede his power over both the diplomats and the fleet, which may alter his personality and his role -- the Sabra admiral deals with him now as an equal, but that could change.
One wonders whether Dylan will have a moment, like Alexander, when he realizes he's accomplished everything major he could have hoped, and the rest of his adventures will be anticlimactic. Yes, the Magog are still out there and these new beasties could open a new tunnel, but Harper can build more bombs, and the Vedrans are watching. As the season draws to a close, I find the questions that linger in my mind concern the characters and their personalities rather than the fate of the universe. Having created a galactic government, will Dylan settle back into being a captain taking orders from it? Will Rommie try to embrace her human programming or to fight for the rights of other artificially-created sentient beings? Will Tyr decide he can found a Nietzschean pride with members who aren't Nietzschean? Will we ever discover Trance's true background and motives? Tune in next season, when Dylan Hunt will no longer be the last guardian of a fallen civilization but the spiritual founder of a new one, and when his motley crew will find that they've become the Establishment.