Hercules Faces an Uncertain Future
"Under the Night" Plot Summary:
The Systems Commonwealth ship Andromeda Ascendant, commanded by High Guard Captain Dylan Hunt, flies past a nebula resembling a great bird in the midst of a battle drill. Hunt free-falls to the bridge, counting on his anti-grav boots to save him, much to the chagrin of Andromeda -- the scantily-clad feminine artificial intelligence that allows him to interface with the ship's computer. After the drill, Hunt complains to his first officer, Rhade, that the drills are taking too long. Rhade, a Nietzschean bred for perfect genes, says Hunt is admirable for a human without enhancements. The icy second-in-command expresses hope that Hunt will reproduce after he marries his fiancee Sarah, which amuses the romantic captain.
Andromeda warns Hunt that the planet Hephaistos is at risk from a black hole and needs to be evacuated. Using its slipstream drive, the ship arrives within minutes, but it turns out to be a trap. Furious that the Systems Commonwealth has formed an alliance with the Magog -- who raped, murdered, and ate genetically superior humans in one of their colonies -- the Nietzscheans have assembled a fleet. Hunt won't use super-weapons that could kill civilians in the system. Overpowered by thousands of enemy vessels, he reluctantly calls for his crew to abandon ship so they can warn the High Guard.
Since he can't use the slipstream drive within the planetary system, Hunt stays aboard the ship to try to use the black hole to slingshot away from the Nietzscheans. The plan appears to be working until Andromeda discovers evidence of sabotage, just as Rhade breaks onto the bridge and kills the pilot. Though he originally opposed the destruction of Systems Commonwealth, he says he's working to ensure the survival of his people -- when the Commonwealth compromised with monsters like the Magog, it proved its weakness. The captain and first officer fight as the ship falls into the black hole, with temporal fluctuations turning their quick moves into slow-motion wrestling. Finally Hunt manages to shoot Rhade, who says he's proud of the captain. "What have you done?" asks Hunt as time seems to stop for a moment.
Much later, the scarred, blackened salvage ship Eureka Maru moves toward the black hole. Captain Beka Valentine promises her client Gerentex that she will retrieve the Andromeda Ascendant, which will make them all very rich. Engineer Harper already has plans to buy himself some slave girls, while Magog sociologist Rev Bem wants to build a hospital to treat victims of his society. Eureka Maru tractors the Andromeda Ascendant with harpoons and hauls it out of the singularity, using some dangerous tricks by Harper whom Valentine calls a "little psycho." As Harper announces, "We rule!", Hunt becomes un-frozen. Andromeda tells him that the fleet and the escape pods have vanished, and that they've experienced a time dilation of over 300 years. Everyone and everything they knew is gone.
Valentine takes several crewmembers over to the tractored ship, warning them to be careful so they don't end up like crewmember Trance Gemini's predecessor. The ditzy girl with long tail doesn't think this sounds so bad, since she believes he retired: "Didn't you tell me he bought a farm?" Harper falls in love with the beautiful ship, but doesn't understand why it's so hard for him to control the systems. Meanwhile, Andromeda and Hunt make plans to contact the Commonwealth so they can find the descendants of their crew. When they discover the salvage crew, they wonder why humans are working with a Magog, and why one of the intruders has a rash that was curable centuries ago. Hunt decides to make contact.
Harper is stunned to find himself on the business end of an ancient weapon, wielded by "some kind of Greek god or something." He insists that the Andromeda Ascendant was salvaged fair and square, then discovers he's talking to Captain Dylan Hunt of the High Guard. Recapping the past several hundred years, Harper explains the Commonwealth's destruction in the war against the Nietzcheans. Hunt blames himself because he didn't get a warning to the High Guard, but he is certain that somewhere in the three galaxies and million member worlds that used to comprise the Commonwealth, some people who share his values must still be around.
Valentine is hopeful Hunt will be grateful to her for pulling her ship out of the black hole, but her wishes are dashed when the captain gets on the ship's speakers, announcing that the Commonwealth endures on his ship, and he won't let anyone loot or sell it even if he has to retake the vessel by force. "I don't like threats," says Valentine. "Neither do I," says Gerentex, revealing that he brought along backup led by a large Nietzschean soldier. None of the crew of the Eureka Maru are pleased. Neither is Dylan Hunt.
Let's compare apples to apples. "Under the Night" may not make Trekkers fall in love with Andromeda right away, but it's a very solid episode, stronger than the first hour of Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Encounter at Farpoint" or Deep Space Nine's "Emissary." I think it was a mistake to split the Andromeda pilot into a two-parter, rather than airing it as one two-hour movie, because it throws off the pacing. The past-tense storyline about Hunt's battle drills and the fight with the Nietzscheans seems to drag, though it's necessary to establish Hunt's character before introducing the crew of Eureka Maru. Even now, Valentine seems a stronger person and in some ways a stronger captain than Hunt -- not that I'm complaining about such a terrific woman, but it might seem unfair to demote her to first officer later on.
Despite the protracted opening and the dreadfully stiff performance of Steve Bacic as Rhade (let's hope all Nietzscheans aren't as tight), the series has some immediate points of appeal. Kevin Sorbo, who's not only charismatic but also extremely likeable in a very non-hunk-like way, has the right blend of authority and pathos. It's no small trick to have chemistry with a woman who appears onscreen only in two dimensions, yet he and Lexa Doig's Andromeda have lovely repartee. Sorbo also offers Andromeda the opportunity to make Hercules the show of comparison, rather than the newer Star Treks -- a situation played up when Harper calls Hunt some kind of Greek god. "Under the Night" features similar slow-motion video fight effects, similar slang dialect that's clearly from the wrong century yet works in context, even a similar quest -- to reshape a universe where his brand of heroism may not always be wanted.
Harper is the most fun character so far, a geeky genius with futuristic acne for the young male demographic to identify with; actor Gordon Michael Woolvett's self-deprecating humor brings a needed infusion of energy to engineering scenes. Babe-with-tail Trance Gemini is rather annoying, a dumb blonde who has to be reminded to put on a helmet before leaving the artificial atmosphere on her ship. Her clothes are even skimpier than Andromeda's -- I'm not even going to bother to wonder why an artificial intelligence would wear a low-cut, sleeveless shirt, since Lexa Doig is so exotically beautiful. Hunt's initial red leather uniform is pretty hideous, but in the end he wears black duds that make him resemble Captain Sheridan from Babylon 5.
Valentine is more traditional-looking than either of the other women, but that doesn't stop her from being the most memorable by far. She reminds me of Kira Nerys and Susan Ivanova rolled together with someone who resembles Seven of Nine, but isn't as rigid or pompous. She takes no guff from anyone, insisting that her clients let her do her job, growling at Harper when he takes risks with her ship, looking for cards to play against hunt. She's also witty and clever, nurturing without being overly motherly; I loved the scene where she told her young crewmembers to treat every away mission as if it were their first. We haven't seen her onscreen yet with Hunt, but I imagine the chemistry's going to be fantastic.
Since comparisons to Trek are inevitable, I might as well note that the slipstream looks awfully like the wormhole from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the ship looks vaguely like a movie-era Romulan Bird of Prey. The Magog character Rev Bem looks a little like a Gowron and sounds a little like Martok, though his race has an even more vicious past than the Klingons. The aliens on Andromeda aren't as impressive-looking as those on Voyager or Farscape, but they have strong personalities, and ultimately that's what makes characters interesting.
Tribune Entertainment Company (which produces Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict) has already ordered 44 episodes of Andromeda, demonstrating a lot of confidence in the creative team -- which includes Deep Space Nine writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, executive producers Majel Barrett Roddenberry and Allan Eastman, and Sorbo. The production team does a fine job filming action sequences and spatial anomalies. Once this series finds its pace and decides whether to address the social issues implicit in the Nietzscheans and the Commonwealth, it could be ground-breaking, like original Trek. Or it could just be a lot of fun, like Hercules, which would be fine with me.