Those Who Ignore The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It
"The Widening Gyre" Plot Summary:
As Andromeda continues to call Code Red, Beka weakly answers her. She manages to revive Dylan with CPR and Trance -- who has no life signs -- by pulling her tail, then passes out, leaving Trance to get the downed officers to the medical center. Rommie has been severely damaged but gets herself to the machine shop after helping Trance rescue their captain and first officer, while Andromeda sends planet warfare robots to attack the Magog world ship. There, Harper wakes to find Tyr unconscious and himself infested with Magog larvae. Red Plague -- formerly Rev Bem -- has taken the armor of a downed Magog leader, but he refuses to eat the body.
When Dylan recovers, he announces that he and Rommie will take the Maru to rescue their missing shipmates. Turning over nova bomb control to Beka, he orders her to destroy the Magog complex's sun in three hours if he has not returned. Once they land on one of the Magog worlds, Rommie finds that she cannot communicate with Andromeda, so they are on their own as they fight Magog and attempt to track Harper, Tyr and Rev Bem. The latter has thus far resisted eating the flesh of his own kind, but other Magog attack him because he doesn't smell right to them. Bloodmist boasts of Magog achievements and offers to introduce Red Plague to the Spirit of the Abyss, their dark god.
Andromeda uses VR to show Beka the massacre of her crew from her last trip to the Magog worlds; she insists she would rather be destroyed than return home without a crew again. With tears in her eyes, Beka orders the nova bomb launch just as Harper and Tyr break free and Rev Bem approaches them with Bloodmist. Their friend has had a mystical experience in the presence of the Spirit of the Abyss, but it has only reinforced his belief in The Way. As he kills Bloodmist to rescue his friends, the Spirit of the Abyss absorbs the energy of the nova bomb, saving the Magog worlds.
Dylan and Rommie are astonished when they realize they have survived a nova bomb. "I know of but one person idiotic enough to try and rescue three dead men from a Magog hive," Tyr declares when they arrive for the rescue. The group escapes back to the Maru, which is rescued and taken into the slipstream by Andromeda. Harper wakes on board to learn that he still carries Magog larvae inside him; they can temporarily be kept dormant with medication, but the crew must eventually find a way to help Harper survive the removal surgery that almost killed Tyr.
Dylan notes that the goal of reuniting the Commonwealth is no longer a dream, but a necessity. If the known worlds don't come together to fight the Magog and their god, none will survive.
Fleeing from the Magog tyranny, the last High Guard Ship, Andromeda, leads a rag-tag, fugitive crew on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Tarn-Vedra...
From its new, greatly improved opening graphics to Captain Dylan Hunt's final speech outlining the direction for the series from this point onwards, it's clear that Andromeda has decided to take itself seriously. Gone, for the most part, is the campiness that enlivened many episodes last season but also stopped certain episodes and characters from being taken seriously. The makeup, the visual effects, even the music have become more professional, more dramatic.
Yet watching the season two premiere, I can't help but feel that I'm watching nostalgic television sci-fi -- something that reminds me more of the original Star Trek than Trek's own prequel series Enterprise, with a healthy dose of cheesy, magnificent Battlestar Galactica thrown in. This isn't a complaint. The moment 'The Widening Gyre' began, I felt like I was watching old friends, something that has never quite happened to me with Farscape or even Babylon 5.
Andromeda's actors embody their characters more strongly than any cast since Classic Trek. It's not that they're great actors -- Shatner's greatness as Kirk didn't stem from his acting skills. It's that they're so well cast, and they play the roles with such conviction, it's absolutely impossible to imagine anyone else playing any of them. Maybe the writers are just really good at writing consistently for the performers; even the mediocre scripts showcase their strengths. To me this is the great appeal of Andromeda, more than its recycled Roddenberrian premise, and 'The Widening Gyre' does a superb job capitalizing on its assets.
Take Trance, for instance. When she finds she's the only conscious humanoid on the entire ship, she starts babbling to herself that she needs to create with her mind a perfect possible future where everything will turn out fine. But Andromeda declares that while she has come to realize Trance has mystical abilities, this is no time to explore them. And then Trance actually does something intelligent, calling for a distraction to keep the Magog at bay while she tries to treat the wounded. She still needs Rommie's help to save them, but at least she's thinking like a team player. I'm still waiting for Beka to throw her into a wall and demand to know what she really is, but by now the tease itself is entertaining.
Then there's Harper, who tends to provoke extreme reactions -- some fans can't stand him, while for others he's the show's major asset. His sense of humor fails when he realizes he's infested with Magog, and he screams -- something nobody blames him for, not even Tyr, though the Nietzschean does suggest that attracting less attention would probably help them both. Other than his really feeble jokes, Harper annoys people because his lack of self-confidence and displays of false bravado get them all in trouble. In 'The Widening Gyre,' though, he's free of both, and starts to show signs that he may be growing up. He breaks free on his own -- before Tyr does -- and asserts himself very strongly at the end when he realizes he will have to live under a death sentence. Gordon Michael Woolvett gives one of his more subtle performances, demonstrating that he's up to the challenge of playing a more sophisticated Harper while maintaining the same aggravating qualities for which we love and hate him.
Brent Stait has the misfortune of having to act through many layers of prosthetic makeup, which in this episode is a particular problem because on the dark Magog worlds, one can't even see his eyes. His character remains the most enigmatic; I'm still not sure whether Rev Bem was actually tempted by Bloodmist or just playing along until he found a moment when he could rescue his crew from the Magog. The latter seems more probable psychologically if we're supposed to believe he's still a Wayist, but dramatically it makes no sense -- if Bloodmist hadn't offered to take him to Harper and Tyr, he would probably never have seen them again.
The big Nietzschean is nearly as enigmatic as Rev Bem, though we got some perversely amusing background on him in 'The Widening Gyre' when he told Harper about his experiences being sold as a slave, mistreated and forced to escape a near-death situation, which seems to have contributed to his survivalist outlook as much as his philosophical background. It's really hard to tell whether Tyr's determination to help Harper survive stems from comradely feeling or determination to convert a kludge to his belief system, but it can't possibly be because he stands a better chance with Harper -- the opposite is probably true. I wouldn't want Tyr to be any more Nietzschean than he already is, but one wonders how his position as outsider will play out as Dylan tries to reunite all the people of the former Commonwealth.
Rommie very nearly has a Beverly Crusher "Jean-Luc, I have something to tell you" moment with Dylan that scared the crap out of me as much as him -- it cannot be a good thing when I sit in front of the television yelling, "You're a warship for chrissakes!" It is, however, consistent with last season, though I find the Commonwealth's apparent inability to stop its ships from having crushes on their captains to be both dangerous and perverse. Andromeda, the AI, continues to be a much stronger character than Rommie, who seems plagued with all the weaknesses of the flesh that Dylan and Tyr have learned to resist. I'm still very unclear on the relationship between the AI's mind and the android's -- do they share thoughts when they're in contact, or are there barriers? There's a lot there I'd like to see explored; we've already had plenty about her attraction to Dylan and her physical prowess.
Beka remains my favorite character. She's smart, she's strong, she's cocky, she enjoys leading, she's capable of following, she knows when to disobey orders and how to take responsibility when she does. She has a major weakness in her susceptibility to flash, but that humanizes her, and her pact with Dylan to stay away from the stuff gives their relationship a powerful edge. In 'The Widening Gyre' she must follow an order she despises not only because it's right for the galaxy, but because it's what the people she must kill in the name of duty would have wanted. Trance has an uncharacteristic moment of brilliance in her psychobabble when she tells Beka that life is about going and going until you go too far, and then you keep going anyway. And Dylan rightly acknowledges that she's his rock and his salvation, even if he can't promote her to captain because she already is one.
If it wasn't before, Captain Hunt's homesickness for the High Guard should have been burned away by the time they enter the slipstream away from the Magog worlds. His personal attachment to the old Commonwealth has become supremely irrelevant; he needs to put together whatever kind of alliance he can, under any name its members want to use, because that's the only hope they all have against the spirit of the abyss in both a physical and metaphysical sense. He doesn't stop running in this episode to really focus on the existential horror going on around him -- an entire race of beings that survive by killing, eating, and implanting their embryos in the bodies of others, or in their own if that's all that's available. I can't think of a science fiction villain that comes close to being as terrifying -- Borg assimilation seems nice and sanitary by contrast.
Dylan is never going to have a personal life -- oh, he may have a fling or two with interesting women like Elssbett of 'The Honey Offering,' and he may have bizarre, intense relationships with Rommie and Beka that in either case could lead to lines getting crossed, but he has sworn himself to something even more demanding than the High Guard. He is at the moment the captain of the only ship fully aware of the stakes now. Before, he had personal, egotistical, nostalgic reasons for wanting to restore the Commonwealth that empowered his status and self-image, yet he must let go of all of those. He has to live in the present, for the future, every single moment, even if he decides there are other things he could do with his life. It will be interesting to see what happens to him when he realizes the role of savior is no longer self-chosen, but has been thrust upon him whether or not he's really up to the task.
Have I forgotten to talk about things like the effects sequences, the evolving costumes, the directing? They must have been good because in truth I barely noticed them. Nothing in 'The Widening Gyre' served as a real distraction from the characters and the plot, not even the spectacular action sequences with fighting Magog, the gross-out factor of seeing Dylan's blood on Beka's mouth after she performed CPR on him, nor the plummet into the pit that seemed an obvious visual referent to B5's 'In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum.'
I do, however, have one shallow comment to make. The first time I saw Tyr's magnificent muscled arms chained over his head, or stuck with that disgusting green Magog snot stuff, I almost forgot to pay attention to the dialogue. If he were a woman I'd be complaining about the sexist use of his assets to lure viewers at the expense of the show's drama. So I actually hope we see less of his magnificent form in upcoming episodes; I'd hate for the character of Tyr to become too much about his body, no matter how luscious that body is.