The Cynics Corner

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

The First Season in Revieew

by David E. Sluss

29 August 2001

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: A rough ride. The pieces are here for a really good series, but they haven't quite come together yet.



Part I: The Season in General

Anyone who read my Cynics Corner Preview of Andromeda about a year ago knows that I had pretty high expectations for this series coming in; perhaps that was a mistake. While this season did have a few winners, it also had some stinkers and a lot of shrug-inducing episodes. Nevertheless I still believe that the people behind this series have the talent and the attitude to make this series work, so I'm sticking it out for another year. As another data point, though, my wife (and sometime collaborator), who made it through to the end of Voyager and the seventh season of The X-Files, quit Andromeda about three-quarters of the way through the season.

Let's highlight some good things first:

  • Continuity: Sure, there were glitches, but for the most part, Andromeda's writers kept the details straight. More importantly, in most cases, they didn't let significant happenings slip into the continuity ashcan. Events such as Tyr's theft of the mummy and the discovery Mad Perseid's diary actually got appropriate follow-up. That's not to say there weren't exceptions (such as the destruction of the Magog solar system in "To Loose the Fateful Lightning," something you'd expect to get some attention in the grand scheme of things), but I definitely appreciate the attention Andromeda's staff paid to these issues.
  • Baby steps toward legitimate science: After years of watching Voyager vomit all over basic physics, it's almost breath-taking to see communications restricted to the speed of light and visuals that are several light-minutes old. That's not to say there isn't plenty of hoohah (such as slipstream requiring organic pilots because it's "kinda alive," or something), but, again, the effort is appreciated.
  • Improving production values: Someone who watched "Under the Night" and "Its Hour Come 'Round at Last" back-to-back would be hard-pressed to believe they were made in the same season. The improvements in the visual effects, costumes, and make-up over the course of the year are nothing short of astonishing. There were really only a couple of serious weaknesses that remained by the end of the season: legacy visuals of the Andromeda itself that need to be retired and a propensity to use cheapo props.

But fortunately for me, there was plenty to complain about as well. Specific gripes about individual episodes can be found below and, of course, in the episode reviews themselves; here I want to focus on more general trends I see in the series:

  • Inconsistent characterization: Is Dylan Hunt a naive and inept fool or a master tactician? Is Beka a true believer in Hunt's cause or is she still a pirate at heart? Hell if I know, and as the season progressed, I began to wonder whether the folks who created these characters know. Characters who grow and change are a good thing, of course, but what we seemed to have here were characters who see-sawed back and forth between extremes from week to week. One week, Hunt is having the crew behave like Moonies and distribute flowers on drifts, the next he's manipulating three Nietzschean prides into making war with one another, the next he's forgetting about his Secret High Guard Code for accessing some of Andromeda's systems. One week Beka is Hunt's best friend and trusted second-in-command, the next she's pilfering relief supplies, the next she's telling Hunt what a great year it's been (despite repeated threats against her life and the onset of Flash addiction - aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln really enjoyed the play). Another way of putting it is that character continuity doesn't seem to be getting the same attention that event continuity is, and it really should.
  • Smearing the Commonwealth: The stated goal of this series is "Restoring the Commonwealth." It sounds good, until the season airs so much of the Commonwealth's dirty laundry that you have to wonder whether restoring it is a good thing. After learning that a Commonwealth AI murdered her captain and crew, another Commonwealth AI was behind a conspiracy to terrorize the shipping lanes, Commonwealth (Un)Intelligence botched an assassination, resulting in centuries of brutal oppression, and a Commonwealth officer plunged an entire sector into war, how could anyone think that bringing it back is a good idea? Unless the point of this series is to have Hunt ultimately fail or to become so disillusioned about the Commonwealth that he stops trying (either of which would be rather novel, but unlikely), maybe it's time to lay off.
  • Societal Anomalies: While the Commonwealth may not be as good and noble as its billing, the post-Fall Known Worlds may not be doing as badly as Hunt likes to think. As the season progressed, we seemed to get more and more of an indication that the galaxies aren't as lawless and chaotic as we were told in the beginning. Regulated commerce and organized sports are everywhere. A fairly solid communications and transportation infrastructure is in place. Knowledge remains, however improbably, at everyone's fingertips thanks to Magical Mystery Databases, such as the one aboard the Eureka Maru. All in all, things don't seem so bad, especially in light of the havoc the Commonwealth has wreaked, even in death. In short, the series is undermining its premise by often portraying a society that doesn't seem to need the Commonwealth.
  • Technology Creep: Star Trek often suffered from knowledge creep, particularly regarding alien species. A species would appear, and no one would know anything about them; soon after, they would appear fully integrated with the rest of the galaxy, their secrets retroactively exposed to one and all. Think of the Ferengi, or the Trill. Andromeda has a similar problem with technology: The first time it appears, it's novel, even astonishing, but later it's portrayed as standard issue and ordinary. For instance, the FMS decoy device was supposedly just a theory when it was first built by Harper in "D Minus Zero"; later, in "The Honey Offering," we find that the Nietzscheans apparently bought them in bulk at Home Depot.

    But the one that drove me nuts all year was the portrayal of humanoid avatars. A lot of readers have written in to dispute my interpretation of what we have been shown of this over the past season, so let me lay out my case in one place and see how it plays:
    1. The Andromeda Ascendant, apparently an important vessel in the Commonwealth fleet, seemed to have no avatar prior to "To Loose the Fateful Lightning." We never saw one, and in that episode Hunt expressed discomfort with Andromeda seeing him naked now that she had a real body. This indicates that Andromeda had never before manifested as a humanoid avatar, at least during Hunt's command.
    2. Based on his reaction to discovering the blueprints aboard the guard station, techno-wiz Harper had apparently never seen an avatar or had any knowledge of them prior to "To Loose the Fateful Lightning." This also shows that records documenting this technology were not available on the Andromeda.
    3. Avatars are later shown to be nearly everywhere; they are discussed as if they are standard issue. For instance, both the Pax Magellanic ("The Mathematics of Tears") and the Balance of Justice ("Star-Crossed") had one. The prison planet in "A Rose in the Ashes" didn't seem to be all that advanced, but it did have an AI with a humanoid avatar.

    Seems to me that there's a problem with this sequence of events.

But the real troubles in Andromeda's first season, I suppose, were on an episode-by-episode basis. There just weren't all that many great episodes. Let's take a look back...


Part II: Autopsies of Individual Episodes

I'll make a few comments about each episode, and assign each a Cynics Corner Rating, which in some cases has changed from the rating I gave when I first reviewed the episodes. 


"UNDER THE NIGHT": Clumsily executed, even by the standards of first episodes, featuring some dreadful costuming, poor special effects, errors in filming continuity, and awful expository dialog. Most of these problems (except, in some cases, for the dialog) were quickly remedied as the season progressed, but this episode stands where it stands.

Cynics Corner Rating: 6.5 (up from 6.0)


"AN AFFIRMING FLAME": While an improvement over the first part of Andromeda's premiere, it's also more than a little campy in too many places. I began to wonder here whether the events of the show are intended to be taken seriously or not; at the end of the season, I still wasn't entirely sure.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.0 (unchanged)


"TO LOOSE THE FATEFUL LIGHTNING": A dreadful episode with an unbelievable premise and poor child actors. In addition, the consequences of this episode were ill-considered; I'd expect the Magog to notice and be just a bit pissy about the destruction of one of their solar systems, but no follow-up was ever offered.

Cynics Corner Rating: 3.0 (unchanged)


"D MINUS ZERO": A standard fare outing, which accomplishes some necessary character work in an acceptable, though unexceptional fashion.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.5 (unchanged)


"DOUBLE HELIX": The Nietzscheans turned out to be more than poor man's Klingons in this episode, and against all odds, they wound up being the most interesting "aliens" of the season. While largely a good episode, I found some of the characterization, particularly of Hunt, to be inconsistent with previous episodes, and some of the F/X were just strange (like the Than ships, which bounced around like old-fashioned model ships on a string, even though they were computer-generated).

Cynics Corner Rating: 8.0 (unchanged)


"ANGEL DARK, DEMON BRIGHT": I had my doubts about the series playing the time travel card this early in the game, but this turned out to be a worthy episode, providing some crucial background information as well as some decent characterization. There were some problems in execution, notably Harper's expository home movie, but this one is a winner.

Cynics Corner Rating: 8.0 (unchanged)


"THE TIES THAT BLIND": Sloppy, contrived, and manipulative, this episode didn't impress much. The fact that the mysterious attackers from "D Minus Zero" are basically environmentalists (who hate space travel, but have a fleet of state-of-the-art ships) is a big letdown, and the Andromeda universe itself begins to fray, turning out to be more organized and civilized than we had been led to believe.

Cynics Corner Rating: 5.0 (unchanged)


"THE BANKS OF THE LETHE": A lot of people really liked this episode. What I saw is can-of-worms technology introduced into the series, gratuitous space battles, and a hoary old "foregone conclusion" plot in which we're supposed to believe that a series regular might actually leave the ship. I'll bump the score up a little, but that's as high as I can go. Sorry.

Cynics Corner Rating: 6.5 (up from 6.0)


"A ROSE IN THE ASHES": I smell something, and it ain't no rose...

Cynics Corner Rating: 2.5 (unchanged)


"ALL GREAT NEPTUNE'S OCEAN": Deadly dull and painfully contrived, this episode hinges on an assassination plot that requires an awful lot of luck, characters that are stupid, and technology with plot-friendly properties.

Cynics Corner Rating: 5.0 (down from 5.5)


"THE PEARLS THAT WERE HIS EYES": A respectable episode, but one with a lousy ending, as Beka bluffs Sid with the old "Evidence against you will come out if I die" trick, and he actually buys it.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.5 (unchanged)


"THE MATHEMATICS OF TEARS": It's visually impressive, but some aspects of the plot are questionable, and some of the execution is lame. This episode was the beginning of the "Shipboard AI's are Andromeda's version of Star Trek's holodecks" subplot in the second half of the season.

Cynics Corner Rating: 6.5 (unchanged)


"MUSIC OF A DISTANT DRUM": Dull and cliched, this episode seems to have been written by someone from the "Tell, Don't Show" school of writing.

Cynics Corner Rating: 6.5 (up from 6.0)


"HARPER 2.0": A good episode, with a minimum of silliness. It remains to be seen whether the Enigma plot will lead somewhere worthwhile, but it looks like it'll be an interesting ride.

Cynics Corner Rating: 8.5 (unchanged)


"FORCED PERSPECTIVE": There's some useful background information here, but the A-story is a bit over the top, and the Beka-Tyr B-story is so bad that it would have been rejected as an episode of even the worst sitcom.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.0 (unchanged)


"THE SUM OF ITS PARTS": A little too sweet for my tastes, and let's face it: The Consensus is a cut-rate Borg Collective.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.0 (unchanged)


"FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE MILKY WAY": Though apparently intended to be a fun, madcap adventure, this episode is merely irritating, thanks mainly to dialog consisting almost entirely of schoolyard insults and WWF-style posturing. Incidentally, Cynicette quit watching the series about a third of the way into this episode, and I don't think she's coming back.

Cynics Corner Rating: 4.0 (unchanged)


"THE DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST": It's an interesting episode, but I'm not sure its creators fully thought through its implications. The biggest issue is that once Serendipity's human population is completely "converted" into Magog, there will be no more willing hosts, and these Magog, however peaceful they may be, will have no choice but to prey on less cooperative hosts in order to reproduce. In addition, the properties and benefits of Serendipity's "genetic memory" strain credibility (e.g. "A single sperm from Grandpa contained all his memories," "It's beneficial for me to remember my mother's secret about the milkman being my father").

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.0 (unchanged)


"THE HONEY OFFERING": A surprisingly good episode, even if the notion of Hunt manipulating three Nietzschean fleets into an internecine war is pushing it just a bit, especially given his track record to this point. I'm a bit concerned that this conflict, as significant as it was billed to be, wasn't even mentioned in the remainder of the season, but I won't start comparing it to DS9's Dominion "War" just yet.

Cynics Corner Rating: 8.0 (unchanged)


"STAR-CROSSED": Well, this episode dispatched the Restorians, who were pretty lame as antagonists, but that doesn't make up for the poor performances, corny dialog, and hackneyed execution. But this plot was inevitable, so maybe it's for the best that they got it out of their systems.

Cynics Corner Rating: 4.0 (down from 5.0)


"IT MAKES A LOVELY LIGHT": Drugs are bad - they're bad! Yeah, we know, so a plot revolving around that idea had better be very compelling and the performances had better be top-notch. Unfortunately, this one doesn't quite pass the test on either count, despite good direction. And it remains to be seen whether earnest predictions that Beka will be fighting Flash addiction forever will manifest onscreen.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.0 (unchanged)


"ITS HOUR COME 'ROUND AT LAST": Notable mainly for its extraordinary body count, this episode features almost unrelenting violence. I say "almost" because the waves of attacking Magog were considerate enough to pause periodically to allow for witty repartee between Our Heroes. But is there any credible way out of this cliffhanger? Time will tell.

Cynics Corner Rating: 7.5 (unchanged)


Part III: The Cy Awards for the First Season of Andromeda

Good evening folks, and welcome to our first annual awards show for Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. As you know, the Cy awards have a long and storied history, having honored Star Trek: Voyager for the last four seasons, and since we bought the award statues in bulk, we figured we'd use them for this series too. So let's get right to our opening musical number [groans from the audience]

[Musical number: "High Hopes," performed by Drew Carey]

And now, let's get on with the awards.


BEST SONG OF THE YEAR: Not since the original Star Trek, which featured such classic hits as "Kirk is Fighting" and "A Woman is Speaking," have we seen such a wide variety of music on a sci-fi television series. Tonight's nominees were so good they were played over and over again:

"Dylan Is an Inspiring Leader"

"Tyr Is Menacing"

"Rev Talks Religion"

"Trance Said or Did Something (That May or May Not Be a Clue About Her True Nature)"

Andromeda's Main Title Theme (a.k.a. "Bagpipers Smoking Crack")

[Vangelis, Eminem, and Faith Hill perform a jam-session medley of the nominated songs]

And the winner is "Trance Said or Did Something (That May or May Not Be a Clue About Her True Nature)"


EXECRABLE EXPOSITION OF THE YEAR: TV writers are in a tough position. They know that a lot of TV viewers are like puppies: You have to show them the stick before you throw it. At the same time, they don't want their scripts to explain things in a way that insults the intelligence of the more advanced viewers. Yes, it's a tough balancing act, and sometimes they teeter onto the side of insipidity. Andromeda's writers are no different. Here are the nominees for expository dialog most likely to be held by two fingers at arm's length:

Rhade explaining the nastiness of the Magog to Hunt ("Under the Night")

Hunt explaining how big the Commonwealth was to Andromeda ("Under the Night")

Harper explaining his nefarious plan directly to the audience via home movie ("Angel Dark, Demon Bright")

And the winner is... Harper explaining his nefarious plan directly to the audience via home movie. Harper couldn't appear in person to except the award, but he sent his acceptance speech in on videotape...


QUESTIONABLE COSTUMING OF THE YEAR: Fashions come and go, but bad costuming is forever, and some costumes seen on Andromeda this year leave a questionable legacy, to be sure. Here are your nominees:

Hunt's "Breakdancer from Hell" red leather uniform ("Under the Night," et al) - for silliness

Gerentex's "Avenging Disco Nightsider" outfit ("Under the Night," et al) - for silliness

Dawn's Than outfit and prosthetics ("Under the Night") - for KMart Halloween costume quality

Andromeda's various cleavage costumes (every episode) - for lack of functionality and obvious TV-programming motives

Andromeda's "well-endowed" metal 'droids (assorted episodes) - for lack of functionality and apparent perversion

And the winner is... Gerentex! Boogie on down to claim your award!


LAUGH LINE OF THE YEAR: Some intentional, some not:

Beka to Hunt: "We all know you're impervious to reason" ("The Banks of the Lethe")

Rhade to Hunt: "Now we'll see if you're a fool, or just a hypocrite" ("Forced Perspective")

Harper: "But it's just a stupid speech!" ("The Sum of Its Parts")

Gerentex: "Show, don't tell" ("Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way")

Andromeda: "Automated defense systems are completely useless" ("Its Hour Come 'Round at Last")

And the winner is... Andromeda! Nice to know the "Stating the obvious" subroutine is fully functional.


CHEAPO PROP OF THE YEAR: Except for the newer incarnations of Star Trek, sci-fi productions sometimes have no choice but to cut corners, and sometimes it shows. Here are the more egregious examples:

Model Andromeda ship on a stick ("To Loose the Fateful Lightning")

Andromeda's "Norelco Floating Head" missile batteries ("D Minus Zero")

"Rubber Dildo and Spirit Gum" Nietzschean forearm spikes ("Double Helix")

Red sheets as a substitute for alien makeup ("A Rose in the Ashes")

Twentieth Century Umbra brand trash can used as a 110th Century trash can ("Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way")

Harper's "Laser Saw" ("It Makes a Lovely Light")

Tyr's Shades ("Its Hour Come 'Round at Last")

And the winner is... Harper's Laser Saw! Saw this! [lifts middle finger]


ANDROMEDA CLICHE OF THE YEAR: In one season, Andromeda accomplished something that many series take years to do: Generate its own unique set of clichés. And here are the chosen few:

Use of Super-Slo-Mo (assorted episodes)

Ineffective shower-of-sparks defense system (assorted episodes)

Andromeda boarded/taken over/compromised (assorted episodes)

Crew members absent for ill-explained reasons (assorted episodes)

Andromeda fainting so that the nearest male crew member can cop a feel while catching her ("The Pearls That Were Its Eyes", "The Sum of its Parts")

Androids move and sound like androids only when the plot or dramatic flair demands it ("The Mathematics of Tears," "Star-Crossed")

High Guard AI goes nuts ("The Mathematics of Tears," "Star-Crossed," "Its Hour Come 'Round at Last")

And the winner is... Andromeda boarded. Of course, I'd like to board Andromeda myself, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. [winks lasciviously] [canned laughter]


GENERAL-PURPOSE CLICHE OF THE YEAR: Andromeda also made laudable use of standard-issue cliches as well, some from the sci-fi arena, some not. Here are the front-runners:

Exploding control consoles ("Under the Night," et al)

"Imperial Stormtrooper" marksmanship ("An Affirming Flame," et al)

"Primitives" tell a story using elaborate props ("To Loose the Fateful Lightning")

A Space Storm threatens a ship that turns out to be Crippled At An Inopportune Moment ("The Pearls That Were His Eyes")

"I sent evidence to the cops marked 'Open on event of death'" ("The Pearls That Were His Eyes")

Rogue suffers amnesia, becomes the hero of Local Yokels ("Music of a Distant Drum")

Omniscient/Omnipresent/Supersmart Villain using a meathead as a henchman ("Harper 2.0")

The Hero causes the death of The Bad Guy's Favorite Henchman and Now It's Personal. ("The Devil Take the Hindmost")

And the winner is "I sent evidence to the cops marked 'Open on event of death.'" Unfortunately, I can't give out the award, because it's stashed in a safe deposit box that can only be opened when I die.


ALL-PURPOSE PLOT DEVICE OF THE YEAR: Andromeda built some useful plot devices into its premise. These were employed repeatedly to get the writers out of self-inflicted jams or to advance clunky plots. Here are the nominees:

Black Holes, each of which has whatever properties the plot demands despite looking curiously similar to one another ("Under the Night," et al)

Trance's "insights" that save the day ("A Rose in the Ashes," et al)

Terraforming Pines, which make every planet look exactly like the same forest in Canada ("A Rose in the Ashes," "Music of a Distant Drum," "The Devil Take the Hindmost.")

Nanobots, which have a thousand and one uses, or as many as the plot demands (assorted episodes)

Force Lances, which have additional properties added to them in each appearance (assorted episodes).

And the winner is... Black Holes. Maybe the Powers That Be can use the Cy Award's prize money towards amortizing that apparently-expensive "Black Hole footage," seen in about a half-dozen episodes.


CONTRIVANCE OF THE YEAR: All writers know that sometimes a story just won't work until you beat it into submission. And maybe the freshly-bruised story has elements that don't make sense, but there's always the next show. This year's gaping wounds:

A Guard-Station successfully populated and defended by children, despite enormous odds ("To Loose the Fateful Lightning")

A collection of nanobots putting on a fake skin and fooling everyone ("The Ties That Blind")

The Chancellor's incredible luck in successfully carrying out the assassination of President Lee ("All Great Neptune's Ocean")

The "little misunderstanding" about shipboard romance between Beka and Tyr ("Forced Perspective")

An advanced AI commanding an advanced warship recruiting an army of anti-technology and anti-spacefaring activists ("Star-Crossed")

And the winner is "To Loose the Fateful Lightning." Please note that whoever accepts this prize will be immediately arrested and charged with story abuse by these officers.


COMMONWEALTH UNINTELLIGENCE OF THE YEAR: Many episodes made you wonder if the fall of the Commonwealth wasn't simply a textbook example of Darwinism at work. Here is the best evidence that the Commonwealth is not exactly the fittest:

Hunt, the Commonwealth's best and brightest, opens the Guard Station's fighter bay, then leaves it open and unguarded so the fighters can be misappropriated ("To Loose the Fateful Lightning")

The Commonwealth fleet fails to notice the wreckage from 1,000 Nietzschean vessels in the Witchhead Nebula, and is subsequently ambushed ("Angel Dark, Demon Bright").

Commonwealth weapons designers incorporate a high-voltage trigger-lock into each force-lance, one that allows a couple of unauthorized and deadly shots before it activates ("All Great Neptune's Ocean")

The Commonwealth creates AIs capable of emotion, but which are destabilized by the manifestation of emotion. ("The Mathematics of Tears," "Star-Crossed")

The High Guard bans the fraternization of AIs and their captains, then allows the AIs to look like that? ("The Mathematics of Tears")

Hunt, the Commonwealth's best and brightest, leaves Harper alone to work in the hangar, after he's already been attacked and nearly killed by a bounty hunter who can walk through walls ("Harper 2.0")

The Commonwealth has only an amateur hour counter-intelligence program and can only think of names of months as code names for undercover operatives ("Forced Perspective")

Hunt, the Commonwealth's best and brightest, thinks giving away flowers at the airport will foster good will toward the Commonwealth ("Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way").

And the winner is... Commonwealth weapons designers! I'm sure you're shocked. Ha, ha! [audience groans, begins getting surly] Okay, ah, maybe we'd better move this right along, what do you say?


WELFARE RECIPIENT OF THE YEAR: Well, there really aren't any nominees other than Steve Bacic, whose character Rhade continued to appear well after he was killed ("Double Helix," "Forced Perspective"). Indeed, Bacic may have appeared in more episodes than some of the regular stars...

STUNT-CASTING OF THE YEAR: Again, there's only one nominee, and the winner is John DeLancie as Uncle Sid in "The Pearls That Were His Eyes." Please note that this makes DeLancie the first recipient to win Cy Awards for two different series in the same year (having won as Welfare Recipient of the Year for the seventh season of Voyager earlier this year).

WORST PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Lisa Ryder, who sometimes lacks that "certain something" that allows actors to act as if they aren't acting. Nothing personal.

BEST PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Keith Hamilton Cobb, who always gets the best lines and knows how to deliver them.

WORST EPISODE OF THE YEAR: "A Rose in the Ashes," with dishonorable mention for "To Loose the Fateful Lightning."

BEST EPISODE OF THE YEAR: "Harper 2.0" with honorable mentions for "Double Helix," "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," and "The Honey Offering."

    Thank you, and good night.



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This review is copyright © 2001 David E. Sluss
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