Space Ramblings

Andromeda ‘Banks of the Lethe’ Review

Summary: Andromeda takes another stab at duplicating TOS’s City on the Edge of Forever. Wesley Crus…err…Harper invents the transporter as Hunt’s wife tries to rescue him from the future. Everything stays the same at the end of the episode.

Banks of Lethe is indeed a stunning achievement. Not so much from the general Science Fiction perspective but from the Andromeda perspective as it is Andromeda’s first well-written episode. Namely the dialogue is bearable, the plot sane and not overly dependent on people doing stupid things, the issue actually compelling and best of all Trance is kept almost completely out of sight. This is notable because it shows that the Andromeda writers can produce above the level they’ve been demonstrating so far which gives us hope that the show may actually become watchable in the future, satisfying more than just its die hard fans.

Some key Andromeda problems do remain. The aliens of the week seem to get free run of the ship, despite a past history of almost weekly boardings and invasions. The Nietzchean attack on Andromeda is mostly un-necessary and seems to suggest that like TOS, Andromeda has a policy of endangering the ship every week to hold viewer interest. There is more than a small measure of technobabble in the plot resolution but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The acting isn’t compelling but it’s well above usual Andromeda standards with an odd twist that has Sorbo’s real life wife playing his TV show wife. The general look and feel of the show still says Trek Retread, but at least now it’s Potentially Good Trek Retread.

Unfortunately Lethe is hurt most of all not by anything it does but because it aired a mere two weeks after Angel DarkDemon Bright which makes it look too much like a regurgitation of the same material. Indeed it would have seemed a lot more logical to air Angel Dark after Banks of Lethe since Angel Dark features Hunt cutting his ties to the past all together and focusing on the future while Banks of Lethe has Hunt deciding against returning to the past to be with his wife. But in this context a lot of the efforts of Hunt and Hunt’s wife to bridge the time gap seem wasted, since only two weeks ago Hunt and Andromeda were 300 years in the past. Before heading back Hunt could have stopped to pick up his wife, or if he’d really wanted to he could have stayed to protect her from making the tearjerking technological wonder tricks of Banks of Lethe seem pretty irrelevant by contrast. More importantly the idea of Hunt bridging the gap of time doesn’t seem as magical and powerful as it should, because after all didn’t Hunt and Co. manage to go back to the same time period just two weeks ago? After all the effort expended on trying to bring one man or woman through time, it seems as if everyone could have met and decided who stays and goes whereever, if the Andromeda had left the Battle of Witchhead Nebula and gone looking for Sarah.

The whole Commonwealth charter bit isn’t spelled out and shoved to the background which seems pretty odd since after all rebuilding the Commonwealth is the focus of this show and hence any diplomatic developments including the charter and meetings with alien races should have taken front and center, rather than stories about the past and Beka’s con artist brother. As it is there apparently have been major developments in Hunt’s quest to rebuild the Commonwealth and virtually all of them have happened off screen. In this case shouldn’t the show’s premise change over to a show about misfits on a starship dealing with personal traumas and trying to rebuild the Commonwealth in their spare time? How exactly has Hunt gotten races to surrender their sovergnity to an organization that doesn’t exist except for himself? Just by visting them and doing them minor favors with his starship? This seems a little iffy.

Ultimately though this is the symptom of a bigger problem. Andromeda’s premise has him cast away 300 years into the future and forced to make of it what he can. But two episodes that air nearly one after the other showing him phoning and visting the past regularly completely undermines that. Imagine Voyager if instead of waiting 5 years, Voyager had been interacting back and forth with the Federation in the first season. It would have hurt the credibility of an already shaky premise. Hunt’s decision to choose twice between the past and the future doesn’t carry much weight if we haven’t really seen the future. Contact with his wife or an oppurtunity to change the timeline should have been a major event that occured only once we really got to experience the future and once Hunt put down some real roots, otherwise all we’re seeing is an irrational Hunt martyrdom.

Andromeda’s premise of “you can’t change the timeline” makes the entire concept of time travel episodes irrelevant and predictable and worst of all completely pointless. Whatever originality Angel Dark’s finale explaining that everything Andromeda did had already happened in their past anyway is lost when Banks of Lethe repeats the same routine as a way of trying to compensate for the futility of the events that have taken place in the episode. How many episodes can you possibly have that feature the purpose of the time trip turning out to be irrelevant, except for one act which has already occured and shaped history but needs to be repeated by the time travelers. So in the end all that your efforts get you is that things stay the same as they were at the beginning of the episode. Not only is this a bleak and dreary view of human affairs but it’s not a very useful one for SF drama, which has traditionally stood for empowering characters, not tying them to some superstitious notion of fate and destiny as preached by a Bhuddist Werewolf. It’s certainly not what Gene Roddenberry stood for and that is his name before the title I believe.

Still, Banks of Lethe should get credit for being the first Andromeda episode that actually managed to achieve a certain sense of wonder. This is all the more amazing because the production design remains absolutely awful. Tyr wearing a set of clunky oversized “80’s idea of what VR glasses would look like” gear while jerking around the joysticks as enough sparks to weld a bridge go off in the background would have embarrased just about any SciFi production of any age, place or time. The bridge of the Starry and Sara’s lab are even more dated. Even TNG’s set designs looked more advanced than this and TOS could have given it a run for its money. Often with dated materials in a SF show you wonder whether the people involved have read any recent SF. Well, in this case you have to wonder whether they’ve ever used a cell phone or a palm IV because not only doesn’t technology look like that in the future, but it doesn’t even look like that in the present.

Finally, having Harper inventing the transporter even with assistance just looks pretty bad. Wesley may have saved the ship a few times too many but Harper is several times as annoying as Wesley (and considering that Wesley Crusher is one of the most annoying characters in the history of SF TV this is clearly a notable if questionable achievement) and he invents the transporter. If Andromeda’s producers wanted the show to eventually get a transporter there were better and more credible ways to do it. But having Harper achieve this is just ridiculous. In Angel Dark we apparently discovered that Harper is smarter than the entire Commonwealth and Nietzchian fleets combined. Now we have him inventing a transporter in a few days. The only question remains is, when does he follow Wesley on a journey to a higher plane? Because it can never be too soon. This is after all a journey both Wesley and Kes made. It only seems fair that Harper and Trance, the characters based on Wes and Kes should join them in Annoying Character Nirvana too.

Next week: Hunt goes to prison, sparks rain on Andromeda’s bridge and the reaction shots look worried. Fortunately post-apocalyptic ragged refugeesprison set design is easy to do.

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