Summary: Children of the Corn meets an Afterschool special.
After Andromeda’s pilot aired over two weeks, Lightning is Andromeda’s first-aired plot episode. Now that the pilot has introduced the characters and set up the basic premise, the first plot episode shows us what happens now that the show’s premise is in place and the stories can begin. The result, though, is a mixed bag more than anything else. While the special effects have clearly improved and the Andromeda chase scenes work pretty well, the writing still needs some fine tuning to put it mildly. While a definite improvement in comparison to the clunky writing of Andromeda’s pilot, Lightning is still weighed down by a predictable plot and two dimensional characters, and while the gratitious nudity may cater to the young adult demographic that Harper and Trance were put on the show to serve, it doesn’t exactly help serve Andromeda’s claim that it’s something more than Hercules in Space.
As in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, Hunt and Co. arrive on a Commonwealth space station populated by children none of whom survive to over the age of 20 and whose fragmented knowledge has turned into crude religious rituals and lethal violence. Hunt and Co. then spend the episodes doing plenty of foolish things and reciting high minded rhetoric set to stirring music until Andromeda — as in the pilot — in a Deux Ex moment saves their hides. The episode is meant to be a sketch of how uncertain and troubled Hunt is (though why we have yet another episode focusing on how troubled Hunt is, after we just got through with a two hour pilot dealing with how troubled Hunt is) but ultimately turns into a bumbling Keystone Kops routine dealing with how incompetent Hunt is and how incapable his crew is of dealing with any emergency; Trance brightly welcoming the invaders into Andromeda by opening the airlock door doesn’t even stand out that much.
It’s never a good sign when your crew is outsmarted by Ferengi or children. It’s a worse sign when your crew is outsmarted by children who are seconds away from killing you if not for the fact that out of nowhere your ship’s artificial inteligence saves the day by walking around the ship naked and performing a task that she should have been able to perform just as easily as an A.I. Though the children are supposedly backwards and ignorant and incapable of dealing with their medical problems, they have no problem outwitting Hunt (admittedly not a very tough task) and dealing with his neurological probes. Though they can’t open a single airlock bay door, they have no trouble taking over Andromeda itself. And how does Hunt convince them that he’s right? Well, it’s not quite clear but when he’s beaten them, they all seem to have come around to his point of view.
The key problem with Lightning is that its defined by an idiotic plot, namely a plot that, to work, requires the major characters to behave like fools. Though clearly forewarned, Hunt chooses to go with very little protection directly into an ambush. Once ambushed he encounters a colony of children who have made themselves into efficent killing machines and proceeds to patronize them, walk half-heartedly through the rituals that they take with deadly seriousness and leads them into an area of the station protected with a top level access security code. His best response to 300 years of savage life and death struggle and death in teenage years is to introduce them to Trance and rattle off cliches about getting along. Though the children are in a state of constant war, Hunt attempts to resolve the problem by repeating the word “peace” over and over again as if that in and of itself was a solution.
In fact, throughout the entire episode Hunt seems to be under the confused impression that the children’s main problem consists in getting along well with aliens, rather than in being hunted to the point that they’ve turned into savages and forced to be part of a horrifying life and death struggle. This means that his afterschool solution of having them learn to get along better with aliens won’t solve their problems of being attacked by Magog and Nietzscehan slavers, nor will getting ready to be part of a Commonwealth that doesn’t actually exist except in Hunt’s imagination. So by the point of Hunt’s departure, their key problem hasn’t changed except that Hunt has managed to rob them of the discpline and strength that had actually kept them alive up until this point.
In point of fact, the entire crisis that dominates the episode is silly and pointless. Using the Nova bombs may be extreme, but it’s certainly not genocide. Genocide would be the extermination of the entire Magog race. The extermination of the Magog who have captured one human star system and colonized it is roughly equivalent to dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Certainly it’s not a wonderful thing to do but it is an act of self-defense against genocidal invanders and clearly the Commonwealth saw the Nova bombs as valid tactical weapons otherwise they wouldn’t have equipped quite so many ships with them. Indeed if there was any ambiguity in Andromeda being equipped with Nova bombs, the tactical purpose of the nova bomb fighters is pretty clear: to be the equivalent of the first strike nuclear weapons of the Cold War… in other words, they were designed to be used exactly as the children intended to use them. And unlike Hunt or the Commonwealth, the children lack any mid-range defense options. It’s either be hunted on the station or fight back with the Nova bombs. There’s no other option in between.
In fact if Hunt had used the Nova bombs against the Nietzchean strike force when he had the chance, the Commonwealth that he so desperately dreams of restoring might still be here. Then paired with the pilot, this shoves Hunt in the Janewayish situation of not having taken the sane course in the pilot and then going on to pretend that her stupidity was actually an act of great moral sacrifice. Except of course that Janeway’s stupidity only cost her crew 7 years of their lives while Hunt’s stupidity wiped out the Commonwealth and several thousand times the number of insurgents who would have been killed by the Nova bombs to begin with. But then again having a Captain do the sane and sensible thing would have eliminated both the premises of Voyager and Andromeda, and we certainly can’t have that.
Worse, throughout the episode Hunt displays the same closemindedness and hysterical frenzy as Janeway when people don’t act the way she thinks they should and aren’t convinced by a display of her canned rhetoric. When the children who have been murdered and hunted by Magog for centuries now respond to the sight of a Magog with a completely understable response, Hunt washes his hands of them and goes back to his ship to brood about how tough his sacred mission is. Definite shades of Janeway browbeating anyone who crosses her path and then looking out at the stars and pondering how difficult the task of getting her crew home is while wearing that martyred expression which proclaims that no one could possibly understand how heavy her burden is. But worst of all, his conversation with Rev Bem brings up the suggestion that he really is a messiah or some sort of chosen one must come a shriek of horror to anyone who’s been watching Science Fiction movies and shows for the last decade. After the Matrix and two of the biggest dueling SF series of the late 90’s both featuring a Captain who’s “the chosen one”, you’d think that the writers could have gone a somewhat more original way than another Christ figure. Still at least of Brooks, Sheridan, and Reeves… Sorbo actually looks the part, all he needs is a goatee and a long flowing robe.
And all this episode needed was an actual villain, writing that would have shown the crew and Hunt as halfway competent and a moral dillema displaying some actual understanding of moral issues.