Summary: Andromeda does Event Horizon and produces a pretty decent episode. Dylan learns that a crew of incompetent buffoons is better than a crew of killer androids… who are trying to kill you.
The abandoned “haunted” starship is a SciFi staple that goes back to the romances of actual haunted ships and it’s a story idea that offers little room for innovation but then it’s not meant to be innovative. As such, Mathematics of Tears is probably Andromeda’s first good episode. Not good in the sense of being a classic or even looking all that impressive by the standards of other SF shows, but it’s the first demonstration that Andromeda can do an episode without tripping over its own feet every five minutes and actually produce something like quality SciFi.
Surprisingly, most of the strength of the episode comes not from the script which is somewhat unfocused but the strong direction and visuals of Mathematics of Tears. Considering how weak Andromeda has been in the visual and production areas, this is a real achievement and demonstrates that good direction can overcome some major flaws in script, acting and production design. Steadicam is a bit overused even by “scary” episode standards but the overall effect is a graceful and tense look that meshes well with the subject matter. And yet another surprise is that the self-proclaimed “number one action hour on television” finally managed to do a strong action sequence. Where before Andromeda’s fight scenes looked like outtakes from a Michael Dudikoff movie or just plain bizarre (an android that climbs up on ladder and jumps down on Hunt, Hunt getting into a shoving match with a guy in an ape suit), Mathematics actually manages a tense action packed sequence that involves over a dozen people and is still coherent and believable.
(Of course Tyr’s proclamation about enjoying Wagner is a bit unlikely since while Nietzsche was a disciple of Wagner as a younger man he, like anyone who isn’t completely tone deaf, rejected Wagner and the screeching cacophonies of his operas. Indeed Nietzsche’s final judgement on Wagner was that “Wagner is a disease. He has made music itself sick.” – The Case of Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche. But amusingly enough as a composer Wagner’s music is a nice enough way to score TV shows.)
Shot like a renegade DS9 episode suffused with golden light, Mathematics’ script makes great improvements by doing away with some of the constant problems that drag down the quality of Andromeda’s episodes. First of all for the second time in the post-rerun series of episodes, Trance is completely eliminated from the episode. Presumably the actress has other engagements but an explanation is provided and the explanation actually serves as the pivot of the episode by triggering Dylan’s dissatisfaction with his current crew. This is the kind of care and attention to detail that Andromeda has not really displayed until now and demonstrates that after horrific messes like Rose in the Ashes or Pears that were his Eyes, actual thought went into the writing of this episode.
Harper gets to stay but the amount of mugging he does for the camera is radically cut down to standard comic relief material, instead of a Neptune like state of affairs where Harper’s annoying comedy routines took away crucial time from the story and made it difficult to take the episode’s subject matter seriously. This is another sign of improvement suggesting that at least for this episode, Andromeda is committed to aiming for quality SciFi instead of trying to do their version of Cleopatra 2525.
Secondly Hunt’s self-righteous and condescending lectures are kept to a minimum and he’s actually personally involved in the story, instead of just walking around and lecturing the guest stars on how they can learn to be better people. By bringing in the issue of an A.I./Captain relationship and having the Pax’s AI see him as a substitute for her Captain, Mathematics involves Hunt in the story instead of having him prance around as an observer trying to tell other people how to live their lives. Hunt’s behavior in this episode is still foolish and his failure to delete the Pax’s AI which is trying to kill him dooms his mission to a failure but it’s a foolishness that reflects a human failing, rather than the noble act of a principled man which is how Andromeda usually tries to pass off Dylan’s stupidity.
Thirdly, RevBem is given a function of sorts and even takes command of the Andromeda while Dylan’s away. He actually exchanges some non-spiritual dialogue with Hunt and engages in mission related activity crucial to the plot. Considering that in the past few episodes he’s either been banished or relegated to silly spiritualist preaching, this is another improvement. Hopefully it’s one that leads to a greater function for RevBem on Andromeda and more screen time for the character.
The characters and plot do still have a long way to go. The Andromeda crew walk pretty foolishly into a trap, a trap into which Dylan incomprehensibly leads his second in command, his ship’s AI and his chief engineer leaving almost no one on Andromeda to defend it in case of attack. He completely disregard’s Harper’s warning about the Pax even though the rumor that many salvage teams had been lost while searching for the Pax should have rung some alarm bells. Pax’s entire crew go down to the planet which is a little bizarre. Even if the fighting required as many people as possible, there still should have been non-combat support personnel and some people out of a crew of thousands who wouldn’t have been much use in that kind of combat scenario. Certainly having the entire crew of a warship go down to fight on the planet while abandoning a starship capable of blasting the entire planet to bits is nothing short of bizarre. Apparently this is yet another demonstration that the Commonwealth ships were commanded by complete incompetents. Having Pax kill off the remaining on board crew would have made more sense.
Furthermore the Commonwealth apparently lacks the medical equipment that can distinguish between an android and a human being. This seems a bit odd. Apparently Andromeda can’t tell one from the other either. Neither can Harper despite the fact that he designs them himself. After the final link with Pax instead of now deleting the AI, Hunt decides to flee back to the Andromeda. It’s bad enough that even while the killer androids are on a rampage trying to break into his ship, Dylan decides to spend time interfacing with the AI to find out the details of her killing spree. Sentient software or no sentient software, an AI that blows up planets and is trying to kill you has to be stopped… fast. This is a decision, probably even Janeway could have made. Unsurprisingly though Dylan is as incompetent in this episode as ever and most of the time just stumbles from one revelation to the other, with the bulk of the discoveries coming from Andromeda herself. This obviously doesn’t put the Captain in a good light.
Furthermore, the actual premise of this episode attempts to justify Hunt’s incompetent crew of buffoons– whose idiotic behavior reminds Hunt of the fact that he should be shopping around for a good crew– by pointing out that the alternative crew he wanted turned out to be rampaging killer androids. Of course contrary to the ending of Andromeda, discovering that the ideal Andromeda crew consisted of rampaging killer androids doesn’t prove that Dylan’s crew is a good crew. Just that they’re preferable to killer androids who are trying to kill you. Indeed Dylan’s line about being happy with his current crew because “he can rely them” is nothing short of bizarre since the premise of the entire episode is that he can’t. Trance, Harper, Beka and Tyr go off and do whatever they like when they feel like it so that he indeed can’t rely on them. They’re just not a starship crew.
Beka defends them with a self-righteous speech about how tough life is in the future, but their exact transgressions prove life isn’t at all tough in the future. The crew aren’t fighting to stay alive, they’re entering surfing tournaments, going off sightseeing, looking for relatives and going to meditate at retreats. And they do these things on their own. That is not the way people behave in a dangerous universe in which they’re fighting to stay alive. This is the way people behave when they’re working at a job with a good natured boss who never enforces the rules. Hunt clearly needs a new crew and he needs more crew. He’s commanding a starship intended for a crew of thousands which has a handful of people running it. And it’s baffling as to why he hasn’t attempted to recruit crew from the worlds which have already joined the Commonwealth
Still, overall this is a good episode driven by strong visuals, an improved script and while many of Andromeda’s perennial faults remain, they also feature a certain amount of improvement. Let’s hope that improvement continues.