Appellate Judge Dave Ryan would gladly follow Kevin Sorbo on some damn fool crusade across the universe.
"The universe is a dangerous place…"
Season Four of Andromeda continues with this second quartet of episodes from ADV. These four episodes feature the last Andromeda hurrah of former cast regular Keith Hamilton Cobb (The Young and Restless), who split after Season Three to return to the world of soap operas from whence he came, and the formal introduction / integration of his replacement, Steve Bacic (X2), playing Telemachus Rhade. (Bacic had actually been with the show since the pilot, where he played Dylan's First Officer Gaheris Rhade, whose betrayal of Dylan led to the Andromeda's date with that pesky, time-dilating black hole. He had reprised the Gaheris role a few times during the first season's run of episodes; the Telemachus character—Gaheris's descendant—originally appeared in a Season Two episode.) Unlike the first Season Four collection, this set of episodes is relatively consistent in quality. But it's still a bit difficult to follow these Season Four episodes at times, which unfortunately makes the series somewhat inaccessible for newcomers.
Facts of the Case
Andromeda, based on (literally) some notebook scribblings by Gene Roddenberry, is set in the very, very, very far future. At this point in the show's story, Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) has successfully restored the pan-galactic Systems Commonwealth, which had done gone and disintegrated on him while he was indisposed. (He and his ship, the Andromeda Ascendant, had accidentally gotten stuck near the event horizon of a black hole, which had the net effect of freezing them in time for 300 years.) He's currently trying to save the universe from the impending threat posed by a nasty race called the Magog, who appear to be the muscle for a sinister supernatural evil called the Abyss. (For further details, please consult the review for Andromeda: Season Four, Collection One.)
This DVD collection contains episodes 406 through 409 of Season Four, presented in their broadcast order:
• "Soon the Nearing Vortex"
• "The World Turns All Around Her"
• "Conduit to Destiny"
• "Machinery of the Mind"
Season Four gets a bit more focused in these four episodes. We begin to learn some details about the internal Commonwealth power struggle hinted at in the earlier episodes, and the lines of "good" and "evil" in that struggle are nicely blurred for us. Tyr's return, although brief, is certainly welcome; the show just isn't the same without him. Yes, he was an arrogant, egomaniacal jerk, but he was also a fascinating character, and he served as an effective dramatic counterpoint to Dylan's near-saintly perfection. On the whole, these episodes just feel like they have more of a point than the first five shows did.
As always, the show truly begins and ends with Kevin Sorbo. I've said it before, I'll say it again: never has there been a man more suited to play a larger-than-life heroic character like this, with the possible exception of the late Christopher Reeve. Sorbo's gregarious charm and utter lack of pretentiousness are clearly the touchstones on which the other actors base their performances, which is one of the things that makes the show so strong. And it is very strong in the acting department—this is a cast that can take a script and bring out its wit and humor without descending into annoying farce. It's writing that has been this show's occasional downfall.
The writing isn't perfect here—but it's far from horrible. The real flaw with the Tyr mini-arc shows is the attempt to wrap up Tyr's entire multi-year story in two hours. It feels rushed, a lot of information is thrown at the viewer in a very short time, and Cobb is never given much of an opportunity to put in a full-on, scenery-chewing Tyr spectacle. On the other hand, the producers knew that Cobb would only be back for these two shows, and at least made the attempt to tie up all of Tyr's loose ends for the fans. I can respect that.
The best of the lot, though, are the two non-Tyr episodes. "Conduit to Destiny" is a cleverly-written tale that throws just enough curveballs at you to keep things interesting, while "Machinery of the Mind" is one of the wittiest Andromeda episodes I've seen.
The picture quality is just as good on these discs as on the first set—no surprise there. Steve Bacic is profiled in this set's "Meet the Cast" featurette; he's a very likeable and articulate guy. The usual complement of deleted scenes is included; for the most part, these are very small snips of dialogue (almost always involving Harper, too). They don't really add that much to the viewer's enjoyment. In fact, it's clear why all these scenes were cut—they're all examples of poor exposition. (The audience rarely enjoys being lectured.) In lieu of a production featurette, this set has an interview with Andromeda producer Bob Engels, who talks about some "big picture" issues involving the show and its production. It's interesting, but arguably not as interesting as it should have been. Finally, there's a fun blooper reel focusing on Lisa Ryder, who appears to be just as spunky as her character.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Poor Steve Bacic really had no chance to truly replace Keith Cobb. Bacic is, basically, a male model with some acting skill (just like Kevin Sorbo). Cobb is a highly-trained actor with model looks. Cobb played Tyr Anasazi with the kind of intensity you usually expect from someone like Marlon Brando or George C. Scott. Love him or hate him, he's a memorable actor. Bacic is far from incompetent, but it's very clear that Telemachus Rhade was very much a work-in-progress at this point. Bacic tends to speak too quickly, and occasionally misemphasizes lines. (But those muscles sure look good.) Thankfully, Bacic eventually relaxed and got in touch with his inner Nietszchean, and his performances as Telemachus Rhade improved dramatically. But in this set, he's a bit of a lead weight. (A really, really likeable guy, though. Canadians! Gotta love 'em.)
The sound mix on these sets is puzzlingly bad. It's a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix, but a very weak one that tends to leave dialogue frustratingly difficult to understand. I think it's safe to assume that the entire cast of a major television action/drama isn't mumbling all the time; therefore, it's got to be a flaw in the mix. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the repeats of the show on the Sci-Fi Channel sound just fine (and also appear to be in 2.0 Pro Logic Surround). I just don't get it.
Finally, there's the price point of these Andromeda sets. Forty bucks for four episodes is usurious, especially when the sound stinks. It's a shame, too—this is a show that many people would probably enjoy, if they just had an easy way to get on board with it. Instead, these sets are priced such that only the very loyal—or the very stupid—will do anything but rent.
Andromeda is a highly underrated show that should be more popular than it is. As its fifth and final season wraps up, here's hoping more people discover (as I have) the quality storytelling and acting that can be found in past episodes of the show. If you're completely new to the show, though, I recommend you start with some episodes from the first season. Picking this story up at this point, well into the fourth season, is possible, but you'll enjoy the shows more if you're familiar with some of the backstory.
The only guilty party here is whoever came up with that retail price. Everyone else is free to go. And I still miss Purple Trance.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Meet the Cast: Steve Bacic (Telemachus Rhade)
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