Space: Above and Beyond: “The Farthest Man from Home”

The Farthest Man from Home

by Sarah Stegall

copyright 1995 by Sarah Stegall

It still looks too much like “Battlestar Galactica”.

“Space: Above and Beyond” aired its first regular season episode, “The Farthest Man from Home”, on Friday and it failed to ignite me. The computer graphics were top notch. The acting was fine, and the writing, as always, had the undercurrents of poetry that brand all of executive producers Glen Morgan and Jim Wong’s work. But somehow it just did not click for me. Am I too old for this show? I love space opera. I love “Star Wars”. But this is somehow not working for me.

All the elements are there. You can’t get much better than taking a page from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, with a rescued survivor almost echoing Ishmael’s “I alone have escaped to tell thee”. The theme of “Farthest Man” seemed to be about returning home, an ancient and powerful theme dating back at least to Odysseus. And there were moments of reflective beauty in the writing, where an honest heart was speaking:

Nathan: “I was close.”

Shane: “To her?”

Nathan: “To home.”

A finer rendering of “home is where the heart is” can hardly be found. But this fine and elegant writing does not make up for some plot deficiencies which are just too distracting.

A soldier who defies authority by going against orders in fulfilling a “higher mission” is a staple of heroic fiction. But the key to making him a hero is to make the purpose of his defiance either self-sacrifice or the service of a higher goal than the assignment he has been given. He can defy orders only if those orders keep him from accomplishing a more worthy goal. In Nathan West’s case, this does not apply. His desertion in search of his lost love is not the service of a higher good, but the fulfillment of a personal quest. While it is noble of him to want to find Kylen, and it is certainly lucky for him that he managed to rescue two survivors, the bare fact is that he endangered his mission, which was to be performed in the service of a whole fleet of people. If Davy Crockett had walked out of the Alamo at a critical moment to find a lost dog we would not still be building statues of him in Texas. The same goes for Shane and Hawkes, who likewise deserted their posts┬áduring the mission┬áto further a personal agenda. All three of these young hotheads should have been keel-hauled.

This is the same Errant Child Syndrome that killed “Earth 2” for me. A child (or someone who behaves like one) wanders off and has to be rescued. When my children do that they get punished: Nathan West does not even get a slap on the wrist. [What the hell is “compartmentalized information”? A file? An X-file?] The logical solution to the Errant Child is to put a leash on the idiot until he wises up. For sure you don’t give him any more responsibilities. You do NOT put him back in the line of duty in control of powerful weapons of war.

There were some very nice little moments in this episode. Nathan finding Kylen’s hairbrush with her hair still in it was a poignant moment, more touching, because more familiar, than finding her talking-ID clue a moment later. When he hides from the alien patrol (who still look like either Cylons or 15th century French knights in armor) his one eye peers out from his hiding place like a single witness to atrocity. McQueen, still my favorite character, has a very good line (“Every life in this war is tied together”) and a very bad one (“..every grunt who hits the beach…” Hello? Did I just wander into a John Wayne movie?). Nathan alternates stupid actions with wisdom beyond his years (or capacity) with lines like, “Fifty years from now on that burnt spot the trees will be back, and so will we.” The 58th Squadron still resembles a group of dorm mates more than a pack of trained killers, but Shane Vansen is a wonderful character–strong, feminine, a natural leader. The women on this show are excellent. I never feel condescended to. Even Hawkes got a good line: “They never make these things with tanks in mind”, alluding to a helmet design that does not take account of his physical differences, delivered with a self-deprecating half-smile that speaks of pain and acceptance.

Glen Morgan and James Wong, writers and producers for this series, are clearly attempting a large canvas. Surely “ambition” is defined by someone who opens an episode with John F. Kennedy’s famous “going to the moon” speech. It sets a tone of idealism and youthful hope that carries through the episode as a cross-current against the rampant militarism of the overlying text. But I need a clearer picture of what this show is about. Is it about Nathan West’s pining after a lost girl? Is it about the trial by fire of a handful of young and naive teenagers? Or is it about a larger story, the struggle for survival not just of a species (Homo sapiens) but of a dream (as yet undefined). The answers are still shaking themselves out, so I will wait for next week. I have a lot of faith in Morgan, Wong and David Nutter, and the cast is shaping up well. But they need to structure tighter plots, give us military behavior more suited to the next century than the last, and lose the most annoying soundtrack since “Three’s Company” left the air.

This one gets three hammerheads out of five.