Like the previous season’s Redemption, this begins with a lot of talk, although there it was very much front-loaded. Here we get an effective character piece interspersed with so-so action. Indeed, where Aftermath does least well is attempting the latter element (never Vere Lorrimer’s forte). It’s a story I’ve always liked, that uses the opportunity for the disarray created by casting changes and the fall-out from its grand finale to focus on just two of the regular cast and set the stage for how the show will find its bearings without Blake.
The model work in the opening sequence, showing us the closing stages of the Federation’s battle with the Andromedans, isn’t the best the series has seen, but we do get a solid sense of what has transpired.
We learn through voiceovers that Star One has been destroyed and the Federation flagship (presumably carrying Servalan?) has been hit. The shots of explosions on the deck of the Liberator feature none of the cast; it’s left to Avon’s and Zen’s voiceovers to prep us on the damage sustained before we cut to the escape of Avon, Orac, Vila and Cally. This is tense and effective; there’s a sense that this could be the end of the ship (which neatly bookends the season with Terminal).
The episode provides more conclusive details on the fates of Blake and Jenna than Vila and Cally after they leave, which is a nice touch (even though the appearance of Keating and Chapell logically suggests we’ll see them again). Blake didn’t want to leave the ship, presumably because he’s cloth-eared. But he allowed Avon to make off with Orac, which is a coup for Avon. And it’s a coup for Darrow, having the episode revolve around him.
As planets go, Sarran looks a bit like the beach in The Ultimate Foe, and it has a stock bunch of marauding warriors (although they have rather Klu Klux Klan-looking horses). Their only claim to fame is the reliably OTT Alan Lake (Herrick in Underworld) as their leader Chel. Who makes short work of a cameoing Mike Yates and his fellow trooper (Michael Melia, who played a Terrileptil in The Visitation). It’s an interesting decision, giving the exposition on what happened in the battle to a couple of anonymous Federation troopers (even if one is unconvincing a soldier as he was in Doctor Who).
Federation Trooper 1 (Richard Franklin):How does it feel to have made history?
Federation Trooper 2 (Melia): Very painful, sir.
A bit of a Dibber response, there. The Federation lost 80% of its fleet, we learn. Offing these characters so quickly is a bit of a surprise, as we expect them to form a proper part of the action (and it might have been more effective than dumping Servalan into the plot, even though there are dividends there). Particularly on-the-nose is Yates’ “We’re out of the war now” just before they get hacked to death. It’s tantamount to taking a walk in the woods and being set upon by Leatherface.
Avon’s rescued by Josette Simon’s Dayna. Simon’s very lithe, but not the best of actresses. I don’t think she’s awful, but she’s a little self-conscious and over-emphasised. Turning Avon into Mr Loverman is a slight surprise, as he gets snogged by two different ladies here. Dayna makes the first move.
Avon: I think you’ve cured my headache.
Making Dayna a kick-ass warrior is a bit of a warning sign; wasn’t that exactly how we met Cally, and how well was she used in the last couple of seasons?
Dayna: Without danger there is no pleasure.
Avon: That must limit your range of pleasure a bit.
There’s some clumsinsess to be seen at the end of the episode, as Dayna repeats Avon’s earlier dialogue about having had enough excitement for a while; it doesn’t quite fit coming from her.
I’ve got my antenna out for any Blake-ification of Avon, and when it occurs in this episode it seems to be carefully qualified. Avon prevents Dayna killing an unconscious warrior on the grounds that he is no longer a danger but his friends are. Logical as Avon is, looking for a possible diminishment of threat is perhaps sound, but would he have given a shit previously? Or is it partly him wanting to call the shots?
Dayna: You fight well.
Avon: Only when I have to.
Which is true enough.
Servalan’s appearance is predictable, but at least her presence creates interesting conflicts in this story (and her reasoning for arriving at the battle is a sound one; “A personal appearance is always good politics, especially for a new president”). She clearly wasn’t planning a jaunt on the beach as she’s in high heels. Avon’s on good form, completely unfazed by her showing up.
Avon: It has a perverse logic. Our meeting is the most unlikely happening I could imagine. Therefore we meet. Surprise seems inappropriate, somehow.
Hal Mellanby’s undersea base is pretty damn groovy, and it feels like a very Nation idea. Of course, the set up here has more than a sniff of lifting the premise of Orac (and Weapon). Scientist on the cutting edge avoids the Federation on a backwoods planet. Cy Grant isn’t the most natural of performers, but he gets by looking cool; it’s only when he has to get involved in an action scene later that he comes up significantly short. His adopted daughter makes a trio of limited rangers in the Mellanby clan (Sally Harrison, who seems to have spent her time applying copious make-up rather than studying the dramatic arts).
Avon notes that the battle has achieved a better result than Blake could have hoped for. And it’s true. This would have been the ideal moment for true insurrection but like the big screen’s Empire, they appear to be allowed to regain their strength through rebels’ disorganisation or general apathy (I will watch out for further references to how the Federation is doing as the season progresses).
Avon: Yes, it’s difficult to sustain a military dictatorship when you’ve lost most of the military.
Making Hal a like-mind to Blake may be a bit unimaginative, but at least there’s a twist as to whether he’s a coward underneath it all – hiding behind the decision to save Dayna when his wife and fellow rebels were killed (although the timeline of when he lost his sight under interrogation is unclear; I assume it was prior to the revolt that failed); if Grant doesn’t especially sell his internal conflict, it’s still an effective character note. The conflict between Hal and Dayna is a little bit one-note (taking life as a last resort as opposed to relishing it) but it gives us a good Avonism.
Avon: I seldom comment on other people’s ethics.
There seems to be a conscious decision to have Avon’s conflicting outlook to Blake underlined as much as possible in this episode, perhaps so we don’t forget that, even if he is to take command, he isn’t the same man. Certainly, Servalan gives what amounts to an extolation of his more dubious qualities later on.
This episode gives Servalan her first opportunity in some time (and certainly for the most sustained period thus far) to mix it up with those who aren’t her stooges. And Nation/Boucher seem to be enjoying the opportunity, whether it’s being catty/charming to Dayna, bitching about her clothes (“Not too young for you?” ripostes Dayna) or coming on to Avon.
Avon’s contact with Zen provides some much-desired information on the fates of Blake and Jenna; terribly unfortunate that the locations of neither were verifiable. But Blake reporting that he is uninjured is a bit suspect. Does he mean no more injured than he was before, as he was looking very much the worse for wear last time we saw him? It gets a clock ticking for rescue too, and puts into place the eavesdropping Servalan’s plan for escaping the planet. There’s nothing particularly special about Vere Lorrimer’s direction of this episode, so it’s fortunate that the script has interesting avenues to explore. The revelation that a space vehicle (oh, Terry, it’s hardly likely to be a Ford Escort) is approaching the Liberator sets another plate spinning. Does Avon prioritise the rescue of Cally and Vila because he thinks he is relatively safe where he is for the time being? I like to think so, rather than it being some sort of burgeoning altruism.
Jacqueline Pearce’s costume change suggests she is now unfettered by any cumbersome breast upholstery. Avon’s putting Orac back in his box, then relaxing with his feet on said box, is a great moment.
Servalan: Avon, you look worried. And I thought you were the one who had conquered emotion. Replaced feeling with logic.
Servalan’s suggestion that they are very alike is probably somewhat off the mark, but it makes for a good litany.
Servalan: You are ambitious, ruthless, you want power and you never let conscience stand in the way of achieving it. Well?
Avon: You over-estimate me.
Servalan: One other quality I admire very much.
Avon: Oh yes?
Servalan: You are infinitely corruptible. You’d sell out anybody, wouldn’t you?
Avon: I don’t know. I never really had an offer I felt was worthy of me.
Certainly, amorality is at the root of much of Avon’s reasoning, but unlike Servalan he never comes across as desiring power for its own sake. Exactly what his goals are probably remains slightly foggy even to him (after all, when he considers heading off on his own in Horizon it seems strictly a matter of surviving with the least possible danger involved).
This scene is undoubtedly the highlight of the episode, and it needs to be as it sets the scene for the state of the B7 universe. Servalan observes that with Star One destroyed there will be chaos; no central control, no unifying force, over half the civilised planets left to their fate.
Servalan: You and I could build an empire greater than the Federation ever was, or ever could have been.
While this is at least partly a ploy on Servalan’s part, it represents exactly the danger that could result from Blake’s ill-considered retaliation towards the Federation. You succeed in your quest, but what happens then?
The kiss between Avon and Servalan that progresses to near-strangulation of the latter is a superbly performed moment, Avon earning Servalan’s eternal enmity for repelling her so scornfully.
Avon: Imagination my only limit? I’d be a dead man in a week.
Extremely contrived and stupid of Avon to leave Orac out for Servalan to lightfoot after it into the Mellanbys’ living room. Where she is confronted by Hal (I might mention that the family has been up top warning off the locals, but the only thing to say about those scenes is that when Lauren tells them she will stay for a bit to keep guard she may as well be wearing a big sign saying “Dead meat” – having the Sarranians’ victims strung up on the beach is an effectively nasty image, though).
Servalan certainly shows she has the stuff to cut someone down in cold blood (I don’t think she’s pulled the trigger up close on anyone before, except with IMIPAK). Unfortunately she only shoots out Hal’s artificial eye device at first, so Grant makes a bit of a meal of thrashing about blindly at her. Avon’s “He got away from here after all” is a bit of an “Ouch!” moment when Dayna discovers her father’s body.
The plastic guns that Avon and Dayna go hunting for Servalan with aren’t fooling anyone, but the contrivance to rescue her from the natives and not to kill her outright is reasonable; only she knows where Orac is. Did Bidmead steal the Master/Nyssa dynamic from Servalan slaying Dayna’s dad, I wonder?
Servalan’s bargain for safe passage doesn’t last long, and the staging is on the clumsy side with the various table-turning that goes on (Servalan distracting Dayna, getting her gun, losing it, then escaping down the tunnel)
And good old Alan Lake doesn’t let us down; the last we see of Sarran is him yelling “GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” at the heavens in frustration.
The difference between the juniors introduced to B7 and those welcomed to Who at the same time is partly that B7’s weren’t all about being youngsters. Dayna’s young, but she’s not screaming “teenager”. And I don’t think Steven Pacey’s much older, but he’s not playing a particular age. Very much the pretty boy of the crew, he nevertheless gives his role some edge and, most importantly, can hold a scene against Darrow. It’s an effective cliffhanger back on the ship, apparently now under the occupation of the Federation.
Parts of this are in five-star territory; anything concerning the fall-out from Star One, the crew, and the dynamic between Avon and Servalan. Unfortunately, some of the supporting performances aren’t all that, and Lorrimer doesn’t bring his A-game to the action. A highly effective opener, nevertheless.