Mention Space: Above and Beyond to someone who hasn’t watched it in a few years (read: since the ‘90s), and they’ll likely say one of two things: ‘Man, I had such a crush on Vansen!’ or ‘Chiggy von Richthofen!’. Good news everyone: this is the episode you’ve been waiting for!
Space: Above and Beyond regularly takes inspiration from real life war-time events, in this case, as mentioned in the episode, the name of a World War I German fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, also known as ‘The Red Baron’, credited with numerous air combat victories. In the show, ‘Chiggy von Richthofen’ is the nickname given to an unknown alien fighter pilot, flying a new type of vessel that doesn’t show up on LIDAR, and able to take out entire squadrons without backup.
The powers-that-be have classified all information on this alien ace, and Colonel McQueen (James Morrison), ever the good guy going all-out to take care of his squadron, risks court-martial by telling Lieutenant Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) the little that is known of this new threat, in order to prepare her for the unknown on the dangerous mission she is about to undertake. The rumour and cover-up around the new alien ship makes the audience all the more eager to see it, and when we do it is indeed menacing, with ‘Abandon All Hope’ (another nod to the classics) scrawled across its side.
But Space: Above and Beyond is rarely just one thing, and so interwoven with the Chiggy von Richthofen plot is a story about Vansen and her old flame, John Oakes (Michael Reilly Burke). The episode has something of a 1940s feel to it, and it plays around with the true yet time-worn formula of sweethearts getting engaged before one of them goes off to war, possibly never to return. In flashback, we see Lieutenant John Oakes propose to Shane Vansen, but in this scenario she turns him down because she doesn’t believe in forever, and when the war comes they both end up going to it.
This is a bitter-sweet tale of love and regret, but it’s also the story of two comrades risking their lives for one another. Vansen, sad for Oakes that he has just lost his love to a Chig attack, and regretful that she hurt him so many years ago, volunteers to be part of his squadron, knowing that she might not come back from this mission. “Am I doing the right thing?” she asks McQueen. And he tells her: “You mean if you’re doing it just for him? There has to be something beyond this war.” This is an important message, because fighting for one’s survival is all very well, but there has to be something worth actually living for in order to make the fight worthwhile.
The episode takes its title from a Patsy Cline song, which plays at various points throughout the episode, and should provide something of a sweetly romantic atmosphere for Vansen and Oakes, with its lyrics about finding love and ‘never no more’ being alone. But of course, once Oakes is dead, these lyrics take on something of a different, rather more bitter, flavour. Whilst it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the ‘Glen Morgan Ruins Another Classic Song’ stakes that we saw in his work on The X-Files episode ‘Home’, it does become somewhat more distasteful when one takes into consideration that Patsy Cline died in the same way as the character of Oakes: in a plane crash.
‘Never No More’, episode 14 of the series, greets the audience with a completely overhauled title sequence. It contains new visuals, and some brief exposition from Colonel McQueen, presumably in an attempt to grab the attention of any would-be viewers who might have missed the first half of the season. It’s fascinating how these changes in the opening credits of a show can change the expectations of an audience, even though the content of the show itself has not changed, and these new titles – in line with the exposition intro on shows such as Babylon 5 – suggest an urgency and drama that was perhaps lacking in the original sequence.
‘Never No More’ is the first part of a two-parter, and the Chiggy von Richthofen storyline will continue in episode 15, ‘The Angriest Angel’. At this point in the show’s run the viewer has built up a drip-fed picture of who and what the Chigs are, and it has just been revealed that military strategists now know where their home planet is, and are planning a full-scale attack on it. Finding out what happens next is going to be pretty exciting.