Space: Above and Beyond Review #13: Level of Necessity
Originally aired January 14, 1996
The 58th are battling the Chigs in the tunnels of planet Daedalus when Lt. Vanessa Damphousse begins experiencing weird visions that predict doom. When a military adviser arrives to test Damphousse for psychic ability and the 58th returns to Daedalus will her visions help or hinder the team?
For whatever reason I remember “Level of Necessity” as being a dull episode but it’s actually not one of the bad ones. I think I remember it not being that good because it’s sandwiched between two of the great ones; “Who Monitors the Birds” and the next “Never No More.”
If “The River of Stars” was a Paul Wang episode and “Who Monitors the Birds” a Cooper Hawkes one, then “Level of Necessity” is most certainly a Damphousse episode. Other than a bit at the beginning with the 58th in the tunnels and a longer stretch at the end, most of this episode is of Damphousse and Col. Matthew Burke (Richard Kind) together in a darkened room trying to figure out if she has psychic powers or not.
This all came about when the 58th were underground and along with the 46th on some claustrophobic mission in tunnels against the Chigs. When the two teams were changing levels Damphousse could sense something was amiss. She “just knew” something was wrong and could also see a weird glow around the 46th. And when the 46th pushed on without the 58th since Damphousse wouldn’t let them proceed the 46th were wiped out by a Chig attack.
After TC. McQueen submitted his report on the incident, citing an “anomalous intuition,” Burke arrived to test Damphousse. What’s interesting here is that while he discovers that she probably does have psychic abilities, he also figures out that they’re only triggered by a rush of adrenalin, so back into the tunnels they go for some on the ground testing as it were.
“Level of Necessity” also features a few replacement members of the 58th which has become a theme of late. There’s a replacement 58th from the 46th named Lubin along with Kelly Anne Winslow (Tasia Valenza) who’s been a member of the 58th for a little while now. Lubin is only around for this episode to seemingly voice his disapproval of Damphousse and the 58th and Winslow will play a key role in upcoming episodes.
Where “Level of Necessity” doesn’t work is that it lingers just a bit too long on the Burke and Damphousse story leaving the rest of the 58th on the sidelines for much of this episode.
One of the interesting bits here is that this is one of the first times, if not the, that I can recall the 58th not wanting to go on a mission. After Burke tests Damphousse for her abilities, comes up with some interesting results but nothing definitive, he has the team go back to Daedalus alone to uncover a Chig ammo dump. And they only have 11 hours to do it before they’re left behind when the Saratoga and the fleet pulls out. With the odds stacked against them on every turn the 58th actively voices their disagreements of going on the mission. It’s too dangerous, they’re right, and the rewards are too few, right again.
I’m not sure if this was an overall decision by the series creators to have the 58th being seen as maturing as characters and not totally wanting to put their lives on the line for something with so little reward or just a scene that needed to be there to add a bit of tension to the episode. But it totally works.
“Level of Necessity” is the last episode of the series to use the original SAaB title sequence.
Damphousse was born in upstate New York, graduated from Caltech, is an engineer and is either 24 or 25 years old.
“The Tunnels of Daedalus” sounds like a lost episode of Doctor Who.
Matthew Burke is from the Seventh Marine Air Wing.
I’m assuming Matthew Burke’s last name is an homage to Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) in Aliens.
I’m not sure that Damphousse’s psychic abilities are ever mentioned again.
(To Cooper Hawkes after he was literally buried alive.)
Shane Vansen: “Shake it off.”
Matthew Burke: “What if you had psychic powers?”
Vanessa Damphousse: “The greatest liability to a Marine is doubt.”
Shane Vansen: “Your vision doesn’t change our orders”