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WAR OF THE WORLDS Reviews: Eps. 18-20 (Spoilers)

“The Last Supper”: Our scientist-heroes are being shuttled by bus to a high school in Philadelphia, which turns out to be the site of a secret summit meeting with their counterparts from other nations, mostly UFO researchers and paranormal investigators working for various governments.  The group includes a few fairly well-known actors, including James Hong as the Chinese delegate, Efrain Figueroa as the Peruvian representative, and Colm Feore as Soviet representative Argochev, who was a last-minute replacement whose heat signature wasn’t on file with Ironhorse’s security people, making him an “anomaly” — along with the Sri Lankan representative Menathong (Suzanne Coy), who couldn’t go through the heat scanner due to a pacemaker.  Right off the bat, it’s a safe bet one of them will turn out to be an alien infiltrator, though Ironhorse is oddly blase about it (aside from his general mistrust of anything Russkie — you’d think the fact that Argochev has no trace of a Russian accent would draw comment from him).

The meeting is a chance for everyone to compare notes about their alien experiences, and any experienced TV watcher can sense where this is going.  Yes, it’s the obligatory money-saving clip show (also a bottle show, taking place mostly inside a single gymnasium).  Our team’s “presentations” are basically just an excuse to rerun clips from previous episodes (plus plenty of action footage from the ’53 movie), and we only get to see a smidgen of the Peruvian presentation with some archive footage of an archaeological dig to accompany it.

And yet, as clip shows go, it’s actually kind of interesting.  Hearing the team lay out what they know about the aliens, while the presentation is a little haphazard, actually offers a new perspective on things and conveys the sense that these guys actually know what they’re doing and are making some progress.  We even learn some new things about the aliens: Suzanne explains that the reason they can osmose into human bodies is because they’re boneless, with liquid cores held up by a muscular framework.  She likens their body structure to jellyfish, though that’s a bit hard to reconcile with their extraordinary strength.  And the acknowledgment of the events of past episodes helps give a sense of continuity that’s been lacking at times.  (They even lampshade the fact that microbiologist Suzanne suddenly became an expert psychologist in the awful “He Feedeth Among the Lilies,” with one of the delegates commenting on what an unusual combination of specialties it is.)  Moreover, the international summit helps create a sense that this isn’t just a secret shared by a few, that at least to some extent the world remembers what happened in ’53 and is aware of the widespread destruction the aliens are causing now, and that’s refreshing.  Clip shows can be worthwhile if the stuff between the clips actually adds something to the series rather than just being filler, and this is such an episode.

Of course, there are sources of suspense: the aliens are hunting for the summit meeting in order to destroy Earth’s top alien-hunters, and the delegates are clashing with each other, with Argochev in particular being disruptive.  Eventually Argochev reveals his government has intelligence that there’s an alien infiltrator in the meeting.  Suzanne can find the alien with a simple blood test, but several delegates insist on contacting their governments before agreeing — and then we learn that the aliens have been tipped to the summit’s location by their spy inside, so they launch an attack.  (For some reason, it never occurs to anyone to use a Geiger counter to detect the alien.)  Once the attack begins with the delegates trapped inside, Argochev reveals he’s actually military intelligence (and is somehow armed despite all Ironhorse’s security) and offers to help in their defense (I guess; at first it actually looked like he was threatening them, but it didn’t play out that way).  Still, they’re quickly surrounded and outnumbered.  Ironhorse and Omega Squad battle the attacking aliens for a while, then Ironhorse gives them a speech which is basically “We’re hopelessly outnumbered, so each of you will have to be ten.  I’m counting on you.  Meanwhile, I’ll be back inside where it’s safe.  So long!”  Okay, in his defense, he’s actually going in to secure the delegates, but still.  (And we have to take his word that his team is outnumbered, since they couldn’t actually afford enough stunt performers to show the entire attack force.)

Learning of their dire straits, Harrison does his tuning-fork meditation thing to think of a plan — and proposes surrender!  He spins a line about opening a dialogue with the aliens, which (as he planned) draws out the alien spy — who, completely unsurprisingly, is Menathong, who, aside from being the only one left who hadn’t had her identity confirmed by the scanners, has had an ominous and malevolent look on her face every time she’s been in closeup.  She somehow manages to grab Ironhorse’s machine gun and tries to shoot them all, but the gun is empty.  She flees and jumps out a window rather than be taken alive.

So Harrison’s “plan” didn’t actually save them from the army of mostly unseen attackers, so they have to hide most of the delegates and Suzanne under the gymnasium stage while the others (including Argochev) retreat to the boiler room and… I guess there’s some sort of strategy involved, but it just comes down to a bunch of shooty-bangy stuff until all the aliens are dead and Harrison gets an ominous closing line about how they may have won today, but tomorrow is another day (which sounded a lot more optimistic when Vivian Leigh said it).  You know, it was actually kinda more interesting when it was a clip show.

“Vengeance is Mine”: This one opens very powerfully, as Ironhorse narrates a tragic incident wherein he fired on and killed what he believed were three aliens, only to discover that one of them was actually the aliens’ hostage, an innocent woman named Sarah (Carolyn Dunn).  The opening voiceover line, for once, is not an excerpt from later in the episode, but the beginning of this flashback narration, which is a clever variation.  For some reason, instead of talking to Suzanne or some other therapist with military clearance, he’s describing the incident to some random psychiatrist (Bernard Behrens) who doesn’t even know about the aliens.  The therapist says he can’t help if Paul won’t even tell him his name or what the war and the enemy are — but offers to schedule another session so they can investigate why Paul came in the first place.

Unknown to Paul, he’s being tailed by Martin (Denis Forest), Sarah’s husband, who’s more than a little unstable in the wake of her death and who’s frustrated at the lack of help from the police in identifying her killer.  He talks to himself about vengeance, quoting the Bible.  Meanwhile, back at the Cottage, Paul’s trying to act like nothing’s wrong, but is behaving erratically — at first slow to react when there’s solid evidence of alien activity in Sacramento, saying he doesn’t want to go off half-cocked, and then a couple of days later getting all gung-ho when there’s only a tenuous lead.  He brushes off Suzanne’s attempt to talk, but Harrison is more persistent, trying to tell Paul that what he’s going through is understandable.  When that doesn’t work, he tries to talk Paul into taking some R&R, which Paul interprets as an accusation that he’s burned out — no doubt voicing his own fears.

What the aliens are doing is trying to obtain high-grade rubies with which to build an arsenal of hand lasers.  They decide they can’t steal the rubies because they’re too precious and well-guarded, so they’ll have to steal money so they can buy them.  Because… money isn’t considered precious or well-guarded, I guess?  So they begin knocking off armored cars, after placing an advance order for a bunch of rubies with a sexy gem dealer (Canadian singer-songwriter Alannah Myles) who gets turned on by large quantities of money — a rather pointless digression, but not an unpleasant one to watch.  Pretty soon they decide the heists are going too slowly and they need to go to the source, which means taking over the bodies of the armored car company’s bosses and getting the gold out of their main vault.  (I’d expected they were going to take over the gem dealer instead — then there’d be a point in having her in the episode — but I guess she’s just the broker and wouldn’t have the money on hand to obtain the rubies.)

Eventually, after a second, inconclusive visit with the unnamed psychiatrist, Martin follows Paul and runs him off the road with a toy helicopter laden with explosives.  Paul wakes up bound and gagged, and Martin confronts him about who he killed, promising to kill him in return.  (Martin removes the gag, but says he doesn’t want Paul to say anything.  He’s not exactly stable, did I mention?)  Ironhorse warns him that the police will be onto him soon, getting Martin upset enough not to notice that Paul is freeing his hands.  Soon the tables are turned and Paul has Martin tied up.  He tells Martin that he’s now realized that what happened was an unavoidable consequence of war, and though “I wish to God it wasn’t so,” he’d do it again in the same circumstances.

Paul contacts Norton and learns that the others have headed off to Sacramento to stop the aliens, having deduced their plan.  Paul convinces Martin to help him if he wants to stop the people really responsible for Sarah’s death, and they head for town — just in time to chase the aliens, who are escaping in an armored truck after spotting Omega Squad’s approach (you’d think a crack military squad would’ve realized that an armored-car company would have security cameras around its HQ).  Luckily Martin has a spare bombicopter in his van, and he and Paul use it to stop the aliens, thus resolving their differences in the traditional masculine way, by blowing stuff up together.

Although this episode has a lot of the awkwardness that characterizes the series, it’s surprisingly strong and emotionally potent.  Definitely one of the high points of the whole series.  The guest appearance of Denis Forest (pronounced the French Canadian way, Deh-nee For-ay) is notable, for in season 2 of the series he will return in a regular role as Malzor, the leader of the new faction of aliens who displace the Advocacy.

“My Soul to Keep”: For once, not a Biblical title, although it’s from a common children’s prayer (published in The New England Primer in the 1680s, if anyone’s curious).  The occasion is that the aliens are trying to procreate, but the caverns are too nuclear-hot for their babies to survive, and if they lose this litter, they won’t enter pon farr or whatever again for nine years.  So they need to ship them someplace cold (conveniently forgetting that whole plot thread from episode 2 where they successfully stole a large supply of coolant so they could survive in the caves).  They do this by taking over a refrigeration plant.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” says a security guard when the aliens park their truck there on a Sunday.  “Yes, you would,” says one of the aliens, and proves it by becoming him.

Meanwhile, we meet an obnoxious reporter named Cash McCullough (Michael Parks), Suzanne’s ex and Debi’s father.  He’s meeting (in a Korean bathhouse, of all places) with a “mysterious” source who stays hidden, but whose voice, despite a feigned Southern accent, is unmistakeably that of John Colicos.  Quinn is back!  More, he alleges to have been the actual Deep Throat, and now he has an even bigger expose than Watergate: the Blackwood Project.  Except he tells Cash that they’re a death squad killing illegal aliens from Mexico.

So Cash contacts Suzanne for the first time in two years (he hasn’t even remembered Debi’s birthdays) and claims to be a changed man wanting to reconnect with family.  Ironhorse, knowing Cash’s reputation as an investigative reporter, is skeptical, but Suzanne finds herself responding to his charm against her better judgment.  At least until he confronts her at dinner with the “death squad” story, something he evidently does specifically to make her storm out angry so he can tail her to the Cottage.  Why he does so is unclear, though, since he then rushes back to Quinn for more intel.

Meanwhile, Norton has noticed transmissions that sound to him like “baby talk,” and he pinpoints their location (which, judging by the computer map, is exactly the same location as the hospital from the last “alien baby” episode, except now it’s the industrial district in the town adjacent to the Cottage).  Ironhorse and Harrison stake it out and determine it’s an alien operation with tight security — security that becomes conveniently lax when they sneak in and abscond with one of the totally unmonitored eggs.  Suzanne’s fascinated at the scientific potential of this find, until it hatches and almost tears her arms off through the isolation-box gloves.  Paul kills it with fire, and then they go off to make sure the other eggs don’t hatch.  Suze tags along, though she stays outside when the big strong menfolk go in, so she spots Cash and his camera crew going inside, tipped off by Quinn.  She follows Cash, who’s convinced he’s seeing a death squad in action — but then she’s attacked by an alien that’s both conveniently “naked” (not inside a human) and conveniently very, very inefficient at strangling her, giving Cash enough time to follow her screams, see the alien for himself, and tackle it, only to be verrrrrry slowwwwwly strangled himself while Suzanne screams helplessly (who would’ve thought the ’80s were so much like the ’50s?), until Paul shows up and ventilates the alien.  Somehow Cash’s camera crew got killed by other aliens while this was going on, and then Cash sees the fiery finish as Omega Squad torches the eggs, and says that nobody would believe him if he reported what he’s seen.

As a return episode for Quinn, this is very weak.  We never learn why Quinn, who parted with Harrison on reasonably good terms last time, is suddenly trying to hurt the Blackwood Project.  And the idea of a story about the heroes trying to kill hundreds of babies, even monster babies, is rather distasteful.  On the plus side, Suzanne really looks gorgeous when she dresses up for dinner with Cash.  Big ’80s hairdos have their merits.

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Mirror quest

No, this post isn’t about some new Mirror Universe story I’m writing, but about my efforts to replace the cracked side mirror on my car.  My sister suggested that I should find an auto salvage yard and get a used mirror there, then get a garage to install it, which would be cheaper than the alternative.  I found the prospect a little intimidating, but I researched it.  I found a relatively nearby yard with a “self-serve” policy — you bring your own tools, pay a small fee to get in, and detach the desired parts yourself.  Okay, but did I have the tools?  Hmm, I realized, I have that emergency kit I bought for the trunk — that probably has some tools in it.  I checked, and indeed it did — plus I realized it also included jumper cables, which would’ve been useful to know when my battery died a few months ago.  I haven’t used the kit since I bought it a couple of years ago, so I’d forgotten what was in it.

However, one thing I was hoping to get was a new wheel cover (why don’t they call them hubcaps anymore?), since the one on the front left wheel has some noticeable cosmetic damage.  And the emergency kit didn’t have a socket wrench attachment big enough for the wheel nuts.  Okay, I thought, that won’t work.  But then later I thought, Wait a minute — logically the car itself would come equipped with the necessary tools for changing a tire.  So I went back out to the car and checked the manual, and it took me a few minutes to figure out where the tire-changing tools were kept — behind a flap on the left wall of the trunk that I’d never realized was there.  I really should’ve put more effort into figuring all this out when I got the car.

So now that I knew I probably had the right tools, I checked the yard’s website this morning to make sure they had my make and model of car — plus I noted the location of another one from a year earlier as a backup.  That didn’t guarantee they had the parts I wanted, though, and the person I talked to on the phone confirmed that they didn’t keep track of that and I’d be taking my chances.  Still, I decided to go ahead and drive up there.

The cars were all laid out in rows and I had to track down my target vehicle myself; it was just at the far end of the row, wouldn’t you know it.  And it was missing both mirrors and all its wheel covers.  Darn!  I half-heartedly looked to see if it had anything else I might find useful, but no luck.  Then I remembered the other car from a year earlier, and made my way over to it.  No wheel covers, but voila, there was an intact driver’s-side mirror!  Carefully, remembering how my mirror had come loose and how I’d been able to pop it back on and pull it off again (which I shouldn’t have done because that’s what broke it), I pried loose the mirror from the mechanism that reoriented it, and that left it dangling from a pair of blue wires.  Okay, so how to disconnect the wires?  I didn’t see any way.  The connectors looked fused to the mirror.  I remembered some instructions I’d looked at online about how to dismantle a mirror, and I pulled off the panel inside the door, exposing the wire connections within.  I managed to unplug a set of five wires in a plastic thingy, but I couldn’t figure out how to disconnect the two blue wires from the thingy.  I tried detaching the entire mirror assembly (conveniently, it was the right color), but the bolts were too rusted for my toolkit pliers to work, and they must’ve been metric since none of my socket wrenches would fit them.  (Is there a non-metric size between 3/8″ and 7/16″?)  So much for the handy-dandy ready-for-anything emergency kit.  (I should look into getting another one, maybe.)

Finally another patron walked by and I asked him if he knew anything about how to disconnect a car mirror.  He took one look at it, asked for pliers, and pulled out the blue wires from the connectors in the mirror (apparently for its built-in heating element).  I had misread what I was looking at before; the parts that were fused to the back of the mirror were the bits that the wires clipped onto, not part of the wires themselves.  The connectors were of a type I’m not familiar with, so I hadn’t recognized how they worked.

So now I had the mirror, but looking at it, I wasn’t sure it was the right shape; it seemed too wide.  I told the guy who helped me that it was from a year earlier than my car’s model and wondered if it would fit, and he said it probably wouldn’t.  “Think about it,” quoth he.  “That would make it too easy.”  But it was the only option I had, so I went to the checkout place and told the clerk that I was unsure of the part’s suitability.  She let me leave my license with her while I checked it out, and it turned out to be a perfect match.  The reason it looked too wide is that I was used to looking at my mirror from an oblique angle rather than head-on, of course — and probably because the shape of the housing made it seem rounder.

Satisfied, I collected my license and paid for the mirror, then wrapped it carefully in rags for the drive home.  I would’ve liked to try installing it then and there, before I had to drive anymore, but there was a sign saying not to work on cars in the parking lot, so I had to wait.  Also, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to risk installing it myself.  What the guy at the yard had done looked simple enough, but I’d broken the other mirror trying to reattach it; maybe it took a more skilled hand to do it right?  Maybe I should stop by the local garage and ask them to do it?  But then, the “skilled hands” at the garage in Pennsylvania had cracked it even worse than it had been before.  And it did seem pretty simple, so long as I was careful.  But wait, I wondered.  How do I avoid getting the two blue wires mixed up?  But the answer quickly came to me.  There was a roll of electrical tape in the toolkit; all I needed to do was mark one of the wires with a bit of tape.  And what if it turned out that, despite having the same shape, there was some difference in the rear connection and it wouldn’t go on easily?  But no, I figured that since it was the exact same shape, and only one model year off, they probably just reused a standardized component.  So I decided that I would try to install it myself.

And it was quite easy.  It was so quick and simple to disconnect the one mirror and attach the other that I hardly even needed the tape to tell the wires apart.  (I’m not even sure it would’ve mattered if I swapped them, but better safe than sorry.)  And it did click into place properly, although I was too tentative the first time and it didn’t fully engage.  So I pushed a little more firmly, but carefully, and as far as I can tell, it’s now properly attached.  Then it was just a matter of spraying on some glass cleaner and gently wiping it off, then getting in the driver’s seat and adjusting the mirror angle.  The replacement mirror still has a couple of tiny smudges or scrapes on it, but that’s a whole lot better than the multiple cracks on the old one.  (Come to think of it, it’s hard to believe I could’ve broken the mirror just by removing and reattaching it.  It doesn’t seem they’d be that fragile.  It seems more likely that the impact caused a hairline crack or two, and my subsequent handling exacerbated them.)

So I feel relieved and kinda proud now, and grateful to my sister for the idea.  I have an intact mirror again, I can feel safer when I drive, and I was able to achieve it for just over ten bucks, a lot less than I would’ve had to spend otherwise.  And while I didn’t get a new wheel cover, I gained a better understanding of my car and its onboard tools.

Now the one lingering issue I have with the car (aside from the slight cosmetic damage here and there, most of which was already there when I got the car from my father) is that the ride seems bumpier since I left the garage in PA.  I wonder, did they somehow tighten the suspension when they did the alignment after replacing the tires?  Or is it like my bicycle, the way it transmits the shocks more when the tires are freshly filled and rigid?

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Eps. 15-17 (Spoilers)

“The Prodigal Son”: Ahh, this is the one I’ve been waiting for.  Not only because it should’ve been aired before “Among the Philistines” four weeks earlier, not only because it’s a crucial story in the arc, but mostly because it features the ever-delightful John Colicos, best known as Kor from Star Trek: “Errand of Mercy” and several Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica, and the original voice of Apocalypse in the ’90s X-Men animated series (though it was hard to tell through the voice distortion).

And Colicos is the first voice we hear (due to the show’s custom, which I haven’t mentioned until now, of playing a bit of ominous dialogue from the coming episode just after the opening titles) and the first face we see, sporting a robust gray beard, as he flees from the police through the Toronto New York City streets.  But wait, they have “decay” makeup on, so they’re aliens.  The credits identify Colicos as “Quinn.”  The alien cops chase him up to the rooftops and re-enact the opening of Vertigo — a cop fails to make the jump Quinn makes and dangles from the roof, and Quinn watches with an evil grin, denying his pleas for rescue, then kicks him off the roof and says the most badass line of the series so far: “To life immortal — sucker.”

Turns out Quinn is a famous, reclusive laser/hologram artist, and art lover Harrison’s been invited to meet him and buy an original installation.  Ironhorse cautions Harrison to be sure he’s at the UN in 36 hours, at which point they’re scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on the alien threat.  Quinn and his driver pick Harrison up in a limo with tinted windows, and he’s taken to Quinn’s secret Chinatown loft, where Quinn offers to give Harrison his supposedly spectacular piece of laser art (which is just a few blue beams bouncing around), and also gives him a bracelet as a gift.  When he says his art is a tribute “to life immortal,” Harrison begins to realize Quinn knows about the aliens.  Quinn confirms this, saying he also knows about Dr. Forrester and Sylvia.  Harrison asks him to tell anything he knows about the aliens, and Quinn tells of one particular alien, who was immune to the bacteria that overcame the other aliens and has wandered the world alone for 35 years, trapped in the cesspool of primitive humanity.  Harry catches on that he’s talking about himself.  He’s an alien!  But Quinn’s bracelet is a manacle, binding Harrison to him with invisible force; he’s going nowhere.

Quinn gives the vital exposition that pegs this episode as taking place before “Among the Philistines.”  His people are from a “garden planet” called Mor-Tax, 40 light-years away in the constellation Taurus.  Their sun is dying, so they set their sights on Earth, the nearest habitable world.  Now, this is a nice bit of either good research or lucky happenstance, since 10 Tauri is a potentially habitable star system 45 light-years away in Taurus.  I remember being rather excited when I discovered the correspondence.  Although there’s no reason such a star would die the way Quinn describes, its light going out.  Anyway, he reveals that there’s an invasion fleet of millions of aliens due in under five years.  Humanity will be annihilated — unless Harrison takes Quinn’s proposal to end the war to the UN.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of the alien cops, who got Quinn’s number from an art-gallery dealer by using a power we haven’t seen them employ before, a sort of lethal Vulcan mindmeld where an alien sticks its fingers into her head and forces her to speak before she dies.  Quinn drags Harrison out through a secret passage and they flee through the subway tunnels; Quinn discards Harrison’s gigantic 1980s cell phone, which the aliens find, thus learning that Quinn is with a Harrison Blackwood.  Later, in his sooper-seekrit bolthole filled with the treasures he’s accumulated over 35 years, he reveals his proposal to Harrison.  He’s fleeing from the aliens because they want to dissect him for the secret of his immunity to Earth disease.  But he was the commander of the alien fleet, and believes the approaching soldiers will obey him rather than the politicians who’ve led them astray.  He offers to spare 10 percent of humanity, kept in reservations away from his people, if they accept him as ruler of the Earth.  Otherwise the whole race will be wiped out.  And lucky Harrison gets to be the one to choose who lives and who dies.  (Out of several billion people?  That would be a time-consuming job…)

Meanwhile, Ironhorse and Suzanne are worried that Harrison missed the preliminary meeting, so they investigate and find the crime scene at Quinn’s loft.  They also find a matchbook of Harrison’s with a coded message he had the foresight to leave behind: “Q” = Δ, meaning Quinn is an alien (delta = triangle = 3).  They’re concerned that Harrison himself may have been taken, his secrets in alien hands, so they call Norton and warn him to get everyone out of the Cottage.  They recruit the NYPD to help them stake out the UN that night, but the cops get taken over by aliens (who now know that Ironhorse is looking for the same Dr. Blackwood who’s with Quinn).

Harrison questions Quinn’s plan, saying the aliens will never accept him as leader since he’s become too human: he has human emotion and humor, a human’s individuality and desire for self-preservation.  Plus the same genetic quirk of the host body that gives him immunity (and it’s never explained why he took a host body during the initial invasion) also traps him in it; he’s a half-breed the aliens would never tolerate.  But humans, he says, have learned tolerance and would accept him.  Quinn is understandably skeptical.  (Accept the leader of the invasion force that devastated the planet?  He’d be lucky to get life in prison.)  He drags Harry along to the UN, through the sewer tunnels; the sunlight hurts his eyes.  Harrison notes the irony: “That’s what you came here for.”  But at the UN, they get cornered by the alien cops, who are covering the interior while Ironhorse’s men watch the outside (though Paul goes in when the cops don’t answer the radio).  Quinn makes his demands, but the aliens are rigid and loyal to the Advocates; the best offer they have for him is the chance to die as a hero.  He’s not buying, and he’s convinced they’re doomed, but Harrison uses some “human ingenuity” and rigs a flamethrower from cleaning supplies, so they get away into the tunnels, and a chase ensues through the subway.  Somehow Ironhorse manages to be there, trailing the others, and takes out one of the alien cops.  Eventually Quinn gets the drop on the others… and since Harrison gave Quinn his life, he returns the favor, freeing Harrison and disappearing — but not before promising to return.  Ironhorse shows up and needs to be convinced that Harrison’s still himself.  Then the team gives their speech to the Security Council, which is a bit anticlimactic since it’s nothing we didn’t already know; as far as we see, Harrison doesn’t even include the information Quinn revealed.  But Quinn walks off into the night — and will return in episode 20.

This is the first episode of this series that I’d actually call good.  It’s got a strong premise — a direct, one-on-one confrontation between the hero and an eloquent, charismatic representative of the foe he’s been fighting.  It’s rich on exposition and ideas, adding new texture to the series premise.  It has the best-written dialogue I’ve heard in this show to date, courtesy of scripter Herb Wright (Patrick Barry wrote the story), and Colicos elevates the material even higher.  In my first draft of this review, I wrote, “If the remaining episodes of the season stay at a comparable level, I’ll understand why I remembered the first season of this show so fondly.”  Unfortunately, they won’t.  Only one more episode will reach this level.

“The Meek Shall Inherit”: Speaking of impressive writing, this one is by D. C. Fontana, story editor for the original Star Trek and one of the uncredited co-developers of Star Trek: The Next Generation.   It opens as a pretty typical episode, though: on the theory that disrupting communication would cripple human society, the aliens have invented a weapon that, when connected to the phone lines, can make phones melt or explode (a guy in a phone booth gets blown up).  But they can’t deploy it effectively until they steal a large enough power source.  So they take over the bodies of some homeless people in Portland, Oregon — coincidentally the city where Sylvia Van Buren is institutionalized (in a place that I only just noticed is named Whitewood — and her adoptive son is named Blackwood).  A street person named Molly (Diana Reis) sees her friend getting taken over, and nobody will believe her.  But when she gets checked into Whitewood as a charity case (how convenient), she meets Sylvia.  At first, Fontana portrays Sylvia with the grace and dignity she’s been largely denied until now — a kind, calm, maternal figure who takes Molly under her wing and stands up for her when the staff gets too pushy.  But Sylvia goes back to her usual ranting once she psychically senses the alien activity, and the staff straitjackets and sedates her — until Molly breaks her out.

Meanwhile, Ironhorse is recruiting and training soldiers for a special alien-fighting Omega Squad, and there’s some nice banter with Suzanne as they quibble over her parameters for the selection process (including the fact that she included a woman in her selections — welcome to 1989, when that was still an issue).  And Norton can’t get through to the Pentagon computer because the long-distance phone network is offline — something he and Harrison eventually begin to suspect is due to alien sabotage.  But Harrison and Suzanne rush off to Portland when they learn that Sylvia’s disappeared.

The “homeless” aliens sneak into the truckyard where the power source will arrive, but get driven off by a mean, Bluto-esque (Blutonian?) security guard.  I suppose they didn’t kill him because they didn’t want to attract attention, since they’ve got a long wait — though after they sneak in that night, he finds them the next day and gets wasted.  One of the aliens took over a very ill homeless man and is in the market for a trade-up, but the guard suffers heart failure before he can be taken over.

Harrison and Suze have no luck finding Sylvia, though a helpful hooker tips them off (once paid for her time) that the truckyard is where the homeless go for handouts.   Indeed, Sylvia and Molly are there, sheltering from the cold (and the episode was filmed during a heavy snowfall, something that was surely easier to come by in Toronto than in the actual Portland, OR).  Molly goes out to beg from the truckers, but Sylvia’s alien-sense tingles and she’s too afraid to go out.  So she can only watch in terror as Molly gets taken and the sick alien is able to trade up for a healthier body at last.  And that alien gets a windfall, since Sylvia has told Molly all about her adopted son, alien-fighter Harrison Blackwood.  Uh-ohs!

So once Harry and Suze find Sylv, they discover just how high the stakes are.  Luckily Ironhorse is already en route with Omega Squad, since he and Norton detected an alien signal originating from the Portland truckyard (sheesh, if it’s that easy to find the aliens, why are they able to get away with anything at all?).  Oddly, the squad hasn’t even been told what it is they’re fighting, which seems like a bad idea to me.  Didn’t Sun-tzu say that the key to victory is knowing your enemy?  Anyway, the squad’s ignorance doesn’t hamper them, and they take down the aliens.  The female member of the squad proves herself by shooting ex-Molly just before she pounces on Harrison, and then the episode ends rather abruptly, as they tend to do on this show.

Not as good as the previous episode, and not as good as I’d expect from Fontana.  I wonder how much her script got rewritten.  There are some plot and logic holes, but there are some nice attempts at character-building, and the best portrayal of Sylvia Van Buren that we’ve gotten yet, though that’s faint praise.

“Unto Us a Child is Born”: This show routinely takes forever to get around to showing its main characters. We spend the first eight or nine minutes of the episode following a trio of aliens attempting to test some kind of bioweapon at a shopping mall, but clumsily spilling something that drips through a vent and alerts mall security.  We then follow the thrilling adventures (this is a thing we Earthlings call sarcasm) of mall security chasing the one alien who didn’t have the brains to ditch his workman coveralls to blend into the crowd.  To elude pursuit, he eventually goes into a changing room and takes over the body of the woman there — Nancy Salvo (Amber Lea Weston), whom we’ve been following in between the alien stuff and who’s extremely pregnant.  Which apparently is more than the alien bargained for.  He, now she, seems confused at what’s happening; either his new host’s pregnancy disrupted the joining, or the writers forgot the aliens absorb the knowledge of their hosts.  Anyway, the joining apparently induces labor and she’s rushed to the hospital.

Finally, we visit the Cottage, and even Norton comments on their belated appearance, saying “Nice of you to show up” when Harrison and Ironhorse arrive to be informed of the latest alien transmission, a distress call coming from what appears to be Eureka, California, judging from the map topography on Norton’s computer.  The team races there and finds the signal coming from a hospital.

A hospital wherein Nancy’s husband has been enacting all the hoary expectant-father stereotypes, pacing nervously in the waiting room and then handing out cigars on learning it’s a boy.  The other two aliens, waiting with him, get cigars too, and toss them out (smart move).  Somehow they get to the mother’s room before he does, and instead of one of them taking his body (which would be ideal cover), they just kill him, and the three of them leave without the baby.  Only to be told by the Advocates that they need to bring in the baby, which they already somehow realize is a hybrid that might give them immunity to Earth’s diseases.

But our guys have already played the “hunting terrorists” card and taken over the hospital, and it’s not long before Suzanne determines that the baby is partially hybridized with alien tissue.  And naturally, as a human-alien hybrid child, this baby is mandated by the laws of SFTV biology to undergo hugely accelerated growth, becoming the size of a 2- or 3-year-old within a matter of hours (despite not being fed anything to build all that biomass from, considering that he’s apparently been left alone throughout the entire growth spurt, or else someone would’ve noticed).  Harrison theorizes it has something to do with the aliens’ own maturation cycle, but it never gets a decent explanation.

Anyway, Alien Nancy foolishly insists on joining the other two in re-entering the hospital, despite the risk of being recognized, and apparently this is in keeping with the Advocates’ orders to go in as a trio.  The Advocates are idiots.  So the aliens hijack an ambulance (but not the drivers’ bodies, so the producers don’t have to pay for more actors) and sneak back in, but a nurse recognizes Nancy and the team is tipped off that the aliens might be back inside.  Ironhorse has brought in Omega Squad from last week to handle security.  But that doesn’t help the nurse who goes in to feed the “baby,” who’s had another growth spurt.  A hand reaches out from under the bed and grabs her by the leg — which then breaks off for no good reason, since there’s nothing holding the rest of her in place against the pull.

So our heroes find the body and realize the baby’s become a killer, and begin searching for it — very, very slowly and tediously.   One of Ironhorse’s people becomes a casualty after an interminable walking-and-searching sequence.  Meanwhile, Alien Nancy is showing a psychic link with the child, drawing her toward it.  Eventually they’re reunited, and it looks like the aliens have developed a mother-child bond — except it turns out Alien Nancy’s idea of parental love is to kill the child (now a deformed monster) and absorb its alien component back inside her so they can be one again.  The other aliens toss her downstairs and kill her, and they and the alien mutant head down.

But Ironhorse somehow hears them descending the stairwell even though he’s nowhere near the stairs, and this leads to a confrontation where the two aliens are killed and the mutant flees.  Cue more tedious searching, and eventually the mutant pounces on Harrison, yet far from ripping him apart it just flails at him for a while and then dies of old age once Ironhorse and Suzanne arrive to see it.  Its body dissolves — and a perfectly human baby emerges from the remains.  Suzanne declares it healthy and it gets adopted by its grandparents — who, in a wholly predictable twist, turn to it and say “To life immortal” in alien-speak.

Now, that’s just nasty.  There’s no reason for it.  If the baby is free of any alien cells, then the aliens have nothing to learn from it.  So what could they possibly want with it?  This is just gratuitous nastiness and left a bad taste at the end of a very weak episode, with an absurd premise and an incredibly tedious pace.  It’s amazing how little actual dialogue there was in this one relative to its running time.  I guess there’s supposed to be suspense in scenes of people slowly searching for something deadly that you know is going to leap out at them sooner or later, but I’m not sure that’s the sort of thing that works for me, certainly not as executed here.

Oh, by the way, if I read IMDb right, the mature form of the alien mutant was played by John Pyper-Ferguson, who’s become rather well-known in the years since, with prominent roles on shows like The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Caprica, and Alphas.