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.