Posts Tagged ‘War of the Worlds’

WAR OF THE WORLDS: THE SERIES: Overview and final thoughts (Spoilers)

Well, I undertook this DVD rewatch with the expectation of revisiting a show (or at least a season) that I’d somewhat enjoyed the first time around.  But it’s revealed to me that my memories of the original show are somewhat rosier than the reality.  All in all, this hasn’t been a very enjoyable revisit.  The writing was mostly weak and the production values bordered on the amateurish.  Even the thing I liked most, the chemistry among the main cast, isn’t as good as I remembered.  At least, it took a while before the actors seemed to settle into their roles and start giving decent performances.  Some of their early work is kind of embarrassing.  And overall, the show made way too little use of its own leads, often spending 10-20 percent of the episode dealing with the alien plot and guest stars of the week before Team Blackwood even showed up.

I think one reason I liked the idea of this show was that, at least in theory, it treated the original, unaltered movie as part of its continuity.  Most TV series based on movies change things about the events of the films to set up the series — like the Starman series retconning the events of the film to happen a decade or so earlier so the title character could have a teenage son, or Men in Black: The Series ignoring K’s retirement at the end of the first film.  So it’s refreshing in those few cases where you can treat the movie and the sequel series as a continuous whole.  Sure, the series introduces a lot of retcons about the aliens’ abilities and origins, and makes bizarre and implausible assumptions about the aftermath, but hardly any of it contradicts what we were actually shown in the film, just recontextualizes it.  We weren’t explicitly told in the film proper (just in the prologue) that the aliens were from Mars; that was just a speculation that was offered but never confirmed.  We never saw the film’s aliens possess human bodies, but that didn’t prove they couldn’t.  The two aliens we glimpsed were much smaller and flimsier than the ones in the series, but they could’ve been a different species or subspecies, perhaps some kind of helper animal or genetically engineered scout.  And the series incorporated actual footage from the movie in its titles and flashbacks, brought back Ann Robinson as her original character, recreated the war machines fairly faithfully, and so on.  I appreciated that regard for the original work, even if the series’ idea of what happened afterward was pretty lame.

Only a few episodes really amounted to much.  The pilot was kind of okay, but flawed by its premise.  The reuse of the movie’s war machines in the climax was a high point, but marred by the fact that the aliens had no chance of success, and it was more a matter of running out the countdown timer than any real kind of suspense.  “Eye for an Eye” was fun, though mainly for its homages to the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast (and the fact that it was both set on and aired on the actual 50th anniversary of that event was kind of cool).  There was a run of decent episodes from about #9-#13, but even they had weak and silly moments.  All in all, there are only two episodes I’d call genuinely good, “The Prodigal Son” and “Vengeance is Mine.”  And there were quite a few ranging from stupid to just atrociously bad.  I really didn’t remember the show being this consistently lame.  Did I just have different standards back then, or was this a show I just tolerated despite its badness because I liked the cast?  I do remember not being very fond of the horror elements and feeling the writing could use improvement, but I don’t remember thinking it was this bad.

In any case, I definitely remember how awful the second season was, and I have no intention of rewatching it.  In an attempt to boost the show’s flagging ratings, Paramount brought in a new production staff led by Frank Mancuso, Jr., who’d previously (and contemporaneously) produced Friday the 13th: The Series.  His ideas for how to “fix” the series were bizarre.  Somehow he thought it would be more appealing if the fairly normal world of the first season were replaced with a relentlessly dark, dismal dystopian near-future in a state of perpetual decay.  I gather his reasoning was that the world should have been more devastated by the ’53 invasion and this was the aftermath, but that doesn’t work in the context of the first season, and just springing the changed world on us without explanation didn’t work.  I tried to believe at the time that four years had passed between seasons and the arrival of the new alien force at the start of the season was the one Quinn had foreshadowed, and that the deterioration of the world was the result of four more years of the aliens’ evil schemes; but that didn’t work because Debi (who became a more prominent character in season 2) was only a year older.

The worst change Mancuso made was killing off half the cast, and destroying the chemistry that was the series’ only real high point.  And which half he killed off is telling.  Both Paul Ironhorse and Norton Drake died in the series premiere, and were replaced by a mercenary named John Kincaid, played by future Highlander: The Series star Adrian Paul, who was just as dull on this series as he would be on that one.  Ironhorse was the most popular character on the show, the breakout star, and yet Mancuso apparently thought it would “improve” the series to kill him.  (And the way it was done was just painfully wrong.  I cried when I saw it, but not in a good, cathartic way like when Tasha Yar died on TNG — I was hurt and angry at how completely, painfully wrong the story was in how it treated and disposed of the character.  Okay, they had Paul sacrifice himself to keep his evil clone from killing Debi, but the way it was executed just felt so ugly and forced and hollow and unfair to the character.)  He never offered a clear reason for this decision, as far as I recall (beyond claiming that he had no idea Ironhorse was popular until after the deed had been done), but his excuse for killing Norton was that the team was losing the Cottage and going on the run, so it wouldn’t be practical for a guy in a wheelchair to be on the team without a steady home base to operate from.  This was a blatant lie.  The team moved into a new permanent home base at the start of the second episode of the season, barely any time at all after the Cottage was destroyed.  Norton could’ve functioned just as well in that environment as the Cottage, with a few access ramps and computer upgrades put in.

So I think it’s self-evident why the Native American and the black paraplegic were the characters who got killed off, while both white leads were kept and a new white lead was added.  Because it’s not just the racial diversity that was lost.  Harrison also lost all his eccentricities, becoming an entirely bland character; essentially his only personality trait in the entire season was that he grew a beard.  Even the aliens lost their weirdness.  The Mor-taxians were replaced by a new faction of their species who called their planet Mor-thrai and themselves the Morthren, and who worshipped a living deity called the Immortal.  Unlike the weird-looking, weird-sounding, weird-dressing, body-snatching Mor-taxians, the Morthren transmogrified themselves to look permanently human — all of them white, as far as I recall — and spoke entirely in English.  (The leader Malzor was played by Denis Forest, last seen in “Vengeance is Mine,” and his second-in-command Mana was played by the lovely Catherine Disher, who would later become one of the numerous WotW veterans to star in the ’90s X-Men animated series, where she voiced Jean Grey — and who reportedly hated her time on WotW and refuses to talk about it to this day.)  So essentially everything about the first season that didn’t conform to the majority, mainstream view, every trace of diversity or eccentricity, got cut out or whitewashed, and we were left with a cast that was utterly bland.

The first half-season was relentlessly dark and dismal and horrible, and it’s all a homogeneous blur to me; I seriously don’t know why I even kept watching for as long as I did.  The second half got a little better with the addition of Jim Trombetta as story editor (just when I was on the verge of giving up altogether).  There were a couple of halfway-decent episodes there.  There was one episode where they went back in time to shortly after the original invasion, with new actors playing the young Clayton Forrester and Sylvia as Harrison’s adoptive parents, which was the first time in the entire season that it felt like it was really a continuation of War of the Worlds in any way.  Also it was just a relief to see actual daylight in the past scenes, as opposed to the perpetual polluted gloom of the second season’s present day.  However, the past scenes were in black and white, which was silly because the movie was in Technicolor.  But there was one episode I really liked, which was mainly about the team and their allies trying to arrange to give Debi a happy birthday in the middle of this dismal, horrible world, and was rather sweet and optimistic.

But the series finale squandered any goodwill those episodes earned.  For whatever bizarre reason, after a whole season of unrelenting darkness and ugliness, the writers decided to end the series with a tacked-on, forced happy ending that required betraying prior continuity all the way back to the original film.  The finale introduced the enormous retcon that the Morthren were mostly a benevolent, decent bunch, that the ’53 invasion had actually been a peaceful scouting party that fell into a misunderstanding with the humans and fought them in self-defense, and that the evil Malzor misled the other aliens and tricked them into launching the second wave of invasion as a ploy to seize power.  Thus, just killing Malzor was enough to let the two species make peace and live together on Earth happily ever after.  Which is just… completely… insane.  There is no way the pre-emptive, brutal, genocidal alien invasion seen in the George Pal movie could possibly have been the result of a misunderstanding or self-defense on the aliens’ part — unless they were somehow fatally allergic to white flags.  The first interaction between species in the film was the aliens heat-raying a trio of harmless locals trying to make friends, and it just got worse from there.  The War of the Worlds was a systematic, planned ethnic cleansing on the aliens’ part, an aggressive war rather than a reactive one; the movie made that very clear.  And the first season of the series made it even more blatant that the aliens were bent on conquest and genocide and were a cold, ruthless race by nature.  Even the second season, for all its retcons, did nothing to change this basic characterization of all the aliens, not just Malzor, as ruthless and genocidally inclined — at least until it became convenient for them to rewrite the rules so they could force a completely incongruous happy ending.  It was a terrible way to end a terrible season of what I now must admit was a pretty terrible series on the whole.

Oh, well.  At least the original movie is still awesome.

So the question I’ve been pondering is, how would I have preferred to see this series done, or how would I have approached it myself?  First off, I would’ve probably kept the cast.  They started out weak, but they did have pretty good chemistry for most of the season.  I also would’ve incorporated a recurring or regular role for Gene Barry as Clayton Forrester, and brought back Sylvia in a more respectful way than reducing her to a babbling lunatic.

I definitely would’ve had the world remember the ’53 invasion.  Most of the planet’s major cities were destroyed, and the death toll probably exceeded that of WWII.  The invasion would’ve interrupted the postwar recovery, and would’ve interrupted the Cold War as well.  Whatever came afterward would’ve been very different.  Would the nations of Earth have put aside their differences and banded together to guard against further invasions?  Or would the East and West have entered a new, more dangerous arms race as they competed to reverse-engineer the aliens’ weapons and technology?  Either way, we would’ve probably seen a more advanced civilization by 1988 — and perhaps one with a significantly smaller population, so maybe its environment would be healthier.

I’m not sure if I would’ve kept the body-snatching.  I don’t care for it, but I can understand the necessity to represent the aliens with human performers.  It’s less expensive than constant prosthetic/animatronic effects, it’s more dramatically effective to have human actors as the enemy, and since a weekly series would need to be more about an ongoing infiltration than an overt invasion, giving the enemy the ability to pass for human makes sense.  Still, there could’ve been another approach.  When a nation lacks the strength to invade another, sometimes they ally with local factions and use them to help overthrow the establishment, like when Cortez fought alongside the Mexica people who rebelled against Aztec rule, then stepped into the power vacuum their revolution had created.  Maybe in my version the aliens are mostly offscreen and have coopted (or mind-controlled?) a human faction that serves as the main antagonists, perhaps a megacorporation that’s thrived from reverse-engineering alien tech and whose power-mad leader is happy to betray humanity in exchange for the aliens’ promise that he’ll rule the world.  Something like Tobias Vaughn in Doctor Who‘s “The Invasion.”  (I’d love for John Colicos to have played the role, but that would mean basically rehashing Baltar.  Maybe given time I could think of something a little more original.)  It might not play out too differently from what we got, with the aliens seen occasionally in their base making plans while their agents in the field are human.  Although if the bad guys were genuinely human, it would’ve been harder to justify the good guys killing them, so that might’ve changed the dynamic of the action.

I might’ve tied it in a bit more closely to the original film by establishing that the Mor-taxians had used Mars as a staging area.  Maybe some had remained there since ’53, unable to move on Earth until they tackled the immunity problem.  But in that case, surely humanity would’ve worked harder to develop spaceflight sooner and take the war to them.  (I gather some people have written sequels along those lines to the original H. G. Wells novel.)  Maybe there’s been an uneasy cold war between Earth and Mars for decades.  This would be public knowledge, so you wouldn’t have the same secrecy cliche the actual series had.

I mean, seriously, keeping the whole thing secret was a terrible idea if you think about it.  If there’s a group out there that’s actively threatening the safety of the public, and if they can be fairly easily identified by their decay/radiation burns, their tendency to congregate in threes, and the weird noises they use to communicate, then it would only make sense to alert law enforcement and the general public to be on the lookout for them.  Keeping it all secret and relying on just four people to protect the whole world from these genocidal beings was obscenely irresponsible.  It gave the aliens far too much freedom to act and do harm.  The secrecy trope is something genre shows use to pretend they’re happening in the real world, but it’s often a bad idea in-universe.

And it’s so much more interesting to create a world different from our own.  There could’ve been a wealth of stories to tell, 35 years into the global recovery from an invasion that nearly destroyed the world.  What a shame we never got to see them.

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Eps. 21-23 (Spoilers)

Last three of the season!

“So Shall Ye Reap”: It’s Mor-tax Vice!  The aliens are in Chicago, trying to develop a super-addictive drug that will turn humans murderous.  They use Alien Hookers! to pick up men and abduct them as guinea pigs.  One of the captives is a vice cop, Sawyer (Jonathan Welsh).  Meanwhile, Team Blackwood is impersonating DEA agents to investigate the alien plot, and local Chicago cop Lt. Teri Novak (Dixie Seatle) and her department are in full turf-war mode, obstructing the “feds” at every step even at risk of endangering the public.  Pretty darn unprofessional if you ask me.  In between searching for Sawyer, she’s trying to get confirmation that our guys are who they claim.  Norton didn’t set up their cover very well at all, and she soon blows it and has them arrested.  Yet once General Wilson contacts her and reveals they’re an “anti-terrorist” squad, she’s suddenly super-cooperative, despite her previous extreme resentment toward anything federal.  Just goes to show that “terrorist” was a panic button for Americans well before 9/11/01.

The Advocates have sent a badly-acted envoy to kibitz the head scientist, whose failures get him executed offscreen, but his geekier assistant does a much better job upon taking over and has soon perfected the drug, which looks like pink lemonade and which they insist on injecting into the ear for grossout effect even though it can be taken by mouth.  Sawyer is their test subject, and in keeping with the vice theme, their chosen killing ground is a strip club, where the stripper languidly dances even as a raging lunatic bashes everyone around him with a baseball bat.  Now, that’s professionalism!  Not so much the cops who then drive up and run into the club, completely ignoring the victim who flies out the door and lands on the sidewalk just as they arrive.  The aliens pick up Sawyer and drive away, but the cops chase them, and the envoy tells them not to lead the cops back to their base.  They end up driving into the river, though it’s unclear whether this was intentional or the result of Sawyer’s throes of withdrawal in the back seat.

Once Sawyer dies, Novak’s determined to bust the bad guys and tries to call in reinforcements, but Team Blackwood warns her they can’t handle what’s out there.  They finally confide in her about the aliens, and we get the usual token disbelief followed by quick acceptance, since there are only 43 minutes per episode.  (Here Harrison says it’s been “nearly a year” since the aliens’ return, when the last mention was that it was more like a year and a half.  Either this was delayed from earlier in the season, or the writers were getting forgetful.)  Novak talks with an informant, a mob boss who was a friend of her parents and told her stories when she was a girl — “It’s Chicago,” she says.  He tells her the new drug operation is based in an abandoned prison, and Omega Squad moves in for the raid — which proves unnecessary, since the aliens, in their haste to evacuate, left the keys and a supply of the drug in reach of some of the addicted prisoners, and the resulting riot kills all the aliens.  The team comes in to the disgusting sight of the addicts writhing on the floor in broken glass to lap up every drop of the drug, just to make the episode’s “drugs are bad” message that much more heavy-handed.  (Not that I don’t support that message; drug abuse is a terrible thing.  But there are less ridiculous ways to make that point.)  The Advocates finally catch onto the obvious flaw in their plan: making humans violent creates more danger for the aliens too.  Well, back to the ol’ drawing board!

Ugh.  I remember considering the last two episodes of the season to be very weak, but that implies I must’ve felt it had been decent up until then.  This is the third-last episode and it’s one of the worst of the lot.  There are some nice moments of banter among the team, which was the main thing I liked about this season, but the team spends a lot of this episode offscreen and nothing else is enjoyable to watch.

“The Raising of Lazarus”: The Air Force digs up an alien scout ship of some kind (the size of a large filing cabinet and with no resemblance to any previously seen Mor-taxian ship, due to low budget), and Team Blackwood is called in to a nuclear research facility (?) in Wisconsin to study the craft and the pilot within, only to find the investigation taken over by a black-ops USAF division called Project 9, run by Col. Alexander (Nicolas Coster), your typical arrogant authority figure who shuts our guys out.  His team has no luck cutting into the alien hull, even with a super-powerful laser, but Norton has found a theory in Dr. Forrester’s notes that lets Harrison use sonic signals to break the ship’s magnetic lock (and its hatch unscrews in a nice homage to the movie).  There’s no attempt at any kind of quarantine or security procedure even though Harrison is aware the alien might still be alive — which naturally it is, though it plays possum long enough for Alexander to take some tissue and blood samples when nobody’s looking.  Turns out Project 9 is your standard conspiracy-fodder shadow government group researching military applications of alien technology, and Alexander wants to inject himself with alien cells in hopes of understanding their thinking.  He wants to make peaceful contact, and all in all seems pretty clueless about this whole ongoing alien invasion thingy, given his position.

Anyway, the alien breaks out and wanders through the ducts for a while, and it’s the first time we’ve really gotten an extended look at a Mor-taxian outside of a human host.  After watching for a while, it simply grasps the cables next to Alexander’s lab and thus is able to superimpose a hovering green triangle before his computer screen and communicate with him through the computer.  This is an alien that apparently crashed on arrival and has had no prior contact with humans or taken a human host before now, yet somehow it knows English and is able to interface with Earth computers just by touch-telepathy.  Anyhow, it gives Alexander a formula that will help with the “cell matching,” and the colonel injects himself, after confining Team Blackwood to quarters “for their safety.”  Ironhorse slips out, claiming that he interprets “quarters” to mean the whole facility.  Then the alien mind-meld-hacks Harrison’s computer, which is hooked to Norton’s, so it learns everything about Project Blackwood and the ’53 invasion, including the stuff about the bacteria and how the radiation killed them.

Then the alien cuts the power, and the next time we see our heroes, the whole confinement thing has been forgotten, since Harrison’s checking in on an Alexander who’s now content to leave the alien hunt to them, since he and his aide are busy documenting the “changes” following the injection, not that there are any to speak of.  Meanwhile, the alien takes a nuclear rod from the reactor and begins taking it room to room, exposing each room to its radiation and then moving on.  It’s basically sterilizing the base for its own protection.  The writer here seemed to be making the classic mistake of confusing radiation with radioactive material, saying that as soon as any room has been exposed to the rod’s radiation for a few seconds, that makes it permanently uninhabitable.  Unless that rod is actually shedding plutonium dust or something, it doesn’t work that way.  Once the radioactive material is gone, the radiation doesn’t stick around, any more than the light sticks around once you take a flashlight away.  True, exposure to intense radiation can sometimes transmute a material into a radioactive isotope, but I think it would take more than a few seconds’ exposure from a single reactor rod.  Also, the computer-graphic status map of the contamination shows it spreading so fast from room to room that the alien would have to be moving at Roadrunner speed, even though it’s moving about a hundred times slower when it’s on camera.

The alien finally comes to Alexander’s lab and takes over his body, rendering that whole plot point about injecting alien cells completely moot, and kills the aide.  Harrison shows up then and gets the brushoff, but remembers seeing something amiss about the room.   Alexander continues irradiating the base, and Harrison meditates and remembers that the lab’s radiation alarm was shut down, meaning Alexander must be the alien.  They track him and discover he got outside, but not before contaminating everything around the room they’re in, trapping them.  But Ironhorse climbs through the somehow-uncontaminated vents to get to the lab with the super-laser, and even though he doesn’t bother to explain his intentions, Harrison magically knows that he’s going to shoot Alexander with the laser clear through the wall.  The first shot lands way ahead of Alexander’s vehicle, so Harrison says they should lead it a little with the next sho — [convulsive head shake] you what??  For whatever reason, this contradictory strategy works and Alexander-alien gets blowed up.  The team abandons the base through the vents.  “What about Alexander’s research?” Suzanne asks, and Harrison paraphrases Rhett Butler’s “Frankly” line.

Well, this was a mess.  It hardly feels like an episode of the same series, what with the lone alien having all these weird powers, and Alexander not seeming to be on the same page as anyone who’s in the loop about the events of this series.  Not that a departure from formula can’t be good, but, well, this one wasn’t.  And the radiation thing was just so outstandingly inept that it remains one of my most vivid memories of the show.

“The Angel of Death”: After some really, really bad FX shots of space, a swirly video-effect fishbowl thingy descends on the site of the upcoming 1992 World’s Fair in some city (no doubt a fictional identification of the location, since the only 1992 World’s Fairs were in Seville and Genoa) and drops off — hey, it’s Ozzy Osbourne!  Or rather, it’s a woman (Elaine Giftos) with big frizzy hair, big square black sunglasses, and a dark trenchcoat (there’s probably some ’80s hair musician that would’ve been a better referent for my joke, but I don’t know that genre well).  She knocks out a security guard with the words “Remember nothing,” then reports into a video-effect ribbon thingy that rises out of her hand and says she’s starting a 7-day mission to find and kill the Advocacy.  She then cuts a swath through the Mor-taxian population of the Pacific Northwest, slaughtering them en masse since she can recognize them on sight (they have green faces in her POV — hey, are those sunglasses like the ones in They Live?).  Team Blackwood notices the killings but is caught off guard, and the Advocates are convinced it’s the humans who are after them.  One group of aliens — gathering flowers as food in a botanical garden, the first time we’ve heard of that gimmick since the Halloween episode — recognizes her as a Synth from the planet Qar’To, but gets mulched before they can report it.  Suzanne determines that the new kind of residue left from the alien bodies shows signs resembling what happened to human bodies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so they realize somebody’s got “atomic bullets,” as Paul quaintly puts it.  Harrison realizes there’s a new player, a second alien species fighting the first.

In need of intelligence (oh, I could make a crack, but it’s just too easy), they set up a plan to catch some Mor-taxians alive for questioning, using a bacterial weapon Suzanne’s conveniently devised.  Norton lures them in by playing back their old transmissions, even though he doesn’t know what they say (but it includes “Don’t drink the water in Mexico; this includes ice”).  Damn, over a year of this, and he hasn’t even made the slightest headway at decryption, even though the signals are about things he should have referents for?  He’s not as good at this as he lets on.  But then, the aliens are just as incompetent to keep sending these transmissions even though they should’ve figured out by now that the humans can track them.  (Although, granted, the grunts’ inability to think or plan without the Advocates’ instructions could make this an unavoidable risk for them.)  Anyway, the Advocates know it’s a trap, but send in their people anyway, needing to find out what the humans’ new weapon is.  The trap goes nicely, until the Synth shows up and starts nuking aliens (which she does by striking a silly action pose and shooting cheesy red video effects from her hands).  She also knocks out Paul and says “Remember nothing” again.  A surviving alien snaps a photo of Suzanne and gets away, somehow assuming that she’s the Synth.

Harrison is convinced that Ironhorse has been killed; in fact, the opening preview voiceover line was “Paul is dead” (not even backward-masked), though the line actually spoken in the episode is “Ironhorse is dead.”  But there’s some evidence Paul may have been taken by the other alien, which, in fact, he has.  He wakes up in her custody and they interrogate each other, with her having the upper hand but professing her friendly intentions.  She introduces herself as Q’tara, which sounds like “Katara,” but she doesn’t do any waterbending.   Instead, she just does some weird posing/interpretive-dance thingy while she talks in a stilted, robotic way, like a cross between a Power Ranger and a Shields & Yarnell routine.  Oh, and she gives off a loud electric hum all the time.  She says she’s from the same system as the “People of the Three” (a neat name for the aliens, which unfortunately we won’t hear again) but is dedicated to their destruction, and to the preservation of humanity.  She mind-reads Paul, then tells him “Remember nothing” upon waking him from his trance, then immediately tells him what she just told him to forget she’d done to him!  Huh?  Wha?  Seriously?  Then she kinda-brainwashes Paul into telling the others that she’s a friend who’ll help them.  When he returns to the Cottage, he’s put through the security checks he instituted to ensure he’s not an alien — but somehow he’s allowed to walk all the way to Harrison’s study before the security check rather than being stopped at the gate.

Paul tells them in a kind of pre-programmed way that Q’tara is a friend, and the team figures out that Paul was hypnotized, but nonetheless decide to trust in Q’tara, and go to see her at the fair site.  The aliens track her down there and call in reinforcements, which the Advocates personally lead, taking on the bodies of firemen.  Inside, Q’tara tells the gang that she needs to return home before the space fold she travelled by folds back (I guess this is how she got here ahead of the Mor-taxian invasion fleet), but she’ll be back with reinforcements within a year (i.e. during the second season).  Our guys are thrilled to have such a powerful ally.

Though they’re not so thrilled when the aliens surround them and they realize they’re wide open.  Paul is armed, and so is Suzanne (thanks to a “gift from Uncle Hank”), while Harrison and Norton rely on makeshift staffs to repel the alien attack, which the Advocates supervise from outside.  (For some reason, the Advocates speak in dubbed alien gibberish while in their firefighter bodies, even though they always speak English when they’re in their rad-suited alien forms and shouldn’t actually have the anatomy to speak English.)  A firefight ensues, and the whole subplot about the aliens thinking Suzanne was the Synth is rendered kind of pointless since Q’tara is right there.  I think the idea was to set up Suzanne getting shot, but everyone else gets shot during the battle too, though the aliens manage to use a weapon that damages Q’tara before they retreat.  Suzanne does suffer the most severe injury, but Harrison and Paul pretty much just leave her there to die while they go to check on Q’tara — whom they’re somehow surprised to discover is an android even after hearing her called a Synth and listening to her constant electric hum and her processed “robotic” voice.  Apparently all four of them die or go into comas or something while Q’tara spends a few hours healing (since the scene dissolves from daylight to nighttime), and then she brings them back to life by restoring their “lost life energy.”  (Lady, it’s not life energy they lost, it’s blood!)  They’re all happy to have a new, wonderful ally — and are somehow able to avoid laughing every time she does that silly posing/dancing thing while she talks.  Harrison escorts her to the roof so she can return home, and then she reports into her hand-ribbon thingy, speaking in her language now even though she used English before.  And the subtitles tell us what many of us probably saw coming: That her mission is to “preserve” humanity as a food source.  It’s a cookbook!

All in all, a pretty silly episode — perhaps intentionally so, since I’m not sure they were even bothering by this point.  There was some decent stuff in the concept, and a few decent lines of dialogue here and there (though between this and his TNG episode “The Last Outpost,” scripter Herbert Wright evidently had a bit of a Sun-tzu fixation), but the execution is pretty lame (the episode was also directed by Wright, who has very few other directorial credits on his resume, his previous one being “Choirs of Angels” earlier in the season).  Elaine Giftos’s really goofy look and dance-robot performance are farcical and really undermine what could’ve been a decent new twist in the series.

Of course, this was the last we’d ever see of this version of WotW.  The show would be completely retooled for the second season, any lingering threads such as the Qar’To abandoned.  And what came next would make even this silliness look good in comparison.  I’ll talk about that in my overview post to come.

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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.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

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.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Eps. 12-14 (Spoilers)

“Choirs of Angels”:  The aliens go into the recording business!  We see a trio of aliens (including CSI‘s Alex Carter) recording a subliminal “trust us” chant around a microphone.  They then barge into the studio of musician Billy Carlos — actually the show’s composer, rock musician Billy Thorpe, playing a roman a clef of himself.  And playing an alternate arrangement of the show’s end title theme, actually the one piece of music from this show that I like.  It’s a brief cameo, for Thorpe/Carlos quickly meets his end at an alien’s hand, and they then embed the subliminal message in his not-yet-released new album.

But this isn’t for general release; they’re hoping to snag a particular scientist to help devise a vaccine against Earth bacteria.  And as usual, their target just happens to be connected to our heroes — Dr. Von Deer (Jan Rubes), an old teacher of Suzanne’s that she comes to for help with her alien research, a month after the previous scenes.  He’s playing the Billy Carlos tape nonstop (CDs were common by then but cassette tapes were still popular) and is caught up with his own project, barely remembering his promise to help Suzanne.  Harrison is also a Carlos fan (though Suzanne can’t stand the music), and Von Deer gives him a spare copy of the tape.  Uh-ohs!  Harrison drives off while Suzanne stays for the weekend.

Soon, Suzanne discovers that Von Deer has a trio of sneaky associates, while Harrison gets hooked on the music and its “The Travelers are your friends” message and becomes convinced that the poor widdle aliens only attacked Earth in self-defense after they saw all our scary nuclear bombs and pollution and stuff (conveniently forgetting the first strike force at Grover’s Mill in 1938), weirding out Ironhorse and Norton, though the latter decides it’s just one of Harrison’s practical jokes.  And the same two pieces of music get played over and over again, the end title theme and a very similar one (or maybe just a different portion of the extended version of the end title?).

The alien trio apparently camps out in the back seat of a limo for two days straight while Suzanne pieces things together and confronts Von Deer about the work he’s doing for the aliens.  He tells her the aliens are our friends and the truth is in the music, and that the flask she’s holding contains the key to the future.  She’s mollified by his words and agrees to cooperate.  Oh noes!  Has the evil subliminal masking taken over her mind too?  No, she’s just playing along until she can lock him in the storeroom.   Meanwhile, Ironhorse and Norton catch on that Harrison’s hooked, and Norton takes the tape to analyze while Paul shepherds Harrison through withdrawal (kind of a nice scene character-wise, though the dialogue writing isn’t too hot).

Suzanne figures out that Von Deer’s devised a vaccine against Earth’s bacteria.  And he must be incredibly brilliant to have devised one vaccine that can work against every species of bacteria in the world.  I really don’t think you can even use the word “vaccine” for something that broad-based.  For that matter, I’m not sure how the whole disease-vulnerability thing works.  I thought it was the radiation that protected them, but does being inside human bodies give them protection too?  That seems to be the reason they have to “wear” human form outside their cavern, though we have seen them going “naked” outdoors for brief periods.  Maybe they’re drawing on the human immune system for protection, though if anything, given how full our own bodies are of bacteria of all sorts, I’d think that the interior of a human body would be an even more toxic environment to the aliens than the outside world.

Eventually Harrison’s all better and he and Ironhorse rush to Suze’s rescue after she tells them about the vaccine.  But the aliens are calling in to check up on Von Deer, and there are some fear/suspense beats that would never work in this age of ubiquitous caller ID, with Suzanne afraid to answer the phone, unsure whether it’s Norton or the aliens calling.  Eventually the aliens get tired of waiting and break into the lab, and Suzanne has the music blaring and pretends to be hooked.  She says she’s been helping the exhausted Von Deer finish the vaccine, and hands it to them, convincing them she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.  They debate whether to kill her or take over her body (same thing as far as she’s concerned).  But when our heroes arrive, they find her still dancing to the music.  Is she hooked?  No, she was wearing earplugs.  The aliens left her alive for no reason beyond main-character immunity.  And she contaminated the vaccine with an undetectable trace of ammonia, which the aliens are severely allergic to.  The featured trio of aliens gets the first doses and spend an inordinately long time dying horribly and decaying before the episode finally ends and we hear the “Love Theme from War of the Worlds” (or whatever the heck it’s called) one last time over the end credits.

Not a particularly bad one, but I didn’t find the dialogue writing very good.  And the premise had flaws.  If the aliens have such a powerful technology for addicting and mind-controlling humans with subliminal embeds, why use it only to co-opt one scientist?  Why not use it on the whole world?

Then again, the dreadful second season will rehash the subliminal-brainwashing gimmick twice.  I won’t be rewatching that season, so I’ll mention them here.  The first involved music again, I think, and the message was designed to make people violent or something; it was about as unmemorable and unpleasant as most of the first half of season 2.  The final one was interesting in that the subliminal message (also designed to make people violent) was embedded in a perfume commercial that was just about the raciest thing ever seen on broadcast television at the time, featuring levels of nudity and implied sex on a par with what the supposedly groundbreaking NYPD Blue started doing three years later.  In fact, my local station wouldn’t even broadcast the episode.  It wasn’t until I managed to catch it over the air from Dayton, 50 miles away with a faint, staticky picture, that I saw the racy content and realized why it was banned in Cincinnati.  As awful as season 2 was, I’ve always kind of admired that episode’s daring.

But the music was better in this one.

“Dust to Dust”: On a Native American reservation, a tribal shaman, Joseph (Ivan Naranjo, who was the voice of Tonto on Filmation’s 1980 Lone Ranger series), is taking his son to commune with the spirits, while a grave robber, Newport (R.D. Reid), desecrates a burial mound nearby.  He finds a headdress with a large tetrahedral crystal in it, one that makes a drumming/chanting sound when he puts it on.  Joseph has a narrower but similar crystal on top of his staff (obviously this is alien tech), and he can use it to control the weather, summon lightning, and turn into a bear, or at least project the illusion of a bear’s head in the middle of a vast whirlwind.  The son recites his rather unimpressive list of accomplishments (including “I’ve been to college” and “I feel good about who I am”), but apparently the ancestors are not in a receptive mood, perhaps because of the jerk stealing their stuff nearby.

For some reason, the Blackwood Brigade is watching the news conference as Newport announces his find (and somehow Norton’s got a live streaming video window on a 1989 computer).  Ironhorse is outraged at the desecration and Harrison agrees, but Suzanne’s noticed the crystal.  Norton is somehow able to analyze the crystal just from a low-resolution video frame capture and determine it was machined by technology beyond our own, so the others go to investigate.  Meanwhile, the Advocates watch the same news footage and recognize the crystal as the starter for a warship (though apparently it doubles as an MP3 player).

Newport is trying to sell the artifacts over the phone ( it turns out the chanting isn’t in his head, since others can hear it) when Shaman Joseph teleports in (apparently) and says he’ll die if he doesn’t return them.  Not that Joseph will kill him, just that death will come to him.  But Newport doesn’t take it that way and calls the cops.  Joseph disappears, but when next we see him, he’s somehow in police custody.  Harrison and Ironhorse confront Newport, not bothering to show any official ID or anything, so he dismisses them as crackpots and threatens to have them arrested like “the old Indian.”  They go bail out Joseph, and Paul drives him home to the reservation.  Meanwhile, aliens body-snatch some Indian Affairs agents and go kill Newport and take the crystal, just before Harrison and Suzanne show up to talk to him again.  They pass at the elevator, and Harrison gives them a look that suggests maybe he’s thinking what I was thinking by this point in the season — that they need to start being suspicious of people travelling in threes.  Anyway, they find Newport dead and the crystal gone.

At the reservation, Joseph goes off to do mysterious stuff and Paul hits it off with Joseph’s hot daughter Grace (Robin Sewell).  They talk for about five minutes before getting to the “We come from different worlds, it would never work, we shouldn’t even try, so let’s make out now” routine.  Although it is a good opportunity to learn more about Paul: He’s Cherokee, he was raised to be ashamed of his heritage, but he learned later to take pride in it.  And he has no comeback when Grace points out that Paul shares his West Point alma mater with General Custer.

Eventually, Joseph pops up out of nowhere and tells Paul to come with him, summoning a bit of lightning to convince him.  They go off on the same spirit quest that Joseph’s son flunked, and Joseph says that the spirits approve of Paul as if he were one of their own tribe, which Paul is honored by.  (I don’t quite remember the name of the tribe, but it might have been fictional; it was something like “Westeskewin,” and there’s a city in Alberta called Wetaskiwin, but I don’t think that was it.)  He says his people were visited by beings from beyond “before white man’s time,” which would mean the aliens have been visiting Earth for centuries, but this is never explored.  While Harrison and Suzanne hook up with Joseph’s kids and go to find him, and the aliens use the starter crystal to track their ship, Joseph begins chanting — and continues to do so through everything that follows, as the aliens arrive and point guns at them, and the wind summoned by Joseph blows away the dirt covering the alien warship (why now?).  The Advocates are thrilled that the warship works, apparently convinced that they can conquer the whole world with just a single centuries-old ship, and they tell their scouts not to kill Ironhorse and Joseph, but to let them live and spread terror to demoralize the populace (come on, are you kidding me???).  So the aliens go inside the ship just as Harrison and the others arrive.  Suzanne goes back to the car to warn the authorities what’s happening — but the rest just kind of stand there and watch (and Joseph chants) as the ship activates and rises up.

Now, the ship is seriously one of the coolest things in this entire series.  It’s based on the aesthetics of the familiar war machines, but with the heat-ray lens in the nose rather than a gooseneck — and best of all, it’s got tripod legs like the war machines in the original novel!  That’s a nifty homage, and the miniature effects are actually handled pretty well considering this show’s puny budget.  (Although for what it’s worth, the movie war machines were “walkers” of a sort, with the filmmakers substituting mostly-invisible force rays for the legs.)

So anyway, the heat ray lights up and makes the familiar rattlesnake scanning sound and then the voom-voom-voom sound that heralds imminent death and destruction, and nobody bothers to try running or anything; but Joseph finally stops screwing around and calls down a few lightning strikes, then sucks the warship into a whirlwind (bear not included) and blows it up.  Afterward, Harrison realizes the crystal in Joseph’s staff must be powerful alien tech, and is thrilled when Joseph just hands it to him — but he reveals to his son afterward that he gave Harrison a fake.  That’ll teach ’em to pay for Manhattan in beads!

Basically it’s your usual “the aliens visited Native Americans and gave them Sufficiently Advanced Technology” plotline that shows up in a lot of sci-fi shows (Smallville springs to mind), and it raises similar problems that are never addressed.  Although I guess it’s not entirely implausible that the aliens could’ve surveyed our world centuries before the imminent destruction of their own world prompted them to invade ours.  That could be how they knew about Earth in the first place.  (Perhpas you could even say that they “regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”)  Still, the power demonstrated by Joseph’s crystal is beyond anything the aliens have possessed either in the movie or the series.  On the other hand, Joseph had no problem with the idea that the aliens who took the ship were enemies of his spirits; maybe his crystal came from different aliens, enemies of the Mor-Taxians?  This might be worth keeping in mind once we get to the season finale.

“He Feedeth Among the Lilies”: After ransacking a hospital OR for some reason (and quietly enough that the hospital staff doesn’t discover it until they wheel an emergency patient in), we see the aliens experimenting on a strapped-down human in their cavern, but he “spoils” too fast in the radiation.  They need a better way to plumb the secrets of the human immune system.  We cut to Team Blackwood interviewing people with alien-abduction stories, which all seem to be real and describe the aliens accurately (though one interviewee amusingly describes them as a cross between a giant frog and a big, slimy walnut).  You’d think there’d be at least some crackpots in the mix.  Anyway, one of the interviewees is a hot blonde, Karen (Cynthia Belliveau), whom Harrison wastes no time getting flirty with, rubbing her shoulders as part of a “relaxation technique” (yeah, sure, I didn’t see you trying that with the old married couple).  She only remembers jogging and waking up ten hours later, and has been to a variety of doctors and therapists before getting shuttled here.

Ironhorse argues that they’d be better off interviewing veterans of the ’53 invasion to find more alien disposal sites — probably the best idea anyone in Team Blackwood has had in half a season, but we’ll hear no more about it.  Instead, Harrison’s getting swiftly and mutually romantic with Karen, which is just creepy.  He pays lip service to it being a bad idea to get involved when she’s turning to him for help, but he doesn’t resist very hard.  Come on, man!  Whether she seems to want it or not, you’re still taking advantage of her vulnerable state and an unequal power dynamic!  It gets even creepier when he has Suzanne give her a psych evaluation (like all biochemists are trained to do, right?), and as soon as Suze springs “alien” on her in a word-association test, Karen fires back “rape” and has an emotional breakdown.  After that, it’s completely intolerable that she and Harrison end up in bed together — and the next morning she has an alien-rape dream while still in bed with him.  And any talk about whether Harrison’s doing the wrong thing is already forgotten, and his teammates seem perfectly fine with it beyond a little ribbing.  This is disgusting.

Meanwhile, the aliens have stolen an ambulance (and its drivers’ bodies) as a mobile operating platform for their tests, and there’s a weird sequence where the ambulance pulls over a motorist (well, he pulled over to the curb as it went by, as you should, but it felt oddly like a police pullover) and the aliens grab him.  It’s a cameo appearance by Julian Richings, a cadaverous-featured character actor who’s been in many Canadian-made shows (including appearances as Death in Supernatural), and who will have a regular role in season 2 of WotW as the chief alien scientist.  Anyway, the aliens are later shown implanting a device into their captive and expositing to each other that they’ll come back and “harvest” him in six months.  Which does clear up my earlier confusion about the timing of when the abductions started vs. when things were happening in the cave and the ambulance.  I guess what we saw in the cave was one of the harvestings.

So you can probably see where this is going.  Harrison has Suzanne hypnotize Karen (like all biochemists are trained to do, right?) and regress her memory, and she describes the aliens attacking her and inserting an instrument into her body.  For whatever reason, Suze has her forget the details of the session, and then Harrison fills her in later — claiming that she described details that we didn’t actually hear her say.  She’s initially disbelieving about the aliens, but is reminded (distastefully) of her “alien/rape” association from before (and you still aren’t seeing why this relationship is a problem, Blackwood?!)  Harrison shows some restraint and actually doesn’t spend the night with her again, but only because he’s caught up in his work and goes to talk to the team about getting her medically examined for possible alien implants.  But by coincidence, it’s been six months that very night!  She calls Harrison about having “a bad night” and he rushes over, but then the alien implant kicks in and she’s compelled to walk out to the curb, unable to talk to anyone or ask for help.  Harrison pulls over to let the wailing ambulance go by, and the aliens pick her up and take her away just before Harrison comes into visual range.  He parks and rushes into Karen’s building… and then the scene freeze-frames and we just get his voiceover saying “I have no proof, but in my heart I know the aliens have Karen McKinney.”  Which is one hell of an abrupt ending for the episode.

Oh-h-h, this was just ill-conceived.  Even leaving aside the gross violations of professional and personal ethics, the whole alien-abductions thing was a bit weird.  The attempt to explain all alien-abduction tales in terms of the Mor-Taxians’ experiments is odd, since they’ve only been active for about a year at this point in-story, but alleged abduction experiences go back decades.  (More like millennia, probably, since they’re rooted in neurological causes — night terrors, magnetic fields or subsonics affecting the mind, that sort of thing — but in the past they would’ve been attributed to spirits or demons rather than aliens.)  I think it was a bad idea to try to graft “real” alien mythology onto the WotW aliens.  If anything, even if we accept that the details of the ’53 invasion were repressed or forgotten, it’s likely that people worldwide would have dreams and visions and recovered memories about these aliens, and their image would be the dominant pop-culture image of aliens rather than the “Greys.”  This show really suffered from failing to explore the consequences the ’53 invasion should’ve had on the world.

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Eps. 9-11 (Spoilers)

“The Good Samaritan”: Another obvious pseudonym for the writing credit, “Sylvia Clayton.”  Which is odd, since this is the first remotely decent episode in a few weeks.  However, it takes nearly a fifth of the episode before the good guys show up.  Instead, we learn that the aliens are developing a deadly toxin, which they test by taking over a restaurant and serving it in the chicken soup (proving that they have a sense of irony).  They’re still looking for a wider delivery system, though.  There’s a completely pointless bit with a young coed in bondage, with the alien scientist explaining that his researchers have been waiting for a live human subject for dissection.  Whatever happened to that cage full of live human captives they had last week?  I guess they took my suggestion to pretend that episode never happened.  Anyway, the coed is dragged off and never mentioned again.

We spend most of the first act getting to know Marcus Madison Mason (Alex Cord), a corporate magnate who’s developed a “Feed the World” supergrain, claiming it’s for humanitarian purposes but telling his board of directors that he intends to make the world pay through the nose for it.  His board includes the Chairman of OCP (RoboCop: The Series‘s David Gardner) and perennial Canadian character actor Barry Flatman, who was the voice of Henry Gyrich in the ’90s X-Men animated series, the US President in Earth: Final Conflict, and the corrupt senator father of Tamara Craig Thomas’s character in Odyssey 5.  We also briefly meet Mason’s wife, but spend more time getting to know the two blondes he’s having separate affairs with — his secretary Teri and some other blonde whose identity is never established as far as I recall.

Eventually, finally, we visit our heroes at the Cottage and learn that Suzanne is struggling to develop a radiation-resistant bacterium to kill the aliens.  Biological warfare, how heroic!   But guess what, Mason’s grain is all over the news, and among all its other remarkable properties, it’s radiation-resistant (which the cynical Mason later explains is to ensure it’s still viable after the inevitable nuclear war).  So Suzanne arranges to meet with Mason, though he’s clearly more interested in getting into her pants than sharing his secret process.  Ironhorse is oddly, almost sophomorically interested in whether this makes Harrison jealous, but there are some nice moments of banter and chemistry among the three.

Naturally, the aliens also latch onto the news of Mason’s grain, seeing it as a much better method for widespread toxin delivery than restaurant soup.  So they possess his paramour (the non-secretary one) and then get to him through her.  The now-alien Mason comes in with new “advisors” and begins issuing strange orders, saying he’ll give away the grain for free and having his “team” spray it with the toxin over the scientists’ protests.  Amusingly, one of the signs that he’s not himself is that he doesn’t cancel dinner with his wife.  He also shows no interest when Suzanne (at Ironhorse’s prompting) tries to seduce him into giving her a sample of grain, making her think she’s lost her touch (which I can attest she definitely hasn’t); but she does manage to steal a sample somehow.  While she’s testing it, her daughter Debi lets her lab mouse (which is only there “for appearances,” whatever that means) out of its cage and he becomes the designated tribble, dying from the poisoned grain and alerting the heroes to the risk.  Suzanne tries calling Mason, and the jealous secre-Teri gives her the brushoff until Suze tells her the grain is tainted.  Teri rushes to one of the freighters about to ship out the grain and warns Mason, but she just ends up getting, err, alienated.  So much for that character arc.  (The problem with horror is that “and then she dies” isn’t really much of a resolution.  A lot of the time it just feels like a waste of effort to develop a character who’s just going to be randomly killed/zombified anyway.)

Ironhorse is all “Yes, it’s terrible, but it’s not aliens so we can’t warn anyone and risk exposing ourselves,” to which Harrison naturally objects; but then Norton conveniently triangulates an alien transmission to Mason’s freighter, rendering the argument moot.  Harrison and Ironhorse go out to the ship as government inspectors and try to stall until reinforcements arrive, and they get stalked by aliens in the engine room and manage to outfight them.  They chase the Mason alien to the deck, with Harrison saying they need him alive for some unspecified reason, and he hurls himself into the water far below, presumably fatally, to escape them.  We hear that all the ships have been stopped in time.  So for once the heroes have managed to score a victory, though secre-Teri and the other aliens tell the Advocates that it’s only a matter of time before they find another way to distribute the toxin.  I wonder if we’ll ever hear about that plot point again.  (Spoiler: No, we won’t.)

“Epiphany”: Oh, for… they’re not even trying now; this script is credited to “Sylvia Van Buren.”  Why so many pseudonymous scripts?  I wonder if it had something to do with this being a Canadian show, and thus having a quota for the number of Canadians participating.  I remember that on Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, de facto producers like Zack Stentz & Ashley Miller had to be credited as “consultants” because they were American.  Maybe something similar was going on here, and the writers got around the limits by using pseudonyms.  (Maybe a better analogy for that is Gene L. Coon writing for Star Trek‘s third season as “Lee Cronin” because he’d made an exclusive arrangement with another production company but still had to discharge some lingering commitments to ST.)

Anyway, after observing some scenes of people being mean to each other and letting muggers get away and such, the aliens conclude that there’s better than a 96% chance we’ll destroy ourselves with nuclear war.  (As seen in the previous episode, this was actually a common belief during the Cold War, that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable armageddon.)  But they still want to give us a push over the edge, so they steal some plutonium from a surprisingly poorly guarded nuclear power plant and build a nuclear bomb with which they plan to blow up a US-Soviet disarmament event (which Ironhorse is all upset about while his three hippie liberal scientist colleagues are all grinning).  This plan is masterminded by the same alien commander from last week, who’s apparently abandoned the whole biotoxin thing, but hey, at least they’re stepping up their game to something genuinely cataclysmic.  The commander literally stakes his life on the success of this plan.

Naturally, since there’s only one place in the world, the conference is taking place very near the Cottage, and Harrison gets a call from a visiting Russian “nucular” physicist, Katya (Deborah Wakeham), an old flame who wants to meet him.  He slips out, but Ironhorse follows and takes pictures, and then sees Katya’s KGB handler — a slumming Patrick Macnee! — taking pictures of her.  Ironhorse and Ivan Steedovich take pictures of each other taking pictures of each other, during which Harrison and Katya slip away — only to show up back at the Cottage since Katya wants to defect and Harrison couldn’t think of another place to take her than the most super-secret operation in the entire country.  (I was going to say “highest-security,” but from the evidence here, a public library has better security than this joint.)  Ironhorse meets with Macnee and they agree a defection is too sensitive with the disarmament thingy going on.

Meanwhile, the aliens park the nuke in an RV near the conference site, reporting that they expect 10 million casualties.  (“Is that all?” the female Advocate gripes.)  Apparently this is a full-fledged nuke rather than just a dirty bomb, leading me to wonder why a power plant would have weapons-grade plutonium on hand.  They abandon the RV, but an impossibly adorable little girl gives them an adorable lecture on the importance of feeding parking meters.  One of the aliens has taken over a cop and claims to be ticket-immune, but the moppet points out that Mommy says even the police should follow the same laws as everyone else (a principle I’ve seen some police-car drivers fail to remember), so in a cute-creepy moment, the evil alien cop picks up the girl and lets her feed the meter before leaving her to imminent immolation in nuclear hellfire.

Except the explosion’s timed to go off when the conference starts, so there’s plenty of time for the RV to accumulate three parking tickets and to be flagged as a stolen vehicle, whereupon the bomb is discovered.  Lousy planning on the aliens’ part.  Why not wait to plant the bomb?  It’s not like they needed to get clear before the blast; the alien cop (David Ferry, who looks a bit like Mark Hamill) actually hangs around near the RV the whole time, so it’s clearly a suicide mission.  Anyway, Harrison and Ironhorse are arguing about Katya’s defection when they find out about the bomb.  Katya’s upset that the team knew something like this would happen and didn’t tell anyone, but Harrison finally lets her in on their secret behind Ironhorse’s back, rationalizing that she can help them by leading the fight against the aliens back in the USSR.  Anyway, Katya convinces Ironhorse that her expertise building newkyuler bombs will let her disarm this one, so they and Harrison go out to the bomb site and we get the standard “Cut that wire–wait! It’s that wire instead!” routine, and they disarm the bomb and everyone’s happy.  The alien cop is still there, just standing around and having done absolutely nothing to interfere with the disarming process.  Why was he willing to sacrifice his life again?

So now that Katya’s a hero, Ironhorse tells her the government’s approved her defection, but she goes back to Russia to fight aliens instead.  The failed Commander makes penance by throwing himself into the Bottomless Pit of Horrendously Cheap Video Effects, and the Mark Hamillesque cop is appointed the new commander, although the actor won’t be seen again in this role (he returns in season 2 as a different character).

This was at least a fairly coherent episode (mostly), but it wasn’t as much fun as the previous one.  Wakeham’s Katya isn’t particularly appealing, and Patrick Macnee is largely wasted, though he does a fairly good job with what he has.

“Among the Philistines”:  We open with alien truckers passing an accident site that slows them down — and it turns out that for once it’s the good guys who are mounting a stratagem, having staged the accident scene to detain the aliens with a large military strike team.  Harrison insists on taking them alive for questioning, but the three aliens somehow kill themselves by thumping their chests.  When informed that their drivers are dead, the female advocate says, “At least we’re doing something right.”  They were meant to be lost!

Turns out the team was tipped off by a scientist studying dolphin communication, Adrian Bouchard — who’s played by Cedric Smith, the voice of Professor X from the ’90s X-Men series.  Meeting them in a safe house, he says he picked up alien transmissions on his ham radio and correlated them to various “terrorist” attacks, and has used his dolphin-translating computer to make some headway cracking the code.  Our gang clues him in that the transmissions are from alien invaders (he evidences no awareness of the ’53 invasion, but he accepts this right away).  And here it becomes evident that this episode was aired out of sequence, because the characters have access to knowledge they won’t gain until “The Prodigal Son,” which aired four episodes later: that the aliens are from a planet called Mor-Tax and have a massive invasion fleet coming in four years’ time.  We’re also told that the team has been fighting the aliens for over a year, even though we’re only around the middle of the first season.

The team invites Professor X to help translate the alien signals, but the safe house’s computer overloads, and he has a hissy fit when he learns they have a supercomputer back at home base but wouldn’t let him use it.  But his clean-as-a-whistle security clearance has finally come through, so they convince him to come to the Cottage.  Whereupon Debi has conveniently gotten a new dog whose only reason to be there is to bark uncontrollably at Adrian and tip off the audience that he’s Not What He Seems.

The characters aren’t genre-savvy enough to get suspicious, though, and they all have a love-fest over Adrian — particularly Suzanne, who’s clearly attracted.  And they don’t get worried when the dog disappears.  (At this point I was futilely hoping that the obvious clues were a red herring and that it would turn out the dog was the alien spy.)   But speaking of genre-savviness, when they included a scene of Norton (and his wheelchair Gertrude) quarterstaff-fighting with Ironhorse and kicking his tail (with an iron-cored staff), it was obvious that was the Chekhov’s Gun for the week.

Adrian decodes a transmission about an upcoming theft of chemical-weapon ingredients, so the team goes out to intercept them, leaving Adrian alone with Norton, Debi, and the 2-person Cottage staff.  And we get confirmation that Adrian is an alien when we see him shirtless in his room — and how convenient that his body’s decay is confined to the areas covered by clothing.  (Also, you’d think they could smell the decay on him.)

So a trusting Norton leaves Professor X alone with his computers, and then Debi comes down to the lab and Adrian entices her with a video of his dolphins, recognizing her potential hostage value.  The strike team reports that a whole bunch of aliens is lying in wait for them, so Harrison and the others figure out Adrian set them up.  Back at the Cottage, the groundskeeper Kensington discovers the dog dead in a closet and alerts Norton, who independently figures out Adrian’s an alien and has Kensington cut the phone lines so he can’t send their vital intel to the enemy.  This gets the guys in the field to come back, but Alien Adrian has activated the security system so Ironhorse has to get in the hard way.  Meanwhile, Kensington grabs a shotgun while Norton goes down to retrieve Debi, who’s more interested in dolphins than the bowl of soup he tries to entice her with.  Eventually Norton gets it through her thick skull that she’s in danger and needs to get out, but Adrialien catches on and Norton has to stay behind to ensure Debi gets away.  Norton wheels for cover, and Kensington — an accomplished combat veteran, as we were told back in episode 2 — comes down to confront Adrian, fires at point-blank range with his shotgun, and somehow only manages to graze Adrian’s shoulder.  He gets strangled for his trouble.  Adrian comes after Norton, thinking he’ll be easy prey, but Norton and Gertrude hold their own, and even being thrown from his chair doesn’t stop Norton, who manages to defeat Adrian with help from the power lines, his iron-cored staff, and Gertrude’s voice controls.

So the day is saved, but the cast mourns the fallen Kensington, and the episode closes on his funeral with still shots of his face projected over the gloaming sky.  Which was a really nice idea, not going the redshirt route but having the characters actually face the loss — or at least, it would’ve been if we’d actually seen Kensington at any time since episode 2 and had any reason to care about it as much as the episode asked us to.

For once, the writer is credited by his real name; it’s Patrick Barry, who the year before had written “Angel One,” one of the most-hated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  But this one is actually a pretty decent episode, one of the better ones I’ve seen so far.

Oh, and while Adrian and Norton are decoding the alien signals, we see a computer screen graphic that gives us a spelling for the alien-language salute that translates as “To life immortal.”  It’s rendered as “TOO DOE NAKOTAE.”

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WAR OF THE WORLDS Reviews: Eps. 6-8 (Spoilers)

“The Second Seal”: The low budget is showing.  Norton’s discovery of the location of Dr. Clayton Forrester’s buried files and captured alien materials leads to an episode set mostly in a dingy underground government vault.  The general in charge is played by none other than Mission: Impossible stalwart Greg Morris, who’s largely wasted here; his character’s only personality trait is sexism, and he’s taken over by an alien in the first act.  Harrison and Suzanne spend most of the episode scrounging around in the vaults, with Norton back in the lab tracking down vault numbers over the phone and Ironhorse off at the banquet that general Greg Morris was supposed to attend before he was zombified.  Much of the episode’s running time is wasted on H & S finding a pyramidal alien crystal that basically gets them stoned, making Harrison hyper-aggressive and Suzanne hyper-sexual, because she’s a woman and this was 1988 so of course she was.  (Not that it wasn’t fun to watch, though.  She was very hot.)  More time is wasted on a mousy lieutenant with an unrequited crush on her hunky superior officer, which lets the alien who zombifies him use her to get past the voice sensor and into the vaults.

This is the second episode in a row where the aliens just happen to be going somewhere at the exact same time that the heroes develop an interest in it.  Either the aliens have intercepted the team’s communications, or the writing is just very contrived.  I vote B.

Anyway, there’s some mildly fun stuff as Zombie Greg Morris and his zombie soldiers raid the warehouse while hyperaggressive Harrison and wacky Suzanne hide from them, and it turns out, conveniently, that the feelgood crystal also makes a handy makeshift weapon when attached to a flashlight.  Zombie Greg Morris finds an alien weapon of his own, a V-shaped hand weapon that fires miniature versions of the green disintegrator bolts from the ’53 movie.  It turns out the aliens are searching for a file listing dump sites for 10,000 more dormant aliens — and hey, the officer who finds the file is played by James Kidnie, who six years later would play recurring baddie Pudface Morgan in RoboCop: The Series.  I thought he looked familiar.  Anyway, the aliens plan to blow the place up and rather foolishly set the timers on the charges before they’ve secured their exit, so Harrison & Suzanne manage to trap them down there when the bombs go off, retrieving the file first.  Meanwhile, Ironhorse has been alerted and launches a one-man raid against the alien guards up top, including a desk guard who shoots first but whose aim is worse than Special Edition Greedo’s.  The three are reunited and are pleased to have retrieved the list, but Alien Pudface has climbed up the elevator shaft and snatches the list.  Ironhorse shoots him just as he’s going around a corner, but the list is gone, suggesting it may have fallen into alien hands (what?  Was there someone waiting around the corner?).  It doesn’t make much sense, but apparently you’re not allowed to have happy endings in horror stories.

“Goliath is My Name”: Whee, more undeground tunnels.  This week they’re under a university (allegedly in Ohio, though it doesn’t seem far from the aliens’ Nevada cavern base), where a group of aliens disguised as college students (inexplicably dressed as Blues Brothers, complete with a leitmotif combining a stop time blues riff with the ominous downward glissando that represents the aliens musically) are searching for Y fever, a deadly bioweapon that a group at the university was developing for the US military.  Also in the tunnels are a group of college students playing “Aliens and Asteroids,” which is supposed to be some sort of D&D-type thing, but is more of a cross between Live-Action Role Playing and Lazer Tag (plus there are hot girls playing the game alongside the nerds).  One of the students randomly stumbles across one of the alien Blues Brothers, “shoots” him, and gets killed for his trouble.  And here’s where the enormous coincidences kick in even more than in the past.  Not only did this randomly killed student just happen to be a former participant in the very bioweapon program the aliens are searching for, but he worked on that program with Suzanne McCullough before she joined Blackwood’s team.  So Suzanne gets word that her friend is missing, and Harrison goes with her to investigate, with Ironhorse tagging along to ride herd on them, thinking it’s a distraction from their alien hunt.

Anyway, the aliens keep wandering around the tunnels fruitlessly because their spies were lousy mapmakers, but then one of the LARPers, a big strong jock (yeah, because we know that jocks, like hot coeds, just love to play RPGs along with the nerds), gets possessed by an alien, and somehow he knows just where the secret biotoxin lab is (the aliens get the memories of the people they possess).  He steals the vials but klutzily drops one, and the exposure to the toxin “mutates” him, so that he runs off and hooks back up with the LARPers, believing the game is real and going at it with the homicidal ruthlessness of his species — and clutching two glass vials of deadly toxin in his beefy hands the whole time yet somehow not breaking them.  Eventually Team Blackwood gloms onto what’s happening (and of course the college nerds’ computer encryption is harder for Norton to hack than the Pentagon’s), and somehow Harrison is able to make such a huge intuitive leap to figure out this ridiculous chain of circumstances that even Ironhorse points out he’s got no evidence.  Luckily, Harrison played Aliens & Asteroids when he was in college (he was a Planet Master), and apparently A&A is far more constrained in its gaming scenarios than D&D, since Harrison knows exactly how to fit himself into the scenario the jock alien is following and get the alien to chase him across campus where they lock him in the biohazard vault and Suzanne sucks out the air — and of course, this being a grossout horror show, vacuum has the same effect on the human body that it does in Total Recall.

Oh, and did I mention the part where Ironhorse machine-guns a bunch of aliens and only afterward checks to make sure they weren’t carrying the glass vials full of horrendously lethal brain-melting virus?  Which I suppose isn’t much worse than Harrison leading the jock alien in an outdoors chase across campus while he’s holding those vials in his hands.

So basically what I’m saying is that this episode is stupid.  The fact that it’s an attempt to depict gaming culture by a writer who knew nothing about gaming is far from the worst of its problems.  It’s increasingly looking like my fond memories of this show’s first season were very, very selective.  Now that I think about it, there was a lot I wasn’t crazy about at the time, a lot that I found problematical.  But I didn’t remember it having quite this many bad episodes or production values that were quite this cheap.

“To Heal the Leper”: Oh… dear… lord.  Remember what I just said about the last episode being stupid?  At least it had some semblance of a coherent plot and in-universe logic.  This… this… aiigghhh.

Okay.  So let’s see if I can describe this mess in a remotely coherent way.  Apparently one of the three Advocates went out for, I dunno, pizza or a movie or something, and caught a virus that’s killing it.  And apparently with one Advocate down, the other two are suddenly too stupid to think clearly, and they fear that without them, the whole invasion force will be directionless.  Indeed, Norton notices that the aliens’ transmissions have become random — so, losing just one of the leaders means that not one alien anywhere can think or act coherently?  (Well, the aliens do constantly tell the Advocates “We are nothing without your counsel,” and maybe it isn’t just toadying.)  Anyway, it seems to be catching, since Team Blackwood’s dialogue as they discuss this issue is equally incoherent and random.

So anyway, the aliens’ plan to fix this involves stealing a bunch of brains from a morgue (including the one the attendant is still using), and rigging a makeshift electrical still to brew up some kind of curative brain juice.  But it’s not working, so the Advocates take over the bodies of three of the human prisoners they just happen to have sitting around — even though it was established in episode 2 that the Advocates were unable to leave their host bodies because of the radiation damage!  And they go out in search of fresher brains, since evidently the scriptwriter’s wasn’t good enough for them.

Anyway, once the Advocates go walkies, all alien transmissions cease — and once again, Ironhorse, the military guy whose job it is to be alert to any possible threat, instantly jumps to the conclusion that the threat is ended and they can all go home now.  But Harrison is deep in cliched B-movie scientist mode, angrily insisting the monsters are real when nobody believes him (sheesh, how many times have we gotta go through this?), and is more irritable and isolated from the others than ever.  On the other hand, Sylvia Van Buren has suddenly recovered from her decades-long mental illness because the aliens have stopped transmitting, and she’s eager to get back out into the—

Hold on.  Let’s think this through.  The aliens were in deep hibernation for 35 years.  They only woke up and started transmitting again a few months ago.  Sylvia’s mental illness was the result of her clairvoyant abilities somehow induced by years of working with alien technology and remains, and has been ongoing for many years.  The alien transmissions didn’t cause her mental illness, so there’s no reason their cessation would suddenly cure her.

Anyway, after Sylvia confirms Ironhorse’s ostrichlike conviction that the aliens are gone, Harrison isn’t mollified in the least, because it’s the scientist-hero’s job to be the doomsayer.  A newspaper headline about the mass cerebrectomy at the morgue conveniently supports his belief, so he and Ironhorse rush to the scene and contend with the most horrendously overacted homicide detective in recent memory.  (There is a mildly amusing exchange here.  Clueless overacting detective:  “What would you do with all those brains?”  Gilliganesque police officer: “Make detective, sir.”)  After some more obligatory Harrison weirdness, he deduces that the theft must’ve been done by the aliens rather than cultists or cannibals or something, because they left behind the diseased brains (no Abby Normal for them).

So the sick Advocate is getting sicker, which for some reason causes her host body to age.  The Advocates find fresh brains at, of all places, a hair salon, which is prophetically named “You’re Out of Your Mind.”  (“How about a little off the top?” says the alien with the bone saw.)  Then they go to the local power plant to energize their brain-still.  Harrison is off on his own, clueless; somehow investigating the hair salon massacre leaves him doubting alien involvement.  There’s an interminable sequence of the aliens setting up their still and dumping the brains in; I fast-forwarded through much of it.   But as soon as the aliens turn on the brain-still, Sylvia screams and goes crazy again.  Suzanne and Ironhorse rush to her side, and find she’s drawn a symbol on the wall resembling two lightning bolts in a triangle (so they say, though it looks like an SS insignia to me).  They call Harrison and tell him about it, and of all the places he could happen to be, he’s directly next to the power-plant sign with their Nazi lightning bolt insignia.  (Deductive reasoning?  Who needs it?  We’ll just drop the answer in his lap.)  And this is despite saying on the phone that he’s at the hair salon!  For some reason, even though he’s figured out where the aliens are, he just hangs up on his team rather than calling in backup.

So apparently the brain-still takes hours to work, long enough for the guys to get to Sylvia’s institution and back, but the aliens realize they Need More Power! and turn the switches to maximum, blacking out most of the country, apparently.  Norton is playing a video game that goes out and then he manages to call up a display of the power grid despite the power loss — and the window he was playing the game in was already titled “Power Grid Schematic” before he had any reason to check the power grid!  Wasn’t anybody in the production paying attention to anything this week?

So Harrison watches as the brain-still drips its sweet, sweet brain juice into the sick Advocate’s mouth, and she de-ages, sits up in front of a rock-concert laser light display (which changes appearance over the act break), and preens.  Harrison accidentally kicks a wrench and tips them off, and they come after him, though there’s some argument about whether it’s more important to get back to their troops.  Anyway, Harrison barricades himself in a room as the Advocates pound on the door, and he makes a tape recording in case he doesn’t make it.  His last words for those who follow him in the fight: “The aliens can be beaten.  I know that now.”  He knows that because he’s seen them healing one of their own, which means it must’ve fallen prey to some kind of bacteria or virus (what, it couldn’t have had space cancer or something?), so that tells him they’re vulnerable and can be beaten.  So —

Hold on.  Just… hold on.  Umm.  “I know that now?”  That the aliens can be beaten by disease?  Uhh, didn’t we already figure that out 35 years earlier, at the end of the movie?  Doesn’t the opening narration of this show include the phrase “Common bacteria stopped the aliens” every damn week?!  How is this a revelation for Harrison?!  Heck, I think somebody on Harrison’s team mentioned the aliens’ vulnerability to disease earlier in this very episode, though I can’t bring myself to go back and wade through that morass of unconnected bits of dialogue.

Anyway, the door finally bangs open, and it’s Ironhorse and Suzanne; apparently the aliens decided to leave after all.  They left their brain-still behind, and the two scientists share a geekgasm over the supremely elegant alien technology (actually a cheap Lucite pyramid), whose material composition Suzanne is somehow unable to determine just by looking at it, which means it must be some inconceivably advanced alien technology, because obviously there’s no other way it could elude the ability of a microbiologist with no engineering training whatsoever to identify by sight alone.  They’re thrilled by what this technology can teach them about the aliens, but as soon as Harrison touches it, it glows and disintegrates into plastic confetti, freeze frame, the end.  Because of course the heroes of the show can never be allowed to actually succeed at anything.

Can we just pretend this one never happened?  Should be easy enough, since the characters didn’t learn anything they didn’t know 35 bloomin’ years ago, Sylvia’s recovery was short-lived, and the three new Advocate host bodies will never be seen again; the usual radiation suits and Advocate voice actors will be back next week.  Although the three actors who played the new hosts were all people I recognized from later work.  Kim Coates has been all over the place, one of those actors whose faces I recognize but whose names I can’t place.  Paul Boretski was Commander Seth Goddard on the Peter David/Bill Mumy-created Nickelodeon series Space Cases.  And Guylaine St-Onge played another alien invader in the fifth season of Earth: Final Conflict, probably one of the few things in her filmography that rivals this episode for stupidity.   Although for me the most notable guest star was voice actor Len Carlson, who did the voice of an alien doctor.  He was a prominent voice in ’90s animation, with roles including Senator Kelly in X-Men and Mayor Maynot in the Beetlejuice animated series, and he had a featured narrator role in one of my favorite episodes of RoboCop: The Series, “RoboCop vs. Commander Cash.”

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Ep. 3-5 (spoilers)

“Thy Kingdom Come”: This episode, written by Star Trek: The Next Generation staffer Herbert Wright, reintroduces us to Ann Robinson, reprising her role of Sylvia Van Buren from the 1953 War of the Worlds film.  We learn that Sylvia stayed with Clayton Forrester as his assistant studying the aliens, and was Harrison Blackwood’s adopted mother.  Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t treat her well; it’s revealed that some effect of working around alien bodies for so long gave her some kind of EM precognitive powers that let her sense impending earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and alien invasions, yet she was regarded as insane and subjected to shock therapy that pretty much made it a self-fulfilling diagnosis.  Anyway, in her histrionic, rambling way, she lets Harrison and Ironhorse know the aliens are on the move in the Pacific Northwest, and the team is on the road to try to stop them.  (There are no scenes in the Cottage this week, so no awkwardly looped audio, mercifully.)

The aliens are a scouting party tracking down a bunch of dormant aliens the Canadian government dumped in a lake.  The go through several sets of bodies to get there, since alien-possessed human corpses are prone to decay.  First they’re hunters, then they hitch a ride with, of all things, a prison hockey team crossing the border to Canada, and take over some prisoners’ bodies during a rest stop (and the guards are so inept they don’t notice the alien/prisoners smuggling a large silver case onto the bus).  Oddly, they actually maintain their cover to the point of playing in the hockey game, yet their aggression gets out of hand and there are casualties; one alien is killed and the others escape, then taking over a mother, father, and grandmother while their young son (who’s been playing with Galoob ST:TNG action figures) is in the restroom.  They’re oddly nurturing toward the boy, even while acting all alien and uttering the alien catchphrase “To life immortal” (which debuted last week, but here is heard in the alien language for the first time, which sounds like “Tu doe nakotay”).

Meanwhile, our heroes get caught by the Canadian authorities and thrown in jail for reasons that are never adequately explained, and for some reason are unable to establish their bona fides.  Harrison notes the guard is a chain smoker and offers him a meditation technique for quitting, which actually lets him hypnotize the guard so they can get away.  They find the aliens awakening their brethren in the lake, and Suzanne picks up the idiot ball and needs it explained to her why blowing up an adjacent electrical tower and dropping the high-voltage wires in the lake might be an effective way to kill the aliens who are immersed in water.  Sheesh, I know scientists tend to overspecialize, but you’d think a biologist would know that electrocution is not healthy for living things.

All in all, a freaky weird episode and not an especially coherent one.  I think it was going for a kind of humor/horror approach that was very ’80s, but it just comes off as absurd and awkward.  And it’s a disappointing showcase for Ann Robinson, who deserved better (although admittedly her character in the original film spent most of it screaming and hysterical, so this wasn’t really that different for her).  Unfortunately, the episode establishes that Clayton Forrester is dead, which is a shame because Gene Barry was still alive and active at the time, so they could’ve included him as a recurring character too.  It’s odd and unfortunate that they didn’t.

“A Multitude of Idols”: The alien leaders, the Advocates, discuss how to bring together the key ingredients for their plan of conquest: radioactive waste to wake up more dormant aliens, a secure location they can work in, and lots and lots of humans they can possess.  There’s a little veiled social commentary about how reckless and cavalier humans are about driving “nucular” waste around the country (though the same voiceover actor pronounces it right the second time), so it’ll be easy to obtain.  Meanwhile, fame-hungry reporter Elise, played by future Alien Nation female lead Michelle Scarabelli (and her cameraman played by an almost unrecognizably young Von Flores, who would later play major roles in the TekWar movies and Earth: Final Conflict), is doing an expose on that very same issue, and happens to witness an alien attacking and possessing one of the truckers, though she doesn’t see it clearly.  Meanwhile, back at the literal ranch, Norton has programmed his computers to tag significant keywords from transmissions all over the country, and no sooner has he explained it to the team that he intercepts Elise transmitting the footage to her boss back at the station.  The boss dismisses it as indistinct shadows, and Ironhorse agrees until Norton does your standard TV zoom-and-enhance magic to reveal an alien hand (though at least he pays lip service to the limited resolution of the source material).

The team is still bickering a lot, both over the general difficulties of working and living together and over how to gather more information to follow up the lead, and Ironhorse is still overly bureaucratic and obstructionist, though the others manage to convince him to go along with hacking the Pentagon’s satellite data so they can track the alien-driven trucks.  Meanwhile, the aliens have found a ghost town abandoned decades ago due to a radiation leak, and by posing as FBI agents they manage to corral hundreds of local folks (apparently — all we see is one church social’s worth in a school bus) and drive them to the ghost town to be absorbed.  Elise tracks down the trucks herself, and she and the cameraman get captured not long before Harrison and Suzanne arrive.  The town is called Beeton, and Suzanne gets in a good one about it being “off the Beeton track.”  But Harrison recognizes the name from somewhere, and we get another trademarked Harrison Blackwood Idiosyncratic Moment as he uses a tuning fork as a meditation aid to call up the memory (and this is after already learning that he likes to stand on his head to stop his organs from sinking).  He remembers reading (in a newspaper decades ago?) about Beeton’s abandonment — so why are there hundreds of people here?

They call in Ironhorse, who arrives incognito and wearing a ridiculous shirt and shorts — but he’s also carrying his custom-made high-tech tomahawk, which he uses to thwack a suspected alien guard in the forehead (what if he’d turned out not to be an alien after all, I wonder?) so they can sneak into the warehouse and see the alien-reawakening, human-possessing assembly line in operation.  (Harrison calls it “an alien Bates Motel,” which isn’t a very good metaphor at all.)  They debate how to destroy it — blowing it up would scatter too much radiation into the atmosphere — but they’re discovered and have to beat a hasty retreat.  They come back with the military (including a tank that’s bizarrely camouflaged by branches and leaves that are only around its middle, not its treads or turret, so that it looks like it’s wearing a bird nest), but of course the aliens are long scarpered — they’ve won this battle, and now they’re out there among us.  Cut to a scene of Elise at the anchor desk, reporting that claims of alien activity have been discredited by the military and no aliens have come forth to refute it.  Clearly she’s now one of them.  Not that we’ll ever see her again.

Still a very uneven show.  Some of the interplay among the main characters is entertaining, but Lynda Mason Green and Philip Akin are still too broad.  And the guest characters aren’t served all that well, since they’re basically just sacrificial lambs.

“Eye for an Eye”: This is something of a classic episode of this series, or at least one of the more memorable ones.  It aired on Halloween night, 1988, the 50th anniversary of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and the story was set on the same date and occasion.  The premise is that General Wilson has dug up buried evidence that the “Martian” invasion of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey in Welles’s broadcast actually happened, an advance scouting mission arriving 15 years ahead of the main invasion fleet, and that the radio broadcast was part of the government coverup to confuse the issue.  It’s actually more plausible than you’d expect that H. G. Wells’s novel and the Mercury Theater broadcast based on it could exist in a universe where the events of the George Pal WotW movie were real, since the movie has very little in common with the preceding versions beyond the fact that the invasion begins with asteroids falling to Earth, that the hero spends some time trapped in a house adjacent to the aliens, and that the aliens are killed by Earthly diseases.  The parallels are vague enough that it’s plausible that Wells just made some lucky guesses.  Although it’s harder to buy that Orson Welles and the government were able to interview the survivors and concoct the radio play within the same day as the attack itself, soon enough that the broadcast could serve as a smokescreen for the real event.

Still, the episode plays out fairly nicely in some ways.  The aliens have sent a possessed biker gang, of all things, to dig up a buried ship from the ’38 attack — though it’s not explained why they happen to be doing this right on the 50th anniversary of same, when there’s bound to be more attention than normal on the area.  Meanwhile, Our Heroes are in town to interview the old folks about what they remember from 50 years ago.  Once again the characters discuss the collective amnesia that’s befallen the world, but there are a few people in Grover’s Mill (or the Canadian location subbing for it) who still remember the invasions, notably a quartet of old soldiers who were members of the militia that somehow fought off the aliens, the chief ones being Flannery (Jeff Corey) and Harv (John Ireland).  Corey is playing the kind of scatterbrained, half-senile character he played a lot in his later years; Flannery has a reputation for his fanciful boasts about his actions in ’38, and at first he isn’t believed (even by Harrison) when he sees evidence that the bikers are alien-possessed.  (The aliens are given a new mannerism just to tip him off, a tendency to eat flowers, which he saw them doing in ’38.)  Finally he’s proved correct, and it’s actually rather moving the way Ironhorse treats these veterans of a forgotten battle with long-overdue respect and gratitude, and eventually accepts their help in fighting off the aliens.

Due to the show’s tiny budget, the aliens can’t get the buried war machine to work, so they have to take off the gooseneck heat ray (or rather a very cheap, crude full-scale mockup thereof) and mount it on a hearse to make it mobile.  Somehow they’re stupid enough to let Ironhorse decoy their whole group toward Flannery’s barn, where Harrison has rigged a parabolic dish to reflect the heat ray back and destroy the aliens (somehow getting the hearse and the whole biker gang in one shot).  There’s a decent attempt to replicate the original wavery disintegration effect from the movie, but for some reason the heat-ray visual effect (created by a spray of sparks from a burning welding wire) is confined within a narrow, straight beam shape instead of the open spray of the movie and the series pilot.

There are some cute, quirky touches to the episode like the PA announcements at the anniversary festival, and though the acting is still a bit awkward, we’re starting to see the warm rapport among the cast that made me like this show so much the first time around.  But the show still suffers from a terribly low budget and mediocre production values.  The worst part was the treatment of the scenes of the Advocates.  They’re just a random assortment of stock shots of the radiation-suited extras standing around and bobbing their heads with dialogue superimposed, and there’s no effort at all to synchronize the dialogue with the head movements or the intercutting between shots — so for instance there’s a long shot of a single Advocate bobbing its head during a sequence where all three Advocates take turns speaking, so there’s no way of telling which one we’re supposed to be looking at.  And some of the shots seem to be used twice in the same episode.  It’s really very crude.

Still, overall this is possibly the strongest episode yet, and made me more sanguine about carrying forward with this rewatch.

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WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988) Reviews: Pilot-Episode 2 (spoilers)

My latest Netflix acquisition is 1988’s War of the Worlds: The Series, a show that Paramount syndicated for two seasons as part of the same package that included Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It’s a direct sequel to the 1953 George Pal movie, and draws on a lot of elements from that movie, while changing or ignoring others.  I had mixed feelings about the show’s first season in its initial run.  I often found the writing weak and the production cheesy, but I really connected to the core cast: Jared Martin as Dr. Harrison Blackwood, Lynda Mason Green as Dr. Suzanne McCullough, Philip Akin as Norton Drake, and Richard Chaves as Col. Paul Ironhorse.  I felt they had a marvelous rapport and chemistry and were always fun to watch even when the story was silly.

I’m only going to be rewatching the first of this show’s two seasons.  For the second, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. was brought in the “fix” the struggling show, and his “fixes” made it worse and more unpleasant in every respect, and turned it into essentially a different show.  I think I’ll save that discussion for the end of the season, though.

(Note: I actually finished watching and reviewing the whole season before deciding to go ahead and post these reviews, since my reaction to the series was more negative than I’d expected.  At times I was tempted to give up on the whole thing, but I kept going on momentum, and now that I’m finished, I might as well go ahead and post them.  But proceed at your own risk.)

“The Resurrection”: All of season 1’s episodes have Biblical titles, which is odd, since nobody in the show is particularly religious.  Anyway, the pilot opens with a bunch of generic and implausibly multiethnic terrorists raiding and taking over a military nuclear-waste storage facility with ATVs and machine guns, with the intent of threatening to blow it up and create a cloud of radiation over the US unless the President resigns and their other unspecified demands are met.  But they awaken creatures held inside storage drums marked “Classified 1951-53” — creatures that resemble the “Martian” seen in the 1953 film, but are burlier and bigger (enough to have human stuntmen inside the suits).  The creatures go Rambo on the terrorists, who then emerge looking zombified and speaking in tongues.  The aliens have body-snatched them!  They never did that in the movie, but hey, it’ll sure save money going forward.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to three of our core cast.  Harrison Blackwood is aggressively established as a quirky scientist who plays practical jokes and takes an hourlong nap every five hours.  He’s paired up with the more “uptight” Suzanne, a biochemist and single mom, whom he wants to brainstorm about possible aliens so he can narrow down the list of search targets for his SETI project.  The conversation about aliens is strictly theoretical at this point, as though everyone’s forgotten that the whole world was ravaged by alien invaders just 35 years earlier.  (Get used to it.)  We also meet Norton Drake, Harrison’s computer genius, who was the first of a minor spate of paraplegic African-American scientist-heroes on ’80s/’90s sci-fi shows (the others being Dorian Harewood on Viper and Carl Lumbly on M.A.N.T.I.S.).  Norton has a voice-activated motorized wheelchair named Gertrude, and in the pilot he speaks with an odd, stilted cadence and all his lines are recognizably looped.  I figure he must’ve performed the lines with a broad Jamaican accent and then redubbed them without it, though some of the broad, affected cadence remains, and it comes off weird.

Anyway, Norton picks up transmissions from the nuclear-waste site which match transmissions they’ve picked up from space, so Harrison and Suzanne head off to track the signal and run into Col. Ironhorse — not a friendly meeting at first, but Harrison has info Ironhorse can use, so he gets in and sees the ruptured drums that held the aliens.  Learning that many more drums are missing, he storms off.  He tells Suzanne his theory that the ’53 aliens were only rendered dormant by the bacteria that supposedly killed them in the movie, and the radiation leakage from the drums after the gunfight killed the bacteria and awakened the aliens, who are still bent on conquest.  Harrison explains that he was adopted by Dr. Clayton Forrester, Gene Barry’s character from the original film (the villain on Mystery Science Theater 3000 was named after him), a colleague of his parents, after they were killed in the invasion.  (Martin was no doubt cast partly due to his vocal resemblance to Barry.)  Suzanne seems unaware that the ’53 invasion happened, though moments later she’s  stipulating the reality of it without any transition.   There seems to be a big chunk of dialogue missing from their argument, just from the flow of the scene and the way some exposition seems to be skipped over.  (In the novelization by J. M. Dillard, Suzanne and other characters were aware of the invasion as a historical event, just in denial that it could happen again.  I wonder how much of the more fleshed-out conversation in the novel comes from material cut from this scene.)

Luckily, Suzanne happens to be the niece of General Wilson (John Vernon), who at least is aware of the ’53 invasion, but unconvinced of the aliens’ return without further evidence.  Meanwhile, the aliens — their possessed bodies decaying like zombies — kill and possess a gas-station owner, which is witnessed by a Pat Buttram-esque, stereotyped drunken hick who later reports the event to Ironhorse.  The scientists pick up another transmission and track down the aliens, only to run into Ironhorse and his squad as they’re about to raid the “terrorists.”  The soldiers all get possessed save Ironhorse, whom Harrison rescues.  Now they have their proof, and General John Vernon appoints them as his alien-hunting team, moving them all to a high-security ranch called the Cottage.  Suzanne brings her preteen daughter Debi (Rachel Blanchard).

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a subplot with Harrison’s fiancee (Gwynyth Walsh), a rich interior designer who’s trying to get him into the private sector and constantly complains that he loves his work more than he loves her?  I forgot because it’s completely irrelevant to the story.  The fiancee is forgotten without a second thought as soon as Harrison moves to the Cottage; there isn’t even a scene of their breakup or her reaction to him moving away or anything of the sort.  The whole thing feels wrong and adds nothing.  They could’ve dumped this subplot and spent more time on worldbuilding, establishing a world aware of the ’53 invasion as a historical event, yet in denial about whether it could happen again.  (I’m thinking about how, the season before, TNG’s pilot was supposed to be 90 minutes but they decided to expand it to 2 hours and added the Q subplot to the script.  I wonder if the same thing happened here and Walsh’s character was written in to pad the pilot’s length.  If so, it was done much more sloppily than in TNG’s case.)

Anyway, there’s a nice scene where Ironhorse tells Debi a story about his shaman great-grandfather finding an ancient drawing of what seems to be an alien, a story whose truth Ironhorse doubts.  This is where we really begin to see what a charismatic actor Richard Chaves could be and how good the chemistry was among the cast.  Ironhorse quickly became the breakout character here.

So the brain trust does its brainery, and they use some captured maps and Ironhorse’s soldierly thinking to realize that the aliens are planning to raid the secret government vault holding three intact war machines from the invasion.  This leads to a final confrontation which is actually pretty cool.  The war machines and their weaponry and shields are pretty authentically replicated, given the limits of ’80s video FX technology.  The sound effects of the rattlesnake-like sensor sound and the heat ray firing are the authentic originals, although the sound effect of the green energy bolts is not quite right (they use the Star Trek photon torpedo sound, which is similar but not identical to the sound used in the movie), and they’re missing the warbling whistle of the war machines’ levitation fields (which is a slowed-down version of the same sound effect used for phasers in the original Star Trek, actually a recording of a swarm of locusts stridulating).

Unfortunately there’s zero suspense here, since the heroes already planted C4 in the war machines before the aliens took them.  So it’s cool to see the vehicles in action again, but the heroes have already won before the “danger” even begins, which is a terrible way to structure a climax.  The war machines blow up on schedule, and then we get the usual thing in these stories where one character (Suzanne) says “I’m glad it’s finally over” and the hero (Harrison) turns enigmatically and says “Is it?  Is it really?”  And of course it isn’t, since we cut to the abandoned underground nuclear test site in Nevada where the aliens are holed up and see them making plans to strike again.

All in all, it’s cheesier than I remembered.  The character introductions are pretty clunky, there’s too much lame humor, and the actors were worse than I remembered, particularly Akin and Green.  (I guess I forgave it in Green’s case because she was really stunningly beautiful.)  And some of the effects and production values are pretty lame.  Oddly, some scenes seem to be shot on videotape rather than film, and most of the dialogue in the interior film sequences is looped.

And the conceit that the world had forgotten the invasion was an odd choice, reflecting the tendency of too many genre shows to try to be as much like the real world as possible.  It would’ve been so much cooler to see this show set in an alternate history where the world had been radically transformed by the ’53 invasion.  Then again, that’s kind of what the second season tried to do in a retconny sort of way, and its version of that was deeply unpleasant, a perpetually dark and polluted world where society was disintegrating.  Maybe instead, it could’ve been set in a world where humanity had rebuilt its cities and infrastructure using reverse-engineered alien technology, entering a new golden age and growing overconfident.  That could’ve been cool.

“The Walls of Jericho”: The episode opens with the first use of the main title sequence, and the theme is an ’80s-synth pastiche of Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer of War” by series composer Billy Thorpe.  The images are a succession of clips from the pilot, heavily featuring the war machine battle from the climax — which is misleading, since the show didn’t have the budget to do that sort of thing often, and there are only a couple more episodes in the season that use the war machines even briefly.

This episode is credited to “Forrest Van Buren,” an obvious pseudonym (named after the lead characters in the ’53 film), but IMDb has no information on the real writer.  Yet the script is stronger than the pilot’s.

It’s six weeks after the pilot, and Gen. Wilson and Col. Ironhorse are convinced the alien threat is ended and it’s time to shut down the Blackwood Project.  They take their time breaking the news and letting the team get packed, so there’s a lot of time for conversation and character interaction.  We actually get an explanation of sorts for the global amnesia about the invasion, drawing on UFO lore about amnesia in alien abductees/witnesses, the idea being that either a) aliens have some effect on human memory and b) humans suppress the memory of aliens because they can’t cope with it, or a mix of both in Harrison’s view.  Wilson confirms that he fought in the ’53 war but remembers no details.  It’s still odd — how did people explain the global devastation to themselves? — but at least they addressed it.  And it helps explain why the military types here are so determined to believe the aliens are gone — that same suppression effect might be kicking in, and the more imaginative scientists are less susceptible.

Meanwhile, the aliens are dying from the heat in the radiation-rich caverns, and the triumvirate of Advocates (three of the possessed terrorists from the pilot) are pushing their scientists to find a solution before their stolen bodies rot away.  So they launch a series of heists — first draining blood from a herd of cows as some kind of coolant bath, then taking a special plastic to make protective suits (which we will see the Advocates wearing for the rest of the season, since it’s cheaper than using full alien costumes or paying actors to speak on camera — and indeed most of the Advocate scenes over the season will just be stock footage with new dialogue dubbed in), then trying to steal liquid nitrogen from a rocket base as coolant, then finally taking over a refrigeration plant and making their own LN.  In the first couple of cases, the investigating cops go out of their way to mention that they’re putting the reports on the national crime computer database, because that wasn’t taken for granted back then and they need to set up Norton discovering these crimes via his superhacking so the heroes can begin to piece the alien scheme together.  (Good grief, it’s startling to realize how long ago the ’80s were.  The interval between this series and the present is already more than 2/3 the interval between the original movie and this series.  God, I feel old right now.)

So the team convinces Ironhorse to go along and investigate the refrigeration plant, and they find the employees acting zombielike, so they call in John Vernon and they raid the plant.  Vernon gets to shoot up a truck and see the alien inside dissolve upon death (as alien invaders do), thus confirming that the threat is still active and the team needs to stay together.  But the aliens get away with enough canisters of LN to keep them alive for, ohh, at least one TV season.  Everybody wins!  Well, except for all the people (and cattle) the aliens killed.

This episode has the same odd production values, with all the lines in the Cottage blatantly looped except in the one scene that appears to have been on videotape.  (And Philip Akin’s delivery is even more broad when looping than when it’s live audio.  Odd, because he’s done a lot of voiceover work, such as Bishop on the ’90s X-Men animated series.  Then again, the voice acting on that show was never subtle.)  But like I said, the writing’s better, we learn more about the characters, and while the performances are a mixed bag, John Vernon does a really good job.  This episode does a better job than the pilot of reminding me why I liked season 1 of this show.

But will it stay this decent?  To be continued…

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