Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 3

The third episode of War of the Worlds, the series is titled Thy Kingdom Come. It features an attempt by the aliens to secure more of their brethren and reinforce their numbers, as well as an awesome special guest star.

Four aliens (yes four, not three, which is unusual for them) have appropriated the bodies of hunters and are making their way through Montana. They stop to call home with a makeshift device connected to their car engine by jumper cables. By using a local satellite dish, they are able to contact the nuclear testing facility in Nevada which houses the Advocacy. After they receive a response, they jabber excitedly in their unsubtitled native tongue. All this activity seems to have repercussions though, when an aging redhead in a far away room starts to freak out and call for Harrison.

Harrison, meanwhile, is taking Ironhorse to meet his secret contact. Blackwood gently ribs Ironhorse, who mostly keeps his cool and agrees to keep the contact out of official reports. We arrive at a mental institution and find that the contact is none other than Sylvia van Buren! Ann Robinson reprises her role here, though she's a far cry from Dr. Forrester's love interest. Repeated exposure to alien tissue and electroshock therapy has driven her a little mad, but she has a connection to both the aliens and natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanoes. Harrison is tender with her, while Ironhorse treats her as a wounded veteran of a prior war. She directs the team to Montana, which dovetails with transmissions that Norton has intercepted. Off they go to Wolf Jaw, Montana - Indian country. "Great," quips Ironhorse awkwardly, "first the white man, now aliens."

The aliens run into difficulty - their car has broken down, and their radiation burns are becoming quite noticeable. The advocacy directs them to find new bodies and a new mode of transportation. If the soldier aliens really needed to be told this, then it's no wonder the Advocacy is worried about what would happen without them. They eventually flag down a prison bus, improbably transporting prisoners to Canada for a hockey match. The guard decides to give them a ride, at least as far as the border.

Blackwood and Ironhorse speak to the authorities in Wolf Jaw. Though the local sherrif is skeptical about terrorists, when the team mentions radio transmissions he produces a video tape of the game from the night before. There is a strange pattern overlaying the images. Blackwood hops a flight back to Sylvia with the tape, this time bringing McCullough along. Unlike Ironhorse, she thinks Sylvia's mental state precludes usefulness, though she gives them the key to unlocking the transmission. It's a map of Canada, as seen from space.

The prison bus arrives at the border, and the guards inform the "hunters" that this is the end of the line for them. The aliens, apparently possessing almost no judgment, decide to appropriate the bodies of prisoners to proceed. As the prisoners are allowed to commingle freely and unsupervised with civilians in the bathroom, this proves easy. Soon a puddle of goo is all that's left of the hunters, as four prisoners (one with a large briefcase under his jacket - and since when do prisoner's have jackets?) board the bus. Terrible plan salvaged by bad writing. When they arrive at the site of the match, the aliens attempt to just walk away, though of course the prison guards won't let them. They're forced to play hockey, which in a confusing series of events winds up with one of the aliens ripping off the arms of one of the opposing team members. The guards shoot him dead as the other three aliens, um, skate off. News of the incident reaches the team, who are consistently one step behind their adversaries.

The aliens then appropriate the bodies of a nice family of American tourists. While little Bobby washes his hands in the bathroom, his mom, dad and grandma are all appropriated. "Do you take credit cards," asks Dad of an alien. "We take everything," he responds. When Bobby comes out, his family starts acting weird, speaking in tongues and saying things like, "to life immortal." Bobby realizes that something is very wrong, and after attracting the attention of some nuns in a passing car holds up a sign saying "help me," though the nuns seem more amused than concerned. One fun touch was seeing Bobby play with some Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures. It was a nice way for executive producer Greg Strangis to acknowledge his year with that program.

By nightfall, the aliens have reached the gates of the military complex holding the bodies of hibernating aliens. Playing the part of stupid tourists, they overwhelm the guards and drive on through. They wade into a lake, under which the barrels are stored. Bobby takes the chance to bolt and summon help. Our team, on the other hand, drives up the same road and gets taken into custody by the Canadian army. This is especially problematic as the soldiers that Bobby asked for help from start getting absorbed by newly awakened aliens. Fortunately, Blackwood manages to hypnotize a guard and the team heads down to the lake. Realizing what they're seeing, Ironhorse uses some explosives to drop some power lines into the lake, killing most of the newly revived aliens. Not all, though. Some have gotten away.

The Good: Holy crap! They got Ann Robinson back! This is utterly awesome. Martin does a good job playing her surrogate son, and Chaves' portrayal of Ironhorse's reverence for her is touching. I expected more from Dr. McCullough, though.

Mixed endings. Sure, the aliens were stopped, but a lot of them got away too. Neither side gets a free pass in this show.

Indifferent (or at least oblivious) nuns - very dark.

Alien technology. I love the idea of them using everyday items as parts of their bizarre contraptions, like the blender-keyboard that the mom/alien used.

The Bad: The whole prison hockey idea was fatally flawed from inception. It probably grew out of "hey, hockey is violent, let's make the aliens play hockey" but it's ludicrous to think that a prison bus would take on hitch hikers, that prisoners would be allowed to mingle about at the US / Canadian border unsupervised, or that the aliens would be daft enough to think that prisoners would make good host bodies.

Missed opportunities. Originally, little Bobby was to be a running gag in the series, showing up from time to time in the back seat of an alien-filled car. This would coincide with what would today be considered a viral marketing campaign, called "Save Little Bobby." Alas, Paramount objected, so this is the last time we'd see the little scamp. Obviously the idea of the aliens dragging along a little kid is pretty preposterous; why not kill him? Or at least abandon him? But I'm willing to overlook that because the image of some poor kid being shuttled as an unwilling passenger from alien mission to alien mission is pretty damn amusing.

Hypnosis. Ugh. I've studied hypnosis and while some parts of the induction were legit, when Blackwood started to coo about how the guard was "getting sleeeeeeeepy" it just became painful.

The Ugly: Gonna have to go with the whole arm-ripping scene.

Overall, a very typical War of the Worlds episode. Some gore, some bad writing, some clever ideas and some nicely dark humor.  War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season is readily available for sale on DVD.

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