Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 10

The tenth episode of the War of the Worlds series is titled Epiphany. The episode opens with a heated debate between Ironhorse and Blackwood about an upcoming disarmament conference between the Soviet Union and the United States. This is interrupted by a phone call from Katya, a visiting Soviet scientist who shares a romantic past with Blackwood. After, she slips free from her KGB guard, Major Kedrov (played with aplomb by Patrick Macnee, the actor who played John Steed in The Avengers.) The aliens, meanwhile, are using the conference to attempt to 'stir up tribal rivalries' among the humans by detonating a nuclear bomb during the conference. Katya attempts to defect to the US, which prompts Harrison to bring her back to the Cottage, much to Ironhorse's consternation. Ironhorse meets with Kedrov and the two cold warriors come to an understanding. Katya is to be returned to the Soviets. His personal politics aside, the disarmament is too important to risk over a single defection. Blackwood threatens to call General Wilson (remember him?) and quit, but Ironhorse calls his bluff. Things get a little hairy when the nuclear bomb is discovered thanks to an unpaid parking meter, but Katya disarms it and saves the day. The US Government relents and allows her to stay, but after learning of Blackwood's mission, she's determined to go back to the USSR and get her government to start investigating alien activity.

The Good: Ironhorse and Blackwood continue to be the engine that drives this show. Their conflict has a great rhythm to it. What's great is, both of them are wrong as often as they are right. It'd be easy to always make Blackwood correct, but Ironhorse's concerns about bringing a defector to the Cottage were completely legitimate.

Macnee did terrific as Ironhorse's opposite number. He radiated just the right mixture of menace and competence and Russian stoicism. When the two of them meet face to face, they had great chemistry.

Their first encounter was just as good. When Blackwood leaves the compound and refuses to say where he's going, Ironhorse follows him with a camera to see who he's meeting. While he's snapping photos, he notices Kedrov for the first time and snaps some shots. Kedrov snaps the shots right back.

The boldness of the alien's plans was fun. To build a bomb, they took over three workers at a nuclear plant, walked straight in and walked out with a few cases of plutonium. When radiation poisoning overwhelmed one of the alien's host body (presumably, that wasn't clear), they pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed a cop as a new body. And then they just park the van a few blocks from the conference with the device inside.

Narrowing in, as they walked away from the van, a cute little girl ran up and informed them that they forgot to pay the meter. The alien/cop told her that no one would give a police officer a ticket, and the girl replied that even the police had to obey the laws. He apologized and went to pay, and when she asked if she could, he picked her up, grinned, and allowed her to insert the coin. It was a great scene, and foreshadowed the eventual discovery of the device.

Speaking of the device, when Katya disarmed it, there was both a timer and a motion detector. They did the timer first and got it with three minutes to spare. No last-second cliche here.

The idea of the Soviets setting up a Blackwood Project equivalent is also a fun one. Aliens DO threaten the entire world, after all.

The aliens were fun, going over a map of the US and talking about what they'd blow up first. The San Andreas fault was up there, along with the city of New York.

Finally, there's a really weird wall in the alien cave covered in clocks. I dunno why, I just really liked it.

The Bad: When the aliens failed to blow up the peace conference, they had their commander (who had also been in the previous episode) jump off a ledge into a void. While this is in keeping with their zero tolerance for failure policy, it remains cartoonish and silly. Also, the effect was just embarrassingly blue-screened.

Why exactly one of the aliens got sick and needed a new body was never made clear.

Finally, the aliens abandon the vehicle, with a blast range of 30 miles, about 2 blocks from the conference. Not only that, but the cop/alien stuck around to watch things. If he was willing to die, he'd have been better off checking into a hotel room a few blocks / miles away and detonating it by hand.

The Ugly: Sick alien, hand's down.

All told, this was a very strong episode. The pacing was good, which is sometimes a problem. There wasn't really a coincidence to be had, as it was the disarmament conference that kicks everything off. The character moments were fun, and the high stakes kept the tension high.

One note. This episode firmly establishes that the year is 1987. That's of interest when we get to season two.  War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season  is available on DVD if you care to check it out.


To Life Immortal said...

I know by the time they get to "Vengeance is Mine" there's a note on Harrison's blackboard that states they are in 1989. I think I recall them saying that they've been fighting the aliens for a year and a half.

I never had a clue when this "Almost Tomorrow" was of the second season. Drugs were supposedly legalized by that point but Debi would have to be a young adult for that much time to pass..

Ugh. I don't even want to get into the illogical nature of that

I enjoyed the creepy nature of the aliens in this one- especially the trio of alien nuns. And I thought the Advocates were absolutely hilarious in this, particularly when told of the estimate of human casualties this explosion will cause:

ALIEN: We believe ten million humans.

ADVOCATE #2: That's all?!

- No one knows who the writer of this episode is. Unless, Sylvia Van Buren was writing this episode during one of her mental episodes. I always thought it was Greg Strangis but apparently, it's not. No one knows who this mysterious writer is.

And boy, it didn't take the Advocates long to replace the commander.

Jimtron said...

I thought the shift from one commander to the next was a bit silly. After all, the policeman / alien had failed in his mission too, right? What made them think he was a better candidate?

To Life Immortal said...

Hmmm, perhaps, the Advocates held the Commander at fault because it was ultimately, his plan?

I'm sure the "new" commander was executed pretty swiftly. Being promoted in the alien ranks is not really a good thing.

Jimtron said...

Friend of the blog To Life Immortal has sent me some extra info on this episode - a snippet from a Jarred Martin interview about Deborah Wakeham, who portrayed Katya in "Epiphany." It comes from an interview by Elyse Dickenson:

"There was no chemistry between us at all. She drove me crazy. She used to flutter her hands before each take. She's a lovely girl, I mean really a sweet girl, but I'd say, 'Please don't do that. It's really driving me crazy,' and she'd say 'Oh, it is?' Yes it is."

Jimtron said...

Another snipped from an interview by Elyse Dickenson, this time with Chaves.

Q: I'd seen a SHOWBIZ TODAY interview before WAR even came out, and you'd been asked about how you got the part, and you said you'd auditioned seven times and then you said 'Thank you, grandfather,' and that line came up in "Epiphany" too. Is there a coincidence between the two?

RC: "Oh absolutely. It's an expression that I had heard people say when I was in THE GAMBLER. I can't remember when I heard it first- I think it was in a sweat lodge with a medicine man that I did a sweat with one night, and he said it, and I think that's where it came from. But I think in that interview the reason I said that was because I had remembered it. I did the interview after the show, and so it was like a tag to saying thank you that I had gotten the show."