The Angel of Death is the twenty-third episode of War of the Worlds, the series, and the final episode of season one. It introduces a new element to the mythology of the show; Katara, a synth from the planet Qar'To. She arrives at the site of the future 1992 World's Fair, violently wipes the mind of a security guard who witnesses her arrival, and begins her seven day mission. She moves from city to city at breakneck pace, hunting aliens and demanding they tell her the location of the Advocacy. She has little luck with her primary mission, but racks up an impressive body count.
Both the Blackwood Team and the Advocacy can't help but notice this activity. Both try to figure out what exactly is happening; the humans by setting up a trap to capture aliens alive for questioning, the aliens by allowing some agents to be used as bait. All three forces converge on a human warehouse, where the Katara interrupts the careful operation, slays most of the aliens but captures Ironhorse. She interrogates him with her hypnotic abilities, then convinces him that she is on his side. The aliens, meanwhile, have realized that it's a synth they are up against and have mobilized for battle. Ironhorse brings the team back to Katara to meet her, as friends, but they all fall under attack by alien forces. Despite everyone on the team, and Katara, getting shot, they manage to repulse the aliens. Katara heals them and informs them that she'll be back, with an ally, in a year. "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship," muses Harrison, even as she informs her people that humanity, as a food source, remains imperiled.
The Good: Not as much as I would like, given how momentous this episode is supposed to be.When the Advocacy personally leads the attack on the synth, they did so as firemen and emergency workers. It makes sense as a way for their battle group to move about quickly, and so I approve. It's also great imagery for a rescue vehicle to show up and have armed combatants pour out.
When Paul goes missing for over 24 hours, the begin preparing to abandon the Cottage and start shredding documents. This makes perfect sense, especially when dealing with aliens who can absorb his mind and knowledge. MIA, in this war, has to be assumed to mean a completely compromised agent.
The Blackwood team lures the aliens to their trap by rebroadcasting recorded alien transmissions. I rather like the words the broadcast turned out to be; "Avoid drinking water in Mexico. That includes ice... " They pick this up on a makeshift blender transmitter, which is cool. Along those lines, there is a tennis racket / scanner that is kind of neat too. The makeshift alien tech was another aspect of the show that I though was consistently clever. There isn't so much of it later on in the first season, and none in the second.
Alien arrogance continues as well. When the rebroadcast transmissions are first picked up, they deride the humans for the transparency of their ploy. Later, when they learn that the humans are voluntarily working with the synth, they mock us for our ignorance. "If only they knew their fate," they quip.
We also get the last "To Life Immortal" utterances in the series, which makes me sad. It's said several times, in both Mor-Taxian and English. What a great catchphrase! Too bad it was one of the many elements that got dropped in the next season.
A small thing, but one of the alien operations hit by Katara was a food-gathering operation. Hearkening back to An Eye for an Eye, they were doing so at a nursery, gathering flowers. Nice continuity there. More nice continuity when Quinn gets namechecked. (So does, surprise surprise, General Wilson. Drink!)
Finally, we really do see a lot of alien bodies. I always loved that aspect of the show, and it's nice to see it done to excess here.
The Bad: I'm afraid that Elaine Giftos' performance as the synth from Qar'To didn't do much for me. It seemed a bit much, with her constant Tae Bo and her halting speech. What's more is, originally Hulk Hogan was going to be the villain / new element in this episode, a plan which was scuttled. I'd have loved to see how he'd deal with the role.
And, while we're talking about the synths and the powers that sent them, War of the Worlds has, at its heart, one of the oldest science fiction twist-endings ever; Earth's bacteria stopped the aliens. That's not a flaw, of course, since Welles invented this trope, but it's important to keep in mind. So, when the season finale introduces perhaps the second-oldest science fiction twist ending ("To Serve Man ... it's a cookbook!!!") it seems extremely unimaginative. The Twilight Zone could get away with it in the 60s, Soylent Green in the 70s, even V in the early 80s... WotW, not so much.
Ironhorse's mental manipulations didn't ring all that true to me. Maybe it was just the producers trying to play fair with us, but I think the synth could have convinced the team to share their knowledge in a much less invasive way. It feels weird to have one of our main characters violated like this. Of course, Paul will have much worse in the next episode ...
Oh, and on that subject, the tag at the beginning of the episode was "Paul is dead." Now, of course, he isn't (yet), but the real objection is that inside the episode they went with the much more reasonable "Ironhorse is dead." This way, you don't get old Beatles flashbacks.
Also, there was a whole subplot about the aliens thinking that Suzanne was the synth that went nowhere. Instead, the aliens shoot her with the anti-synth ray, realize they have the wrong target and then shoot Katara. What exactly did that accomplish, except to kill a couple of minutes?
The Ugly: Since this episode doesn't revolve around alien-initiated horrors, most of the ugliness is around their bodies. The first alien that Katara interrogates gets nicely mauled by her atomic bullets.
So, there you have it. We're well past the halfway point of the show here, but this marks the last episode produced under the old guard. It gives some hints as to where the story was going; eventually, we'd have seen a three way war between humans, Mor-Taxians and the Qar-To agents. The plan was for Katara to return in a year, probably the 2nd season finale, with Ta'Kara, a more aggressive and less friendly synth. Of course, none of that would ever happen. I have to say, the notion of the synths as new villains in the series doesn't hold much appeal to me. Not only is it unoriginal, but they seem extremely overpowered compared to both our heroes and our villains.
Overall, the first season of this show was fairly uneven. There was a lot of good, including the chemistry between the two male leads and the gruesome extremes to which the aliens would go. However, there was a lot of bad too. The directing was rather hit-or-miss, with some episodes paced way too slow. The characters of Norton and Suzanne never really click as well as they should, either. All told, it's a show that swings for the fences, occasionally connects and often misses. What is clear is that the producers and writers had a lot of heart, and had fun with the stories they told. While the first season is hardly required viewing for a casual science fiction fan, it's a good series for such fans who like their comedy and action dark.
War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season is available for purchase on DVD, and I've now written pretty much everything I have to say about this season. Next up, War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion AKA season two. Stick around, you may be surprised.