Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 23

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.


The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

I always had a soft spot for "The Angel of Death". I personally love the character of Katara, and I like how she moves and speaks (although I can understand the criticism). Sam Strangis wanted her to be a very stiff and monotone character- whereas, Herb wanted something very different. A different breed of alien if you will.

Also, by the way, Herb was directed to shoot this with each of his main characters taking a bullet and seemingly dying- just in case, Paramount could not work out a contract for them in the second season. Only Lynda was able to lay down for that shot whereas her male counterparts refused to.

Well, the Synths were not going to be so much a villain per se- but definitely a new element in the war. Katara would be more of an advocate of humanity, whereas Ta'Kara was more hostile in her approach (like a beserker who paralyzes her opponent with fear before the attack). The Synths themselves were more like an SS force that the Synth Masters would send out. Again, the hierarchy of their world would be explained in later seasons.

Quinn would be playing both sides against the middle- and would be like the friendly Apache to the Synths, and use them as well.

I honestly am glad that Greg suggested to Herb to have a woman as the alien, cause seeing Hulk Hogan's filmography, I don't think it would have panned out well.

I agree with the whole mishap though in regards to Suzanne being the Synth. Couldn't the aliens tell who is the Synth and who isn't?

The scene with the alien housewives being attacked was intended to actually be a bit more elaborate with the aliens feeding like crazed locusts and Katara picking them off one by one in this maze-like structure. It was cut for budgetary purposes.

There are some more stuff that were different but I gotta check my emails for it.

I have to applaud the first season- mainly for how Herb, Tom and Greg hustled and did the best they could under a hectic schedule and dealing with the writer's strike.

I think the future seasons would have been terrific with the various alien conflicts and I would have loved that planned fourth season told through the alien POV, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Jimtron said...

I'm not even sure that I was 'criticizing' Katara, just that she wasn't to my taste. She was definitely alien, though, and that's a good thing.

Thanks for the insight about the cast taking bullets - that makes a lot of sense, actually. It's pretty neat trivia. I'm glad the new bunch didn't run with it, though, and gave Drake & Ironhorse a proper send-off.

Quinn ... Quinn was great. I wish he'd shown up in S2. He, more than any other S1 alien, could and would have thrived even under the new regime.

A whole season from an Alien POV ... it's hard to imagine. Maybe an episode or two. Still, I'd have loved to see them try.

The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

I remember I asked Herb if he intended it to be a few episodes or an entire season. Yep, an entire season and Sam Strangis thought they were nuts for thinking of doing it.

I do have the script for "The Second Wave" around my room- I'll send it to you. Well, the Eternal was originally dubbed The Immortal, and also spoke.

I'll send it to you if I can get to it this week. Oddly enough, I purchased the second season at a convention this weekend and although I don't like the difference in the show, there are positives that I'll admit to.

The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

I must also applaud you for your amazing reviews of the first season. So much more insightful and in-depth than my fanboy like reviews of the first season on my site. Kudos!

Jimtron said...

Thanks, I really appreciate the kind words. I've been visiting your site when in a War of the Worlds mood for literally years. It's gratifying to find that my thoughts on the show are of interest to you.

Anonymous said...

I like to pretend this episode of season 1 never happened. Gifto's acting is so completely nauseating that it makes it very difficult for me to take this episode seriously. And did they have to make her look like a Whitesnake groupie? I mean, did she watch MTV on her way to Earth and decide to give herself huge hair and leather atire? Was it ever really "in" to dress like this? The only cool thing about this episode was when the aliens surround the building our heroes are in with fire trucks and emergency vehicles and Ironhorse says; "So where's the fire?" It was so cool seeing the aliens use something that we come to expect as bringing aid, where here those vehicles brought nothing but death.

Anonymous said...

Another note: The synths apparently want to use humanity as a source of food. As previously pointed out, this is hardly original, since in Wells' War of the Worlds, the Martians themselves use humans as a food source.

Jimtron said...

Good point, anonymous! You are, of course, right about the martians feeding on humans in the book. H.G. Wells also crafted The Time Machine, where the Morlocks feed on the Eloi. In any event, that plot point rubbed me the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

It would've been so awesome to have seen a War of the Worlds season told completely from the aliens point of view. That would've been so unlike anything in science fiction, since most stories are told from the humans perspective. Sadly it did not come to be.

A part in this episode I don't get. When the aliens are assaulting the building our heroes are in, Ironhorse suggests going to the roof, to limit the line of fire, and is immediately shot down by the synth. Wouldn't going to the roof make the most tactical sense in a situation like this? After all, there's usually only one access point when it comes to roofs, so it would be much less likely they would've been surrounded. Ah well, they didn't listen to Ironhorse, and look what happened.

Joanna Magnolia said...

Hi, Jimtron :)

Thanks for writing these episode reviews. My sister and I were huge fans of the show (I refer only to season one :P) in '88 and we just recently rewatched them all over off the DVD set, so finding your reviews to read right afterward was loads of fun. (In case you're curious to know, I found your blog thru the link you left at the To Life Immortal board.) I like the way the reviews are three-way (it HAS to be three when it comes to WotW...) with the Good Bad & Ugly categories - cool idea and perfect for this show!

I found myself agreeing with the Good's (and even having some more pointed out that I hadn't noticed, thank you), most of the Bad's too (tho some COULD be explained away with a bit of creative reasoning, although, I know, it shouldn't fall to the fans to make up the excuses), and definitely all of the Ugly's (this show did always have a knack for frightening me). It's nice to read a critical review of EACH ep, and the honesty without it becoming either gushing or bashing was appreciated.

Now, season two... Props to you for deciding to continue. I know most of my animosity towards it stems from the devastation of being seven-years-old and seeing a favorite character killed off for the first time, but it is still pretty bad even on its own. That said, I'm looking forward to reading your twenty reviews of 'The Season That Never Really Happened'. It may just help me to be able to think about the eps more critically, instead of just being pissed and distraught over what they did to Ironhorse and Norton.

And in case you want to know the sort of 'crazy' fan I am about the show, here's a link to some comix I made after rewatching WotW:

Jimtron said...

Welcome aboard, ThirdBass. I'm glad you found your way to my little corner of the interwebs.

BTW, your web comics are pretty hilarious.

Joanna Magnolia said...

Thank you, I'm glad you liked them :)

And guess what a friend just left me a link to...

dysamoria said...

i have to second (third?) the compliments on your reviews. very balanced and well written. i'm enjoying them. i found this blog by way of looking for "morthren" on Google Images ;-)