Musings from Jim Sorenson and a few guest bloggers about Transformers, character models, science-fiction, comic books, and whatever else is on our minds.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 38
Candle in the Night is the thirty-eighth episode of War of the Worlds, the series. When the bleakness of their current situation threatens to destroy Debi's birthday, the gang scrambles to put together a last minute surprise party. The aliens, meanwhile, deal with a runaway probe, the random wanderings of which make them destined to (almost) cross paths with the team again. Despite a few hitches, the party goes off thanks to the Herculean efforts of all involved.
The Good: Directing. This episode is extremely well paced, with the problem presented early and then a struggle along the way gradually being introduced to us. While staying true to the notion of 'Almost Tomorrow', the team and some friends nevertheless manage to pull together a great party, complete with a chocolate cake, music, decorations, and presents. The premise is so saccharin that it'd have been VERY easy for this episode to slide into self indulgence, but somehow the plot manages to rise above it. The tone moves from despair to optimism so gradually that you almost don't notice. Using the photo album to contrast the past to the present, and then later adding back the happy picture of this event was a shrewd move. Overall, just a great execution on a lot of little things that make the episode a joy to watch.
Gunther, as played by Sandy Webster. Of all the guest stars in this episode, he shined the brightest. His simple optimism and genuine goodness felt like a breath of fresh air amid this bleak and normally pessimistic series. That contrast worked well here. It was ironic to have him look to the sky with hope at the end, when normally that direction leads to nothing but misery in this show.
And speaking of irony, the aliens, completely miss the point. "What a vain notion, celebrating one's birth," muses Ardix. "They only think of themselves, don't they," responds Malzor. After forty minutes of watching Kincaid and all Debi's young friends work their assess off to make a great place for the party, and Harrison and Gunther manage to scrape together a cake, this assessment of the significance of Birthdays effectively underscores the difference in the alien perception of us and the reality. These lines could easily have been spoken by the Advocacy of season one, which I also appreciated. This scene felt very much like one of their episode post-mortems.
There are plenty of other great character moments in the show, especially for Kincaid. He allows his ego to get him roped into a baseball game, a nice little vignette. Kincaid saving the twine from Debi's present was also a nice moment; they're on austerity here. It's amusing that everyone predicted the starter motor on the Battle Wagon failing. Oh, and there are limits to what he'll do. When a street merchant asked five ("Hundred?" "No, thousand.") for some jewelery , Kincaid walks away. When Nat later despairs that he doesn't have a gift for Debi, he remarks that he doesn't either. Aside from Kincaid moments, Debi dancing with her mom was sweet, as was the general level of tension that Debi exhibited.
Nate, Debi's potential beau, has a nice arc himself. He starts out the episode effortlessly lying to her over a video monitor about living in a big house, with servants and a pool. When it starts to look like he'll be meeting her in person, he becomes visibly uncomfortable with this lie. By the end, when the van breaks down in front of the library where he was living, he faces his fear and tells her the truth. Naturally, she forgives him. Ah, young puppy love.
Oh, and the idea of living your social life primarily through an online presence seems very ahead of its time for 1990. Nice to see the series get one right.
The aliens get in a few good moments as well, naturally. Mana's casual arrogance about the success of the probe turns quickly to panic when it malfunctions. Forest give a great understated reaction to that. Ardix, later, is out of breath chasing the probe, an amusing bit. Finally, when Gunther observes that Ardix isn't from around here, his "No. Not quite." and plastic smile is priceless.
The Bad: Coincidence, though absent this coincidence we'd lose our chance to see the alien reaction to the events of the episode that was oh so delightful.
The Ugly: Nothing, really, but why not go with the nicely broken down alien base shot at the end. The alien organic technology in this season is always a bit ugly.
I'll bet you thought that I'd hate this episode, huh interwebs? Well, nope, not at all. It's actually one of my favorites of the season. After three quarters of a season of misery and hopelessness, it's nice to see our heroes hit a home run. The pacing is nice, which is important given the almost complete lack of action in this episode. The characters all feel true to themselves, and I found myself rooting hard for the party to be a success. All in all, it's a good story, better than the sum of its parts.
War of the Worlds: The Final Season, is available for purchase on DVD.