Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 41

The forty-first episode of War of the Worlds, the series is titled Max.  The aliens take the remains of one of the first human casualties of the Morthren, Max Kincaid, and turn him into a cyborg.  His mission: to eliminate the sophisticated underground military network that hinders alien operations, primarily John Kincaid.  Max eliminates the rest of his unit and dogs John, eventually confronting him in the warehouse where Max was first captured/killed.  He manages to salvage the tattered remenants of his humanity, only to be laid low a second time by Malzor and Mana.  This time, at least, John gets to grieve.

The Good:  At its core, this is a powerful story.  Brother against brother, dealing with grief and loss, trying to live up to a seemingly perfect role model... there are many terrific elements here.  For the most part, the story coherently brings these themes together and explores them in a manner both mature and consistent with the science fiction backbone of the series.  That counts for a lot.

The episode was also one of the more action-packed ones.  We get a cool car chase (but more on that later), some great firefights, even a few big explosions.  I'm a sucker for a big explosion.  (I remember hearing one of the producers on The Flash talk at a convention about how they somehow stumbled into a car carrier full of cars that were rigged to blow up and then wrote it into their series finale.  Sure enough, Mark Hammil's Trickster has a car carrier full of cars that he detonates.  Fun stuff.)  Better still, the action is highly integrated into the plot, rather than being gratuitous in any way.

Oh, and speaking of gratuitous, our favorite stripper/hacker Scoggs buys it this episode, taking a bullet intended for John.  She's one of the longest running recurring character in this series and has always been there for Johnny.  Usually she's just there to advance the plot, but this time we got to see her softer side.  That was smart, since as of her last appearance (just last episode, Totally Real) she'd still be a bit of a cipher.   Now, though, we find her as a lover of both Max and John, which also helps to further connect the two brothers.  Her sacrifice, therefor, takes on a greater significance.  I guess with the show ending soon, it's time to start cashing in these kind of chips.  I'll miss you, Scoggs.

I do like the symmetry of the final confrontation taking place where Max died the first time.  Indeed, he dies at the hands of the same aliens, Malzor and Mana.  Those two don't often leave the base for a firefight, so I assume that their situation is getting pretty desperate.  (The Obelisk, the series finale, will confirm that.)

John and Max have great chemistry in their flashbacks.  I love the easy way in which they horse around, and the range of emotions they display.  In short order we see Max's pride in his brother, John's admiration for his brother, Max's protective feelings, John's insecurities, and of course their underlying affection.  It made their firefight all the more poignant.

Finally, John gets a real chance to grieve at a military funeral for Max.  It's all fairly moving, much more so than the fakey funeral they gave us at the end of Among the Philistines. (I'm going to be charitable and not list it as a 'bad' that they're having it.  I mean, the guy went on a rampage and killed a dozen soldiers at Fort Sepulveda, they wouldn't be giving him a funeral.  Hmmm... Fort Sepulveda.  It's not a real thing, but if it were it'd pretty much have to be in southern California.  I guess we can assume that the nebulous city this season takes place in is Los Angeles.  I've thought that before, especially when one of the roads was named something like Central Canyon Road, fairly reminiscent of many other SoCal roads. )

The Bad: This story is highly derivative of the first Terminator movie.  Sure, in broad brushstrokes, sending a cyborg against a target is bound to bring The Terminator to mind.  This, though, takes it a step further.  Many scenes, beat for beat, seem to be lifted.  Max confronts punks and taking their weapons, as did the T-800.  Oh, and why?  The aliens never had trouble giving out guns before.  Breaking into an armed base, check.  Here it's the military, there it's the police.  The fight in the bar, check.  Plato's here, Tech Noir there.  A car chase, wherein the cyborg crashes and then goes missing, check.  Plucking out his own eye was a dramatic beat from the Terminator movie, though the context was different.  Heck, even the music feels very much like Brad Fiedel's pounding synthesizer tracks.  No points for originality here, no.

Colonel Bradley's subplot seems unnecessary.  Yes, it alerts Blackwood and McCullough to the threat, but they'd have found out pretty soon anyway.  It just took screen time away from the more important aspects of the story.  Oh, and a nitpick: Colonel Bradley is incredulous about the idea of cyborgs, but back in Path of Lies the term 'military cyborgs' was tossed around pretty loosely.  

This whole thing takes place on the one year anniversary of Max's death... yup, another coincidence.  They use this as justification for a lot of flashbacks and reminiscing about Max, but I wonder if all that was necessary.  At least using Max himself wasn't a coincidence, it was a specific choice on the part of the aliens.  I can easily believe that Mana would have his remains 'on ice' for study.  BTW, the flashbacks are in black & white, always a clumsy device.  I didn't like it in Time to Reap, and I'm not crazy about it here.  Perhaps it's not really a 'bad,' just a matter of personal preference, but it's not to my taste.  Oh, but in one of those flashbacks, we General Wilson gets what may be his last namecheck in the series.  Drink!

This one we won't QUITE find out about for sure till next episode, but an alien agent was actually in their home this week.  Yet, there is no talk of relocating.  Sure enough, next week they're back in the shelter.  This strains credulity to the breaking point. 

The Ugly: Plucking out his own eye?  Gruesome!  It was also a nice moment, him recapturing his humanity by mutilating himself.  Cool stuff.

We're entering the home stretch, for sure.  Max has been a gun on the wall since the first episode of the series, and now he's used to good effect.  I almost think it'd have made more sense to save him for next week and set up the finale a bit more.  Still, I won't complain about things like that.  On the whole, this was a strong episode, ambitious but with enough punch to pull it off.  It could have been more streamlined, for sure, and it really should have been more original, but nevertheless it manages to work fairly well. 

 War of the Worlds: The Final Season  is available for purchase on DVD.

5 comments:

dysamoria said...

i disliked this one because it felt quite gimmicky. maybe it's the Terminator knock-offs i'm reacting to, but i'm not sure. i thought the technology of Max as a cyborg was really... clumsy.

"with a small Watcher as his left eye..." huh??? if he's a cybernetic organism, just tie into Max's OWN optical nerve, why not? and, what exactly is "CYBER" about combining Morthren biotech with human biology? aren't they doing that all the time? i'm a hard science and technology kind of person so this stuff rubbed me wrong even at 14(?) years old.

then again, so too did the melodrama of the emotional connections. maybe i will feel better about this one on a second watching, as an adult, since i certainly get far more emotionally involved in character emotions/interactions these days than i did as a kid...

i enjoyed seeing some of the flashbacks (minus the greyscale silliness) because it established Max as a real character instead of "Kincaid's brother, mentioned once or twice in episode one of the season." it gave the character life, which was completely failed by mere passing statements from Kincaid in The Second Wave... "He's dead." "It was a set up." etc.

the flashbacks also managed to bring a little bit more of tie-in to season one's tone of military and normality (never enough of that), but it would have worked better if some of the interior scenes had been done on more convincing sets or if they had been actual location shoots).

i'm eager to try this one again with the DVDs. it's a bit crazy to realize that i've only seen about three episodes more than one time and that the one time i saw them was when i was in middle school... freaky.

dysamoria said...

PS: about the emotional melodrama... i mean.. "let's use his own brother against him" is like the cop movie "he killed my partner" thing... ;-)

dysamoria said...

PPS: i'm really eager to see what you have to say about The True Believer and The Obelisk. True Believer is one of my all-time favorites of this season. i think Jared Martin does a fantastic job in that episode (as does Blanchard, Forest and the guest stars). it's a fantastic final push on season two's "Almost Tomorrow" and a climax late in coming in the Morthren finally identifying all of the Blackwood team (they should have done this way before, and it would have been nice if someone had said "these are the same humans we tried to kill when we first arrived!!"). the Obelisk... well... heh heh... ;-)

Jimtron said...

Thanks for chiming in on so many episodes, dysamoria. I too am looking forward to the last two episodes. I'm honestly not sure yet how I feel about them, though once I start to watch with my notepad handy my thoughts will soon crystallize in one direction or the other.

The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

I have to agree with dysamoria about this episode feeling gimmicky. That being said, there were some positives to this episode.

I did like the symmetry with Malzor and Mana killing Max at the same place where he was captured a year ago. Other than that, the episode reeked of a Terminator rip-off. Even the trailer of the episode said, "Alien terminator!" I wouldn't have been so bothered by that if it was a tad more creative with the storytelling.

I don't know, it makes no sense why the aliens wait until now to use this cyborg killer who has been preserved for a year.

And good Lord, why is Plato's still open? Why do the team still continue to go to this slaughter house of a strip club? It's like surviving a Friday the 13th film and returning to Crystal Lake the next summer.

"The True Believer" in my opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) episode of the second season. I enjoyed it and oh yes, it features Saul Tigh from BSG. Which is always a plus.

"The Obelisk", well.... I'll post my thoughts on that when you review it.