Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 34

The thirty-forth episode of War of the Worlds, the series, is titled Time to Reap. The Eternal hatches a scheme to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment (and/or supernova) to create a time portal to 1953.  Malzor will disguise himself as an FBI agent and inoculate the soldiers from the first wave, thus paving the way for the conquest of humanity.  Blackwood and Kincaid, though, follow him back through time and thwart the scheme.

The Good: Continuity.  There are several nods to continuity in this episode, including the return of the magnetic pulse that disabled watches and clocks WAAAAY back in the 1953 movie.  (The stopped watches also allows for a rather neat transition from our heroes to our villains, by focusing in on Malzor's watch as he prepares for his journey.)  There are also nods to Norton's line of "thunder and lightning, but never any rain," from The Second Wave, the second season premier. Finally, appropriately, Dr. Forrester looms large in the story, though he never makes an appearance. 

I like the creepy imagery inside the carnival, where the time travel apparatus is set up.

An old chestnut is trotted out to quickly let Kincaid and Harrison know where (when) they are after they follow Malzor through the portal; a newspaper!  However, rather than just leave it at that, the scene also introduces us to the reporter, Miranda Watson, who becomes their companion in the past, as well as nodding to the changed premise from the movie to the tv series with the headline "Were Invaders Really From Mars?" 

There are some nice character moments, mostly involving Harrison.  He and Debi bond while discussing the past, setting up the episode thematically.  Kincaid bemoans them driving towards the epicenter of the magnetic disturbance, correctly noting that they are a guerrilla outfit and not equipped to deal with an invasion.  Harrison also has a conversation with his younger self, but that one somehow made me feel like they were trying a bit too hard.  It's not a bad, exactly, but it didn't quite work for me.

Structurally, tying the ability to time travel to astrological phenomena is shrewd.  It explains why they don't just go back and try again.  They should have made up their minds, though, about if it was a supernova causing it, or a rare planetary alignment.

Lots of fun little bits here and there.  Kincaid and Blackwood are mistaken for Soviet agents, and taken into custody.  When General Mann, in charge of the alien clean-up operation, questions Malzor as Agent McGruder about them, Malzor doesn't miss a beat.  He replies that the information about Soviet activity was strictly need-to-know.  Harrison tries to visit Dr. Forester, he tells Sylvia Forester (more on that in a bit) that he's a colleague from Canada, perhaps in tribute to the show's filming location.  I also rather dig the poor alien soldier who kills himself with his own weapon in the house of mirrors.

The Bad: Continuity.  Sylvia Forester?  She'd been in several episodes of the first season as Sylvia van Buren.  Besides, how long after the movie IS this episode?  It can't be too long, there are still aliens moving about.  Did they run to Vegas, get married, adopt a kid, and then come back home?  It just doesn't make sense.

Still on continuity; before the aliens go back in time, they steal blood and manage to create a vaccine for the microbes that laid low the original invasion force.  This makes little sense; obviously they've already handled this problem, since the current batch of aliens are walking around without dying.  Alternatively, if it's only their new bodies that make them immune, it seems that Malzor's bunch achieves in a few hours, days tops, what the entire Mor-Tax contingent of S1 failed to do over the course of a year or two.  Either way, it's most clumsy.

Much as I love Julian Richings' Ardix, his scream of "nooooo" when the humans run through the time portal seems incredibly over-the-top.  I'm going to chalk that down to the director, though, since he's normally so excellent

I find the black and white distracting as a way to inform the viewers of the transition to the past.  I'm a fan of Friday the Thirteenth, The Series, another Frank Mancuso Jr. show, and they did the same thing there.  It just seems lazy to me.

Still on time travel, it seems that time is a closed loop.  Harrison has a marble that comforts him, and gives it to his younger self.  (Where did it originally come from then, eh?  But I won't be pedantic.)  More importantly, Miranda is waiting for the crew at the carnival EVEN BEFORE THEY GO BACK, and gives Kincaid back a handkerchief that he used to gag her.   Therefor, there was never really any chance of failure--they'd already succeeded.  Given that, one would think the Eternal would know how the mechanics of time travel work, and wouldn't' bother to send Malzor on this fool's errand.  They certainly lost enough soldiers along the way.

While normally it's nice to see the classic alien body type, they look really fake this time around.  It's hard to tell, but the silhoette on the left is an alien getting blown away.  You can see that it's a guy wearing a robe with shoes.  Boo!  (I'd have liked to have seen some S1-style alien corpses after our team rampages through and shoots up the inoculated aliens too.  I doubt their budge would have supported such an endeavor, though, even if they'd had the inclination.  I'm pretty sure that the classic aliens still exhibited the new alien glow when they got shot, though.)

After their capture, Kincaid tells Mann about their 12 hour time limit.  Malzor was warned several times that he had only 12 hours, but how did Kincaid know?  Also, how did Miranda know where to go to meet back up with Harrison and Kincaid?  The script doesn't seem fully thought out.

The Ugly: Continuity Alien parasites in the ear of the human general in charge of cleaning up after the aliens.  Of course, we've seen this before, in a much more dramatic fashion, in Star Trek II, so no points for originality here.  Once again, the black and white detracts.  A nice green alien glow might have helped sell the parasite.

So, an ambitious episode, but one that doesn't really live up to its promise.  It's nice to see the 1953 setting, but it could have been a much starker contrast to Almost Tomorrow than it wound up being.  I like that the aliens seem to be getting more desperate, though.  Time travel has to be a risky proposition, even for the Eternal.  On the whole, though, everything seems a little too easy for our heroes. 

One notion I do enjoy is that this inoculation explains why Quinn is running around.  It always bothered me that the ONE alien who was immune was so high ranked.  However, if Malzor had a vaccine, wouldn't he go straight for the command crew?  It's not supported directly by the canon, but it's a notion I enjoy. 

War of the Worlds: The Final Season, is available for preorder now and will be out on DVD this October, if you'd care to watch it for yourself.  You can


The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

As always, great review, Jim. I remember when I saw the promo for this episode when it originally aired, I was excited to see what would happen. However, I feel as if this episode came undone as it went on. There are good moments such as:

- The imagery inside the carnival is very creepy and very effective as you mentioned.

- I like the scene between Harrison meeting his younger self just for the fact that Jared Martin was acting his ass off in that scene. But, shouldn't Harrison know he shouldn't interact with himself because that could negatively impact the future, but I digress.

- I agree with the whole Sylvia Forrester part. This episode was supposed to be five days following the end of the invasion, so how she married Clayton that fast is remarkable and unfathomable (talk about fast courtships). But it is established that they were not married and also, if the original first season crew continued the show, Sylvia would have been romantically linked to a very different character.

- Why are the aliens wearing the contamination suits? It was established in "The Walls of Jericho" that the suits were developed for the Advocates.

I love the idea that the Eternal orders Malzor to go back and time and save the invasion force that we saw Malzor exterminated in "The Second Wave". Maybe, the Eternal prefers the Advocacy to Malzor.

This has always bothered me. Mana tells Malzor that the invasion force were killed by a microbe. That contradicts the first season premise entirely, where they weren't killed, they went into suspended animation until they were resurrected. The Morthren even executed the first wave aliens in the second season premiere. So, how could they have been killed?

I don't like the idea of all this build-up of Malzor reuniting with the first wave aliens and then they get exterminated by Blackwood and Kincaid in five seconds. Not very dramatic in my mind, but whatever. And also why is Malzor communicating with them in English? Shouldn't he speak their native language?

The General Mann in the episode is a much inferior version to the one Les Tremayne played in the '53 film.

There are positives, I like the build up leading to Malzor preparing to make his leap back in time. The direction is also good, I just don't think it was executed as well as it could have been.

Anonymous said...

I found this episode to be one of the most enjoyable episodes of season 2, merely because it actually felt like War of the Worlds to me. Season 2 for me fell far short of what came before, and I actually felt some nostalgia here, mostly because it was nice to see another war machine, even if it was a matte painting. Now, that being said, I, like the author of the review, have many problems with this episode, not the least of which being Malzor's strategy. It makes perfect logical sense that Malzor would seek out the surviving leaders of the alien invasion when he goes to inoculate them. That being said, why did he not simply have them scramble outside to the one weapon sitting right there that could have won the war for them in an instant?? Obviously, had they been able to reach the warship, they could've easily incinerated Blackwood and Kincaid, and any other troublesome humans in the area, and proceeded with the inoculations uninterupted. Another big problem I had with the episode was, as previously mentioned, the black and white. The black and white filming makes little sense continuity wise since the movie itself was in color. I understand it's an artistic way of showing the past, but if the original movie was in color, why not just film the whole episode in color? Finally, I really enjoyed seeing the original aliens again, but the contamination suits?? That just seemed lazy to me. It's like they didn't have access to the original alien costumes, or just didn't want to use them and instead put the actors in the old contamination suits (which made no sense because they weren't fabricated for the original invasion) and gave them alien masks and leg covers. And another good point that was made was why Malzor didn't talk to the aliens in their native tongue. It would've been nice to have heard that again. It sure sounded better than all the whale noises the aliens and the eternal make. I also felt the guy who played General Mann didn't come close to the great Les Tremayne.

dysamoria said...

my way of working out the screw-ups:

- the Eternal back-pedaled on the decision to purge the caste from the original invasion, OR maybe the execution was all Malzor's choice/option and the Eternal wanted to undo this act.

- the Morthren are able to create a cure for the original invasion force so easily because they have their own technology (and maybe even easier because it was the new Morthren bio-engineered technology, not the Mor-Tax tech of metal, crystals, and other manufactured machinery). the Advocacy failed in their attempts to solve this (actually, they didn't entirely fail in the research because the human scientist they brainwashed - the colleague of Susanne - did indeed solve it) likely because they had to rely on the repurposing of inferior/unfamiliar human tech for their uses.

- the microbe might indeed have killed the invading aliens without the vaccine Malzor brought with him to 1953. since Almost Tomorrow is a kind of alternate reality, maybe we can assume that Malzor's actions in this episode are the reason the Mor-Tax aliens in season two were ABLE to be awakened at all (instead of being dead and rotting). when Malzor is "forgiven" by the Eternal at the end of the story, it seems to me that he'd simply fulfilled a historical event the Eternal knew he'd participated in back in 1953. but this theory then relies on the escaping Mor-Tax alien (seen getting away with the vaccine before the rest get mowed down by Team Blackwood) having been able to dig in some where, mass-produce the cure, spread it... have a bunch of aliens spread it around the world before falling into their hibernation... eh... maybe the best explanation is indeed that the Mor-Tax alien who escaped was Quinn!

these two points are failed by the way season 2 flip-flops on the continuity between Second Wave and The Obelisk ... i mean, wouldn't Malzor care about his wife in the 1953 invasion fleet/"science research visit?" heh... and if thousands of Mor-Tax aliens exist in hibernation in steel drums hidden around the world... surely Malzor couldn't possibly have executed them all in Second Wave!! i like to think that the old laughing bum with face-rot in Seft Of Emon is a season 1 alien ;-)

- the Mor-Tax

- the suits being worn by the dying aliens in the warehouse in 1953 are simply the original uniforms the Mor-Tax Morthren based their cooling suits off of. why not use a standard design when making new outfits in 1988/89? makes sense to me... granted, all of season 1 and the movie suggests the Mor-Tax aliens have no use for clothing at all... so they should have been naked... oops... the new production team trashed all of the costumes and most of the prosthetics and animatronics from Team Strangis... (season two's only original shots of Morthren native form, with proper animated head and hands was in the execution scene of The Second Wave, which was reused in Seft of Emon for Harrison's appropriate vision of the aliens as he learned to fear them).

(no solution to the Sylvia naming problem or the foolishness of not speaking the native language... though... without taking over host bodies, the Mor-Tax aliens wouldn't have understood Malzor speaking english... and why would he WANT to?)

can you tell that i've obsessed over the insane screw-up of Mancuso JR's "revamp" of the series? ;-) it's all pretty stupid how it all worked out, production-wise, but i like to try to put the parts together in the fictional world anyway...

Jimtron said...

Welcome aboard, dysamoria. Glad to have your insights here.

While it's certainly possible to come up with some fan-based continuity patches for this episode (hell, I've done some myself) I find that to be an ultimately dissatisfying exercise. I guess we'll get to do more when we get to the massive retcons of The Obelisk.

dysamoria said...

i'm in full agreement. it's just "all we're left with" so that's why it happens at all. as a writer and a lover of series story-telling (especially SF), it comes naturally to me. heck, you mentioned another series in parallel that has just about the same sting of screwing the installed audience: Earth: Final Conflict... i still haven't been able to sit through the rest of season 5 it's so awful, yet season one was near incredible. so.. i have plenty of experience! (granted E:FC didn't retool the concepts nearly as abruptly as WOTW).

i'm glad for what we got, but i'm terribly disappointed by the utter abandonment of potential inherent in the show as originally created prior to Mancuso. as a creative person who has an impulsive pattern-recognition mind, i can't NOT be working out fan-solutions to screw-ups ;-)

Scott J. Larson said...

The comment about Quinn is one that I considered even when I only saw the trailer for this episode. Upon reflection of the entire series, I would like to offer another possibility along those same lines. In the Prodigal Son, Quinn describes himself as the supreme commander, that he left his home, and his mate, and that his society didn't listen to it's scientists. If you take a look at the Obelisk, Tela led the "exploration" to Earth. She left her home and her "mate"Malor. The Morthern leaders didn't listen to their scientists. In Time To Reap, Malor goes to where the aliens are, and holds one of their hands. I'm assuming that this is the same alien who was first to be inoculated and who disappeared with the anti-bodies. The possibility I'm raising here, which is no more than fanboy musings, is that Quinn is Tela.