Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 39

Video Messiah is the thirty-ninth episode of War of the Worlds, the series.  It features an alien ploy to infiltrate an advertising agency to ply the world with subliminal messages, making humans more violent than we already are.  The gang manages to find out about the plan by proactively downing an alien surveillance monitor, though as it turns out Kincaid is dating Mindy Cooper, one of the executives at the agency.  For some reason the aliens want the CEO of Hardy Galt Industries to take on a new, amoral human partner, so they arrange for an executive retreat between them and a motivational speaker / clone / video messiah, Doctor Van Order.  Most of the participants die, but the gang saves Mindy and kills the clone.  Not to worry, though, the aliens have the original and thousands of hours of Van Order, so their plan proceeds.  Or does it, since Hardy Galt seems shocked when Mindy brings the impact of the subliminals to his attention.

The Good: Let's see.  While the episode isn't great, there are some nice details in there. Perhaps my favorite bit was the wonderfully pornographic quality to the commercial that was embedded with subliminal messages and used to reprogram the executives into murderers.  It feels uncomfortable to watch, no, with the pounding music and the sensual imagery?  The link between sex and violence has been touched on before in this series, and it's nice to see these themes explored further.

The philosophy of selfishness has the catch phrase "it's your world," especially ironic considering that the aliens believe just the opposite.  Oh, and using Hardy Galt brings to mind John Galt, the avatar of selfishness (in a good way) of Atlas Shrugged, surely not a coincidence. 

I like the team taking the initiative, by bringing down an alien probe device.  That we saw one so prominently last week is good continuity.  I also like how nervous Kincaid was before his date.  He's so tough, and yet so vulnerable.  Adrian Paul has really sold me on the character, no mean feat given how much I miss Ironhorse.
Mana in human garb looks great, all gussied up with a veil, of all things.  Nice lighting there too, it makes her seem ethereal.  It's a shame we didn't see more alien interaction this episode, but Van Order really stole the show as far as villains go this time out.

Speaking of, Roy Thinnes does a great job as the wonderfully self-assured and charismatic clone.  One touch I enjoyed; even after the clone was killed, his idea of a name-change for Hardy Galt Industries, to Hardy Galt Worldwide, was carried out.  Cute.

The Bad: If my synopsis seems like a jumbled mess, it's because that's how the episode plays.  This feels like a rejected and recycled script left over from  Max Headroom with some Friday the Thirteenth, the series thrown in as the execs start to murder each other.  (Yes, their uniforms look ridiculous, but I think that was on purpose to help dehumanize them.)  The tone isn't very 'Almost Tomorrow' at all, what with the cushy ad execs.  A barter economy one week, exotic oils advertised the next?

That Van Order was a video messiah wasn't that important, he had a strong physical presence.  That being the case, why even bother to do it?

The alien ploy makes little sense.  Why clone a motivational speaker, then have him convince an advertising CEO to blanket the world with subliminal messages, then go to the trouble of grooming a human partner?  Wouldn't it have been easier to just clone Hardy Galt and be done with it?

Oh, and of course, coincidence.  If you're going to have the gang bag an alien surveillance device, then why have Kincaid know Mindy Cooper at all?  I understand it brings some emotional stakes to the game, but surely he could have met her in the course of investigating HGI.  (McCullough infiltrating HGI by pretending to be a client felt very season one to me, but this was neither good nor bad.  Just an observation.)

The Ugly: All of the execs get murdered, one by one.  Kurt is electrocuted, Bob is stabbed, and Jane is strangled in her bathtub.  (Kincaid gets Clark, the murder.)  I think Jane's death was the most shocking and graphic.

A weak offering.  By straying too far from the tone of the series, we're left with an odd set-up that might have played well on its own but in this venue just doesn't work.  Add in an overly convoluted plot to justify the scenario and we get an entirely forgettable addition to the tapestry.    War of the Worlds: The Final Season, is available for sale on DVD, though this episode isn't much of an argument in favor of buying it.


The Sultan of Sarcasm said...

I did enjoy the character of Dr. Van Order. It was nice to see Roy Thinnes (of The Invaders fame) as Van Order, who was by far my favorite clone of the second season. I really got a kick out of he almost seemed to annoy Malzor and Mana with his pomposity.

I know Catherine Disher was pushing the producers for her to get out of the base, so it was nice to see her outside their HQ. And I agree the way she was shot was particularly well-done.

We are in agreement about the aliens scheme for this one. It seems as if they really overcomplicated things. If they had Van Order, I don't know why they need Hardy Galt to find a partner so they can carry out their plans.

It feels like a good premise that starts off good and just falls apart as the hour goes along. Again, Van Order is the reason why I kept watching the episode.

dysamoria said...

i disliked this one strongly. first because it is a three-strikes stab at subliminal messaging in WOTW and maybe even a third attempt at inducing humans to be violent. recycling. reuse.

secondly, the way you described it as being like an episode of Friday the 13th The Series is DEAD ON (no pun intended). this is a tone that Mancuso and Co. really spread all over this season and is one of the very powerful dividers between the two seasons. tone and atmosphere are powerful subconscious effectors. i have enjoyed the changes in tone at many occasions this season for the value they add to individual episodes, but this one is an example of the show literally playing like "some other show" (without even considering the plot and character changes between seasons one and two whatsoever).

it's a kind of melodrama, i think, combined with lighting, sound effects use and set design that help to make this tone. (and poor believability in stunt work)

strangely, though... i LIKED seeing Suzanne doing the undercover thing in this episode (like her undercover stint in Synthetic Love)... for one misguided reason: it felt a little more like season one's "real world" feel. otherwise, i find undercover infiltration to be a horrible trope.

i can't say anything more specific than ranting about the tone. that's how much it affected my viewing experience this time around.

Scott J. Larson said...

The highlight of this episode was Harrison and Suzanne finding and bringing down the Alien probe. It had a season one flavor to it and conveyed a sense of optimism that was really lacking in S2 for the most part. Them being super excited about about it and figuring out how it worked was fantastic. Especially since that subplot carries over into the next episode in which they actually use it for themselves.The serialization in this way of the final five episodes of this series was unprecedented for a show in that particular era, to my knowledge. It was almost a precursor to what was done in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and beyond. It made everything leading up to the finale more exciting.