The Good: This is a decidedly mixed episode, with some really interesting elements but some really glaring flaws. Starting off with the former, we have the acting, especially on the part of the late, great Denis Forest. So many great scenes, Malzor has. His desperate pleading with the eternal, his escalating confrontations with Mana, his insane rantings at the end. This is someone who is slowly losing everything in his world. "There are forty of us left. DO WE ALL HAVE TO DIE IN THIS FORSAKEN PLACE?!?" I could watch him perform all day. He tries so desperately to keep his calm over the course of the episode, though eventually he descends into a complete emotional breakdown.
Oh, and on the subject of trust, Kincaid never really trusts Mana. After all, in his words, "the bitch killed my brother!" That was one of the best scenes in the episode, and a nice bit of continuity. Also nice continuity that Seeto and Debi meet back at the theater, and that Malzor is clever enough to figure that out. (But see below.)
I'm glad that we get to see the aliens in their natural form one last time, during Malzor's flashback. It's interesting to see those monstrous forms used with tender music and directing.
I like that Seeto, when he steals the Obelisk, uses a weapon set to stun. After all, there are so few aliens left, that they shouldn't start killing each other. (But see below.)
There is some nice symmetry in allowing Debi to avenge the death of Seeto. Malzor is set up as the ultimate villain in this episode, manipulating his own people into a course of action they wouldn't normally take. That a human youth avenges this wrong perpetrated on both their peoples feels right.
I enjoyed seeing the visual of Morthrai. I was also glad to see Ardix, Bayda, and Seeto one last time. I suppose Kemo wouldn't have fit in this episode, though Adam would have been a nice addition, even if just in the background.
Finally, the final scene of the team walking into the sunrise strikes a nice level of optimism, especially with the symbolism of Debi's plant. Yes, the future isn't set and yes, there will still be challenges ahead. The human race seems to face the same demons that literally destroyed Morthrai, but perhaps with remnants of that planet Harrison and co can help save this one. After all, saving the planet was always what Harrison wanted, much more so than revenge. With only 35 aliens left, (plus perhaps a few stragglers like Quinn & Kemo) the Morthrai will need Harrison's protection and advocacy, but I think he's pragmatic enough to do that. Perhaps humanity, like Debi's plant, will flourish.
The Bad: I'll bet you thought I'd start with continuity. Well, no, but I'll get to that. This is a very weak story in its own right, though it's not a terrible series finale. Huge swaths of the episode are devoted to expository flashbacks. Is now, the climax of the series, really the best time for that? There is a needless subplot of Kincaid running around apart from the team, meeting up with them later, but it serves no dramatic purpose except to eat up time. We really shouldn't be killing time in the series finale.
Malzor bearing the entire brunt of the guilt for everything that happened is really cheap on the part of the writers. He staged a coup and launched an expedition for revenge, tricking his race into going along with him. I don't like the lack of culpability for everyone else, even though time and again we've seen them commit atrocities without a second thought.
The obelisk. It's awfully late in the series to be introducing a Deus Ex Machina like this. Not only that, but it really serves little purpose. It gives everyone flashbacks, which I don't think was really necessary, and it points Malzor towards the spores. Wouldn't it have been better if he came up with the plan himself, rather than have it suggested by a crystal? Hell, if for some reason the writers really wanted this to be an external idea, what's wrong with The Eternal?
For a show that's really about the Blackwood Project, the final episode sure was Malzor's tale. Now, ok, I get it, he's probably the most interesting character in the show at this point. Still, it's the series finale. I can't help but feel that it should have been more about Harrison and his journey.
Continuity. Ugh. Yeah, it's pretty bad. Not the worst thing about the episode, but it's in the top five. Normally I give continuity flubs a pass, but this episode makes itself, for no real reason, all about the origin of the conflict, which opens the door for this kind of dissection. At the risk of being a petty nerd, here goes:
- Starting at the beginning, apparently it WAS the atomic bombings of Japan that lured the aliens to Earth, as Harrison speculated back in Choirs of Angels. We see the aliens setting off on a peaceful expedition, but the events of the movie CLEARLY depict an aggressive species that initiated hostility and rejected multiple overtures of peace.
- Moving on to the first season, the Morthren were the only life form in their galaxy... but we've seen that the Synths of Qar'to, introduced in Angel of Death, were from the same solar system.
- We also learned that the aliens had visited us multiple times in the past, PRIOR to the atomic bombings, in the episodes An Eye for an Eye and The Raising of Lazarus.
- For that matter, Malzor states that before now it was not in their best interest to eradicate all human life. Ummm... that was their stated goal since almost the beginning of the series. I guess that, with only 40 or so of them left, it makes sense to just subtly take over and let humanity do all the legwork for them, but I've always got the sense that they were working towards complete extermination.
- Ok, MAYBE it's forgivable to have blatant contradictions between season one and season two, since this was done by a new bunch of creative folks, but what about Seft of Emon? Clearly the Morthrai encountered Seft's people before they learned about humanity, and that was just this season. And don't try to retcon it away by saying that the Morthren visited the Emon after the humans, since the Morthren are using crystal-based tech in the flashbacks.
- Finally, a contradiction WITHIN THE EPISODE ITSELF. Mana seems horrified to be using the Talesian Spores, since lifeforms like those are what wiped out life on Morthrai. That could be beautiful symmetry, but later on in the same episode we find out that it was sending two expeditions to Earth that destroyed Morthrai. Boo!
Mana, unlike Seeto, does not set her weapon to stun and kills at least two of her people. That's 5% of her ENTIRE RACE. It's not like the weapons don't have a stun setting. We JUST saw Seeto use it!
The producers, during the destruction of Morthrai, have Malzor inform Mana that she must pick the few of their race to travel to Earth, and that they'd abandon their history, memory, culture. They'd become a new race. This is a very clumsy attempt to, I assume, bridge some of the gap between S1 and S2. By this point, no one still watching really cares. The time to do this was somewhere from episode 1 to episode 4 of this season. Add in all of the many contradictions with S1 that I noted above and it's a very strange exchange that serves no real purpose.
A nitpick or two. Why did Kincaid grab a walkie-talkie but then not use it until after he walks into a Morthren ambush? I mean, there were ample opportunities for action, but that sequence felt forced. Also, is it REALLY plausible that atomic bombs would draw aliens from another GALAXY? Little fission bombs? I mean, there are supernovas happening ALL THE TIME with many, many orders of magnitude more power in them.
The Ugly: The series has always been good for some grotesque imagery, and the series finale doesn't disappoint. This time it's the death of Malzor. I rather enjoy the drawn-out nature of his expiration. After all, like some kind of space Nazi Jesus, he's dying to absolve his race of sin.
And there you have it, the final episode of War of the Worlds, the series. There are some high points, mostly emotional. There are some low points, mostly around the logic, structure of the plot, and pacing of the episode. At least we got a satisfactory resolution. The team gets a happy ending, and the aliens get a shot to live in peace with humanity. They have to cheat, a lot, to get to that ending, though, which undercuts it greatly. Still, it could have been worse. We could have ended on some random episode, or on an open-ended plot point as in Angel of Death.
So, what about season two? Well... it's no season one. I think, on the whole, it was a more ambitious and serious undertaking. Season one was always marred by a tonal dissonance. On the one hand, there were all these moments of goofy levity, but on the other you had these horrible monsters who seemed to enjoy the acts of torture and mutilation. So much of the plot made little sense, most especially the frequent references to the events of the 1953 invasion and yet the complete lack of knowledge on the part of the general public about aliens.
Season two corrected many of those problems, crafting an overall more serious and more socially conscious show. There were more attempts to look at real social problems, and an environment conducive to doing so. However, to get to that point much of what made season one special was butchered. I don't just mean the continuity disconnect, either. Season one, at its best, was about FRIENDS striving against adversity to SAVE the world. In season two, it's about COMRADES fighting for survival AGAINST a hostile world. That's a pretty big change.
The second season also suffered from a serious structural problem. In season one, with the resources of the US government, the team could reasonably be expected to discover alien activity and combat it. In season two, even though the scope of the problem is localized to a single city, the team is an underground band of rebels. They have no reliable way to find out about alien activity, and thus perhaps half of the episodes have some horrible contrivance to get things started.
An aspect where season two did excel was their villains. As much as I loved The Advocacy, Malzor and Mana were better villains. You never get to know the Advocacy; they're such ciphers. Sure, watching them complain about humanity was fun, but it was a guilty pleasure. Seeing Forest and Disher every week (and Richings every other week or so) allowed the aliens to grow and change as characters, as impacted by the war as our heroes were.
On the whole, season two benefited from its ambitious premise and managed to tell some great stories. Getting past the abrupt changes from S1 to S2 takes effort, but in my view it's effort worth spending. I'd rather S2 have been a brand new show, rather than a continuation of S1, but the S2 we got did manage to get some emotional payoffs from the set-up of S1, mostly in terms of the first couple of episodes of the season. I don't think having S2 diminishes S1; if it REALLY bothers you that much, you can just stop watching at Angel of Death and pretend that that's the end of the series. Aside from the S1/S2 transition, S2 really is quite a decent little science fiction show. I dare say that if S2 was its own entity, it would probably have been the better remembered and more influential of the two.
But what of the series in toto? Well, sadly, there IS the reality of the S1/S2 tonal and premise shift. That's a huge structural weakness in the show. There is almost no synergy between the two seasons; the strengths of one are not the strengths of another. S1 is fun, enjoyable, light-hearted despite the monsters. It's almost like a fairy tale, with horrible monsters but at least you always knew your heroes would win in the end. S2 has so much higher emotional stakes, even though the actual scope of the show was much narrower. It felt like anyone could die, even the heroes.
Thus, there's little to recommend the series AS A SERIES. As two separate series, with a strange relationship between them, I'd say yes, it's probably worth watching if you're into that sort of thing. Black humor and cheesy sci-fi your thing? Watch S1. Do you like dystopian tales? Give S2 a whirl. That said, I don't regret watching it and analyzing it as thoroughly as I have. Sure, it has myriad flaws, but both seasons have a ton of heart. Just about every episode had something that I found praiseworthy, and it was a fun trip down memory lane for me. I have fond memories of staying up late with my brother and sister and watching this show in the basement on a Friday night, drinking root beer and eating snacks. I get the show on a whole 'nother level now, but it still works as a frightening story where monsters can be anywhere, anyone, just waiting to grab you.
War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season and War of the Worlds: The Final Season are both available on DVD for your viewing pleasure, easily affordable at Amazon.com. Next week, I turn the Thursday/Friday TV review slot over to my buddy Bish, who has agreed to review all 22 episodes of Space: Above and Beyond. I hope you're as excited by that prospect as I am.
Finally, and I do mean finally, I hope you enjoyed these 44 reviews, and to my regular commentors I want to say 'thank you.' I didn't know if ANYONE else remembered the show, and was heartened to find out that so many of you did, and moreover enjoyed reading what I had to say about it. You guys made this whole endeavor worth it to me.