July 4, 2015
July 1, 2015

Grapevine: Alien Nation

Alien Nation DVD setI have an intensely stupid confession to make. Back in 1989, when I found out that there was a weekly TV series starting up based on Alien Nation, I purposefully avoided it because I had the movie Alien Nation confused with They Live, which I hadn’t liked (I like it better now, though possibly not as much as the story it’s based on, “Eight O’clock in the Morning”).

I mean, actually, I hadn’t really liked Alien Nation either. The movie is basically Lethal Weapon crossed with Trancers (the first one, when it was trying to be a serious, gritty science fiction action film, not the rest of the franchise were they just went nuts with delicious Low-Budget Science Fiction Cheeze), and that’s not really my thing. But neither did Kenneth Johnson when Fox approached him to make the show. The thing about the movie is that, looking back on it as an adult, there isn’t really all that much reason for there to be aliens in it. It’s a movie about a white cop who has to set aside his bigotry when he’s partnered with a black alien cop in order to bring down an illegal drug smuggling operation and avenge his slain former partner (who, presumably, was two days from retirement). Yeah, sure the drug in question is an alien steroid and it makes addicts turn into The Incredible Hulk, and sure, the head of the drug ring dies by dissolving in seawater, and sure, the partner gets drunk on sour milk, but why bother? The first scene of the movie is basically District 13, but then it just turns into a buddy cop movie — there’s no serious exploration of what it means for humanity to make extraterrestrial contact at all, let alone in the form of three hundred thousand permanent refugees, and we learn basically nothing about the alien culture. It’s a technically proficient movie with good makeup and good acting and solid writing, but there’s just not enough of an idea behind it to justify its existence when there are already one 48 Hours, one Lethal Weapon, and two Beverly Hills Cops by this point.

The Hidden video coverDo you get the feeling that Buddy Cop Shows were hot right now? Cagney and Lacey had just ended its run in May of 1988, and Miami Vice would end its a year later. In the Heat of the Night premiered in ’88. I’ve already mentioned more than once that the first season of War of the Worlds feels at times like it’s trying to be a Buddy Cop Show about alien-hunting. Alien Nation would premier on Fox about a month before the second season started up. 1988 also gave us the Treat Williams/Joe Piscopo film Dead Heat, a buddy cop film with zombie cops, A year earlier, we had the Kyle MacLachlan buddy cops-but-one-of-them-is-an-alien film The Hidden. Dolph Lundgren would have a Buddy Cops vs Aliens film in 1990 with I Come in Peace.

It’s reductivist and misleading and probably insulting to pretend that the past is simply a failed draft of the present. But it’s equally true that the present didn’t just spring fully formed into existence one day out of nowhere. And more to the point, when we look back on a history full of failures — failed TV series, if you’re me, but, y’know, it’s a metaphor — we should recognize that a lot of the time, things don’t fail because the people involved were stupid or backward or ignorant. Rather, they were caught up in an impasse between the world they actually lived in, and the world that was coming into being. That tension basically ripped War of the Worlds in two. I like to say that the past is haunted by the future, mostly because I take a certain pleasure in contradicting Derrida. The past is full of things that don’t work because they don’t belong there. Captain Power failed because 1987 was not the right place to do that kind of show. War of the Worlds failed because 1988 was not the right place to do a protracted Cold War metaphor and 1989 was not the right place to do a protracted religious extremism metaphor. Here, at the tail end of the nexus, there’s a concerted drive to make the next big Buddy Cop Science Fiction Action Adventure. And it doesn’t work in 1989, because we all know what the next big Buddy Cop Science Fiction Action Adventure is going to be: 1992’s Mann and Machine.

No, wait,1993’s The X-Files. Sorry. Freudian slip. No idea where that came from.

So Johnson wasn’t especially into Alien Nation, but there was one scene he liked where alien cop Sam “George” Francisco is with his family. So he decided to retool the whole thing from Lethal Weapon with aliens into In The Heat of the Night with aliens, with the focus being less on buddy cop action, and more on how human and alien cultures interacted and influenced each other, particularly highlighting mutual distrust and the hollywood-friendly sort of racism that is explained away as the work of uninformed or malevolent individuals rather than systematic hegemony woven into the structure of society at all levels. Depending on who you ask, it kinda sounds like that was a big part of what Rockne S. O’Bannon was shooting for when he wrote the script to the movie, which makes plenty of sense given his resume (He’s the Farscape guy, in case you didn’t know), but I don’t see much of that in the finished product.

It’s cult science fiction television in the late ’80s, so of course the handling of racism is going to be primitive and hamfisted and built around simpleminded platitudes written by middle-class college-educated white guys who know approximately balls about being on the receiving end of social injustice that comes down too hard on the side of, “Oppressed populations should just be patient and trust the system to work this all out eventually, and above all, try not to freak out the white folks.” What do you expect? Science fiction has a long history of being about social commentary, yes, but it also has a long history of being awfully superficial about it, and also of being heavily skewed toward middle-class college-educated white guys who know approximately balls about being on the receiving side of social injustice. Like, every time Star Trek tried to be all deep and literary, they just took another swing at doing Moby-Dick (Did you know Moby-Dick is hyphenated? I didn’t) in space. Don’t get me wrong, Moby-Dick is a classic. But the fourth time you rip off a work of literature typically taught in middle school, people should stop calling you deep.

What’s memorable about Alien Nation isn’t the social commentary, but the level of detail that went into depicting the alienness of the aliens. We’re not all the way to Farscape levels here yet, but there’s definitely more thought gone into them than Star Trek‘s approach of “Pick an existing ethnic stereotype and glue gumball-machine toys to their nose.” The backstory to the series is that in 1988, a gigantic, crippled space ship landed on Earth, carrying a quarter-million alien refugees. These aliens, the Tenctonese (also called, depending on how racist you are, “Newcomers” or “Slags”) were a genetically manipulated slave race that had overthrown their masters. We never learn anything about these masters, since it wasn’t where the show wanted to go and also because the Tenctonese didn’t really know much about them either as they were a shadowy and distant sort of overlord, acting through intermediaries.

Once the Tenctonese work out that they can’t fix the ship, the US government, kind of unbelievably, naturalizes the lot of them and declares them US citizens with the full rights and responsibilities thereunto. They all go through immigration, where bored INS workers give them all stupid names like “Oliver Clothesoff” and “Sam Francisco” (“Passive-aggressively give the foreigners stupid names as a life-affecting joke” is possibly the most realistic thing about how the whole event is treated), and most of them move to Los Angeles, where, yeah, they face racism and bigotry, but not, say, rioting in the streets by armed religious extremists determined to exterminate the abominations from space or anything like that (There’s a cult right at the end of the series who tries to commit genocide using a bioweapon, but, again, we’re just talking about a small group of extremists, not, as happens to minority groups in the real world, serious elected officials suggesting we should round them all up and execute them, or at least give them a different and lesser set of de jure rights from straight white Christian male human people). It’s very much romanticized in the vein of the stories we like to tell ourselves about the struggle of late-19th century immigrants from Europe, because those stories have happy endings that don’t involve, “And a hundred and fifty years after they gained citizenship, you still had regular incidents of cops shooting their unarmed children in the streets and facing absolutely no legal consequences for it.”

Physically, the Tenctonese are fairly close to human in form, superficially. They’ve got slightly bulbous heads with spots instead of hair (the spots are also erogenous zones), which fade when they’re mentally incapacitated. They’ve got a third biological sex (nominally counted as male) that facilitates reproduction but doesn’t contribute genetic material. Salt is caustic to them, while arsenic is a condiment. They can’t eat cooked food. Sour milk is an intoxicant. They’re more susceptible to poisons due to their faster circulatory systems. Because they were genetically modified for manual labor in harsh conditions, they’re a bit stronger than humans on average, and, because TV sci-fi loves evolution but does not have a clue how it works, they can apparently evolve over the course of a generation or two to adapt to a new environment. Humans and Tenctonese can’t interbreed, but it’s implied that this might change a few decades down the road (A human-alien hybrid hoax is the plot of one of the post-series movies, and in one of the post-series novels, a Tenctonese woman is impregnated by a human, but the fetus is non-viable). Also, cross-species relations require special training to avoid severe injury. They’re sexually liberated — the worst judgment you’ll get out of them is that they think treating sex lightly is childish. Same-sex and inter-species marriages are accepted (Remember, this is the eighties. I would so love to see the dissenting opinion in Heywood Jablome v. California to hear how Alito tried to explain that a Newcomer marrying a human was totes different from Loving v. Virginia). Oh, and the menfolk carry the young for part of the gestation cycle, seahorse-style, mostly because we as a TV-viewing culture find the concept of a pregnant man hilarious. Relevant to a cop show, they have no fingerprints, their eyes change color when embarrassed, and their feet swell under stress.

But all that’s the sort of thing you see all the time in science fiction. In fact, I think at least half of them turned up in Star Trek Enterprise. What I think really set Alien Nation the series apart from most shows in the genre is the detail it puts into the alien culture. Yes, they have their own spoken language, which is, par for the course, pretty clearly English with all the words swapped one-for-one with an invented lexicon (Which, it turns out, is mostly mispronounced Russian with some clicks thrown in). They’ve also got a written language which is kind of neat because it’s cursive (a rarity for invented Sci-Fi writing systems) and kind of resembles an EKG. But most interestingly, they’re not a monoculture. They totally could have gotten away with them being one, what with the whole, “This is the first generation that hasn’t lived under an extremely oppressive regime stunting their societal evolution” thing. But the Tenctonese are a pretty varied culture. Many assimilate fully into human society, others don’t. They’ve got more than one religion — at least four big ones, near as I can tell, with smaller sects and cults. You’d normally expect that even if a writer did deign to give an alien race more than one religion, they’d be a pretty much random assortment of faiths, probably thinly veiled equivalents of the most popular Earth religions. And while there certainly are obvious parallels to Earth religions, what’s even more prominent is the sense that these religious traditions evolved together and informed each other. We’re told that the ancient Tenctonese were a matriarchal society, and while their modern society is at least as egalitarian as ours (probably a bit more), there are still artifacts of that preserved to varying degrees in their various religions. The oldest religion is a form of goddess worship, and strictly matriarchal; the newer but now more prominent Celinist faith practices a form of hero worship with a backstory vaguely similar to Christianity, and its traditions aren’t strictly matriarchal, but its clergy remains predominantly female. Some of the religions have some practices in common as well, like the dreamcatcher-like artifacts they place near their beds, and gift-giving traditions (Never give a Newcomer cut flowers, especially when they’re sick. They would prefer something that hasn’t been, y’know, murdered in the prime of its life). There are elements of their culture that reflect their history of slavery as well: they really dig clowns, what with professional entertainers not being something they ever had access to before. But they find slapstick distasteful, since Moe Howard slapping his brother for incompetence isn’t as funny to someone used to being brutalized for every failure. This being the first generation of Tenctonese in a long time that were able to choose their own mates, a lot of them have trouble adjusting to the freedom to date, and resort to dating services and taking “love potion” drugs.

Alien Nation the Movie

You may by this point have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the show itself, or its characters or its plots or anything like that. Like I said, I didn’t watch it at the time. The show is set around 1995, when the Tenctonese aliens have integrated themselves into human society enough that they’re just starting, in limited numbers, to find their way into positions of wealth and influence (Though they still don’t have the vote for some reason, that not having just happened by default by virtue of them all having been naturalized as US citizens in the backstory). The majority of them, of course, are still living in ghettos and doing manual labor — a role for which their biology gives them certain advantages, and as you’d expect, creates tension with blue-collar human communities whose jrrbs they’ve taken. The human lead is Matthew Sikes. In the movie, he’s played by James Caan, but for the series, the role goes to Gary Graham, who you may know as Ambassador Soval, the Vulcan buzzkill from Star Trek Enterprise, or from his leading role in the 1990 stop-motion giant-robot mecha gladiator movie Robot Jox (A film notorious for the way that it just completely stops dead about three seconds after its climax). He’s your typical Archie Bunker-style good-hearted-bigot who starts out obnoxiously racist, but very quickly turns around and limits himself to microaggressions that the audience is supposed to find cute, but which in reality would get you a visit from HR. As you might expect given the genre, he eventually develops a comfortable rapport with his Tenctonese partner George, and they become close friends, in spite of the fact that even by the time the series ends, he still has a freak-out when George is promoted to a superior position, even as he gets romantically involved with his Tenctonese neighbor.

Alien NationThe other male lead of the series is Sam “George” Francisco, played by frequent-’90s-sci-fi-guest-star Eric Pierpoint, taking over for Mandy Patinkin. He’s a family man (Sikes is divorced, in accordance with cop show tradition, with an adult daughter), with a son and a daughter (He gives birth to a second daughter near the end of the season). His wife, Susan, is played by Michelle Scarabelli, which is why this article goes here, instead of closer in time to when the show began or ended its run.

Much like the movie, the individual episode plots tend to be straightforward police procedural stories with a sci-fi twist. But in contrast to the movie, in the series, these are backed up with a B-plot that focuses more on Tenctonese society and the process of integrating with contemporary American culture, with the two plots tending to converge at the end when some detail of the B-plot’s examination of Tenctonese culture proves the key to unraveling the crime George and Sikes are investigating. Also, compared to the movie, the crimes tend to be a bit more “alien”: rather than simply chasing alien drug dealers or alien murderers or alien bank robbers, George and Sikes go after humans murdering Newcomers to sell their blood or organs on the black market, or serial killers who reenact Tenctonese mythology, or try to prevent an escaped Overseer from signaling the former slave-masters in space. Even when they do have a straightforward murder plot or a straightforward drug ring plot, there’s a greater emphasis on the particulars of Tenctonese culture and Tenctonese-human racial tensions that are at work. There’s also a recurring villain in the form of the “Purists”, human anti-alien extremists who, by the end of the series, release a biological weapon that threatens to exterminate the Tenctonese.

What I said before about shows that failed because they happened at the wrong time is particularly true for Alien Nation. The show had a loyal fanbase and wasn’t a failure by any of the usual metrics, in fact, it was one of the few shows FOX had that year which actually made them money. The 1989-1990 season wasn’t a financially successful year for the fledgling network. This was the year that introduced the network’s powerhouses: Married… With Children, The Simpsons, and COPS, but it would take another year or so for those to start really bringing in the money. FOX decided to go all-in, and canceled all of their dramatic series: 21 Jump Street and its spin-off Booker were out (Jump Street would survive one additional year in first-run syndication), along with an adaptation of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders and Alien Nation. The 1990-1991 season would see FOX fill out its lineup with sitcoms, sketch comedy and documentary-style true crime shows. Beverly Hills 90210 would be the only drama to air on FOX until the network added a Tuesday night lineup in the fall of 1992, and it would be another year before any of them were actually successful.

By 1994, management had changed at FOX. The network had gained proper respectability with a major network realignment and picking up Monday Night Football. The X-Files was heading into its second season, and though The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. hadn’t survived, they still had faith in this whole Science Fiction Action Adventure thing, so their lead-in to The X-Files would be the new superhero show M.A.N.T.I.S. (which, coincidentally, featured Gary Graham in a supporting role), and, caving to fan demand, the scripted second season opener for Alien Nation was retooled into a TV movie, Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, a direct continuation of the first season cliffhanger. Four more Alien Nation TV movies would air between 1995 and 1997, and FOX would keep on trying to make a go of prime time science-fiction action-adventure well into the next decade despite the fact that only The X-Files managed to last longer than a season (Dark Angel managed two, but this could not possibly have been on any merits other than Jessica Alba).

In addition to the movies, Pocket Books published an Alien Nation series of eight novels plus a novelization of the movie. The series was written by pretty much exactly the people you’d expect for this sort of thing: Peter David, Alan Dean Foster, KW Jeter, LA Graf (A pseudonym for the writing team of Julia Ecklar and Karen Rose Cercone), and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. If you’re like me, those names will be pretty familiar from Pocket’s Star Trek novels of the ’80s and ’90s. Three of the books were based on unproduced second-season scripts, two of which were later adapted into the first two TV movies, though the books and the movies diverge considerably. Malibu Comics also produced six mini-series and a one-shot based on the series.

In 2009, SyFy announced its intention to completely ignore the trends of the past decade and reboot Alien Nation as a dark-n-gritty cop drama more in line with the tone of the movie, with Tim Minear writing, but by 2014, the channel had remembered that it was run by a bunch of morons who actually kinda hate science fiction, and development was halted in favor of more reality shows about ghost hunting and professional wrestling.

And that would be the end of the story if I were faster about writing this blog. But back at the end of March, FOX announced that, due to their love of sweet, sweet feature film franchise dollars, they were going to work on a feature film reboot of the franchise, starting with a film based around the initial arrival of the aliens. Which, honestly, I think is a dumb idea. The interesting thing about Alien Nation was always that it told the story of aliens integrating with human society; the story of their arrival is more interesting as background than as the story itself. But they’re shooting for a multi-film franchise, since that’s where the money is, and you always need to start a franchise with an origin story, because the audience might be confused if they don’t actually get to see this version of Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive bat after his space pod crashes in Kansas following the destruction of his planet from super-soldier serum when his parents were killed by a mugger.

There’s something to the concept of Alien Nation that seems determined to keep coming back. Why now? Well, if I’m being cynical, perhaps it’s a matter of people being really eager for a narrative where we’ve got a minority underclass made up of former slaves and their descendants, but it’s not the majority’s fault, so they can safely pat themselves on the back for deigning to extend them any sort of civil rights at all. Which of course leaves us with the question: why would they go back to the origin story now when surely this would be the perfect time to do a story about a good and noble Human Cop who singlehandedly roots out the FEW BAD APPLES WHO TOTALLY ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF MOST COPS who’s brutal toward Newcomers and shoots an unarmed child?

It sounds like FOX may have missed the point, but I bet the second movie will be really good.


June 29, 2015

A brief observation on gender

Note: Numbers exclude performers in adult media.

  • Number of people whose gender I have determined by observation of their genitals: 1
  • Number of people whose gender I have determined by their chromosomes: 0
  • Number of people whose gender I have determined by assuming their self-reporting (Or that of their representative) to be correct: All the rest of them

 

June 28, 2015

Roll to the Rescue: Transformers Rescue Bots Beam Box Customization

One of the myriad delights of parenthood is discovering the latest in children’s TV without the accompanying shame of being a thirty-six year old man who still watches Power Rangers.

One of Dylan’s favorites is Transformers: Rescue Bots. It’s a kid-friendly entry in the Transformers franchise. Set contemporaneously with the more mature Transformers Prime, it tells the story of Rescue Force Sigma-17, a team of four Autobots specialized for search-and-rescue operations. They’re revived and summoned to Earth after an unspecified long time in stasis. Optimus Prime, surprised to discover Rescue Bots aren’t extinct (There is a fantastic moment in the first episode where he has to struggle for words because he doesn’t want to be the one to tell them what happened to the other rescue teams), realizes that they’re not designed or trained for combat, and assigns them to assist the human search-and-rescue team on the island of Griffin Rock, where the town’s obsession with advanced technology will allow them to work undercover as experimental rescue vehicles.

This show is really fun. The visual style is clean and fun, the characters are well-developed, there’s a lot of action but very little actual fighting, and Levar Burton, Peter Cullen and Tim Curry lend their voice talents. Despite only having four regular transformer characters, they’ve managed to spin out a whole toy line by introducing alternate forms and variants — Dylan’s Transformer collection is starting to rival my own. And these are absolutely fantastic toys. They’re pretty show-accurate, have a simple one or two-step transformation, and feel nice and sturdy. You don’t worry you’re going to break them like you do with the main toy line (A fear I’ve had since my G1 Megatron shattered into about a million pieces thirty years ago), and they transform fast enough to be properly playable (By contrast, it takes about 6 weeks to transform a Movie-style Optimus Prime). Plus, there’s a weird disparity in the storyline of the merchandise and the show which makes me nostalgic for the weird-ass toy/show storyline disparities of my youth.

Transformers Rescue Bots Beam BoxOne of the more creative things in the toy line, and the reason we’re here today, is the Playskool Heroes Transformers Rescue Bots Beam Box. This is a low-end stand-alone game console based around a really cheap imitation of the Skylanders/Amiibo craze.

The Beam Box connects to a TV over a pair of RCA connectors — composite video and monaural audio. You insert one of six action figures (The four Rescue Bots, plus Optimus Prime and Bumblebee) in the box and press the big blue plunger on top. The doors on the beam box close and a spring-loaded mechanism flips the pedestal inside. When you release the button, the doors open to reveal a seeming-identical empty chamber. Sound effects from the TV and the box itself indicate that the selected robot’s been “beamed” into the game. The game consists of a six-level beat ’em up, plus four minigames. The game is voice acted, though only Optimus Prime’s voice is anything resembling show-accurate.

It’s all very cute and very simplistic, about on the level of a collection of simple Newgrounds games. It’s fun enough for an adult to enjoy a bit in a casual-game sort of way, and easy enough for a small child to have a chance.

But there’s a problem.

The console ships with the Optimus Prime action figure. Each of the other figures, sold separately, unlocks an extra character-specific minigame. Blades the Copter-Bot unlocks a game where the player must use the Scoop Claw attachment (1×03 “Hotshots”) to retrieve spilled cannisters from a river while dodging floating lobsters (1×04 “Flobsters on Parade”). Heatwave the Fire-Bot unlocks a shooting gallery-style firefighting game, Boulder the Construction-Bot’s game is, appropriately enough, a Boulder Dash-clone. Bumblebee gets a top-down side-scroller (Which as far as I can tell, may be the only top-down side-scroller ever made).

And then there’s Chase the Police-Bot. Chase’s game is basically Bumblebee’s turned 90°, making it something more conventional. Problem is, the game is broken. Specifically, they somehow seem to have neglected to implement horizontal movement. Which means that Chase dutifully walks down mainstreet of Griffin Rock until he reaches the first obstacle, at which point he gets stuck and that’s the end of the game. This is a really impressive level of incompetence, and lacking any means to patch the game, Playskool responded by slapping a sticker over the picture of Chase on the box and not releasing the action figure.

Which would be mildly disappointing and the end of the story, except that after a few minutes of playing Optimus Prime’s scenario on his new Beam Box, Dylan says to us, “I want to get all the Rescue Bots! But I want to get Chase first!”

And then, to add insult to injury, a few days later, Dylan reported to Leah one morning that he’d had a dream that she’s brought him a large box, and inside the box were the Rescue Bots for his Beam Box. And then — I swear I’m not making this up — he said, “Mommy, can you make my dream come true?”

So Leah found this video, explaining how you can shim some of the figures to fake it. The trick is that, unlike the fancier collectible-toy-based game systems, there’s no NFC chip in the Beam Box figures. Instead, pegs in the base of the figures depress pins in the box, which selects the character who appears in the game. Here’s the pin positions for each figure:

Rescue Bots Beam Box Pin Locations

Gray positions indicate absent pins.

As you can see, Optimus Prime’s pin positions are a proper subset of Chase’s (And Blades for that matter. Also, Heatwave can substitute for Boulder or Blades if you like). Which means that if you shove a folded up piece of paper in on the left of the rightmost pin, the Beam Box will register Optimus as Chase. Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee Dylan was tremendously impressed by this, and spent some time pressing various combinations of pins with his fingers to trigger the Beam Box (You can’t play this way, but the box will light up and the ‘bot will introduce itself).

But that hardly counts as making a kid’s dream come true. But from the chart above, you can see that Bumblebee’s pins are also a proper subset for Chase, and unlike Prime, Bumblebee is sold separately.

Rescue Bots ChaseAs I said before, there’s lots of variants in the toy line. Dylan has a non-transforming Chase figure that’s very similar in style to the Battle Box figures. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s about 30% too big to fit in the Beam Box, the obvious solution would be to cut the base off a spare Bumblebee, shim it, and glue it onto Chase. For that matter, if we had a 3D printer, the obvious solution would be to scan Chase and print off a reduction.

Failing that, we can see that there’s a general sort of similarity between the body types of the two bots. Most importantly, Bumblebee’s jackhammer weapon is vaguely similar in shape to Chase’s claw, and they have the same style of arms.

So. One trip to Amazon for the four available action figures and a spare Bumblebee, and it’s time for Robot Surgery.

First things first, fill in the base with epoxy. This is the functional change that makes the whole thing work: everything else is cosmetic. After the epoxy cured, I shaved it down a bit in the back to make it fit easier into the box.

Beam Box Bumblebee base

Before and after

Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee

Click to embiggen

Next, my trusty X-Acto knife removed the extraneous bits: reshape the head a little bit, modify the weapon, round out the shoulders, and remove the cable from his arm.

Foolishly, I neglected to take a picture of Bumblebee fully carved but unpainted. I handed off to Leah, who, using the figure above as a model, started the long and arduous task of repainting. Here he is with the base coat.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Custom Chase

The white marks on the base are from a reconsidered attempt to recolor it

The biggest physical difference between the two figures that couldn’t be resolved by carving was Chase’s police lights. These I had to build from scratch. Rescue Bots Custom Police LightI made a rough mold by pressing the large Chase’s lights into a block of styrofoam, then filled it with epoxy. Which was a mistake, because epoxy sticks to pretty much anything, including styrofoam. Once it was hard enough, I cut it free and shaved the surfaces with my X-Acto knife, and then trimmed around the edges to reduce the size.

By this time, Leah had mostly finished the detailing. I’m particularly impressed by how accurate the light blue for the weapon came out. We could have left it unpainted, but trimming it into a claw exposed the yellow plastic of the inside.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Chase

Hours of painting and letting paint dry, and it was time for me to epoxy the police lights to the back.

Rescue Bots Police Light

The next afternoon, Leah and I got to make Dylan’s dream come true. I’d have recorded a video of his little happy dance, but he was being resistant to the idea of putting clean pants on after a potty-related accident, and I don’t want to go to jail.

Rescue Bots Beam Box Bumblebee and Chase Comparison

Before, after, and reverse detail. Click to enlarge

Roll to the rescue.

June 27, 2015

Tales from /lost+found 13: End of Line

A number of fans were vocally angered when the events of this book, particularly in reference to the circumstances of the seventh Doctor’s regeneration, were contradicted by the 2003 episode “The Terrible Zodin”.

Doctor Who: The Dying Days alternate universe cover

Click to embiggen

 


  • The Dying Days by Lance Parkin has been out of print for years, but an ebook version is available from The Internet Archive
June 26, 2015

#LoveWins

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

576 U. S. ____ (2015)

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito all wrote dissenting opinions, which I find very strange because they all said basically the same thing, repeating the kind of douchey old argument that the decision should be settled by the legislature, because spirited debates about the rights of a minority are more valuable to society than actually granting rights to a minority. Roberts put it in a very respectable classically conservative, “This is the sort of thing the people should work out together rather than the nine of us deciding by fiat,” way. Scalia and Alito instead offered vague threats about the horrors that will ensue if the Supreme Court’s power goes unchecked.

Also, Thomas has a beef with the whole concept of substantive Due Process and at one point seems like he’s edging right up to saying “Slavery wasn’t so bad.” (“Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved,” he writes, disputing the notion that same-sex marriage bans are an affront to the dignity of same-sex couples)

I feel kind of bad for Roberts, who’s clearly trying to be a voice for moderation and slowing down and thinking things through and mostly just reminding us what we’re giving up (Albeit in a way that ignores both the track record for the majority deciding to grant rights to the minority just out of the goodness of their harts, and the fact that real harm is being done to real people while the American People struggle to make up their mind), saddled with the Three Stooges.

June 24, 2015

Thesis: A Multitude of Idols (War of the Worlds 1×04)

Richard Chavez as Paul Ironhorse in War of the Worlds“Don’t be scared. This won’t hurt you.”

It is October 24, 1988. Since last time, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were indicted on racketeering charges, Roxette released “Look Sharp” (aka “The one with almost all the Roxette songs you can remember, except maybe “Fading Like a Flower” and “Joyride”), and the World Series ended in game 5, Los Angeles beating Oakland 5-2. Kraft rejects Philip Morris’s hostile takeover bid, promising to borrow a bunch of money and fire a bunch of employees instead. Whether or not this will happen depends on how much Phillip Morris wants Kraft and how deep their pockets are (Spoiler alert: very).

In Supreme Court news, Sandra Day O’Connor is reportedly doing well after breast cancer surgery, and the Senate has just rejected Robert Bork’s nomination. The Bork nomination process, incidentally, led to the Video Privacy Protection Act, which guarantees a legal right privacy for your video rental history. Bork’s (rather banal) rental history was leaked to the press, which had no real effect on his nomination (Dude had illegally fired the Watergate Special Prosecutor in exchange for the promise of a SCOTUS nomination under Nixon. He wasn’t about to be undone by his love of the Marx Brothers), but did provide the media with some amusing irony, since one of the major criticisms of Bork was his rejection of a constitutional right to privacy (Then, as now, code for, “I will totally vote to uphold laws restricting abortion.” (What this has to do with privacy is not well understood by laymen and too long to go into here beyond saying that for everything except abortion, most everyone agrees that the state isn’t allowed to go looking into what medical procedures you’ve had done or why)). All that said, the more I learn about Bork’s judicial views — he was an influential anti-trust scholar, believed the second amendment was about state-sponsored militias rather than unrestricted private ownership, advocated a congressional “override” for SCOTUS and agreed with Brown v. Board of Education despite his criticism of the Warren court — the more I think I’d rather have two of him on the Supreme Court than one of Scalia. Which I know is damning with faint praise, but I’d totally have made that his motto, “Bork: He’s better than Scalia.”

Phil Collins’s groovy love still holds the top spot on the charts. Also, there are two different songs called “Don’t Be Cruel” on the top ten, one by Cheap Trick and one by Bobby Brown. Only one of them is a cover of the Elvis song. Kylie Minogue closes out the top ten with “The Loco-Motion”, which will eventually top out at #3. Without a Clue and Mystic Pizza are newly out in theaters.

On the far side of the pond, Doctor Who has just finished up Remembrance of the Daleks. At home, still no Star Trek, and Friday the 13th The Series is off this week. Due to the writer’s strike, a desperate ABC raided their vaults and turned up a fifteen-year-old stockpile of Mission: Impossible scripts and filmed them, the first episode premiering over the weekend. I have a handful of dim but fond memories of the 1988 Mission: Impossible, which, if I’m being honest, I think was probably better written than the original. Namely, in its plot twists, which, in the revived series, existed, rather than the original series’s narratively strange habit of having them explain their plan in the first scene, and then spend the rest of the episode pulling it off without a hitch. Things that stick out in my mind include the replacement of the original series’s iconic exploding reel-to-reel tape recorder with an exploding tiny-little-optical-disc-player (The player was tiny, and the disc was tiny. Like a little tiny CD the size of a half-dollar), an episode where they use a pocket-sized large-format printer to print a fake wall to hide behind, and my utterly mistaken notion that Phil Morris and Michael Dorn were the same guy, based on the fact that they had kinda similar voices and I hadn’t yet seen Michael Dorn out of makeup. The Wonderful World of Disney shows The Goonies, which even today is one of the best kids’ adventure films ever (I am really struck, now, though, by the pacing. You’re 2/3 of the way in before any of the cool pirate cave stuff you remember from your childhood happens). MacGyver‘s a repeat, ALF shows a new two-parter in its entirety. Tomorrow, NBC’s showing a Geraldo Rivera special on Satanism, which says pretty much what you’d expect: satanists are taking over America, sacrificing babies by the thousands, and it’s all the fault of Ozzy Osbourne. Rivera uncritically treated various Satanic Panic (What’s your mechanic?) experts (most of whom were later exposed as frauds) as primary sources, repeatedly warned audiences that the documentary was not suitable for children, and suggested cigarette-style warning labels for music with satanic content. CBS shows a rerun of the Garfield Halloween special (the one where, for all the world, it sounds like at one point Garfield shouts “Fuck it!” G’head, listen).

But we’re here to talk about War of the Worlds. And it’s kind of one step forward, two steps back from last week. It feels a lot closer to “The Resurrection” and “The Walls of Jericho” than “Thy Kingdom Come”: they’re back to trying too hard on the humor, everyone’s performance is weirdly stilted, and the plot is merely ridiculous, rather than surreal. They do revisit some of the character points from the first episode that haven’t come up recently… but, y’know, it’s a lot of the “Everyone is quirky and unlikable” stuff I complained about before. All the same, they do seem to be settling down on a format and the technical aspects of showmaking, and the pacing is pretty good.

Like the two previous episodes, the alien plot this week is still based around the aliens shoring up their resources and digging in before they start actively trying to take out mankind. Michelle Scarabelli in War of the WorldsThis week’s plan is sort of loosely modeled off of cold war “sleeper cell” paranoia, probably something that was put in the writers’ heads by the film Little Nikita from earlier this year. The aliens repopulate an abandoned town with their own, in order to train aliens to infiltrate human communities.

As per usual, we’re also going to feature a guest star who’s a pretty good actor you hope will become a recurring character, and won’t. This time, it’s Michelle Scarabelli as Elyse Conway, TV news reporter. Sci-Fi Universe once named Michelle Scarabelli among its “25 Most Intriguing Women in Science Fiction”. After getting her start as an uncredited extra in the 1980 slasher film Prom Night, she has a regular gig for one season of Airwolf, and a recurring role on Dallas. She also played Data’s girlfriend in an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, which gives me an excuse to link to Vaka Rangi for the first time in weeks, and you should go read it right now because it is very apropos of where this essay is going in about three paragraphs. To most geeky people, she’s best known for playing Susan Francisco on Alien Nation. But I didn’t watch Alien Nation, so the main thing I remember her from is three of the five games in The Journeyman Project trilogy (They remade the first game twice. She’s in the second remake and the two sequels) as Michelle Viscard, the primary antagonist of the second game and an ally in the third (I have no idea what her role is in Pegasus Prime, as it only runs on MacOS 8 and the Japanese Playstation. But it looks really cool). Fiction, of course, has a long history of journalists sucking. Cameron Williams, Rory Gillmore, Sarah Jane Smith, Ford Prefect, Sabrina Spellman, Rita Skeeter, Spider Jerusalem. Either they’re terrible human beings, or they’re terrible journalists, or both. Your only choice for a fictional journalist (teen journalists excluded. They can be pretty okay) is for them to either be more interested in covering up the truth than reporting it for bullshit reasons like “The world is not ready to know about aliens,” or else they’re self-serving opportunists who endanger sources, ruin police investigations or cause a public panic by reporting about aliens when the world isn’t ready to know about them because they don’t actually care about journalistic responsibility, they just want the fame and credit.

Conway is crouched with her cameraman outside a loading dock filming a special report on “Hot Stuff”, radioactive waste being shipped by commercial trucks to secure storage facilities. If she can sell the idea that this is very scary and dangerous, it might just land her a network gig. So she’ll be the second kind then, for all the difference it makes (Not much, really. Her plot thread doesn’t go anywhere). War of the WorldsHer investigation leads her to a truck stop, where she’s incredibly unsubtle about interviewing a couple of truck drivers, but still manages to witness (and more importantly, film) what is either an alien making sweet love to a truck driver, or possibly an alien possession.

Intercut with all of this, we learn that the aliens plan to take advantage of the cavalier attitude humanity has toward radioactive waste (SHAME ON YOU, DEAR AUDIENCE) to steal some so they can set up a radioactive town for alien orientation. A possessed Department of Transportation employee engages in some light banter with her coworker, trying to get him to release the radioactive waste shipping schedules a day early. If this were a video review, I’d probably do a bit here where I pretend to not recognize the series of voice impressions the coworker does. War of the WorldsInstead, I’ll just say that his Blaxploitation Hero Voice is way more racist than they intended it to be, but his Cary Grant wasn’t really so bad that he deserved to get his eyes punched out by an alien for it.

Back at the cottage, the writers have decided that the character trait from the pilot that they should really revisit for Suzanne is that she’s shrewish and uptight, because women, amirite? She goes full-on Mama Bear Berenstain and bitches Harrison out for his lackadaisical approach to his work — he’s promised her some unspecified analysis results and she’s tired of waiting. The punch-line of course will be that he’s just waiting for them to print, and lets her have her little rant to chasten her for not just asking politely. She also has a go at Norton for keeping her up all night with his “pacing”.

If this is all meant — and I think it is — to be familial bickering to indicate how close they’ve gotten to each other as a team, they missed the mark. Remember, last week, Suzanne was dismissive of a mentally ill woman, and now she’s yelling at a wheelchair user for “pacing”. Either they have way more faith in Lynda Mason Green’s likeability to salvage the character, or they are bound and determined to make us think Suzanne’s a total bitch. Her saving grace is that Norton (predictably given his character, and understandably given her attack) teams up with Harrison and the two of them very obviously revel in winding her up.

The good news is that they’re going to put this to bed in a little bit. A few scenes from now, this little confrontation will start to play out again. Harrison, while standing on his head, will imply Suzanne’s uptight (and should stand on her head to realign her internal organs), and Suzanne will take issue with Harrison’s leadership skills. It’s actually a very good (if stilted) scene for walking back the whole nasty “Suzanne’s an uptight bitch” business, because she just comes right out and directly explains why she’s upset. Suzanne: Your apparent indifference to my work makes me feel like I’m not sure why I’m here.
Harrison: Suzanne, you’re an integral part of what’s happening here, and the last thing I want is to make you unhappy. Now, you are used to being part of a research team, working together, everybody interfacing. I come from a different tradition. My model is the scientist who goes three weeks without sleeping to solve a certain problem. It’s a solitary process, I can’t do anything about it. Unfortunately, it does affect how I relate to your work, and for that I’m sorry.
Harrison will genuinely apologize for upsetting her, and he’ll offer an explanation without invalidating her feelings — that experimental sciences like hers rely on coordinated teamwork, while theoretical ones like his tend toward a more monastic approach, and both approaches are valid for their respective disciplines, and both are necessary, and he’s really very sorry that it makes things harder for her and he’ll try to do better. I’m hoping this is a turning point in their relationship. (Would it be better for Suzanne to be the one who knows this and not need it explained to her by a man? Probably. On the other hand, Harrison is the one who needs to justify himself here, not her.)

But that’s yet to come. Ironhorse interrupts the gang before violence breaks out and summons them down to the lab to watch a video of the aforementioned eyeless shitty voice actor. Harrison instantly identifies it as the work of aliens, “Based on experience. And my gut.”  Ironhorse (all together now) is skeptical. I think. He gets a faraway look like he’s Phoebe Cates about to tell the story of how her dad got stuck in the chimney on Christmas Eve and rambles about Vietnam and not knowing who you can trust and who’s the enemy. I can’t for the life of me tell if he’s trying to suggest that the missing DOT employee might just be a human who went postal or if he’s talking about Harrison, warning about the danger of seeing enemies even where they weren’t any. That second one is a more interesting interpretation, suggesting that Harrison’s zeal might lead him to make false accusations, except for the fact that the audience already knows Harrison is right. And, in fact, Harrison is pretty much always going to be right. There’s exactly one case in this show of someone being falsely assumed an alien, and it’s not Harrison who does it. Now that I think of it, this series would be a lot stronger if there were an episode where the team investigates something horrific that turns out to have an entirely human explanation — War of the Worlds doing a take on Torchwood‘s “Countrycide” (or that episode of Supernatural Leah was watching last night that is basically the same plot as Torchwood‘s “Countrycide”).

Norton has programmed the supercomputer to search all forms of media for certain key words, a concept which is so fractally “A supercomputer is basically a crystal ball” wrong that being gobsmacked by it nearly kept me from noticing the punch-line. It wakes them up in the night because it’s intercepted Elyse Conway’s transmission of the trucker possession back to the studio, and she’s used one of its trigger words: “bizarre”.War of the Worlds Supercomputer

War of the Worlds

See if you can detect the utterly seamless transition from the actual image on the monitor to one added in post

“Bizarre”.  “Bizarre” is one of the trigger words that Norton’s supercomputer alerts on. Every time anyone in the country says the word “bizarre” in any broadcast, print or electronic medium (And I’ll be nice and ignore how utterly ridiculous it is to suppose that a supercomputer in 1989 could actually do this), Norton is alerted in the middle of the night. Ironhorse is (all together now) skeptical, but at a word from Harrison, Norton enhances the image to clearly show the shadow of an alien hand. I’ll note here that it’s October, 1988, eight weeks to the day before MacGyver airs “Collision Course”, often credited (Erroneously; Columbo did it back in ’75) as the first appearance of the modern form of the Magic CSI-style Video Enhance Button in TV, though Norton spares us any technobabble about creating a bitmap or increasing the Z-axis (In a strange and merciful choice, there is hardly ever any technobabble about Norton and his computer. Indeed, it’s rare for anyone but Suzanne to go into technical exposition).

After a brainstorming session about how to get a copy of the video without making the reporter suspicious, Harrison comes up with the brilliant plan to show up outside the house of a pair of elderly yokels who Elyse is interviewing about their lottery win (because War of the Worlds can’t go more than an episode and a half without a pointless scene with some yokels. They plan to buy thousands of cats with their winnings) with Ironhorse pretending to be from a DOD documentary project looking to hire her, and does she happen to have any samples of hard-hitting investigative reporting ready to hand? This plan goes exactly as well as you’d expect, and the Awesome Van has barely pulled away before she’s making plans with her cameraman to get the station’s news chopper out looking for the trucks in her video.

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June 20, 2015
June 17, 2015

Antithesis: Doomsday (War of the Worlds 2×03)

Julian Richings and Patricia Philips in War of the WorldsIt is some time between Saturday, October 14 and Monday, October 16, 1989. On Friday, the junk bond market collapsed, causing the Dow to drop 190 points. Walter Sisulu is freed from prison in South Africa. East German leader Erich Honecker’s health declines due to a debilitating gallstone, and he’ll resign by Wednesday. One of the hardliners in the Eastern Bloc that opposed the perestroika reforms being pushed by the Soviet Union, his resignation would remove one of the last major impediments to the collapse of the GDR.

Friday, the Oakland Athletics beat the San Francisco Giants 5-0 in the first game of the Battle of the Bay, the first cross-town series since the Dogers left New York back in the fifties. Saturday, they win again, 5-1. Game three, scheduled for Tuesday, will be postponed due to the magnitude 6.9 Lomo Prieta earthquake. The first large earthquake from that part of the San Andreas fault in the better part of a century, it re-popularized the mass-media idea of California falling into the ocean. It would be remembered in pop culture by a Very Special Episode of Full House later that year, then in the years to come by two TV movies (After the Shock and Miracle on Interstate 880), and would go on to be referenced into the 21st century, in the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a 2005 episode of Medium, a 2007 episode of Journeyman and a 2008 episode of Fringe.

Not much change in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Miss Jackson and Madonna retain their positions. The newcomers to the top 10 are Tears for Fears with “Sowing the Seeds of Love”, better known as “The Tears for Fears song that is neither ‘Shout’ nor ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’,” and Roxette with “Listen To Your Heart”.

Mixed in among the new episodes airing on all the channels over the weekend is a new episode of Baywatch on NBC, and two TV movies. The first is An Eight is Enough Wedding, the second reunion movie for the late ’70s Dick van Patten series. The second is Roxanne, the Prize Pulitzer, a biopic about a wealthy socialite whose divorce some years earlier had made headlines due to tales of sex and drugs so lurid and kinky she’d gotten on the cover of Playboy back before mom made dad cancel his subscription.

For nerds who are not interested in “The Sports”, Star Trek the Next Generation airs, “Who Watches the Watchers”, which I think is a popular episode. It’s the one where Picard saves a guy from a primitive culture and accidentally gets himself proclaimed a god. It’s also a Prime Directive episode, which kind of means it sucks by default, and its view of cultural anthropology is complete bullshit, as you can learn by reading, as usual, Vaka Rangi. But it does happen to be set right next to that mountain where Kirk fought the Gorn, Bill and Ted fought their evil robot duplicates, and the Power Rangers first met the Putty Patrol, so that might ignite your fanboy-squee enough to ignore the bullshit.

Friday the 13th The Series this week is “Stick it in your Ear”. Murder-powered mind-reading hearing aid. I’m a just let that sit there for a bit. I promise, the show is indeed quite scary if you watch it, no matter how much the capsule summaries sound like they were transcribed from balled-up cocktail napkins in Stephen King’s wastepaper basket. If that’s too weird for you, you could try flying over to England to catch the last episode of the Doctor Who serial Ghost Light, which will be airing on Wednesday.

At some other point in the weekend, War of the Worlds airs its third episode, “Doomsday”, in which the Morthren attempt to dominate humanity using religion, by turning a charismatic preacher to their cause. Wait, hold on. I must have turned to the wrong page. Aw crap.

Remember “No Direction Home”? Well the writers didn’t. Actually, that’s being too hard on them. “Doomsday” and “No Direction Home” have fairly different plots. They just happen to both be built around the setup of the Morthren cloning a man of the cloth in order to take advantage of his flock. What it feels like is that Frank Mancuso got his writers together in a room, and handed out a brief to do a story about the aliens trying to infiltrate a church, and didn’t notice until too late that he’d accidentally assigned it to two different writers. Or perhaps “No Direction Home” originally had a B-plot that was cut for time and got expanded into its own episode.

I have a strong gut-level negative reaction to them just doing the same setup twice in a row, but in spite of that, it’s hard for me to be too upset about it, because “Doomsday” kinda feels like the answer to a lot of the complaints I had about “No Direction Home”: we actually see the aliens doing specific things to advance their plans with a specific goal in mind. Our heroes save the day in very mundane and straightforward ways, none of this, “Grab on to this alien testicle thing and think happy thoughts” stuff.

And besides, there’s more going on than just the church stuff. There’s a sort of framing plot to this episode. The unnamed city where the Blackwood gang and the aliens are living (Lucky break the Morthren didn’t just land in Kansas where there’s no one around to fight them) is caught in the grip of a drought and heat wave. War of the Worlds The SeriesAs the first scene reveals, the city’s reservoirs are drained, and something is preventing them from accessing the emergency supply. In case we’ve forgotten that this is a dystopia with a useless and corrupt government, the first scene reveals the state of affairs to us via a local official who takes off his suitcoat and hides his parcel-gilt water glass in a show of faux populism before giving an interview about how they’ll have the situation resolved in no time.

At their base, the aliens mock humans for their foolish decision to base their biology on water instead of something whose supply can’t be endangered, like K-Y Jelly, but it’s proving inconvenient for them as well, as Mana’s experimental subjects and the originals for their current batch of clones are in serious danger of expiring. Denis Forest as Malzor in War of the WorldsMalzor authorizes Ardix to have them all moved to the pumping station they’ve taken over, where the humidity and temperature will remain livable and they will be convenient later when the plot requires Blackwood and Kincaid to find them.

Mana’s been reading the bible, and there’s no indication that this is directly following on from last week — it’s not the same physical bible, there’s no reference to Father Tim, and Malzor has apparently not heard of this before. Unlike Ardix’s description of the bible last time as “A mad confusion of myth and contradiction,” Mana reads it as a “Blueprint for human control.”

Malzor is already working an angle based on exploiting the drought. It might be implied that they’re somehow causing the drought, but this is unclear. War of the Worlds the SeriesWhat is clear is that they’re behind the difficulty the city is having accessing their emergency water supply: they’ve grown themselves a veiny green amniotic sac across what I assume is a hallway-sized water main, with soldiers stationed to kill any city employees who threaten to pop it. Mana suggests that humans will “call out to their invisible God,” in the face of the hardship imposed by drought, and that if they were to “answer” that call, it would give them control over humanity.

When Debi collapses from heat and dehydration in the bunker, Kincaid takes to the streets to find water, despite Blackwood’s warnings that they’ve gone full-on Mad Max out there and are killing each other in the streets for water. Kincaid interrupts the hijacking of a truck full of water bottles, and in gratitude for resolving it peacefully, he’s given two gallons.

Before heading back to tend to the sick child at his place, he stops off to give the spare water jug to a local church run by Reverend Thomas and his wife Grace (Kurt and Diana Reis), who seems to be an old flame of Kincaid’s. The make some allusions to some difficult time in Kincaid’s past she helped him through, but don’t give the details.

Ardix has visited the church as well, and reports to Mana and Malzor that Reverend Thomas is, “a man of faith.” Malzor agrees that, by providing them with water in their time of desperation, his congregation can be brought under their control. Mana suggests that they should perform a miracle. I know I’ve complained before about this role being a terrible misuse of Catherine Disher. But I’ll give them this: when Malzor scoffs at the concept of miracles, Mana is forced to explain that she’s actually talking about faking a miracle. Catherine Disher as Mana in War ofthe WorldsAnd her expression as she does this conveys the usual Morthren smugness, but there’s just a hint in there of, “I can not believe this moron is my boss.”

Between the heat and an infestation of rats that makes Kincaid hilariously freak out, the Blackwood gang decides to relocate to Reverend Thomas’s church for a while. Resultantly, they’re on-hand to witness when, thanks to a green eyeball-shaped thing Ardix has in his lap, the church’s font suddenly fills up and overflows during a sermon.

Julian Richings in War of the Worlds the Series

I note that neither Ardix nor the heroes recognize each other. It’s not completely unbelievable, as everyone’s attention is elsewhere. But Ardix was there last episode during the business with the engram, and saw Blackwood and Suzanne’s images appear on the viewing membrane. There’s no point in this episode where the aliens mention Blackwood or there being any kind of organized resistance, and in most of these episodes, there’s no indication whatever that the aliens are actively aware of Blackwood and his team. In fact, one of the closest approaches this show is going to have to a plot arc will come near the end of the season and revolve around the Morthren discovering the identities of Blackwood, Kincaid and Suzanne.

Everyone in the church forms a bucket brigade to distribute water, except for Blackwood and Suzanne, who decide to sneak into the basement and check out the church’s plumbing. They find the pipes warm and empty, but a single sinuous tentacle of sorts grows up the wall toward the font. War of the Worlds The SeriesWhen Blackwood cuts off a bit for Suzanne to study, the vine leaks water. This scene, and one a bit later where she analyzes the cuttings, are the first time in the series we’ve been given an indication of what kind of scientist Suzanne is, and indeed what her role is on the team in general. Presumably, she’s a chemist, as she’s able to determine that the water from the tentacle contains chlorine and fluoride by looking at it under a microscope. Or possibly she’s an oracle, because my dad assures me that you can’t detect chlorine and fluoride that way. This is enough for Blackwood to figure out that half of the plot, and he concludes that the aliens have blocked off the city’s water supply.

As they set out to find the blockage, the Morthren are setting up their next few miracles, to which end they’ve kidnapped Reverend Thomas and Grace’s son Stephen for cloning. At the church, Reverend Thomas is increasingly uncomfortable with the following he’s quickly acquired. He gets even more worried when a woman begs him to use his miraculous powers to cure her from a severe disfigurement of her hand, probably from RA. Despite his protests that he’s just a dude with a font, and does not have healing powers, she’s cured. Morthren Gothic - American Gothic reimagined with Julian Richings and Patricia Phillips from War of the WorldsThis is, of course, because the pasty woman is Bayda, another minor Morthren, probably of similar rank to Ardix. Her role, with very few exceptions, is to do pretty much the same thing they’d have Ardix do when they need more than one thing done at the same time. She’s fine, though she lacks the distinctiveness of Julian Richings. The best thing I can say about her is that if you put her and Ardix next to each other, it kinda looks like an alien version of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”.

Ardix, in the audience stands up and declares it a miracle. One thing I really like about the way this episode is done is that Reverend Thomas doesn’t ever buy in to his own hype. He’s troubled by it; he doesn’t understand, nor does he ever try to initiate a “miracle” on his own. Which is cool, because in a show that makes such a concerted effort to be all proto-nineties grimdark, you’d expect Thomas to get all full of himself and abuse his powers in a self-aggrandizing way so that we’d feel good about him getting his comeuppance. Instead, he remains humble and unsure. Even as his faith tells him that the events he’s witnessing are possible, rather than taking as proof of favored status, he instead can’t quite process that he personally might be worthy. More than that, he’s scared of what he might be becoming. And yet, even this plays right into the hands of the Morthren.

While Reverend Thomas was healing the sick, Kincaid was out looking for the wayward Stephen, and he’s found him. Or rather, he’s found the clone. Or rather, he’s found the dead clone, since it turns out that clones have an off-switch. Grace is driven to despair, lashing out at God, Kincaid, Thomas, and anyone else who’ll listen, and there’s short, wordless scene where Debi tries to comfort Kincaid Adrian Paul and Rachel Blanchardthat’s very nice. Reverend Thomas performs a service for his dead son, and just as he gets to the bit from John 11 about the raising of Lazarus, Ardix and Bayda switch the clone back on.

War of the Worlds The Series

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June 13, 2015