Antithesis: Terminal Rock (War of the Worlds 2×04)

Rachel Blanchard  in War of the WorldsIt is October 23, 1989. After waking up to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis return to Earth at the end of a five-day mission that included launching the Galileo space probe, which would explore the moons of Jupiter six years later (You ever stop and think about how space works? That a mission to explore Jupiter in 1995 must of necessity be based on 1989 technology? New Horizons is just now close enough to Pluto to take better pictures of it than Hubble, using technology that predates iOS, Android, the Nintendo Wii, and Windows Vista). Frustrated by partisan gridlock, Time magazine asks if Government is dead. A plastics factory in Texas explodes, killing 23. In anticipation of Halloween, Garfield runs a week-long series which reveals that the entire series is the delusion of a dying cat cat as it slowly starves in a long-abandoned house. It is one of the scariest fucking things ever, and it is part of Garfield, a comic which is, under normal circumstances, improved by removing its main character. Tomorrow, game three of the World Series will finally be played, having been pushed back a week on account of the earthquake and the Reverend Jim Bakker will be given 50 years for fraud. Oh, and since we kinda care about such things, communism falls in Hungary.

George Harrison’s Best of Dark Horse is released, one of the first four CDs I would own, on account of I had no taste and thought his cover of “Got My Mind Set on You” was good (The other three were Phil Collins’s “No Jacket Required”, Billy Joel’s “Storm Front”, and Belinda Carlisle’s “Her Greatest Hits”. Don’t judge me, I was ten). Janet Jackson retains the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Madonna, Warrant, and Mili Vanilli slip out of the top ten, making room for Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”, Expose’s “When I Looked At Him”, and “Cover Girl” by New Kids on the Block.

There’s a bit of a panic going on in America about ritualistic child sexual abuse by satanic cults (Satanic Panic, What’s your mechanic?), which has led to a number of high-profile court cases, and high-profile convictions of day care operators, several of whom may possibly have even committed some of the crimes of which they were accused (For example, at least one of them, years after his conviction for satanic ritual child sexual abuse was overturned, was arrested for old-fashioned non-satanic, non-ritual child sexual abuse, which he wouldn’t have been able to do had he been convicted the first time on actual evidence rather than trumped up hysteria). This motivated CBS to do a movie of the week yesterday about child sexual abuse at daycare centers called Do You Know the Muffin Man? with Brian Bonsall and Pam Dauber, based loosely on the McMartin Preschool Trial. The McMartin trial would end without any convictions in 1990, on account of basically all the testimony turning out to be fabricated, coerced, unreliable, or physically impossible, the primary accuser being mentally unstable (And, by 1990, dead for four years due to chronic alcoholism), and the district attorney playing fast and loose with evidence laws. TV this week is mostly new. Mission ImpossibleDallas, Alien Nation, and the like. MacGyver is a repeat for some reason. Newheart too. There is no episode of Friday the 13th this week. Doctor Who will show part one of “The Curse of Fenric” soon. It’s the one with viking vampires fighting the Red Army in World War II Northumberland. Star Trek The Next Generation airs “The Bonding“, Ron Moore’s first TV writing gig. Moore would go on to be one of the major creative forces in ’90s Trek, before going on to reboot Battlestar Galactica. And I have mixed feelings about him because “The Bonding” is great, and he pretty much saved TNG when it was floundering, but his gender politics are a little dicey and his abject disdain for utopianism and preference for grim, gritty, “realism” is basically everything I hate about the ’90s.

If you liked me rambling on about punk rock without actually having a proper background from which to speak during the cyberpunk episode of Captain Power, you’re in luck, because “Terminal Rock” is exactly what you think it is. This is the episode of War of the Worlds about punk rock, and how punk rock music is turning our children into dangerous, violent hooligans, exactly like you’d expect from a show made by The Man.

One of the many elements of the Satanic Panic I was mentioning before was some trumped up fears about subliminal and backmasked Satanic messages embedded in popular music. In 1988, serial killer Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez claimed to have been inspired by backmasked Satanic messages hidden in AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (The band responded to the allegations with, “We do not hide our Satanic messages. We called the album Highway to Hell.”). We have of course seen the popular conception of mind control via hidden messages in music before, when we were talking about Probe. The technique has been largely debunked as a practical matter — you can influence behavior with hidden messages, but not nearly as effectively as you can influence behavior with supraliminal messages: whispering “Smoke!” and showing a single frame of a cigarette once a minute in a film might increase the chances of the viewer jonesing for a cigarette, but what works a lot better is just to have attractive people in the film smoke without trying to hide it.

“Backmasking” is the technique of hiding messages by recording them backwards, such as the famous “Paul is dead” urban legend. The technique was, surprisingly enough, discovered shortly after the invention of sound recording by Thomas Edison himself, who observed that when he cranked his wax cylinders backwards, “The song is still melodious in many cases, and some of the strains are sweet and novel, but altogether different from the song reproduced in the right way.” Its association with Satanism goes back equally far: the very first sound recording ever made was later discovered to contain a backmasked invocation to summon the daemon Azal, as revealed in the 1971 documentary Doctor Who and the Daemons.
Accordingly, the plot of this episode centers around leveraging the cultural zeitgeist. The Morthren have a go at harnessing the Power of Rock by cloning a “charismatic” musician and embedding a violence-inducing signal in Punk Rock.

The first thing you may notice, or rather, the first thing I noticed, since it’s not as obvious if you’re not watching along, where “Doomsday” copies the religious aspects of “No Direction Home”, “Terminal Rock” is basically the same plot as “Doomsday” minus the religious angle. Yes. Four weeks in and we’ve spent half our time saying, “Just like last week…” If anything, “Terminal Rock” is even more similar to “Doomsday” than “Doomsday” was to “No Direction Home”. As I said last time, it feels sort of workshoppy, like every writer in the room was given the same general outline, and they filmed all three variations on the theme.

Now, it is probably worth mentioning that this episode probably wasn’t intended to air directly after “Doomsday”: there’s a reference to the events of next week’s episode, and it ends on a note that seems like it’s hinting at plots from later in the season. So it’s not like they actually set out to do basically the same episode twice back-to-back: clearly, they meant to do basically the same episode with a different one in the middle.

War of the Worlds: Terminal RockThis week, the Morthren are having some trouble (ten dead soldiers, Mana claims. She wants to move.) with The Scavengers, a leftover gang from the extended cut of The Warriors — their thing is mohawks and face painting inspired by the racism episode of the original Star Trek. It’s not clear that they have any formal organization, but they can be stirred to action by the music of the “Terminal Band”, a punk group led by a dude named “Ripper”, because dystopia. He wears a sequinned apron instead of a shirt, and basically screams exhortations to violence while the band plays from inside a thunderdome-style (Wait for it) steel cage.

He orders them to go out and be violent, and it just so happens that Ardix is driving by at just that moment with a new Morthren character, Sol. Ardix is badly wounded when the Scavengers trash the car and orders Sol to get them out of there before he dies. Ardix will spend most of the episode bundled up in a blue and green amniotic sac quilt recovering from his head wound, which is a shame because this plot would be perfect for him. Instead, Sol will be filling the role Ardix took last week. He’s fine, really good as a villain, but he’s just not weird enough for this show. Paul Bettis was a pretty prominent theater actor in Toronto, and though his TV and film resume doesn’t amount to much, I suspect that has more to do with time and place than anything else: he’d make a great “suave corporate”-type villain in a mid-80s adventure show a la The A-Team or Knight Rider. Julian Richings in War of the WorldsBut he’s entirely too human for War of the Worlds: he never displays quite as much stiffness as the others, he’s too comfortable when he interacts with humans, and he’s even kind of charismatic.

What follows is an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the matching scene in “Doomsday”: Malzor complains and passive-aggressives at Mana. Mana passive-aggressively reminds him that he was the one who picked Earth to invade (which would imply the Morthren are fairly long-lived since these are, remember, the tail end of a fleet that first invaded in 1953), and suggests using humanity’s “weakness” to their advantage by manipulating the violent street gang into acting as their enforcers. Last week, Mana explained to the clueless Malzor that the Bible could be used as a “blueprint for human control,” and that they could redirect human faith to their advantage with fake miracles. This time, Sol tells him that the humans use music as a rallying point, and they could manipulate human violence to their own ends by manipulating the music. Last time, we had that great little eye-roll from Mana when Malzor failed to quite get it. This time, it’s a great scoff of disgust from Malzor at the idea of Punk Rock music. Impersonating a Suit from a Major Label, Sol discreetly abducts sequin-apron punk.

While Sol is off cloning him, Mana builds a device that can embed a signal into punk music. One neat thing in this scene: she uses a tool that’s basically a set of three-fingered tongsCathrine Disher in War of the Worlds. If these are indeed meant to be same aliens as the 1953 movie, the manipulator is presumably based on the natural form of their hand, suggesting that in their human forms, they now require assistive technology to use their own equipment, which has some interesting implications for the nature of their technology: in her natural form, would Mana be doing this kind of work — detailed technical work of the sort a human would do with, say, a soldering iron or a screwdriver — with her bare hands? We’ve already seen that the alien weapons look like they grow out of their bodies. Perhaps all of their technology is normally extruded out of themselves.

In the interest of keeping the narrative together — War of the Worlds is not atypical of the period in the way it intercuts between two plot threads, though it’s perhaps a little ahead of the curve on keeping the scenes short and shifting focus a lot — I’ve focused on the Morthren side of the narrative so far. But while this has been going on, Blackwood and his team have been working through a plot of their own. Like the Morthren plot, it’s structured much like their plot in “Doomsday”. Instead of suffering from heat exhaustion, this week, Debi’s suffering from being a thirteen year old girl: she’s annoying everyone by listening to a recording of the Terminal Band. Everyone wants her to turn it down, but Kincaid takes it the worst, storming off for some “space” because having to share his underground hovel with people is really interfering with his hip, cool “lone wolf” lifestyle.

So for the second week in a row, Debi is the catalyst that prompts Kincaid to go off Lone Wolfing it up, and much like last week, he decides to visit a woman he’s got a nebulous backstory relationship with. This time, it’s Rose (or maybe Rosa. It’s hard to tell. Kincaid calls her “Rose,” but she’s listed in IMDB as “Rosa”, and I think that’s what her brother calls her. Either “Rose” is a pet name, or it’s down to Adrian Paul mumbling, because this is one of his Mumbly-Angsty-90s-Anti-Hero episodes), who is maybe an out-of-work mechanic, I’m not sure. The scene is pretty vague, with Kincaid acting all shy and coy like a socially awkward teenager, because Adrian Paul has not yet learned how to play a world-weary loner haunted by his past.

It’s hinted here, but only becomes clear much later, that Rose was Max’s girlfriend, which makes it seem like it ought to be way more awkward than they play it to have Little Johnny Kincaid flirt awkwardly with her while he plays with her laundry. Adrian Paul in War of the WorldsIn between flirting and Kincaid acting like a shy teenager afraid his voice is going to crack, Rose fills the audience in on how the Scavengers have been terrorizing the whole quadrant (It’s the future. Cities have quadrants now.), which is bad for business. Worse, she thinks her angry, disaffected teenage brother Larry might be hanging with them. We know her fear is justified since he was visible in the crowd shots back in the first scene, and also because he’s plastered Terminal Band posters all over their trailer. He turns up to be all angry and disaffected at Kincaid because he’s a delinquent and also because he feels abandoned by Max. He makes some threats that he could not possibly back up against a trained ex-special-forces mercenary (Admittedly, unless you’d actually seen Kincaid in an action scene, you’d probably assume he was kind of a wuss given how he acts) and storms off.

Then Kincaid bones his dead brother’s girlfriend. It’s a very natural progression as the scene plays out, a sort of, “Hey, you seem angsty and detatched and stressed out and insecure. We’ve been standing around flirting for ten minutes. Whaddya say we go do something comforting and unitive?” but given that he’s boning his dead brother’s girlfriend, you’d normally expect there to be a little more introspection here. You’d expect a little angst — not Kincaid’s usual mopey teen angst, but some more adult, “Am I betraying by dead brother by boning his girlfriend?” angst. Adrian Paul and Shannon Lawson in War of the WorldsThe actual lovemaking is your typical delicious early ’90s cheese (Technically proto-’90s, since we’re still in ’89, but what have you) set to a synth pretending to be a saxophone, with lots of slow-motion shots of them rolling over while covered to the shoulder blades, lots of neck and shoulder kissing, a silly shot where she nibbles his cheek too hard and he recoils in pain, and the famous L-shaped bedsheet that covers her to the neck but him to the waist. It all looks very effortless and very romantic and more like an advanced form of slow dancing than anything that might involve an orgasm.

When his post-coital flight instinct kicks in, Kincaid offers to go check on Larry and scope out the club where the Scavengers hang out. Which means that for the third week in a row, the heroes just kind of luck into the Morthren plot. Showing a rare bit of foresight, it’s occurred to Malzor that one of the possible fail-states of Mana’s plan is that the Scavengers end up more violent than ever, but not under their control, which would leave them even worse off than they are already. So he’s ordered a pilot program. Sorta. The actual test changes so many of the parameters of the actual plan I’m not sure what they’re testing. Sol and the Ripper Clone return to the club and give a bunch of the band members these glowing insectoid dealies and tell them they’re basically super-hi-fi earphones, like a bluetooth headset out of eXistenZ. War of the WorldsThe ear-bugs deliver a weapons-grade dose of subliminal mind-whammy, such that Ripper can then turn them out on the streets as soulless killing machines. For reasons that will be acknowledged but never actually explained, they also get superpowers. Suzanne will later determine that the implants cause massive brain damage, but keep the victim alive and able to kill, even in spite of massive injuries. It’s an interesting sci-fi plot, but I’m not at all clear on why this would be a good test for their actual plan. As luck would have it, Kincaid is the first person the test subjects come across, and only barely manages to successfully murder these teenagers. Indeed, he has to shoot one of them in the chest twice just to incapacitate him. Sensing that something is Up, he brings the dying punk back home with him for Suzanne to examine.

Kincaid and Blackwood go off to check on Rose, leaving Debi to assist Suzanne.They find that Larry’s painted himself red and white, roughed up Rose, and run off to the big Terminal Rock concert and subsequent murderous rampage. Kincaid makes rather extravagant threats, but Rose insists that Larry’s a good kid who’s just fallen in with a rough crowd (Keep in mind, Larry isn’t being mind-controlled by the aliens yet. He will never be called to account for this. Grr.), and Kincaid agrees to go retrieve him before violence breaks out.

Dylan Neal in War of the WorldsHey, look! It’s our old friend Dylan Neal, young Johnny Power himself, as “Scavenger 1” (Not a bad Future Force callsign), the bouncer at the club. He comes down hard on Larry, questioning whether he’s got what it takes to really be a Scavenger. But he backs down (and even looks kinda worried, like he hadn’t expected him to take it that far) when Larry assures him that he’ll happily murder his own sister for the crime of not being a Scavenger.

Malzor is pissed that they’ve misplaced one of their victims, and wants to call the whole thing off. Mana throws it back in his face that she didn’t want to do the test in the first place, and besides, technically the test was a success since it turned the subjects into controllable killing machines, even if they did all end up dead. Still, Malzor’s worried about someone finding the missing ear-bug, so Mana turns the power up.

Debi is surprisingly chill about helping her mom. She shows the same sort of quietly shellshocked horror at the dying teenager as she did to obvious clone Stephen last time and the deaths of Ironhorse and Norton before that, but I get the impression she likes feeling useful. It’s sort of strange, but at this point, they haven’t really made it clear how much Debi knows about the aliens. I mean, this is a world where an alien invasion was world news forty years ago, but it seems from what Malzor has said that hardly anyone knows that the aliens have come back. Due to her age and the implied secrecy of General Wilson’s team, she probably would have been told some kind of cover story as of the pilot. If she’s found out since, it would have to be off-screen, which is dramatic weaksauce, given that four episodes in, we’ve never seen someone react to learning that there’s an alien invasion going on. But perhaps there’s a “These people we’re fighting are aliens,” moment coming later in the season for Debi. We’ll see. For that matter, I wonder what became of Debi’s father. I assume Suzanne is a widow; if she and Debi’s father were merely estranged, it stretches the imagination past the breaking point to propose that Suzanne would sooner take her daughter to hide in a sewer base while fighting aliens than to just send her off to live with her dad.

She’s out of the room fetching equipment when Mana remote-activates the implant. With the power turned all the way up, the punk recovers from his sucking chest wound and tries to garrotte Suzanne with a piece of plastic tubing. Debi returns while Suzanne is struggling and pulls the alien device from the punk’s ear, killing him.

Adrian Paul and Jared Martin in War of the WorldsAt the club, Blackwood pulls a gun on Dylan Neal while Kincaid kicks another Scavenger bouncer in the junk, then incapacitates him with a weird Star Trek TOS-looking attack that involves gently karate-chopping both sides of his jaw at the same time. For no reason I can discern, Blackwood puts on a pair of sunglasses before they head in. No clue why; he just takes them off again a few seconds later. Inside, Ripper (who is now dressed like Kingpin from The Tribe) is singing, “We’ll take what’s ours / We’ll take what’s ours / Scavengers! / Take the streets / Take the streets / Scavengers!” and really whipping the Scavengers into such a fury you just know they’re going to go out there clinking beer bottles together and starting fights with the Gramercy Riffs. The embedded signal is supposed to be ramping up their violence, but they don’t actually seem noticeably more violent than they were back in the first scene, which is a bit of a problem with depicting the basic premise of “We’ll make violent, unruly delinquents be violent, unruly, and delinquent.”

War of the WorldsThe music has a much more obvious effect on our heroes, though. Jared Martin in War of the WorldsBlackwood is set upon by a group of Scavengers and he easily throws them off. Kind of reminding me of Tank under the influence of the Styx bioweapon, he shouts, “I’ll kill you all!” as he roughs up a bunch of violent teenagers. It’s not really clear what tips Blackwood off, but he suddenly realizes that he’s being manipulated by the music. Back at Alien HQ, Malzor zooms in on their surveillance footage of the club and recognizes Blackwood, declaring, “We have a problem.” There’s some waffling on whether or not the Morthren know Blackwood on sight — Malzor recognized Ironhorse back in the first episode, but the aliens learning who Kincaid is will be treated as a big deal later in the season, and there’s a whole episode right near the end of the season whose setup is based around the aliens for the first time getting a good picture of the gang. Not that it actually matters here; aside from Malzor identifying Blackwood as “a problem”, they end up doing exactly balls about it.

As it turns out, the little earphone-bug thingies actually do function as bluetooth headsets, because when Sol turned on the signal device, the one back at Kincaid’s hovel activated and started playing music. Suzanne was out disposing of the dead teenager, leaving Debi alone to clean up. Rachel Blanchard in War of the WorldsNow, I think that what they were going for here is that the signal from the ear-bug was controlling her, but the way it’s filmed, it looks for all the world like Debi heard the soothing sounds of Terminal Rock and decided it would be a good idea to stick the alien zombie mind-control insect in her ear all on her own. She just holds it up, smiles at it, checks that no one’s watching, then sticks it in her ear. We return a few scenes later to find her dancing and trashing the place while it blinks away in her ear. She finds a scalpel and decides that she’s in the mood for some murderin’. And you know what? Rachel Blanchard sells the crap out of psychotic murderer here. Holy crap. I kinda want to admonish the director who got her to do that, because it is not right for a thirteen year old to be able to pull that look off so well.

Rachel Blanchard in War of the WorldsLarry and Kincaid got into a fight as soon as they laid eyes on each other. To really drive home just how wimpy they keep playing Kincaid, even with the mind control music, Kincaid just waves off Larry’s attacks, saying “I don’t want to hurt you,” in a tone that sounds more whiny than anything else (Larry responds by channeling Superboy Prime and shouting “I’m gonna kill you” in an even whinier tone). Adrian Paul in War of the WorldsHe finally does give in to the violence when Larry hits him pretends to hit him with a lead pipe, and by the time Blackwood fights his way through to them, Kincaid’s gotten the upper hand and is in the process of choking his dead brother’s girlfriend‘s kid brother to death. Blackwood shouts at him to snap out of it and overcome the mental control through concentration. Which he does. It takes Blackwood a couple of tries to get through to him, but he manages to shake it off. Unfortunately, Larry gets ahold of Kincaid’s gun. A cliche speech ensues, with Kincaid insisting that Max had cared about Larry, “Like you were his own kid,” and how Larry and the others are being manipulated, and doesn’t he want to be his own man and not “a tool”, and fight it damnit, you’ve never given up on anything in your life, live, damnit, live.

Meanwhile, Suzanne has walked in on Debi’s mosh-pit-for-one. Rachel Blanchard in War of the WorldsRachel Blanchard very convincingly pulls off “Thirteen year old girl tries to murder her mother with a surgical scalpel.” Suzanne is able to restrain her, but she loses her composure when she realizes to her horror that Debi has a bad case of possessed-by-alien-ear-bud and Debi’s able to throw her off and advance menacingly on her with the scalpel.

Just before she can go through with it, Larry finally makes his decision and lets Kincaid grab the gun. He turns and shoots the large green glowing flank steak sitting on top of the band’s amp, surprising anyone who had made the reasonable interpretation from the way all the other scenes involving it had been shot that it wasn’t out in the open like that. Back at base, Debi collapses (I assume the ear-bug falls off of something, because Suzanne looks at Debi’s ear and sobs with relief, but her hand is blocking the camera’s view), while at the club, the Scavengers are released from their trance and immediately stop being alien-controlled violent punk teenage delinquents and revert to being perfectly ordinary violent punk teenage delinquents.

War of the WorldsSol shoots Larry for no reason I can determine. It would make sense if Sol was aiming for Blackwood, what with Malzor having recognized him earlier. But that doesn’t look like what happens. Blackwood sees Sol aim a gun, shouts, “Watch out!” and pulls Larry out of the way, so that he only gets hit in the shoulder rather than the chest. Was it just out of spite? And why’s Sol using a gun and not one of those eyeball testicle laser things anyway? Kincaid’s instantly got his gun up and shoots Sol (More the pity. I kinda liked him), and Sol fires off a wild shot as he falls, killing the Ripper clone, who looks very disappointed as he sags against the barbed wire (They replaced the steel cage. I guess they finally got Beyond Thunderdome (Achievement Unlocked: The coveted Beyond Thunderdome joke)).

The next day, Malzor berates Ardix and Mana for their failed plan and for underestimating the humans. Ardix proposes that they, y’know, learn from their mistakes and try again, but Malzor insists that, having failed, they will instead never speak of the fact that they’ve got a like 90% successful method for manipulating humans into destroying themselves. Julian Richings and Denis Forest in War of the Worlds“We try it my way this time,” Malzor orders, “We exterminate them.” Hm. I coulda sworn back in episode 1, it was Mana who wanted to just hurry up and exterminate the humans and thought Malzor was being a dumb-ass with his convoluted schemes. Well, at least they’re consistent that Malzor and Mana don’t get along. Sure would be disappointing if they did an about-face on that (spoiler alert: I don’t even need to tell you, do I?). In the background, two nameless soldiers carry off the real Ripper to be executed.

Back at Rose’s trailer, Larry has cleaned up and dressed himself as an extra from a Brat Pack movie, and has the wrong arm in a sling. Kincaid comes in and gives Larry a speech about how much Max loved the two of them and how it isn’t always possible to give up something even when it takes you away from the people you care about and it’s all adding up very transparently to, “Even though I boned your sister, I am going to leave and never come back for the rest of the series because of some bullshit about protecting you.” And he gives Larry a couple of cassettes (The Future!) of “some real rock ‘n roll.” Though given how mumbly and reluctant his monologue has been in this scene, I bet it’s actually Barry Mantilow.

War of the Worlds

Despite the hamhanded cheese and Adrian Paul in whiny mode, I like the scene, because of the fact that, even with the whole Scavenger thing sorted and the mind control sorted, Larry still doesn’t actually like Kincaid all that much. They come to terms in the end, but there’s still a tension between them. That’s a fairly mature bit of storytelling for 1988.

War of the Worlds is doing a pretty fair job at this sort of plot. You’d hope, what with them having done it three times running now. One thing that’s a particular highlight is the way they interleave several plot threads to keep everyone involved. Nowadays, of course, this is just standard practice, but if you look at shows even just a year or two ago, you’d see much longer scenes and a greater partitioning of the plot. Here, the Morthren plot at the club is developing in parallel with Kincaid’s plot with Rose. And even though Suzanne isn’t involved with what goes on in the field, we keep her in the story nearly to the end thanks to the events with Debi, which very tightly align with Kincaid’s fight with Larry. And these two plot threads reinforce each other: Debi’s a very deliberate parallel for Larry, as we see from the outset that she too is being seduced by the appeal of Punk Rock Music, and by juxtaposing Kincaid trying to talk Larry down with Suzanne being menaced by Debi, there’s an implied symmetry between the two adults and the two children: Kincaid implicitly becomes a parental figure for Larry. And since this is a show which has so far worked to a great extent on a kind of magic, there’s something alchemical in this: it is in his symmetry to Suzanne that Kincaid gains the moral authority to command Larry to put down the gun.

The theme of punk rock being, roughly, evil, is pretty regressive, but I’ll at least grant them that it’s well-realized within the context of the story. As we’ve said before, the plot is a lot weaker than the thematic elements in this show, and this is no exception. Malzor’s forceful dismissal of the whole concept at the end is the worst of it. We’re kind of in Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain territory here: the plan almost worked. It would have worked if not for Kincaid’s quick shooting. But that was this week‘s plot, so it can’t be next week’s plot, so let’s forget all about it forever. That’s especially rich coming from a show that has been doing variations on the exact same plot for its entire run so far.

The action is pretty good in this episode. It’s hard to remember sometimes what a good physical actor Adrian Paul is, since, in this show at least, he’s kind of a terrible dramatic one. It’s always impressive how quick he is with a gun. Jared Martin is no slouch in that regard either. Rachel Blanchard’s action scenes are surprisingly good too. Even with all the body horror this show likes to throw at you, a teenage girl waving a scalpel at her mother with murder in her eyes somehow manages to be even more frightening.

Which brings up another interesting point: Sol is the only alien our heroes dispatch this week. Everyone else who our “heroes” kill are human. And teenagers for that matter. Kincaid shoots three teenage boys, and Debi kills another one. That is, as far as we know, the first time Debi has ever killed anyone. There’s certainly a bit of a failing here that we’ll never actually see Debi have any coping to do with the fact that she literally killed someone — someone human, whose greatest crime was being a punk rocker. We will also never see Debi have to cope with the fact that she’d been possessed by alien mind control and almost killed her mother.

And that would have been a feather in this episode’s cap. I know there isn’t really time to do everything you’d like to do, but that really ought to have been important. Instead, we blow several minutes of plot on the bit with Malzor insisting on a pilot program using earpieces that give the wearers superpowers that only seems a little bit related to the rest of the episode’s plot. The mind control superpower bugs could have been a whole episode in itself separate from a plot about subliminal messages in music.

I think what we’re starting to see with War of the Worlds is the first stirrings of the emergence of the kind of storytelling we’ll see evolve as the ’90s go on: the pacing is good and there’s a lot of strong emotional beats. But it’s still very much a product of the ’80s. And as a result, they keep getting confused about what should be important.


  • War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion is available on DVD from amazon.com

5 thoughts on “Antithesis: Terminal Rock (War of the Worlds 2×04)

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