Antithesis: Seft of Emun (War of the Worlds 2×06)

wotw20616It is November 6, 1989, and there’s no point in burying the lede: the cover of Time this week proclaims, “Moscow lets Eastern Europe go its own way,” and that about sums it up for this week in international news. Last Wednesday, East Germany opened its border with Czechoslovakia. By Friday, East German refugees were filtering into the West German city of Hof. Tomorrow, the East German leadership will resign en masse, save for head of state Egon Krenz. This Thursday, they’ll save their fleeing populace the trouble of a stopover in Czechoslovakia (And the resulting hassle in Hof) by opening up the Berlin Wall. They hadn’t actually intended to just open the thing up, but rather introduce new regulations for border-crossings, but the word got out and when a mob of East Germans showed up at the wall, no one was left in the government with balls big enough to order the guards to shoot them, so that was that. Years ago, I read about a woman who considers herself married to the Berlin Wall. On her website, she says, “My husband used to guard the border between east and west Germany. He is currently retired.” Mrs. Berlin-Wall’s husband suffered numerous small indignities over the following days and weeks as unofficial demolition commenced months in advance of the wall’s official decommissioning. This was all greatly exciting to the Germans, as well as to the Americans, who largely attributed the whole thing to former President Ronald Reagan. Far less optimistic about it were British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President François Mitterrand, neither of whom were especially happy about the prospect of Germany reuniting, or, well, existing at all, really.

All other news pretty much pales in comparison to the news from Germany. In other Cold War events, on Friday, Petar Mladenov will replace Todor Zhivkov as the head of Bulgaria’s Communist party, beginning that country’s transition to democracy. At home, tomorrow’s elections will see the first elected African American mayor of New York and Governor of Virginia, great and historic moments we can now look back on and say, “Why the fuck did it take so long?” even though we all know the answer. Friday, the WordPerfect Corporation will release WordPerfect 5.1, proficiency in which will, according to my mid-1990s High School teachers, be the single most marketable skill for a person my age who works with computers.

Unseating Janet Jackson, Roxette takes the top spot on the Billboard chart with “Listen to Your Heart”. Network TV is all new this week. Star Trek the Next Generation does “The Enemy“, a pretty straightforward “Enemy Mine” plot about Geordi getting stranded on a hostile planet and having to work together with a shifty Romulan to escape. Only it also apparently has an uncomfortable subplot about Worf refusing to donate blood to a dying Romulan which I have completely forgotten. Friday the 13th The Series gives us “Hate on Your Dial”, in which the cursed radio out of a ’54 Chevy helps a racist travel back in time to save his klansman father from a murder conviction.

After the bad taste “Breeding Ground” left in my mouth, “Seft of Emun” is refreshing. A good, solid, enjoyable episode. Not, as I find myself saying all the time, perfect: the plot stumbles in a few places, characters have unjustified mood swings, and the resolution feels forced and there’s a shockingly awful child actor. But all the same, it’s a very likeable episode.

It’s also a very visual episode. War of the Worlds has been fairly distinctive, visually, among shows in this style and format of the era. This is less profound watching it now, because making your sets damp and filthy and keeping your key lighting low are fairly standard practice these days for anything trying to be Dark and Gritty. But TV has a long history of clean, brightly-lit dystopias, probably because TV cameras have a hard time with low light: War of the Worlds could only look the way it does because it was shot on film — though there’s a couple of scenes at the Morthren base in this very episode that have the “flat” look of video tape. This episode in particular uses more than the average number of special and visual effects. When they roll out the visual effects, you can really tell that this is a Mancuso show: there are certain effects and techniques that I guess he must like or something, because War of the Worlds looks a lot more like Friday the 13th The Series when the folks in the post-processing department get their Video Toaster on.

The Morthren are having an energy crisis. They’ve resorted to attacking smugglers to acquire “radioactives” — there’s apparently a big street-trade in radioactive minerals. No one ever specifies why. The world is a post-apocalyptic hellhole, so I assume the default response is so that punk-rock addicted juvenile delinquents can build dirty bombs in their basements, but you’d think trade like that would be handled clandestinely, rather than in a big Portabello Road-style street market, which I’ll get to in a bit.

After a shootout with some stylishly-dressed radioactive material smugglers, the Morthren try to clone themselves a guy who can get them the materials they need, but Earth-based power supplies aren’t compatible, and they cook him instead. I’ve noticed that the Morthren have a hard time using locally-sourced materials: they can’t use human power sources here, have a considerable failure rate trying to breed, and in a couple of weeks, it’s going to come up that they can’t eat the local food. This whole conquest of Earth thing seems like they may not have thought it all the way through. Indeed, the notion that the invasion of Earth was not a strategically well-thought-out idea is going to be something that haunts the end of this season.

Malzor consults the Eternal about their power supply issues, and returns with the news that the Eternal has ordered him to awaken “Seft of Emun”. Mana doesn’t like the idea, given how much power it will take to bring her out of stasis, and Malzor shouts at her about defying the will of the Eternal. Given that Malzor had just said himself that he hadn’t wanted to do it until he’d been ordered to, his reaction seems a little intense.

War of the WorldsMana begrudgingly plugs some crystals into a casket-shaped pith-pod, which ejaculates some steam and opens up to reveal Seft in a really nice practical effect. She’s a priestess from the planet Emun, with the psychic ability to convert radioactive minerals into the sort of energy crystals the Morthren use. Unlike the Morthren, Seft’s natural form looks humanoid, and the Emun seem to follow an at least roughly human family structure: Seft has a son, Tori, also in stasis, and she refers to a husband, presumed deceased. A flashback as she awakens depicts Emun as a sylvan world with two suns and a purple sky, and shows its conquest by the Mothren.

wotw20602

The Morthren are depicted in their original form, the best look at them we’ve seen so far. While clearly inspired by the 1953 movie, this version is larger and bulkier. They have two arms with three enormous fingers, a single, three-segmented eye, and wear cloaks with large cowls. They carry energy weapons that remind me a bit of the copper-powered weapon from Tobe Hooper’s remake of Invaders from Mars. The shape of the bulbous end of the weapon is probably based on the cobra-head of the heat ray from George Pal’s War of the Worlds, though it’s made not of metal, but a dark, dense form of the organic material that makes up most Morthren technology. War of the WorldsFrom the sound of it, the Morthren completely exterminated Seft’s people and devastated their planet. Given that the Morthren seem to have no problem hanging out on Emun in their natural form, and the natives are able to spontaneously produce a compatible power source, it seems a little odd that they chose to move to Earth rather than Emun when their own planet went up. On the other hand, back in “The Second Wave”, Malzor said that Mothrai was an idea created by the Eternal rather than a physical place. Could it be that the Morthren did invade Emun, and it was actually a conquered and renamed Emun that we saw explode at the beginning of the series? That would actually simplify a lot of things and make a lot of sense, though there’s one great honking wall-banger with it that will come up at the end of the season.

Malzor is alternately polite and cruel to Seft, addressing her politely and referring to her by title, explaining her situation and their need for power crystals, and channeling a 1930s movie gangster by reminding her what a shame it would be if something were to “happen” to her son’s stasis pod. One touch I really like is that she doesn’t recognize the Morthren at first: she’s never seen them in humanoid form before, and it isn’t until Malzor starts making demands that she figures out what’s going on. Seft agrees to make crystal for the Morthren to protect her son, and she’s whisked of to a street market.

War of the WorldsThe street market is a kind of Mad Max-themed Renaissance Festival, with vendors selling exotic foods on sticks, weapons, drugs, clothes, and even muppets (I am not making this up). As it happens, Blackwood is at the market as well. He’s at the minerals booth, because he needs sulfur and magnesium. He never says why. It sounds like it might be dietary, as Suzanne is out at the same time looking for vitamins (Which are obtainable only via a “contact” who has demanded that she come alone. This will not come up again). The vendor, Victoria Snow in War of the WorldsBlade, is one of the smugglers from the opening scene. She is the textbook archetype late ’80s successful post-apocalyptic female trader, with big earrings, big hair, and big shoulder pads, like a less colorful version of the cover of the April 1987 issue of Playboy (G’head, look it up. I’ll still be here when you get back). She reminds me a lot of Mindsinger from Captain Power, and claims to have, “Alum to zinc and everything in-between.” Later, we’re going to find out that she’s another of Kincaid’s parade of old female friends he’s on a flirty basis with. While Blackwood is inspecting rocks, some Morthren soldiers escort Seth to the booth so she can pick out raw materials. No one recognizes Blackwood, but Seft manages to brush his handWar of the Worlds as they’re ushering her away, and this apparently creates some kind of psychic connection between them, as Blackwood is compelled to follow after her until he loses her in the crowd.

When he returns to the bunker, he hears her voice in his mind, and is drawn into a shared vision of the market at night, where she begs for his help, but does not yet specify the details. She’s forced out of the vision when Mana shows up with a crystal and a couple of rocks for Seft to play with. She cuddles them for a bit, strains, and then a bluish halo effect replaces the crystal with a bigger one. Seft refuses to do any more, since the low-quality rocks don’t work quite right and trying to use them will kill her. War of the Worlds: Catherine Disher as ManaShe and Mana get into it a bit about the whole genocide of Seft’s race thing, which leads to Mana slapping her. Well, it leads to Mana gently waving her hand in the general vicinity of her face while an impossibly loud slap sound effect plays.

After Seft demonstrates a failed attempt at crystal making, by hugging some rocks until they turn into a pile of broken glass, Mana agrees to let her go pick out her own supplies. I know I’ve said a lot of times that it’s borderline criminal how badly this show uses Catherine Disher, but she seems really on the mark here. It’s clear that she’s disgusted by the idea of being dependent on an alien, but she’s also pragmatic, and she’s scientifically curious about the process. She cottons on to the very obvious fact that Seft is up to something, and cautions Malzor that she might possess other weird alien powers than just hugging rocks into magic power crystals.

Kincaid stops by to visit Blade at the market. Luckily for us, this is charismatic, flirty Kincaid rather than the mopey version we get so often. Blade tells him about the attacks on her radioactive materials shipments. Kincaid is aloof, not really interested in her problems. Blade starts to explain about the alien weapons used in the attack, but is interrupted by a customer. While he’s off getting a drink, Seft returns with Ardix and a soldier to make some late-night purchases. For no very good reason, though, when Blade brings up the matter of payment, Ardix loses his cool and has her killed, and then they run away just before Kincaid returns, summoned by Blade’s death-screams. The aliens have too big a lead on him, but Kincaid does get a good look at both Ardix and Seft — though he somehow misses the fact that she’s in obvious distress and being forced.

Between Malzor patiently explaining how scary and violent humans are and them sending Seft back out to try again, Blackwood has a nightmare. War of the Worlds: Jared Marin and Laura PressHe’s summoned back to a vision of the market where Seft leads him to a store (I assume it’s a store. We never see any actual wares for sale, or indeed a shopkeeper or customers or anything. It could be a restaurant for all I know) then her face turns into a Morthren in natural form. This freaks Blackwood out so bad that he wakes up in a sweat and instinctively grabs his gun and waves it around, and needs to be calmed down with hugs from Suzanne and Debi. He blows off Kincaid about Blade and sneaks out to find the shop from his dream.

Malzor wakes up Seft’s kid. War of the Worlds: Illya WoloshynSeft’s son Tori is played by Illya Woloshyn. He seems to have retired from acting at the end of the century, but before he did, he’d go on appear in a handful of shows, including an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, and two Kids in the Hall sketches. His big role was as the lead in The Odyssey, which ran for three seasons from 1992 to 1994. I’ve never seen it — it appears to have aired no more than once in the US — but the comparables on IMDB make it sound like something right up my alley: child trying to get home after being zapped into a magical Otherworld was a popular theme among kids’ shows of my era. Also, as the set-up is that the kid is in a coma and the magical Otherworld is his coma-dream, I’m going to assume it’s pretty much J.K. Rowling’s Life on Mars. What little I can conclude from not having seen it is that he must have taken a couple of classes in ’91 or something because holy crap is he awful in this. He spends his entire screentime staring slack-jawed and occasionally shouting “Mother!” in a detached, emotionless sort of way. Also, he’s got a mullet. Maybe it’s a peace offering after their argument over killing Blade. It’s sort of implied that he did it because he’s hoping they can learn the fine art of crystal-making from him, but in a couple of scenes, Mana will propose the idea as though it’s a new one. Malzor does mention that they’ll need a supply of crystal to last “beyond [Seft’s] lifetime,” but they’re not going to mention energy shortages after this episode either way. Seft and Tori basically get one hug and a psychic warning before they drag Seft off to have another go at buying rocks. She gives Ardix the slip and meets Blackwood at the store. She rubs his ear and asks if she can trust him, and tells him the name of the aliens. Blackwood is really impressed to learn that they’re called “Morthren”, and treats this new piece of information like it might somehow be strategically useful. Then Seft leads Blackwood through the beaded curtain into the back room of the store and into a flashback of Emun, where they make out. Because of course they do; he’s a rugged grizzled ’90s anti-hero.

He offers her protection and invites her home with him, but she insists that she can’t stay, what with the kid and all (And here we see the real reason Malzor woke him up: because the plot requires Tori to be in proximate danger so that Seft will meet up with Blackwood then immediately flee again). He follows her outside, where he’s seen (but apparently not recognized) by Ardix, and has to stop Kincaid (who had unsubtly followed Blackwood) from shooting at the retreating car even as he insists that they give chase.

War of the Worlds: Jared Marin and Laura Press

Once they’ve lost the car, Kincaid all but accuses Blackwood of collaboration. He isn’t buying this whole “She’s a different kind of alien from those aliens”: as far as he’s concerned, even though he saw her earlier and it was absolutely clear she was a prisoner, she’s still the enemy. He even seems to find it ridiculous that there even could be more than one kind of alien, and he laughs off the idea that the aliens are called “Morthren” as an obvious attempt at deception. I don’t get that either. Both Blackwood and Kincaid treat learning the name of the aliens as something much more important and meaningful than I can see it as being — it’s not like “Oh, now that we know what they’re called, we can look them up in the phone book to find their secret base,” or something. Kincaid might dismiss it, but even his dismissal gives it weight: “Yeah, right, like the aliens would actually have a proper name for their species,” rather than, “Okay, so you know their name. So what?”

Blackwood ditches him after Kincaid pretty directly threatens him. Kincaid returns to the bunker and orders Suzanne to pack up on the assumption that Blackwood’s compromised their security. They set out to murder Seft and, if necessary, Blackwood — Suzanne indicates that she’s willing to pop him, but not on Kincaid’s word alone.

Ardix rats out Seft to Malzor, who backhands her. Though Ardix isn’t able to identify Blackwood, everyone agrees that they have to kill the man she’d met with in case Seft gave him the location of their base. Which is a nice setup for the climax, with both sides hunting Seft and Blackwood, each on the assumption that the two have exchanged addresses. Which, for what it’s worth, they haven’t. And there’s no good reason why Seft never told Blackwood where the Morthren base was, or, indeed, anything at all of substance beyond their species name. It seems like she’s unwilling to tell him the location of the base because they’re holding Tori, but she never comes right out and says it, and besides, the Morthren already assume she did tell him, so it’s not like actually telling him will make things worse. Malzor surprises Seft by letting her go, sending Ardix along to covertly follow her to track down her gentleman caller.

As much as I love Julian Richings in this show, “Seft of Emun” is not his finest outing. He loses her instantly. Which is doubly amazing since she’s going to the exact same place as last time. Seft reunites with Blackwood in the same shop from before. Kincaid and Suzanne, being more proactive than Ardix, return to the shop and hold Seft and Blackwood at gunpoint (Leaving Debi alone in the Awesome Van with orders to shoot anyone who tries to break inWar of the Worlds: Rachel Blanchard). For all Kincaid is supposed to be a stone-cold killer, he doesn’t just barge in and put a couple between Seft’s eyes, but rather demands, not that convincingly, that Blackwood move out of the way and insists, not that convincingly, that this is a trap.

Blackwood juxtaposes himself between Seft and Kincaid, then the director pulls one of those annoying cinematic tricks that’s a lot easier in 4:3 than 16:9, where you pretend that the characters can’t see outside the frame of the shot, because during the five seconds of Blackwood and Kincaid struggling with each other, Seft vanishes and no one sees her leave. Blackwood chases after her into the back room, but it turns out that she’s somehow circled around and pops out from behind a Chinese screen in the corner. And Kincaid, who, remember, is utterly convinced that this is a trap and Seft is up to no good and you can’t trust anyone, lets her put her hand on his gun and gently lower it. She doesn’t really do or say anything in particular to calm him, just very generic pleas for help and trust, and Kincaid isn’t actually convinced, but he does calm down and becomes willing to consider things. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a draft of the script where it’s explicit that she uses her alien powers on him convince him of her sincerity.

What I find really surprising, given this show’s reliance on late-80s-early-90s gender stereotypes, is that she doesn’t make an appeal to Suzanne based around their shared motherhood. There’s a moment when Seft looks at Suzanne and it seems like she might be about to say something about it, but she only mentions her son when she’s looking at Kincaid: when she looks to Suzanne, she only says that she’s trying to escape the Morthren. I’m almost wondering if Lynda Mason Green’s contract had some clause in it where they didn’t have to pay her if she didn’t get more than some set number of lines, because there’s been a few episodes where her presence is cursory at best.

Speaking of motherhood, after shouting at Ardix for his obvious incompetence, Malzor does the cartoon villain thing and sends him straight back out again. Nice to see them avoid the cliche Bond Villain scene where the underling has to off himself to atone for his failure, but given the Morthren obsession with “perfection”, you’d kind of expect them to have sent Ardix off to the agony booth by now. This time, Ardix is bringing Tori with him. They’re pretty sure by now that the two can communicate psychically, and reckon that he’ll summon her out of hiding. When he refuses to call out to her, Ardix turns him loose, essentially trying the exact same plan that had failed two scenes earlier, where the Morthren covertly follow him and close in when he locates his mother.

Since there’s only a few minutes left in the episode, though, it goes more smoothly this time. The big scary human city spooks Tori enough that he psychically calls out a whiny, passionless, “Mother, I’m scared.” When Seft hears him, the four of them take off to find the kid, Kincaid reduced to useless complaining. He does get to declare himself right about it being a trap when the Morthren soldiers descend on them, but given that they have by now found an actual scared child, he has enough taste not to gloat.

The gang takes cover about fifty yards from the Awesome Van and exchanges fire with the Morthren. Suzanne takes one in the shoulder, which this week is a minor wound and does not vaporize her instantly because fuck consistency. They realize that they’re pinned down with no hope of escape, unless of course they just run for it, because they’ve got cover on both sides and even if they can’t make it in a straight line to the Awesome Van, could probably duck around the corner of the next building and force the Morthren to break cover.

Therefore, seeing no other way out, and unwilling to sacrifice the lives of her three new friends (two of whom have pointed guns at her), Seft and Tori make the ultimate sacrifice. Seft slips Blackwood a large crystal, which he puts in his pocket (and is not just happy to see her), and pledges her undying love to this guy she’s only just met. War of the WorldsThen, she and her son step out into the line of fire and use a previously undisclosed psychic power to generate force field or something, extending the cover for the others by a good three feet, so that they’re able to slip out behind them and run to the van in safety, except for the bit where the Morthren have a completely clear shot at them for half the distance. Once our heroes have safely run away, the two Emunites vanish in a fog of special effects.

Back at the shelter, Blackwood bandages Suzanne’s arm and goes off to sulk. Kincaid tries to offer a halfhearted apology or condolences or something, but Blackwood isn’t speaking to him. “Give him time,” Suzanne suggests. Alone in bed, Blackwood stares sadly into his crystal, smiling through his tears when it obliges him with a little replay of him making out with Seft.

War of the Worlds: Jared MartinLike all the best episodes of this show, “Seft of Emun” works well on an emotional level, as long as you don’t get too hung up in the shortcomings of the plot. Laura Press sells every emotion as Seft, particularly in the balance between fear, loathing and mutiny toward the Morthren. Every time she seems earnest with them, it’s followed up with an expression that essentially says, “Are they buying it?” And as bizarre as it seems that Blackwood and Seft fall in love pretty much instantly, Jared Martin and Laura Press both do a lot to convey maybe not “love” but a fairly realistic “sudden, intense infatuation”.

The Morthren — Malzor and Mana in particular — are interesting this week. Just as Seft has to keep struggling to repress her revulsion toward her people’s slaughterers, the Morthren likewise have to balance their dependence on Seft’s crystal-making powers with their rabid xenophobia. Catherine Disher, as I mentioned before, benefits the most from this, with a clear tension between her scientific curiosity and her hatred of Seft. War of the Worlds: Denis ForestBut Denis Forest is no slouch in this area either; he’s at times exceedingly gracious, but his mask keeps slipping.

While this is a clever way of keeping us mindful of the fact that the Morthren don’t have a human psychology, its downside is that, particularly when they’re so heavy-handed with it, it does kind of come off as authorial laziness. There can be a very mercenary aspect to it when it feels like the writers are just applying a particular mood for a single dialogue exchange, then just defaulting the characters back to smug, sneering hatefulness without any consistency in tone across a scene. If the show was working harder to earn my goodwill, this wouldn’t be an issue, and I could accept it as a deliberate choice about Morthren psychology. Particularly when you compare the Morthren with Kincaid, whose mood changes much more slowly across the episode.

War of the Worlds: Denis Forest

The shot of Mana eating is even more porntastic, but I have way too much respect for Catherine Disher to use that picture here.

The plot, unfortunately, feels a little rushed. And bits of it seem out of order. I wonder if this episode, like “Terminal Rock“, was originally slated for later in the season. There’s a scene of Malzor and Mana feeding from the ceiling-mounted hamster-feeder devices they use for nutrition where they comment on having restored their food supply, the loss of which is going to be a major plot point of in a few weeks. But even within the episode, there’s the basic oddity that first, they take Seft out to the street market to look at rocks, then she complains that the rocks they’ve given her aren’t adequate, so they agree to… take her to the street market to look at rocks. The first scene at the market is obviously necessary to have Seft and Blackwood meet, but the next scene proceeds from the assumption that she hadn’t been permitted out of the base yet.

That in turn leads to another big issue with the way the story is structured: the bulk of the episode is taken up by Seft repeatedly going to the market. First to meet Blackwood, then to watch Blade get killed, then to meet up with Blackwood, and then one last time for the climax. Each trip serves a purpose for the narrative: first so that Blackwood and Seft can meet, then to involve Kincaid in the plot, then to put Blackwood and Kincaid in conflict with each other, then to reunite Seft and Tori so they can off themselves, and then you take the fox across the river and bring the chicken back. Some of those trips could easily have been consolidated to make the episode feel less like it was spinning its wheels while everyone got into the right place. Frankly, the character of Blade should be eliminated entirely. She exists purely to get fridged in a very direct and traditional sense: her role in the story is to be pointlessly murdered by the aliens so that Kincaid will be motivated. It’s made all the uglier by the way that Kincaid never gets around to mentioning her: he doesn’t end up pursuing the Morthren raids on radioactive material shipments. He doesn’t even offer up that he’d seen Seft with Blade’s killers when he’s arguing with Blackwood. The character has some promise, but she’s killed off for cheap emotional manipulation before the show gets a chance to do anything with her. They should have saved her for something else.

And the time you’d free up would give you space to follow up on some things in this episode that feel underwritten. The first and smaller of these is Mana’s relationship with the Emun. Right after the weirdly phallic eating scene (How is it that ceiling-phalluses became a recurring theme on this blog?), Mana discusses the possibility of indoctrinating Tori into the Morthren religion in order to make him sympathetic, but it never goes anywhere. Mana seems to harbor a particular dislike of the Emun, well beyond what the other Morthren display. She elicits Malzor’s wrath by arguing with him when he declares his intention to wake Seft. And there’s a number of scenes where Seft is talking to Malzor, and even if Malzor’s playing nice, the camera will catch Mana sneering contemptuously in the background. It makes me think that they’d meant for Mana to have some personal beef with the people of Emun, though they never mention one. It’s hard to think what it could even be, given that what little we see of the invasion indicates a total rout. The only vague hint might be that Seft refers to Tori’s father as “brave”.

In Seft’s flashbacks, her and Tori are the only Emun we see, but the mention of Tori’s father suggests the possibility of some kind of resistance. How much more interesting would it be to have shown us Tori’s father acting as a counter-insurgent. Perhaps we could even see him sacrifice himself in a doomed attempt to protect his family — and if he were to die in the fight, perhaps he’d take a Morthren with him. We don’t know anything about the Morthren family structure; they seem not to have one, and it’s been a recurring theme that the Morthren don’t comprehend interpersonal relationships the way other species do (Though I note here that Malzor attempts to exploit the bond between parent and child in this episode in a way that suggests greater understanding of it than we’ve previously seen), but perhaps someone close to Mana was killed in the invasion of Emun, and if that were due to the actions of someone close to Seft, it would explain the personal aspect to Mana’s animus.

The other, bigger issue is the relationship between Blackwood and Seft. They sell it, by God, enough that you can probably make it to the end of the episode then upstairs into the kitchen to get a string cheese from the fridge before you notice, but it just does not stand up to logical scrutiny. Seft repeatedly questions whether Blackwood is trustworthy, but never elaborates on what it is she’s entrusting him with. She wants his help, but only in some nebulous fashion: she never actually gets around to asking him to do anything. She shows him the destruction of her world, in a motion-blurred post-processed false-color flashback (The exact same effect pops up in Friday the 13th The Series to indicate magically-induced visions), and his response is to put his tongue in her mouth. By the end of the episode, she’s sacrificing her life and the life of her son to protect Blackwood and his friends while swearing her love. And keep in mind, from her point of view, she’s only very recently widowed. There’s some relationship development missing here.

Up to the point where Seft tells Blackwood she loves him and takes Tori off to cast a Zelda spell, it feels like they’re going somewhere completely different. Consider that when Seft first meets Blackwood, she touches his hand at Blade’s market stall. That time, we don’t get any sort of motion-blurred false-color vision, but it’s nonetheless clear that she’s made some kind of contact with him. She also makes a point of touching Kincaid’s hand when she sneaks up behind them for their final confrontation. Also, one of those visions she gives Blackwood is a nightmare so potent that he wakes up screaming and pulls a gun. That actually reminds me a little of at least one episode of Friday the 13th The Series in which someone is bewitched by evil powers to compel them into serving someone. This setup feels like it should be leading up to the reveal that Blackwood isn’t acting on his own volition, and is being mind-whammied by Seft (Who’d tried to do the same thing with Kincaid to make him lower his gun).

If that had been the reveal, it would really have recast the episode. For one thing, Kincaid would be right about her: Blackwood shouldn’t have trusted her, and he was being used. Of course, you’d still want Seft to be a sympathetic character, and I think you could pull it off if you played on her desperation. But you’d want there to be a rift with her and Blackwood when he realized that he’d been violated. That would also better frame her final words and final sacrifice. Given everything that had transpired so far, sacrificing her own life and the life of her child to protect three people she barely knows seems bizarre. It becomes a little less-so if it’s framed as an act of contrition. And leaving Blackwood uncertain how much of his feelings were real and how much were artificially induced would have given the ending some edge.

None of this should be construed, however, as saying I didn’t really enjoy this episode. This wasn’t one of the ones I had strong memories of from prior watchings, so it was a real treat to get an episode that was, for its logical shortcomings, just plain nice to watch. And after “Breeding Ground”, I really needed that.

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

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