It is November 13, 1989, a slow day in a big week. Prince Franz Joseph II of Lichtenstein dies and is succeeded by his son, Hans-Adam II. Yesterday, Brazil got around to holding its first free election after the fall of its military dicatorship in 1985, electing Fernando Collor de Mello, who would serve from 1990 until 1992, when he resigned in disgrace while facing impeachment. He is currently a member of the Federal Senate. Tomorrow, Namibia will hold elections for its constitutional assembly, leading to the adoption of its constitution and official independence from South Africa in March of next year. In South Africa proper, President de Klerk announces the dismantling of the Reservation of Separate Amenities act, the law permitting racial segregation in Thursday. It’ll be officially repealed next October. Lech Wałęsa, leader of Solidarity, Poland’s non-communist trade union which had evolved into a full-fledged opposition party during June’s partially-free parliamentary elections, addresses a joint session of the US Congress Wednesday. Wałęsa, an electrician by trade, would find himself the first democratically elected president of Poland the following year (Though the second president of the Republic of Poland, as the last head of the former communist state, Wojciech Jaruzelski, held the title until the election) and would serve until 1995, a couple of weeks after I did a report for my World Geography class where I said that he was basically a shoo-in for reelection. My bad. In other Cold War news, the Velvet Revolution breaks out in Czechoslovakia with a peaceful student demonstration in Bratislava, but more on that next time.
The Little Mermaid, Steel Magnolias, and All Dogs Go To Heaven open in theaters. Batman comes out on VHS. Roxette loses the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 to Bad English’s “When I See You Smile”, a song I can only assume was created to burn off all the leftover ’80s all at once since the decade was about to end. Breaking into the top 10 this week is Milli Vanilli with the song you’ve actually heard of. Star Trek the Next Generation airs “The Price”, a mind-numbing slog of an episode about the Ferengi trying to buy a wormhole and a telepathic ambassador seducing Deanna Troi, but at least it did provoke this revelatory comment about the nature of Troi and Riker’s relationship over on Vaka Rangi when Josh talked about the episode. Friday the 13th the Series airs “Night Prey”, which is about sexy, sexy vampires. Vampires were a recurring enemy in Friday the 13th the Series, but I only really remember the one from the first season, where they go back in time and inspire Brahm Stoker. Nothing of much note on network TV this week, though I do particularly recall Friday’s episode of Perfect Strangers, which guest starred James Noble (Most famous as Governor Gatling on Benson) as Larry’s father, in a plot involving the gang being trapped in a flooding basement as a result of Larry’s desperate attempts to elicit his father’s approval. It sticks in my head partly because of James Noble and partly because I particularly enjoyed the phrase, “I just want him to say ‘Well done, son,’ as something other than how he wants his steak cooked.”
So last week, War of the Worlds gave us an episode that did a lot to expand the world by introducing elements that seem important but will never come up again, and had a really terrible child actor. This week, it’s an episode that will expand the world by introducing elements that seem important but will come up again exactly one time, and has some pretty decent child actors.
“Loving the Alien” is primarily a character focus episode about Debi, and you can probably guess by the title what’s going to happen. Oh yes, Debi is going to snuggle with a Morthren. It is also, as you may again have guessed, long on reproductive futurism. Yes, it’s the “Daddy, what’s Vietnam?” of episodes, where children will pledge to break the cycle of war and violence while the adults use “for the sake of the children” as justification.
Knowing what we’re in for, we can at the least appreciate the craftsmanship of the arc between Debi and her new alien beau Ceeto. We’d better, because the other half of the plot is a bit of a mess, with the rest of the cast basically going around in circles and spinning their wheels in order to make sure everyone shows up at the climax at the same time.
This episode, by the way, is directed by Otta Hanus. Hanus, you may or may not recall, directed eight of episodes of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, including “The Ferryman“, “Gemini and Counting“, and “A Summoning of Thunder” — that is, Hanus directed the good ones (And also “The Mirror in Darkness“, but you can’t have everything). And this opening scene is more than a little Captain Power, fast-paced, violent, set in a crumbling urban sprawl, and pointlessly smoky. We’re going to see little touches of “Flame Street” later as well. I mentioned way back in “The Ferryman” that Hanus is most associated with children’s shows. Since Captain Power, Hanus had landed a regular gig on the Jerry O’Connell child-superhero series My Secret Identity. It’s fitting, then, that Hanus’s one contribution to War of the Worlds is its first child-centric episode — and the only one of the child-centric episodes to also be action-driven. If we were developing a theory of What Otta Hanus Is Good At As A Director, the balance of evidence seems to be “Directing young actors in heavily physical roles.” Because the physical acting from the child actors in this episode is really quite good. War of the Worlds, for an action-adventure show, has not been hugely great in its physical acting. Adrian Paul is perfectly fine, of course, as you’d expect (His weaknesses in this part have nothing to do with the way he uses his body), but Jared Martin is hit-or-miss and Lynda Mason Green is outright terrible in the action sequences, and the Morthren are all very deliberately stiff. We start out with mercenaries raiding the hideout of a resistance cell. We have resistance cells now. It’s not clear at first, but this is specifically a resistance against the aliens. There is an organized resistance against the aliens. They’re in friendly terms with the Blackwood group but aren’t apparently affiliated. I’m having a little trouble with just how weird this is. Does the general public know about the Morthren or not? There’s no organized governmental response, but it seems like that’s down to the government having been rendered so ineffectual or outright corrupt that they either can’t or don’t want to do anything about it. Which seems pretty over-the-top to me, but I’ll roll with it. Back in the pilot, Malzor referred to there only being “few” humans who knew about them, but in “Breeding Ground”, Gestaine didn’t seem to have any difficulty accepting the presence of aliens. We won’t be seeing this resistance cell again, and I’m not really clear on whether or not we’ll be seeing any resistance cells: there are organized groups who seem to be resisting something, but I can’t recall whether they’re clearly alien-fighters, or just an advanced form of street gang.
The Morthren are engaging the resistance this week using hired human mercenaries on the premise that
there’s going to be a lot of shooting in this episode and those glowsticks cost money it will keep their soldiers out of danger, and the authorities will assume it to just be gang violence. Everyone at the hideout is killed except for Jo, the teenage daughter of Marcus Crane, the resistance leader. That’s Mia Kirshner, an actual genuine famous person, and this is her first screen role. It is a fairly small part, but she manages to really impress in it. Jo runs to what she thinks is her father, but it turns out to be Ardix wearing the same kind of hat.
The other survivor of Marcus’s group is Marcus himself, as he wasn’t there at the time. In an interesting move, Marcus’s contact with Blackwood’s team is Suzanne. In fact, I’d even speculate that he was the contact she’d been going to see in “Seft of Emun”, except that it becomes clear later that Marcus and Blackwood have met. Marcus and Suzanne meet up in the Awesome Van because he’s found an alien weapon, and he wants to send Jo somewhere safe while the Morthren and their agents are out for blood.
Even in a modern show, this would be a little interesting, and back here in 1989, it’s a bit exceptional. Jo gets kidnapped at the three-minute mark. Marcus and Suzanne meet to discuss Suzanne taking Jo a commercial break later, and Marcus won’t discover that Jo’s missing for another twelve minutes (Not counting commercials). That might not sound like a big deal, but take a close look. When Marcus mentions his daughter to Suzanne, we already know it’s too late. And conversely, when the mercenaries raid the hideout, we don’t know who these people are or why they’re dying. We don’t know why the Morthren want to kidnap Jo, or indeed who she even is. Practically any other time you see this sort of plot, it would happen the other way around: you’d put the scene with Marcus and Suzanne first, so that we knew who Jo was and why the Morthren would want to kidnap her. And you wouldn’t spend twelve minutes with Marcus still thinking that Jo was waiting for him back at the hideout — you’d have them go straight back there in the next scene and have him spend those twelve minutes desperately trying to find his missing daughter.
It’s almost as though this episode is playing around with disparities in knowledge and perspective. It’s par for the course by now that we know the details of the Morthren plan before the heroes do, but this episode in particular gets very complex about who knows what and when. And I’d like to think that’s deliberately reflective of the episode’s theme, namely the reproductive futurism bullshit that the children can see what the adults can’t.
Back at the Morthren base, we get our first look at what the alien educational system is like. Young Morthren stand (We have not yet seen a Morthren sit at any point in the series) at devices that look like a hybrid of a Virtual Boy and those phallic feeding devices from last week. Questions are asked in rapid succession, and they respond by squeezing crystals in the handles of the device. It’s clearly meant to be showing them things to accompany the questions, but all we see is a fibrous yellow region in the center of the device. Incorrect answers prompt an electric shock to the user, as we see when a student who kinda looks like Jonathan Brandis botches questions about Mayan history and the length of the Venusian day.
No zaps for this week’s new named character, Ceeto, though: he’s easily able to answer questions about strategy at the “Battle of Miantes in the Lower Galaxy”, and about countering human atomic weapons, and even “How do you feel?” with so much ease that he gets bored with it and wanders off. Ceeto is played by Keram Malicki-Sánchez, an actor, new media pioneer, filmmaker and musician. At the time, he was probably best known in Canada for playing Zardip Pacific in the educational series Zardip’s Search for Healthy Wellness, wherein he played an alien robot who’d come to Earth to lean about nutrition and exercise. He meanders over to the cloning device just as Ardix is doing his Edvard Much pose to duplicate Jo. Personally, I don’t blame a 14-year-old boy for wanting to watch a writhing Mia Kirshner clad only on in an amniotic sac, but apparently the cloning booth is off-limits to students, so Ardix rats him out to Malzor. As you’d expect, Mazor disapproves of Ceeto’s independent nature and desire to learn things for himself rather than being fed information in a simulator, so he’s punished by being strapped, shirtless, onto a big green thing and tortured. to teach him discipline. The number of scenes with shirtless gurning teenagers in this episode has now exceeded the threshhold where I am starting to get seriously concerned as to whether it’s okay for me to be watching this, and there are going to be two more of them.
Parallelism demands that we transition to Debi having a nightmare in which masked surgeons hold her down and put a sheet of rubber vomit on her face. This is a great surreal horror scene of the sort we kind of expect out of Mancuso, but it’s also so oddly specific that I wonder if there wasn’t originally supposed to be another episode before this where Debi experiences something scary and medical-related. Though Blackwood and Kincaid try to comfort her, she goes on a tirade about how much she hates living in a sewer, and how they’re all going to eventually get captured, cloned and/or killed. And bless her for trying, but this dialogue is just way too weighty for Rachel Blanchard. You can almost hear the writers struggling to figure out what an angsty teenager sounds like and just utterly failing. Kincaid spouts grizzled loner platitudes about how they need to let Debi find herself and how Blackwood should teach her how to fight and survive on the streets, and how he was homeless at her age and he turned out fine (aside from the fact that he lives in a sewer.) While they’re having this little heart-to-heart, Debi loads her backpack up with guns and pepper spray and sneaks off. There’s a great look from her as she pushes the clip into her gun. Reminds me of Crazy Slasher Debi from “Terminal Rock“. I’m pretty sure last week’s episode was the first time Debi held a gun, and she’s clearly not fully comfortable with one yet (It takes her three tries to get the clip in), but you can see a pattern of escalation as the season goes on, and while there’s a lot I don’t recall yet to come, one thing I do remember is that Debi is going to actually shoot someone by the end of the season (She’ll fire a gun in this episode, but just to shoot the lock off of a door). I rather like the idea that Debi’s been left sort of profoundly broken by these events, and that what we’re seeing over the course of the season is Debi being slowly turned into a soldier.
The first half of this episode is heavily invested in establishing Ceeto and Debi as parallel characters, and so at the same time as Debi’s making her escape, Ceeto’s been watching Mana give the clone Jo her orders: she’s to find her father and through him, the weapon. Jo cheerfully promises to retrieve or destroy the weapon. Asked about her father, she speculates that her father might be useful to them as he might know how to find other resistance cells, then, incongruously, promises to kill him if possible. The scene is a little tonally weird, since Jo seems sort of lighthearted the whole time. With the exception of Father Tim in “No Direction Home” and Stephen in “Doomsday“, a common theme about the cloning process is that the clone retains the personality of the original, but with their loyalties firmly turned toward the Morthren. The original Jo has exactly one line of dialogue, and it’s just “Daddy!”, so we can’t really compare, but later, when clone-Jo interacts with her father, she’ll act kind of similar to the way Debi is a lot of the time: a teenage girl who’s hardened and a little broken from living a hard life in a vaguely cyberpunk dystopia. But here, she’s different. Maybe what we’re seeing is actually Jo’s personality from before the invasion and the societal collapse: Jo the way she would be freed from the stresses of living rough in a world that could try to kill her at any moment.
Anyway, Ceeto slips out after the clone and quickly finds his way to a street market that may or may not be same one from last week — the muppet vendor is still there, though now there’s a stall where you can buy pigs’ heads, chickens’ feet and whole rats. His acting all weird an alien attracts the attention of the Thompson Twins, who we’ll be seeing again later. Debi and Ceeto finally get around to meeting each other when she saves him from getting run down by a very slow-moving car. The music tries to tell us that the two have an instant and intense connection, though they themselves behave with all the awkwardness of a pair of sixth-graders at a middle school dance. Technically, I guess that makes it a realistic depiction of a couple of kids in their early teens forming an instant romantic connection.
Some other plot has been happening while this was going on, and that leads me to my big complaint about this episode. The normal laws of how television works say that when we cut from one scene to another, unless the narrative gives us some reason to believe otherwise, we should normally assume that time is still moving forward at the usual rate. You might show two scenes in series which are meant to occur at the same time, just because the camera can’t be everywhere at once, but in general, everyone has to travel through the same net amount of time.
And that’s where this episode gets sloppy. Because, like I said, about twelve minutes passed in audience-time from when we left Suzanne and Marcus to them arriving at the hideout to find everyone dead. Another five minutes pass before Marcus is reunited with what he thinks is his daughter at an abandoned theater. The next time the plot threads sync up is at the 20 minute mark, when Blackwood goes to comfort Debi some more and finds her gone, while the Morthren discover Ceeto’s absence.
It’s implied at this point that all the plot threads are in the same place at this point. So here’s what’s happened to everyone so far:
- Debi has packed a bag, loaded a gun, snuck out of the shelter, walked to the street market, and met Ceeto.
- The Morthren have cloned Jo and delivered her to the theater
- Ceeto has done a class in galactic warfare, gotten tortured, snuck out, walked to the street market, and met Debi
- Suzanne and Marcus have driven to the safehouse, then driven to the theater
- Blackwood and Kincaid have talked about childrearing.
This just doesn’t feel right. There’s way more going on in the Ceeto/Debi plot thread than in the other threads, but there’s also no gaps in the narrative: Blackwood’s talk with Kincaid has a beginning, a middle and an end, so it really feels like they go in to comfort Debi after her nightmare, then walk back to the main room, talk for about a minute, then go to check on her to find her missing: there’s no room in their story for the ten minutes of stuff that happens to Debi. The theater where Marcus finds the Jo clone is close to where Debi meets Ceeto, and yet it takes Ceeto and the clone the same amount of time to get there without Jo or her escort noticing him. And that stretch of time is basically the same as the amount of time it takes Marcus and Suzanne to drive to the theater from Marcus’s hideout, and the same length of time it takes Blackwood to walk to Debi’s room. Once Marcus finds the clone, they’re going to drive to the entrance to Kincaid’s bunker and back again so that everyone ends up in the same place for the climax.
Once Ceeto’s absence is detected, Mana gets in some passive-aggressive sniping at Malzor, claiming that, “His intelligence required special handling,” and that Malzor’s harsh punishment has only made the boy more “willful”. Malzor answers that Ceeto’s individualism is, “in defiance of all our teachings,” which of course on the surface is at odds with what I’ve said before about the Morthren possessing a cultural blind-spot when it comes to the notion of interpersonal connections. But in that sense, it also contradicts this episode itself, as Ceeto has difficulty understanding why Debi would risk her life for him, and it will be clear by the end that Malzor views Ceeto’s capacity for empathy to be part of his problem. When Malzor speaks of Ceeto’s individualism, what he’s really talking about is his failure to defer to authority. With global communism literally collapsing as we speak, it’s worth realizing that the Morthren are an authoritarian culture, but not a collectivist one: these aren’t thinly-veilled stand-ins for communists. The Morthren way is not about loyalty to each other, but about fealty to a higher power.
But at the same time, we might want to keep in mind that week after week, we’ve seen Mana express a certain amount of defiance toward Malzor, openly questioning his judgment. There’s one little piece of the puzzle that might cast that in an interesting light. It’s a spoiler for the very end of the season, but when it appears there, it’ll just be a cheap bit of emotional manipulation that amounts to nothing. But if we consider it here instead, it might cast a new light on Mana’s behavior in this scene, and indeed on her character throughout the season so far, so go ahead and hover your mouse over the next bit if you don’t mind being spoiled:
Bored with his life of learning about the world only through simulations, Ceeto decides that the first thing he wants to try out in the real world is… Playing video games. They go to an arcade where he shows off his skills at Space Invaders before the Thompson twins from earlier show up to harass them and steal Ceeto’s bracelet. Debi maces one of them, allowing the pair to escape, but Ceeto’s arm gets slashed in the process. The bracelet also acts as a tracking device, so Malzor will show up a few minutes later on Ceeto’s trail and crush the guy’s hand while interrogating him. Ceeto and Debi hide in an alley from two goons who look like low-budget versions of Blade and Peter Deluise. Once the coast is clear, Ceeto reluctantly lets Debi see his wound.
The sight of Ceeto’s glowstick blood prompts Debi to wordlessly and without hesitation draw her gun and point it at his head. Have I mentioned that Debi is pretty stone cold for a thirteen-year-old? She gives him a chance to explain himself, and he explains about wanting to see for himself how “imperfect” humans are, what with being the only species that kills its own. Debi counters that the Morthren could have just asked for help rather than invading (and “killing our friends for no reason,” a rare reference to Norton and Ironhorse, who’ve otherwise been forgotten for weeks), but Ceeto refers to how they’d been attacked by Earth’s military when they first arrived, and she’s forced to concede that humans would probably not be friendly even if the Morthren had come in peace. Debi stands down and takes Ceeto to that abandoned theater, where they can lay low while they figure out what to do about Ceeto’s wound.
It’s a nice exchange where we can see that both sides are caught in a kind of Prisoner’s Dilemma where each of them acting rationally in their own best interest has led to the worst possible outcome for both sides. The problem is that it doesn’t belong in this show: almost everything the two of them say is a direct contradiction of what’s been established so far. Ceeto says that humans are the only race that kills their own. Ape shall not kill ape and all. Except for back in “The Second Wave” when Malzor executed the entire first wave. And in three episodes when they’re going to try to execute another of them. And the season finale, but at least that time it’s meant to be shocking. When Debi suggests that they could have asked for help, she’s implicitly accepting that the Morthren came to Earth because they needed a new home and were desperate, which is true, but there is no way she could know that. This is the first time in the series that a human has indicated that this isn’t a war conquest the Morthren undertook by choice. In fact, wouldn’t it have actually been a pretty good way to build up the bond between Ceeto and Debi if he had been the one to explain to her that his people were going to go extinct without a new planet? And if this show really is meant to be a sequel to the 1953 George Pal movie, then that whole thing about humans shooting first is absolute crap. The first people to approach the aliens in the movie were waving a white flag. Then a scientist trying to make contact. Then reconnaissance aircraft trying to get a good look at them. Then a clergyman. It was only after they’d killed a whole lot of unarmed people who were trying to make peaceful contact that the military attacked.
Suzanne finds out about Debi when she returns to the shelter with Marcus and the Jo clone (they have to wait outside while she checks in, which luckily means that the clone won’t find out where the entrance is). She gets exactly as angry as any reasonable person would under the circumstances and drags Kincaid off to find her while Blackwood hops in the Awesome Van to take Marcus and his daughter back to the theater to retrieve the weapon. Keep in mind, Suzanne, Marcus and Jo were just at the theater. Like I said, everything in this episode that doesn’t involve Ceeto and Debi is just people wandering around in circles.
Suzanne and Kincaid find the Thompson Twin, and Kincaid squeezes his broken hand until he tells them which direction Debi went, so basically the exact same scene we’d just had with Malzor. From the general direction he gives her, Suzanne intuits that Debi’s gone to the theater. Kincaid calls Blackwood, who was, as you’ll recall, headed there anyway. Meanwhile at the theater, Ceeto is in a bad way. His wound didn’t actually look all that bad when he got it, but due to his alien biology, he’s got a massive infection (Which explains why Ardix was in such sorry shape from what looked like a superficial scalp wound in “Terminal Rock”). The have another heart-to-heart, musing on how they didn’t start this war, and wondering whether they’ll have the strength of character to stop it, or instead be consigned to continuing the cycle. It’s another dialogue that’s supposed to be very weighty but is just too Shakespearean for this show and these actors. The gist of it comes down to, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” Debi assures Ceeto that her mom won’t hurt him if she summons her to treat his injury, and like clockwork, Suzanne shows up with her gun drawn and orders Debi away from Ceeto so she can shoot him.
Debi puts herself between Kincaid and Ceeto, but before she can explain, Blackwood, Marcus and Jo show up, and Marcus is rarin’ to murder Ceeto in revenge for his cell. Blackwood is able to stop him only by suggesting they could interrogate him instead. Ceeto tries to out the clone, but she accuses him of being directly involved in the raid at the hideout — this should be a subtle hint that she’s not on the level, since Marcus and Suzanne had already noted that the attackers must have been human, as Morthren weapons don’t leave bodies. But Marcus is out for blood and misses the clue, charging Debi to get to Ceeto instead. That’s enough to put him on Suzanne’s shit-list, but when Kincaid seems to take Marcus’s side, Debi pulls her own gun on him and tries to shame them into, y’know, not killing a child. Marcus overpowers Debi and grabs Ceeto, vowing to kill him after they’ve tortured information out of him, then takes Harrison to grab the weapon. Debi and Ceeto are able to sneak out a moment later when Ardix sends the mercenaries to bust in. I’m not really sure what the point in sending the mercenaries in was, since the Morthren don’t know where the weapon is yet (The clone knows, but she can’t have had a chance to tell them). For that matter, it’s sort of weird that the Jo clone would take the initiative to try to get Marcus to kill Ceeto. You’d think that the clones wouldn’t be programmed to try to get Morthren killed like that — Malzor certainly doesn’t want Ceeto dead, and even if he did, how would she know that? It’s like the Morthren are working three plots at the same time, in the same place, without actually coordinating them.
Ceeto warns Debi that the clone will kill all of them once she’s completed her mission. The best thing he can come up with to out her is that clones are “perfected” humans. While the others are finishing off the mercenaries, the Jo clone finds Debi and holds her at gunpoint, demanding to know where Ceeto is so she can kill him. Yeah. It was strange enough when she was willing to manipulate Marcus into killing him to complete her mission, but now she’s outright trying to assassinate one of their own. Debi maces her as the others come in then pulls up her sleeve to reveal that the scar we’re only just now learning Jo is supposed to have isn’t there. Marcus grabs the clone and shakes her, demanding to know where his daughter is. She pulls the Morthren weapon out of his pocket and vaporizes them both. As Malzor and a group of Morthren soldiers enter the theater, Ceeto emerges from hiding and warns them to slip out the back while he gives himself up, and even Kincaid seems cool with it given how he’d just indirectly saved their bacon. After a last hug from Debi, Ceeto goes upstairs to meet Malzor and reports what went down with Jo, Marcus and the weapon.
Back at their base, once Ceeto’s injury has been healed, Malzor makes a point of having Ceeto watch as they dispose of the original Jo (who, you’ll recall, has been gurning in the cloning machine this whole time). We stay close on Ceeto’s expression of discomfort as we hear Jo die very painfully. Afterward, they take his shirt off again and strap him back into the agony booth to teach him the “difference between learning and willful disobedience.” As he writhes in pain, Debi wakes up in the middle of the night shouting his name, because parallelism.
This episode has a lot of flaws on a number of levels. Like I said, half the plot is just people running in circles. There’s glaring contradictions in what we’re told about the Morthren. Clone Jo, Malzor and Ardix are all working against each other despite the fact that they’re trying to accomplish the same thing. And of course, the whole plot is steeped in the rhetoric of reproductive futurism. You can practically hear Whitney Houston singing in the background as Ceeto and Debi pledge that they’ll be the ones to do what their parents couldn’t and put an end to the war. Marcus even admits to Blackwood that he’s considering giving up the fight in order to take care of his daughter somewhere safe, and the entire point of the plot with the Jo clone is to demonstrate the villainous Morthren subverting the bond between parent and child. The only major conversation Blackwood and Kincaid have in the episode is about their philosophies on child-rearing. The conflict of the week between Malzor and Mana, too, is about the proper way to raise a gifted child. There is an underlying theme here, first, that it is appropriate for children to be burdened with the responsibility of making amends for the sins of their parents, second, that control over the raising of children is equivalent to control of the future, and third, that pretty much anything you like can be justified if you can cast it as being “for the good of the children.”
But all that aside, this episode is an enjoyable watch if for no other reason than for the performances of Rachel Blanchard, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, and Mia Kirshner. There’s a few places where the dialog gets away from them, as I mentioned, but that’s really a fault more in the writing than in them. They’re just a lot of fun to watch. Even when Debi and Ceeto are awkward with each other, it’s a very natural-feeling awkwardness. Keram is particularly good at handling the intersection between awkward, arrogant, and curious while at the same time never letting us forget that he’s not human. I might have to check out Zardip now, since I’ve got to imagine his experience there is what’s showing through. He’s playing a sort of Wesley Crusher character type that could very easily be insufferable, but by making him an alien rather than part of the resistance, it’s like all the usual character elements are knocked slightly off-base: he’s the show-off who thinks he knows better than the adults and is usually right, but we’re okay with that rather than wanting to toss him out an airlock, because the adults he’s showing up are the bad guys. It’s a shame we won’t see him again until the finale. I suspect that had they been renewed, Ceeto’s character and his relationship with Debi would have been developed during the next season. There’s a presumption of a continuing closeness between Debi and Ceeto when he turns up again that makes me think that the final episode was written under the assumption of Ceeto as a recurring character.
What makes the episode work so well, I think, is that the child characters are all a little bit “off”. The clone of Jo has a delighful serial killer thing going on, with her cheeriness discussing her mission, the way she easily manipulates Marcus, and the stone cold killer persona she shows to Debi. The real Jo is limited mostly to writhing in pain in the cloning device (I’m not going to show you that because it looks vaguely sexual and I don’t want to go to jail), but she manages to sell it without going over the top.
Jared Martin, despite being largely a side-character this week, is also in top form. One of the nicest touches in this episode is that it’s Blackwood rather than Suzanne who is given the lion’s share of the “parental” element of the plot. He’s the one who clashes with Kincaid over Debi’s upbringing, he’s the one who goes to comfort her when she has a nightmare, and he’s the one who expresses the most regret over his role in driving her to run away. And during the final confrontation at the theater, he’s the only one who’s actually sympathetic to Debi and Ceeto. He may only be trying to placate Debi to get her to stand down, but he’s at least willing to listen to her, unlike Suzanne and Kincaid, who both simply want her to move over so they can shoot Ceeto.
Speaking of Debi, I’ll be well disappointed if I found out that her portrayal wasn’t intentional. Every time there’s a gun in her hand, she’s got this really properly chilling aspect to her, and in this episode in particular, that serves to underline the central moral question in the middle of the episode: Ceeto and Debi question whether or not they’ll still feel the same and still be willing to stop the fighting when they get older, and here we are, actually watching Debi learn to be a killer. Don’t forget, on a technical level, Debi has killed before: she pulled out the alien earphone from the boy in “Terminal Rock”. At the time I felt that was something that ought to have had repercussions for the character. This week, she pointed a gun at a human being — at a friend, in fact.
It’ll happen in fits and starts, with much backpedaling and not a huge amount of consistency, but I think you can make an argument that, even though she’s a secondary character most of the time, the central character arc of this series is going to turn out to be Debi’s.
- War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion is available on DVD from amazon.com