Antithesis: The Deadliest Disease (War of the Worlds 2×13)

Always keep your cleaning products securely out of the reach of children.

Always keep your cleaning products securely out of the reach of children.

It is February 12, 1990. Carmen Lawrence becomes the first female premier of Western Australia. The Open Skies conference begins in Helsinki between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations, establishing rules for unarmed aerial surveillance flights. The treaty will be signed at the end of next month, but won’t come into effect until 2002. Tomorrow, the East German government will head over to Bonn to discuss reunification with the west. They don’t make any concrete headway, since no one really has a lot of faith in the East German government at the moment (They’re only minding the shop until free elections can be held in a few weeks), but this is basically the point where everyone’s resigned themselves to reunification happening, with the French, the British and the Russians having pretty much given up trying to prevent it. Later this week, the UK will restore diplomatic relations with Argentina for the first time since the Falkland Islands invasion in 1982, but relations have remained tense. Wednesday, ten years after completing its primary mission, and just before shutting down its cameras to conserve power, Voyager I looks over its shoulder and snaps a series of 60 images which are stitched together to form the “Family Portrait”, a panorama view of the solar system showing six planets (The others were in bad positions at the time), and including the “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth from 3.7 billion miles away. The 11th Panchen Lama may have been born this week, depending on whether you agree with the Chinese government or with the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday, Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson by knock-out in the ninth round in Tokyo to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. In California, debates rage over the use of the pesticide Malathion to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly. Since last July, a series of medfly infestations had more than doubled the cost of the state’s eradication efforts. The outbreaks were deliberate, ostensibly engineered by an eco-terrorist group to protest the use of the pesticide, which they considered environmentally hazardous. Which, I mean, duh, but actual science did not bear this out at the time. Also, Malathion is what you use to kill medflies, so releasing medflies to stop Malathion seems like a singularly dumb idea. All the same, California will stop aerial spraying next month and start a program of releasing sterilized insects.

Nintendo releases Super Mario Bros. 3 in North America. The Rolling Stones begin their first-ever tour of Japan. MC Hammer releases his album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em. Ike Turner is sentences to four years for cocaine. “Opposites Attract” finally puts Paula Abdul at the top of the Hot 100. Chicago, Roxette, Janet Jackson and Milli Vanilli enter the top ten. Tom Petty, Technotronic, and Jody Watley drop off.

MacGyver this week is “The Treasure of Manco”, an episode with a very Scooby-Doo twist at the end (Spoiler:

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

). ABC will show the 1985 Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile this week. Fox will air The Princess Bride. I also notice that at some point we wandered into the window of another of my favorite weird short-lived sitcoms, Grand, an over-the-top soap-opera spoof in the vein of the much more famous Soap. Tom Hanks hosts Saturday Night Live on Saturday, with musical guest Aerosmith performing the Wayne’s World theme. Friday the 13th The Series is “The Long Road Home”, a Scary Redneck Episode involving body-swapping. Angelo Rizacos guest stars.

A Matter of Perspective” is this week’s Star Trek the Next Generation. Commander Riker is accused of murder on a planet that’s really into CSI-style crime scene reconstructions, so they use the holodeck to reenact the various witness accounts. So basically, TNG does Rashōmon. At least, that’s how I remember it.

This week, we’ve got yet another episode that is pretty solid as a stand-alone piece, but seems a poor fit for the established series. The regulars are largely sidelined and there are elements that don’t tie in sensibly with the greater context. On the other hand, we’ve got a story that is, with a few glaring holes, mostly coherent, a certain believability to the way events unfold, and the “rogue clone” plot that literally everyone has been wanting to happen since the moment they first unveiled the cloning machine back in the premiere. So what’s it all about? Here’s a quick precis:

Two houses, both alike in dignity,
In fair vague town where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

Admittedly, I’m going to indulge in a little wishful thinking on this one, but only because I think my interpretation is so obviously correct. One of the sizable chunks of this episode is a Romeo and Juliet plot. Between two dudes.

That’s not the only thing this episode is about, though. There’s a bunch of other stuff in there, about cartel wars and father-son relationships, and evil government conspiracies and desperation to save one’s own skin. And since this is War of the Worlds, there’s also some stuff with aliens in there too. With this show’s track record, you might expect it to get a little clusterfucky with all that stuff going on, but remarkably, it all hangs together very organically for the most part. This is probably the best episode we’ve had all season in terms of keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time. Not, mind you, that it’s the best story they’ve had so far, but it’s the first episode that’s suggested the writing staff might actually be able to competently handle a complicated plot. More or less.

I do have to keep couching my approval of this episode, though, because there are still points of clumsiness. Weirdly, most of them have to do with the presence of the regulars. To wit, the Blackwood team contributes almost nothing to the plot this week, has very little reason to even be in the episode, and have been inserted with all the grace of the white people in a Godfrey Ho ninja movie. Just about everything that goes wrong in this episode stems from them shoving the plot out of the way to make room for the regulars.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We start out with Malzor, using his cover identity as “Mr. Malcolm”, visiting a Colonel West.

Rene Auberjonois in Star Trek

No, wait. Not him. This guy:

He's on his way back from an unsuccessful audition for Men Without Hats.

He’s on his way back from an unsuccessful audition for Men Without Hats.

West is in charge of “Project Solomon”, which is developing a “med cell”. Nanotechnology had been a field of growing interest in the 1980s, and the use of scanning tunneling microscopes to manipulate individual atoms in 1989 really made the possibility of microscopic robots explode into the public consciousness. War of the Worlds, surprisingly, is one of the first TV shows to use them in an episode. Far as I know, only Star Trek the Next Generation got there sooner, and not by much — biomedical nanotech came up in last September’s “Evolution“. But War of the Worlds is not really interested in the science fiction implications of a new kind of technology. The details of how it works are largely irrelevant to the plot. Even the basic fact that it cures disease is only relevant to two of the players, everyone else being motivated primarily by its monetary value.

Malzor is interested in the macguffin, er, med cell, because the Morthren have contracted a disease which is killing them, messily. And because their technology is organic, it’s infected as well, causing alien snot to drip from the ceiling and the feeding machines (I wonder if this episode was originally meant to fall before “Night Moves”). He’s already made arrangements to trade hyperdrive technology to Colonel West in exchange for the cell, and now demands that West move up the delivery. It’s probably a small thing, but the whole deal with Colonel West doesn’t really hold up to the kind of scrutiny you give these things when you head up to the fridge. On the face of it, it’s weird that the Morthren would go out-of-house for this sort of thing, and weirder that the government would have the wherewithal to develop something like this, given how utterly dysfunctional it had been shown to be previously. But then, only last week, we saw that they were backing the Creche, again, for reasons that never become clear. Weirder still is that West seems eager to trade it for hyperdrive technology. I mean, sure, hyperdrive technology is cool and all, but there’s an abundance of evidence that Earth is not in any fit state to exploit something like that. What exactly would Colonel West do with a hyperdrive? Who is the market for interplanetary travel in a world like this? It’s not like you can just cut bait and move to Mars — an offworld colony would be utterly dependent on Earth, at least for the first few years. The presence of the Morthren here on Earth implies that there probably aren’t any more hospitable worlds in nearby star systems either. The only remotely practical reason I can come up with is to exploit the resources of other planets, but there’s still decades of work between having a hyperdrive and having the infrastructure to strip-mine the asteroid belt, and I see no evidence that setting up infrastructure to do anything is within the power of the government at this point. Even if there were some obvious practical reason, it seems unlikely that such a thing would be Colonel West’s ballywick. Is he the head of the department of Medical And Also Space Travel Research?
Stranger still is the Colonel’s relationship with Malzor. They’re implicitly working together. I think the fact that hyperdrive is on the table implies that West knows what Malzor is. Okay. We’ve seen hints before that the government is tacitly working with the aliens, or at the least, wittingly looking the other way about them. Yet we have absolutely no sense of why this is going on. Sure, there’s the whole “the government is evil and up to no good” thing, but there’s no amount of comic book villianry that really justifies the government allying itself with alien invaders out to wipe out the human race. Well, maybe Joker-levels. But Leah and Dylan are currently playing Lego Batman 3, and even the Joker decides to team up with the heroes to save the Earth in that one. 
West can’t deliver, though, because the med cell prototype has been stolen. Flashbacks show us a gloved hand unlocking the storage device and retrieving a jar of windex from a research facility which apparently hired the same decorator as the Crechewotw21302. The thief (who, strangely, gets a name, “Kevin Gray”, despite never actually appearing) destroyed the research before leaving, and was in turn killed himself by whoever took delivery of the cell. Malzor and West engage in some dick-waving about finding the med cell, with Malzor insisting that he’ll take care of it, while West demands that Malzor keep a low profile and let him handle it with a “special team”.

So, you care to guess which special team he has in mind? That’s right. Colonel West, dressed in the same fedora and trenchcoat outfit as the heavies from last week, meets with Suzanne in what I think is the same strip club where Scoggs works, because they are seriously running out of money for sets.

She leads him to the back room, where Blackwood and Kincaid are waiting. They’re obviously reluctant about the whole thing, and Blackwood offers a quick recap of how they’ve been cut off and disavowed by the government. They’re also troubled that he was able to get in touch with them, since only General Wilson would have known — an surprising claim, given that Wilson had disappeared before the team went to ground. West says that his orders come from, “a higher level,” but he won’t say who he’s working for.

With some prodding, he gives them the background on the med cell: it’s, “A sort of micro-robotic doctor,” with potential applications in medicine, botany and biochemical engineering. Those last two might do something to explain why the government is involved here: after last week, I can just about believe that there are factions exploring, in essence, sci-fi technology in a desperate attempt to put the world back together again. He also somehow knows that the med cell will be out of the country after 48 hours.

He’s identified the thief as one of his own security men, which is why West has come to Blackwood and company: they’ve been on the outside long enough that none of his people will know them, but, inexplicably, they still count as being cleared for this sort of thing. Not that this will prove relevant in the slightest, since we’re not going to see them do any investigation of West’s operation at all. Seems pretty ballsy of West to go to the team of alien hunters to help him recover the thing he’s setting up to trade to the aliens. Does he not know Malzor is an alien? How could he not know? What, does he think “Mr. Malcolm” is just some dude who happens to have hyperdrive technology?

I think I've been to this place. It's right off of US-1 near Laurel.

I think I’ve been to this place. It’s right off of US-1 near Laurel.

But back to that later. Somehow, everyone very quickly figures out approximately where the med cell is. Despite the fact that we’ve had several episodes which touch upon the economy of this dystopia, we’ve somehow never heard before that the gray market of the city is centered around a place called “The Exchange”. It’s a large indoor bazaar that comes off maybe a bit more “Vendor’s room at a Sci-Fi Convention” than “Wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It’s dominated by three gangs, led by “the black guy”, “the Iranian”, and Tao, leader of the Chinese syndicate. Gee, I wonder which of these guys is going to be a major player in the story…

This guy looks familiar. Where do I know him from? I wonder...

This guy looks familiar. Where do I know him from? I wonder…

Security at the Exchange is provided by Brock. I think his security force is all white, which might not actually be deliberate, but I’m guessing it is, with the whole point here seeming to be that the Exchange is run along pretty strict racial lines. Brock’s son Gerry is one of the guards on the floor. He nearly gets shanked chasing a pickpocket, but is saved by Bing, Tao’s son. The two have a friendly, easy interaction that screams to me that these two are old friends and almost certainly have at least one alcohol-facilitated night of mutual self-discovery that they feel super awkward about now but privately replay in their minds every night. Or they might actually be straight-up dating, but I’m already stretching believability here. The point is, whether the writers actually realized it or not, these two come off very strongly as starcross’d lovers.

Both boys are dressed down by their respective fathers for the incident. Brock is aggressive and bullying, while Tao is more reserved and… Well, he doesn’t actually say anything about the family honor, but he’s a straightforward enough Old Chinese Guy stereotype that I think it’s safe to assume it was in the shooting script and just got cut for time or something. But both fathers make it clear that they care about their sons in their own respective ways, and mostly are upset out of concern for their safety. Brock yells at Gerry for not waiting for backup, while Tao shames Bing for getting involved in an unnecessary fight. Hey, would you look at that: parallel scene construction. I know, right?

The two boys meet up immediately afterward so that Gerry can make a big deal out of his gratitude and Bing can try to look cool and aloof, and you just know these two are going to make out later. I mean, unless they both die in some avoidable tragedy primarily of their parents’ doing. But what are the odds of that?

Meanwhile, everyone else in the show has worked out that the med cell is at the exchange. Blackwood somehow managed to verify Colonel West’s story, and they’ve identified Brock as the former employer of the dead security guard. Kincaid decides to go undercover at the Exchange to investigate the link to Brock (weird, though, that Brock doesn’t have any connection to the theft of the med cell) while Blackwood and Suzanne take the rest of the day off so that we don’t have to pay them for a day of filming search the guard’s apartment.

Nice touch: no one acknowledges the mark on her face until much later.

Nice touch: no one acknowledges the mark on her face until much later.

Malzor too has realized that the cell is at the Exchange, though he doesn’t say how he worked that out. He visits Brock in his office and contracts him to locate it. When Brock meets him outside for the details, though, Malzor has him kidnapped. Mana worries that the cloning chamber is infected, but Malzor insists that they have no choice. I mean, other than just letting the guy do the job they hired him to do without all this dicking around with clones. Hard to say for sure, but it seems like using her energy to power the cloning process is much harder on Mana than usual, and in the next scene, she’s got a small spot on her cheek. If you weren’t paying attention, you could easily mistake it for a birthmark, but it blossoms into a large black sore by her next scene. Malzor overrides her for the second time in as many minutes when she suggests that they need to do extra tests on the clone to make sure that the infection hasn’t corrupted it. I’m sure nothing will go wrong.

In his defense, I kinda want to slap that smirk off the kid's face too.

In his defense, I kinda want to slap that smirk off the kid’s face too.

The clone’s first order of business is to hire Kincaid, who showed up while he was out using his “John Wolf” alias. Once Kincaid’s out of the room, he savagely backhands Gerry for letting a stranger in for an interview without an appointment.

Meanwhile, Tao has invited over a select group of customers, to whom he demonstrates the efficacy of the med cell by using it to cure cancer in a lab rat. The demonstration consists of them shooting a sick rat up with windex, then doing a really cheap cross-fade to a healthy one. I don’t think it’s meant to be a visual effect, just a time lapse. I hope it’s not meant to be a visual effect. Afterward, Tao warns Bing not to be so friendly with Brock’s son or to trust white people. He’s firm, but doesn’t become violent the way the the Brock-clone does.


Seamless. Utterly seamless.

Shortly afterward, Bing and Gerry meet up for more flirting. Gerry’s noticed that Tao’s brought in his own security and is hurt that Bing won’t open up to him. Bing can’t bring himself to lie to those puppydog eyes and while he won’t betray his father with any details, he gives Gerry a warning to “keep a low profile” the following night.

Brock sees the two together and launches into a long and brutal browbeating of his son, laced with racial slurs I did not think people still used in 1990. He punches Gerry, asserts that he can’t be trusted and, makes him “want to puke”. Desperate for his father’s approval, Gerry reveals that Tao is planning something for the following night.

Having found Tao’s symbol on a letter at Kevin Gray’s apartment, Blackwood arranges a meeting with Tao, presenting himself as a “Mr. Millcroft”, representing “a group of investors who are interested in rare commodities.” But Tao is savvy and Blackwood is terrible at this sort of thing. Since Blackwood doesn’t have the credentials to establish any sort of trust, Tao refuses to deal with him, and warns his men to be on the lookout in case he comes back. The one thing to come out of it is that Bing’s trust in his father is shaken when Blackwood mentions what the med cell can do, and he realizes that Tao is planning to sell something that could be of massive benefit to all of mankind just to make a quick profit. It’s an interesting subtly: Bing obviously knows that his father runs a criminal syndicate, and that their work is sometimes violent. But this particular thing crosses a line that gives the boy pause. And why not? Sadly, we don’t really see the details of what business Tao normally does at the Exchange. In the series so far, we’ve seen that the black market deals in medical supplies (though not narcotics), food, even radioactive materials. Probably there’s a lot more mundane stuff too. It’s easy enough to believe that the med cell is something on a whole different level, but on the other hand, could it just be that Tao has thus far kept the details of just how shady his business is from Bing? If so, this seems a singularly bad time to drop the facade.

The clone returns to the Morthren base to confront Malzor: he’s started to break out with sores from the infectionwotw21307. Malzor insists that only the med cell can save him, and also explains that his continued life depends on his original, who’s still wrapped up in the diseased cloning machine. Once Brock leaves, Malzor has an oddly tender scene with Mana, who is now gravely ill. Mana: I have failed you.
Malzor: No, you haven’t. We’ll conquer this. We’ve always been successful together.
They touch their hands together and Malzor is clearly distraught at the prospect of losing her. This scene is what’s always informed my understanding of the relationship between Malzor and Mana, because it’s very powerful. The big problem is that it’s also completely inconsistent with their characterization in the rest of the show. Outside of this episode, it’s generally been very clear that Malzor resents Mana — for reasons which actually will eventually become clear — and Mana has little faith in Malzor’s competence.

I don’t think the scene is a complete wallbanger, though. But it does call for a less straightforward interpretation. The right way to read this scene is as an affirmation of Mana’s basic position: Malzor isn’t fully competent to lead and is in over his head. He is loathe to admit it, but he needs Mana. They frequently clash because he is insecure about the way she demonstrates his inadequacies, but when he’s forced to face the possibility of having to do his job without her, he’s almost crippled by fear. What this scene points to is not the relationship between the two, but rather to the extent to which Malzor is coming unglued under the pressure.

Clone-Brock confronts Tao, demanding the med cell, but he knows better than to try to take it by force. After dismissing him, Tao turns on Bing, accusing him of having shamed his family by talking to white people.

The Iranian looks kinda familiar. Where have I seen him before...

The Iranian looks kinda familiar. Where have I seen him before…

The clone goes to the other two gang leaders, identified only as “Black guy” and “Iranian” (There is one line, much later, which identifies them as “Wiley” and “Abraham”, which I only noticed when I turned the captions on. No idea who’s who), intent on stirring up a gang war. He intimates that Tao is planning to push them

out of the market, claiming that his interest is only in preserving the balance, as, “Too much power in one place is bad for everybody’s business.”

Tao denies the allegations when they confront him, but he does it in such a wishy-washy way that no one’s convinced, and it’s pretty much on. Clone-Brock orders his men not to interfere: “If these clowns want to tear each other apart, you let them.”

To get the rest of the players in place for the showdown, Blackwood and Suzanne prepare slip into the Exchange as well, having accepted an offer of backup from Colonel West. Malzor, who has developed a small blister on his own face by now, informs the barely-conscious Mana that he too will lead an attack on the Exchange, as he no longer trusts the clone.

And with good reason: as the infection quickly takes hold of him, self-preservation overrides his Morthren conditioning. He frees his original and brings him back to the Exchange just in time for Blackwood and Suzanne to see — their first hint of alien involvement. When they get into a fire-fight with Malzor’s soldiers, they realize that Colonel West’s promised backup isn’t coming.

Before leaving to find his other self, Clone-Brock had sent Gerry and another guard to kidnap Bing, and it’s clear that Gerry went along with the plan primarily to keep his friend out of the fight. Close as I can tell, Adrian Paul’s script has a couple of extra pages in it, because somehow, he knows where to find Bing and Gerry, goes there, and pretty much explains the plot to them, how they were being manipulated by their respective fathers out of greed. They resolve to end the violence by getting the med cell. I think. Once Kincaid meets up with Blackwood and Suzanne, they declare their intention to, “Get what we came for and get out of here,” but just abruptly vanish from the narrative with no closure. They do poke their head in to wordlessly look sad at the aftermath, but they’re basically done with the story.

But they're cousins / Identical cousins all the wa-ay!

But they’re cousins / Identical cousins all the wa-ay!

From the sound of it, Clone-Brock now plans to simply sell the med cell himself, once he’s cured his own infection. Real-Brock is surprisingly cool with Clone-Brock’s plan, until he learns that Gerry was sent out into the violence. The real Brock may be a giant asshole, but he does love his son. He cold-cocks his counterpart and heads down to confront Tao.

wotw21311Not knowing that Gerry and Bing are on their way, he offers Tao the life of his son for the med cell. Tao is reluctant, but concedes: like the real Brock, Tao is unscrupulous, but loves his son. The clone takes the cell just before Bing and Gerry arrive. The sons confront their fathers, insisting that they don’t want to be a part of this. Seeing that his son is free, Tao tries to shoot the Brock clone, but Gerry throws himself as his presumed-dad at the same moment, taking the bullet for him. Bing leaps forward to help his friend, but Tao shoots him as well, accidentally as he tries to stop Brock from fleeing. Moral of the story: Tao is a lousy shot.

Clone-Brock’s victory is short-lived. He reaches his car to find Malzor inside, who wordlessly vaporizes him and retrieves the med cell. Which wasn’t vaporized because reasons. The real Brock arrives just in time for Gerry to finish dying in his arms. Tao looks up from his own son’s body and points his gun at Brock, only to let it drop as he realizes how futile the gesture would be at this point.



Malzor spares only enough time to transfer the med cell to one of those amniotic sac-lined Morthren flasks before giving it to Mana. Later, he meets with Colonel West in what looks like a quarry or something. He hands over a briefcase allegedly containing the hyperdrive technology. “It’ll be a while before I contact you again,” West says, and walks back to his car. Malzor answers, “Yes. Goodbye, Colonel,” in a tone so straightforwardly evil that West actually stops and turns back in time to see Malzor pull out his weapon and vaporize him.

West's expression is priceless here. It's like he's literally thinking, "Wait, your tone of voice was transparently evil the way a Bond villain is before dropping a henchman into a shark tank."

West’s expression is priceless here. It’s like he’s literally thinking, “Wait, your tone of voice was transparently evil the way a Bond villain is before dropping a henchman into a shark tank.”

This was fun. I liked this episode. Obviously, I’m reading things in a little bit by pretending that the relationship between Gerry and Bing was romantic in nature, but honestly, it’s not that big a stretch. There’s also a consistency of tone in this episode, and subtitles of message, and actually complicated narrative structures going on. I really didn’t think the folks writing this show could do that sort of thing.

Like, it would have been really easy to depict Brock and Tao as simply being heartless monsters. But both of them demonstrate that, for their faults, they love their sons, consistently across the episode. And you’ve got Gerry and Bing both showing themselves to be torn between family loyalty and their affection for each other. The two family relationships are almost perfectly balanced: every scene between Brock and Gerry is juxtaposed with a similar scene between Tao and Bing, culminating, of course, in the two fathers in Tao’s office cradling their dying sons.

Another niceish touch to this episode is how diverse the cast is. I complained a lot during Captain Power about how incredibly white the show was. This episode’s got a big cast of extras, and a lot of them aren’t white. And while it’s true that the non-white characters are exclusively members of the three criminal syndicates, the narrative goes out of its way to suggest to us that the white security force doesn’t have any moral high-ground over them. Moreover, all three gangs are depicted as a very genteel sort of organized crime — these aren’t street gangs. Wiley and Abraham seem to be subtly competing over which one of them is supposed to be Sydney Greenstreet. So they’re not playing to traditional stereotypes about urban crime gangs. Neither is race simply there as window-dressing. It’s relevant to the plot that Brock and Tao both express racist sentiments, and that Bing and Gerry’s relationship crosses racial lines. But, thankfully, and unusually for television of this era, while the episode touches on the racial issue, it doesn’t jump up and consume the plot with a banal “message” the way “Synthetic Love” did with its ridiculous “Drugs are Bad, Mmkay?” shtick. The racism is neither ignored nor obsessed over. Tao and Brock are racist but they aren’t cartoonish about it: it’s just one part of why they’re both assholes — one of the many ways that they’re ironically alike in their awfulness.

With the quality of the narrative structure, it’s almost surprising that the plot falters in several places. There’s the offscreen character of Kevin Gray, who’s linked both to Brock and to Tao, but with no explanation. If Tao was poaching Brock’s employees, that could have played into the animus between them. Or if Gray had provoked his murder by trying to betray Tao, that might do the same, but there’s nothing to that, and in fact Tao’s attitude toward white people makes it seem odd that he’d hire Gray to steal the med cell. There’s no explanation given for how Malzor learns that the med cell is at the exchange. Nor for Colonel West’s failure to send the promised backup. We don’t get a reason for that, or an explanation, or really anything. Did Malzor intimidate West into backing off? Would have been nice to actually show that. As it stands, it’s like West was just being arbitrarily dickish. I mean, he still needs the med cell to trade to Malzor. Given that Malzor got the med cell all on his own, I don’t even see why West would have expected to still receive payment when he walked into the world’s most obvious trap. And it’s not strictly a plot hole, but I think it’s a major dramatic failing that the only thing we actually see the med cell do is cure a lab rat. Mana and the other Morthren recover from their disease off-screen, and even the desperate clone-Brock doesn’t use the cell on himself straight away, but heads to his car instead.

The biggest weakness is the handling of the Blackwood gang, who are entirely superfluous this week. The only contribution they make at all is when Kincaid frees Bing, and frankly, the scene is worse for having him intervene rather than having Gerry come around of his own volition. They’re not even there for our benefit, since every revelation the team makes comes only after the audience has already been told: we already know about the theft of the med cell when West tells them; we’ve already seen that Tao has it when Blackwood finds Tao’s symbol at the security guard’s apartment; we already know that Brock is a clone when Suzanne and Blackwood see the two of them. It doesn’t make much sense that they’d be called in in the first place and they drop out of the story before the climax, with a gun battle against Malzor’s soldiers shoehorned in apparently just to give them something to do. As in “Time to Reap”, Kincaid suddenly knows things that he wasn’t present for, and despite the fact that they discover alien involvement, the team seems strikingly incurious about it.

It wouldn’t even take that much of a rewrite to fix this. If we eliminate the firefight with the Morthren, the Blackwood team, they can make it through the entire episode without knowing that the aliens are involved. Instead of having the Brock clone escape with the med cell, have him lose it in the confusion. We can also sort out the dramatic weakness I mentioned before: make Blackwood find the med cell, and return in time to use it to save Gerry and Bing, showing the possibility of reconciliation and healing.

Now, that might seem like too optimistic an ending for a show that’s been consistently grim, but there’s a twist: we still need the Morthren to survive their disease, otherwise the show stops working, right? So have the team turn the med cell over to Colonel West as planned, and go away completely oblivious to the fact that what seems to them like a good deed — and we could even have West suggest that he’ll be able to use his influence to get them the support and backing they’ll need to continue their work — actually saves the Morthren and prolongs the war. That’d feel like a properly Outer Limits darkly ironic twist ending, clean up some of the weaker points in the plot, and make our heroes actually relevant to the story. If even that’s too upbeat, do the same thing, but have the boys be too far gone for the med cell to work. Something.

It seems so obvious, I can’t even really imagine how it didn’t occur to them to do it that way. It would be one thing if this episode weren’t otherwise so strong. Clearly, the writers are competent when they try. But it’s hit-or-miss whether or not they bother.

  • War of the Worlds: The Series is available on DVD from amazon.

One thought on “Antithesis: The Deadliest Disease (War of the Worlds 2×13)

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