Well shit. Back to this, I guess. The story so far, according to the continuity announcer:
The world was in chaos. Fresh water, the lifeblood of every lifeform on the planet, was in short supply. Efforts at water purification met with fierce opposition and bureaucratic squabbling, orchestrated by Ronald Ratkin, the richest man on the Earth. It was his goal to gain control of the world’s water supply, and by doing so, control the world.
In our last episode, the entire world watched, riveted, as a moon-bound shuttle was launched. Little did they know, the shuttle, Orion-1, was really bound for Mars. In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to find a new water supply, United States President Sandra DeWitt charged NASA to send the shuttle to find the water believed to be trapped within the red planet. Sixty-one years ago, a Martian army had launched an attack on Earth, which the world had barely survived. Now, a team of seven courageous astronauts and scientists, led by Commander Jonathan Ferris, were chosen to confront the unknown, hostile inhabitants of the planet Mars, and return with water to save their dying planet.
But Ronald Ratkin, ever vigilant, had plans of his own. With his unlimited resources, he purchased his own shuttle. He chose Jessica Storm to command the Artemis. Her mission: to eliminate the Orion crew and return with the secrets of Martian water. And Jessica was only too happy to carry out her assignment: she had a few scores to settle. One with NASA for not picking her to head the Orion mission, one with Jonathan Ferris for winning the position she coveted, and one against Orion crewmembers Mark Rutherford and Nikki Jackson. This score was personal.
As Orion’s crew landed on Mars and began its exploration, people began to disappear, starting with first mate Rutherford and geologist Gloria Townsend. Then, in an attempted rescue, mechanic Gus Pierelli and assistant commander Nikki Jackson were swallowed up in what looked to be a vortex of pure rock.
With four of his seven crewmembers gone, ignorant of what dangers lurked beneath the surface, and unaware of the danger that approached from Earth, Commander Ferris and his remaining crew had a difficult decision ahead of them. They could either risk their own lives to save the missing four, abort their mission and return to Earth, or continue their original mission and abandon all hope of ever seeing their friends again.
Got all that? Good. Now, let’s pick up with that exciting cliff-hanger on Mars… In about eight minutes, because the actual narrative is going to pick up with DeWitt in the Oval Office listening to Tosh Rimbauch. Rimbauch spends his time calling for DeWitt to be “deposed” (not, I note, “impeached”) due to high unemployment and the high cost of April Showers Spring Water, and insults her husband’s manhood. He reminds voters that he didn’t vote for her, and this gives him license to say, “I told you so.” Technically, no one voted for her, since they mentioned last episode that she’d succeeded her predecessor upon his death in office, which is the way we all assumed the first female president would end up happening except for a few glorious days in 2016 and FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU—
Anyway, Ed comes in with the grim news of the launch of Artemis (the mythological Artemis killed Orion, hence the name. Too bad space-murder isn’t illegal I guess, because Ratkin’s pre-confession would probably work against him in court). Ed is super coy about it, delivering revelations in a calculated order to make it seem like a progressive reveal. Of facts we already know from last episode. It makes it sound like he is somehow getting new information passed to him in the middle of this private meeting. What I mean is this: he starts out by saying that there’s been an unscheduled shuttle launch. Then he says that he contacted the various world space agencies, who confirmed that it wasn’t them. Then he offers DeWitt “one guess” who’s behind the launch, and then offers her “one guess” where it’s going, and “one guess” what they plan to do when they get there. Then he reveals the name of Ratkin’s ship. So he actually knew all along that it was Ratkin and even knew the name of the ship. So why would he bother contacting the other nation-state space agencies? And why were they acting like Ratkin being behind the launch was still just a guess? He speculates that Ratkin could have easily bought a ship from a former Soviet state, which he already stated as a known fact last episode. They estimate Artemis will reach Mars months before Orion leaves, which DeWitt finds hard to believe: it would require extensive engine modifications and the world’s best shuttle pilot. Ed reveals that NASA top scientists jumped ship to Ratkin months earlier, and also that Ratkin does indeed have the best pilot ever. DeWitt realizes the thing which they already discussed as a matter of fact in the previous episode: Ed’s talking about Jessica Storm. And they recap her musing over whether or not she made the right choice in picking Ferris over her. Jessica is said to be a “brilliant tactician”, which doesn’t strike me as a normal space shuttle piloting skill. There is no consideration of how Jessica Storm being a murderous sociopath affects her qualifications.
Remember Boness, the NASA project lead who grumpily resigned back on side two of cassette one? Well, he’s still in charge of Mission Red, and they call him to pass along a warning to Orion. Boness grumpily says that he can’t, because a signal from Mars is blocking their transmission. He speculates that it is something akin to a radio signal, but traveling faster than light, and aimed at a planet in a distant star system. In the Oval Office, they reflect, with very little obvious interest, that this means the Orion crew isn’t alone on Mars.
DeWitt’s husband interrupts to suggest she turn the radio back on. Rimbauch is breaking the story of Artemis’s launch, though he doesn’t know who’s behind it. He praises the unknown benefactor for setting out to murder the Orion crew, because clearly, we need a man to go fix this mess, not some so-called “Lady President” with her icky girl parts. And what about her emails?
Meanwhile, at Stately Snake Mountain, Ronald Ratkin (the world’s richest man) is reveling in his presumed victory. One of his high-ranking underlings, former CIA director and heavy from a ’30s gangster movie (Though his accent keeps slipping) Hoover Jones, comes in to inform him that his agents have successfully sabotaged all water bottling companies in the world other than Ratkin’s into bankruptcy. Ratkin snarls that he already knows this, and Hoover elaborates that he’s actually here because their various saboteurs are asking about the bill.
To be super-duper evil, Ratkin does not simply say that yes, he will pay his goons, but rather that he “always pays his debts,” but only when it “suits him” to do so. And this time it suits him, so this time he’ll do it, but he’ll totally have them eliminated the second that they are of no further use to him. And that of course goes for Hoover as well, though Ratkin promises that of course, Hoover will always be useful to him.
Christ. If the motherfucking Wonder Twins don’t show up soon, I’m calling DC’s lawyers and tipping them off.
They’re interrupted when Ratkin’s son
Barron Ethan comes in. Ethan’s allegedly fifteen, but his voice actor and his dialogue sounds about ten. So does his worldview. Ratkin’s kept Ethan utterly sheltered, his very existence a secret to everyone outside his compound, in order to ensure that no outside influence might prevent him from becoming a carbon copy of his father, ready to assume the Iron Throne upon Ratkin’s death.
Which makes it seem odd that he seems to be extremely adverse to teaching young Ethan to be anything other than compassionate, sensitive, and soft. He even laments that somehow, Ethan hasn’t become cruel and ruthless and strong the way he wants, despite having had everything he could ever want handed to him on a silver platter and never having had to expend effort to achieve anything, or to have any adversaries or ever face any kind of adversity whatever. Ethan walked in on his governess watching the news, and for the first time in his life, discovered that there’s a water crisis going on, that people are dying of thirst in the streets, and that a lot of people blame Ratkin for it. Ratkin acts scandalized, insists the water crisis is exaggerated, and any hint of his involvement are shameful lies. He also, under his breath, vows to have the governess offed (He apparently has this done, too, because in his next scene, he’ll keep saying stuff like “Oh, I’m sure she did care about you — mua ha ha — I mean does care about you.”). He has a minor panic attack when his son suggests that maybe they could use their vast wealth to provide water to the people, since he’s been studying Aristotle and heard that generosity is a virtue. Once he’s gone, Ratkin makes a note to have the tutor tortured, and Hoover suggests that he have Aristotle banned in favor of Machiavelli. He also warns Ratkin that, “This child of your extreme old age,” is clever and seems to be developing a compassionate streak. Ratkin promises to stamp it out.
So about sixteen minutes in, we finally get back to Mars, where Nikki Jackson has just finished sliding down a “vortex of solid rock” and emerges in a large underground chamber. The narrator compares her to Alice in Wonderland, and she backs this up by saying “Curiouser and curiouser”. She quickly locates Pierelli, who’s broken his ankle, though there is nothing in his tone to indicate that he is in any pain. He reveals that the air underground is breathable, and they both comment on how pure and clean it is, Nikki suggesting that she’s lightheaded from the lack of pollution. She claims that the high levels of carbon dioxide on the surface would make it perfect for a greenhouse, again showing the writers’ disdain for research, because, yes, Mars has a higher percentage of carbon dioxide than Earth, but, again, the air on Mars is so thin that you’re still talking about a far smaller total amount of the stuff.
Nikki sets Pierelli’s ankle, giving him a piece of pleather to bite down on, with the claim that it “should work”, but won’t be as good as real leather. I don’t know what that means. I mean, either the faux leather will be strong enough to withstand him biting down on it, or it won’t, and therefore be useless. It’s not like leather has some intrinsic magical palliative powers. Nikki also denies him an aspirin, since she needs him lucid (Okay. What she denies him is actually “Morphine? An aspirin at least?”). The pain of having his ankle set (I get the feeling that they’ve got “broken” and “dislocated” confused) causes Gus to make a very small, disinterested yelp and black out for a second, but leaves him able to walk with minimal assistance.
Nikki explains that she quickly worked out that the vortex was a form of elevator whose speed was determined by the initial velocity of the thing it was transporting, so she got a gentle ride by holding still, while Gus had struggled on the way down, and therefore hit bottom much harder. Gus has also found Rover 1, which they imply was badly damaged in the crash, though the interior is said to be undamaged. The black box reveals that once contact with Orion was lost, Rutherford asserted that this put him in charge on the ground and gave him the authority to ignore the order to hold back, because he really wanted to be the famous guy who discovered proof of life on Mars.
I mean, proof other than that time they invaded Earth sixty years earlier.
The damage to Rover 1 is attributed to Rutherford’s futile attempt to escape the vortex by firing the main engines. Oh, and also they seem to have recast Rutherford, who still sounds like an asshole, but has a less fratboy tone to him. Kinda sounds a little like Dobie Gillis now.
Townsend and Rutherford are nowhere to be found, but some food is missing from the rover’s supplies. Gus and Nikki set out to search for their shipmates, choosing the middle of three tunnels after a lengthy digression from Nikki about how Rutherford secretly picks choices using “Eenie-meenie” (I have never heard anyone refer to that as just “Eenie-meenie”, but they both say it). They find Townsend’s sample box, worrying them, as she’d never leave it behind voluntarily. A sudden piano glissando indicates that something Alien is about to happen, and Gus suddenly feels hands on his shoulders. With shouts of alarm, they discover the walls around them shifting, and are pulled into darkness by an unseen force.
For the purposes of suspense, we scene-change back to the surface, where Morgan is still looking for any sign of what became of her colleagues. She’s unsuccessfully tried to survey with a remote “hoverprobe”, but had to recall it when it turned out that flying objects also trigger the vortex. Ferris orders her to search the area around the vortex, looking for any way down. But before she can start her search, Talbert reports a dust storm approaching. Since this story thinks Martian dust storms are way more dangerous than they actually are, Morgan has to lock the rover down to weather it. This involves the unintentionally hilarious “boxing glove punching raw meat” stock sound effect when she drops the rover’s anchor.
That is the end of this scene. Nothing’s been accomplished, and they won’t come back to it for some time. When I said before that this scene change was all about suspense in the Nikki/Gus plot, I meant it. Nikki and Gus find themselves restrained in a pitch-black room. Another glissando marks the appearance of their captor, a Martian. In a voice that’s heavily distorted with reverb and flange and other items from the “Effects” menu in Audacity, he promises that they are safe, and introduces himself. They wouldn’t be able to pronounce his real name, but offers “Ohm” as something they can call him. After they point it out, he apologizes for the darkness, having forgotten that humans need light to see. The Martians are chameleonic, Ohm appearing as a “distorted shadow” at first until his pigmentation adapts to the light. “You’re not so ugly,” Gus says, meaning it as a compliment. Nikki expands on this by telling Ohm what he looks like, because this is poorly-written radio drama. The Martians are generally humanoid in shape, but much larger, and with more arms. Ohm clarifies that he can extrude and absorb limbs as needed. They also don’t have lips (a direct contradiction of the 1938 radio play), and, Ohm explains, do not actually speak, but are able to transmit thoughts directly into the language centers of the humans’ brains. The Martians (I think it is fair to call them this because we have not been given anything else to call them, and because I call myself “American” when their ancestors have lived on Mars hundreds of times longer than mine have lived in America) aren’t originally from the red planet, but moved here thousands of years ago, building a large underground city from a research outpost originally set up to observe human development. They’d been searching the universe for other intelligent life, and humans were the first ones they found.
It occurs to Nikki that she ought to be frightened, but isn’t, and Ohm reveals that he’s temporarily suppressed their ability to feel pain or fear. The humans object to this at first, but accept it when Ohm compares it to anesthesia, but without the possibility of side-effects. On the one hand, the fact that they’ve had their pain and fear centers switched off does a lot to make sense of why they seem not to take more than the most casual of interests in having discovered an intelligent alien life form. On the other hand, this does not explain why everyone else in this, excluding the supervillains, is so wooden that Gerry Anderson would tell them to loosen up a little. They’re in a Martian medical facility, where Ohm has repaired Gus’s ankle. He also took the liberty of curing Nikki’s undiagnosed early-stage breast cancer, which is why she’s also been restrained and anesthetized.
Ohm warns them that once they’re finished recovering and are reunited with the others, they must leave Mars and never return. Nikki refuses, since they’ve got this whole mission to find water and bring it back to Earth. Um, Nikki. This is an inhabited planet whose residents are asking you to leave. I’m pretty sure conquest isn’t actually part of your remit. Ohm elaborates on his warning, saying that unless they skedaddle, they’ll be consigning the human race to slavery or destruction, as the Martians are themselves a slave race. He’s not at liberty to say more, though, and vanishes in another glissando.
Gus and Nikki take a moment to discuss a point of logical inconsistency. If the Martians have been here for thousands of years, why would they pick 1938 to invade, rather than hundreds of years earlier when humans had no chance? This is the first of several exchange in this episode that seem to imply that the humans defeated the Martians of 1938 militarily, rather than being utterly routed until the Martians all dropped dead. There’s no denial that the Martians were afflicted by Earth disease, but it’s implied to have played a smaller role, weakening them and giving humanity the opening it needed to regroup and mount a successful counteroffensive.
A Martian appears, who they at first take to be a returning Ohm. He explains that they could not pronounce his true name (Nikki comments that she expects to tire of hearing this. Oh crap! The characters themselves have noticed how dull and repetitive this thing is! They’re going to rebel!), but they can call him “Ari”. Ari is of a younger generation than Ohm, and can speak more freely. Two hundred years earlier, Mars had been invaded by the Tor, an imperialistic race that thrives through conquest and exploitation. Ohm, like all of his generation, is subject to a mental link with the Tor which allows them to eavesdrop on him, hence his sudden departure. The Tor had found nothing of interest on Earth, its people too primitive. But Mars was rich in the energy-producing mineral
Unobtanium Quorium, and the Martians themselves had the ability to manipulate matter on the atomic level, so their race was subjugated and shipped across the galaxy as slave labor. Ari compares the Tor to conquistadors or “your Nazis”. “Not my Nazis,” Nikki responds. #NotMyNazis. (Oh, here’s a spoiler: turns out Nikki is black. I’d say that they deserve some credit for including a person of color in a prominent role without even calling attention to it or basing her character around racial stereotypes. But I’m pretty confident that they actually wrote her as white and then scratched that detail in three-quarters of the way through to justify an extremely uncouth snipe out of Jessica Storm later on. Nikki just reads so much like an arrogant, over-privileged rich white girl, I do not find this whole, “My grandmother raised me tough because of all the hardship she faced under Jim Crow,” thing especially believable)
Although the Martians were “millions of years” more advanced than the Tor, they were a peaceful race, unskilled in warfare and having not even unlocked the Musketeer unit yet. The Tor, even less advanced than humans in most respects, had maxed out their weapon proficiencies and conquered the Martians easily. The 1938 invasion was the last stand of a Martian rebel faction. Ari tries to pass it off as an attempt to solicit help from humanity, in the belief that combined human and Martian forces might have beaten the Tor. Their use of force, Ari claims, was motivated by the assumption that hierarchical humans would only listen to them if they led off with a display of dominance. Nikki rejects this explanation, and Ari admits that the rebels were mostly planning to colonize Earth as a base of refuge. Ari too implies that the humans defeated the weakened invaders, rather than the Martians being invincible until they were felled en masse by disease. Ari also mentions that the Martians visited Earth regularly through its history to observe humans in secret, implying that Earth diseases (Ari specifically blames a virus, rather than the source-accurate bacteria) aren’t universally lethal to Martians, and that the events were something closer to The Great Martian War‘s version, with one specific outbreak doing them in.
You know, the writing and acting is terrible, and this scene is a tedious exposition dump, but this actual story could, in principle, be interesting. It’s the first thing that’s actually had some potential in this crapfest. The basic concept that the Martian invasion was actually an attempt to flee from a vastly more powerful race that was invading Mars is one we’ve seen before. And the whole thing with the Martians having the power to manipulate rock reminds me of one of the races in Robotech: The Sentinels. But of course they insert it in the clunkiest way possible and contradict their own source material to boot. Still, at least this plot is going somewhere rather than the political bullshit and the inexplicable decision to insert Ratkin’s naive man-child son and a plot around him.
Ari insists that the Earth of 1999 is far too divided to make an effective stand against the Tor, and if humans draw their attention by hanging around on Mars, the Tor will reevaluate Earth as a worthwhile target for conquest. Gus insists that the Tor would have to be pretty clever to outmatch humanity in the killing department…
End of side one. Please flip the cassette over and continue with side two.