Y’all ready for some political intrigue? Too fucking bad, it’s War of the Worlds II. The good news is that some actual stuff happens in this part. The bad news is that it happens on Earth, with all that implies. Oh yes, we’re back to the world of Ronald Ratkin (the world’s first Trillionaire) and Tosh Rimbauch (Making America Great Again).
But we’re not quite done with space yet. The Tor make their final preparations to send Jessica back to Earth, and it’s time for her to play her hand too early and gloat about her success with no consequences. She explains the Tor’s plan back to them for our benefit: Orion-1, newly refitted with a warp drive, will return to Earth, announcing success in finding water and forging an alliance with the Martians, which will surely prompt a ticker-tape parade and banquet in their honor full of world leaders. The Tor will follow Orion as far as the moon, and hide behind it until everyone’s at the banquet, and then they’ll “make their move”. The nature of this move is not explained, nor, honestly, what this plan will accomplish. It might make sense if the Martian clones were meant to assassinate or kidnap the world leaders. But there’s no indication that this is their plan, and it’s hard to believe that the Martians themselves would even be capable of it. It’s hard to fathom how Jessica herself could attend this hypothetical banquet, or indeed not be arrested for piracy the second Orion landed.
I mean, the basic concept that Orion with its ersatz crew will keep humanity from just shooting the crap out of the Tor the moment they arrive is solid. We learn over the course of this conversation that the Tor have roughly similar weapons capabilities to Earth, and that a Tor ship can’t withstand multiple nuclear warheads. This is an interesting shift from the trend in other adaptations, where aliens are sufficiently advanced that the only times humanity can fight back are in adaptations where they’ve repurposed stolen alien technology. Here, the entirely home-grown technology of late-20th-century Earth is equal to that of the alien invaders — the Tor leader will shortly mention that the lack of lightspeed space travel is the only area in which humanity lags behind the Tor. And little though this production has to do with the 1938 radio play to which it is nominally a sequel, it’s not a radical inconsistency; the tripods of the radio play were vulnerable to heavy artillery provided you were fast enough to get in a killing shot before they rolled over you, so it’s reasonable to imagine that the Martians (and the less-advanced Tor) were only a few decades ahead of human technology in most respects.
But when we get into the details, it all goes pear-shaped. Why hide the Tor behind the moon, where they’ll have to come out and make the last leg of the journey exposed, after they’ve been formally introduced at a banquet? Why bother refitting Orion at all — just show up in the Tor warship, broadcasting an announcement from the fake Orion crew that they found and borrowed a Martian ship. The whole point is to get Earth under their control without having to resort to a fire-fight, but there’s absolutely no indication how any of this would actually accomplish that. Are the Martians going to shape-shift back to their natural forms and just announce “Bwa ha ha! We’re not really the Orion crew! We’re aliens! And we’re conquering your planet!” whereupon the Secret Service will just shoot them and be done with it. Nothing in this plan makes it seem like it’s an improvement over “Just show up unannounced”.
While the main part of the plan is going on, Jessica will secretly communicate with Ratkin to reassure him that she’s got Orion under her control and he shouldn’t blow it up with his own private space-based weapons platform.
Yes, he has one of those. Don’t be stupid. Jessica cautions the Tor that Ratkin will try to double-cross them and conquer the galaxy, and the Tor counter that they’re going to kill her for suggesting such a thing. This is where she stops to gloat: on the last tape, she took a short break to hop back up to Artemis in order to murder her crew off-screen. I didn’t mention it at the time because it was handled as an aside by the narrator. But while she was up there, apparently, she filled Ratkin in on the bare outline of what was going on and had him arrange for his private space-based weapons platform to nuke the hell out of the Tor if they show up without her or try anything. The Tor congratulates her on having cleverly outmaneuvered them such that their only choices are to either agree to her terms or kill her and give up on Earth. For the sake of keeping this story going, they choose the former, but once she’s out of the room, they go back to bwa-ha-hahing about how they’re totally going to double-cross her once they’ve taken over the Earth and gotten rid of that pesky satellite.
Jessica also mentions in passing during this segment that the water crisis on Earth is entirely artificial; the Tor are concerned that even Ratkin’s empire wouldn’t be powerful enough to stop humans from pursuing Martian water out of desperation, and she flat out says that there’s plenty of water on Earth, and it’s only Ratkin’s machinations that are preventing humanity from making it potable.
The faux-Wagner music is traded out for the cheap ’80s crime drama sax on the transition to Earth. Major Stryker, Bob Boness, and the still-hospitalized President DeWitt get on a conference call to hear from Orion-1, which is finally checking in after an unspecified period of time which seems like it ought to have been at least a couple of months by now but time is passing at different rates in different parts of the plot. “Commander Ferris” calls NASA for the first time in months to announce that they’re on their way home to report success. They pretty much repeat everything Jessica already told us about their cover story: they claim that the Martians have agreed to help them, that the ’38 invasion was an by an unsanctioned rebel sect, that by way of apology, the Martians have upgraded Orion-1’s engines and agreed to help them extract water, and that the “feeble attempts” of Jessica Storm and the Artemis crew were “easily thwarted”. DeWitt finds the “feeble attempts” bit hard to swallow. We seem to have completely forgotten the bit from before where the jamming was attributed to a superluminal signal being transmitted from Mars to a distant star system.
Before disconnecting, Stryker gives “Ferris” the bad news about his wife: that she’s gone missing, suspected to have been kidnapped by Ratkin. The clone unemotionally responds, “That is most unfortunate.” But since this is the same character who has been acting like a particularly inanimate block of wood for three episodes now, everyone quickly dismisses any suspicion that there might be something “up” with the fact that he responded to the news of his wife’s abduction without any hint of actually being bothered by it. Just as predicted, DeWitt’s first thought is to throw a ticker-tape parade and state banquet for them.
We follow DeWitt after she gets off the conference call, and her voice changes markedly: her speech is slower and heavily slurred. Turns out that she was using computer enhancement to cover the extent of her disability over the phone. After the assassination attempt two episodes ago, she’s been left paralyzed, with a bullet still lodged in her brain that causes, “an effect similar to a stroke”. Her prospects for recovery are almost nonexistent. I mean, they’d have to meet some kind of beings with the ability to manipulate matter on the molecular level who could heal her or something (This is my first time through episode four, so I don’t know if this actually happens, but, like, obviously this was the plan).
Her attendants — the Secretary of Defense, the Press Secretary, her husband, and Marcia the Political Scientist — talk about how the American people would, with one hundred percent certainty, demand her immediate resignation if it got out that she had a physical disability. This isn’t fair, but it’s probably true. The American people are an ass. The First Gentleman brings up the example of Roosevelt (“One of our most popular presidents,” he calls him), but is reminded that his disability was, in fact, covered up. They claim they can use computers to allow her to give televised addresses for a while, but it’s only a matter of time before her condition becomes public. They all stop to give thanks that Tosh Rimbauch is presently unemployed, and spend several minutes talking about him. It still bothers me that the actual political powers in this universe act treat people like him as an actual threat as serious as, say, the James Bond Villain who runs the world’s only remaining water bottling company.
They discuss at length how Rimbauch is funding Clark’s defense fund, which Marcia calls “Political criticism hidden in the guise of sixth amendment rights,” which is possibly the first time I’ve ever heard someone toss out the sixth like that. According to Marcia’s numbers, the public believes that Rimbauch had nothing to do with the assassination, so they aren’t baying for his blood, but they understand loud and clear that he approves of the assassination, and therefore are sympathetic, because nothing in this world makes a lick of sense.
Also, the SecDef flubs his line and actually calls him “Limbaugh” once. It’s a good thing I’m the only person on Earth with the patience to have made it this far, or else they might have gotten sued.
Speaking of Rimbauch, guess who just got summoned to meet with Ronald Ratkin? Yep. Rimbauch sounds more like Oliver Hardy than ever as he fumbles through his meeting with the world’s richest man. Ratkin offers him air time on the radio stations he controls (which is most of them) as well as a TV spot opposite Frida Cohen.
Also Ratkin’s been recast. His voice is still deep and raspy, but he’s lost his Cartoon Supervillain quality, and now he just sounds like a Mafia Don. The character’s been toned down a little too, I think; he also behaves like a character out of The Godfather. In exchange for becoming Rimbauch’s patron, Ratkin essentially demands unspecified favors at an unspecified point in the future, which it would be “unwise” for him to refuse, even if it’s something immoral.
To his credit, Rimbauch is uncomfortable with the terms, comparing himself to Doctor Faustus. The comparison annoys Ratkin, who says he gets likened to Mephistopheles a lot and was hoping for something more original. But Rimbauch is, at his hard, a greedy, self-aggrandizing, loathsome asshole, not to mention utterly devoted to bringing DeWitt down, so he accepts the deal.
They ruin the allusions by having Rimbauch tell his PA Seth that it “felt like a scene out of The Godfather,” to which Seth replies, “He made you an offer you can’t refuse.” Thank you. Yes. We got it. You don’t need to explain the joke. Seth sounds more weaselly than he did before — he’s up to about a half-Peter Lorre — but I’m not sure if it’s a different voice actor.
Seth also has some news: his brother-in-law is a scrub nurse at the hospital, and overheard some details of DeWitt’s condition. Rimbaugh basically ruins his pants over the news that DeWitt is crippled for life and will die if her head is bumped vigorously. The fact that her medical records are being treated as state secrets is proof positive of a massive cover-up as far as he’s concerned, and he’ll be launching his “De-Witt is Un-Fit” campaign on his first televised show. I wonder if he’ll declare the alien invasion fleet a hoax…
Better yet, with the Vice President and Speaker of the House both for some reason well-positioned to go down in flames, he proposes to play kingmaker, and endorse a presidential candidate who can
“Make America Great Again” ahem “Remake America in my image.”
He might be getting ahead of himself, though, because our next transition is done to the tune of Vivaldi’s La Primavera, incidental music language for “We take you now to somewhere full of old-world sophistication. It’s a high tea between Ronald Ratkin and new character Congressman Duke Dixon. Dixon is an unambitious conservative who, like many of his colleagues, is “secretly” on Ratkin’s payroll. He makes some pretense of being a man of principles, though he freely admits to being “addicted” to the luxurious lifestyle afforded to a congressman who’s on the take. Also, despite being a conservative, his voice is a painfully over-the-top Mayor Quimby-style Kennedy caricature. The scene runs for six minutes, but all that happens is that Ratkin orders the reluctant Dixon to pursue the speakership in order to ascend to the presidency either in the 2020 election, or possibly after DeWitt is forced out and Ratkin has the VP offed.
Before the scene fades back to Vivaldi, Dixon challenges Ratkin on his reasons for trying to take over the universe, since he’s old and can’t very well take it with him. “I have my reasons,” is all the world’s richest man will say on the matter.
He’s presumably talking about his son, though that’s kinda circular. And honestly, the whole thing with him raising this uber-sheltered son to take over his evil empire despite not having raised his son to have any aptitude for evil whatsoever is crying out for Ratkin to have some other agenda like he plans to body-swap with Ethan or something, but there’s never been any indication of that being the sort of thing that could happen in this universe. Well, except for the bit where the Martians resurrect Ohm. Please don’t let this be another plot thread.
Anyway, side two ends with Ethan and Kyle finally arriving at Steinmetz Psychiatric Hospital. I gather it is nighttime, and it is the same night as the last Steinmetz scene in episode 3, because they arrive just in time to see Doctor Evans leaving after his assassination attempt. Kyle overhears Evans mentioning
Castle Doom Ratkin Manor and makes a snide comment about Ratkin. Ethan gives him grief over it, still believing his dad to be a good person. Also, Kyle calls Ethan “PC”. This was explained back in episode 3, but I don’t remember what the reason was.
Kyle refers to Ratkin as a “bugger”. This is a weird word for a streetwise American ’90s kid to say. And it’s been bothering me for some time that several people have used the expression, “Not bloody likely.” Dixon did it in the last scene, in his forced New England accent. Ratkin did it back in episode 2 in his Cartoon Supervillain voice. I think Jessica dropped the phrase one too. None of them sound remotely natural saying it. The writing isn’t by any means filled with Britishisms, but these two in particular strike me as being both entirely wrong for the characters and also strikingly British. Is there some deeper meaning to this? Is there a British script editor trying to slip in little hints to his whereabouts so that his family can rescue him from the underground lair where he’s being forced to assemble VA scripts for terrible direct-to-cassette audio dramas?
This is the end of this cassette. The story continues on side one of cassette two.