It just keeps getting worse and worse, but hang in there; we’re halfway out of the dark. Part of me is inclined to say that this episode is the worst of the lot, but I’ve already listened to part four and it’s pretty bad too. Though I can’t say for sure if it’s worse, or I’ve just completely depleted my will to live.
I don’t know why it keeps getting harder to write these. I mean, I talk a good game because I have a small amount of affection for hyperbole, but War of the Worlds II isn’t really even in the top five things that make me long for the sweet release of death. Top ten, sure, but not top five.
In fact, I will say from the outset that this section of the story does one thing well: it stays on topic. Out of thirty-eight minutes of side three, about thirty-four of those minutes stick to just one topic. This will not be the case in part four, for the obvious reason that they’ve got a fuckton of plot to get done before they run out of tape.
Here’s the bad news: those thirty-four minutes are about Ethan Allen Ratkin and his quest to find his mother and become a better-rounded human being. And the other four are about Tosh Motherfucking Rimbauch. Lord, give me strength.
We left Ethan and Kyle right outside Steinmetz, where they’d just evaded Ratkin’s personal physician Dr. Evans on his way home after murdering Ethan’s mom, who has been living under the name “Mrs. Rochester” for the past decade and change. Kyle explains to Ethan that he won’t be able to just knock on the front door and ask to visit his mom, as they are Just Some Kids. Instead, Kyle fakes some kind of psychotic break, running around in front of the lobby shouting about something being all over him, so that Ethan can slip in unnoticed while a nurse with an excessively southern accent tries to help the screaming street urchin.
Inside, Ethan hears someone coming and hides, I think, on a crash cart. I’m not sure. He says he’s going to hide under a table, then we hear someone say “Grab that crash cart!” and he ends up in the room where they’re taking it, but it really stretches the imagination to think Ethan would mistake a crash cart for a table, or be able to conceal himself on one such that no one would notice when they wheel it around the hospital. I mean, unless they’re imagining that a “crash cart” is basically the same thing as a catering cart, only with a defibrillator on top.
That is totally what happened, isn’t it?
In a plot contrivance which would be part of acceptable storytelling necessity except that this production has been nothing but storytelling contrivances, Ethan is thus delivered directly to his mother’s room. Mrs. Rochester is in cardiac and respiratory arrest, according to the excessively southern nurse. This is slightly odd, because we can hear her heart monitor, and everything sounds entirely normal until the nurse starts speaking. I assume they wanted us to understand what the sound meant, by playing us the normal beeps of a heart monitor before it transitioned into a solid flatline tone. But it comes off as though the staff is out ahead of her condition.
Idealistic Young Doctor from the last tape and Crusty Old Administrator work frantically to help her. Young Doctor explains that he’d been called away to take a phone call, but no one had been on the line. He’d returned to find her dying. They determine that she’s suffering from an opioid overdose, but assume an orderly screwed up her medications. The administrator orders a dose of naloxone to reverse the effects, momentarily startling me because this was made years before the current opioid epidemic, and it’s weird that they get so much right about treating the overdose. Young Doctor calls for a crash cart, which, as you know, is already on the way, and defibrillates and resuscitates her a second later, without any indication that one has arrived.
While Firstein (Administrator) is arguing that Bryant (Young Doctor) is obviously crazy for thinking that the mysterious call from no one that drew him away when his patient was given a deadly overdose might possibly mean anything other than human error, Ethan pops out of hiding to cry for his mommy. Bryant recognizes the familial resemblance instantly and intervenes to promise Ethan will be allowed to see his mother once she’s stabilized. Firstein wants to call the director and get permission from Mrs. Rochester’s family first. Which she doesn’t have, because they don’t know who she is.
Bryant manages to cajole his boss into keeping Ethan’s presence quiet for the moment and risking both their careers for the chance of turning Mrs. Rochester into “A fully functioning individual”.
The narrator helpfully explains to us that while Ethan waits for his mother to wake up, Nancy Ferris is still with Tom and Jennifer Connors, preparing to go recapture their hostage. Before going to Steinmetz, they decide to stop off at Nancy’s house so she can pick up some personal things.
Did they ever say where Nancy lived? I can’t remember if they ever actually say it. But it’s implied she’s within driving distance of NASA’s mission control center in Houston, so I’d kinda taken for granted that Nancy lived in Texas. Steinmetz is in Connecticut, and is in driving distance of Ratkin Manor, though clearly it’s not all that close since it takes hours to get there. The narrator is very clear that these events are meant to be contemporaneous with those at Steinmetz, but this makes no sense if Nancy is meant to drive from Houston to Connecticut in the space of the next scene. Or, indeed, if she isn’t. What’s she been doing all this time?
Tom isn’t comfortable with taking her back to her house. Nancy interrupts to ask if his car is new, since she doesn’t recognize it. This is foreshadowing, but it’s foreshadowing something stupid and pointless. They reach Nancy’s house to find that Ratkin’s had it firebombed. “My home. My beautiful home. Burned to the ground,” Nancy says with no conviction whatsoever.
Tom and Jennifer reveal that they belong to “The Underground”, a vaguely specified resistance movement that opposes… They’re not really clear about what. They oppose, and really, shame on you if you didn’t see this coming by now since literally every character in this series has complained about it, “a wasteful government, a government whose hands are tied by special interests and bureaucracy,” (Tom, you probably don’t remember, is a town councilman, but that’s “good” government I guess) and powerful corporations, and Ratkin in particular. That’s the reason for the comment about the car: it’s an Underground car, registered to the fictional “Killroy Burgess”, and therefore untraceable, except that it will be traced instantly the second time anyone cares to. Their main gig at the moment is running underground water refineries and selling water on the black market. Jennifer is their chief scientist.
Also, Jennifer uses the phrases “Smoke you out,” and “You can’t go home again.” within a minute of Nancy losing her house in a fire. Jerk.
“Mrs. Rochester” wakes up at Steinmetz and gets her reunion with her long-lost baby. This consists mostly of Ethan saying, “Mother!” and her saying, “My baby!” Ethan explains that he’s twelve, and I am quite sure they said he was fourteen back in episode 2. All goes well until Ethan proposes taking her back home to Ratkin, whereupon she becomes agitated and starts moaning, “No! No! He’ll kill me! No! Evans! Needle! No! Ronald killed me!”
Southern nurse shepherds Ethan out of the room and tells him that his mother is delirious from a “bad reaction” to some medication. Ethan reflexively threatens to sue if one of the staff was responsible for her overdose. Ethan is confused about his mother’s ramblings, and runs off to find Bryant. He does while Bryant and Firstein are discussing Mrs. Rochester’s overdose. Firstein has learned of the visit by Doctor Evans. They don’t go into how exactly this unknown-to-them doctor had gained entry and access to a patient without having to sign in and keeping his face covered by a large hat. Maybe it was explained in episode three, but I doubt it. Bloodwork reveals that she’d been given a large intravenous injection of dilaudid, which is not the sort of thing anyone would do by mistake, meaning that it was definitely an assassination attempt. Ethan puts this information together with what he’d seen earlier and what he’d heard from his mother, and realizes that Evans, under orders from Ratkin, had just tried to kill his mother.
He runs off, mumbling, “Oh father? Why did you do it?” He finds Kyle, who apparently is just freely roaming around outside the hospital, instead of having been taken into custody or anything, and they decide to flee together. Bryant chases after them, swearing that he won’t hurt them, but Nancy and the Connors arrive and the kids accept a ride from these strangers, leaving Bryant swearing to trace the license plate number in order to help protect Ethan and his mother.
Meanwhile, back at Castle Wily, Evans is busy telling Ratkin how his wife is absolutely, positively dead and definitely no one saw him, when Hoover Jones comes in and catches them up on the previous few scenes, because, again, there is no point at which anyone has successfully kept a secret from anyone in this entire thing. Jones has access to the security footage from Steinmetz, which, judging by the sound effect when he orders the secretary to “roll tape,” is stored on Super-8. They watch in horror as Evans’s departure is witnessed by Ethan. Hoover fast-forwards the reel-to-reel film projector to show Ethan’s departure (It is, for what it’s worth, timestamped as 1850). Ratkin can tell from Ethan’s demeanor on the film/tape that he knows the people inside, and Hoover reveals that he’s pulled the registration of the car and knows that it’s owned by The Underground.
Fat lot of good that fake name did.
Ratkin starts weeping about his son having “gone over to the enemy”. “When I named my son after a revolutionary soldier, I never dreamed he would one day rebel against me!”
Quickly, he retreats to his experimental high-altitude helicopter, the Icarus, to take him to his private boat, Titanic II, to take him to his secret mountaintop lair, The Pompeii Of The West. Ratkin announces that they’ll have to recapture Ethan and use “that experimental technique Jeffery developed twenty years ago.”
Yeah. Dr. Evans developed a mind-wipe technique. Of course he did. It is, of course, an experimental and highly-dangerous technique, which he’d botched the last time he tried, resulting in Mrs. Rochester’s condition (though frankly, we never actually see anything wrong with her beyond the fact that she’s been doped out of her gourd for a dozen years). Ratkin orders Evans to perfect the procedure and erase Ethan’s memory of the past few days, and he doesn’t care if he erases, “a history lesson or two,” as collateral damage, so long as he removes any “negative impressions” of Ratkin, though he makes extravagant threats about what will happen if he harms, “one vital neuron.”
Hoover points out that they don’t actually have the boy yet, but Ratkin isn’t bothered; it’ll be trivial to infiltrate the underground. He never bothered before, since he considered them unimportant and didn’t want to accidentally goad them into doing something effective. And I assume if this show lasts long enough, he will indeed do this, because I am 100% certain Ratkin will recapture Ethan and successfully erase his memory, because otherwise the story might make some damn progress rather than going around in circles with Kyle or Nancy or someone having to un-brainwash him later.
At some Underground base, Nancy helps Ethan through his personal crisis as he comes to terms with the fact that his dad is basically an amalgam of the bad guy from every James Bond movie. Kyle comes in and asks if Nancy is “That astronaut’s wife” he’s heard about on TV. Remember how Ratkin owns all the media and is controlling it to shape public opinion favorably?
Well, the Phelans don’t, because Kyle, random street-urchin that he is, repeats what is apparently common knowledge: that Nancy is widely believed to have been kidnapped by “Ratkin the Rat” in order to force her husband to “surrender Mars” to “that Storm lady”.
Kyle goes on to explain that Ratkin is making a bid to control all drinkable water in the universe so he can “force the world to do whatever he wants”, for reasons no one understands, since Ratkin is hella old and “can’t take it with you.” Ethan comes to the conclusion that it’s all his fault: that Ratkin is literally trying to give his son the entire world. Kyle refuses to believe that Ethan is Ratkin’s son, but humors the odd boy.
Kyle is impressed when Nancy explains that they’re guests of The Underground. His father had been part of it before his disappearance (I think they meant to say that Kyle’s father was a high-ranking member of the resistance and had to go to ground, but he flubs the line and instead says that his grandmother, who’d become his caretaker after his fathers disappearance, is a general in the underground). Kyle, rather wonderfully, describes the Underground as, “The secret organization everybody knows about.”
Kyle fills Ethan in on The Underground’s work, how they sell water on the black market to people who can’t afford Ratkin’s prices, and grow fresh fruit for the poor. Ethan hasn’t heard of things like “Not being able to afford fruit,” and can’t understand. Nancy tells him that diseases like rickets and scurvy, “Once considered obsolete in the US,” are making a comeback.
Nancy reassures Ethan that there’s lots of other terrible people in the world, many of whom are not his father. Kyle declares his intent to join The Underground, and Ethan does the same. In the next room, Tom and Jennifer pat themselves on the back for how effectively they’ve turned Ethan, and reassure Nancy that it’s okay that they’re manipulating a vulnerable twelve-year-old boy to use as a weapon against his father. Nancy casually compares Tom to Hitler.
Ethan asks to watch uncensored news for once, and they tune in to catch the tail end of a report about Congressman Dixon denying reports that his party expects the President to resign. The trial of Jefferson Davis Clark has started, and the judge has allowed the media access to the “trial of the century”. The judge has also ruled that Rimbauch’s defense fund for Clark, “displays no approval of Clark’s actions, only a desire to uphold the sixth amendment,” and therefore isn’t a “conflict of interest”. What it’s meant to conflict with, I’ve no idea. They also catch the announcement of the impending return of Orion-1. President DeWitt, presumably with the help of a speech synthesizer, recaps the same cover story we’ve heard three times now about the Martians making peace, refitting Orion, and being really very sorry about that invasion business sixty years earlier.
The news has, of course, caused DeWitt’s poll numbers to soar, and the news transitions us back to Ronald Ratkin, who turns the TV off as the reporter claims most Americans are now willing to give DeWitt a second term. “Over her dead body,” he says. He’s summoned Tosh Rimbauch to his evil lair.
Rimbauch is upset when Ratkin reveals that he knows the topic for Rimbauch’s upcoming premiere episode, and that he’s had to rush things to get the episode ready before the return of Orion. Ratkin “worries” that Rimbauch hasn’t had time for as much research as he really needs to thoroughly out the president as handicapped, so he gives him a full copy of DeWitt’s medical records and pictures of her in her wheelchair.
“It’s a matter of national security,” Ratkin says, that the American People know DeWitt is medically unfit for office. Rimbauch eats it up, seeming to actually believe Ratkin is on the level about his motives despite him quite clearly using his “I am lying” voice.
End of Side Three